Thursday, September 16, 2010

How Much is Enough?

During my virtual stroll the other day I came upon a post by Len Penzo that has stuck in my mind. I tried to create a link here, but my skills are lacking and I'm running out of time before I have to go to work. Please forgive me. You'll just have to go to and read the original titled "If you can't live on $40,000 per year it's your own fault."

This article had me pondering the many levels of poverty in our world. What may be unbearable poverty to one may be living well to another. I am one of the working poor. While my living conditions would not be ideal to many, I am surviving. I see others on the same wages struggling in much worse conditions than mine. On the other side, it would be horrifying for many people making above $100,000 to survive on what I make per year.

Surely, I do have empathy for the struggle of the newly poor this economy has created. I know what it is to be on a tightened budget. I must admit, I don't fully understand the people who refuse to be anything but their former job title, turning down work they feel is beneath them. This thinking reminds me of the few Wife Swap shows I saw where they traded a wealthy, shop every day woman for a woman who worked low paying jobs or ran a family farm. That was culture shock for them.

For those of us with open minds, those that can picture ourselves in other situations and wonder "What would it be like if....?" I have a question for you. How much do you need to just scrape by? And, what is your magic number, the salary that would leave you comfortable and set and make you feel as if you had truly made it?


  1. Oh, if we made $40K in a year we would think we were rich as royalty.

    I have a good garden, my wife cooks all our meals and we wear used clothing. We drive as little as possible and we do not have TV.

    Our life is simple and we are thankful. But we live our lives on much, much less than $40K!


  2. Hey! I found you through Len Penzo's blog. Frugality is a hobby of mine, born of necessity! I hope it isn't wrong to say I've "enjoyed" reading through your archives, but I am really interested in how real people live. You are a very good writer! Blessings to you!


  3. Oh my goodness. This stirs up all kinds of thoughts in me--maybe my own post on my blog! So many thoughts that I am not sure I can answer it coherently.

    If I had medical coverage and nothing else in my life changed (housing, food, etc.), I could live comfortably on under $20000 a year. Probably under $15000 a year. (Realize that we have a huge advantage: we have no mortgage on this house.) My needs (other than medical) are few; my wants tend to be things you can't buy. I would like to have money to travel more--especially with my sons so far west--but that is all. Obviously, more money--even a little--would make the comfort level rise.

    Without the medical insurance, the income level makes no difference--there is no comfort level. (And before anyone jumps in on solutions, I do not qualify for Medicaid, I am too young for Medicare, and I cannot afford the high risk insurance pool that Ohio has set up in response to the cobbled together federal medical act.)

    I have friends though with 6 figure income households who would be at a loss to make it on $40000. Or even $80000.

    I am not seeing a lot of "I won't work for anything less than what my former job was" around here. I'm seeing a lot of "I will work at anything just to keep the lights on and food on the table." I think it has sunk in for most folks--even those with "important" jobs before-- that this is the new normal on the economic front.

  4. It's a bit simplistic to say "it's your own fault" if you can't make it on $40k. For example, a health condition can wreck anyone's finances: co-pays, expensive dietary restrictions (e.g., gluten-free), higher utility bills, etc.
    Generally speaking, I agree that plenty of Americans spend more than they earn because they want it all RIGHT NOW. But I also know there are extenuating circumstances. To tell someone with a chronic illness, an impending divorce or a special-needs child that it's his own fault he's broke is pretty harsh.
    When people say "Move somewhere cheaper" they forget that some people really NEED the support system of family members (e.g., a single mom whose relatives help with child care). They also forget that it's not always simple to move:
    1. You need a job to go to -- not always easy to find if you're an unskilled laborer.
    2. You need money to get there, even if you're driving with just a carload of possessions.
    3. You need a rental deposit (and maybe first and last month's rent). More to the point you need to be sure you have a place to move into before you leave your old place -- and it's increasingly a landlord's market. I used to manage an apartment building and some of the long-term residents would have a tough time getting approved anywhere else (low salaries, credit problems).
    Just my $0.02.
    Coincidentally, I wrote a post yesterday with a similar topic: "If life is the currency, I'm already rich." Is it something in the air?

  5. Chris, I feel the same way about the $40,000 mark. In a way I'm kind of okay with poverty for now. In the past I made triple what I make now, but I hadn't learned extreme budgeting techniques and didn't live as well as I could have. I'm in better shape now financially than I was then. Now that I have these skills, I'll finally be ready when times get better.

  6. Carrie, thanks for visiting. I'm so glad you "enjoyed" the archives. Hope it wasn't all too dreary...:)

  7. April, everyone has different needs and wants. There are many different lifestyles and comfort levels.

    My own sister who is fabulously wealthy compared to me would be horrified if she had to trade places. I don't think she would survive. I'm glad she has these advantages because she does have many life or death health issues.

    Isn't it ironic that the first part of that bill to go through gave insurance to people with pre-existing conditions and no-one can afford it. I looked at the prices in Florida and it is unrealistic and just down right mean.

  8. Donna, so true, no-one can fit their priorities into a pre-made budget booklet. We all have different spending categories. Life is more than mortgage, car insurance, and groceries. Some of us are caring for aging dogs, raising unruly children, or faithfully sending a monthly donation to the blind Lithuanian little people league. It may seem like a silly expense to some but has importance to the individual. Oh, and I just read your post. Excellent!

  9. Donna has a good point about those who can - or can't - move.

    I stayed in my hometown and didn't seek better job opportunities during my single parent days because I needed the extended family to help me out.

    When I did get remarried, it was with the understanding that we had to stay near my husband's hometown. Reason: he would be responsible for his parents in their old age.

    Now to go on topic: It's hard to put a number on the answer, because the income bracket I thought was "rich" during my college days would now be "poor"! I think we aim more for a lifestyle and luckily it's on the frugal side of middle class.

  10. Monroe, that's what I like about not being tied to an area. I rent so I can go wherever I want. However, moving is more than tossing your baseball card collection in a shoe box and emptying your dresser. You have to research an area, find a job, possibly spend money traveling there first to find housing and employment. That's not even mentioning the cleaning, decluttering, and packing, which are all accomplished while holding down your current job. What a chore!