Author Topic: “I see no way out”: Living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common  (Read 3092 times)


soccerluvof4

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Kinda the Cart and the horse if you ask me. Why are they not saving from the get go knowing that this is not overly uncommon or just saving? Why did they consider this profession and area of cost of living? These were all choices made early on and now looking to blame or sympathy. Yea it sucks but they chose it.

stoaX

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What I find interesting is how the amount of money one makes doesn't seem to have a strong influence on whether someone is living paycheck to paycheck. 

I'd wager that the hotel clerk in this article thinks her problems would be solved if only she made as much money as the administrator/waitress...who thinks if only I made as much as the software engineer...who thinks if only I made as much as the chair of liberal arts at the SoCal college. 


cats

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I'm all for taking responsibility for one's actions and I know plenty of Americans are living beyond their means, but really...the fact that so many people are like this makes me think we need to stop blaming individuals for buying too many lattes and start blaming entities like:

-corporations, for shamelessly creating products that nobody needs and that do not truly enrich anyone's life, and then hiring con artists (advertisers) to convince the general public that various items are not silly, worthless, or perhaps even harmful to one's health, but in fact wonderful things that you NEED to be a happy and fulfilled person.  To be alive in America today is to be constantly bombarded with persuasive messages about spending your money in ways that do not benefit you.  To me, this shows tremendous amorality on the part of many corporations, that they are concerned only about their personal short-term bottom line and not much about the long-term well-being of the population.

-The government, for not stepping in and regulating all this advertising more rigorously.  Would we allow drug dealers to beam their message about how great it feels to snort coke into living rooms across the country?  So why is it that you have to make a conscious effort not to be exposed to dealers of junk goods, junk food, junk in general?

-The government again, for shamelessly permitting massive wealth inequality and slashing social support programs. 

Yes, individuals need to rethink their mindset around consumption and take a long-term view about how their choices (where to live, how many kids to have, what career to pursue) will impact their financial well-being.  But when so many people are in this paycheck-to-paycheck boat?  Seems worth questioning whether that's been the goal of entities with more power and influence all along.

El Jacinto

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I'm all for taking responsibility for one's actions and I know plenty of Americans are living beyond their means, but really...the fact that so many people are like this makes me think we need to stop blaming individuals for buying too many lattes and start blaming entities like:

-corporations, for shamelessly creating products that nobody needs and that do not truly enrich anyone's life, and then hiring con artists (advertisers) to convince the general public that various items are not silly, worthless, or perhaps even harmful to one's health, but in fact wonderful things that you NEED to be a happy and fulfilled person.  To be alive in America today is to be constantly bombarded with persuasive messages about spending your money in ways that do not benefit you.  To me, this shows tremendous amorality on the part of many corporations, that they are concerned only about their personal short-term bottom line and not much about the long-term well-being of the population.

-The government, for not stepping in and regulating all this advertising more rigorously.  Would we allow drug dealers to beam their message about how great it feels to snort coke into living rooms across the country?  So why is it that you have to make a conscious effort not to be exposed to dealers of junk goods, junk food, junk in general?

-The government again, for shamelessly permitting massive wealth inequality and slashing social support programs. 

Yes, individuals need to rethink their mindset around consumption and take a long-term view about how their choices (where to live, how many kids to have, what career to pursue) will impact their financial well-being.  But when so many people are in this paycheck-to-paycheck boat?  Seems worth questioning whether that's been the goal of entities with more power and influence all along.

I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means. How many times do you think the people in that article go to Starbucks or eat out?

If I were to blame anyone, it would be the media that tries to incite class warfare. They make people think that they can't get by in this world unless they make $200k/year. Do more profiles on wealthy people earning average incomes, so that more people can see that it is possible. Politicians are just as guilty too. They spout nonsense about the death of the middle class to get votes.

elliha

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What I find interesting is how the amount of money one makes doesn't seem to have a strong influence on whether someone is living paycheck to paycheck. 

I'd wager that the hotel clerk in this article thinks her problems would be solved if only she made as much money as the administrator/waitress...who thinks if only I made as much as the software engineer...who thinks if only I made as much as the chair of liberal arts at the SoCal college.

This is true. I am not in any way an extremely frugal person but we have rarely lived paycheck to paycheck despite being significantly lower income than most of our friends. I rarely talk about money but when it has come up most of our friends are very surprised by this. I know several people that make 1000 dollars more per month than us or more and still live paycheck to paycheck. We usually have around 1000 dollars left each month when both of us are working (my husband is unemployed at them moment) and maybe 400-500 dollars when only I work. We still buy tons of stuff and do not eat rice and beans or anything like that every night. I even buy lunch at restaurants and such that is not frugal at all so we probably could cut way back and still live a good life.

dude

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Not for nothing, but couples with 3 and 4 children complaining about how hard it is to get by don't elicit a lot of sympathy from me.

Cool Friend

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means.

That's true, but that's not a simple or easy ask in a society that heavily conditions its populace from the cradle to the grave to do the exact opposite of that.  Our legislators are often in the pocket of the same banks and corporations who profit from that messaging. Even the people on this forum who "get it" still struggle with their spending sometimes--that's how powerful the messaging is.  Breaking a lifetime of conditioning to spend spend spend is a difficult, lifelong project that carries the risk of ostracism, a consequence experienced as similar to death to the human brain. 

Of course everyone is responsible for their own lives, and everyone has their own sphere of control, but ignoring the mechanisms that are in place to prevent people from making those changes is missing a huge piece of the story, imo.

FrugalToque

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I'm all for taking responsibility for one's actions and I know plenty of Americans are living beyond their means, but really...the fact that so many people are like this makes me think we need to stop blaming individuals for buying too many lattes and start blaming entities like:

...

Yes, individuals need to rethink their mindset around consumption and take a long-term view about how their choices (where to live, how many kids to have, what career to pursue) will impact their financial well-being.  But when so many people are in this paycheck-to-paycheck boat?  Seems worth questioning whether that's been the goal of entities with more power and influence all along.

The primary fix for this would have to be early education.  If my parents could train me and I could train my kids not to live outside their means, then we can educate young children the same way.

1.  How much money are you getting?
2.  Do some arithmetic and make sure your life (rent, groceries etc) costs way less than that.

The people in this article clearly chose houses and living arrangements that are financially destroying themselves.  I see a software engineer in L.A. who can't make $27k in annual housing costs without going cheque to cheque?  They didn't have the skills or the awareness to do the basic arithmetic of living.  Why not?  We clearly can't count on their parents to teach them this, no more than we can count on parents to teach their kids about birth control and STDs.  We have to step in with public education.

After that, there are a couple other things we can do to protect people from predatory lending.

For instance, we had a half left wing coalition for a federal gov't here in Canada a decade ago.  One result was a few changes in how credit cards report what you have to pay, what you owe and how long it will take if you only make minimum payments.

If you wanted to help fix this problem, you might make rules about credit card limits.  (Something like, "CC companies must ask for salary letters and not let anyone have a total max on all their CCs of more than 10 or 20% of their salaries).  This way, people hit the red flags sooner, before they find themselves in deep holes.  (Also, just ban those stupid short-term loan places.)

So you can address the "personal responsibility" side in children, and some of the more ridiculous commercial practices.

Toque.

FrugalToque

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means.

That's true, but that's not a simple or easy ask in a society that heavily conditions its populace from the cradle to the grave to do the exact opposite of that.  Our legislators are often in the pocket of the same banks and corporations who profit from that messaging. Even the people on this forum who "get it" still struggle with their spending sometimes--that's how powerful the messaging is.  Breaking a lifetime of conditioning to spend spend spend is a difficult, lifelong project that carries the risk of ostracism, a consequence experienced as similar to death to the human brain. 

Of course everyone is responsible for their own lives, and everyone has their own sphere of control, but ignoring the mechanisms that are in place to prevent people from making those changes is missing a huge piece of the story, imo.

One of the most powerful educational experiences of my young life was a grade 11 (or grade 12?) exercise where each student had to record a 30 second commercial off of television (on VHS tapes!  I'm old...).  Then you spent an hour at home, playing it over and over again, picking through all the messages it was sending.

"Boy sits across from pretty girl on train.  Train darkens. Cut to outside shot of train entering tunnel - sexually suggestive - back to interior seen.  Girl licks lips.  Boy offers girl a chocolate"
etc. etc.

We spent *so* long watching these commercials get torn apart that we couldn't watch TV anymore without going, "AHA!  I see what you're doing to my brain!  Caught you!" or "Wait a second.  No one's going to have sex with me just because I drink this cola.  Nice try, Coke."

There are well known ways to help proof people against media control.  We just don't always use them.

Toque.

El Jacinto

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Something to add- most people don't want to do better than paycheck to paycheck. Post something about how to succeed with money somewhere like Reddit or Imgur, and you'll probably get downvoted. Unless someone asks for help at work or in extended family, it's better to keep the mouth shut. They want to believe that it's not their fault, so I don't feel sorry for these people or give outside influences nearly as much blame.

Cool Friend

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means.

That's true, but that's not a simple or easy ask in a society that heavily conditions its populace from the cradle to the grave to do the exact opposite of that.  Our legislators are often in the pocket of the same banks and corporations who profit from that messaging. Even the people on this forum who "get it" still struggle with their spending sometimes--that's how powerful the messaging is.  Breaking a lifetime of conditioning to spend spend spend is a difficult, lifelong project that carries the risk of ostracism, a consequence experienced as similar to death to the human brain. 

Of course everyone is responsible for their own lives, and everyone has their own sphere of control, but ignoring the mechanisms that are in place to prevent people from making those changes is missing a huge piece of the story, imo.

One of the most powerful educational experiences of my young life was a grade 11 (or grade 12?) exercise where each student had to record a 30 second commercial off of television (on VHS tapes!  I'm old...).  Then you spent an hour at home, playing it over and over again, picking through all the messages it was sending.

"Boy sits across from pretty girl on train.  Train darkens. Cut to outside shot of train entering tunnel - sexually suggestive - back to interior seen.  Girl licks lips.  Boy offers girl a chocolate"
etc. etc.

We spent *so* long watching these commercials get torn apart that we couldn't watch TV anymore without going, "AHA!  I see what you're doing to my brain!  Caught you!" or "Wait a second.  No one's going to have sex with me just because I drink this cola.  Nice try, Coke."

There are well known ways to help proof people against media control.  We just don't always use them.

Toque.

Ohhh yeah I had a class like that too.  I have to find this article I read a while ago that talked about how even when people are educated on how to deconstruct ad messaging, it still effects them unconsciously (albeit to a lesser degree).  Scary stuff.


nereo

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One of the most powerful educational experiences of my young life was a grade 11 (or grade 12?) exercise where each student had to record a 30 second commercial off of television (on VHS tapes!  I'm old...).  Then you spent an hour at home, playing it over and over again, picking through all the messages it was sending.
...
There are well known ways to help proof people against media control.  We just don't always use them.

interesting assignment Toque. 
I remember one such assignment vividly, when we were required to jot down every advertisement we saw from the time we left school at 2:45pm until we went to sleep.  Many of the students listed literally hundreds of ads, and even they missed a lot of them. One girl (the best in the class) filled an entire composition notebook in ~6 hours.

Back OT - we're hardwired for instant gratification over long term planning, and advertisers exploit that. I agree with Toque that we've done a piss-poor job of educating our youth against this.  Most school systems don't even teach economics anymore, and the ones that do wait until high-school.  Of all the lifeskills we must master to successfully be an adult, managing money is pretty high up there, yet budgeting isn't even a concept in elementary school.  I'm grateful my parents taught me money management skills when I was young, but few children are as lucky.


StarBright

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I just finished reading "Squeezed" and the thing that I really took away from it is that there is such a web of larger and interlocking problems (health insurance, child rearing, constantly and quickly changing economy and technologies, robots!) that people may even think they are making the right choice but two years later the world has changed enough that the choice doesn't work out.  The book also did a great job of giving stories from different types of people so that it illustrated how lots of different types of choices don't work out (trade school, college educated, kids, moving across country for a different job, etc).

I agree that an amount of personal responsibility is important, but I've seen people on these forums basically calling others suckers for going into what were once solid middle class professions (teaching, law, and civil service specifically). I am finding that I'm way less judgmental about people's jobs than I used to be, because the job market seems to be changing quickly enough that the major you pick freshman year might turn out to be a shitty choice 7 years later.

If it comes down to either having children/living near family members (often to care for them/support them) or having money  (as I see people argue on this forum) - then I reject that as a system! It might be how one has to choose to live in this particular moment, but I think we need to have these conversations about inequality so that we don't accept it as the status quo. Money or Children is not a sustainable solution and I tend to think the system is broken. Let's start to fix it; it will likely take a long time to right the ship. 

I also see lots of people talk about how if we Mustachians can do it, anyone can do it, and like @cats I honestly do not agree with that. We've seen over and over on certain polls that Mustachians tend to fall into very specific personality types, job types, and (I suspect) intelligence average. Maybe I'm an outlier, but I don't find this lifestyle easy and I can't imagine attempting it if I was some of my family members.

Anyways, that felt a little ranty by the time I finished and I may have gone in too many disparate directions, but in my mind a lot of these things are linked and I feel like they are reflected in  the article posted by the OP.




cats

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means. How many times do you think the people in that article go to Starbucks or eat out?


I disagree.  This forum appears to have a higher than average level of income and education.  I would argue that the higher income puts you in a better position to recover from periodic stupid spending decisions, while the education probably makes you slightly more immune to the social pressure to spend spend spend (particularly for the science/engineer types who seem to be a big chunk of this forum--we've always been slightly social outcasts so why bother trying to fit in too much, right?)

I would argue also that it would, in the long term, benefit even those of us who have our financial shit together to have more sensible behavior encouraged/imposed upon society at large, through education or other means.  Other people buying a bunch of crap they don't need does actually hurt me (environmental impacts).  All the Starbucks and eating out you mention is bad for public health, who is going to wind up paying the health care costs for everyone's bypass surgeries or insulin or....?  Oh, right, financially responsible types like you and me! Etc.  Everyone would benefit more if the widespread phenomenon of living paycheck to paycheck or flat out beyond your means was viewed as a societal problem that we actually need to fix together (rather than telling people to spend smarter as individuals).

nereo

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I just finished reading "Squeezed" and the thing that I really took away from it is that there is such a web of larger and interlocking problems (health insurance, child rearing, constantly and quickly changing economy and technologies, robots!) that people may even think they are making the right choice but two years later the world has changed enough that the choice doesn't work out.  The book also did a great job of giving stories from different types of people so that it illustrated how lots of different types of choices don't work out (trade school, college educated, kids, moving across country for a different job, etc).

I agree that an amount of personal responsibility is important, but I've seen people on these forums basically calling others suckers for going into what were once solid middle class professions (teaching, law, and civil service specifically). I am finding that I'm way less judgmental about people's jobs than I used to be, because the job market seems to be changing quickly enough that the major you pick freshman year might turn out to be a shitty choice 7 years later.

If it comes down to either having children/living near family members (often to care for them/support them) or having money  (as I see people argue on this forum) - then I reject that as a system! It might be how one has to choose to live in this particular moment, but I think we need to have these conversations about inequality so that we don't accept it as the status quo. Money or Children is not a sustainable solution and I tend to think the system is broken. Let's start to fix it; it will likely take a long time to right the ship. 

I also see lots of people talk about how if we Mustachians can do it, anyone can do it, and like @cats I honestly do not agree with that. We've seen over and over on certain polls that Mustachians tend to fall into very specific personality types, job types, and (I suspect) intelligence average. Maybe I'm an outlier, but I don't find this lifestyle easy and I can't imagine attempting it if I was some of my family members.

Anyways, that felt a little ranty by the time I finished and I may have gone in too many disparate directions, but in my mind a lot of these things are linked and I feel like they are reflected in  the article posted by the OP.

In general I don't see people's career choices scrutinized as much as their spending habits, but that might be as much a function of whom I interact with on these forums as anything.  As it is, we are pretty close to what you describe; educators/researchers with a family, and we've chosen where we live in part to be closer to our aging parents. In doing so we've accepted a household income far below the national median, and much less than what our educational degrees suggest.   I see a lot of people in similar fields constantly struggle with money regardless of their incomes, but to me it all boils down to their choices about how they spend rather than what they make.  I don't find a strong correlation with the statement that :  higher income puts you in a better position to recover from periodic stupid spending decisions, while the education probably makes you slightly more immune to the social pressure to spend spend spend - almost no income level seems high enough to prevent future insolvency, and people with higher educational levels (and correspondingly higher income brackets) seem to actually have more social pressure to meet a certain standard (e.g. new vehicles, destination vacations, large homes with separate bedrooms for each person plus a guest room).

Time and again we hear about "4-in-10 adults can't meet a $400 emergency expense without going into debt" or case studies of how so-and-so was forced into a debt trap because of one unforseen medical/car/wedding expense.  To me, >90% of these are a direct and predictable result of years of spending habits.  If you're spending at or close to 100% of your paycheck each month then it's a mathematical certanty that some unforseen expense will screw you. For those that claim that they need to spend every dollar they make then the reality is that they have things they simply can't afford. Expectations > economic reality. For every 30-something who claims that an unexpected 5-figure expense forced them into insolvency I think "you've had over a decade to prepare for just such a thing, but your actions only exacerbated what should have been an easily expensed problem".

I'm always a bit skeptical of government regulation to cure social ills, as @cats seems to be suggestion.  When done carefully it can have a positive impact, like limiting cigarette access and advertising to minors. But those are backstop measures, not leading strategies. parental and school involvement is almost always more effective than governmentally imposed limitations. For example, growing up active with a proper diet is far more effective than taxes or limits on sugary beverages in stores (e.g. "soda taxes").  I might support both but our societal failings with the current obesity epidemic aren't because we were too slow to tax and prohibit unhealthy snacks, but because too many kids grew up with unhealthy lifestyles and diets to begin with.  The same is true with spending beyond our means. As an example I support basic assert/income standards for anyone applying for a mortgage to prevent people from purchasing a home via loan they simply cannot afford, but that won't stop them from installing a pool and replacing all the fixtures even when their budget is tight. Teaching basic fiscal concepts like the necessity of saving and living on less than your paycheck to children early and often will.

 

StarBright

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@nereo - I actually agree with a ton of what you wrote. But here is where my lens is a bit different.

I know that I am just one person and anecdotes don't count but will just say that we did have almost a decade to prepare for our emergencies, and we actually did prepare. After 8 years of doing "everything" right*, two years in a row of hitting max out of pocket medical expenses,  a major house expense and several mini emergencies nearly wiped us out. One more thing wrong would have put us in debt.

We've built ourselves back up over the last 5 years but are now dealing with things like doctors suggesting we put our oldest child in an expensive private school (for which we won't qualify for any help because we make too much) and special therapies that aren't covered by insurance. If we did both of those things it would use up almost every dollar that we are currently saving.

If we did that and then had another year of medical expenses like we did 7 years ago, we would again quickly find ourselves in a place where we'd run through our savings with little to no way to save them back up.

I see where we almost lost it all, I see how we could almost lose it all again, and meanwhile we just keep putting our heads down, saving about 40%  of our income and hoping things don't go wrong. If things don't go wrong then we could have very lovely lives, but a few twists of fate and I could see us easily running out again. We are just worn out by the constant saving for a rainy day.

Because I have lived it, I have a really hard time judging others (especially middle to lower middle class parents) choices.  Also knowing that for years our biggest expenses were Daycare, Medical Insurance, Housing (in that order) I actually do not have a hard time believing that people don't have much money left over.



*We did everything right except for becoming engineers because neither DH or I are talented in that way. And we both received large college scholarships to study in non-engineering fields.

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Only going to get worse when these people can't get their tax refunds if the government stays shut down!

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to. It isn't hard to be successful in this world. People just have to learn the difference between needs and wants and stop living beyond their means.

That's true, but that's not a simple or easy ask in a society that heavily conditions its populace from the cradle to the grave to do the exact opposite of that.  Our legislators are often in the pocket of the same banks and corporations who profit from that messaging. Even the people on this forum who "get it" still struggle with their spending sometimes--that's how powerful the messaging is.  Breaking a lifetime of conditioning to spend spend spend is a difficult, lifelong project that carries the risk of ostracism, a consequence experienced as similar to death to the human brain. 

Of course everyone is responsible for their own lives, and everyone has their own sphere of control, but ignoring the mechanisms that are in place to prevent people from making those changes is missing a huge piece of the story, imo.

One of the most powerful educational experiences of my young life was a grade 11 (or grade 12?) exercise where each student had to record a 30 second commercial off of television (on VHS tapes!  I'm old...).  Then you spent an hour at home, playing it over and over again, picking through all the messages it was sending.

"Boy sits across from pretty girl on train.  Train darkens. Cut to outside shot of train entering tunnel - sexually suggestive - back to interior seen.  Girl licks lips.  Boy offers girl a chocolate"
etc. etc.

We spent *so* long watching these commercials get torn apart that we couldn't watch TV anymore without going, "AHA!  I see what you're doing to my brain!  Caught you!" or "Wait a second.  No one's going to have sex with me just because I drink this cola.  Nice try, Coke."

There are well known ways to help proof people against media control.  We just don't always use them.

Toque.

Thank you for this example!!  I have had my kids go through magazines looking for "normal" people....it was eye opening to them to see all the obvious plastic surgery...such strong jaw lines and boobs!  lol  I want them to appreciate a healthy human body and be grateful for their health and not to take it for granted...I will do some TV watching with them and look for commercials to dissect!  Also, a good project idea for school!  Thanks!!!

nereo

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@nereo - I actually agree with a ton of what you wrote. But here is where my lens is a bit different.

I know that I am just one person and anecdotes don't count but will just say that we did have almost a decade to prepare for our emergencies, and we actually did prepare. After 8 years of doing "everything" right*, two years in a row of hitting max out of pocket medical expenses,  a major house expense and several mini emergencies nearly wiped us out. One more thing wrong would have put us in debt.

We've built ourselves back up over the last 5 years but are now dealing with things like doctors suggesting we put our oldest child in an expensive private school (for which we won't qualify for any help because we make too much) and special therapies that aren't covered by insurance. If we did both of those things it would use up almost every dollar that we are currently saving.

If we did that and then had another year of medical expenses like we did 7 years ago, we would again quickly find ourselves in a place where we'd run through our savings with little to no way to save them back up.

I see where we almost lost it all, I see how we could almost lose it all again, and meanwhile we just keep putting our heads down, saving about 40%  of our income and hoping things don't go wrong. If things don't go wrong then we could have very lovely lives, but a few twists of fate and I could see us easily running out again. We are just worn out by the constant saving for a rainy day.

Because I have lived it, I have a really hard time judging others (especially middle to lower middle class parents) choices.  Also knowing that for years our biggest expenses were Daycare, Medical Insurance, Housing (in that order) I actually do not have a hard time believing that people don't have much money left over.



*We did everything right except for becoming engineers because neither DH or I are talented in that way. And we both received large college scholarships to study in non-engineering fields.

I hope my comments above didn't have me coming off as a big judgmental jerk.  I fully acknowledge that some people are dealt a s*&t sandwich that will strain - or potentially bankrupt - even those that did almost everything 'right'. 
My broader point is that - from my perspective - your experience is hte exception instead of the norm.

My main criticisms of the current norm involve what we perceive as 'normal'. In the last several decades there's been well documented increases in the size of our homes, the number and fanciness of our vehicles, the frequency and distance of airplane vacations, the amount spent on 'going out' and numerous other categories. So our normal for a middle class family has been two cars under warranty parked in front of a 2,200 sqft home (etc. etc.) Given those metrics - yes, it's very hard for those at or slightly below the median household income to not live paycheck to paycheck. And therein lies the problem - we keep boosting our expectations faster than our salaries, including what's considered 'scraping by'.  As an anecdotal example, my grandfather was a dentist with a (for then) middle-class salary, a wife and three kids.  They had one used car, the two girls shared a bedroom and vacations were driveable distance only. Today the expectation for what is 'necessary' has grown so much, and faster than incomes.

Regardless of your income level, the default needs to be spend less than you earn - and for a wide swath of society that isn't their reality. When all of these economic-hardship stores emerge I wish I could know i) how many months total these people had been employed and ii) what percentage of those months they had managed to save at least 5% of their paycheck.  From what I know of savings rates in this country and employment data the answers all too often seem to be 'a long history of working while saving very little'. 

LennStar

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

Ah yes, the old "everyone can" argument, the love child of the neolibs.

Yes, anyone can become president. But not ALL.

And with many other things in life, this is also true(ish). 

WhiteTrashCash

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As someone who lived a long time paycheck-to-paycheck and can now go for years without being paid, I can tell you that a lot of the people in the article were very foolish to choose to live where they do.

If the rent costs you $3000/mo, then move somewhere else. Unless you are a Fortune 500 executive, you should never be paying that much for rent. I live in a high cost of living area, but I spent two years living in rented rooms for $575/mo while building my financial future. Most people are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to improve their lives.

On the flipside, if you live somewhere where there is inadequate employment, then move. The USA is awash with good-paying jobs right now. They just won't be found on Hillbilly Mountain or in the Inner City. Get the Hell out of Dodge and move on with your life. It's not your job to be the hero of the city.

I'm stunned (not not really) that these government employees didn't save up an emergency fund after the shutdown in 2013. This is the New Normal. Government shutdowns happen all the time now because Red States and Blue States are engaged in a long-term Cold War and partisans don't care what happens to the civilians caught in the crossfire. You have to look out for yourself and your family in the face of this.

El Jacinto

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

Ah yes, the old "everyone can" argument, the love child of the neolibs.

Yes, anyone can become president. But not ALL.

And with many other things in life, this is also true(ish).

In 232 years, 45 people have been president. Not everyone has the potential to be president. That's comparing apples to oranges.

There have been (at the very least) tens of thousands of people who have started their life lower class and have built very successful lives in this country, with the common theme being that they were willing to work hard.

I was borderline homeless in my late teens and worked to escape that. I watched people around me who are still living like that because of their choices. It may make me a heartless bastard, but I don't feel any pity for people like that.

nereo

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

Ah yes, the old "everyone can" argument, the love child of the neolibs.

Yes, anyone can become president. But not ALL.

And with many other things in life, this is also true(ish).

In 232 years, 45 people have been president. Not everyone has the potential to be president. That's comparing apples to oranges.

There have been (at the very least) tens of thousands of people who have started their life lower class and have built very successful lives in this country, with the common theme being that they were willing to work hard.

I was borderline homeless in my late teens and worked to escape that. I watched people around me who are still living like that because of their choices. It may make me a heartless bastard, but I don't feel any pity for people like that.

Agreed.  This is a false equivalence if ever there was one.  Of 300MM+ citizens alive today fewer about a dozen might be president, and most (>99%) have no realistic shot.  But the majority of people can be financially independent simply by consistently spending less than they earn and investing the difference.  Millions have already achieved this, and it isn't particularly tied to having an abnormally high income.

No idea what 'the love child of neolibs' is supposed to mean here.

LennStar

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

Ah yes, the old "everyone can" argument, the love child of the neolibs.

Yes, anyone can become president. But not ALL.

And with many other things in life, this is also true(ish).

In 232 years, 45 people have been president. Not everyone has the potential to be president. That's comparing apples to oranges.

There have been (at the very least) tens of thousands of people who have started their life lower class and have built very successful lives in this country, with the common theme being that they were willing to work hard.

I was borderline homeless in my late teens and worked to escape that. I watched people around me who are still living like that because of their choices. It may make me a heartless bastard, but I don't feel any pity for people like that.

Agreed.  This is a false equivalence if ever there was one.  Of 300MM+ citizens alive today fewer about a dozen might be president, and most (>99%) have no realistic shot.  But the majority of people can be financially independent simply by consistently spending less than they earn and investing the difference.  Millions have already achieved this, and it isn't particularly tied to having an abnormally high income.

No idea what 'the love child of neolibs' is supposed to mean here.

No, it is exactly the same. Just because the chances for A are greater than for B does not mean it is different.

In both cases there are a lot of factors that play a big role. There may be a dishwasher that became a millionaire. But most dishwasher do not. Does that mean that 99,99999999% of dishwashers are totally incabable?

nereo

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I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

Ah yes, the old "everyone can" argument, the love child of the neolibs.

Yes, anyone can become president. But not ALL.

And with many other things in life, this is also true(ish).

In 232 years, 45 people have been president. Not everyone has the potential to be president. That's comparing apples to oranges.

There have been (at the very least) tens of thousands of people who have started their life lower class and have built very successful lives in this country, with the common theme being that they were willing to work hard.

I was borderline homeless in my late teens and worked to escape that. I watched people around me who are still living like that because of their choices. It may make me a heartless bastard, but I don't feel any pity for people like that.

Agreed.  This is a false equivalence if ever there was one.  Of 300MM+ citizens alive today fewer about a dozen might be president, and most (>99%) have no realistic shot.  But the majority of people can be financially independent simply by consistently spending less than they earn and investing the difference.  Millions have already achieved this, and it isn't particularly tied to having an abnormally high income.

No idea what 'the love child of neolibs' is supposed to mean here.

No, it is exactly the same. Just because the chances for A are greater than for B does not mean it is different.

In both cases there are a lot of factors that play a big role. There may be a dishwasher that became a millionaire. But most dishwasher do not. Does that mean that 99,99999999% of dishwashers are totally incabable?
Than I and others are completely misunderstanding whatever point you are trying to make.  I interpret your comments and the comparison you've used to suggest that very few people are truly able to become Financially Independent - that just because its technically possible doesn't mean it is likely.

If that isn't what you are saying could you please rephrase your argument?

LennStar

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Quote
I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

That was the starting point.
I was writing that just because there is this community, it does not mean that "anyone" can be FI "if they decide to". (This community is, per definition, a "survivor bias" community.)

There are always a lot of circumstances that make it harder if not nearly(!) impossible. And 95% of our society is geared towards making you do unresponsible monetary decisions.

Quote
I interpret your comments and the comparison you've used to suggest that very few people are truly able to become Financially Independent - that just because its technically possible doesn't mean it is likely.

Is it likely to become FI?
The statistic says no. For a given amount of "likely". What is likely? The majority?




 

nereo

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Quote
I have to disagree. The fact that this community exists is proof that anyone can do this if they decide to.

That was the starting point.
I was writing that just because there is this community, it does not mean that "anyone" can be FI "if they decide to". (This community is, per definition, a "survivor bias" community.)

There are always a lot of circumstances that make it harder if not nearly(!) impossible. And 95% of our society is geared towards making you do unresponsible monetary decisions.

Quote
I interpret your comments and the comparison you've used to suggest that very few people are truly able to become Financially Independent - that just because its technically possible doesn't mean it is likely.

Is it likely to become FI?
The statistic says no. For a given amount of "likely". What is likely? The majority?
 

I guess I do not share your pessimistic views.
One could say that most people in their present state are unable to finish a 10k, but I would say that almost everyone could finish a 10k following a basic, accessible and straightforward training plan. 
You are correct that most don't and likely will not, but that doesn't change the feasibility.

Your analogy of the dishwasher was particularly telling, as that's seen as the starting position for many within service industry.  Most chefs, owners, head waiters and line cooks all started as a dishwasher.  Many will tell you the best way of learning how a successful restaurant is run is to start working as a dishwasher. in that way its a good metaphor.

jengod

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Hi @nereo just wanted to say that I LOVE your signature-line quote.

StarBright

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I hope my comments above didn't have me coming off as a big judgmental jerk.  I fully acknowledge that some people are dealt a s*&t sandwich that will strain - or potentially bankrupt - even those that did almost everything 'right'. 
My broader point is that - from my perspective - your experience is hte exception instead of the norm.

My main criticisms of the current norm involve what we perceive as 'normal'. In the last several decades there's been well documented increases in the size of our homes, the number and fanciness of our vehicles, the frequency and distance of airplane vacations, the amount spent on 'going out' and numerous other categories. So our normal for a middle class family has been two cars under warranty parked in front of a 2,200 sqft home (etc. etc.) Given those metrics - yes, it's very hard for those at or slightly below the median household income to not live paycheck to paycheck. And therein lies the problem - we keep boosting our expectations faster than our salaries, including what's considered 'scraping by'.  As an anecdotal example, my grandfather was a dentist with a (for then) middle-class salary, a wife and three kids.  They had one used car, the two girls shared a bedroom and vacations were driveable distance only. Today the expectation for what is 'necessary' has grown so much, and faster than incomes.

Regardless of your income level, the default needs to be spend less than you earn - and for a wide swath of society that isn't their reality. When all of these economic-hardship stores emerge I wish I could know i) how many months total these people had been employed and ii) what percentage of those months they had managed to save at least 5% of their paycheck.  From what I know of savings rates in this country and employment data the answers all too often seem to be 'a long history of working while saving very little'.

@nereo - Not a jerk at all! I think the point of my post is that I don't think we are a 10% exception. While I don't think it is 80% of young families that are strained through no fault of their own, I'd say it is more than 10%.

And my suspicion is that it is having children that puts most people in a precarious position, no matter how decent their prior planning. Also, doesn't it feel like sh*t sandwiches are happening more and more? Maybe it just happens to be where my friends are geographically, but I've had multiple friends lose homes to "thousand year" floods in the last couple of years, everyone's kids seem to have medical issues, everyone seems to hit their max out of pocket insurance, or have to move across the country for a job and can't find new childcare, etc.

I suspect I am looking more anecdotally, because your numbers are right, Americans aren't savers. But I see a ton of people I know who are savers, and they are strained too (they actually appear more strained than non-savers, because they don't put things on credit). I think that is where I get into it being more of a structural problem. Sure - the people doing it wrong aren't going to make it if something goes wrong, but if the people doing it right also have problems - then there is an issue.

As I'm thinking about this, I also think it might be a bit of a "donut hole" situation for middle class families.

LennStar

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I think that is where I get into it being more of a structural problem.
The richer getting rich, the poorer more poor.

Yes, the poor are getting richer absolutely. But relativly they have less than 100 years ago, because the poorer are getting less from the production increase than before (but of course they still all try to keep up with the Joneses.)
Thank the neoliberal economics (I think you call them Chicago School - you know, trickle down, austerity and all that insanity.) Waren Buffet paying less taxes than his secretary isn't an anecdote of a strange single incident, that is normal. And the money that is no longer payed by the rich has to be cut somewhere - and it is cut by the services for the poor (poor here increasingly includes middle class, see public schools). 

And the sh*t sandwiches, as you called it, are getting more in a sense. But the main problem here is that there is far less social net now than a century ago and what is there is more strained. People are getting older, but not necessarily more healthy. You no longer have 3 families in walking distance that can care for you. And and and...

Worsening age structure, worsening personal social net, worsening public services, increased pressure from ads etc. makes it a lot harder to get your life together (not to mention FI) than before.

WhiteTrashCash

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A great deal of the "paycheck to paycheck" mentality comes from magical thinking about money, which is something I've discussed in my journal on this forum. Many low-income people believe that money magically appears and disappears so you have to spend it when you have it because -- poof -- it could be gone in a bank fee or an emergency or an overdue bill before you know it. The idea that money could be used to make more money is a foreign concept to people like this. And the idea of an emergency fund is completely alien. In their minds, an emergency fund is one's weekly paycheck.

As a poster above noted, a huge chunk of the American economy depends on tricking people into this kind of thinking, so it is very difficult to get folks to see things differently. The key is to completely eradicate advertising from one's life, but that's become increasingly difficult now that advertisers are using "influencers" -- social media wannabe celebrities who pitch their products as part of their vlogs and instagram posts. I've even seen blatant product placement advertising in the Big Four's broadcast TV episodes. (A while back, the NBC TV show "Chuck" was notorious for doing that.)

mm1970

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I think that is where I get into it being more of a structural problem.
The richer getting rich, the poorer more poor.

Yes, the poor are getting richer absolutely. But relativly they have less than 100 years ago, because the poorer are getting less from the production increase than before (but of course they still all try to keep up with the Joneses.)
Thank the neoliberal economics (I think you call them Chicago School - you know, trickle down, austerity and all that insanity.) Waren Buffet paying less taxes than his secretary isn't an anecdote of a strange single incident, that is normal. And the money that is no longer payed by the rich has to be cut somewhere - and it is cut by the services for the poor (poor here increasingly includes middle class, see public schools). 

And the sh*t sandwiches, as you called it, are getting more in a sense. But the main problem here is that there is far less social net now than a century ago and what is there is more strained. People are getting older, but not necessarily more healthy. You no longer have 3 families in walking distance that can care for you. And and and...

Worsening age structure, worsening personal social net, worsening public services, increased pressure from ads etc. makes it a lot harder to get your life together (not to mention FI) than before.
This is fascinating.  I am currently reading The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs. It came out in the early 2000's and is about global poverty, (abject poverty), not US poverty.  But I am finding parallels considering the changes in the economy since about 2004.

What I'm finding in reading this book is: don't shit on poor people.  This book doesn't get into the mental load that comes from being poor - it's more about international relations and the idea that if you have a country with a large % of truly abject poor - don't be a jerk and require the country to pay off all their debts.  You just make it worse.

Cassie

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The book Squeezed was interesting. As a past social worker I have seen some really bad things happen to people that put them in debt.  It’s also mentally draining to be poor. So many choices to make and just one wrong one can sink someone.

WhiteTrashCash

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It’s also mentally draining to be poor. So many choices to make and just one wrong one can sink someone.

I can attest to this fact from personal experience. When any one bad decision -- or instance of bad luck -- can destroy months of saving, it's stressful beyond belief. This is why a lot of poor people turn to alcohol, tobacco, gambling or drugs; The "high" helps with the intense stress they feel at all times. And, of course, now state government are taking advantage of this phenomenon by increasingly legalizing all kinds of dangerous behavior to increase taxes without upsetting rich people and corporations. But that's another tangential topic.

dogboyslim

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... On the flipside, if you live somewhere where there is inadequate employment, then move. The USA is awash with good-paying jobs right now. They just won't be found on Hillbilly Mountain or in the Inner City. Get the Hell out of Dodge and move on with your life. It's not your job to be the hero of the city. ...
You are assuming the person has the financial resources to move.  It costs money to get from one place to another.  Owning a car/bus fare...temporary housing in the new location until you find the new job etc.  If you are already unemployed and have nothing, suggesting to the person that they just move doesn't work.