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Should A Family of Four Be Able to Live Off $111,000 Per Year?

September 1, 2010 · 91 comments

in Commentary, Personal Finance

I was reading an article on CNNMoney.com the other day, and the family being profiled was contemplating a reduction in work hours for mom.  The question was, could the family afford it?

Here is the breakdown:

The family has 2 children.  Dad makes $78,000 and mom would be reduced to $32,600 annually.  That would make a combined income of $110,600.  On the surface, it certainly doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to get by on over 100k per year.  Not to mention, their day care expenses would be reduced by $500 per month if mom works part-time.  However, it may not be so easy…

The reason it may be difficult to live off  that sum of money is stated in this quote from the article:   “Her employer will let her go half-time for half pay: $32,600. But is that enough — along with the $78,000 that Shawn, 33, earns as an assistant principal — to support their lifestyle?”

What jumped out at me was the ‘support their lifestyle’ comment.

In my opinion, it is the ‘lifestyle’ that is harming our economy.  The family in this article has the typical debts, home, car, credit card.  However, they also have a home-equity loan that is at a ridiculous 7.8 percent interest rate.  Plus, the loan is for $63,000, which is quite a large amount.  Now, I have no idea what they used this money for, but it seems like perhaps they fell into the same trap that many have by over-tapping the ‘equity’ in their home.   They are now paying the piper by being strangled by this debt.

The author of the article then stated the family would need to reduce their debt by $500 a month and cut their expenses by $1300 per month for the ‘part time’ plan to work, which is more than the family ‘bargained for’.  The mom stated  they will have to ‘really think about it’.  Well, to me, it is shocking that a family of four cannot make it on $111,000 per year.  Perhaps they should have ‘really thought about it’ before they bought their current home, or took out a large home equity loan?

I don’t mean to be so critical, but this family is really bringing in a lot of money.   However, the issue appears to be that they dug themselves into a hole and overspent in the first place.   Now they are stuck with possibly not being able to live the life they wanted (with mom spending more time with the kids) because of their life choices.  That is the point – decisions have consequences, some good, some bad.

So, am I being overly critical of this family?   Are you as surprised as I am that a family of four would struggle to live on $111,000 a year?

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{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Leigh September 1, 2010 at 7:40 am

It depends greatly on where these people live as to whether this is a comfortable income or not. But by the sound of it, this family wants to “live the dream” of a McMansion, two SUVs, and all the unnecessary crap money can buy.

Since they haven’t caught on that the winds of change started blowing a long time back, I’d say leave it to Darwin. They’ll eventually learn the hard way.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 10:18 am

Leigh – it is very true that a lot depends on where they live. I wish they would have provided that info. However, I would think that if they lived in NY, LA, etc that it would have been pointed out in the article. I just it as they had basically 2 mortgages and had put themselves into a bad position, but I could be wrong.

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Ed Burns September 1, 2010 at 8:13 am

I don’t think you are being critical at all. As with most Americans, “the borrower is slave to the lender”. If they were debt-free,(minus the original mortgage), I’m sure they would be fine with the reduction in hours/wages.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 10:19 am

Ed – Thanks for the comment. I don’t get where it is so hard when you consider they would be saving 500 dollars a month on daycare. That is 6k/year, which would be around like $7500 or whatever of gross income. So really, they weren’t giving up that much income.

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Nicole September 1, 2010 at 8:33 am

This is one of those situations in which the family should have read All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi before getting into those fixed obligations. Chances are they are at more than 50% “must haves.” Right now it’s probably too difficult to sell the house and recoup enough to make things work.

Now, we would have a difficult time living the life we have become accustomed (or more to the point, saving for future goals to the extent we have become accustomed) to on 111K/year in a few areas of the country… Los Angeles, the Bay area, Boston, NYC. Now that we have a kid we’re not so willing to live in an apartment with broken heating and water that gets too hot. That drives up rent alone to something like 3K/month, possibly more. Then there’s more state and local taxes in those areas than we currently have. So that’s one reason DH hasn’t seriously tried to get a job at Google yet… I would most likely have to change careers completely as there’s not a whole lot of call for PhDs in my field in the bay area outside of Stanford or a very long commute for small pay. (And if I could get a job at Stanford I could do anything I wanted professionally… not gonna happen anytime soon.)

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

Nicole, I agree that location would be a big factor. However, the focus of the article seemed to be more about their bills than the cost of living where they do. As I mentioned in a different comment, they would save a ton on daycare, and probably other things if mom reduced her hours, so it sounds more like they need to decide if they want to live somewhat frugally or not.

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Squirrelers.com September 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

They should think about NEEDS and not wants. If they can’t live the “lifestyle” they want, they should work on their careers big time to earn more. A better approach, in my opinion, is for them to look at their income and THEN choose the lifestyle that fits what they currently earn. Nothing wrong with aspiring to nice things, but they have to be realistic about what they earn.

On a separate note, I could see how in some locations their income won’t get them far, such as San Francisco or Manhattan.

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Car Negotiation Coach September 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

Right on Squirrelers! Think about NEEDS and not wants. There are many ways to live off that much money, you may just have to cut-back in a few areas. Granted, 100k isn’t what it used to be, it’s still well above the poverty level and the mean US income.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 10:23 am

Squirreler – I do wish location was noted in the article. I did get the impression that lifestyle and debt were the impediments to going part time. I guess what one person views as a want may be a ‘need’ to others, and maybe they fall into that group…

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Mysti September 1, 2010 at 9:37 am

We are a family of 4, with a special needs child….and the total between our 3 jobs is about 83k. We make our mortgage, are paying down over 70k in debt.

I agree, support their lifestyle is the problem. Probably not. But if we were making 111k, I could be debt free in like 15 months!!!

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

Mysti – isn’t it amazing how when you look at someone else’s situation you just think ‘what are they doing???’.

It sounds like you have a lot to focus on, and are working incredibly hard to make it all work. I hope that one day you can cut that down to 2 jobs, or even 1!

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Budgeting in the Fun Stuff September 1, 2010 at 10:38 am

Yep, just another dumb set of adults that have gotten in over their heads and want to whine about it. But maybe I’m in a judgemental mood today…

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 11:03 am

BFS – not being judgmental. People make choices, but they have to live with the consequences. If they wanted to have a certain ‘lifestyle’, then they have to understand that they have to work for that lifestyle.

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Susan September 1, 2010 at 10:50 am

Plain and simple, it is a CHOICE and whether they choose to suck it up to make family more of a priority rather than stuff…..well, like I said it is a choice. To spend more time at home with your kids and not pay someone else to care for them – DUH! Priorities sound kinda messed up if you ask me – but that is just me!

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 11:02 am

Susan, it is just me then too, because I just do not get it!

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Little House September 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The key to all of this is their lifestyle choice. It sounds like the mom could still go to half-time, but they’d have to make some sacrifices in order to do so. And what I’m gathering from this is they don’t want to sacrifice anything; they want the same lifestyle with a little less income. They need a reality check and a quick course on budgeting and paying down debt.

There’s an idea, offer classes for couples who’ve been trying to “Keep up with the Joneses” and help them navigate their way out of their own lifestyle!

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Good idea Little House! You are right, the article made it seem like going part time was a good idea, but they would have to ‘think about it’ when it came to altering their lifestyle. Like I said earlier, it seems like they should have been thinking much sooner.

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Suba @ Wealth Informatics September 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Saw the article in money magazine, that one had a lot more detail I think. Not sure it mentioned their city.

Other people have said it already, but they should have really mentioned something about the cost of living. In LA if we buy a 2 bedroom home in a decent neighborhood it might go over our budget very easily. But they made a choice to buy a home, so if they want to stay at home with the kids, they have to make some changes to make it work. And regarding the high end membership and dinners… if the gym membership is their only vice and splurge on dinner means going out once/twice a month, I don’t know if it is that bad… Whatever may the case, their debt is too high.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Suba, I agree, it was a big omission for the article not NOT include the city they lived in.

However, to me it sounded like the debt was what was hindering them more than anything.

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Steph September 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm

$111,000 for four people. Could we do it it in our area? Yes. It would mean a very modest house and owning a single car for the family. It would mean budgeting and doing without a few things. My family of three(and some pets) are living on much less, in a one bedroom place with one vehicle. (granted we have some debt and once that is paid off we could live quite comfortably.)
The family in the article might do better if she quit altogether. It would mean saving on the second car, lunches, and work clothes, plus the rest of the daycare.
Lifestyle inflation holds alot of people back. I just shake my head.
I can’t wait until we are bringing in 111,000 in a few years.
Their home equity loan is probably killing them. A renovation for an unnessecary revamp perhaps?

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Steph, I have no idea what they used that big home equity loan for. Instead of enjoying their ‘lifestyle’, they should have been focusing on paying off that debt when mom was working full time in the first place.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely September 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I don’t think you are being too critical. $110k is a very nice income, and unless you are living in Manhattan I think it should be very easy to get by.

These people should suck it up, make some sacrifices and cut down their expenses, and stop expecting “Daddy” or “Uncle Sam” to come by with dollars pilfered from other pockets.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely September 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

For the last sentence, I don’t mean this couple in particular; I just mean that it bothers me in general when people who are making a decent income expect handouts because they would rather others sacrifice instead of them.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Kevin, but everyone now wants a bailout, it is the ‘in’ thing to do!

If I were that family, I would be embarrassed to say we could not make it on $111,000. However, sometimes you need people from the outside to tell you how things really are.

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Sandy L September 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I personally wouldn’t do it unless my debts were paid off. Heck, I don’t have any debts and my husband and I are both still working full time. It isn’t always easy, but it really seems hard to walk away from a good job because it’s sometimes tricky to juggle everything at once.

However, if I were offered a 20 hour a week job at 1/2 the pay I currently make, I’d jump all over it. I don’t have any debt though and the last bit of mortgage we have will be gone by Jan. Plus, daycare is my biggest out of pocket expense.

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Kris September 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Sandy – I would be surprised if she went part time because it appears they are in debt for a reason – their spending habits. It would be a lot to change all at once.

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Money Reasons September 1, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I think they should be able to adjust,if they want too. I guess it all comes down to what is important to them… I bet they’ve never been frugal before in their life!

I think they should read some of our blogs, then they could learn to cope on only $111,000 a year 😉

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The Biz of Life September 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm

It all comes down to money management like anything else. You can’t give the kids or Mom and Dad everything their little hearts desire. Unless they live in NY or San Fran $110K should be more than sufficient if they control their impulses to spend stupidly.

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Vitaeus September 2, 2010 at 4:10 am

gee, spend more time with your kids, that isn’t a think about it, that is the better choice. Of course they would likely have to sacrifice their “lifestyle”. Maybe, they should have been looking at their “lifestyle” a bit sooner.

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Funny about Money September 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

It’s kind of arrogant to assume they’re not living modestly when we don’t know where they live. If they prefer to live in one of the sophisticated coastal cities or in a cultural center like Minneapolis or Chicago, $110,000 might just barely keep them in the middle class. Especially if the public schools are inadequate, as they often are no matter where you live in this country.

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Freedom Journey September 4, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Just the title of your post was enough to make my blood boil. A family *should* be able to live off much more than $111,000. But someone making $20,000/yr probably thinks our $40,000/yr is rolling in the dough. Lifestyle inflation through debt is the bane of all good things. Grrrr…

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Julie September 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Ugh. That is all I have to say. I have to admit that it would be difficult for me to give up the peace of mind of putting a huge chunk of money into savings if I were to quit my job, but I cannot fathom how a family of 4 cannot live on 110K a year. I honestly don’t think I can force myself to spend that much on our needs. Savings are a different ball of wax altogether, though.

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Khaleef @ KNS Financial September 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I can’t believe that even with the increased focus on frugality (it’s almost becoming a fad) in this country, that I am still reading about this.

They should feel horrible about their situation. They are going to save tons of money of childcare and probably other things as well (more time to prepare meals, transportation, wardrobe upkeep, etc)! I bet that if they sat down with a financial advisor, they would find so many holes in their spending!

And I can’t imagine that a responsible family of 4 couldn’t live off of this money in ANY normal city in this country – obviously excluding the exclusive, wealthy towns.

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Kris September 7, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Khaleef – I keep thinking back to location with this home. I am guessing it is not LA or NY because there current salary would not have been enough in those areas to live real comfortably.

I wonder if they regret being featured in that article.

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The Saved Quarter September 16, 2010 at 1:48 am

I love that one of the comments on that article is the following:

“I feel really bad for this family, having to make such sacrifices just to survive. No one, and I mean no one should ever have to give up their high-end gym memberships.”

Haha! Like you, I noticed the “support their lifestyle” comment right off the bat. Perhaps, in order to live the life they want, they’ll need to adjust their idea of what is truly necessary and make choices that alter their lifestyle. A less expensive car, cut premium channels on cable, shop coupons and sales, eat at home, drop the high-end gym membership in favor of the YMCA. It’s not so hard, and $111k is certainly not skimping by in most of the country!

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Kris September 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

Saved Quarter – I totally agree with you. There are very few things that cannot be cut from a budget: mortgage/rent, taxes, insurance, food, and probably are car payment. Oh, and utilities. Everything else can be viewed as extra. However, I am sure some people have a longer list of what is ‘required’.

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