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July 19, 2006

A monthly family budget
Posted by Teresa at 04:31 PM *

From an article, Mothers Anonymous in New York magazine, about NYC women who hang out and talk on a moderated but anonymous bulletin board:

One night, a woman posts this seemingly non-rhetorical question: “If your dh [dear husband] had a 5mil trust fund would you stay home? 2 kids and dh does not work.” Responses range from a deadpan “uh, yeah” to “someone has to work … 5 mil is not enough for forever.” A long thread branching off examines the premise that a trust fund providing interest of $350,000 to $500,000 is not enough to live on. “Not enough for whom?” asked one poster incredulously. Another poster replies, “Me. We currently live a 15k/month lifestyle, net, with 1 dc [dear child] and no school costs” —and then promptly summarizes her expenses for an invisible audience: “7k rent, 1k PT sitter, eating out 1.5�2k, utilities 500, travelling 2k, clothing 1k, out and about ‘cash’ 1k.”

And yet it’s not enough money. It’s interesting hearing the privileged classes talk about themselves.
Comments on A monthly family budget:
#1 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 04:50 PM:

That is really astonishing. They spend $1,000 a month just on miscellaneous stuff.

I also note that they must not ever do any cooking, since "eating out" is listed but "groceries" is not.

#2 ::: mintichen ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 04:56 PM:

If she spends 15k per month that's still only 180k per year so what does she need 350k for? Who spends $1,000 per month on clothes anyway?

Still, I think staying at home and doing nothing would be boring, so I'd still find something to do anyway.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:01 PM:

I hate those people. "It's not enough," my asshole upside down!

#4 ::: JoXn S Costello ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:09 PM:

She spends more on rent than I make in two months.

#5 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:12 PM:

$1750/mo "eating out" is like $60/day. if you don't cook anything yourself, and only eat at fancy Manhattan bistros, that's probably pretty easy to do. but damn, just think of the kind of cash you'd save if you hit Taco Bell instead of the Four Seasons once or twice a week !

#6 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:13 PM:

Interesting how "have" transmutes into "need".
"I've got all this, so now I need it, so anything less is not enough to live on."

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:15 PM:

John, it's an addiction. I'm kind of addicted to my (much more modest than THAT) lifestyle. Or I'd probably be a highschool English teacher by now.

#8 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:16 PM:

I have observed in myself that "enough" is a moving target. I used to think that "I have enough money to own a dog" meant "I can buy Jim Dandy at the feed store and pay for vaccinations once a year." Now it means "I can buy Natural Balance and Greenies and Fat Cat toys and Lupine collars and leashes at the dog boutique and pay for vaccinations, yearly well visits, flea and heartworm prevention, one or two sick visits per year, plus minor surgery if necessary." (Multiply this amount by number of dogs in household, currently 4.)

Some of my dog rescue colleagues regard "enough" in that context to mean "I can pay for a hemilaminectomy if Schatzi blows a disk." ($1800-2200 at U.Ga. Vet School if there are no complications)

Obviously what you're used to plays a big role, but the lifestyle equivalent of "mission creep" also happens.

#9 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:23 PM:

I've seen studies that show that most people have a fixed percent (IIRC, it was between 132%-137%) of their current family income which was considered "enough money not to worry about money."

I know I'd be feeling flush with a 35% raise.

#10 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:23 PM:

$7000 for monthly rent? Good lord, do they rent a mansion or something?

#11 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:24 PM:

From the information given in the link, it seems to me that "I like my current lifestyle, and would work to maintain it rather than live on less" is as reasonable an interpretation of the expense-lister's point of view as "$500,000/yr isn't enough to live on."

#12 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:26 PM:

I remember 22 years ago, when my younger brother, finishing his residency at GWU railed against rich doctors, saying anyone who made more than $70,000 was greedy and should go straight to hell. Same fellow is now making close to ten times that amount and not a peep from him far as I know.

#13 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:30 PM:

Matthew Yglesias once observed that because of how our country's income distribution is skewed, people who are extremely rich by national standards hang out with families who are extremely, extremely rich, and with folks like that as a reference point, they don't feel rich.

There is also, I think, an aversion in American culture to describing one's self as "rich". We're all just plain middle-class folk here.

#14 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:33 PM:

Once upon a time in the shtetl, there was a poor teacher who told his wife, "If I were as rich as Rothschild, I'd be richer than Rothschild."

"How would you do that?"

"I'd do a little teaching on the side."

#15 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:37 PM:

That's just incomprehensible. You sure they're not joking?

#16 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:38 PM:

When I first read that, I thought it was per YEAR. I've lived on $15k a year, or less, most of my adult life. I actually did a budget recently, and realized, to my horror, that I spend closer to $20k now, but I could still cut back to $15 if I had to. (Working on retirement planning, and needed to know.)

A 5 mil trust fund would mean I would be giving away tons of money. I couldn't read all the books that would buy, and I shouldn't eat that much chocolate, and what other true luxuries are there?

#17 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:42 PM:

Magenta: health care. If money were no object, I would have MRIs on both knees, one shoulder, and my neck, and probably get a good deal of physical therapy based on the findings.

#18 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:47 PM:

Seconding what Lila said. Also I'd include the $5k of dental work that I need. Oh, and I'd buy that great wheel (spinning wheel) that I've been drooling over. Then after we got the house painted and the flooring replaced, we'd be golden. :)

#19 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:49 PM:

I was trying to think of a snarky comment and realized I feel exactly like Xopher. I bloody hate these people. As someone who manages to support elderly parents on MUCH LESS than $350,000 a year,and still manages a moderately (very moderately!) decent life, I just want to take their self-absorbed heads and bang them against something hard. So you can't make it on less than $15k a year? Too effin' bad, lady.

I ran into a similar thing last year when the head of the local St. Vincent's society, who is a friend, told me about the lady who went in for help. It seems she needed cash to meet the payments on her THIRD SUV because everyone NEEDED a car in the family. Was terribly upset then she was told she really did not meet the "needs" standards.

#20 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:50 PM:

*groan* Don't get me started on all the work my house needs. Hint: 4 dogs.

#21 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:51 PM:

So you can't make it on less than $15k a year?
I meant a month, of course.

#22 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 05:59 PM:

I grew up in a farm town in the midwest, with a whole lot of nothing around. We lived in an old horse hair plaster house and you could occaisionally hear mice in the walls or have a bat flying around kitchen. The bank forclosed on my dad when I was in high school, and he had to sell all the livestock and machinery, but managed to keep the land. He got a job as a carpenter to pay the bills.

I got an engineering degree, moved to the big city and make way more than he does and spend a whole lot of that just on my mortgage.

I remember when I first realized I was making more than my father and the whole thing felt weird for a long time. Somewhere along the line I came to grips with it and got that money doesn't have anything to do with our relationship.

I worked with someone who was probably in the neighborhood of being a millionaire or more. You wouldn't know it to look at him. He was a hard worker and knew his stuff. He was also pretty low key about having money. It seemed that his work ethic and the kind of guy he was was the sort who wanted to work.

I also happen to have a passing acquaintance with someone who is a multimultimillionaire. They own a mansion, take lots of vacations, and seem to be quite friendly.

I suppose if I were to look at their bills, it would likely boggle my mind, probably the same way my bills would boggle my dad's mind.

#23 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:15 PM:

I made it through the first page of the article, but couldn't take any more. Silly, spoiled, stupid people.

#24 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:25 PM:

I read an interesting article in the New Yorker a few months ago. Researchers were studying the link between happiness and money. They found that money can buy happiness, but only if you make less than around $17,000 a year. Anything above that and people register the same amount of happiness. Under that, and most folks are miserable.

It was a long article, and most of it went on about what happiness is and how do you survey it etc. But the salient point to me was that all of us on this reading this blog who make more than $17,000 wouldn't be made happier with any more money for more than a few months. We'd quickly adjust. If we think that we wouldn't suddenly 'need' the same money that the rich lady needs, then we're buying into the same BS that she is, the "if I had x amount of money, I'd be fine."

#25 ::: Christine ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:26 PM:

Who spends 2K a month eating out? What the heck are they eating - endangered species?

I hate how people waste money. Yes, I could live on the interest from a 5mil trust fund. Easily. We'd never work, but I'd still write. And we'd travel.

For 7K in rent, buy a freaking house and get something for the money!

#26 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:40 PM:

I think people like that are their own reward.

#27 ::: Sara G ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:42 PM:

That's at least 14 times my annual income, and I'm doing fine. Eventually I'll even get out of the debt I got myself into in my twenties. If I married a man with that much, I'd certainly stay home. All I really want in life is to write novels and adopt children. 50,000 a year would probably cut it. It would take a couple years to get out of debt and save up for a down payment on a house and adoption fees, but it would work. 350,000 would get me the house paid for in the first year, and after that it would be cake.

My standards are pretty simple though. If I had that much I'd definitely pay someone to clean, and have a nicer computer, and travel a lot more, but I can't imagine thinking it wasn't enough to live on. Maybe she's never skipped meals for lack of funds like I did right after college, so she doesn't realize what "not enough to live on" really means.

#28 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 06:58 PM:

What the fuck is wrong with those people?

You'll notice that while "groceries" are lacking in that list, so is "charity."

#29 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:04 PM:

The husband and I are managing on $2,000 Cnd a month total if there is no overtime. Twerps like this make me want to beat them senseless.

#30 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:05 PM:

I grew up in a town, Locust Valley, that was what amounted to the retail district of the remnants of the Gold Coast: We were surrounded by Brookville, Lattingtown, Mill Neck and other estate-heavy environs.

We lived in the relatively grubby part of town, on a teacher's (father) salary sometimes supplemented with a school nurse's (mother) salary. Not poor, far from opulent; my mom bought lots of stuff from thrift stores and day-old bakery outlets. Vacations were generally camping trips to state parks. (I didn't travel in a jet until I was in my late 20s and able to pay for it myself.)

By contrast, my school-mates went skiing, flew to exotic locales, and etc. The kicker was, they weren't the wealthy ones.

Occasionally, as working stiff kids (I worked in the public library; my sisters worked at restaurants and such; my brother was a volunteer fireman / EM guy) living in Locust Valley, you got exposed to the Struldbrugs. (sp?)

My.

Most of these shockingly rich folks were older, old money types. But occasionally you'd run into folks who I imagine might have conversations like those noted in the article.

*SIGH*. About ten years back, a jet crashed in . . . Lloyd's Neck, I think it was. An exclusive enclave just east of Oyster Bay. My brother was called in to help find survivors and locate . . . parts.

He recalls a very polite, well-spoken local woman asking the rescuers if they could please keep it down so her children wouldn't lose any sleep.

#31 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:07 PM:

Oh yeah, I've seen these people. They're the ones who had signs out on the lawns of their lovely homes that said, "Prisoner of Clintonomics." The poor, suffering bstrds. How I wished I could have helped them, perhaps by exchanging residences.

(I, of course, wouldn't be able to deal with the problems of the rich -- I can't afford them.)

#32 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:09 PM:

You pepole are all nauseatingly well-adjusted and sensible. Is there no one else who, if they came into a huge amount of money, would buy a Maserati and a villa in Lombardy and spend the rest of their days giving a) scholarships to promising writers and historians, and/or b)Wodehousian parties, but actually probably c)both?

#33 ::: Stef ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:12 PM:

When I see people talking smugly about how much they hate this family that spends $15K a month, I wonder how much people in areas much less well off than the US and Europe hate those of us who are living on, say, $30K-$100K per year.

#34 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:14 PM:

Another entry for the department of "Gee, I wish I had your problems."

#35 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:26 PM:

Well, someone just asked me in LJ how much I'd need to win before I gave up work completely, and I said £3m (a poll). Not because I'd not be able to live on less, but because if I came into a lot of money I wouldn't particularly want to live a life of relatively frugal leisure. I can think of lots of intermediate amounts of money where I'd aim to work rather less than I do now, but still some. And even with the 3m, although I would probably give up my current job, I'd surely still do something with my time.

These people are in NYC; I guess the issues are the same as in London. We have a nice house, in a pretty ropey area. If I was rich (for the values of rich defined halfway down the comments, ie 'substantially richer than I am at present') we would have a house of similar size, with rather fewer compromises, in a much nicer area. That, friends, is a million quid right there, and suddenly a £3m fund doesn't seem so much. And I'd want to ensure we'd manage the reasonable expenses of education and setting up home for our kids, and ensure we could manage our money through a long retirement.

Answers to this also depend on current earnings. Average London salary is around 40k, and nearly all couples both work. So if you've got 2 people aged 35, then that £3m probably only just about covers their likely future salaries and pensions, even not expecting any further increase in earnings. The question wasn't 'what's the least you could live on', it was 'what would it take to make you stay home'.

$1000 a month on 'just stuff' doesn't actually sound like all that much to me, either. Certainly when we have an anti-consumer month, we save substantially more than that.

#36 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:26 PM:

Vian, I might, but only if I could find a Jeeves equivalent.

#37 ::: neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:33 PM:

$7000 on RENT? Is that a sane price for a luxury place in NYC?

If I had $500,000 a year, I'd have a fricking house next to the Metro -- one large enough to have my friends live with me instead of the dubious condo they rent.

I think the worse that I would do is let the bibliophilia run mad (like it hasn't already) and maybe buy a dobby loom.

#38 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:36 PM:

Vian:

Kharman Ghia, London, mature and part time university students (there are PATHETICALLY few bursaries for non-traditional students), and a large enough donation to give me a lifetime pass at the RSC, but in essense, yes.

We'd increase our current giving level by a couple decimals, too, mind you, and one or two other bits of small scale social engineering.

#39 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:42 PM:

Vian, I might, but only if I could find a Jeeves equivalent.

And an Anatole equivalent. Especially an Anatole equivalent. And Marna - couldn't agree more about the non-trad student thing. They occupy a very high place on the Vian Benevolent Fund Scholarship for the Deserving list.

#40 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:44 PM:

Personally, I can't imagine where I'd put $1,000 per month of random stuff. Unless, of course, I got myself a $7,000 per month apartment. ;-)

Planning for the future, on a $5MM lump of cash, I'd probably keep working - for the benefits, not for the cash flow. Even with that amount of money, I wouldn't want to spin the healthcare wheel-of-fortune. (Unless there's some super-secret health care plan available only to the idle rich.)

#41 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:55 PM:

Well, I don't know about all of this, but the 7K rent? What's a good rent for something in a good neighborhood in Manhattan? I have no idea, but I always figured I'd consider it insanely expensive.

The one thing I know about Manhattan real estate prices is that a friend and I bought our homes at roughly the same time. For close to the same amount of money, he has a studio in a co-op near Lincoln Center and I have a large fixer-upper house in West Seattle, but not in the Admiral district. Or, I could have bought a small hay ranch + large well-kept Victorian house in Eastern Washington.

P.S. Totally off topic, my cat has just complained about the lack of real estate on the top of my new-to-me flat screen monitor. She tried to jump up & it didn't work.

#42 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 07:57 PM:

Daydreaming:

I don't think $1,000,000 wouldn't be enough for me to retire in comfort and security, for one reason:

Health insurance.

A thrifty person could live comfortably on $50,000 a year (5% interest on a million), but comprehensive health insurance would suck a lot of that away.

$2,000,000 though . . . figure half a million for a solid house, and the interest on the rest for income and insurance and property taxes. Principle left intact for posterity.

That'd do, not too much to ask, eh?

#43 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 08:06 PM:

I haven't found any good references for Manhattan rents yet, but here is an article on how much Manhattan apartments cost to buy:


"A million dollars will buy you a decent, not spectacular one-bedroom apartment on the upper East Side," said Prudential Douglas Elliman managing director Daniela Kunen.

#44 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 08:12 PM:

Ah, found some rental information. While rents vary a lot by location, and I'm sure there are places even cheaper in neighborhoods not covered by the site I am looking at, it's not hard to spend $7000/month on rent if you are looking to do it. This 2-bedroom is $9000/month, for example (it's in a luxury building, to be sure). Others listed there run from $3000-$6000.

#45 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 08:33 PM:

Ok, now things are starting to make sense. That's a whole decimal place more than some rents around here. (Albany, NY)

I've got nothing against millionaires (I know some, very nice people), just ungrateful ones.

#46 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:06 PM:

I'm kinda curious about the other premise, that a $5M trust fund is equivalent to a $350-500k annual income. Isn't that a higher rate of return than you can expect from completely safe investments?

#47 ::: JaniceG ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:19 PM:

Ironically, I'm typing this while in Bangalore, India, on a business trip. You can't help but reflect on haves vs. have-nots here because glass-and-chrome high-rise office buildings are literally a block away from people living in tents made from blue tarps hung over ropes and cooking over fires in large tins.

As for this specific situation, the rent for Manhattan does not surprise me that much. However, much as the amounts per month for clothing, eating out, and traveling boggle me, the assumption that one could not get along on less and therefore needs to work to maintain that budget is the truly nauseating part.

#48 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:20 PM:

Please, dear Lord, let me prove to you that being a millionaire won't spoil me...

#49 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:27 PM:

I should add that I live in Minneapolis, a relatively inexpensive place compared with either coast, and have been lucky enough to work for places that provide me with relatively good health insurance. Forgot to count in the health insurance. Damn.

I figure I can't retire until I am 65 or the politicians get off their asses and put through universal health care like the rest of the industrialized world has.

I bet the unemployment rate would plummet if they passed health care. There are a lot of people who could stop working if it weren't for the health insurance. A friend at a previous job was in that category. Her husband had had a stroke, couldn't work, couldn't get insurance, but wasn't quite bad enough to qualify as disabled for SS and Medicare.

#50 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:40 PM:

... and I've been a millionaire... on paper ... for a few short, exhillarating months, before everything went to hell in a handbasket. Oh well :)

#51 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:48 PM:

Ehhh, most of us here *are* the privileged classes already. I certainly am, in fact I'm 'way above the threshold. I don't remember the last time I seriously had to worry where I was going to get my next meal or where I was going to sleep (excpt for a few instances purely due to bad planning); nobody threatens me with physical harm; I not only have a steady job, but I could afford to quit it and find another one if I had to. I have plenty of leisure time to sit here and post to Making Light on this sunny summer evening.

On the other hand, I'm an order of magnitude or so poorer than the woman described in the post. I guess I'm just echoing in ancdote what Sean Bosker said.

The quoted text doesn't sound like the woman is complaining, either. She's saying, "I have this cushy lifestyle, and I'm thinking I'm willing to keep working to maintain it, rather than retire and have a slightly less cushy lifestyle." I honestly don't see a problem with that.

#52 ::: Simon Haynes ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:50 PM:

Being rich isn't earning lots of money. Being rich is managing your finances so your expenses are lower than your income. The bigger the margin, the richer you are.
Having said that, 'surviving' on 15k/month sounds a bit rich.

#53 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:53 PM:

Vian, not the parties, but the scholarships? Heck, yes. Having been an impoverished graduate student at one point in my life, I'd like to give some poor bastard the chance NOT to live on powdered soup and Little Debbie oatmeal cookies...
And not a Ghia. This, perhaps.

#54 ::: C A Ward ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 09:58 PM:

What I find amusing about the rent--500,000 to 1.5 mil can buy a nice 5 acre private island in the carribean free and clear. In other words, temporarily down-size the apartment you live in, save for 6 years (For the lower of the prices I gave) and you can bloody well buy your own private island. I'd say that's a better arrangement than renting for the same period and in essence flushing your money.

I don't begrudge these people--I aspire to an even more opulent (but much less wasteful) lifestyle. It's nice they can live the way they can, and I'm happy for 'em--yeah, I think they're fools for throwing away the money they do but it's their money and only they can decide how it's right to spend it.

I personally have figured out that after a set-up period of putting in place the systems (cost of initial set-up would probably be around $150,000 dollars) I'd need I could easily live on $2-4K per year. It wouldn't be easy living, but it'd be comfortable enough for me--until of course I'd saved up enough money to upgrade to the next phase of my plan.

#55 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:01 PM:

ah, the lovely insane world of new york magazine, where the reality of most people does not exist.

my first thought was: "rent? if they have so much money, why don't they own a place?"

#56 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:08 PM:

Matt Austern: well, that's 7-10% APY. Not the sort of thing you'd get from an FDIC-insured savings account, obviously, but not unreasonably hard to reach. A quick check of bankrate.com shows 1 yr CDs at just over 5% APY, so it shouldn't take too much of a risk premium to get to 7%.

Besides, I think I could find a way to manage on $250K/year....

#57 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:18 PM:

Folks, I hate to tell you, but the people in the article are comparitively mild. I know people who have two nannies for two kids, people who buy $1200 bottles of wine and wear $100 ties, and who commute to their job by jet on those times when they actually have to be in the office.

But at least a few of them are self-made. So for them, at least, they've socked away enough cash to make sure they're covered, and then tried to figure out what they're going to do next.

Sadly, there are some folks who go through money even faster than they have coming in, even with the amount of money they have at their disposal. And often, it points to a hole in themselves. Read The Next Next Thing for examples.

Of course, we can also talk about how much more it costs to be poor, too.

The economy at high levels between other folks is very strange, acting more like a gift economy than anything else. It also shows up when there are problems that come about that no amount of money can cure.

#58 ::: Thena (still in Maine) ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:43 PM:

That lady spends more in a month than I made in 2004 and 2005 combined. Before taxes.

Granted, 04 and 05 were slim years (05 being the better of them) and 06 is not shaping up much better, but... we get by, here in the real world.

I think $5M would be pretty useful, though. I could pay for my last car repairs, then give the car to my guyfriend's brother, who doesn't have one at all, and then get myself a decent used car, something less than five years old with less than 75K on it, 25mpg or better, and no rust. And I'd pay off the remaining $86K on our mortgage. And the $5K we need to borrow for a new roof this summer (nice t-storms we had this week found their way in.) And help out his folks, who also need a roof, and maybe put some by for my folks if there's another hurricane (they live in one of the drier suburbs of New Orleans, and got lucky last summer.) (Why has keeping roofs over our heads suddenly become so problematic? We have the roofs, it's just keeping them where we want them...)

And I'd send a fat check to my local Public Broadcasting because they ALWAYS manage to have their pledge drives the week I am beyond flat into concave broke, and I am a guilt tripping liberal who really cannot come up with $35 bucks this month and it's driving me effin' insane. :D

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:53 PM:

Y'know, it's people like that who remind me why I staked out a place on the left (well, people like that and the people I see foraging through garbage for cast-away food).

#60 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 10:56 PM:

One of the things that fascinated me about that paragraph is that her declared monthly expenses are $15K a month -- presumably $180,000 a year -- which is only one-half to one-third of the stipulated amount; and yet she's convinced it's not enough.

Dan Blum:

"This 2-bedroom is $9000/month, for example (it's in a luxury building, to be sure)."
No. There are lots of merely luxurious buildings. That apartment is in the Apthorp Building. The Apthorp's not quite as swank and storied as the Dakota or the Ansonia Hotel, and it doesn't have the sheer Bohemian cachet of the Chelsea Hotel, but it's right up there.

#61 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:02 PM:

A quick check of bankrate.com shows 1 yr CDs at just over 5% APY,

And inflation's a 3.5% leaving a juicy 1.5% to actually eat.


so it shouldn't take too much of a risk premium to get to 7%.

Not really obvious where. Certainly not stocks, seeing as S&P 500 is about flat over the last 5 years.

#62 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:07 PM:

You don't need to poke around to figure out rent costs in NYC... It's right there on Craigslist. Real live housing ads! Looks like 7k buys you a smallish (2000 square feet) house in a luxury building, in what I assume is a nice area with good schools.

It doesn't really bother me that there are people who think 350K isn't enough. Like someone pointed out upthread, most people here don't have to work 10-hour days 7 days a week at dangerous jobs. Some of us realize every moment how blessed we are, some of us don't... That's humanity for you.

Of course, I'm still fully behind a tax structure that allows these folks to figure out how they can live on only, say, a measly 275K a year... Builds character. ;)

I don't buy the "money can't buy you happiness" thing, though. If I had unlimited funds, I'd be able to make businesses design things that maybe only I would want. Shoes with cushy athletic bottoms and fancy-looking leather tops. Mattresses longer than the junk sizes we have currently, but not necessarily wide. Airplanes that had ballrooms, and continuous parties... Hell, zeppelins! Subsidized respectfully-raised gently-killed meat. A space elevator. Neurology research.

But maybe that's because I'm a pretty happy person even with the 39K I make now. So I'd still be happy reshaping the world in my image. :D

#63 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:13 PM:

People seem to be ignoring taxes. In NYC, if your gross income is $350K, you might have $180K left after taxes.

A large (for Manhattan) one-bedroom apartment in a postwar (urban renewal) building could rent for $3,000/month.

I used to work with a multi-millionaire. I once asked him if he thought he was rich, and he replied "No, rich has always been a few million more than I had."

#64 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:24 PM:

As a nontraditional student who just received an institutional scholarship (thank you very much, Athens Tech!) I would like to thank those who support such causes, and suggest they check out this organization, which does pretty damn cool work.

#65 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:28 PM:

$1,000 a month for CLOTHING?

I don't pay that much for clothing in a YEAR. I'm still wearing clothes I bought fifteen years ago.

#66 ::: Ellen Fremedon ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:30 PM:

If I had $500,000 a year, I'd have a fricking house next to the Metro -- one large enough to have my friends live with me instead of the dubious condo they rent.

Neotoma, dear, it's not the condo that's dubious. Our housekeeping would be just as sketchy anywhere with the same cubic footage of storage space.

#67 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:43 PM:

I would be very dubious about not working with $5 million in the bank, if I were relatively young.

The general rule of thumb for withdrawal from savings in retirement is 4% a year, and that's a number that's supposed to draw down your principal over your expected lifespan. A principal-preserving number is going to less than that.

If you figure 3%, you're looking at $150K a year, which is certainly a pretty nice household income (somewhere around the top 5% of US households), but is still in the range where you'll want to fly coach instead of first-class, never mind a private jet.

Plus, it's just risky -- if another Great Depression comes along, and your $5 million becomes $1 million, and you really don't want to try living on $30K a year (aside: Yes, I know it's very possible, and many people do -- but a wealthy person living a life of indolence would presumably not be pleased with it), you're scrod. You've got no recent work experience, no useful skills, and are besides completely unused to professional life.

But if you let that money sit, get a job, and live off your income for 15 years -- now you've got $12 million sitting around, 15 fewer years to spend it, and a lot more catastrophe buffer. You can be pulling out $400K or so a year, and be down around $75K a year if the Depressiony bit happens (not to mention with a better resume, if you do have to go back to work).

And yes, of COURSE this is all ridiculous money to basically everyone (myself included). All I'm saying is, it takes more-than-ridiculous money to really feel good about not working, if you ask me.

That said, if you really HATE your job, instead of finding it mostly satisfying but occasionally aggravating, thresholds are probably lower...

#68 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:43 PM:

Gods and monsters. This woman spends more on rent than my annual salary. And my wife's. Her dining out budget is more than I make per paycheck.

And yet, I bet this woman bitches about paying $3 a gallon for gas. I bet we could cut our dependency on foreign oil if she just stayed home and cooked a meal every once in a while.

#69 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:44 PM:

There is also, I think, an aversion in American culture to describing one's self as "rich". We're all just plain middle-class folk here.

Or not even middle-class, if it doesn't play with the voters; cf the Southern congresscritter who said he was "just folks" despite his $150K salary -- it would take $200-300K to make middle class.

#70 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2006, 11:55 PM:

This kind of thing helps me remember why I'm a Buddhist (at least some of the time.) It gives me a structure to understand why people think like this, and why I and almost everybody are at risk for thinking like this.

Desire (attachment) is endless. This woman "needs" (wants) $15K a month to cover her basic living expenses; my 4 year old son wants more Thomas the Tank Engine wooden engines, and now has the list up to about 10 more names he wants "for Christmas" and why is Christmas so far away anyway? The needy thinking, the sensation of need, is fundamentally the same. We are all hungry ghosts.

#71 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:07 AM:
No. There are lots of merely luxurious buildings. That apartment is in the Apthorp Building. The Apthorp's not quite as swank and storied as the Dakota or the Ansonia Hotel, and it doesn't have the sheer Bohemian cachet of the Chelsea Hotel, but it's right up there.

Ah, well, beyond the Dakota I don't know the swank buildings in NYC (I don't spend nearly enough time there, clearly). So, $9000/month for a 2-bedroom is thus clearly near the upper end of the price range, and the $3000-$5000 apartments must be the sort I was thinking of.

#72 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:08 AM:

As a native silicon-valley (SVer? SVite?) person, I find tidbits like these helpful in understanding how SV real estate appears crazy relative to the rest-of-North America (minus NYC, Vancouver, and coastal CA).

roNA:SV :: SV:NYC

I'm used to the idea that $700,000 is a starter home. I understand why people around here can make $75,000 and yet aren't easily able to save up for a house. To me that's scary and sad, but not crazy. But a $6,000 rent? That's crazy.

That's just thinking about relative wealth, though. The culture of wealth- the signals and status symbols and assumptions showing up in that article - seems different than what I've seen in Silicon Valley. Maybe because the wealthy around here weren't born to it, nor did they have a society page to compare themselves to.

#73 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:20 AM:

Money can't buy happiness . . . but it can buy security: Insurance, a full pantry, no worries about loan defaults or eviction or repossession or the electricity being cut off.

Avoiding misery and desperation always seemed more important to me than indulgence, even if I could afford the indulgence; one of the things that convinced me that Heinlein was a crank was the "Lazarus Long" quote about budgeting the luxuries first.

#74 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:40 AM:

Very mixed feelings here. I make very little, have no retirement funds of any kind (which means I will never be able to stop working) and yet I own 3/4 of a house within driving distance of San Francisco (the bank owns the other 1/4) and I am very happy. I have learned what I don't need. I make enough to survive in the very expensive Bay Area. I drive a ten year old car. I buy books whenever I want to and I manage to pay my health insurance premium every month. I tithe, too.

On the other hand, if I had to stop working for say, 3 months, I would be so totally screwed.

I think I envy the rich not for their possessions, most of which I don't want, but for their security. If a rich person gets seriously ill she doesn't have be afraid that she will no longer be able to pay her mortgage and her health insurance -- to say nothing of paying for vet bills, food, etc.

And yes, these people sound very rich to me.

#75 ::: glenda larke ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:41 AM:

First of all, I'll bet every single one of us is in the top 95% of the world's richest people. Yep, even those earning less than 12k a year.

Secondly, you've all missed the real tragedy of this. USA leads the world's consumerism and global warming by a mile - and is dragging the rest of the world in its wake to a disaster of unimaginable horror, probably within the lifetimes of anyone now under forty years old. The mega rich are to be despised for their consumerism and for their disinterest in the environment, not for being rich. But then, why should they be interested in environmental concerns? They, after all, can leave Manhattan when the island is underwater, and go and live in Vail.

#76 ::: Not My Name ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:53 AM:

Well, this is strangly fortuitous timing. Or, rather, my life is a snapshot example of almost every principle mentioned here.

Background: married young (18), a parent very soon after. After struggling through getting a two-year degree while working crap jobs (I should have put two year degree in sarcasm quotes), I finally was hired at a company that paid me quite a bit of money *and* had medical. Of course, 'quite a bit' at the time was about $16 p/hour. During all this time, we were living in my grandmother's house (she was travelling the world - married well the second time), mostly rent free (near the end we paid her $300 p/month for the 2400 sq. ft. house, fantastic even for our area).

While I was in that group, I got occasional minor raises. At some point I switched over to salary. I ended up in the mid to upper 30k p/year range. We also added three more kids at fairly short intervals. At no point during this time did we feel 'well off', and if we had over a thousand in savings we were doing good. Checking account was *always* paycheck-to-paycheck.

Well, Grandma wanted to sell her house. I had *just* got an unexpected (but well deserved, of course) 32% raise at work, so we found some first-time-buyer programs, and got a 1150sq. ft. house, with a mortage twice what we were paying in rent (that quite neatly took care of the raise). Oh, and it was farther from work as well. We lasted in that house just over two years, until my sister-in-law moved in. 7 people in 1150 was just 'too much', and we started house shopping again.

*After* signing on the dotted line to build a house (3200 sq/ft) with a split mortgage that worked out to exactly twice what we were previously paying, I got another 27% raise. This time, the raise covered not only the increase in housing costs, but a little bit extra as well. Which is good, because we "had" to buy new furniture for our new house, as my wife felt she had been sitting on goodwill furniture for long enough (note: I'm not necessarily disagreeing with her, our couches and bed are fantastic now). I was also able to afford a *new* computer (not a frankenmonster) for the first time in five years (an intel mac mini, if you're interested). I still drive a car my in-laws gave to us years ago, with a transmission that shakes the entire car when going from first to second (it's been doing that for three years now). My wife drives the minivan that we bought in '99 (used).

So, now we get to why I bring this up. Yesterday (literally), I recieved notice that I got an 11% raise (almost one year exactly since the 27%). I now make $76,000 a year. I also *literally* just closed another browser window where I was checking our bank account, and we are overdrawn by $220. Now, I get paid tomorrow, so we're just out a couple overdraft fees. Nothing bounced, our bank is covering our ass for us. But basically, we're in the same financial position we were in six years ago, when I first got this job. We might have softer couches, I'm putting in up to the company-match limit into my 401K, and we definetly have more room to put crap, but we still have jack in savings, we still live paycheck-to-paycheck, and this new raise isn't going to change a thing.

The point has been made, but bears repeating: once you're above poverty level, rich is a state of mind and a method of living. It is *not* a given level of income. I've *doubled* my income over the course of four years, and have - house aside - almost nothing to show for it.

P.S. To those who willl say "make a budget! save more, you moron!", I reply: "Of course! Why didn't we think of that?!" I mean, literally every single time I get a raise, we sit down, talk about how we were able to make it on my old salary so this is all gravy, and what wonderfully responsible things we can do to sock away money. And then, somehow, we have a new costco swingset in the back yard and $12.52 in savings. Sigh.

#77 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:08 AM:

Not that I spend $1,000 a month on this, but when you have kids, buying clothing is suddenly a lot more pressing. You can certainly do it pretty cheaply (watching for sales, shopping at rummage sales and thrift stores, and best of all, making friends who have children just a little bit larger than yours, and hinting for hand-me-downs) but since kids grow, they really do need a whole new round of clothing every six months or so.

If I were filthy, stinking rich and could compress the shopping trips to a handful of expensive stores (which would be great, because I hate shopping!), I could easily imagine spending $1000 or more to outfit my children every time the seasons changed.

#78 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:11 AM:

Rich McAllister: good points, both. Of course, as much of a Mr. Debt-Averse as I am (similar to "loompa" in this thread on Big Picture), I'd do okay with $5M even figuring on only 1% of "safe growth" after inflation.

(Because I'd keep working, pay off the mortgage, then build a mix of long-term investments and let it grow without touching it.)

#79 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:37 AM:

Don't worry: once the revolution comes, they'll harvest strawberries and they'll like it!

#80 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:53 AM:

I know I'm in the upper class for my group of people. I'm going into grad school in the fall. I'll be an engineering student, which means I'll make enough money from the university not to need a job.
As far as I can tell, I'll be able to survive. I'm living in a too-nice apartment (other options were eh with anxiety and ohonever) by myself unless I find someone I want to live with, I have a bike and a car that might not get driven except to writers' groups, and I like rice. I have a ridiculous amount of furniture-- I don't want to move because it's far more than I can handle without a truck-- but it's garage sale bounty. I'm pretty sure I will have good insurance. My parents have paid for just about everything, so instead of owing a bank, I owe them neverending devotion.
It's not much, but I'm not really working for it either. It's enough.

I kind of want to win the lottery so I can go on TV and say, "Well, the first thing I did was buy the hardcover books I couldn't afford before, and pay off my parents' debt, and I bought the Porsche Dad liked before a tree could hit it, and I can live on X, so it's all children's libraries, scholarships, and I guess I can buy name-brand organic fancy rice now." I'd feel guilty living on more-- I'm supposed to be an impoverished grad student, aren't I?

#81 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:29 AM:

Sara G wrote:

> All I really want in life is to write novels and adopt children. 50,000 a year would probably cut it.

That's a lot of kids.

#82 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:46 AM:

$7000 for monthly rent? Good lord, do they rent a mansion or something?

A girlfriend's father paid twice that fifteen years ago in NYC. For that he got a large (took up one entire floor) two bedroom apartment in a luxury building, meaning the view wasn't ugly and the doorman was good at his job. He was living there while waiting for his more expensive apartment to become available. He ate out pretty much every meal. If you want to live that kind of life in NYC, it's easy to spend the money. (Personally, I thought my cheap neighborhood restaurants had better food and service than most of those I went to with him--the Russian Tea Room being a big exception--but there's no accounting for taste.) At the time, one month's rent for him would have covered all my bills for a year. I was bringing home more than twice that, and paying off school debt hand over fist.

Several years later and in another life, I sold a successful business, made good bank, and "retired." This was only possible because my wife and I aren't interested in leading extravagant lives, or even normal middle-class lives. Safe earnings on a million dollars won't last long when a typical year might see you dropping $10K-$12K on high-deductable health insurance and medical expenses.

What the money does allow us to do is live freer lives. Remaining debt free is a big part of that (not to mention being cheaper). Being able to pick and choose jobs, doing what we want to do instead of what we have to do. Being able to travel to family and friends on a moment's notice if they need us, without worrying about the consquences. Being generous to charities. These things won't make you happy, but they do make it a lot easier for you to live a happier life. That's what money can do for you. Most people who have it, of course, don't use it that way.

#83 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:48 AM:

I've always figured that to stop working, I'd need to start at about $2 mil, which would probably support me in perpetuity. (I might like an additional $1M for airable land + a good chunk of solar/wind/desalinization equipment. and a pony.)

I'm suspecting that number will resemble what the retirement investment advisors will put as a target for people my age, and that kind of saving volume is frightening.

As for the $15k/month, I would break that down a little differently. $1k rack space and bandwidth. $2-3k machine lease. $5k salary, $2k insurance/benefits. And then $4k for whatever else the startup of the year required. I'd love to have the freedom to do some serial entreprenurship type stuff, and $5 mil trust fund would go a long way towards doing that and being able to sleep at night.

But then again, if I had a trust fund, I'd probably be an insufferable ass. Money and a sense of entitlement have a way of doing that. So better make it a found lottery ticket.

#84 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:02 AM:

We tiptoe around the concept of F.U. money. This is the amount of money that it takes for you to be able to say F.U. to any proposal that offends your delicate sensibility at no particular cost to you. This number is changable, dependent on time and circumstance, and so we try to come up with a number that will cover most cases.

Alternately, it's the number that allows you to say, "Now what was it I wanted to do as a kid, before I was told I had to go out and earn a living?" The truly happy folks I know are those that have that level of cash and go on doing it anyway.

#85 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:13 AM:

I was just reading a link from somewhere upstream about how the poor pay more, and noticed a mention of check cashing businesses. These were almost unknown in Australia until recently - I'm not sure what triggered their invasion - but I'm very familiar with them from when I worked in Chicago for a while.

Could someone explain to me why they thrive, given that they offer pretty unfavourable terms - that is to say, why their customers don't just have a bank account? Is it just a matter of living such a hand to mouth existence that getting the paycheck cashed immediately is all important? Or are there barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor? Or is it some kind of cultural inertia?

I hope I don't sound like I'm sniping here - I'm genuinely curious.

#86 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:25 AM:

Reading the article, all I could hear in my head was the refrain from an Oliver Wendell Holmes poem I had to read in high school, Contentment, in which the speaker keeps insisting that his needs are few and modest. He only wants the best, of course; anything else is false economy.

In regard to why check cashing places thrive, it's a combination of everything you mention. For people who are living off the grid, or close to, having a bank account is problematical. Further, many banks charge fees that would eat up low-balance account before you got around to paying your bills. Plus, in the past few decades, actually opening an account has gotten harder. Even twenty five years ago, when I moved back to New York and had a $5000 cashier's check in my hand, all ready to open a new bank account, I had to hunt for a bank that would take my money--there had been so much fraud (person comes in, deposits $5K, writes check for $15K while that one is clearing, decamps) that the rules were really rigid.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:33 AM:

Money can't buy happiness . . . but it can buy security: Insurance, a full pantry, no worries about loan defaults or eviction or repossession or the electricity being cut off.

Yes, exactly. And it's amazing how much misery just... evaporates when you've got a roof over your head, food, a bit of pad for emergencies, and enough to pay the bills with a little left over for frivolity. I've watched my partner go from his normally-cheerful self to totally depressed and grouchy during periods when the money was particularly tight. Worrying about money all the time throws a cloud over everything else.

Of course, some people don't understand how little they actually need because they've always had so much more; going thru a period of actual, serious POVERTY is frequently an enlightening experience. (And sometimes not -- I understand that Ken Lay grew up dirt-poor in the rural South, and all it did was make him greedy.) And then there are those who just aren't happy without something to whine about, but that's a different level of problem.

#88 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:14 AM:

Is there anyone else here who wouldn't stop working for any money?

Earlier last year I found that unemployment - even in a situation where money wasn't a worry at all - did horrible things to my state of mind.

And if you've been there, there is no price tag that can be put on a month without a single panic attack.

Of course, those who are reading this have been educated to a reasonable level, and have the use of a computer which is connected to the internet. I agree with Wim L - ultimately we are the privileged ones.

#89 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:31 AM:

I've discussed with my wife what we would do should one of us win the lottery (need to start playing to win, though). Once we used the money as a "get out of debt free card", and put away enough for retirement, etc, both of us decided we'd give big chunks of it away to friends and family. Why just keep it in the bank when there's no reason for it to just sit there, when it could be helping people out who really need it?

#90 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:38 AM:
once the revolution comes, they'll harvest strawberries and they'll like it!

I'm sure I've heard something of the sort, three days ago, in The Archers (THE "perennial" radiodrama on BBC Radio4).

#91 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 06:20 AM:

I'm partially disabled, and I work in publishing. I make less than most people would believe, buy clothes in thrift shops and on eBay, and have dental anxiety dreams at night. If I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars), I'd get my teeth fixed. Then I'd buy the house I live in. When you always pay rent you never get ahead. Also, five out of five buildings I've lived in in NYC have been sold out from under me: forced moves, traumatic and very expensive.

#92 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 06:25 AM:

Living paycheck-to-paycheck is dangerous. What one needs is for savings to be taken out from the current account as soon as the salary comes in. This way, you don't see that money and you are not tempted to spend it or procrastinate the movement.

My soon-to-be-wife demonstrated to me, more than once, why they say that the only way to eliminate poverty in Africa is by giving money to the women.

#93 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 06:53 AM:

To answer your question Eve, I have to ask, "What is working?"

My job would be a lot of fun if I could do things on my own terms and not be constrained by other people's views of what is a priority and how good good enough is. If I won the zillion dollar power ball of popular fantasy, I'd probably be at home making replacement wooden windows for the Arts and Crafts house I'm trying to restore. The second would probably strike mose people as far more work than what I do on my hardest day here, but in my mind it would be just a step or two away from pure play.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:02 AM:

I'm sure we can all think of things we'd like to be able to afford to do more often. Look at the cost of going to a Worldcon.

But the sort of idle rich stereotype of not doing anything, that's likely to be pretty rare. People seem to want to do something.

#95 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:12 AM:

Living paycheck-to-paycheck is dangerous. What one needs is for savings to be taken out from the current account as soon as the salary comes in. This way, you don't see that money and you are not tempted to spend it or procrastinate the movement.

Giacomo, no disrespect, but I hate comments like this. Being lectured about not saving and being told how best to do it is utterly infuriating when one, for example, doesn't get a paycheck (I am completely self-employed) and when one's income pays one's bills every month with very little left over. I am not going to go into the details of my personal finances any more than I have, but most people in my economic bracket are quite frugal. We have to be. My indulgence is books, and even there, I am careful. (I pay less for books each month than I would pay for cable tv, if I had cable tv, which I don't.)

As for winning the lottery -- no, I don't play it, but if I did -- if I won, I'd do as John suggested with the money: pay off the mortgage, buy a building to house my dojo (no more landlord, yeah!) sock a chunk away for "retirement," and then give it away. I don't have children, though. That would, I am sure, change the plan. But maybe not by much... I know some trust fund babies, and while not wishing to offend or to over-generalize, I have found their outlook on life to be pretty strange. That's not something I would want to leave to my kids.

#96 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:09 AM:

Yeah, I forgot; some of that fantasy lottery money winnings would go towards buying some land, building a house and a workshop so I would have space to --really-- do some serious woodworking projects. Currently my woodshop occupies half the garage, enough room to make toyboxes and the occasional table, but not much else.

But, considering that the current Powerball lottery amount is around $60 million, and taking the lump sum value typically gives you around 40% of that amount, I figure I'd still have about $5 million left over after taxes, retirement, house, travel, etc, to give out to friends. I'd get as big a kick out of handing $50,000 checks to people as they would getting them!

#97 ::: Nikki Jewell ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:50 AM:

Giacomo: Revolution in The Archers? Never!

Oh, the fantasy lottery win. I think I'd need £3 million to stop working, £1 million to choose my job. With £3 million - my parents have massive debts so I'd pay those off for them. Then I'd buy a smallish house in France with an orchard and a stream, and room for a library. That's about £250 000, so far. I'd invest however much was necessary for a reasonable income, say £30 000 a year (my book collecting would come out of this), for the rest of my life. I suppose, taking interest at 5 or 6%, about £500 000. The rest I'd set up as a personal charity fund, and my job would be to administer the fund. Money would go to some kind of programme in Africa, the homeless here, and some kind of education support programme. I wouldn't necessarily be happy, but I wouldn't need to worry about money again. I've never been starving poor, but the sheer weight of debt is something I'd love to be free of. It really does colour everything.

On a side note, there seem to be lots of adverts in the UK at the moment for 'loan consolidation - pay less in interest and have more to spend'. Not 'consolidate your loans, and make your debts easier to pay off', note. I hate it that the very people who can't afford huge debts are being encouraged to stay in debt. It's insane.

#98 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:50 AM:

Vian:

Yes to scholarships and subsidized child-care. Really good subsidized child-care. University scholarships and a publishing internship or two that subsidize a living wage for someone who wants into the industry.

Tutoring scholarships, too, for school-aged kids who aren't quite keeping up, but don't meet the school board profile for needing extra assistance.

Parties: Balls once a month, with enough money for musicians to keep the music playing all night, paying each musician at least twice the usual fee. For this purpose, I'd have to build a ball room; might as well use it to provide rehearsal and class space for apartment-dwelling musicians and dancers the rest of the time.

No fancy cars—I'm a city dweller, I can't drive, and I hate cars anyway. But it'd be fun to travel first-class, by train.


#99 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:31 AM:

Security, yes. For instance, the idea of going back to renting very nearly gives me hives. [*]

I am privileged and I know it. We both make good salaries, I live in a cheap area, the material wants of my lifestyle are met, and we have a decent cushion in savings. But I still have money anxiety--not for now, but when we have children and need daycare, want a bigger house, etc. etc.

So it doesn't surprise me that money anxiety is not necessarily correlated with the amount of money you have.

That said, I do rather feel that the person quoted might benefit from some perspective.

[*] Which is why I'm most boggled by the $7K/month in _rent_ in the quoted bit. In rent! If the housing market is so screwed in Manhattan that you can't get something decent for a mortgage payment in that amount, I really think it's time to think about moving somewhere cheaper, so you can save up to buy in Manhattan if that's what you really want.

#100 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:35 AM:

Also, five out of five buildings I've lived in in NYC have been sold out from under me: forced moves, traumatic and very expensive.

Been there, done that, got the amazing collection of cardboard boxes. Except that the sale fell through, so the same family still owns that house.

#101 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:37 AM:

Reading the original scenario: If it was my husband's trust fund and he was staying home with the kids, no way I'd stay home. Now, if it was my trust fund, that would be different.

#102 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Steve Taylor wrote:

Or are there barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor?

I think the attraction is that they're not picky about ID and such; handy if you're not a strictly legal resident.

Lila wrote:

*groan* Don't get me started on all the work my house needs. Hint: 4 dogs.

I'll see your 4 dogs & raise you an unusually fragrant cat.

True story: a couple years ago one of the dogs somehow locked herself in a dark bathroom. Wackiness ensued. Last night I finally got around to removing the few remaining scraps of bathtub. The wife and I are most curious as to whether my plumbing-fu is up to the task of replacing it.

In other news, a couple of good resources for finding out how the other half live:

Born Rich This is a documentary by a kid who is the heir to a substantial chunk of the Johnson & Johnson company. His personal holdings include (IIRC) Grand Central Station. It features interviews with other youngsters of his income bracket. It was interesting, but be sure to take your blood pressure meds before watching.

At the other end of the scale we have Nickel and Dimed, which is a nonfiction account of a professor/journalist who went undercover for a while and lived solely off of her income from unusually low-wage (for her) jobs. She came to the conclusion that it's tough to live off of 12,000ish /y.

#103 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:40 AM:

Someone earlier mentioned the analogy:

roNA:SV :: SV:NYC

I'd like to point out that this isn't quite accurate, as although "NYC" covers places where this is accurate (ritzier parts of Manhattan), it also the parts of Harlem that the north-marching gentrification hasn't hit yet, not to mention the other four burroughs. I doubt, for example, that you'll find a $7K/month rent in Brooklyn. From what I can tell at a distance about SV real estate, though, there isn't the same local variation. (East Palo Alto might have qualified five years ago, but since IKEA moved in, the only way one gets what I'd consider a reasonable price in SV is by getting a "manufactured home")

Re: money. I hate it. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have more than less, but I absolutely hate thinking about it. That is what I view as the ultimate freedom that winning the lottery could afford me: the chance to stop thinking about money, possibly by paying someone else to think about it for me.

I make now a nominal salary that should be disgustingly large, and live in a neighborhood theoretically way less expensive than where most of my coworkers live (our house, albeit half a duplex, was only $125K), and yet our savings only exist at all because of some recent inheritance money. I don't know why this is. In theory, there are people in our neighborhood living adequately on half my salary. Every time I try to figure out where our money is going, I end up frustrated and mad and, because money is not a matter of immediate life and death, go do something else less unpleasant, like help my parents remove a dead skunk from their yard.

So I wouldn't even be able to participate in the quoted discussion because I have no idea how my money is split. I know only that I find myself constantly thinking "no, we can't afford that" for anything that isn't a staple item.

#104 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:53 AM:

On living on and maintaining an income from your investments:

If you have a lump sum, say $5M and you want to live off the income (which, depending on your investments, could be interest, dividends, rent, etc.), figure that your income may be anywhere from around 4% to 10%, depending on your level of risk aversion.

So that gives you a figure of $200K to $500K. Of that sum, government gets first dibs. There are things you can do to make it better or worse, but figure your taxes are going to run about 35 - 40% (US income tax + state income tax + other taxes).

At this point you're looking at $120K to $395K. Figure that anywhere from 10% to 50% needs to go back into your capital. If you have rental property, you need a fund for upkeep (new roofs, painting, maintenance). If you have stock investments, some will lose money and not gain it back. Even if you have very safe, guaranteed income investments, there's this nuisance called inflation, which means that just maintaining a certain dollar income doesn't mean that you're maintaining the same actual income.

At this point you're somewhere between $60K and $355K (rounding off). Please note that either end is unlikely, but the $355K is much more unlikely to be a sustainable figure, assuming as it does, a continued best return in the highest risk investments with no loss of capital and the best possible taxes/inflation combination. This is unlikely to happen - Murphy's Law applies to investments as much as it does anything else.

Incidentally, maintaining this income can be a fair amount of work/expense, especially for the higher return investments, if you want to maintain your income. Not work that necessarily requires a 9 to 5 commitment, but definitely work. Rentals need maintenance, stocks need research, etc.

So, $5M does not usually equal $500K in annual disposable income. What you do with the actual income is left as an exercise for the student.

PS - I've noticed a lot of people who say "Pay off my mortgage!" I'd talk to a investments/tax person before I did that with a windfall. It's possible you'd be better off investing and paying your mortgage with the income from the investment - tax laws and all that. Or not. But talk to someone who knows about these things and your individual situation first.

#105 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:10 AM:

In the last two weeks I've had to examine how much money I need to survive or live on with my three children so that i can find a job that pays enough. Our mortgage is less per month than the woman in the article spent on eating out and our car is paid off. Our utilities are very close to what she says she pays but our vacations and incidentals are much lower. Much, much lower.

With little in the way of extras I need to make at least 45k with benefits. LOL! Yesterday I was informed that I could continue our old health coverage through the old employer for $1640 a month. I guess there are people who can pay that amount but not if they are making what I am capable of making.

I remember the first time I ruined a meal and was able to toss it out and still feed the family that night. That night I reflected that we were not poor and must now be middle class.

If I won the mythical lottery, the first thing I would do is purchase a lifetime of housecleaning.

#106 ::: India ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:16 AM:

Others have said this, but no, $7k/month in rent is nowhere near the high end in Manhattan these days. A couple of years ago, a relative of mine was paying about $4k, and that was probably for a one-bedroom apartment (I only saw the outside of the building; never went in). It was in a high-rise with concierge service and maybe a gym, though--not to mention closets and a view. So for almost twice that, you might be able to get two bedrooms.

My relative has since retrenched and is now in a less swank high-rise, still with a gym and a view, that probably costs only $3.5k/month.

So, . . . do we think the cocaine expenses are entered in the ledger under "eating out" or "cash"?

#107 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:23 AM:

On NYC housing: My modest apt (where I have lived for about 17 years) is a smallish 1 bedroom in a decent building in a decent neighborhood in Queens (good elementary schools, not so good middle schools, good but extremely overcrowded high school that runs 3 shifts), with reasonable access to public transportation . . . . The identical unit was recently sold for over $225,000. The mind boggles.

I don't live an extravagant lifestyle, but by the time I've paid the afterschool fees and the camp fees and the synagogue membership and the religious school fees and the mortgage and the maintenance and the utilities and for food (and we don't have cable or internet service at home), there's really nothing left. And I make mid- five figures.

If I didn't have a kid, on my salary I could at least double my charitable contributions, take really cool vacations, and still put some aside for my future.

Not that I in any way regret the kid, she's a fantastic person, but boy, is she expensive! And we haven't even gotten to the orthodonture yet!

#108 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:47 AM:

"rich" is a state of mind. And my experience has been that a lot of people I would consider rich don't consider themselves rich. It's one of those "is it enough?" conversations.

"wealthy" is when you have enough passive income to pay for all your expenses. You could be wealthy on 25k a year if your living expenses are low enough.

I keep telling my wife we could move back to farm country, get a high speed internet connection, I could telecomute, and we could live like royalty on my salary. In the city, we pretty much just get by paying our bills. ("mortgage" means "death debt" is always at the back of my mind)

If I came into a lot of money, I'd tithe to some worthy causes, buy my wife her dream car, buy myself a karman ghia and have it totally restored, buy a house with a garage and shop (whose location isn't based on where I can find work), and we'd take a long vacation seeing some of those places we've always wanted to see. If it was a lot, lot of money, I'd buy a twin engine jet, or at least something like a Glassair, so I could fly back to my family more often and not spend half a day flying and half a day driving. And I'd have to get my IFR.

Oh, and I'd buy that VBL armored car.

After that, whatever was left over would go into investments so I could live off the returns (tithing on the returns as well). Then I'd start an engineering company and hire some of the best people I've ever worked with, and some of the smartest people in the Open Source community, with the intent of making money creating useful open source works.

If it was a massive, massive amount of money, I'd probably take half and create something like a Nobel Prize where returns from investments are used to give out awards to people who have made the world a better place.

Oh and I'd get a tiltrotor for me.

#109 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:02 AM:

I have a pretty good grasp of what's enough money for me, because I had it for a while. Then Liam got fired, and now we're living off my salary and what he can make temping, because people don't seem to be willing to hire him for jobs he's "overqualified" for. It's like, yes, he'll be bored, but we have bills...

Anyway, a household income in the $40k range (more like 28, after taxes) is perfectly sufficient. With that, we can pay all the bills and still be able to afford books and the occasional movie. I have a 401k, too.

So yeah, $5mil would be fine; it'd mean that neither of us had to work even with pessimistic investment income.

#110 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Steve Taylor:
Or are there barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor?

No one seems to have directly answered this for you. Yes, there are practical barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor. Very few banks are interested in low-end retail banking; there are fees for everything if you don't maintain a minimum balance much higher than someone with low-end unreliable employment can manage. Monthly fees for having the account, fees for deposits, fees for writing checks or making withdrawals, etc. It's a constant eating away of your money--and the monthly fees apply even when you haven't got any money coming in. And that's in addition to the ID requirements, which have grown more stringent in the last few years, and can be more alarming to people at the bottom of the economic scale regardless of whether they actually have anything to hide.

And so the wretchedly predatory check-cashing business thrive. They are in reality even more expensive than having a bank account--but the check-cashing customer only pays when they HAVE a check to cash.

At least in Massachusetts, I don't whether it may be true elsewhere, too, there's a law requiring free basic checking and savings accounts for senior citizens, but the rest of us are on our own in finding banking services that don't seem too expensive to maintain. (One of the interesting wrinkles is that a mortgage--money you owe the bank--can usually be counted towards your "minimum balance" for the purpose of avoiding or reducing fees. Another example of how having more can save expenses those with less can't avoid.)

#111 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:20 AM:

I'd get as big a kick out of handing $50,000 checks to people as they would getting them!

The downside is that they have to pay taxes on the money after you've already paid taxes on it. I'd limit the checks to whatever the current gift limit is, which I think is around $11K, but you can give them that every year.

When we sold the business, we paid off our debts, contributed to charity, and then wrote checks to immediate family. The family checks were the most pleasant ones I've ever written--even better than paying cash for a car or a house. They were only a few thousand dollars each, but there were plenty of times in my life when an unexpected check like that would have solved a lot of problems. They were well received, too, even though money wasn't a critical issue for most.

#112 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:31 AM:

Another couple of banking barriers:

Hours - until I moved to the Big City and its suburbs I had never encountered banks that were opened limited hours. Many banks are open from 9-3 which prevents amny people from going in in person to set up or resolve problems. I mainly use the ATM to do my business but even that is difficult if you use public transport and the bank is in an area that is dangerous at night.

Respect - I used a check cashing place once when I needed cash for a transaction and instead of cash or a money order the client gave me a business check (but still wanted the business transaction completed in the 24 hour window). The Check cashing place was open, well lit, had a security gaurd, and treated me politely. I have not gotten that same respect (or well lit bank) at big name banks in the big city. I work as a bookkeeper for my church and we switched banks because of how the Big Bank treated other customers. I really got angry when managers yelled at old ladies, refused to admit that mistakes had been made, and made disparaging remarks in public voices concerning the quality of their customers. I can only guess that those customers felt trapped at Big Bank.

A local suburb branch of Big Bank does not let you in the building or see tellers face to face (not even behind glass) but instead provides a video feed from inside the safe building. That doesn't make me feel safe doing business with them.

Add to that the fees mentioned previously and I see why people neither trust nor use banks.

#113 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Sorry Lizzy, didn't mean to lecture anyone, was just sayin' what worked for me.

I'm personally happy with my £25K (perfectly average salary for UK employees, and after tax and stuff it's something like £16-17K), but my personal "rich" level is set to "when I will be able to regularly visit New Zealand and Brasil without worrying about economic repercussions on my bank account". At that point, everything more would certainly go for the small football club that my father manages for free (making kids play together takes lots of work and money, especially in working-class areas where first-generation immigrant kids can't pay any joining fees and the State can't provide a single ball). Football is the only social glue existing in Italy, after all, so it's almost like donating to Howard Dean.

#114 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:42 AM:

I can shed a little light on Lifestyles of the Ludicrously Rich. I don't know exactly how much money the person I'm thinking of makes, but his income taxes alone are seven figures per year, which definitely puts him in "ludicrous":

- Weekday and weekend homes. House in Southhampton of 10,000+ square feet, with at least a couple of acres of grounds and a separate clubhouse (former stables, I think) for parties and a pool. Five-story brownstone in Manhattan. At least the Southhampton house is owned outright, having been bought for cash. Property taxes are probably nontrivial.

- Servants. Housekeeper at each place, gardener in Southhampton, one nanny for each of two children. Parenting is for the little people.

- Private school for each child. At a guess, $40K per year each.

- Art collection. I don't have the knowledge to price it.

- Clothing and accessories for the lemon tart. Assume $5,000 per evening gown. One evening gown per month for charity events (and the donations needed for the events). Multiple furs. Jewelry to go with (diamonds that are larger than my little fingernail). $200+ for each pair of shoes. And then there's all the rest of the clothes.

- Travel. The islands or Europe a few times a year. 5-star hotels and restaurants, etc.

- Support of screwed-up family (elderly parents, one sister, assorted nieces and nephews) who haven't actually had jobs in the last 20-30 years.


To be fair, this is all self-made, not inherited, and the man in question still works demonically hard at past 60 making more. She works a hobby job as a society interior designer. I suspect there are charity donations (to the Right Sorts of Charities) involved for both social reasons and the tax write-off.


Me, I'd like to find a nice, rich person who wants to be a modern-day Medici and support one (1) scholar in a field that doesn't pay squat.

#115 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:43 AM:

Oh, and I forgot plastic surgery expenses. Aging is also for the little people.

#116 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:44 AM:

Scott, is not the other half. It's the other (scarse) 10%.

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:48 AM:

sara_k:

Not all Big Banks are like that. In CA, some are putting branches in supermarkets so people can do business on weekends. Some are open until 6 or 7 in the evening, one or more days a week. They probably still let you walk up to a (bullet-proof-glass-protected) teller's window and talk to a Live Person.

I will also grant you that some of these same banks own, completely or in part, some of the more predatory check-cashing chains, so they aren't as friendly as they could be.

#118 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:02 PM:

One issue that no one has raised on this thread (directly) is income variability, although Carrie S describes her experience with it.

Having an income that qualifies you as middle class in the US is less secure than it has been probably since the Depression. Occasional bouts of un/under-employment are not uncommon among those of us lucky enough to be able to command an income between, say, $80-200k per year.

Personally, I spent two years with virtually no income trying to get a business off the ground, partially because it was something I believed in, but also because I couldn't find a decent job. Needless to say, this had a very negative impact on my personal finances.

Even now, I'm making less than I did in 2000 and 2001, but I'm steadily getting back to where I was. I have no illusions about the reliability of my income, though. I could be out on the street tomorrow due to a re-org that I would not be able to see coming because I'm not high enough on the corporate food-chain to be the one doing the re-orging. So, net-net, I live on one paycheck and use the other to save and pay down debt. I've been on a strict cash basis for the last 18 months, and I don't see that changing unless I lose my job and can't find another reasonably quickly.

Heck, I feel so insecure about my finances that I can't see buying a house because I'll need 20 years to save enough to pay cash for one.

#119 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:08 PM:

sara_k - What part of the country do you live in? Large banks everywhere charge predatory fees, but most have taken out the paranoid security theater bullet-proof glass and I've never, ever heard of the remote video thing except at a drive-through. (Although I imagine a bank could use that to outsourse their branch ops to India, resulting in a fleet of remote tellers all claiming to be named "Rachel" and "Steve".)

#120 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:08 PM:

15k a month? Cripes. NYC might be the Cultural Center Of Everything, but I'd rather live in the boonies. Stuff's cheaper. As a single guy, I spend $800-$900 a month, depending on the boiled rice-to-cheeseburger ratio of my diet that particular month.

Still, I live in a cheap apartment building that caters to university students, so the neighbors get a bit rowdy. Over this last semester, I lived next door to about a dozen African students. I wondered where exactly they where they were from, but never had a chance to strike up a conversation. I finally learned their country of origin the night the US lost to Ghana, because the resultant party did not die down until four in the morning.

#121 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:18 PM:

Larry-- Here in Austin, our credit union branch has installed the video in the lobby thing because another branch got robbed several times. The tellers insisted on it.

That said, I think that if you can ever join a credit union, do so, and do whatever it takes to keep the account; they're much less predatory than banks in my experience.

#122 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:21 PM:

Wow,

If one of those types would spare me $1000/per month I could pay off my all my debts except mortgage, and then could afford a new car and live happily on my 29,000 per year pay.

Just sayin'
Michelle (whose goal is to eventually make 40,000 a year.

#123 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:22 PM:

It's been a lond day, that's supposed to be year.

And my family consists of 4 cats, 1 dog and a daughter.

#124 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:23 PM:

Larry Brennan - I live in the DC area

#125 ::: Doudas ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:32 PM:

At the risk of being flamed, as someone who raises a family in Manhattan I don't find the amounts reported by this person that outrageous. Both my husband and I work. Our monthly mortgage payment, for a "classic six" apartment (3 BR, LR, DR, K), is in excess of $7,000, plus maintenance on top of that. And as far as the expenses for eating out are concerned, I doubt these people are doing anything that extravagant either. My husband and I eat at home with our kids Monday through Thursday nights and dine out by ourselves Fridays and Saturdays. We go to a good restaurant (and by that I don't mean Le Cirque or The Four Seasons, but just a restaurant that serves three courses, has good food and ambience and a decent wine list, has good word of mouth or been reviewed, and so on, of which there dozens) and spend about $150 for the two of us, which again is typical for New York. On Sundays we dine out with our children, and go to a place with good food but that's kid friendly where we spend about $100-$150 for the four of us. So that's about $400-$450 a week eating out, or about $1600-$2000 a month, which is within the range of what this person quotes.

Obviously we make a good living to support this, but people outside New York often fail to understand just how much can be required to raise a family comfortably in Manhattan. If we lived in, say, the midwest, I'm sure we could own a house (not just an apartment), eat out twice a week by ourselves and once with our kids for a fraction of what it costs here. But we would also make a fraction of what we make here, and we all enjoy living in the city.

#126 ::: JaniceG ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:33 PM:

If the housing market is so screwed in Manhattan that you can't get something decent for a mortgage payment in that amount, I really think it's time to think about moving somewhere cheaper, so you can save up to buy in Manhattan if that's what you really want

I used to wonder something similar when I lived in SV. I could understand that if you had a high-tech job you had to be where the jobs were and suffer with the insanely high rent/mortgage prices in the area. But on slow news days when they'd run a standard "Housing prices are insane here, let's talk to people who are frozen out," sometimes they'd interview people who were, say, regular accountants and had not grown up in the area but were complaining that they had a 1.5-hour commute so they could buy a home with a yard for their kids. Agreed, the Bay Area is a very nice place to live but ya know, if I was in that situation I'd move to the Midwest or Southeast where I could buy a home outright for about 6 mos worth of SV rent and work as an accountant there.

#127 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:39 PM:

Yeah, giving everyone $50k would be a big hit on their tax situation, especially some of my friends trying to make ends meet (with children!) on a waitress's earnings.

#128 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 12:43 PM:

Margaret, you are absolutely right about talking to a financial/tax person before paying off a mortgage. It is not always the best choice. In my case, I am a tax person, and it would be the right decision for me.

Greg, I had not heard that definition of wealthy, but it makes lots of sense. "Wealthy" is when you have enough passive income to pay for all your expenses. My sense is that folks on this thread, with some exception, by and large don't have much passive income to speak of.

I would have guessed, with regard to reliability of income -- which someone else brought up -- that again, the truly wealthy are different from you and me because this is not something they worry about. But perhaps I'm wrong there. Maybe they worry about the market tanking, as opposed to worrying about losing a job. I just don't know.

#129 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:01 PM:

John: it's a misconception to think that money ever 'just sits in the bank'. The money you put in your bank account is *reinvested* by the bank (minus a float shared across all accounts which is *smaller* than the total in those accounts: this is why runs on banks can destroy them, because they actually can't pay back everyone who gave them money all at once: they bet on never having to do so, and normally this bet pays off). So that money flows back into the economy again, and probably round pension funds and the like countless times: yet it's 'still' in your account. (*This* is why economic crashes can cause so much damage: most of that money is fictional, 'the same money' reused over and over again, and were it to vanish...)

What taking it out of the bank lets you do is spend it on somehing *you* choose, rather than something the bank has chosen. (Plus, you get to know what it is you spent it on: the bank won't tell you what its investment policies are, and the question of where 'your bit' of the money they invest has gone is meaningless: it's all aggregated into a big pot).

The people working in the banking and high finance industries *know* that all money is illusion (even trade goods: they're only 'worth' what others are willing to pay for them). Many of them get stinking rich from it, too. Not for nothing is the term 'financial wizard' used. They really can make money appear out of a hat... and disappear, as well, all too often.

#130 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:04 PM:

Nix,

I am quite aware that the bank uses the money I put in, and it doesn't literally "sit in there" until I need it. I was talking figuratively; I for one would rather give the money I did not need for my own needs to others who needed it more than have it "sit in the bank" and let the bank decide what to do with it.

#131 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:05 PM:

Clothing and accessories for the lemon tart

What does lemon tart mean in this context?

#132 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:13 PM:

joann, yes, credit unions are wonderful. Mine has low fees, minimum to open an account is $200. Plus, they recently built a new branch in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

#133 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:20 PM:

PS - I've noticed a lot of people who say "Pay off my mortgage!" I'd talk to a investments/tax person before I did that with a windfall. It's possible you'd be better off investing and paying your mortgage with the income from the investment - tax laws and all that. Or not. But talk to someone who knows about these things and your individual situation first.

Beware. I have a horror story to tell about a "financial advisor" who came to my door two weeks after my husband died. It's a long, sad, story. Short version: within a year and a half I had lost $380,000. Enh, it's only money, right?

My husband had been well insured: 4x his salary, which was just over $100k at the time of his death, and I received a lump-sum retirement payout as well as his retirement savings account. Thank god I paid off the mortgage with some of the money rather than doing what the financial advisor suggested: putting it all in stocks.

I've lived in my house since '91 and the assessment value is now an insane $724k. The house, a one-story brick ranch, was 1140 sq. feet when it was built in '51. An addition added another 700 sq. feet in '65. Since I have no mortgage and a 401k and an IRA, I'm a millionaire "on paper" (la-dee-la, what do the simple folk do?) and none of it is "spendable" since I can't withdraw from the retirement accounts until I'm 59.5 yrs old without paying a penalty. So am I rich or what? I'm always broke, come payday.

The area I live in, Mount Vernon, was originally part of George Washington's plantation. It was a huge plantation--I live 6 miles from the Mount Vernon "mansion", which is now dwarfed by some of the new houses in this area. This area has been a mixture of haves and have-nots for centuries, literally. When I walk my dog I take him a couple of cul-de-sacs over to the McMansions so he can do his business in style (I clean it, I clean it). One of my son's best friends lives over there, and we figured out one day that his dad, an attorney in DC, makes my annual salary every 9 days.

But I'm not the least bit bitter or envious. I'm happy. I don't mind being broke on payday. I'm planning on having the family of one of my son's very-rich friends over for dinner, and it's fun to joke about picking up a box of Franzia, knowing the friend's father is into expensive wine. It's fun on so many levels, I can't tell you. Also, heh, my son's friend flunked out of college. No, I'm not envious at all.

#134 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:27 PM:

Reading this, I realise how lucky I am to live in a country where health insurance is not an issue...Should I get ill, I will get health care and I will still have an income.

When I got my current job, I doubled my salary. Even with commuting and renting a room in the town where I work, I make more money than I manage to spend. I'd still work regardless of how much money I had, I love my job. Considering my situation, I think bitching about not having 350k a year would be ungrateful...
The only thing I miss about being even richer (I'm not, I suppose, technically 'rich', but how else do you define 'can buy any book I want'?) is that I would like to create a few scholarships and bail out a few friends from their financial situation.

#135 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:38 PM:

The concept of passive income is an interesting and novel idea. To me, anyway. Hmm. Will have to ponder this.

Madeline F. said:
It doesn't really bother me that there are people who think 350K isn't enough. Like someone pointed out upthread, most people here don't have to work 10-hour days 7 days a week at dangerous jobs. Some of us realize every moment how blessed we are, some of us don't... That's humanity for you.

Isn't it, though? My first job was a seasonal job in a factory, working twelve-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week, minimum wage ... and I was still lucky, because I was earning money to pay for school, which was more than a lot of my co-workers had to look forward to. And even with four years of that job, I don't always remember how blessed -- although I do have a strong opinion that any job where you can keep your clothes clean is a cush job.

Now? We fit my childhood definition of rich, which means we can go to the grocery store and buy anything we want, without having to check first to see if we have that much money in the world. (The Making Light hosts can attest to the glee this brings me, because they saw me in the Fairway in Red Hook, going into raptures.)

This topic reminds me that it's past time to schedule a giveaway party. (Bunch of us bring clothes and fiddly bits that are still good but don't fit us, and we find somebody they do fit who can use them. Good thing to do: reduces unused stuff hanging about, and is fun besides. I love the people who are all apologetic about only having two things to give away but needing lots, and I even more love introducing them to the people who have three bags of things to give and are apologetic about only wanting to take one or two things home afterwards. It has this nice way of balancing, a giveaway party.)

#136 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:38 PM:

Clothing and accessories for the lemon tart

What does lemon tart mean in this context?

Sorry. It's from Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. Trophy wives, generally 20+ years younger than their wealthy husbands and vastly more attractive. Either naturally blonde or bleached-blonde. (That's the "lemon" bit.) Very slender, but possibly with breast implants and other surgical improvements. I believe the term excludes wives who were actually with their husbands (or supporting them) while they were first making the money; it's exclusively for the ones acquired after ditching the shopworn first one. Or before ditching her, as the case may be.

Whomever Donald Trump is married to this year would be a good example.

#137 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:43 PM:

This topic reminds me that it's past time to schedule a giveaway party.

Freecycle, for the ongoing version of a giveaway party. I love my local version - recently, I've given away a rocking chair, some old silverware, and a magazine rack. I received a 19" monitor when my old one died and two beautiful kittens whom I love madly.

#138 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:49 PM:

I'm surprised nobody commented on this yet:

The other thing that kept bugging me about the originally dissected comment is the math. $15K/mo x 12 = $180K/year. The original premise posited $350K-$500K trust-fund income per year - it's a questionable assumption of RoR, but that's what was given. Even assuming that passive income is taxed at a net 40% rate - and it's usually taxed at lower rates than earned income - that ends up with $210K-$300K, well over what this family spends. Either she's really bad at math, or she actually meant that she would just prefer to continue working, and she's bad at expressing herself.

Doudas:
I hope you don't take this as a flame, but you've personified and encapsulated what several people said above in the abstract. People in general tend to take whatever they are currently spending and living like as a minimum standard of living, and then usually want more so as to be "rich". You might consider that a substantial number of people in NYC live below the poverty line of $18K/year for a family of 4, so it's clearly possible. The confusion lies in (for example) seeing $150 a couple times a week to eat out as a necessity rather than a choice.

I do the same thing too in my own life, on my own scale - we have a nice (modest) house here in Hawaii. That's a luxury. We eat out pretty often too (on a more modest scale.) That's a luxury. I take a coffee break for a cappuccino and a pastry almost every working morning, and usually buy lunch instead of packing it. Luxury. We send the youngest child to private preschool and the oldest to private college - that's the biggest luxury of all. In fact, 10-15 years ago I used to live here with a family, not uncomfortably, on about half what our household income was last year. Our expectations scaled up as our income did.

After some tight times at the beginning of this year, I'm now as a consultant/contractor making over twice per month what I made last year. (It's not enough! I want more!) Having learned from experience, I'm trying to restrain my expectations by paying out a salary from the business that's just slightly more per month than last year, and trying to think that the rest of it is to live on for another X months while I hunt more work after this contract ends. If I paid myself out that money and had it to spend, it would be hard not to adjust to it as the new "normal" for us.

#139 ::: sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:55 PM:

Doudas,
I live in NY on a mere fraction of what you live on, with a wife and a kid and we do fine. We left our 1-br for a 2-br in forest hills, queens, and we find that our needs our met and our family is a happy one. You might make just enough to live how you live, but probably over 90% of us New Yorkers get by on less.

#140 ::: Thena (still in Maine) ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:56 PM:

Lucy -

I'm guessing "lemon tart", in context, means approximately "blonde trophy wife/girlfriend" with "lemon" = yellow = blond(e) and "tart" = snarky reference to promiscuous or sexually provocative woman, especially one who won't give some to YOU (cf. "bitch")

But that's just my guess.

#141 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:56 PM:

gardener in Southhampton

Isn't this like having a therapist and then hiring someone to go to the therapist for you?

#142 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 01:59 PM:

Apropos my previous comment, I just received this email from my son:

Haha, what brand of boxed wine most eloquently brings out the subtle flavors in "Sunset Blush"?

#143 ::: Thena (still in Maine) ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:01 PM:

And I see Susan both types faster than I do, and actually knows what she's talking about.

(Still, I enjoy the Right Guess warm fuzzies, ha.)

#144 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:08 PM:

Sean Bosker:

We share a neighborhood.

My kid and I can eat a perfectly pleasant meal for about $25 (including tip) even if she orders off the adult menu; pasta costs $1/box and in the winter, a box of clementines is about $5.

In Manhattan, on the upper west side, the same sort meal would cost at least $30, if not more, except at certain chain restaurants; pasta is a couple of bucks a box (except down at Trader Joe's, where people keep talking about all the "bargains" they're getting but it feels to me like normal food prices), and that same box of clementines would be $12.

I'm not excusing, just explaining.

#145 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:09 PM:

At the risk of being flamed, as someone who raises a family in Manhattan I don't find the amounts reported by this person that outrageous.

Well, you can't really do much about people who get outraged at someone else's money. If they're outraged, they're outraged, and will probably insist on being inconsolably outraged to boot.

What I took from this thread was shedding a little more light on what I think about money and how it affects me. I recall feeling shame when I first made more money than my father, like "how dare I?". But I've also gotten that money doesn't define who I am for my father or who he is for me.

What have you learned about your relationship to money? What do you make it mean to have what you have now? To have ten times more? To have ten times less?

#146 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:11 PM:

Oh, and $1000/month for "stuff" is easy to imagine if you like to keep up with the latest in home entertainment. A new 42" plasma TV could blow 5 months of your "stuff" budget.

#147 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:14 PM:

Way up top, mintichen wrote: Who spends $1,000 per month on clothes anyway?

I saw The Devil Wears Prada last weekend. Opened my eyes, I'll say. The ending was cute, but it dropped my suspended disbelief like an anvil.

#148 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:24 PM:

Three things jump out at me about this discussion:

a. Different regions have stunning differences in costs of living. We have a much tighter budget now, on $100k/year in the DC area, than a few years ago, on $60k/year in small town Missouri. (This is one of the many problems with poverty level statistics, which ignore regional cost-of-living differences.)

b. Costs are nonlinear on the high and low end. Very poor people seem to end up with a really different set of costs than people in the middle class, and so do very wealthy people. I gather that much of that difference has to do with where the poor and rich live, and that much of the rest of the higher costs of being poor have to do with lack of knowledge and lack of time, while the higher costs of richer people seem to have more to do with thinking some things are beneath them.

c. The whole consumer culture makes it really hard to spend a lot less than you make. We've had the same experience as many other people here, watching our spending for "necessities" go up almost perfectly in parallel with our income. (Is private school for your kids a necessity?

We also went through a period when I was out of work, and the subsequent attempt to climb out of that hole has taught us a lot about managing money. I'm hoping we keep those lessons as (hopefully) our financial state improves again....

#149 ::: sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:28 PM:

Melissa,
Maybe I've seen you in the playground?

I found this line later on in the article to be the most telling:
"Strangely, the sensation one gets from the most privileged mothers on the boards is of constant scarcity. Only so many children can get into a “top-tier school,” someone else’s toddler has more words than yours, other people are taking vacations so vastly superior to your vacations that your vacations barely count as vacations."

The more you have, the more you think you need. The more you live a life tied to external rewards, the more you fear losing those externals.

#150 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 02:35 PM:

elise: We fit my childhood definition of rich, which means we can go to the grocery store and buy anything we want...

I can understand this, since I ran the family grocery budget since the age of about 13. I also did a good chunk of the cooking. My mother didn't get home from work until about 6:30 and if I wanted to eat before 8, I needed to get handy with a knife and a skillet. I quickly learned why we ate so many meals based on chicken legs, ground beef and seasonal (read: cheap) vegetables.

A couple of years ago, I was discussing WalMart with a co-worker. I observed that one of the reasons I don't like WalMart is because it makes me feel poor. His respons was that it was kind of ironic because I could afford to buy anything in the store.

The reality is that it's why it made me feel poor. I can't afford to buy everything in Nordstrom's, but I feel comfortably prosperous when I shop there (mostly during the sales). Then again, their market position is best expressed as "Nice clothes for nice people".

#151 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Another vote for credit unions. In many (perhaps most), you only need to live in a particular county to qualify. Ours has a couple of checking packages without fees, and while they can be stingy in some regards (they drive Chad nuts because his blogging money comes from Canada and they want to charge to cash the check), I feel much more comfortable dealing with and giving business to a small local place.

#152 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:12 PM:

Sean wrote: Maybe I've seen you in the playground?

LOL! Depends on which playground, of course. We generally hang out in Yellowstone Park, though during the school year the kid scooters around the basketball courts at Russell Sage or the playground at PS144 (accompanied by my mom, who watches her a couple of afternoons a week or my childcare costs would be even higher, ouch!).

> "Strangely, the sensation one gets from the most privileged mothers on the boards is of constant scarcity. Only so many children can get into a “top-tier school,” someone else’s toddler has more words than yours, other people are taking vacations so vastly superior to your vacations that your vacations barely count as vacations."

#153 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:14 PM:

Strangely, the larger part of my post vanished, though it was visible in the preview screen.

Here it is again, I hope:

> "Strangely, the sensation one gets from the most privileged mothers on the boards is of constant scarcity. Only so many children can get into a “top-tier school,” someone else’s toddler has more words than yours, other people are taking vacations so vastly superior to your vacations that your vacations barely count as vacations."

Goodness, yes, the parenting olympics strike again. This is not just an upper-class pattern, it in the middle-class as well, at least in NYC. The competition for spots in the good schools is fierce--even (or perhaps especially) the good public schools. People compare their children's physical development, language skills, etc. all the time, and some folks seem almost guilty when they confess that they "haven't taken a vacation this year, things are just a little tight."

It just drives me nuts. I've worked hard to build a social circle that isn't too much prey to that, but it does put me on the outside in certain respects and makes it harder to negotiate some politicized arenas like the P.A. at my daughter's public school. And even in my group there is some conspicuous consumption, mostly around public events like birthday parties and, indeed, vacations.

OTOH, we are snobs of a different sort. I remember being really surprised, when asking one of my daughter's friends what she had done during a week off from school and being told they had visited with relatives, watched tv, and played video games. In the same stretch of time, we'd been to two museums, a show, a zoo, and spent a day window-shopping through mid-Manhattan. Admittedly, I spent money in that week that the other kid's family didn't, but it was worth it.

#154 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:17 PM:

and that much of the rest of the higher costs of being poor have to do with lack of knowledge and lack of time

It's not that hard to make the argument that some things just plain cost more for the poor regardless of time or knowledge. If you don't have access to good public transportation or private transportation, you're limited to buying from stores you can walk to like, say, a convenience store. Prices at a convenience store are going to be higher than at a supermarket. At the very least, you will be at the mercy of what the store closest to you charges. Convenience stores tend not to stock fresh fruits and vegetables, which if you could buy them from a supermarket would stretch out your food dollar in a healthy manner. As a general rule, unhealthy food seems to be cheaper than healthy food which has a long term consequence for both health and money spent. In the US, it's extremely expensive to get health insurance unless you have a full time job. Even then, I don't know if the full time low wage worker will end up with the same sort of health coverage as someone who makes, say, a magnitude more money.

If you don't have very much cash on hand, you're going to buy goods in small sizes because that's what you can afford. It is almost always more economical in terms of unit cost to buy a larger size (which you will undoubtedly use completely anyways). However, if you can't afford the larger size, you can't take advantage of the economy of scale, whereas someone with more money can.

As others have mentioned above, if you don't have very much money, it's going to cost you more in fees to put money in the bank. Cost of having a savings and/or checking account gets lower as you have more money. Credit Unions are great, but you have to be eligible for membership. You may luck out, or you may not.

Below a certain income level, it's not hard to feel like the world conspires against you. No wonder people are happier if they make more than that level.

#155 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:20 PM:

15k a month? Cripes. NYC might be the Cultural Center Of Everything, but I'd rather live in the boonies. Stuff's cheaper. As a single guy, I spend $800-$900 a month, depending on the boiled rice-to-cheeseburger ratio of my diet that particular month.

JonathonMoeller: For a single guy, it is possible to live cheaply in NYC. I live in Brooklyn (relatively cheap rent), and my expenses are only about twice yours. And being in the Cultural Center of Everything provides many cheap entertainment options. In the last 10 days, I‘ve seen the Upright Citizens Brigade perform in Central Park (free), gone to the opening of a new show at the Gay Art Foundation (free, plus free wine), heard a lecture at the comic book museum (free on Monday nights), watched Wallace & Gromit while having a picnic in the Hudson River Park (free), and seen an Off-Off-Broadway play ($18).

None of those options exist in the boonies. In fact, most of them don't exist anywhere else in the world. So whenever I look despairingly at my checkbook and consider moving, the fun factor of NYC pulls me back. (Of course, I’d probably get a lot more writing done if I lived somewhere with fewer options.)

#156 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:31 PM:

It's not that hard to make the argument that some things just plain cost more for the poor regardless of time or knowledge.

I agree. In addition to the examples you give, consider the cost of having poor credit. Interest rates are higher, especially if you've ever missed a payment. If you have to charge your new refrigerator on a credit card and pay 20% interest on it, it can cost you double by the time you pay it off.

#157 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:32 PM:

A couple of years ago, I was discussing WalMart with a co-worker. I observed that one of the reasons I don't like WalMart is because it makes me feel poor. His respons was that it was kind of ironic because I could afford to buy anything in the store.

I think Wal-Mart does something special to enhance that feeling-- maybe subliminal messages broadcast over the PA, or some clever optical trick with the lights. On those rare occasions when I go into Wal-Mart (which I try to avoid, on account of their deplorable labor practices), I'm always struck by how much the cheap crap they're selling looks like cheap crap.

What's really impressive is that Target sells basically the same cheap crap, and somehow makes it look good. I'm not sure how they manage that.

#158 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:39 PM:

What's really impressive is that Target sells basically the same cheap crap, and somehow makes it look good. I'm not sure how they manage that.

The aisles are wider and the lighting is better. Probably some other stuff, too, but those are the two that I've actually noticed.

#159 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Chad: I can't help you with any reasons, but I feel the same way. I'm uncomfortable in Wal-Mart, partly because it's eeevil but mostly because of...I don't know what...ambience? I'm in and out as quickly as possible. Target I can browse through.

The kicker, though, is that I get along fine with Sam's Club, the Wal-Mart warehouse store.

#160 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Target's stores also are better kept, cleaner, the tiles on the floor aren't scarred or cracked, and the store itself tends to be better maintained than either Wal-Mart or K-mart.

It doesn't help either that the non-Target stores also tend to have minimal staffing at all but the pre-Christmas shopping period, so those enormous stores are nearly always empty of anyone that could assist you.

#161 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 03:57 PM:

Re: housing costs in Silicon Valley

Daniel Martin: There is some variation in prices. A small forty- to fifty-year-old modernist house in Palo Alto will cost 200K more than the same house a mile away in Mountain View.

East Palo Alto has increased a fair amount since IKEA went in, but some of that was happening even before the yellow and blue behemoth showed up, simply because of housing pressures.

As far as moving -- my husband works as a scientist for NASA. Leaving is not easy. For people in the high-tech industry, SV has an advantage in that if your company lays people off, there are a lot of other companies out here.

The really big insanity here continues to be differential property tax rates. Because of Prop 13, it is possible for a couple to pay taxes based on a $70,000 assessed value for their house, while their next door neighbor pays taxes on a assessment of close to a million. I know people in similar situations.

Lila: Hint:4 dogs. Yeah, but they're only small dogs? *grin*

Larry: I feel perfectly at home in Wal-Mart. I don't shop there (no, I won't inflict my political Wal-Mart rant on anyone) except in emergencies, but I don't feel out of place there. I feel perfectly at home in Target and Costco.

And I just love Target's new push for "designer lines." Even if it's nothing more than a slick marketing ploy, the message -- "just because you don't have as much money as the next guy doesn't mean you aren't entitled to decently designed stuff" -- is nicely egalitarian.

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable in places such as Nordstrom's and Saks. I still don't, some days -- I half expect some bouncer to show up and say, "sorry, you're not *our* type of customer" and give me the boot."

#162 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 04:01 PM:

Also, I see no one has mentioned one item in the litany of costs in the original post. This lady spends 2 grand a month on travel? With one kid? Every month? Wow. We spend twice that two times a year -- for five people.

#163 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Also, I see no one has mentioned one item in the litany of costs in the original post. This lady spends 2 grand a month on travel? With one kid? Every month? Wow. We spend twice that two times a year -- for five people.

Well, with two parents and one child just traveling back and forth once a week to a weekend home in Southampton (for example) would be around $500/month on the jitney ($40/person times three people times four or five weekends a month). More if your weekend home is further out or if you make more trips. MUCH more if you go by chauffeured car or limo; I suspect that people in that income bracket are not in the habit of either taking the jitney or sitting behind the wheel in heavy traffic.

Add in four vacations a year with four $2000 first-class airline seats each (two parents, one child, one nanny), two $400/night hotel rooms (one for the parents, one for the child and nanny) for a week, plus around $300/day for meals (that's conservative if you eat at fancy restaurants). It could add up to rather more than $2k/month on average pretty easily - each vacation would be around $16,000. With the weekend home, you're looking at $5000/month easily for travel expenses.

If you think this is insane, I'm right there with you, but it's not inconceivable.

#164 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:15 PM:

For a single guy, it is possible to live cheaply in NYC. I live in Brooklyn (relatively cheap rent), and my expenses are only about twice yours.

Twice that would sloooowly send me sliding into credit-card debt. I like my job, but it doesn't pay that much.

My grandfather was a fearsome old curmudgeon, but he did drill into my head that it was my own damn responsibility to amuse myself, and no one else's. It's been a useful lesson. I'd like to visit NYC and see all the cool stuff one day, but I still don't think I'd like to live there.

#165 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Scott: in addition to the 4 dogs, I also have 2 cats, but they are not as hard on the furniture (except the wallboard in the foyer and the carpet on the stairs, both of which they clawed up pretty good before we discovered that, although scratching posts don't interest them, empty cardboard boxes do).

I second your recommendation for Nickel and Dimed. Some of Ehrenreich's observations tallied nicely with my own experiences as a Burger King cashier, waitress, etc.

I also am one of the cheering section for credit unions; that's what saved us when we were being eaten alive by monthly service charges and per-check charges at the bank.

pat greene: it is true that 3 of my 4 dogs are small, but the dachshunds think they are Rottweilers (not an unusual delusion for the breed).

#166 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:17 PM:

Steve Taylor wrote: Or are there barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor?

In addition to those already listed, a bank account is pretty much worthless if you have an outstanding judgment against you (very likely if you've ever been so broke you couldn't pay utility bills or vehicle payments for a long period of time.) There's essentially no way to get a bank account without a social security number, and a creditor who has a judgment and your social security number can (a) find your bank account whereever it is and (b) sweep your account at random times, taking everything in it.

The upshot is that even if you have a bank account, you can't deposit money in it (because it could be swept by your creditor before your deposit clears far enough for you to get your money out) much less write checks against it (because you never know if the money will be there by the time the check is presented for payment).

Once you're in that position, a check cashing place starts looking like a bargain.

#167 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Combining multiple responses here so as not to spam the comments.

Eve: My partner and I have discussed what we'd do if we won the lottery and "didn't have to work any more". In point of fact, we'd probably continue what we're doing now (two home-based businesses), because we enjoy it. But it would be really nice to only be doing it because we enjoy it, not to have to worry about whether it will pay the bills.

Giacomo: What one needs is for savings to be taken out from the current account as soon as the salary comes in. This is, in itself, a statement of privilege. You're assuming that there IS any money left over after the bills have been paid, which for many people in America is not the case -- not because they're "living up to their paycheck" either, but because their basic expenses (housing, food, clothing, transportation, medical care) eat their entire income. And the lower your social class, the more likely that is to be true, even if you never spend a penny on "luxuries". You're getting perilously close here to arguing that the poor are only poor because they don't know how to save money, which is one of the main rationalizations used by the privileged classes in America to argue against assistance for the needy. You can't save money if there's no money to be saved.

Margaret: The ONLY reason my partner and I are currently able to live on the income we bring in is that we paid off the mortgage on the house with the inheritance when his father died. Rent/mortgage payments are a HUGE nut to crack, and a sword of Damocles hanging over your head all the time. Only having to come up with the property tax money every year is easier and far less stressful. Also, if we'd invested that money in the expectation of using the income to pay the mortgage... his father died in 2000. 'Nuff said.

Albatross: Also, part of the higher costs of being poor have to do with "it takes money to make money", and with not having enough money to avoid certain predatory costs. Furniture rental is an excellent example of this. It costs less day-to-day than buying furniture outright (so is more available to the poor), but in the long run will suck far more of your money (thereby contributing to keeping them poor).

Various folks: Target also tends to sell a slightly better-quality mix of cheap stuff than Wal-Mart, and to charge just a bit more for it. Plus they target their marketing toward the middle classes, instead of focusing entirely on how low their prices are (with its concomitant implication of "cheap in more ways than one").

Pat: The upscale department stores like Nordstrom's and Neiman-Marcus have a policy of treating everyone decently, no matter how they look. After all, you never know when that scruffy-looking guy in the faded shirt and ragged jeans might be Willie Nelson. :-) I have never been treated with anything but the utmost courtesy by any clerk in either store (on the rare occasions when I go in), even when I openly say that I'm only browsing.

There's a chain of grocery stores in Houston called Fiesta. They started out catering almost exclusively to the Latino market, but a couple of their locations are fairly close to ritzy yuppie neighborhoods -- and those stores have gone (or are going) upscale, with an emphasis on international foods and some items like frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizzas. I think they're getting ready to take on Central Market.

#168 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 07:50 PM:

Quoth pat greene: It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable in places such as Nordstrom's and Saks. I still don't, some days -- I half expect some bouncer to show up and say, "sorry, you're not *our* type of customer" and give me the boot."

Huh. I just realized what underlies my urge to completely flee a store if a sales staffer comes up and asks if I need help-- subconsciously, I've been interpreting that as code for "We have our eyes on you, because we suspect you're about to shoplift something"; my formative childhood experiences were at thrift/discount stores where the staff just doesn't do that, and much of the time if I *was* in a nicer store, I *was* about to shoplift something.

Oddly, I seem to've escaped suspicion at the time, or at least was never caught. In contrast, there's the shopping experience I got to observe several times in college when going to the mall with a black male classmate. Whenever we entered a store, a visibly nervous clerk would come up to him right away to ask if he needed help, then follow him within a 10-foot radius all over the premises until we finally left, allowing the clerk to return behind the sales counter.

#169 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:22 PM:

When it comes to banks, I'm surprised that there aren't more that have free checking. After I got fed up with my credit union in the Bay Area (No ATMs! No internet banking! Convenient check depositing from 10-3, when we bother to show up!) I easily found a bank with no-minimum-balance, no-fee checking.

Thinking about it, I think it's the only one that does free checking without requiring direct deposit, which minimum-wage jobs probably don't have. So I suppose that completely free checking is an endangered species.

#170 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:37 PM:

Thus far JC: Convenience stores tend not to stock fresh fruits and vegetables, which if you could buy them from a supermarket would stretch out your food dollar in a healthy manner. As a general rule, unhealthy food seems to be cheaper than healthy food which has a long term consequence for both health and money spent.

The Marie Antoinette principle - "They can't buy bread? Let them eat cake." Part of the reason I like this term, admittedly, is the pun, though I prefer to disguise the Latin behind an earthy Anglo-Saxon term.

I grew up mostly in a village in Wales, where it was half an hour's bus ride to a supermarket (one of the Kwiksave chain - still extant in poorer areas, it seems, though the ones I used to go to don't show up on their list of shops online) that sold the unhealthy food in the first place. There were corner shops, but mostly of the cereal-and-sandwich-makings kind. After I got to university, I gradually managed to train myself to buy better food, but some of the old habits still surface. One of the reasons I'm incredibly grateful to live in London now is that real food is always available in walking distance. (Well, apart from at night on Saturday and Sunday.)

It was similar when I was trying for my PhD, too, at a horrible rural university in the middle of nowhere, Home Counties. The supermarket half an hour away was rather better, but there was even less right up close, and I rediscovered the excellence of ham-cheese-and-Branston-pickle sandwiches on cheap white bread as comfort food.

#171 ::: neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:39 PM:

it's not the condo that's dubious. Our housekeeping would be just as sketchy anywhere with the same cubic footage of storage space.

Yeah, when I'm the neatest of the three of us, you know we're in trouble.

I really thought the DC housing market was bad, but NYC is just *insane*.

I have to wonder, is this family buying coutre clothes every month or something? For $1000/month, they darned well better be. With that kind of cash, I'd have personally tailored *everything*, including shoes.

#172 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 08:40 PM:

Madeline F: WaMu? Free checking, long hours, no direct deposit requirement - I occasionally wonder whether they've decided that they can make a nice living by catering to the "respectable poor".

#173 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Elise, Larry, I ran our house starting when I was eight and the most wonderful thing about my third job was that I could buy anything I wanted. It turned out I wanted pretty much what I'd had before plus more fresh fish.

My credit union takes anybody who lives, works, or worships in the county and the two cities inside the county. The basic checking account is free, but if you keep $750 or more in a "signature" account, you get dividends every month. There's online banking, free use of any ATM, and some remarkable interest rates for auto/RV/CDs.

#174 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:41 PM:

I once had a discussion with a rich Republican (maybe never a good idea) in which it turned out that he voted on the basis of whoever would give him the best tax break. Any argument I could make -- better schools, roads, health care, even police -- was countered with "But I want to keep my money." After a while this seemed sort of pathetic, like a kid holding onto his toy and screaming "Mine!" Now whenever I hear about people who want more and more money I wonder if they'd had enough toys when they were kids.

My fantasy after winning the lottery -- I would set up a grant for beginning writers, where I'd judge the first couple chapters of a novel and give the person enough to live on for a year to finish it. (Though I wonder now if I should change that to "live on anywhere but New York and the Bay Area.") My husband would send fiddle players to Ireland to study. And we'd hire a friend of ours who works at a foundation to administer the whole thing, and pay her a ridiculously high salary. (Yes, we have thought about this a lot, why do you ask?)

#175 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:52 PM:

there had been so much fraud (person comes in, deposits $5K, writes check for $15K while that one is clearing, decamps) that the rules were really rigid.

This surprises me; in most states (even Massachusetts, despite its alleged unfriendliness to business) banks can get funds from a check much faster than they will let you draw on those funds. And I'm not sure what to say about someone who takes a check for $15K without confirming that the funds exist.

Margaret: the low end is a little higher than you calculate; 4% is an OK payoff for tax-free bonds, so at that return you could be better off. Of course, that assumes that you have control over the investments; trust funds can be strange even when the administrators are entirely honest. (There was the one that invested substantially in the stock of the bank managing the trust....)

People have posted most of my initial thoughts about credit unions, which were my first response to the discussion of bank costs. The big problems are membership rules (often depending on an employing company confirming corporate eligibility, which requires a thoughtful employer with the people points to do the work) and access: credit unions are often quite small, and outside of cities to hold down costs. Mine has offices 15 and 30 miles north of Boston and 20 miles west, which would make getting money from ATMs expensive if they hadn't affiliated with a large number of other small banks \and/ managed to keep access to ATMs when the owning banks got eaten. (This is in Massachusetts; other states are probably not as rigorous on mergers.) Credit unions may also have limits on advertising -- I've certainly never seen them advertise here -- which makes them hard to find unless a community advocate gets out and tells people about them.

Susan: $40K for school sounds a little high; my boarding high school mentioned $18K 10 years ago, and inflation has been low. But that wasn't an upper-crust school, and some schools have been increasing fees much faster than inflation. Your comments on travel ignored good ways to really burn through money, such as expensive cruises -- not the factory-ship stuff sold to middle-class retirees, but large quarters in small ships with all-U.S. staffs.

I've never had to live really close to the line, but I keep reminding myself that I've had extraordinary luck -- a tiny inheritance that replaced my first car when it finally gave up the ghost (and my job was accessible by mass transit only by taking 2 hours and walking a mile), a somewhat larger one that added enough to savings that I could get a small house without paying private mortgage insurance, and parents who had been through enough that I never picked up expensive tastes (except for eating out, which I don't do much because I'm trying to maintain my weight). I remember my father telling me I was making more than he ever had despite him having retired as an upper-level federal manager -- but that was 17 years (including the inflationary 70's) after he'd retired, and the rent on the 2BR apartment we were in (in an indistinguished part of greater Boston) was probably substantially higher than the mortgage payments on the 4BR, 3bath house I grew up in. (The house and its 4 acres sold for barely half what we paid for a small 2.5BR house on the edge of Boston 23 years later.)

#176 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 09:58 PM:

Cassie, I'm another engineering grad student, supported by grants to the extent that I do not need either a job or student loans. I live in an area with relatively low cost of living. I currently live in a three-bedroom townhouse with two roommates, and previously lived with only one; I've worked it out that my grad student stipend would just cover my bills, even if I had to live alone.

I've actually thought about money quite a lot recently. What I'm doing in the lab right now is almost exactly what I was doing as a job last year, and I made $15k more at the job. It made it a lot easier to deal with the tedious bits when I knew I was getting paid well for it. Now I have to keep telling myself the tedious bits are worth it because I'll be learning lots of new skills that will enable me to get an even better-paying job when I get out.

Money, for me, represents freedom. I'm not in debt, but in order to maintain this situation, I have to stay within budget. This means I say "No" to many, many, many things. No traveling, no going out with friends, no clothes or furniture that did not come from Goodwill, no fixing up the yard with new plants (this costs a surprising amount of money), no replacing the water-damaged linoleum, etc.

I am looking forward to graduating and getting a job that pays what I consider to be a lot of money. I want to be able to say "Yes" to some of those things. I feel guilty for being consumeristic when I say that. I feel guilty for wanting a job that pays good money, instead of just working for the love of it.

But I live in a society where doing things costs money. Going places costs money (especially where I live, where nothing is walkable). Having choices costs money: choices about where to live, what to eat, even whether to marry or have children. Almost everything has a price tag.

When I have less money, I feel like my world shrinks. I have to worry all the time, mentally adding up numbers in my head. (It reminds me very much of having an eating disorder, actually -- keeping a running total of calories in my head, or a running total of dollars, and always feeling guilty because I had to eat, or had to fill up my gas tank). Money is freedom from that.

Or at least that's how it seems to me. The only real freedom from that is probably going and becoming a hermit on a mountaintop somewhere, of course.

#177 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:00 PM:

I was too angry this morning to respond sensibly to either the original article or the blog comments.

Online parenting communities fill the same need as telephones, cooperative preschools, and (she says, putting on her anthropologist hat) the extended family, clan, and age cohort of traditional societies. Women never learned to become mothers "alone with their baby," except in very deprived personal situations or atypical social periods. So bad marks to the author.

I found out yesterday I need all my maxillary incisors crowned, to the tune of $2600 after insurance; we just did a crap job of replacing the subfloor in the kitchen since we could not afford to hire a pro, and will soon take the lessons learned from that experience (please god, goddess, to whom it may concern) to replace a rotten sill caused by the same plumbing leak. Meanwhile the washing machine just blew up right after my husband made nonrefundable airline reservations to go to a funeral in Oklahoma.

The leaks and the washer, by the way, were all a result of the Nisqually Quake- covert damage that was already catastrophic when it developed visible symptoms.

So, yeah: I hate money, these days. I hate that my husband brings home as much money in a month as I did for my first year of employment, and we're still mostly hanging on the edge. Both kids (18 and 20) have jobs; at the point they were old enough not to need a mom home I was in bad shape health-wise and now it's been a couple of decades since I've worked outside the home.

But, then: we have, along with our decaying mobile home and two utterly crap automobiles, three computers, a spiffy two year old TV, cable and cable modem to the tune of $140 a month, and yes, we replaced the washer. The kids are both going to be in college this fall, the dogs and cat get vet care, we have good health coverage, et'c and so on.

As far as I can tell, there's a disconnect between the level of luxury my family and most of my peers experience and our perception of security. I don't see why that weird emotional response should be any different at ten times our income, or a hundred times. I feel poor because my lack of recent work history and iffy health makes looking for work a long shot; I feel righ when I look at where I live, in terms of having acreage instead of square footage for my gardens.

I do feel sorry for people who feel stressed by the inadequacy at $5 million; seems to me they might benefit by going to help my brother-in-law clean pig-pens for a while. Sometimes Mao had the seed of a good idea.

#178 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:11 PM:

Credit unions in Hawai'i are amazingly lax about membership rules. One is currently advertising (and many advertise) for family members of people who work for any level of government (cousins, aunties, no matter). As a rule of thumb I'd say if they're advertising on television for members the rules are lenient.

#179 ::: MWT ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 10:50 PM:

Doudas said: And as far as the expenses for eating out are concerned, I doubt these people are doing anything that extravagant either. My husband and I eat at home with our kids Monday through Thursday nights and dine out by ourselves Fridays and Saturdays. We go to a good restaurant (and by that I don't mean Le Cirque or The Four Seasons, but just a restaurant that serves three courses, has good food and ambience and a decent wine list, has good word of mouth or been reviewed, and so on, of which there dozens) and spend about $150 for the two of us, which again is typical for New York. On Sundays we dine out with our children, and go to a place with good food but that's kid friendly where we spend about $100-$150 for the four of us.

Eating out at sit-down places three times a week, twice at places that serve 3 courses and have wine lists? Not extravagant? Heh, I remember a time when eating at a sit-down restaurant once a month (and no other restaurant food the rest of the time) was my personal luxury to myself.

Nowadays I do eat takeout food more often. My income still isn't high, my expenses aren't high either, and I'm actually happy where I am for the most part. However - I worry about the future. At some point, cost-of-living is going to be more than my income unless something drastic changes, and (medical) expenses will probably rise as I get older. Not sure yet what I'll be doing about that.

Incidentally, I rent. To me it means not having to pay for any maintenance whatsoever, ever - not in money or time. If something breaks, I tell the manager and she sends a guy over to fix it or replace it. They do all the yardwork as well. It seems like a fair trade to me.

As for banks ... You can't do a lot of things with bad or no credit, things that I take for granted with my good credit. Where I live, you pretty much can't get a bank account, period. It's also extremely hard to find good places to live. And even with my good credit, my interest rates for everything is higher because I don't own anything of value (house, land). I found that out when I tried to consolidate a couple loans, and eventually had to get my sister to co-sign it to take advantage of the lower rates.

I've purposely not put in any actual dollar amounts in this post. As someone else said elsewhere, those are kind of meaningless when trying to compare between regions.

#180 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:05 PM:

... their basic expenses (housing, food, clothing, transportation, medical care) eat their entire income.

The last job I had was paying better than federal minimum (by some dollars an hour) but still wasn't quite break-even for this area (last year about 12.50 an hour). When you're paying well below market rate for a studio/single (less than one bedroom) and housing is taking fifty percent of your takehome, you're really working poor. I was glad to go back to my long-commute better-paying job when that opportunity came up.

My company has its own credit union, open to family but not friends, and accessible via a credit-union ATM network, which means I can make deposits without finding one of the handful of actual offices - not that this is a problem when one is a short elevator ride away, but it was handy in that previous job.

#181 ::: torie ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:10 PM:

Wow. Just. Wow. If I had that much money, I'd, you know, be able to see a doctor. I bet she has no idea about the "food or tampons?" dilemma.

No one likes to talk about class in America. We're all middle-class, right? You used to be able to tell by the way someone dressed and now we can hide everything so well. There's a whole vocabularity of middle-class poverty that is utterly unfamiliar to people who didn't live it. I didn't learn until I was much older that people will give you blank stares when you talk about WIC checks or EBT. Or those days when you had to bum a nickel off of someone in the lunch line cecause you're short for your 40 cent reduced meal.

Also: I have a friend who lives in the Apthorp. No, really. She married a guy whose grandmother owned an apartment and tada! Bah.

#182 ::: Argy ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:28 PM:

Re: budget living in NYC. The fun free stuff to do in NYC takes effort to get out to. Whenever I visit my friends there, we spend an hour and a half each way on the subway, and a ton of walking around, to get to a couple of free events. It's fun, and definitely feels like the active center of the country, but damn is it tiring!

(Compare a town I once lived in, where you could drive an hour in three directions to find medium cities with free stuff to do. We very rarely did that; driving two hours wasn't something we would do most nights of the week. My NYC friends spend three hours on the subway to get to a free show several nights a week, and see it as completely normal.)

My theory: Living in NYC is super expensive, and to make it worth your while to live there, you have to put in extra effort. I'm always struck by how intense it is all around. (Of course, for me it would still beat the pants off commuting in a car-and-mall-only suburb. But I'm glad to live in a walkable much smaller city.)

Actually -- along these same lines -- I wonder if this same intensity explains why the earlier commenter regards eating out (for $150) twice a week without the kids as very normal. In most families I know with small kids, the parents do not have this level of "date" time. But the two families I do know where the parents have weekly out-of-house, kidless date nights a week both live in NYC. They regard the childcare expenses for those nights, and the "date" expenses, as a non-negotiable, necesary part of their week.

I wonder if it's something about NYC culture that makes this seem like a baseline expected thing... "there's so much to do in the city, so many great restaurants, etc that we're wasting it -- living here for nothing -- if we don't take advantage of it."

(No slam on earlier commenter or the city intended here.)

#183 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:31 PM:

If we ever get a progressive administration in this country, I'd like to see a . . . well, a Federal Po'Folks Bank.

It would essentially be a credit union, subsidized to operate in "iffy" areas, for customers who would otherwise have to turn to those despicable payday loan places.

Each branch would have a classroom. The cost of membership would be attending classes on money management, on applying for mortgages, and planning for sending your kids to college.

#184 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2006, 11:52 PM:

I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Africa, and it was a real eye opener for me in terms of what is really needed versus what we think we need.

I mentioned this once to a fellow teacher there, and he told me that there's an old Gikuyu saying: "Wealth begins when your belly is full."

Perceived need, once the essentials are covered (which I would characterize as a roof over your head, food, adequate health care and education, and stability in your job situation), is very much driven by how much you have relative to your peers. It's a competitive impulse.


-l.

#185 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:02 AM:

Speaking as a parent there's nothing wrong with the concept of "date night," except in my neighborhood that means a friend watches the kids while you go out for a movie and dinner at a casual restaurant or stay in with take-out and a rented movie. Then you return the favor for the friend. Our "date night" is our weekly bowling league. Now isn't THAT romantic? ;-)

#186 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:14 AM:

Stefan,

Wouldn't that kind of suck for the single mom who was trying to pay her bills with two jobs, and was just hoping not to get screwed by her bank?

Lee,

Giacomo's statement does indeed apply only to people with some extra money. But while there are people who have no extra money, most of us have a little bit, and often we don't manage it well. Certainly, I have never been good at saving back a reasonable amount. The pattern I've found myself following is that I get a raise, and then my spendnig goes up unless I take some overt action. There are people who are poor though no fault of their own, but there are a lot more who are poorer than they would be if they were better at managing their money. I often wish we could do a decent job of teaching personal finance, budgeting, etc., in school. (But then, we don't seem to do all that great a job teaching much in the schools in the poorest neighborhoods, so how much would this help?)

The credit issues are potentially ugly for poor people. Another source of real nastiness is the child support system. It's apparently not all that rare for a man with minimum-wage skills to have two or three child support judgements against him. Should he pay for supporting kids he helped make? Sure. Can he support three kids on a minmium wage job? Nope. The result is that he goes further and further into debt, and basically can't ever get out. I have no idea how to fix this; you really do want people to pay the cost of their actions where possible, and short of forced sterilization or some similar horror, you can't stop an irresponsible man from fathering far more kids than he can support. (You could put him in jail, but it's hard to see this making much sense.)

#187 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:37 AM:

Julia Jones: Yep, WaMu. I didn't pimp them by name because the past month their internet banking really ticked me off... So much security that you can't see your money = screw you. (They changed their system so four wrong entries in the password field froze access to the account until you actually phoned them... And then they'd reset the password, send the new password in an email that looked just like spam, the system won't let you change the password to anything you've ever used so you forget it, and that's when it doesn't crash... Repeat literally 10 times.

I think it's finally sorted now, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.) But that's after many years of happy association, and I like their new ads with the scowling jowly old white man, "Free checking? I was born rich, not stupid..." so there ya go.

#188 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:43 AM:

I don't own their stock, but when I was struggling I started banking with WaMu, and so far they haven't made any mistakes, charged me for anything, and haven't managed to piss me off. On the whole, you'd never know they were the 5th or 6th largest bank in the country. I think they keep their costs low by placing their branches just off the main drags instead of keeping them where they're easy to find.

They also tend to have branches in challenged areas like Orange, NJ.

#189 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:43 AM:

A brief conversation with the hostess compels me to bring up a post from about eight months back from my blog-- trimmed to appease her filters.

But apparently, there's enough demand [...] that it makes sense to advertise for this place on TV, a joint called Dollar Loan Center.

They loan you money at 7.5% weekly. Not annually, not monthly. Weekly. How bad is that? The disclaimer at the end of their site reads: "Although our loans are not set up on an annual basis, the federal government requires us to tell you that if you did keep this loan out for an entire year, your annual percentage rate would be 392%." Oh, and for customers without an open checking account, the interest rate may be higher.

And people wonder how poverty is perpetuated sometimes.

Go and check out their website at the inappropriately named dontgobroke.com. No, they aren't getting a link.

#190 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:47 AM:

Although it does seem like their URL has changed-- it's now www.dontbebroke.com

#191 ::: Argy ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:13 AM:

JulieB: Just to head off any misunderstanding, I'm all for date nights for parents. I just mean that most parents I know don't get them twice a week. The parents I know in NYC (small sample size, of course) set a much higher priority on this and regard it as normal and baseline, not as a treat that you try to do as often as you can.

Maybe the upshot is (the quite obvious point that) prevailing local standards make a difference to what seems necessary, so how much money you feel is needed to meet baseline needs.

#192 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:34 AM:

Giacomo's statement does indeed apply only to people with some extra money. But while there are people who have no extra money, most of us have a little bit, and often we don't manage it well.

Won't argue with that. But there really is a level below which it doesn't apply, and I've known a surprising number of people who fall below that dividing line -- often because they're on disability, with health problems that actively prevent them from working. So statements like the one I objected to set my teeth on edge, because (1) I keep thinking that these are my FRIENDS he's talking about so blithely, and (2) as I noted, that kind of argument is often trotted out as an excuse by the privileged when they want to cut benefits for the needy.

I guess in that sense, it's no different from racism, homophobia, or any other social issue; if you know real, live people to whom the situation applies, you're less likely to buy into the propaganda.

#193 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:44 AM:

It's possible to live on almost nothing if you have a safety net. Right now I earn somewhere under $25K and about two thirds of that goes on rent. I am perfectly content with this money; I would even say I'm rich in that are very few reasonable things I want but can't have.

But that's not because I'm a virtuous, frugal person smug in my moral superiority to someone earning twenty times my salary from a trust fund and worrying whether that's enough. No, it's because I live in a country where if I fell ill or had an accident, the common purse would cover my healthcare and make a fair contribution towards food, shelter and care if I couldn't work afterwards. If I had the prospect of paying for healthcare myself, or through insurance which was completely dependent on my employer, I'd be worrying too. In those circumstances there's almost no amount of money which would make me feel I could just do whatever I enjoyed and give any surplus to good causes.

If I were that woman I'd be concerned about money too, I think.

#194 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 07:23 AM:

JC: Exactly. It's expensive to be poor. If you're middle-class, and you can afford the initial outlay to buy in bulk, and go to the dentist as soon as it hurts, and have a fuel-efficient car, you can save so much money.

I post on a board where there is a woman, a libertarian military wife, who is constantly boasting about how 'frugal' she is. It takes a lot of effort for me not to point out that it's easier to be frugal when you get military healthcare.

#195 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 07:33 AM:

We have a trainwreck of a candidate for the Republican nomination to run against Hillary who's a SAHM from the upper east side.

She has (going north to south) a home in Bronxville, a duplex on Park Avenue, and a place on a little island of one of the better Hamptons.

She recently gave an interview to a gossip columnist about her just-like-the-little-people lifestyle. Apparently, she drives an old beater sometimes and she shops at Costco. Thus, she understands our concerns.

She apparently believes that she can be elected in New York as the candidate of empty-nest matrons looking for something to occupy their days, because that's who she says she's the candidate of.

$1750/mo "eating out" is like $60/day. if you don't cook anything yourself, and only eat at fancy Manhattan bistros, that's probably pretty easy to do.

Assuming (and I do, because a fair number of the Chad and Muffin parents I see at improving cultural institutions on weekends seem barely to have met their children) that they leave DK at home, it's reasonably easy for two people to spend that much on lunch in midtown.

At dinner, it's a midrange bottle of wine in a fancy Manhattan bistro.

#196 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 08:17 AM:

Madeline F: Yep, WaMu. I didn't pimp them by name....

But WAMU is one of Washington, DC's NPR stations, and while I don't worship NPR, they don't deserve to have their name tarred with the wasteful huge organized retail experience. How about Wa'rt for a pimpless contraction? Unless you're sensitive to the insult to HPV, which also can hardly be said to deserve the association.


#197 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 08:58 AM:

No. There are lots of merely luxurious buildings. That apartment is in the Apthorp Building. The Apthorp's not quite as swank and storied as the Dakota or the Ansonia Hotel, and it doesn't have the sheer Bohemian cachet of the Chelsea Hotel, but it's right up there.

It is worth noting that the building across 23rd from the Chelsea Hotel is the headquarters of the Communist Party.

#198 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Teresa: ...and have dental anxiety dreams at night. If I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars), I'd get my teeth fixed.

I suspect I'm not saying anything that you haven't already said to yourself, but just in case anybody else is interested... I'm an advocate of setting aside all other material desires until critical dental woes are addressed. And no, I ain't a dentist (as you know, but others may not).

In general, I hate going to the dentist. At first, it was because I needed so much work. It was ... I know how stupid this sounds ... embarrassing bordering on humiliating ... and that's not even getting to the part about it being so expensive. Now that I've got the little enamelly bastards whipped back into shape, I only hate it because of (a) the time it takes out of my day, (b) the tedium of it, and (c) the money.

But getting your teeth horsewhipped into good shape can make a tremendous difference in your overall level of general health, not to mention a marked drop in dental anxiety dreams.

I encourage people to commit themselves to the project of returning to good dental health, no matter the time and expense. A lot of dentists will work with you on the money part. The judicious use of the credit card can help. Patience and working at it a step at a time eventually gets the job done. But it does take time and money and commitment. There's no getting around that part of it.

The money part of it does require sacrificing other things that are way more fun to have or do. Not to say people are putting off the work because they are being "frivolous" or something. I understand that sometimes there just isn't any room in the budget at all. If you feel that's the case, look at the budget again, this time shifting "needed dental work" to the "critical needs" category. Because, you know, I believe it is critical. Maybe by making that small change in perspective, you can find a way to get started on the work, maybe you can't.

Okay, that's it. Sorry if that came off as a lecture. I didn't mean it that way. I just wanted testify to the congregation from the pulpit of someone who started out in a state of pretty bad dental health and has now made the long, hard slog into the promised land of pretty good dental health, speaking generally.

You can do it, brothers and sisters! Trust in the Oral B!

Of course, this sort of thing can go too far. Just a few weeks ago I bought myself what I considered to be a Magnificently Self-Indulgent Birthday Present. To wit: the 2007 Water Pik Ultra(R) Model WP-100. We're talking top of the line stuff here, people... 3 standard jet tips, 3 tongue cleaner jet tips, deep cleaning Pocket Pik(R) tip, and more! About $80 at Walgreens.

If I had a garage, I do believe I'd keep it in there. Under canvas cover.

#199 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 09:15 AM:

I wonder if it's something about NYC culture that makes this seem like a baseline expected thing... "there's so much to do in the city, so many great restaurants, etc that we're wasting it -- living here for nothing -- if we don't take advantage of it."

No slam on NYC, which is clearly the beating heart of the east coast if not the country, but based on the links to apartment photos upthread--high end apartments at that--I'd speculate that claustrophobia is probably a contributing factor as well.

There's something to be said for the southeast, where the job market is hot but the housing market is not. You can have--no exaggeration--a mansion on acreage for the price of those wee-bitty apartments.

#200 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 09:15 AM:

LauraJMixon: Perceived need, once the essentials are covered (which I would characterize as a roof over your head, food, adequate health care and education, and stability in your job situation) [...]

I think "stablilty" (or security) is very important here. It means that you can plan, that you have some kind of power over your life, and also that you do not need to hoard like mad for that $100,000/year medical condition that may lurk in your future, or for the job loss that will leave you sleeping under bridges.

I note that as social safety nets get disabled, I'm worrying far more about money in the bank than I had before, which is kind of ridiculous, because I'll never be wealthy enough to actually absorb one catastrophe, much less two.

If I felt that my insurances against catastrophes were paid and ready, I would feel rich. As I doubt the reliability of a safety net, I feel like I'm struggling.

#201 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 09:25 AM:

"If we ever get a progressive administration in this country, I'd like to see a . . . well, a Federal Po'Folks Bank."

Eugene, Oregon has a thing called O.U.R Credit Union which fits your description pretty well; there are probably other CUs in other places which do a similar job.

#202 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 09:52 AM:

Argy, no worries. Like you, I can't imagine going out twice a week.

Gads, I live such an exciting life. ;-)

#203 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 10:35 AM:

Susan: $40K for school sounds a little high; my boarding high school mentioned $18K 10 years ago, and inflation has been low. But that wasn't an upper-crust school, and some schools have been increasing fees much faster than inflation.

I was a little high. St. Bernard's School - $28,000/year. That's for a day school. Andover - $33,000/year for boarding school. Both of those are more than I paid for a year of Ivy education twenty years ago. You also need to add in uniforms (not bought at Target) and the socially mandatory donations in support of the school. I worked (as a hired performer) at a St. Bernard's School fundraiser last year and the silent auction items were well into five digit prices. After looking at those I was rather sorry I didn't charge them a lot more for the performance - I could probably have added another zero to my fee without them even noticing.

Your comments on travel ignored good ways to really burn through money, such as expensive cruises -- not the factory-ship stuff sold to middle-class retirees, but large quarters in small ships with all-U.S. staffs.

My imagination clearly isn't up to the job of imagining all the ways one could travel in luxury. I do know one family at that income level who chartered a plane to take their bulldog to England, since bulldogs don't do well as airline cargo - something about the squished face affects their breathing and gives them a lower than normal survival rate.

#204 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 10:52 AM:

If I had a million dollars (if I had a million dollars), I'd get my teeth fixed.

Does Tor not provide dental insurance or have your needs exceeded some sort of annual/lifetime cap?

I had five rounds of increasingly gory gum surgery (the last one featuring seventeen shots of novocaine) and about all I can say for the experience is that it beat having all my teeth fall out. That was when I had a job with dental insurance; I crammed all the surgery into about 18 months to make sure I was all set before I quit that job. Nowadays I visit my dentist/periodontist every three months, paying out of pocket, because I don't want to have to ever have gum surgery again.

#205 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:01 AM:

Eugene, there USED to be such places in the United States. They were called "Savings and Loans". A mythical beast...
When we came to the United States in 1970, my parents banked with the local savings and loan. 4% interest on savings, a little less on checking.Free checking. Someone who knew you by name and CALLED YOU AT WORK if they thought something was wrong before they charged you any fees.
Then came deregulation...

#206 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:48 AM:

Lee:

The upscale department stores like Nordstrom's and Neiman-Marcus have a policy of treating everyone decently, no matter how they look. After all, you never know when that scruffy-looking guy in the faded shirt and ragged jeans might be Willie Nelson. :-)

That's also very true in Silicon Valley; the scruffy-looking guy might have founded a startup that just developed the latest killer app and then went public.

It's not that they *do* anything to make me feel this way, I just do. Probably because I never could afford to shop their until I was well into adulthood.

#207 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:12 PM:

It is possible to live very cheaply in NY; my sister does, by sharing a 4-bedroom in Harlem with 3 roommates, and she wouldn't move for the world. (The alternative is North Raleigh, possibly the most yuppie-suburban-whitebread-sprawl neighborhood in existence, so I can't say I blame her). ...But she did think it was very, very funny that I thought $850 was a ridiculous price to pay for a 1-bedroom here, even if it would get me a very nice apartment in a hipper neighborhood. Anyway, one of the blessings of NYC is not having to buy a car; one could easily spend a month's rent on gas, insurance, and car payments.

And the flipside to that is that the rest of my family are those people who could easily spend $15K a month. Little Sister went to the American School in Paris, and she did the worst thing one can do for their budget: she made rich friends.

The problem with rich friends is that, not only do they make ridiculous expenses seem reasonable, but they always make expensive plans, and it seems churlish to say that no, you can't go on that vacation, or to that club.

I'm broke, currently, (part-time newbie librarian, living with the 'rents) but there's a big difference between being broke and being poor. I have benefits with my job, and I have job security, and parents with money; and that actually means I spend less money than I did as a grad student, where I would go into fits of money anxiety that would inevitably cause me to buy things.

Unfortunately, my fantasies about what I will do when I am finally a little less broke make me glad I won't ever earn enough money to be stupid with it.

#208 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:19 PM:

Dan Hoey - just so you know, WaMu is not the evil retail empire, they're Washington Mutual, a bank based in Seattle with fewer predatory practices than most banks.

***

Re: Dental Anxiety, my concern is more about finding a good dentist. A good dentist is worth paying more for (if you possbily can) because a bad dentist may fix the apparent problem, but may recommend unnecessary procedures, miss a larger problem, or both!

I love my dentist in Silicon Valley, and I've yet to find one in Seattle. I wonder if my insurance would pay half of the cost of airfare? (In my dreams.)

#209 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:19 PM:

Emily, good point. There's a big difference between being broke and being poor.

How to explain to a middle-class person what's it's like to be poor: "Imagine being broke all the time."

There's no way to explain being poor to a wealthy person, because a wealthy person has never had the experience of being broke.

#210 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:28 PM:

One part of the safety net that's easy to overlook is family. If you have a reasonably large, reasonably well-off family, they provide a lot of that safety net; the worst case isn't that you're sleeping under a bridge or in your car, it's that you're sleeping in your parents' basement. Naturally, this only works if you have that kind of family--if the rest of your family is dirt poor, then not only are they not a safety net for you, you are probably their safety net, and many of their financial crises may become yours, too.

#211 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:34 PM:

albatross: then not only are they not a safety net for you, you are probably their safety net,

Too true. I was happy to send my grandmother quite a bit of money for her various medications, even when I was unemployed. I've studiously avoided doing this for my siblings for a variety of reasons which I won't go into here.

#212 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Lizzy,

I think that being poor has at least as much to do with the lack of a safety net as with being broke all the time. Lots of middle-class families live with almost no disposable income right after buying a house, for example--they're probably not poor by any normal definition. Also, lots of people live on very little income while going to school, yet they don't manifest much of the impact of being poor, so there's probably some sense of what you expect for the future.

#213 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 12:44 PM:

I agree with Michael Weholt about dental stuff. It should really come first. Well, after getting the right blood pressure drug, maybe.

#214 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 01:15 PM:

If I had better teeth we'd be quite a lot richer- we being both my natal family and the one of which I am now the mom. I had my first three-surface molar filling at two-and-a-half; the crowns I'm budgeting for now are 17-20.

It doesn't take a major health catastrophe to weaken one's virtue in regard to consumer debt.

#215 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:21 PM:

Here's a question for those who have been poor (U.S. type poor) at one time - I was on food stamps for a while - and now are better off: [*]
Do you ever have little spasms of guilt at having money now, and being able to afford luxuries? Even though you know you've earned it on your own merits?

* cf. Daffy Duck in Ali Baba's cave full of gold and jewels: "I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm... comfortably well-off."

#216 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 02:55 PM:

Larry Brennan:

You might want to check out these folks in Issaquah:

http://www.naturaldentist.com/

My wife swears by their work. Dr. Saepoff did a good job with an implant and a crown of mine.

#217 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 03:47 PM:

Clifton, I did at one time, but not nearly so much anymore.

Daffy Duck: I'm socially secure... I'm a happy miser.

#218 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 04:09 PM:

Lizzy L wrote:
There's no way to explain being poor to a wealthy person, because a wealthy person has never had the experience of being broke.

I still remember my total system shock at talking about freenets with the CFO of a company who was -absolutely baffled- that people might need cheap, text-only access to the Internet (in 1995) - on the grounds that everybody -clearly- had a recent enough computer to have graphics'n'all.

#219 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 04:33 PM:

Re: dental woes--a suggestion for anyone who is truly up against it and has concerns about their teeth: find a community college or tech school near you that confers dental hygeinist degrees. Those students have to practice on someone. Therefore they usually have an arrangement whereby students who are partway through their education can do cheap or free cleanings etc. for those who can't afford a dentist, under the supervision of qualified faculty. The clinic where my school sends its dental hygeine students also does free dental x-rays at the same time. They don't do free fillings (though I believe they will do extractions, in a pinch), but at least you can get the cleaning and x-rays for free, leaving you something to put toward the needed work.

Tech schools can also be a source of extremely cheap haircuts, basic auto mechanic work, etc. etc. Of course, it won't be state of the art, but you won't be at the mercy of an unsupervised amateur either (and the equipment should be clean and safe).

#220 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 04:47 PM:

While reading this thread, my sound track has been Janis Joplin's "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedez Benz?/ My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends." Of course, in the song she "Worked hard all my life, Lord (no help from my friends)", and she concludes with that marvelous cackle.

Others have mentioned what may be the two greatest things that wealth can bring, security and freedom. It's a pity that we can get neither of these from the Government.

#221 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:59 PM:

"There's no way to explain being poor to a wealthy person, because a wealthy person has never had the experience of being broke."

It can happen. I have relatives who went from broke to being richer than I'll ever be.

#222 ::: Jonathan Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 06:06 PM:

I've been unemployed for about three years. Manic depression makes it close to impossible for me to hold on to a day job, but if I'm functional enough to write this, I'm certainly not disabled. My wife and parents support me, but they're stretched to the limit, and we have no savings. When my wife retires on the small amount set out for her by her pension plan, we are going to have to go live in a trailer in Hemet and eat cat food. (Hemet, for those readers not in California, is the armpit of the state, rivaled only by Winchester.) The question is: will we be able to get Fancy Feast, or will we have to settle for 9-Lives? (That was a joke.)
The sum of money mentioned in the original post gives me the willies. I can see how it would seem normal to people who had it, but to me it seems like the arithmetical sublime. We have a lot less, and I suppose in some sense that seems unjust, but it seems more distant to me. We have our fate, ending in Hemet, and the rich people have theirs, ending in the Hamptons. Both classes of people eat and sleep and go to the bathroom, and manage to do it on the money they have. No one's going to step in and save us with great wealth, and no one is going to rescue them from what they perceive as privation. Inequity all around, I'd say; not really irony as much as a difference in expectations.

#223 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 11:57 PM:

the CFO of a company who was -absolutely baffled- that people might need cheap, text-only access to the Internet

One of the Punch cartoons recaptioned for The Peter Principle shows a couple of fat clubmen, one of them waving his newspaper and saying (as he pours some more port) "We live in strange times. What the deuce can people want with drinking fountains?"

Some people just have no idea how lucky they are, or how most of the country (let alone world) lives. I don't know what to do about them; it seems as if they'll always find a way to buy elections, or at least warp them.

#224 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 12:00 AM:

Jonathan, if you have physical or mental limitations which prevent you from doing ordinary activities, I'd say you're disabled. Would you say that someone paralyzed from the waist down wasn't disabled, simply because he was functional enough to write two short paragraphs? Your limitations are different, and perhaps less severe, but they've had a serious effect on your life.

Of course, my definition is pretty loose. I'd say if you wear glasses to correct bad vision, you're disabled; you're just lucky enough to have a disability that doesn't affect you much.

I think accepting a loose definition, that encompasses many people, helps destigmatize the word. Too many people regard being disabled as something to be ashamed of, and deny that the word applies to them. If you've done your best to stay working for three years, but your medical condition has prevented you, then you should consider applying for SSDI. The Social Security Administration will almost certainly dismiss your initial claim, but there are lawyers who will help you appeal for a percentage of your back pay award. Remember, Social Security is in large part a disability insurance scheme; the taxes you've paid in the past are in a sense the premium you've paid against the eventuality you face now.

(There are two disability programs under Social Security, SSDI which requires a history of paid work, a current inability to work, and has no income requirement, and SSI which doesn't require a work history but has strict income and asset limitations. If your wife is employed, you're most likely eligible for SSDI but not SSI--but I'm not an expert, don't take my word for it.)

#225 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 12:49 AM:

So much of our attitudes about money are tangled in our perception of what makes a good standard of living. And that perception gets manipulated--by advertising, by government and by our social groups. I was commenting to a coworker recently about how successful career-wise my former work "subordinates" were. They are all at least the level I was when I was their boss, if not higher and they are definitely making more. My new co-worker said "Waitaminute..what the hell are you doing here?" and I said "Because at 5 o'clock, my life is my own and I am happy." I literally could be making twice what I make now--and I make a very good living--but it would take too much sacrificing the things I enjoy: time to read, to paint, to write, to travel, to take naps. Making more money for me would just be about the money. But oddly enough, the things I enjoy the most, don't really cost me that much. So I made an active decision to move away from that treadmill. Don't get me wrong--I'm not poor and don't think I am. But that's my point, too, I've hit a satisfaction point. Could I spent $15K a month? Sure, we all could. But if anyone believes they need that much to be happy, they probably don't understand what makes them happy.

#226 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 01:05 AM:

I want to second Lila's advice about finding cheap dental care. Years ago when I lived in San Francisco, couldn't afford private dental care, and needed to have a tooth crowned, I went to the University of the Pacific Dental School, which provides exactly such a service to the community: free or almost free dental work provided by students, supervised by professors. The gold crown lasted nearly 30 years and I never had a moment's trouble with it.

#227 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 01:35 AM:

A year or two ago, my parents-in-law offered to pay for us to go on cruise with them for Christmas, since our usual reason for not going to see them for the holidays is money. They paid for the cruise, we ran up our credit cards with the travel to the boat and such, and I worried about the money the whole damn time.
What really caught my attention (other than the food in Belize City)was the number of older couples who apparently lived--year-round--on the ship. At a cocktail reception (wearing my best pair of black trousers for the fourth time)one of the women said that she and her husband had discovered it was cheaper to buy an owner's suite, with meals, laundry, housekeeping, the whole bit, than it was for them to move into a retirement community or assisted living of their choice. So they did. Wow.
I'm really glad we went. My family traveled a lot when I was kid, but I don't remember any of it, and just having to get a passport was thrilling. We spent Christmas Day at sea in the Gulf of Mexico, giant swells rocking the ship, and the poor crew scrambling to clean up after all the nauseated passengers.
When we woke up in New Orleans, there was a light snow coating everything--so beautiful--but then we heard about that huge tsunami, which I guess somehow contributed to our rough seas.


#228 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 01:57 AM:

It helps if you can define what will make you happy-- "I work hard to get a better car!" isn't as good as, "I work hard to get THIS car for these reasons." 'Better' and 'more' slide, as does 'enough'. Why do we work? To get money, which will buy things to make us happy. If one can be happy without the whole money thing, whoohoo.

#229 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 02:36 AM:

Cassie: If one can be happy without the whole money thing, whoohoo.

When the South African diamond mines were being set up, the Bushmen were “recruited” as cheap labor by creating a tax which they were required to pay. This required their participation in a cash economy they previously had no part of, and the only job available was work in the mines.

You might be happy enough to get along without money, but will it leave you alone?

#230 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 02:42 AM:

A more neutral way a phrasing that:
We might be happy enough to get along without money, but will it leave us alone?

Didn't want it to sound like a snark directed at Cassie.

#231 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 08:48 AM:

"Because at 5 o'clock, my life is my own and I am happy."

Hooray, someone who understands!
I've turned down a few promotions, and for days affterward all my dazed co-workers could say was "But it's MORE MONEY!"

#232 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 08:52 AM:

Re:SSI
Lawyers are only helpful at the Law Judge level. The best help initially is supplying as many medical records as possible, and asking a doctor to spell out what you can't do and why.

#233 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 09:16 AM:

Melissa: exactly. I've formulated a law: "You can have either time or money, but not both." I've chosen time twice--once when I decided to be a professor, once when I decided that the tenure track is not for me. I have less money and prestige, but I don't have to spend nights and weekends sweating about publications, either.

#234 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 09:33 AM:

Plus, it's like what people have been saying about "enough." Yes, extra would make good retirement savings, but my husband and I can pay our bills, have a nice place to live, and buy books-sometimes even in hardcover. We're happy. That's enough.

The really disturbing part was that I declined one chance because I didn't think I was qualified, and people said "Who cares? It's MORE MONEY!"

#235 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 09:49 AM:

As long as we're talking dental anxiety, anybody got any recommendations in the Portland/Hillsboro (Oregon) area? Above all, I need somebody who won't scold or threaten.

#236 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 10:29 AM:

Mark DF wrote:

"Could I spent $15K a month? Sure, we all could. But if anyone believes they need that much to be happy, they probably don't understand what makes them happy."

Applause.

#237 ::: Thena (still in Maine) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 10:33 AM:

OliviaCW -

I've never used them, but Gentle Dental in downtown Portland (OR) has a reputation for catering to the dentist-phobic patient.

I used to go to a guy out in SE Portland who was, eh, okay. My primary criteria for medical professionals of any sort are "Are you taking new patients?" and "Do you accept MasterCard?"

Now I need to find one of those in central Maine...

#238 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 11:15 AM:

"The man with many children is fortunate. The man with much grain is wealthy. But the man who has nothing can sleep."

I only saw it once, so it's not quite right, but I liked it.

Sorry if this is a double-post, but if it is, I can't see the first one.

#239 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 11:45 AM:

There's no way to explain being poor to a wealthy person, because a wealthy person has never had the experience of being broke.

There's no way to explain being poor to somebody who has never been poor or been close enough to touch it. Don't assume that middle-class or wealthy people were never, ever poor and so couldn't possibly understand.

#240 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 12:23 PM:

Melissa, re SSI, right, I said a lawyer could help you appeal, but I didn't emphasize enough that they won't want to get involved before that stage. I was concerned that it's easy to give up too soon, after the first rejection, and wanted to counsel against that. But you're right that putting together strong evidence for your case is the most important thing you can do initially.

(I have ankylosing spondylitis, a kind of arthritis, and read a web forum devoted to people with AS. Struggles with SSI/SSDI are a main category of posts. I'm lucky enough to have a government job, which has more liberal rules for disability requirement--I expect to apply in a month or two, when I have the medical evidence ready, and to get it. I doubt I can get SSDI.)

#241 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 12:49 PM:

No snark taken, Rob. I'm just out of college and therefore know everything, so I expect snark and smackdown. The good thing about Making Light is that it'll probably rhyme.

A fair number of the people around me, getting ready for actual careers in the big scary world, seem to miss the point that money is exchanged for goods and services. Money without context is meaningless. Some people seem to think that if they love being outside working on the house, they should take a high-paying job in a glass building so that in fifty years, they can retire to a house with no maintenance required instead of working less and spending more time doing what they like because they can afford it now.
The silly I-know-everything way to say it is that if you do it right, you aren't doing something you hate so you can squeeze in something you kind of like. Of course, this assumes that one is eighteen and has a lot of options and generous parents.
It's disheartening to hear a freshman say, "Surgery, I think-- I don't really care about med school, but you gotta do something, you know?" and not be able to scream, "Dermatology! They let you go home at the end of the day! No one has sudden urgent suspicious moles in the middle of the night!"

#242 ::: Sajia ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 01:15 PM:

"No one gets sudden urgent suspicious moles in the middle of the night."Apart from the type of mole in a Le Carre spy novel, of course.

#243 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 02:24 PM:

I can't comment on the figures, but I think it behoves us all to listen when the ruling classes speak unguardedly.

#244 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 03:35 PM:

Mythago, you are quite right. There are people with money who didn't always have money. But those are not the ones you want to grab by the shoulders and shake, because they aren't the ones lecturing folks who have to choose between paying for gas and food every month on how important it is to save money.

I'm not especially coherent today, but you know what I mean.

#245 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 04:58 PM:

Could I spent $15K a month? Sure, we all could. But if anyone believes they need that much to be happy, they probably don't understand what makes them happy.

Or, possibly, they're just wired differently than those of us who are happy with less.

Don't get me wrong-- I can't quite imagine how I would spend $15K per month, even if I had it. But listening to people talk about the rich as if they were lucky idiots who don't know their own minds makes me uncomfortable in roughly the same way that listening to people talk about the poor as if they just lack financial acumen does.

#246 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Lizzy, but there are some notable exceptions; like Margaret Roberts, the Grantham-born girl who became the most influential Methodist of the 20th Century. Though never in actual poverty, she seemed to be the sort of ladder-climber who preferred to knock out a few rungs and twist her fine leather soles on a few lower fingers once she'd got her feet well above any muck. (Bicycle metaphors are beyond me for some while yet.)
The scene with Francis Urquhart at her fictional future funeral is one of my exquisite televisual memories.

Or should that be the fictional Francis Urquhart at her future funeral? Barring something massive intervening, she'll definitely have a State Funeral sometime in the future, under her title & married name. Mumbling over memories is most of my pastime now, but that's a pleasure to look forward to.

#247 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 07:13 PM:

Albatross: Also, lots of people live on very little income while going to school, yet they don't manifest much of the impact of being poor, so there's probably some sense of what you expect for the future.

I was trying to think of a way to say this myself. Being poor vs. being broke has to do with what you think next week, or next month, will look like. I said before that I’m always broke come payday. But payday is a happy day because I can cover all the bills. I often “celebrate” payday by buying expensive fruit at the grocery store or something like that. I know I’m fortunate, and therefore…

Clifton Royston: Do you ever have little spasms of guilt at having money now, and being able to afford luxuries? Even though you know you've earned it on your own merits?

Oh yes, in spades. It goes deeper than that, even. When you say “you’ve earned it on your own merits”, it kind of touches a nerve with me. I worked hard in college and grad school, but I didn’t earn the talent that made it possible to succeed—I was born with the potential. Professional athletes were born with athletic potential. Successful writers and artists are born with talent. All of us who are successful because of hard work were born with the potential, we didn’t do anything in the womb to earn it. Who was it who said that George Bush was born on 3rd base and thought he hit a triple? A lot of us are born on the bases.

A while ago a woman approached me on the street and asked for a handout. She needed bus fare and she wanted to buy her kids something to eat. I gave her $20 and felt guilty because I knew I was only buying one meal. Who would help her the next day? I could tell that this woman didn’t have the skills to do more than minimally survive in our competitive society. Whose fault is that?

#248 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 08:06 PM:

All of us who are successful because of hard work were born with the potential, we didn’t do anything in the womb to earn it. Who was it who said that George Bush was born on 3rd base and thought he hit a triple? A lot of us are born on the bases.

I think there is a difference between being born with the potential to hit triples, then doing the hard work to develop it such that you hit a triple in the game and being born on 3rd base.

If you feel that "you've earned it on your own merits" overstates the importance of hard work, I would argue your position understates the importance of hard work. (It also implies this sort of "genetics is destiny" or "blood will tell" sort of thing that I find icky.)

It's one thing to recognize that we're not all dealt hands of equal strength. It's another thing to state that the actual play of hands do not matter. (Sorry, I've been playing a lot of duplicate bridge at lunch recently.)

#249 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 10:24 PM:

"Whose fault is that?"

There's a class of people who are ill-served by our education system:

Too competent to fit into the sheltered, subsidized work environments set up for retarded adults; not competent enough to quite cope with a demanding modern workplace.

A century ago, they'd probably be doing agricultural work, or scrubbing floors, or . . . well, doing the work that struggling immigrants do.

The educational system currently handles them by giving up.

Besides a non-college-bound high school track, I suspect some kind of dignified make-work program might be called for.

Fat chance of anything like this happening any time soon.

#250 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2006, 10:55 PM:

It may just not be anyone's fault. For most of human history, lots of people starved whenever there was a local crop failure. Sometimes, this was someone's fault (like the fault of the army that had burned their crops), but mostly, it was just a tragic bit of reality. If there are more and more people who can't really participate in our economy (I'm not sure that's quite right, but let's assume it), this is probably the result of impersonal forces, not of any evil person's plan.

#251 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 01:23 AM:

I worked hard in college and grad school, but I didn’t earn the talent that made it possible to succeed—I was born with the potential.

"earn" is the flip side of "deserve" and whether or not someone thinks they "deserve" something, has, in my experience, had zip to do with reality, and everything to do with some missing piece of self-worth or self-esteem.

When you sit down to play a hand of poker with someone, you both agree that you're going to get dealt a random hand of cards, and start the game from there. Whether you "deserve" the hand you get or not generally doesn't enter a poker player's mind. At least not ahead of time. It's a weird combination of post-analysis and a person's ability to attach "value" to some randomly generated sequence of events that were completely out of their control and have it mean something about themselves that makes for the human drama called "deserve it".

Life is a weird game. You didn't even agree to play it. Someone just set you down at the table and dealt you a hand. The hand you got says nothing about you as a human being, your value, your deservedness, nothing. What does say something about you as a human being is how you play the hand dealt to you. Do you play the best you can with what you've got, or do you discard some cards and throw away a perfectly good hand? That's all you can control.

There's a scene from Good Will Hunting that cut through a lot of this. Two buddies grew up in a working class neighborhood. They're working in blue collar jobs. One guy has the IQ of a genius and knows it, but won't go to college for a number of reasons, one of which is because he feels he doesn't deserve his talent. His buddy has a talk with him at one point and says soemthing to the effect of: it's your job to make the best of what you've got. Until you do, you're squandering it on yourself, and you're insulting us.

#252 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 01:43 AM:

via atrios

a counterpoint.

#253 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 01:46 AM:

drat, I am so remedial at html tags.
via atrios

#254 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 01:53 AM:

hokay, so it's the atrios post at 12:28 am 7/22/06--a Youtube video very worth watching. Sorry I can't seem to make the link more specific.

#255 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 05:20 AM:

I recently read and recommend Without a Net compiled by Michelle Tea.

There are interesting comparisons in being poor. My family was very poor when I was growing up. We got by on a few thousand a year and while we had less than many people in our neighbourhood we were rich compared to people who lived a few blocks over in the post office flats.

#256 ::: windypoint ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 05:35 AM:

I can see no problem with there being people who feel they need that much income to be happy. The problem comes if they see people on government assistance somehow managing a little happiness, and then start behaving as though those people are being given similarly huge amounts of money... because that much money is what it takes to be happy, right?

#257 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 10:03 AM:

Greg London: Life is a weird game. You didn't even agree to play it. Someone just set you down at the table and dealt you a hand. The hand you got says nothing about you as a human being, your value, your deservedness, nothing. What does say something about you as a human being is how you play the hand dealt to you. Do you play the best you can with what you've got, or do you discard some cards and throw away a perfectly good hand? That's all you can control.

Maybe this says it best. You have to have skill to play baseball. You don't necessarily have to be dealt a winning hand in poker, you just have to play your cards right. Life is probably somewhere in the middle.

It's because we've lost the non-skilled manufacturing jobs in this country that I feel so much angst. When there were plenty of unionized jobs in the garment industry etc. I didn't have this feeling that so many people are living on the edge of survival.

#258 ::: Gary Townsend ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 11:16 AM:

Once, when a celebrity sports commentator was in the news due to some controversy in his life, it came out that he was making $3M/yr. A co-worker and I asked the question, "What does one do with that sort of money?"

We both took a few minutes out of our day at work to list what we would do/buy if all we had was $3M, let alone $3M/yr. Both of us ended up with lots of cash left to spend.

One year, due to a moving package I received from my employer, my income came damned close to hitting $100K. I think it was $93K or $97K. Somewhere in that range. I've not seen that sort of money since.

Several years and a divorce later, I'm making even less than I was then (not factoring in the child support payments) and yet the balance in my bank account is rising. It's amazing what happens when one simply commits to not spending as much as one earns, and how quickly it adds up. Then again, the divorce changed my life radically. My whole way of thinking changed, and I'm very happy with the results, too.

#259 ::: Stephen Sample ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Millions for Sodomy and not a penny for Dinosaurs?

#260 ::: Peter ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 12:58 PM:

Steve Taylor wrote: Or are there barriers to having a bank account in the US if you're poor?
If you've had a bank account closed by the bank, you cannot get a replacement bank account until you pay back the old bank. Being out of work for an extended period, combined with the infamous ISP who refuses to let you cancel your account, and has been EFTing the monthly service out of your account, combined with a bank that won't let you close your account because there are monthly recurring charges that haven't stopped. Well. All that means you'll be using a check cashing store for a year or two before you can afford to clear it up.

The company that keeps track of all the checking accounts closed for nsf isn't regulated like the credit card agencies. There is no recourse, no chance to appeal. Only to pay and pay and pay and pay.

there had been so much fraud (person comes in, deposits $5K, writes check for $15K while that one is clearing, decamps) that the rules were really rigid.
There is a common scam going around where someone claims to be interested in purchasing your [whatever] off of ebay or craigslist, this other company owes me money, will you take their big cashier's check, take out the purchase price and shipping, then wire the remainder to [third world country]. In a few weeks, the cashier's check comes back, since it was forged, and you get to reimburse the bank back for that.

Now that I'm making almost what I used to make 5 years ago, I'm socking away as much as possible. In addition, I keep a few thousand in cash around the house; memories of the time I had to live without banking of any kind for almost 2 years.

#261 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 01:22 PM:

You have to have skill to play baseball. You don't necessarily have to be dealt a winning hand in poker, you just have to play your cards right. Life is probably somewhere in the middle.

Except in the game of baseball, there is no initial, randomly generated starting condition the way you get a hand dealt in poker. baseball starts out with the score zero-to-zero, and the only thing that might be random is a coin flip to decide which team bats first.

Baseball is much more like chess in that the initial conditions start both teams out on equal footing, and then go from there.

Any individual hand of poker has quite a lot determined by the randomly dealt cards. Then skill takes over from there. Anyone can blow a really good starting hand, and some people know how to take a lousy hand and win.

My point was that life is a lot more like poker than chess or baseball. The hand you're dealt includes where you're born, the family you're born into, and the genetics you are born with, all of which has a major impact on your raw abilities. To say you didnt "deserve" the talents you were born with is akin to saying that somehow you "earned" (or didn't) the cards you were dealt in poker. You have no control over them, so they say nothing about you as a person.

It is what you do with those talents that reflects who you are.

#262 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 02:16 PM:

There is a common scam going around where someone claims to be interested in purchasing your [whatever] off of ebay or craigslist . . . [etc]

Yeah. I tried to sell my heavy old canoe and all I got were these weird offers from Kenya and London and other exotic places to send an agent with a check for three times the price of the canoe and wouldn't I give the agent the change and they'd ship my heavy old canoe to their exotic location because they need a lot of canoes there.

I collected these offers and sent them with all headers to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. Which is currently not loading. Oh well.

#263 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 02:34 PM:

Moe, I can't find a post 12:28 am 7/22/06 at Eschaton. I can't find any links to YouTube videos, either.

#264 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 03:23 PM:

It's amazing what happens when one simply commits to not spending as much as one earns, and how quickly it adds up

It's amazing how much money you can make when your spending is largely discretionary. Yes, cutting down on genuine fripperies saves money. No, it's not simply a matter of willpower. The 'just spend less' argument is exactly the kind of privileged, willful blindness discussed at length above.

The poker analogy works if you presume a crooked casino, where some players are deliberately dealt better cards and given more chips than others. The guy who has three times as many chips as you can afford to blow a really good hand--he's still in the game. And if you get a crap hand, your chances of winning are very, very small, no matter how good you are. Especially if the dealer kept three aces for herself.

Sorry, but I don't have a lot of patience for the secular version of the notion that God shows who he likes by giving them money.

#265 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 03:41 PM:

mythago,

poker was an analogy for addressing someone who was feeling they didn't "deserve" what they were born with. As an analogy, it might help someone feel less guilty about being born smarter than those around them. Given that they didn't have any control over how smart they were born or what family they were born into, the idea that they should feel guilty about it seems, well, wrong to me. If you see no benefit in that simple goal and would rather tear down the whole thing simply because it doesn't extend to fit your unfair model of the world, well, that's your business.

Personally, on the priority scale of things I'd rather see one person feel less "guilty" about the talents they were born with, than to have another person feel more "right" about their tale of the unjust world.

If you wish to overextend the analogy, though, I would probably take the briefest of moments to point out that while poker is a zero sum game, the system of economics isn't neccessarily as fixed. I don't know of any game that has a random deal at the beginning and allows for win-win solutions, though, but given the goal I had in mind, the random deal seemed to be the pertinent point.

And whether economics as a whole is a win-win scenario isn't really the sort of argument I feel like getting into with someone who has come to the table with the notion that it's unfair and, I assume, win-lose.

#266 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 05:51 PM:

mythago,

During my first year of grad school I had a roommate whose father was a professional poker player. He played for the house at casinos. He told me that poker is the only casino game in which the odds don't favor the house. In every other game the odds are against you; in poker you start with as much chance of winning as of losing.

I'm not sure what that means in this context--we've probably stretched this analogy as far as it will go.

#267 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Poker is not the only casino game where the odds favor the house. Any sports book, race book, and other forms of parimutuel betting does not favor the house, the house just takes a cut of all money bet and redistributes what's left to the winners.

#268 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 08:20 PM:

Greg, I guess you're snippy because I commented on your 'just spend less' lecture, but I'm puzzled as to why you feel the need to defend your analogy. Life is indeed more like poker than baseball, but it isn't like fair casino poker, where the deal really is random--and, more importantly, where you are dealt multiple hands.

He told me that poker is the only casino game in which the odds don't favor the house.

This is true.

#269 ::: Tuscaloosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2006, 10:37 PM:

mythago,

I don't think Greg is saying that good things (wealth and opportunity and education and so on) are randomly distributed in society.

I think he's saying that the way they are distributed to individuals at birth doesn't have to do with pre-existing personal merits or faults on the part of the new baby. (I.e., imagining a situation like this, please forgive the little story: a bunch of souls are waiting around in heaven, waiting to get born. One says to another, "I wonder what I'll get dealt? Rich parents who will encourage me? Poor but loving parents? Mentally unstable parents with bad money skills?" The second says, "There's no way to tell. Those things are all randomly dealt by the Big Guy. You might get lucky, or I might, but either way, what matters is what we do with the hand we're dealt.") Because they're randomly distributed in this sense, "lucky draws" or "unlucky draws" aren't something a new baby could ever earn or deserve. And it only makes sense to feel guilty if you got something that normally would need to be earned but in your case you didn't earn it by your own merits. That's not the case with "lucky draws" so there's no sense feeling guilty about getting one.

Instead of feeling guilty, someone who gets a lucky draw should use her resources and privileges to work to decrease the difference between lucky and unlucky draws in her society. This would bring us closer to a situation where rewards are based on merits or needs, for example, rather than being so heavily influenced by initial at-birth draws (which will always be random).

#270 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:08 AM:

The problem with rich friends is that, not only do they make ridiculous expenses seem reasonable, but they always make expensive plans, and it seems churlish to say that no, you can't go on that vacation, or to that club.

Then you have to go to rich people's weddings.

The son of family friends became a Wall Street type and married a woman with a similar job. They put their wedding announcement in the New York Times, which tells you what kind of people they are. The parents of the groom are well-off, but not wealthy on this scale.

They invited my parents to this wedding. Not only was it at an exclusive resort in Maine, it required black tie. Almost the last time my father wore a tuxedo was at his own wedding. Needless to say, it no longer fit. He thought of having it tailored or renting one, but found that he could buy one at a discount at Syms.

The couple then sent another invitation inviting them to the "rehearsal dinner." This would cost more money to attend.

The couple then invited all guests to an après-wedding cruise on the bay. Of course, to attend this would cost still more. Both extra invitations were declined.

I suppose that we're lucky the couple did not decide to get married on a Greek island.

The inflation of weddings, however, now bears little relation to the actual income of the partners, which accounts for those invitations which suggest "donations."

#271 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 01:16 AM:

Albatross, two points with regard to this:

It may just not be anyone's fault. For most of human history, lots of people starved whenever there was a local crop failure. Sometimes, this was someone's fault (like the fault of the army that had burned their crops), but mostly, it was just a tragic bit of reality. If there are more and more people who can't really participate in our economy (I'm not sure that's quite right, but let's assume it), this is probably the result of impersonal forces, not of any evil person's plan.

First, even when there's no ill will, that's not license to ignore the consequences of the actions one is participating in. This is basic morality in most codes - you bear responsibility for the stuff that happens from you doing your thing, in some measure, regardless of what you intended by it. This doesn't stop being true on the macro scale just because it's inconvenient sometimes for those who benefit from the current arrangement to deal with it. There's precious little inevitability in history, and no reason to expect everyone to put up with crap just because that's what the last batch of efforts turned out. We can collectively as well as individually learn from our experiences.

Basically, this is me assaulting the notion of the invisible hand. I don't think it's there. There are positive externalities and free lunches all the time, but a lot of the good that happens in a society happens because people decide they won't settle for less. They are almost always denounced by the governing elite of the moment.

Second, we don't have to assume malevolence with regard to the governing class in the US. We can observe it. Neoconservative writing and various of its forebears are big on the virtues of a public mass whose members don't feel free to do their own thing, who worry about what happens to them if patronage goes away, who find security only in submission. The theocrats couch in Christian terms, but non-Christian ones in others, but the basic structure is the same - real freedom of choice is to be the prerogative only of the few. They will let people die by the thousands rather than raise an expectation of help in time of need.

Now, this is an unsually evil and rectocranially inverted governing bunch. Most of the time there really is more ignorance and apathy than malevocence. But even so, it's almost always a mistake to grant more good will than can be seriously demonstrated on the part of rulers; they have the opportunity to translate good intentions into good actions.

#272 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 09:40 AM:

Late Night


-Atrios 12:28 AM

Comments (404) Trackback (0)

Lucy, the above is what it looks like on 7/22/06 at atrios, minus the Youtube picture. It was also referenced by firedoglake in a thread as well, http://www.firedoglake.com/2006/07/22/world-on-fire/#comments

You will have to cut the above address and past it into your address line to access it, but it should be there.

moe

#273 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:26 AM:

mythago: I understand (and occasionally share) kind of a knee-jerk reaction to any type of "spend less" advice, OTOH, considering where this debate is coming from, Greg seems to have used it in regard to people who are between quite (100K/y) and obscenely (3M/y) wealthy by the standards of most posters here. Is your issue with this advice universal (i.e., applying to the rich as well as to the poor), or based in the fact that this advice is too commonly aimed at the poor and struggling, to whom it is insulting?

If universal, I would be interested in the reasons.

#274 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:30 AM:

They invited my parents to this wedding. Not only was it at an exclusive resort in Maine, it required black tie. Almost the last time my father wore a tuxedo was at his own wedding. Needless to say, it no longer fit. He thought of having it tailored or renting one, but found that he could buy one at a discount at Syms.

The couple then sent another invitation inviting them to the "rehearsal dinner." This would cost more money to attend.

How?
More precisely, is that the indirect cost of having to spend an extra night in a hotel, etc., or were they charging a cover for the rehearsal dinner?

Because if it's the latter, then the problem isn't that they're rich, it's that they're assholes.

#275 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:37 AM:

I guess you're snippy because I commented on your 'just spend less' lecture,

er, I don't recall giving that lecture. Was I there when giving it?

but I'm puzzled as to why you feel the need to defend your analogy. Life is indeed more like poker than baseball, but it isn't like fair casino poker, where the deal really is random--and, more importantly, where you are dealt multiple hands.

Whether life's fair or not, are you going to make the best of the hand you were dealt, or are you going to gripe that someone was dealt a better hand than you and throw away whatever good cards you got? At some point, griping "no fair" about someone getting a better hand than you means that you should feel guilty about any advantage you were born with.

And the reason I brought up my analogy was so that someone could get they shouldn't feel guilty about being born with a talent. You turned it around so that everyone should feel guilty unless everyone starts with exactly the same hand, and the added bonus that there really isn't much point in playing anyway, because the casino is crooked.

#276 ::: Sarah de Vries ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 11:37 AM:

It took me a while to figure out, but I have figured out what I would do with a very large amount of money: I would have certified organic everything. Actually, come to think of it, I can make more of an effort with that than I have been doing. My sense of how much organic veggies cost and my sense of how much household money I've got (and what I'm spending it on) are due a re-calibration.

Would I quit working? Depends on what I would judge to be the best marriage of my skills and passions, and where I'm doing the most good. My pet project would probably be social ventures, ('regular' profit-generating businesses which also aim to have a beneficial social and/or environmental impact).

#277 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 11:59 AM:

Let me get this straight, the parents hosting the rehersal dinner expected their --invited-- guests to pay for their own meals?

When did this racket start?

Traditionally, the bride's parents pay for the rehersal dinner and the reception.

In certain social classes, and depending on time-of-day for the wedding, the groom's parents may host (and pay for) a bridal breakfast/brunch on the day of the wedding.

Never, Never, NEVER is an invited guest expected to pay for anything beyond their hotel room (if they are not local) and meals that are not part of the wedding events.

Now if the pair getting married are doing a 'destination' wedding, then you'll pay to get to and from the destination and any lodging involved, but the rule about the rehersal dinner, bridal brunch, and reception STILL applies.

I cannot believe the above incident -- talk about tacky...

#278 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:48 PM:

Apropos of several threads in the conversation, I saw a Lexus ad in downtown DC on Saturday. Ironically, it was on a Metrobus station billboard:
A strong want is a justifiable need.
Sure, in the "children starving, want bread now" sense. Whoever wrote that ad copy probably had never been there. But it seems to me that they knew of such situations, romanticized them
(or something), and thought them appropriate to use in an ad for a luxury car.

The poor person I was with had to endure my ranting for several blocks.

(Ah. A Google search reveals a nicer rant at hitherto.net.)

#279 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 12:51 PM:

Lori-- judging from the rest of Sara's story, the additional expense would be partially hotel room stay, and partially still more clothes for the rehearsal dinner and possibly the cruise. If her father's never worn a tux since his wedding, odds are that he doesn't own a really good suit either. Nor will his wife have appropriate dresses (different, of course) for the dinner and the wedding. Taking extra time off from work may also be a problem. If they have made airline reservations predicated on a one-night stay and then get the rehearsal invite, it may cost too much to change the tickets.

There may be all sorts of such hidden costs for the invitees that are never even seen by or even conceived of by the inviters; the bridal couple does not have to engage in monstrous and overtly money-grubbing behavior in order to make it (too) expensive for the guests. All they have to do is to assume that everyone has financial resources equivalent to their own.

#280 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 01:16 PM:

Then you have to go to rich people's weddings.

Potentially an amusing spectator sport. I went to one of these a few years ago - what an insane exercise in conspicuous consumption. I wore a 1910's-style evening gown that drew plenty of raised eyebrows (I have neither the money nor the svelte legs to compete in the itsy-bitsy expensive cocktail dress sweepstakes) and brought one of my dance partners as an escort. We took good advantage of the 25ish-piece band and the huge dance floor, which were mostly wasted on all the better-dressed people who couldn't actually dance.

I kept expecting the catering staff to break into the cater waiter dance scene from Jeffrey.


#281 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 01:40 PM:

Joann -- it has been many years since I've had to plan for a wedding, but every bridal 'planner' I saw at that time gave advice on helping out-of-town guests find lodging.

A truly responsible host or hostess takes care of these things, going so far as to arrange lodging with friends or relatives for the guests who cannot afford to stay in a hotel.

Maybe that's just too old fashioned these days...


#282 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:33 PM:

I think the point there is that it's easy for people planning a wedding (or almost any other event) to assume their guests and friends have the same kinds of resources and constraints that they do. It takes some extra thought to figure out how to accomodate people who are in a fundamentally different place in their lives.

This comes up all the time, in different guises. For example, if you don't have kids, it's easy to plan a wedding or other event in such a way that it will be really inconvenient for parents of small children. If you're young and healthy, you can easily plan an event that will be really hard on the old and sick. Etc.

#283 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 02:39 PM:

I think I've finally come to understand why intelligent and well-meaning advice like Greg's so often rubs me the wrong way.

Further, I've come to understand why it shouldn't.

What he's saying is entirely true, on an individual level, and that's as far as he takes it. I hear other people take it further and make it an argument against social action or solidarity of any sort, and at that social level, it's entirely wrong.

In my personal life, I've had a lot of dental work done, and have lots more that needs to be done. I've spent a certain amount of time being from depressed to angry that my efforts over the years didn't bring about the sort of social change that would make it possible for people to get basic dental care whether they were broke or not. That's not a rational attitude to take--I should've realized that social change is uncertain and I needed to take some care of myself.

Neither would it have been rational of me to assume that, since social change was uncertain and was not guaranteed to get me what I hoped everyone would someday have, and to get it on a schedule that suited me, that I should just give up.

These are false opposites, and each obstructs forward progress.

#284 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 04:01 PM:

Lori, I've always been under the impression that the bride's family paid for the wedding, and the groom's for the reception.

If I ever get married, I rather expect the spouse and myself to pay for the whole thing.

#285 ::: rockycoloradan ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 04:20 PM:

From Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2006, 05:59 PM:

"There's no way to explain being poor to a wealthy person, because a wealthy person has never had the experience of being broke."

It can happen. I have relatives who went from broke to being richer than I'll ever be.

_____________


I think that 'wealthy', by definition, implies never having been poor. There are many rich people who started out poor, but it will take another generation or two before their family moves into the wealthy category.

#286 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 04:23 PM:

Which side of the family pays for what may vary regionally. I know down here in Tejas the bride's family pays for the wedding and (usually) the reception, while the rehearsal dinner is usually the groom's family. That's been the case at every "traditional" wedding I've attended. Handfastings and JoP ceremonies tend to vary wildly.

#287 ::: Kathi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 04:54 PM:

I agree with Teresa on this one -- too many of you are not thinking realistically on medical. I have been ill for the past eight years, with something they couldn't identify until recently. After the first three years my self-employed income was half what it had been -- I even took some training in a new profession, since I can't physically do the old one much longer -- and the first thing that had to be paid after rent and utilities was health insurance. I had three point five years of it after my divorce, and then found a reasonable plan that would take me. They demanded two pre-existing condition riders (permanent, not for say two years -- you get that concession in your 20s, not after 35.) I was thinking of this as emergency insurance -- car accident, etc.

I was not expecting to be told I had a chronic disease. And that disease was causing that one of the now “pre-existing” conditions. And that it would also affect my previously very good teeth.

I spent ten grand a year on supplements and support medical to keep myself moving all those years, but I'm making still less money and running out of extra cash. My reward for being frugal and trying to take care of myself is "You don't look sick" from strangers, and retirement money in the bank.

If I don't touch that money for twenty years, and the market doesn't hit the downside of a roller coaster, I can retire and live simply. But the danger is, I may need that money. And they currently don't list my illness as something you can go on disability for -- it will take a lawyer to get what SS would pay.

Between the dot.com crash and 9/11, the ideal jobs for me (state or local government, not great but decent benefits and only 40 hours a week tops) are few and far between. The treatment to get to a “place” where I can focus and train for still another job is long. Right now, I simply must get well.

I'm paying $329 a month for insurance that is useless until I've spent $3k. I must buy all Rx up front that aren't generics -- and some are $40-50 a dose and have no generic.

So -- let's see those guesses again. Would you retire tomorrow if you won $4 million? That's $2 mill take-home if you requested cash option, and $1.5 mill after taxes up front. The answer is, no. You stash 95% in investments/tax free municipals and find a job you like, unless you're already over 70.

I can play the "what if?" game, too, and with great abandon. Since I can't drink or eat most sweets, my indulgence is a weekly lotto ticket. I researched all this stuff so I'd know how to keep it, invest it and share it with friends, family and charity. (Note -- current amount you can give to someone without tax penalty to them, $11k. You have to be more creative to legally avoid taxes on your end.)

I'd like extra dentistry, too. I might even take money out of savings for it -- if the illness was not affecting my teeth. There’s no sense doing anything other than damage control until I'm totally in remission.

And if the lotto were big enough, I would try to set up a nonprofit to give out grants. I'd like to be able to help writers I know need to get their heads above water. Everyone needs a rainy day fund -- so I'd create grants so people could have a breather to write.

And I'd build a Habitat For Humanity house every year in my town, because that is the hand up that helps so many, for a long time to come.


#288 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 06:16 PM:

Greg, I think you're once again letting your love of a literary image get in the way of some considerations. Here are several independent but related reasons I recommend complaining about what feels like unfair life circumstances.

First, it works. A significant fraction of the general public will respond to a complaint, or an angry tirade, or a terrified shriek, or something else vivid and emotional with more useful support than they will to calm exposition. I've seen this happen myself, back in the days when I was still having problems with seizures in public places. Others here have found it too. I certainly prefer to start with poise, but experience shows me that vigorous emoting really does help.

Second, I expect more of life than I do of a poker game. I care about Teresa's narcolepsy and my brother's crippling depression in ways I don't care about a poker game with friends. The game ends. Life continues much longer.

Third, even in a poker game, I expect people to pay attention to things beyond the most banal facts of the rules. I am not anything like a serious poker player, but one of my good friends is, and he tells me that decisions like tossing out a deck because it just doesn't feel good in the hands are quite common. It's not just important that people follow the rules, it's important too that they feel like they're getting a fair deal, or they start leaving the game (and in the meantime not necessarily wanting to abide by the results).

Fourth and finally, I think some griping has a place in a well-balanced emotional life. Being chronically in pain and misery from anything, whether it's disease or poverty or officially sanctioned discrimination or whatever, year after year, watching your country get colder and more hostile to your kind of need, wondering if now is the time to leave or if maybe it's too late or if leaving would even help, is really goddamn depressing. It's difficult to overstate this. Most of us with this crud do what we can most of the time to get on with living anyway, but there are times when it's very important to acknowledge that it is unjust and that we would really, really like some relief, thank you. Emotional honesty about this helps us better assess what we need to get from here to there.

#289 ::: nir ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Still, I think staying at home and doing nothing would be boring, so I'd still find something to do anyway.

I can't believe anyone still says stuff like this. As a stay at home wife and mother, this really offends me.

I could be making 150k a year (at least that was what I was making when I changed careers six years ago) but the stress was not worth it. And I have plenty to do, believe me.

#290 ::: Steff Z ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 07:21 PM:

Nir, nobody said "staying home and doing nothing and raising the kids would be boring." I think most people here recognize that raising kids is far, far from "doing nothing" or "boring."

There isn't much offensive about "staying home, by myself, without any meaningful work would be boring," which is what people HAVE been saying.

#291 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 07:36 PM:

Still, I think staying at home and doing nothing would be boring, so I'd still find something to do anyway.

I can't believe anyone still says stuff like this. As a stay at home wife and mother, this really offends me.

I've heard it regularly for twenty years now; my sister, who is half the full-time workforce on a "sweet little cow-calf operation*" and is currently working eight-ten hours a day raking hay, has heard it since she graduated from high school and started farming full time, but hears it even more since her son was born eight years ago. In all fairness, I often hear it from women who've tried to stay home but don't have the ability to value themselves and their work if there's not a paycheck at the end of it, or have no taste for the kind of activities which being a SAHM involves.

It's another failure of empathy or imagination, I guess, the idea that what I like everyone likes, what I find boring bores everyone, what I value is universally valuable.


.....
* If anyone doubts that Jack (in Brokeback Mountain) is something less than rational, that line alone proves his distance from objectively verifiable reality. For hard work, mud, blood, and the constant threat of financial disaster, a cow-calf operation is without equal.

#292 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 08:01 PM:

Can I point out again, for Greg, that the "spend less and save money" advice which [X], [Y], and now [Z] are attributing to him is something he never at any time said? Other people said it in this thread, but he never did.

Greg's "poker" comments were very clearly directed towards the concept that one need not feel guilty about having talents, if one is able to succeed by using them - if you don't get this, go back and reread the exchange of posts above his. It's not an unusual analogy to come up with for this point - there's a book on my "to read" list called something like 'On Playing A Bad Hand Well'.

Most people's lives involve a fair bit of suffering for no reason, and getting messed up for no fault of your own. * If you are lucky enough to have talents or personality traits that enable you to get through that and succeed by your own definition of success, financially or otherwise, it makes no sense to beat yourself up because you have talents others lack or because others suffered worse than you. That's what Greg is talking about as "the cards you're dealt."

To take an extreme example, Stephen Hawking got dealt an extraordinary mathematical and visualization genius and a crippling disease that kills most people young. I think he is entitled to take credit for what he's accomplished with that, rather than feel it doesn't count because he got a good education, or because he wasn't born into the third world. Moreover, I do not think it makes sense to equate ones talents or temperament with the privileges of being born into an ultra-rich family.


* That's The First Noble Truth, that is.

#293 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 08:25 PM:

adamsj: I've come to understand why it shouldn't.

you have completed your training. may select your lightsaber.

Bruce: I think you're once again letting your love of a literary image get in the way of some considerations.

I think you are overly infatuated with your view of the world. Certainly, if life is unfair, the casino is crooked, and the cards are stacked against you, then that relieves a person of a lot of responsibility of how their life looks right now, doesn't it?

Here are several independent but related reasons I recommend complaining about what feels like unfair life circumstances.

Do you think I'm wearing rose colored glasses and you're trying to convince me to take them off? Do you think maybe I missed the news the last few years?

There are the facts of the world and then there is the way I relate to it. If I relate to it as "unfair" to the degree that the casino is crooked, the dealer is on the take, several players next to me have purchased aces for their sleeves, I can't really relate to it as something that I can do anything about. If I relate to it as if it's something I can do something about, then I can't also relate to it as Cthulhu has arrived and there's nothing to do but smear mustard on me and grab a raw sausage.

But however I relate to it, it doesn't change the facts of it.

Someone felt guilty about being born with a talent. Do you think that was a problem of facts or a problem of the way they relate to themselves and the world?

And in objecting to my poker analogy, are you simply trying to correct my facts or do you wish too impose the way you relate to the world?

#294 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 08:31 PM:

Most people's lives involve a fair bit of suffering for no reason, and getting messed up for no fault of your own. ... That's The First Noble Truth, that is.

shoot. I'm out of lightsabers. Here. Take mine.

#296 ::: burritoboy ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 09:07 PM:

I used to manage money for extremely wealthy people. My last go around in that, I was managing money for a family that had north of $200 million (during the time I worked for them, one of their investments had a successful IPO, putting them over $300 million).

And the reality is that the amount you can spend can ALWAYS increase. This particular family liked to buy....companies. Now, this wasn't consumer consumption - but buying companies was an item of competitive consumption among the families at their level. In fact, this particular family was comparatively small-fry - they could only buy quite small companies (due to diversification and so on). There were numerous families who could outcompete them at that game. They weren't probably even among the 50 richest families in their metro area.

There's a lot of competition at that level - can you grow your wealth? It's not simply vanity (though there's that too) - loss of comparative wealth means loss of status which often leads to reduced wealth-creation abilities. Most of the children of this family were working quite hard so as not to be seen as "bums", "lazy", "did nothing with their lives" and so on.

They had enough money to simply not work anymore (in your understanding). In their perception, they were comparatively poor (not that they were delusional or anything - they knew they were wealthy by any standard) because other, richer families were often able to take lucrative deals and opportunities away from them.

#297 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 09:22 PM:

Yes, Greg, I do think you're encouraging us to put on rose-colored glasses. I think you genuinely mean well by it; I just think that it's thoroughly unhelpful.

#298 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 09:41 PM:

I just think that it's thoroughly unhelpful.

I was trying to help a specific person get rid of some undeserved guilt. Who have I thoroughly unhelped?

And who specifically are you helping? Do you think my poker analogy might spread through the world and somehow do evil to others? And you were "helping" by shooting it down before it got out into the world? Is it that thoroughly dangerously harmful?

Would it really have made a damn bit of difference other than perhaps to that one person I was talking to? Are you helping someone in particular who was harmed by my poker analogy, or are you simply objecting because I said something that disagrees with your view of the big bad world? Because personally I think its the latter.

#299 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 09:54 PM:

Oh, and I don't know who the "just spend less" lecture came from. It might have been based on a comment by Gary Townsend here, but it seems a bit of a stretch to read him as saying all a poor person has to do to solve their problem is "just spend less". He seemed to be talking about himself more than anyone else.

However, mythago did quote Gary here. And then said that i must be snippy because he commented on my "just spend less" lecture.

Make of all that what ever you will.

#300 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:01 PM:

crap, I missed this. mythago in complaining about my poker analogy said Sorry, but I don't have a lot of patience for the secular version of the notion that God shows who he likes by giving them money.

fn-a. Where did I say any such thing that the hand you dealt had anything to do with "God likes you", or some secular interpretation of that bs? All I said was the hand you're dealt is out of your control so you shouldn't feel guilty about it. It doesn't mean its some sort of karmic justice handed out by where you are born.

I'm getting a little tired of people making up crap, acting as if I said it, and then chastizing me for it.

#301 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:04 PM:

Greg, I'm speaking as someone very much interested in reducing the amount of pain in the world. At the moment I'm doing a lot of weblog reading and posting because I'm too sick from heatwave complications to do much else. When it passes, I will get back to helping Mom with record handling in the wake of Dad's death and this and that and the other. You're getting my responses because this is a place I look at often, that's all.

#302 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:05 PM:

However, since I've made my objection, I'll now clam up until and unless the chance to something actually new comes to mind.

#303 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:08 PM:

Actually, I kind of like the poker analogy... After all, no analogy can draw a 100% correlation to real life. Analogies are by nature over-simplified, but usually relevant to a particular facet of life. That's all we need ask of them. Instead of pointing out what makes an analogy bad, try to figure why the writer thought it was good. This can be a facsinating study in psychology, and doing so has opened up my mind to different viewpoints many times.

Often it is not the analogy, but why that analogy was chosen that helps me truly see the point the writer is trying to make. If you (or I) might have used a different analogy, well, let's hear it so we can analyze it, and see if your point is relevant and/or valid. This validity is pretty much of the "eye of the beholder" variety, so instead of judging it, lay back and enjoy it, then we can all debate the point instead of the vehicle it came in. In Greg's case, I've read many of his posts, and have a pretty clear idea where he's coming from. If I hadn't, I could have just read a portion of his historical posts, and combined that with the whole poker dealie. It all comes together, makes perfect sense (to me, trying to see it from Greg's POV) and makes a clear statement on a slice of modern culture. Add jelly and you have a sandwich. 'Nuff said...

#304 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2006, 10:23 PM:

Bruce, sorry you're not feeling well from heat exhaustion and my condolences about your father. Don't mind me, I'm just an ass.

#305 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 12:05 AM:

Bruce - my condolences.

As far as the heat goes, if you can, consider going somewhere air conditioned. That's what I did yesterday, apparently along with half of Seattle.

#306 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 12:49 AM:

Bruce, my condolences for you and your family's loss.

Is your issue with this advice universal (i.e., applying to the rich as well as to the poor), or based in the fact that this advice is too commonly aimed at the poor and struggling, to whom it is insulting?

The advice itself (regardless of who did or didn't say it) is fine--yes, if you cut discretionary income, you will spend less money and therefore have more around. The problem is when the advice is presented as a simple, universal truth that can be equally implemented by the poor as well as the rich; and when it's used as some kind of marker of moral character (if you don't have money, you must be wasting it somewhere).

So it's one thing to point out that there are expenditures more discretionary than others. It's another thing to imply the equivalent of "Well, I gave up dessert and I lost ten pounds, so all that morbidly obese person needs to do is eat less."

All I said was the hand you're dealt is out of your control so you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

The reference to God's favor referred back to the post about middle-class people saving tons of money by cutting out fripperies. Apparently I got you mixed up with some other G-person.

#307 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 02:54 AM:

Thanks, all.

Greg: I will freely admit that I have a fresh stick up my butt about unearned good and bad outcomes because of having dealt with Dad's hospice stuff. Learning some more close up about what the end of life can be like for people who didn't have the fortune to grow up in a family of Stanford academics and work for NASA for a few decades...struck me hard. Because I don't think that anyone else's grief deserves to be worse than mine is now simply because their loved one wasn't as lucky in the initial setup of life. My generally intensifying radicalness about quality-of-life issues got a sharp goosing there.

#308 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 11:45 AM:

Regarding both investment companies and that Lexus ad in the bus station mentioned above -- there's an obnoxious TV investment co. ad about a guy who's gone from multiple bosses to "my own boss," and they have the nerve to run the song "Working in a Coal Mine" in the background. Geez, talk about insensitivity! (Wonder if they'd pull it when another mining disaster makes the news.)

#309 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Not every trust fund is $5 million. Some are 10% of that, which is nowhere near enough to retire on.

For example, a trust fund is often set up as a "generation-skipping trust", in the amount of the exemption from estate taxes. Which, while it may be $2mil this year, was $600,000 not so long ago. Split that among 2-3 heirs, and you don't have all that much. It's just put there so that the heirs' heirs don't have to pay tax on it again in the second generation.

But sitting in the trust fund, when the heirs want to use it to buy a house or something, and the trustees disagree (even on a raidable fund)...

Remember, the income from such a fund is taxable. So the gal with the $5 mil fund might get, say, at 5% a year (you probably want to leave some so the fund grows at inflation rate) $250K per annum, less tax, gives say $140K per annum. Even that, it seems, is not so much, particularly once one has school costs (religious parents, or where the local schools aren't that good), and high rent or mortgage, etc.

Now, there are ways to reduce the tax burden: mortgage interest, and tax-free municipal bonds. Not so good for growth, but good for income.

If she's taking out $15k/month, that's $180K/year, so she probably has some part of the investment in tax-free bonds.

I pass a Mega-Millions billboard on the way home when I go with the carpool on Tuesday nights. I tend to speculate that I could get along with about $3 million, and still have enough income to meet my current income level. But I'd really be happier with a bit more, so I could afford an actual mortgage, instead of this growing rent that faces my declining real wages (we keep getting pay cuts to cover our shrinking medical coverage, and only one raise in the past 5 years - economic recovery my foot)

#310 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Greg,

I appreciated your comments, thanks. I'd have jumped in and defended you but I'm in a hotel in London and have had a terrible internet connection every night until tonight. For some reason it's working tonight. (It's been miserably hot here and this is a business trip anyway and now that I've finally got a decent internet connection I've gotta get up at 5am and will soon be going to bed; don't even think about envying me.)

When I think about it, I was dealt one good card, I guess, and the rest so-so. My family was pretty close to the bottom rung of the middle class--my father was a high school english teacher.

Then there's my husband--what a strange hand. He was a mathematician--a full professor at UC Davis. He grew up on the bottom rung of the working class; his father was a parking lot attendant, an immigrant who came over from England with an 8th grade education. Normally you wouldn't expect someone who grew up in such circumstances to become as successful as he did, but he was dealt a wild card: he had Asperger's Syndrome. I hypothesize that his inability to read people sheltered him from their expectations, for good or bad.

#311 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 06:10 PM:

mary, if you can get that you deserve the talents you were born with as much as anyone else, and if you make the best of what you got without feeling guilty about that, then congrats and good work.

#312 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 06:13 PM:

Nir: You're assuming anyone who says they wouldn't stay home even if they could afford to, because they'd find that boring is,
A) A parent.
B) suggesting this is a universal rule, not their personal choice.

This is, in turn, deeply insulting to the choices of almost every retuired person who's picked up a new job "to get out of the house", not for lack of income or comfort. It's deriding anyone who actually enjoys their job and would like to keep on for reasons other than money.

Not to mention a great many volunteers.

You're assuming an insult to housewives and househusbands that isn't present in the remark, and instead putting forth your own insult to others.

I'm not a parent -- if I were, there'd be a lot on my plate at home and I wouldn't go far, at least not without the child(ren).

But again, I'm not a parent. And while I read as an introvert, and enjoy my time alone in the house (oh, yes I do!), I'm not so much of one that i don't crave human contact, and not just contact with friends, but with new and different people.

Out in the world of things I have neither the time nor money for, but would seek out if I won the lottery; there are university courses, leisure classes, volunteer opportunities with local arts groups and charities. There are friends I don't see enough, friedns out of town. Travel opportunities. (And if I have enough money to feel secure staying at home, I have enough money for univesrity or travel, at least the way we do travel. My honeymoon involved taking only a carry-on and staying at a succession of guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts, and that made it way more fun than being pampered would.) There are low end jobs that suit my skills but not my current monetary circumstances (Or vice versa) I'd deeply like to try (working in, but not owning, a used bookstore jumps to mind -- Never mind the whole reason I'm going back to school to get an education degree...)

No, I wouldn't want to stay at home even if I could afford to. And that's got nothigng to do with how you live your life or how stimulating you find it. It doesn't deride your hard work or your satisfaction. It's just and only my choice..

#313 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 07:40 PM:

If anyone doubts that Jack (in Brokeback Mountain) is something less than rational, that line alone proves his distance from objectively verifiable reality. For hard work, mud, blood, and the constant threat of financial disaster, a cow-calf operation is without equal.

Well, close to being without equal. My sister and her husband bred Anglo-Arabs on their small farm. Lots of little, expensive disasters with the capper being the colt born allergic to itself--talk about medical fees. (Second was the pig that had a heart attack and fell across both the electric fence wire and the door of the pig shed. That's not the conventional way to smoke a shed full of pork.) They closed down the farm, sold the house and moved to Central Oregon.

#314 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 08:01 PM:

There's a key difference between wants and needs.

Wants are desires. Just that. In that sense, they're absolute: I want dinner. Period.

Needs are always relative to a goal. In order to survive, I need to eat. In order to be happy, I need to have friends. In order to fly, I need a ticket. In order not to get killed, I need to shut up.

#315 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 08:10 PM:

Bruce, I am laughing a little about the pig; one thing farming teaches is to avoid saying "now I've heard/seen everything" because there's always something else out there to go wrong in a spectacular and expensive fashion.

#316 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 08:38 PM:

Hi all. I discovered and read through all the responses to this thread this afternoon, so my brain is bubbling with thoughts, some of which are in reaction to bits that are a bit old now. First off, my reaction to the original question (i.e. what amount of money would make me feel OK with stopping working outside of the home) was that I don't work outside the home now. More money would be nice, of course.

Fifteen thousand a month take-home is a lovely lovely thought. We don't make anything near that, and I'd certainly be more than happy to give it a go and see just how deprived it makes me feel.

I've been poor, I missed meals, I paid out 2/3 or more of my monthly paycheck in rent and defaulted on my student loans. And now I'm a SAHM in a wealthy suburb, and the definition of broke is "digging through change jars to buy milk, but payday is next week," and there is still plenty of food in the house. (*)

Need vs. want is a tricky thing. We live in a wealthy suburb, as I just mentioned, but we're not even close to being within the median income here. It grates sometimes. Not because I want their stuff, but because there's this ubiquitous assumption that everyone has plenty of spending money. Everything social our synagogue does, for instance, has a gate fee, and while we could probably go anyway if we cleared things with someone, we don't want to do that, so unless we happen to have spare money that month, we just don't go. I don't want the fancy things that a lot of the women at my shul wear, but I do need a social outlet of some sort, everyone does.

Adam's company is closing its Boston offices and moving everyone north of the city, so I did a bunch of research on towns up there, and settled on a few where the median income is roughly what ours is and the schools are, while not as good as the schools are in our town, at least acceptable(**). Various friends keep pointing out to me that the places we are looking at are nothing like as nice as where we live now, and I keep saying "But that's the point!" I honestly hope never to live anywhere as nice as we are now ever ever again. I was raised middle class by Maine standards, I am not middle class by Masachusetts standards and I don't want to be.

I would love to be able to afford solar panels, though, and one of the major things we are looking for in a new house is a big and sunny enough yard that we can grow a lot of veggies and maybe some fruit as well. Now if only they'll let me keep chickens....

I dunno. Some of the things rich people have, I just don't want anyway. A $12 entree at a restaurant is a bit pricey, so I probably won't order it. A $25 entree irritates me, and I won't go into the resturant. More than that, I just don't see the purpose of. "A nice dinner" for a night out, by me, means Indian food, well-prepared, in a nice quiet restaurant, and if I can get a rose lassi, I'm in heaven.

Sorry this is a bit rambly, it's a big subject.

-=-
* In fact, a couple of years back, when we were in financial straits that we were worried about maybe losing the house, we somehow ended up hosting a local Bujold list gathering two days before payday, which I made all the food for. Everyone ate well, I got praised to the heavens, and no one realized just how stretched we were. Having food stockpiles is a wonderful thing. Adam teases me sometimes because I took the doors off one of our cupboards so I could have open shelving for my larder; he says I just like being able to admire all that lovely, lovely food.

** Our town cheats anyway. They have these amazing percentages of high school graduates heading off to four-year colleges, but they dobn't tell you that this is beacuse all the kids who aren't college-bound are shipped off to different high schools out of town, and the town highschool is basically a tax-funded prep school. Very nice, and I wish I could have gone there as a child (maybe), but I'm tired of living in a place where my son (who has Down Syndrome) will not be allowed to go to the town high school.

#317 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 09:34 PM:

the pig that had a heart attack and fell across both the electric fence wire and the door of the pig shed

good grief. then again, I'm thinking "an electric fence for pigs?" and good grief comes to mind once more. Hawg is just another word for trouble.

#318 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 09:38 PM:

A $12 entree at a restaurant is a bit pricey, so I probably won't order it. A $25 entree irritates me, and I won't go into the resturant. More than that, I just don't see the purpose of.

We don't eat out all that often -- for one thing, we live in far northern New Hampshire, where there aren't quite more moose than people but sometimes it feels that way, and for another we're freelance novelists, with all the income irregularity that such a career implies -- but when the cash and the opportunity have been both in tune, I've had entrees in the $25 range and considered them well worth the price. For that much money, I'm getting something I wouldn't cook at home, prepared with vastly more skill than I'm ever going to bring to the process, in an environment where the service and the presentation are part of the whole experience.

#319 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 09:57 PM:

I once had a hundred dollar meal at a French restaurant which has appeared in the New York Times magazine because of the chef.

We didn't know it was so expensive; we figured it out when my date was told that he must wear a blazer or jacket, and the blazer was supplied.

The meal was superb. (I have now eaten squab.) The service was impeccable. (The waiters knew that the knife and fork parallel at 4 o'clock means that I am done and they can take the plate away.)

The memory of that meal, the sheer pleasure of the food, the looks my date (still my significant other, 3 years later) and I exchanged, because we both knew we didn't belong there, but still we were, the giddy sense of putting someone else on and using your best manners, and the staff going along with it...it's over 3 years ago, and I still grin, widely, and still enjoy that meal.

The food was worth the cost. The memory is priceless.

I doubt I'd do it again. Once was enough.

#320 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 10:22 PM:

Ailsa EK, that's against the law (not 'allowing' your Down's Syndrome child to attend high school). If you make a stink they will get the Short End of the Stick on that call, but if you're moving to a more understanding district, you'll be okay. If not, the authorities need to know and you need to fight for your child's education. (email me if you need, dragonet at kc dot rr dot com, I've got a friend who's fought tooth and nail to get his autistic child and other such children the best education possible, and I'll get you all together....)

#321 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2006, 11:53 PM:

"Having food stockpiles is a wonderful thing."

Out West, in earthquake country, it is also a sensible thing. I also use this innocuous form of hoarding as a way to turn my extra grocery money into charity:

Occasionally the local big-box grocery/clothing/ variety store (Fred Meyer, a Kroger chain) has loss-leader sales on canned and boxed food: $.07 ramen, $.25 soup / canned corn, $.33 1 lb. frozen vegetables / 1 lb pasta, and similar deals on tomatos, beans, tuna, sardines, & etcetera, & etcetera.

I *always* take advantages of these, buying the maximum and jamming the load into my pantry. (Well, not the frozen stuff . . .)

I rarely use canned vegetables, so the pile of stuff on the bottom shelf gradually grows, sometimes extending a foot or two into the kitchen. (Currently there's two boxes of cereal, a bunch of Holiday-theme cake frosting, and four jumbo summer picnic sized cans of baked beans keeping the pantry door from closing.)

Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, I donate a most of the pile to the local food banks, leaving maybe enough cans to last me a week in case Mt. Hood blows its top.

#322 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 12:23 AM:

Ailsa: My wife is a school psychologist, and has spent much of her efforts in the last 8 years helping bring Hawaii into compliance with federal law on education opportunity. If you were told your child could not attend high school, that sounds to me like a violation of law. I don't know if she's able to give you advice or if there are ethical concerns about where she's admitted to practice, etc. but if you like I can ask her. If nothing else I can ask her where you could get your questions answered.

#323 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 02:15 AM:

Stefan - My version of canned corn is canned vegetarian chili, which I'll eat from time to time to keep it rotated and Tasty Bite Indian food from Trader Joe's. Neither require water. I also keep at least a case of 20oz bottles of water in my car. My worry is a lateral version of the Nisqually quake or Mt. Ranier popping.

***

Alisa - I just spent $50 on dinner with some friends visiting from back east. The food was nice, but I still had a bit of angst because it didn't feel like $50 worth of nice. It was three courses, though. Soup, a fish dish and dessert with a well-made espresso.

***

Nancy - There are few things more fun than being somewhat out of place at an unexpectedly expensive restaurant, provided the experience won't have you eating ramen for a week and wondering about making the rent.

Back in '84, on my first trip to Europe, I found myself with my best friend at what turned out to be a fancy French restaurant in Birmingham (of all places.) They had full French service, and the experience was sort of Pythonesque.

I recall the soup course. I had ordered the Lobster Bisque. One waiter appeared with the soup. I lifted an experimental spoonful. Mere seconds later, a second waiter appeared and said, "Cream?" and poured a good two ounces of pure fat into my soup. Right behind him was a third waiter who said, "Flambée?" poured a generous portion of brandy atop my soup and set it alight.

I sat there looking astonished, and all I could say was, "My soup's on fire." To this day, I can make my friend laugh by saying those four words.

#324 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 02:25 AM:

"To this day, I can make my friend laugh by saying those four words."

Not just your friend, Larry. My dog just jumped six inches off the ground, wondering why I burst out laughing.

#325 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 08:44 AM:

Thanks everyone for your advice and support. It made my day.

I'm sure if we were still here when David was ready to go to high school and we made a big enough stink about it, they'd let him in, and find aides to help him get through the classes. David's five and a half now, and at this point I'm just looking down the road and not liking where it heads, but I don't actually know how he will take to academics. He's a curious little guy who likes to take things apart to figure out how they work, but he's also incredibly stubborn (his cardiologist said three years ago that it's easier to put toothpaste back in the tube that to get David to do something he doesn't want to do), so I think it's really going to depend a lot on the personality of the teacher how much he gets out of school once he gets there (our town has a wonderful developmental preschool; it's school after preschool & kindergarten that worries me).

I'd really like to live in a place with a town high school like I had, where the college prep kids and the vocational kids are all part of the same school, taking classes in the same building, or at the very least, if there's a separate technical high school, it's in the same town, not three towns away. Here, the kids who went off to the technical high school were gone & forgotten within about six months, I swear. (I just asked Kathy, and she doesn't remember the names of any of her eighth grade friends who went to the technical school, and they only just graduated from high school in June).

I've been thinking a lot lately about community. I'm not expecting any one community to fulfill all my emotional and associative needs, but I would like to feel like I can be part of the community, even if I'm considered a bit eccentric, and I want David to be part of the community, not someone who gets complained about at every town meeting (damn town never met a tax increase they didn't like, but they complain endlessly and publically about the costs of special ed).

I'll deal with the restaurant side of things later. I've worked myself into a bit of a lather; time to go have breakfast and drink coffee.

#326 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 05:50 PM:

Once upon a time a (now ex-)friend remarked, "You're always worrying about money! It's not that big a deal, y'know!"

This was someone who'd grown up wealthy. She spoke of her multimillion-dollar trust fund, of a husband in the military, and of never having to work.

My husband listened to me rant, and, with the way the friendship turned out, I rather wish I'd said all of it to her face. The line I most wanted to repeat (and that he talked me out of saying to her) was: "You'll understand what the big deal is the first time it comes down to a choice between eating this week, or keeping the electricity on."

#327 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 08:02 PM:

"You're always worrying about money! It's not that big a deal, y'know!"

"So it wouldn't be that big a deal for you to give me half of yours?"

Not because I want their stuff, but because there's this ubiquitous assumption that everyone has plenty of spending money.

Oh, grr, don't get me started. I swear the next person who says a version of 'Oh, you rent? Well, you should be able to afford a house in a year or two' is going to get it right in the kisser. (Where I live, the median house price--MEDIAN--is close to $1 million.)

#328 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2006, 10:26 PM:

Sorry for not making my remarks about the Wall Street couple's wedding clearer. It was two months ago, and the invitations have drifted to the bottom of the saved-mail pile.

IIRC the rehearsal dinner required an additional night at the resort, the charges for which would have covered the meal.

I do not mean to imply that the wedding couple are cads. unless any display of wealth by the wealthy, at order(s) of magnitude greater than that of the middle and upper-middle classes, is caddish. The invitations were sent out on a large scale (because people will decline) and surely they didn't mean to give the impression of "Heh, heh! You can't afford this!"

#329 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:01 AM:

I think that 'wealthy', by definition, implies never having been poor.

This seems a new definition; I'd have said that "wealthy" meant more money than "rich", but I don't see it implying "always had money". Can you elucidate?

re calibration: I suspect $25 entrees are something one can get too used to IFF one has the opportunity. I'm not sure why they'd irritate those who don't -- I don't get irritated by Porsches when they're not driven insanely (SUVs are another matter (down, Greg!)) -- but it's a personal reaction, not a rule.

#330 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:25 AM:

good grief. then again, I'm thinking "an electric fence for pigs?" and good grief comes to mind once more. Hawg is just another word for trouble.

No, no, no, Greg. The electric fence was for the horses. When the pig had the heart attack he fell across the electric fence wire and the pig shed doorway. When he caught fire the pig shed burned and he was large enough that the other pigs couldn't get out and died in the flames. Sort of like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire with whitewash...

#331 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:40 AM:

I don't recall where I first heard this, but I think the best definition of wealthy is when your money works for you, rather than you working for your money.

#332 ::: paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 12:58 AM:

alisa, it sounds as if he has a great heart and a good mind, that is, he's able to use what he has to the best advantage. Most likely because of positive, kind parents who are guiding him the best they know how.

And five and a half is a wondrous age, my god-grandson is now 7 and something (November baby), so I remember it well. He's dealt really well with seeing the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies for one thing.

I know in schools here in Missouri and Kansas if the child is disabled (no matter what) they are encouraged to get as mainstreamed as they can so they can grow with their friends, learn how to act from social situations and learn how to deal with the dread Real Life.

#333 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 08:00 AM:

Larry Brennan: I don't recall where I first heard this, but I think the best definition of wealthy is when your money works for you, rather than you working for your money.

I like that. There's a fatuous statement I've seen regarding running your own business, which goes: “Do what you love, and the money will take care of itself.”

And my thought in regards to that statement: “Of course the money will take care of itself. It always does. What I want it to do is take care of me.”

#334 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 08:48 AM:

Or the observation (I think) Chris Rock once made. Loosely remembered, it was along these lines: "Yeah, the guys who play basketball are rich. The guys who sign their paychecks, they're wealthy."

He went on to say that black people needed more wealthy and not so much mere rich.

#335 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 09:24 AM:

On the topic of sending children who are expected to have a below-average performance or have special needs to other schools--

As long as the children are being sent to other schools in the same district it's perfectly legal, as far as I know. Therefore, if you have a county-wide district rather than simply a city-wide district, the administrators can indeed send the child out of town without breaking any laws, as long as they stay in the district.
It's also probably a state-by-state thing (with state laws varying greatly on this), but it may also be possible for a small district to end up reimbursing a larger one for allowing it to take advantage of a special program in the larger district that would be prohibitively expensive for the smaller district to set up, especially if a very small number of students was involved.

School districting arrangements vary widely from state to state, for good reasons--an arrangement that makes sense in a small, densely populated state might not work very well in a place like Wyoming. However, all districts are required to provide, one way or another, for the needs of all students, although too many of them need to be backed into a corner by determined parents in order to make sure that these really are the best arrangements possible, and not just the arrangements most convenient for the district.

#336 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 01:36 PM:

"You're always worrying about money! It's not that big a deal, y'know!"

I come from a family of high-stakes gamblers. The toughest thing to explain about it is how you have to realize exactly how much money you're throwing around, enough money to change the odds in a horse race from 3 to 1 to even money-- and at the same time, not care about it, because if you worry about it, you'll never bet.

It takes a unique mindset to bet a year's worth of college tuition on the Daily Double at Aqueduct... lose... and then go back and bet the same amount three times the same day.

That's about as close as you can get to knowing what it's like to be poor and rich and the same time, from my POV.

#337 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 02:01 PM:

"So it wouldn't be that big a deal for you to give me half of yours?"

She did offer a no-interest loan to pay back our moving expenses and, when I said that we couldn't pay her back anytime soon, said she could just GIVE us that much. With the way things turned out, I'm rather glad I turned her offer down.

But she asked why, if money was such a problem, I couldn't accept a handout. I replied that first, my husband and I had come by our debt honestly, and so we were going to pay it off ourselves. And second, that left several thousands of dollars of OTHER debts we owed still unpaid, so it was barely a drop in the bucket.

I like to think she understood then why money was such a big deal to me all the time. When you're skating on the very edge of bankruptcy, you pay VERY close attention to where that last penny went.


Glenn, that story made me break out in a cold sweat. I can't imagine.

#338 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 02:24 PM:

No, no, no, Greg. The electric fence was for the horses. When the pig had the heart attack he fell across the electric fence wire and the pig shed doorway. When he caught fire the pig shed burned and he was large enough that the other pigs couldn't get out and died in the flames. Sort of like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire with whitewash...

jehosifat, that sounds to be something in the neighborhood of a five-point-cascaded failure. Five parachutes, and something goes wrong with each one, in sequence. The only piece you were missing was the pig grounded the fence so the horses got out and hit by a semi.

I can't think of anything quite along those lines happening to us when I was growing up. I had some close calls with massive piece of machinery and stampeding livestock, but generally they were always straightforward single point mishaps. Fence breaks, herd stampedes. someone loses track of where the other person is and nearly drives over them with a combine or just about drops something big and heavy on them. Hydraulics of any sort, end loaders and kicker balers, etc. A neighbor three farms over was killed when the safety on a pto shaft failed and pulled him into the machine. there were a couple of old time farmers in the general area with fingers or thumbs missing.

There's a certain level of stoicism needed to put up with that sort of thing day in and day out.

But the heart-attack pig, damn if that wouldnt make the hardest stoic wonder if maybe the universe is got something against them.

#339 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 03:50 PM:

My ninth-grade civics teacher was missing the first joint of his index finger. As he told the story, he lost it one day on the farm when he put his finger through where a missing bolt had disabled the linkage mechanism on a windmill. A breeze rose.

#340 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 04:12 PM:

Bruce:

[honest curiosity]
Um . . . was any of the pork salvageable?
[/honest curiosity]

#341 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 04:20 PM:

Perhaps the pig had seen too much ER and thought, upon experiencing the first symptoms of the attack, that a good electric shock might work. Just like on TV.

That is quite a story. I'm glad I wasn't there to see or smell it.

#342 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2006, 11:43 PM:

Bruce:

[honest curiosity]
Um . . . was any of the pork salvageable?
[/honest curiosity]

Pine boards with latex paint and whitewash and traces of pig manure don't match mesquite or cedar on the lists of woods to use when smoking pork. However, if you wish to experiment on your own, I'd be interested in your report afterwards.

jehosifat, that sounds to be something in the neighborhood of a five-point-cascaded failure. Five parachutes, and something goes wrong with each one, in sequence. The only piece you were missing was the pig grounded the fence so the horses got out and hit by a semi.

Something like that went dancing through my head at the time, but it didn't seem like the moment to point out "It could be worse!"

#343 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 12:09 AM:

Greg, you left out the tractor rolling over and pinning the driver.

#344 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 01:19 AM:

Fidelio, I'm not sure what the figures are now, but the last time I looked the percentage of US school districts which are in compliance with ADA and IDEA was in the single digits.

About the farm related disasters: I've got a nephew missing parts of two fingers from a drive chain on a feed wagon from an accident the week he turned five; then there's the jollification of getting a hundred head of cattle off the BNSF mainline because Puget Energy cut a fence to turn their pole truck around without blocking the highway. Suburban neighbor kids blinding one of my purebred cows with paintballs, that was a fun one. But so far we've managed to avoid the real compound complex clusterfucks, although the single-point incidents come thick and fast some months.

#345 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 05:17 AM:

Alice: it's supposed to scare you.

I'm always of two minds about gambling, because on the one hand I want to tell these people to stop being dumb and foolhardy and on the other... well, I want their money, and it's a fair table. You can take my money, I can take yours.

I think Teresa has seen this with me in action; it's all fun and games with me until you bet money on it. Then, look out. I've been known to lend people $100 without a moment's hesitation, and fight like hell over a $5 bet at the same time.

I actually have to restrain myself in poker games with friends, or I wouldn't have friends when I'm done. I go for break even almost all the time in those games.

#346 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 08:56 AM:

JESR, that compliance rate doesn't surprise me; I saw a lot of IEPs (Individual Education Plans, for those of you not into education-speak) when I worked childhod claims here in Disabilityland, and it seemed that most of the school personnel preferred the plan that was simplest and cheapest, and that medication was the preferred option whenever the data could be made to look like ADHD (restlessness and inattentiveness are not always a sign of this condition; sometimes the child has severe emotional problems instead, or other conditions, but the hope that A Pill Will Fix This is pretty strong, and results in both overdiagnosis of the condition, and the reluctance to acknowledge actual cases of ADHD--because people realize how much it is overdiagnosed). There are lots of children getting what they need from the public schools only because their parents were willing to go head to head with the school authorities for 99 falls out of 100, and too many others who aren't, because their parents either don't know what to ask for, or have been cowed into shutting up.

#347 ::: torie ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2006, 09:24 AM:

I'm assuming that everyone here is familiar with the Hamlet Text Adventure? Unfortunately the creator seems to have exceeded her bandwidth and the site is temporarily down...

#348 ::: Terry Karney See SPAM, of the better than average sort. ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2010, 12:18 PM:

It's smarmy, and smug; but no matter how topical, is typical

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