Did Michelle Singletary Go Too Easy On Mr. Richie Rich?

singletarysays.jpgMichelle 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?

Topics: Personal Finance

7 Responses to “Did Michelle Singletary Go Too Easy On Mr. Richie Rich?”

  1. Mr. Richie Rich is not a whiner. He is poor at prioritizing his spending and in short he is an American. He is doing a nice job saving for retirement (15% in thrift is awesome that works out to over 20K per year with the match per spouse) but only because he has made that automatic. If he were to do that with the rest of his finances I think he would find money to save.

  2. I definitely think that these finance problems are all relative. I got into a financial mess because I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with my money. It just so happened that my salary was closer to $40K than $200K so I dug a financial hole that matched my income level. It would be hypocritical for me to say that I would have done better had I earned $200K. I only would have dug a bigger hole!

  3. Rob In Madrid

    I’ve always said that earning more won’t make a difference. Earn more spend more. Simple, besides that I’d say the problem is two fold. Big expensive house. And two private education. They could save alot of money by renting rather than owning (google millionaire mom next door for more on that). Still get the big fancy house at half the cost or less.

    As mentioned they do put alot of money into savings but you have to wonder what would happened if one of them lost there jobs.

    BTW how do average slobs like us survive on a mere 100 grand a year, I’ll never know

  4. I don’t think he’s a whiner just because he asked for some advice. The fact is that he is saving in the TSP so that’s a good start. I’m not sure why he needed to ask anyone how to save money since it’s pretty obvious he has to make some cuts.

    Hopefully he took the advice and is doing something about it.


  5. Rob In Madrid, your comment about renting versus buying is an interesting one. From everything I’ve read and studied, buying is usually the better option in the long term, although renting would typically lower your monthly expenses in the short term.

  6. Rob In Madrid

    The main point of people who advocate renting over owning (even a paid for home in retirement) is that people underestimate the cost of home ownership. When you compare the two side by side (paid for home vs rental home) the rental always comes out ahead. Investing the difference will gain you more long term.

    This makes more sense if you live in an area where the price of housing is insane. Usually rents are half or less the cost of a mortgage (even with a large downpayment)

    For my wife and I renting makes more sense becuase we don’t know where we will be long term and the cost of buying a house (about 300,00 euros) would earn enough interest to pay rent. But our situation is unique

    Having said that, for most people (I’d say 90%)buying a house combinded with frugal living is the most sure path to financial freedom. There is really no risk to living well below your means. You maynot become “wealthy” but you be wealthy in many other ways.

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