This post appeared earlier today in our Forums. We've elevated it here because we think it a useful exercise for the CM.com community to engage in. How realistic is the dream of financial self-sufficiency for today's society?
Are you middle class? Surprisingly, most people who think they are middle class, are not middle class.
Being middle class is being able to afford what most would expect a middle class family of 4 or 5 can afford:
- Income (from job and/or investments) to financially support yourself and your family of 4 or 5 without resorting to government assistance when it comes to rental housing, food stamps, etc.
- Reasonable health insurance/health care for your family (with affordable co-pays and deductibles, assuming no major debilitating conditions).
- Reasonable dental insurance/dental care for your family (cleanings, the occasional crown, braces for a kid or two, etc. with affordable deductibles).
- Paid off all student loans within 10 years of graduating college.
- Savings for retirement, around 10% to 15% or more of income put into a 401(k), IRA, or other investments to cover retirement at age 65, medical expenses, possible nursing home care, etc. (With or without Social Security or Medicare, your choice, depending on if you think it'll be there.)
- Savings for both short- and intermediate-term goals (such as one replacement computer/notebook, television, or home appliance a year; a gently-used replacement vehicle every 7 years for each spouse).
- Savings for long-term goals (having a 20% down payment towards the purchase of a house near where you currently live within 10 years of entering the job market, having public college expenses at least half-covered within 18 years of each child's birth).
- Kids' stuff: school clothes, tricycles/bicycles, inline skates or other sports equipment, uniforms or musical instruments, allowances, help with a used car when they reach driving age, etc.
- A family vacation for a week, at least once every year or two; a family vacation for a week at least 2,000 miles away, at least once every 5 years.
- Taking the family out to a decent restaurant (not Denny's) at least once per week.
- Some new clothes and shoes each year – no need to shop for second-hand clothes.
- Debt-free except mortgage – i.e. credit cards completely paid off every month (or at most three months).
If you're on government assistance, if you've delayed health care or dental care because of costs, if you can't save 10% to 15% of your income towards retirement costs, if you aren't able to save the equivalent of a 20% down payment towards a house (yes I understand you may not want to own, but y'know what I mean), can't afford to take vacations, aren't able to pay off your credit card every month, etc. – then you're really not what traditionally would be defined as middle class. You're struggling or you're working class or lower middle class. Even if you might have an iPhone or some of the latest fashions, you're really deluding yourself.
This goes double if both spouses work and such a lifestyle still can't be afforded. Over 50 years ago, most middle class women didn't even work outside the home.
Feel free to share this. And feel free to mention some other things that would be expected of a typical middle class family, that many who think they are middle class, actually can't afford.
After I wrote this, I thought back on a New York Times article I had read a month or so back. It had come on the heels of a study on how much was the minimal necessary for a family to be able to not just "meet basic needs without relying on public subsidies" but also to know the "thresholds for economic stability rather than mere survival, and takes into account saving for retirement and emergencies."
Many Low-Wage Jobs Seen as Failing to Meet Basic Needs
"According to the report, a single worker needs an income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour."
"…and a family with two working parents and two young children needs to earn $67,920 a year, or about $16 an hour per worker. That compares with the national poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four."
Obviously, the thresholds from the study don't factor in luxuries like vacations and a lot of other things. But it does factor in saving for a down payment on a home, an emergency fund, children's college, etc.