Relative Incomez

I am not an especially smart person and so it is difficult for me to understand how intelligent people can completely fail to grasp concepts such as the dramatic differences in cost of living from one region to another and from one socioeconomic group to another in our own dear little country. And yes, in case it isn’t obvious, the royal “we” in this post refers to my good lil’ group of college educated, married, one spouse earning well above the poverty line income peeps. Speaking of which, I’ve never actually eaten a peep. Am I missing something?

Ehem. Anyway.

When Josh and I were filling out the demographic data sheet thingamajig for CrMS it was all I could do to keep from running out the hospital door to immediately look up data for where this system is actually used or how long it had been since they had updated their questionnaire. I was taken aback because they had household income broken down into several increments, but the highest, yes–the very top income bracket–was one that would allow a couple with two children to qualify for at least some forms of State assistance where we currently live. And this was apparently the highest income bracket they could imagine would be useful on a form handed out where we live?

And then of course there is the underlying problem of the tremendous socioeconomic gap in our country. Everyone seems to think that she is a part of the middle class and that her perception of reality is the accurate one. And so we act as if it should be easy to pay off two JDs and raise a family and save for retirement on one early-career income, because one income works for our family. And then at the same time we completely fail to see that what we think of as the basic demands of family life- dad being gone for the vast majority of his children’s days- is, in fact, an indication that we ourselves are probably choosing luxury because we want it. After all, so many people survive on so much less. Or is it so little less? Anyway, we could live with our parents, and our husbands could work part-time gigs and actually be around to see their children’s first steps. Is it not possible that the one full income we think of as basic is, in fact, as much of a luxury as someone else’s second income which is so obviously frivolous?

Instead we act as if the only question is one high income or two, and are quite convinced that those who see a SAHM as a sign of luxury are absurd.

And then there is the other side. The family with the multiple grad degrees from prestigious universities who likes to talk about how there is no need to worry about saving for our children’s undergraduate educations because they were fine paying the equivalent of multiple mortgages. And if they could pay that much, then surely everyone else can? It doesn’t matter that they have the earning power of the MBA/JD/MD/WhaverD. They seem unable to comprehend that this is not the case for most of those with the pathetic BAs.

Honestly, I’m not smart enough for all of this. My head hurts from trying to figure out what $xxx.00 converts to in y situation. There are helpful cost of living calculators for the simple geography question, but they come up far short of helpful with figuring out social expectation and debt repayments.

So for now I’m going to go back to work and give up the question of what is or isn’t a luxury for someone else. Please let me know if you can figure out if I am living in luxury or not because I certainly can’t tell.

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9 thoughts on “Relative Incomez

  1. Sarah Marie

    Hi Rae,

    You’ve noted that the idea of “luxury” is relative not only regionally, but socio-economically, and culturally.

    There is no “equation” for determining what luxury is, simply because families have varied sets of priorities dependent on the above variables. For example, where I’m originally from -Southern California- you’ll find a gamut of “stay at home moms”. Young unwed mothers living at home, upper middle class career women taking a break from work to raise kids, mothers part of a large family unit encompassing uncles, cousins, grandmas. Moms from Mexico, Vietnam, and right here in the U.S. I’d venture to guess that their ideas of luxury all differ, too.

    *My* idea of luxury is really more akin to sloth. For example, I work as a nanny. My employer is a lawyer whose husband, also an attorney, makes more than enough to furnish their four valuable properties as well as their lifestyle of eating out and taking vacations. So, she works because she wants to work (not because she HAS to) and passes on the duties of child-minding to me for a decent wage. When she gets home, she doesn’t assume the responsibilities of cooking or cleaning or yard care because she also hires out those positions. What we’re left with, then, is someone who (though kind and loving and wonderful in many ways) eschews the work she SHOULD be doing (in my mind, at least) in favor of something she merely WANTS to be doing.

    It’s a complicated, nuanced, and high-fire discussion indeed. Thanks for posting.

  2. Salome Ellen

    “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Dickens’ Mr. Micawber gets it right. Luxury is having (even a little) more than one’s needs and wants. The question is adjusting those to one’s income.

  3. Meg @ Moments Like This

    My husband and I both have Masters degrees but due to the field we work in, we earn nothing compared to most MBA/JD/MD earners. We’re in the field of Social Work and the pay is very poor, but fufilling. We have agreed that we will never tell our children they MUST go to college and the MUST take out loans. We plan on saving for their college when our future (mine and his) is secure. We take the Dave Ramsey approach: college is not a right, it is a luxury that should be paid for with money, not loans.

  4. Michelle

    This is excellent. You have put into words my own confusing thoughts on current socio-political discourse.

    I think often that I must live in luxury because we have gadgets, computers, guitar lessons, volleyball and soccer leagues, you know…all those “extras” that we really ought to get rid of. But then I think how miserable our existence might be without some of that stuff…and what my responsibilities are to my children. OH and those loans! Holy Moly! the loans. I am of the same mind as Meg. I will not be forcing the idea of college on my children. If they want to study and they want to make the sacrifices necessary to do it responsibly (without loans, live at home and work a job while attending, …you know all that stuff) I will back it wholeheartedly. But college is not for everyone…my own husband has worked his way up in the casino business without a college degree. He makes the same salary that lots of college-degreed people do and he mentors/manages people and succeeds…without college loans or that piece of paper.

    Good post!

  5. Nayhee

    Yeah, I’ll admit it, I live the luxurious life of a SAHM. It’s true and I know it. Your idea that living off the wage a single high-earner is a luxury is not really new to me, but the way you wrote it struck me in a new way in this post somehow, so that was very welcome.

    I have a whole lot to say on this topic, but mostly I just keep praying for that miracle that will get us through the needle’s eye…

  6. Susan

    “Is it not possible that the one full income we think of as basic is, in fact, as much of a luxury as someone else’s second income which is so obviously frivolous?” I often hear people complain about their circumstances (myself included) when there are other options. I have to tell myself not to complain about high housing costs and utilities, since I’ve chosen to live alone–which could be seen as a luxury. Or not (when you consider the possible scenarios involving a roommate…having to find new one b/c they moved out, e.g.).

  7. Craig

    Very snarky. Very sharp. Very “Rae”. Over my head too. Oh, oh, oh, this game we humans have organized. In some places it’s “I have more goats – you have fewer”, in others it’s “I make 300,000 a year and you – well I don’t know how you can survive or even have any self worth with what you make.” Of course the one with an income of 10 million a year looks way down the nose at the person making 3oo,ooo goats :) God has it right, you, my friend, have it right, I get it right sometimes – “No Wealth But Life” eternal life, of which this life is a part, the life of Our Lord IN us – knowing him – doing love – that’s wealth. We just don’t think very much like God thinks. Do we? God Bless you and your hubs Rae – you really are one of the good ones.

  8. Craig

    Rae, is this really the last thing you posted? Hope you’re OK. Of all the people I’ve met in the online thing you are one of the ones I respect the most, whose words have the most weight. I hope your absence means life is just busy. You are a gem. God bless you and your hubs. And thank you for being such a nice encouragement every. single. time I see you.

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