Michelle Singletary writes a weekly column for the Washington Post called The Color of Money. I’ve always enjoyed her writing because I find it to be so practical. Yesterday she wrote an article called, Too Rich To Be Poor-Mouthing, which discussed her readers’ reactions to a couple struggling to save a little extra on a $200,000+ family income. Here’s what Mr. Richie Rich (my name for him, not Michelle’s) had to say:
My wife and I both have “good gub’ment jobs. We both earn low six figures. We have just under half a million in TSP [Thrift Savings Plan, the retirement program for federal employees]. We have two kids in private school and one on the way. But we spend so much money on all of these things–tithing (non-negotiable), 15 percent TSP, private school, etc., that we don’t have a penny saved for a rainy day or life happens [fund].
Michelle saw this question as a simple budget issue and suggested that the couple could find ways to cut back in order to save for emergencies. Frankly, I think her response was the right one. Just because somebody makes well above the average income doesn’t mean they don’t have legitimate money issues from time to time. The response from some of her readers, however, was less accommodating:
Those of you “struggling” on $200,000 a year just need to think about how you would make ends meet if you only had $40,000 a year. As far as I’m concerned once you get into the six figures, you’ve lost your right to complain about money unless you’ve suffered a catastrophic emergency.
Expecting a private school [education] for your kids when most families do not have that luxury is self-centered
I don’t think they’re trying at all and you were very easy on them!
I came away from this exchange thinking three things:
- With the exception of those living near or below the poverty level, making more money will not make it easier to live below your means. I know most think it will, and at times I’ve found myself thinking how “easy” it would be if I could just make 10% more. Having at times made a little and at other times a lot, I can tell you that the capacity for most of us to find new and creative ways to spend more money is limitless.
- Financial satisfaction for most comes when they make or have just a little bit more than their neighbors. Let’s face it, we compare ourselves financially to our neighbors, our co-workers and our families. I was struck by the one reader comment that referenced making $40,000 per year. It would undoubtedly be difficult to make ends meet on that salary if it supported a family of four. Compared to Mr. Richie Rich making $200,000, $40,000 isn’t a lot. But what about compared to most people in the world? How would the lifestyle that $40,000 a year can buy in the U.S. compare to the vast majority of the world’s population?
- So many of us, myself included, have forgotten what real financial sacrifice looks or feels like. I certainly remember the sacrifices and pain my family went through when I was a child, which you can read about here, but that was a long time ago. I can’t help but wonder if real contentment comes to those who learn to live a fully satisfied life with as few material burdens as possible.
So what do you think? Is Mr. Richie Rich a whiner? Are the readers just jealous?
Published or updated February 14, 2013.