Money Mic: Why You’re Not Actually Poor


People have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, LearnVest reader Kimberlee Stiens explains what she thinks it means to actually be poor–and why most of us aren’t.

I am sick of hearing about the trials and tribulations of the middle class.

Politicians constantly talk about strengthening the middle class (which is shrinking) or accuse their opponents of waging war on it, when I think the middle class, on the whole, has little cause to complain.

I’ve seen women here on LearnVest and in my daily life complain about making $40,000 a year, saying that’s not enough to support themselves (to which I would add: “in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed”).

The poverty line in America is $22,350 a year … for a family of four. In 2010, a full 15% of Americans lived below this threshold. Most American adults will live below that threshold for at least one year of their lives.

That’s why I think we need to change the way we talk about being “poor” or “middle class.”

I Know Because I Grew Up Poor

I became middle class for the first time ever only about a year ago. I grew up fairly poor, my father being generally unable to keep a job and my mother not having legal standing to work in this country. (Complicated story, but she’s Canadian and only recently got U.S. residency–I think she always intended to go back there.) I graduated college with some $60,000 in student loans and a temporary internship position for a congressional campaign paying $250 a week. At least it came with free housing.

I graduated with a degree in political science and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but was mostly looking for admin office jobs. When I started college, I harbored the same illusions as the rest of my graduating class: We were freshmen in 2004, when almost all undergrads could count on getting a job after graduation, and we finished college in the middle of the Great Recession.

After the congressional campaign, I worked at a fast food restaurant for two years while constantly applying for office jobs. I made no more than $10 an hour, with no benefits. So when I managed to get an internship in Washington, D.C. working for the Marijuana Policy Project, I jumped on it. I worked for $9 an hour until I was promoted to my first full-time, salaried position as a membership assistant, at $35,000 a year, with paid vacation and health benefits.

Finally, at age 25, I was middle class, but I didn’t know it yet.

It’s Our Choices That Define Us

I work at a non-profit, a sector where salaries are notoriously “low.” Yet most of my peers here make at least $30,000 yearly. We all have health care and other benefits.

After I started my job, I realized that, for the first time, my life was no longer about what I could and couldn’t afford. It was about how I chose to spend my money. I could no longer blame the externalities of a cruel world for keeping me down.

Now I’m the office manager and executive assistant to our executive director at the same organization where I had my first internship. I make $39,000 a year (I negotiated my raise!), and live in Washington, DC, one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. I’m paying off my student loans, and I’m doing fine.

Given that I encounter more than one panhandler on my walk to work each day, it seems delusional that anyone complains that $35,000 a year makes them “poor.” I live in D.C. and work on the Hill, where there’s a culture of made-up poverty. Many staffers work long hours and live in shared housing, but they all tend to make salaries of at least $25,000 with health benefits (and they have plenty of opportunity to move up after they put in their time!). Everyone complains about being poor, but then goes out to drinks each week.

It’s not that they have it easy. They just don’t understand how much easier they have it than some.

Try Another Perspective

I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s experience. I know that dipping below a standard of living you’ve always enjoyed will feel pretty crappy. My point is that, comparatively speaking, it’s not actually all that crappy. Many middle class people, particularly those who have never really been poor, don’t seem to see that there’s a whole other side to the economy that they never experience, like this writer who struggles to pay for friends’ weddings. I’ve met people who have spent 20 years in food service, with no health care, no bonuses and usually kids to support.

There are middle class people who say they just can’t live in D.C. or New York City on $40,000 a year, but there are also people in those same places living on minimum wage. Take a look at the invisible people around you who make your life tick–your cleaners, the person making your drinks, your interns–and imagine how they make ends meet.

It’s a choice that you make to feel disadvantaged. If you make $33,000 a year, the truth is, you are actually in the top 50% of wage-earners.

Everyone can, and should, do a little more to manage their finances better. And while studies may show that we don’t feel truly comfortable or secure in our finances until we reach between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, it’s a bit dramatic for people to feel anything other than lucky when depositing their salaried paychecks.

Kim lives in Washington, DC where she works as an office manager for a medium-sized non-profit. She blogs at Business for Good, not Evil.



  • Alexis Greenwood

    Very well-written: you said what you wanted to say quite tactfully. I should be more mindful of how often I deplore my own financial situation. I don’t make quite 40k, but I go out every week, more than once a week, take trips, drink americanos from hipster coffee shops, and buy clothes. I am very blessed- thank you for the reminder.

  • Jane Jetson

    It’s about choices, but only if you have choices.  I think she is saying that people who think they are poor but make what she deems to be a decent income are not actually poor.  They can make choices; keep the house or get a smaller apartment, same goes for car, school etc.  They just may not realize such choices exist for them.  

    People below the poverty line (and it doesn’t have to be the exact official number), which is actual, not relative, simply don’t have these choices because every dollar they have is devoted to getting by.  Food, rent, kids, transportation, health care all cost money and if you are poor you do not generally have enough to cover these bases, even with all the wonderful government programs that are supposedly available.  I too have seen poverty where kids eat out of garbage dumps and have never seen a dentist.  It is heartbreaking.  

    The take-away for me is a reality check and gratitude.  Most people here would call a person making a decent salary but complaining she cannot afford certain things a spoiled brat.  We in the middle class making the kind of money (a living wage above the poverty line) are closer to the “decent salary complainer” than we are to actual poverty.  Of course, a few bad breaks such as loss of a job, health care or another big hit could plunge a person in either the high or lower wage middle class into real poverty.

  • Therebythegraceofgod2012

    We all want to think that we will continue experiencing life in the same way we are living it at the time. If there’s a way to live on half of your income or even zero income and you’ve done this, that information might be helpful to us readers. Then, let’s talk. However, if you’ve never had to UNEXPECTEDLY live on even half your income, you’ve never realized how fleeting financial security can be.

    I made 23k when I started my career. I lived in a city with a roommate and I felt fine because I graduated college without school loans.

    I also didn’t mind eating baked potatoes for dinner every night. I want my child to eat better and I want, truly, simple things for my child. 

    Fast forward years ahead – my wages have not kept up with inflation and I can’t move out of my school district because I don’t have the extra money to do that. Believe me, I don’t want to move to a “rich” town but the powers that be are quite happy that we don’t have resources for our school district.

    I wish an editor had looked at this for tone first because there is some good perspective in it. You (the writer or anyone) just never know what one person means when they cry “poor” or “broke.” And you don’t know if they are the same people who scoff at those below federal poverty guidelines. They are not always one and the same. Maybe this article was refreshing to some because in some of these articles, people are crying poor when they are not, but there are people in the general population who are already evolved enough to not feel “disadvantaged” if if they are struggling financially yet realize there are those living on even less.

    Also, I was in intern once. I ran out of gas on the highway trying to get to my intern assignment. I have taken low wage jobs. This article needed a disclaimer at the top because I was certainly not the audience for it. 

  • I didn’t grow up poor, but my family wasn’t as well off as some of the families in my neighborhood, so sometimes it felt like it. I know enough now to know that I had it pretty good. 

    After I graduated from college (in 2006, which was technically before the Great Recession, but I was in Michigan so… not really), I found myself in a very similar position to the author: I worked a series of food services and retail jobs, trying to find work in an office and never making more than $10 an hour.  During that time, I was a little closer to the poverty line than I would have liked, but I was living with my boyfriend, and he was also making $10-$12 an hour, so really, we were doing okay.Now I live in Denver, work for the state government, and make $25,000 a year, plus benefits and a free bus pass, which I use every day.  Would I like to be making more than an “intern’s salary”? Sure, of course, who wouldn’t?  But am I poor? No, not by a long shot, especially when you add in my husband’s salary. We don’t get to do everything we want, and I have to take out some (more) student loans to help pay for going back to school to get my Masters degree, but we can regularly put food on table, and it’s been years since I worried about overdrawing my account.So yeah, I think we in the middle class need to be a little more careful about how we throw around terms like “poor,” even hyperbolically.  This article is a good start.

    • ranavain

      Thank you! I really like when you mention that it’s been years since you worried about over-drafting your account. That’s actually one of the main things that made me realize that I’m doing quite well… there was a time when having $300 in my checking account was great, no worries, and now I’m *terrified* when it’s that low, because I’m used to more padding than that!

      It just made me realize that while I escaped the financial realm where over-drafting my account was a distinct possibility, many many others have not, and I feel so much better about my life!

      • FaithnHope

        “I feel so much better about my life!” For the love of god, this tone is seeping into each and everyone of the comments you write as well.

        show less

  • Samantha Dear

    Thank you – I couldn’t believe that woman who wrote about the pain of not being able to go to all her friend’s weddings, AND all the comments from ladies who ‘felt her pain’.

    Have these women never had to make tough choices for themselves? Or were they never taught that it’s ok to say no? It’s fun to go to parties, yes, but there are so many other things to do in life.I lived in NYC (Manhattan) for two years on around $24,000 a year and had a blast. Yes, it can be uncomfortable at times, but it’s totally possible – I know, I did it! I did rack up a bit of credit card debt, I’ll admit, but I made that choice knowing that I’d be able to commit to paying it off in the future (and I am).Agreed, it’s all about the choices. I create and stick to a budget, and there is still tons of opportunity to have fun. It just may not be expensive fun. I made enough to pay the essential bills and occasionally even bought clothes and went out for sushi!

    I was also very lucky, yes, I didn’t have a medical crisis (nor did I have health insurance), but I knew the clinic to go to if I needed assistance with medical care costs. And I made choices – not to buy a house, not to have children or get married, not to buy a Vespa (I really wanted one!), and only to travel if I could get other people to pay my way or if I could save up the amount / get a deal on a flight (easily done many times).

    Right now I live in LA and am making more money – but owe more in debt and student loans, so I’m again making choices. I’m wearing clothes I’ve worn for years, living with a roommate instead of alone, and selling things I don’t need or use. Plus, I work side jobs after my full time job to earn more cash.

    We can do it – that is, we can enjoy life and see ourselves as ‘well-off’ if we choose to. :)

  • LetsBeReasonable

    My biggest problem with this article is the tone in which it was written. Ms. Stiens is a bit too judgmental and condescending for her own good. It’s fairly obvious to most people that their circumstances could always be worse, and that we should all be thankful for everything we have because we could have nothing at all and truly be struggling.

    I think the argument most middle-class earners have is that their wage is well above the poverty level, something that they’re thankful for and realize, but basic life expenses don’t reflect that fact. In a metro area such as Chicago, a basic studio apartment can run you $900/month in rent alone. That’s $10,800/year. If you make $35,000 with some health benefits, a respectable compensation, you’re forced by the outside market to spend about a third of your yearly earnings on shelter alone. That doesn’t even include keeping it warm in the winter or turning on the lights. As others have said here, it’s not that people across the board (there are always exceptions, but we’re not talking about them here) feel entitled to more than they deserve or more than what’s within reason for their earnings, it’s that to have a very basic lifestyle in most places, it costs more than what the average middle class worker makes.

    No one doubts they could have it worse or that other people do. But is it inherently bad and ungrateful to feel frustrated by and a little “poor” as a result of this situation?

  • Nlane

    With all due respect, I completely disagree. Just because you live above what the federal government defines as the poverty line for the United States does NOT mean that you are not poor.

    Like me the author lives in Washington DC where the price of everything is MUCH higher than other areas of the country. For instance gas in the area currently ranges from $3.85 (Alexandria suburbs) to $4.17 (Bethesda) to  $4.29 (downtown DC). Not to mention that the average 1 bedroom apartment in DC is $1200 PLUS utilites and I’m lowballing that number. I live 1 mile from the Metro (our public transportation system) and I still pay $866 per month + utilities for a room in an outdated house that I share with 2 other girls. It would have been well over $1000 to rent a room if I lived closer to public transportation.

    Being poor is based on how an individual feels rather than what someone else decides. If I can not afford to buy a house or live in a safe neighborhood in the particular city in which I reside I consider that poor. Wake up… poor isn’t ONE number SET in stone! It’s based the local standard of living.

    • ranavain

      When I first moved to the area, I lived up in Maryland one mile from the Metro, working as an intern for $9 an hour, renting a room in a group home (someone renting rooms in their basement). I did not feel particularly poor then, either, though I make far more now. (And I’m not sure why gas prices are relevant if you live a mile from metro? I mean, its obviously an individual choice to own a car or not, but if you live that close to Metro, I can’t imagine why you’d want the expense and hassle of a car in the DC area).

      I don’t understand this telling me to “wake up.” We live in the same city and have lived in very similar circumstances (I pay more for rent in my apartment in the city than the $1200 you cite above). And I don’t feel poor. At all.

      Whether or not you can buy a house is a really, really bad barometer for poverty! Especially when you think of how many people in the past few years have bought houses they cannot afford.

      • Financial responsibility

        Can you take any constructive criticism? You are going to turn more people off from LearnVest with your continual short-sighted replies than your original article did.

        • ranavain

           I can take all the criticism you wanna dish out! :) But I do feel that if you’re allowed to say it, I’m allowed to respond to it!

          One of my favorite things about LearnVest is that the authors of the articles are willing to engage with their critics in the comments. It keeps both writers and commenters accountable. So I intend to fully engage in the debate here!

          • Financial responsibility

            Your responses have lacked empathy and reflection.

          • guest

            calling the kettle black I see.

          • Financial responsibility

            Guest, search for my original posts and read ranavain’s responses to them.

        • Ckedwards23

          One of the things I always enjoy about LearnVest is the fact that authors participate in the commentary, even when people are saying really asinine things that reveal just how much they’ve missed the point of the original piece. 

          • ina


      • tilbury

        Gas prices are relevant to show what the cost of living in the DC area is like. 

        What is your barometer for poor? Those panhandlers on the way to the metro? I also live in DC and I make exactly $33k/yr before taxes. I spend my salary on my apartment – $700 for a small bedroom in a rundown 2 bdrm apt, utilities – which we both know can be ridiculously expensive because Pepco is the worst ever, and my student loans – outrageously high because i went to private school (when I started college, it was before the depression, and I did not plan to be so underemployed for so long. And neither did anyone else). What is left over is a few hundred dollars for groceries, clothes, other necessities, and entertainment. I have no savings. I don’t go out or eat out often at all. I am barely scraping by, but because I am not panhandling, I am not poor? I can’t afford to take my cat to the vet, I can’t afford to get my car fixed, but I can afford the things that allow me to barely survive, so I am not poor?

        Your article was poorly written and the tone was condescending. I think your thesis could be very interesting, but you went about it in the wrong way. 

        • Reni

          Barely scraping by = not being able to take your cat to the vet? Why would you get a cat if you can’t afford it? That is unfair to both yourself and the cat.

          All the things you are complaining about are lifestyle choices (not basic needs) that you can change if you are serious about making tough financial decisions in your life (where you live, going to an expensive private school when you could’ve gone to state school). Poverty is “the inability to satisfy one’s basic needs because one lacks income to buy services or from lack of access to services.” (wikipedia)I agree that the article was a bit condescending, but more importantly I agree with the author about how our perception of what it means to be poor is very skewed, especially as Americans. I have student loan debt and I pay a hefty price to live in Brooklyn, but I take personal responsibility for these choices by adjusting my budget accordingly and finding creative ways to have fun with friends and live my richest life on a shoestring budget.There are places in the world where a majority of the country’s population lives on less than $2 A DAY. Just sayin’

      • crafteecik82

        I know this is old, but do you not live with your boyfriend of 8 years? Wouldn’t that not make your rent ofover $1200 per month more affordable?

        $1200 per month PLUS utilities is not affordable on $39,000 per year - but it is on $80,000.

    • Ckedwards23

      Not an “outdated” house! You poor thing. And you live a whole mile from the metro? How do you deal? 


      I think the point that she’s making is that we let our expenses define what we think of as poverty instead of our income. Expenses can change based on our priorities and how we spend our money. We (20-somethings) CHOOSE to rack up 200K getting a degree in art history from Harvard, knowing we’re going to work as an admin at a nonprofit and won’t make 40K/yr. We CHOOSE to go out every weekend and spend 150 on drinks. CHOOSE to live in the trendy neighborhood with a roommate and spend 800 to share that 1 bedroom. We CHOOSE to take a week long trip to Paris because after all we worked hard and deserve it. We buy that Hermes bag for the same reason. 
      What we should do is let our income determine our expenses and not the other way around. Maybe we have a roommate but move outside the city with reasonable access to public trans (like I did). Maybe we go to a state university that offered us the scholarship because no one cares where we went to college as long as we went. Maybe we rotate parties at our cozy apartments and everyone brings drinks because it’s cheaper anyway. And go thrifting because spending $30 on a coach bag is within budget. Yes sometimes I want to say screw it and head for Europe, but saving for my own home is more important to me. I worked hard for my income and still have a hard time believing how much I make. Do I want (and deserve!) more? Hell yes I do! But for all of my whining I know I have food to eat. A warm place to sleep. And that is so much more than some people have.

    • cp

      i think it’s more of a grey area, actually. i live in the SF bay area and it sounds like it’s more expensive than DC. i by no means am rolling in dough, but i am not poor. studios in a crappier part of town are about $1200 here. one bedrooms are probably up to at least $1600 now.

      i think of poor as more like, NOT being able to shop for clothes anywhere but a thrift store or wal-mart. only buying the cheapest (and often least healthy) food available. you and i might be struggling a bit, but i don’t think we’re poor. i come from an area in central CA with real poverty-people living in near-shacks. that’s poor. not to put down your comment, just trying to offer some perspective, that’s all…

  • FaithnHope
    • FaithnHope

      People might not want to click on that because it was just solely a link I put up there, but you should check it out. It shows how hard it is to end up with a non-negative balance each month even when you are working hard. 

      And, while every income level (especially the 30k to 50k levels) is not represented, it shows how even when you move far away from a city, you are not saving as much as you thought you were. 

      The more you experience in life, the more you see how hard it is to make financial decisions and having a higher income only makes things better up to a point. 

      I might not have those wedding struggles the one author posted about but I struggled to afford the weddings of my very close family members. I feel that I don’t run in these free-flowing, spendy circles so I wouldn’t even have enough friends to be invited to their weddings. I think this article should have been a direct response to the wedding article or other articles without presuming that the author could speak to so many others. Those of us selectively reading a personal finance site have the perspective the author is begging others to have. And, preaching to the choir is one thing, but upfront denigrating readers or being presumptuous with them is another.

  • samoas

    I understand the point the author is trying to make.  My husband and I are 45 and 47.  Coincidently, we were poor newlyweds in DC and we spent many nights in our 900 square ft apartment  drinking cheap beer with our friends.  We avoided the expensive capitol hill hangouts b/c we felt we couldn’t afford them.  Twenty years and 3 kids later, we can well afford to travel, which we do quite often.  When we are out in trendy bars and restaurants in these exciting cities, we hold our noses and pay $14 for a beer.  However, we always notice the crowds of very young professionals throwing back trendy drinks.  How do they afford it?  Don’t tell me all of them have rich parents. 

  • usagirl

    I don’t know what Kim’s situation is, but a young, healthy, single person with no children can live on much less than a person with children, or health issues.

  • roma

    We have certainly raised the bar on what it means to be “middle class.” I grew up working class/middle class – no one ever heard of designer clothing or shoes for children or teens; roller skates went onto your shoes and were adjustable – one pair lasted years (not like shoe skates); no one’s home looked like a magazine spread in Better Homes & Gardens; no one had a new car; no one had a lawn service, or cleaning lady, or got their nails done (let alone “tips”) or ate out more than, say, once a year. If you were lucky you only had to share your room with one sibling, not two. You had the same bike for most of your childhood. Instead of computers and video games you played with a Pensy Pinky and a broom stick. I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in during the 50′s and 60′s, it’s still considered to be working class/middle class and I can’t get over the changes!

  • I really enjoyed this article. I’m a recent college grad who grew up in the middle class. I live in a borough of NYC (which, in case you couldn’t guess, is more expensive than DC, at least when it comes to rent) and make less than $30k a year (by choice – because I’m trying to start my own business(es) I took a number of part-time and freelance jobs instead of looking for a full-time one). 
    Ever since I read the Tiny House article on here ( I’ve been really inspired to make do with less and make more conscious choices about what I value (time? money? experiences?) as I begin to lay some foundations for the rest of my life. This was a good reminder to step back from the consumerism and really decide what kind of life and attitude I want to have. 

  • Guest

    I completely understand where this offer is coming from and agree that many people consider themselves “poor” because they are unwilling to make adjustments to their lifestyle. However I do feel that this author fails to recognize that different people living in different places have very different circumstances as well as the fact that a number the government gives out can’t necessarily define your situation. For example, I grew up in one of the wealthiest towns in the US (we lived there becasue it was one of the safest places to live and had great public schools) and my parents probably made at least $150,000 a year (they both worked full time owning their own businesses) but that doesn’t mean we never struggled. At one point we could barely pay our grocery bill, almost lost our house and couldn’t live the way some of our friends did. By now you’re probably thinking that my parents were frivolous spenders that spoiled us rotten, but that’s not the case. My sister went to a college that didn’t offer scholarships above a certain income level, so that cost us around $52,000 a year, I wore hand me downs and clothes form a local consignment shop or nicer clothes that I bought for myself after saving my money. We never traveled or went out to dinner and had no yard man or cleaning lady. Yes we were never poor, but that doesn’t mean that, like others, I never knew what it was like to struggle, becasue I do.

    Finally, please don’t hate on this comment. I thank God every day for all the blessings that he has given me and I am in no way trying to hold a pity party, I just wanted to share my opinoin and I hope that others can respect that. Thanks!

    • Joe pecoraro

      You’re right. I make around 92000 a year. But living in Chicago trying to send my wife to school and support our three children is not easy. We still have to budget and don’t spend extravagantly. I see these people who drive a lexus or other high end vehicle who’s kids get free lunches and  illegal immigrants from all over the world living off our welfare system and sending their kids to private schools. All the while our elderly who have paid into these programs all their lives have trouble gaining access to the money and soldiers coming home with traumatic brain injuries and limbs blown off have to fight for their benefits.  It’s a broken system and it would be a lot easier to manage money and have a better quality of life if our government didn’t force us to give our tax dollars to wealthy business people and corporations who don’t need it and use it against us. I’m also sick and tired of all these people who are poor because of the life they choose and demand that we pay for. I’m not talking about the working poor. I’m talking about the legacies of people who have never worked and never will. It’s huge out here and has to stop

    • cp

      though i agree with the author, this IS true. i make more than 40K but i live in the san francisco bay area where rents are very expensive (as is everything else.) i wonder what my comparably salary would be in a cheaper place. a gallon of milk is like $4 here. i go visit my parents in rural-suburban CA and it’s usually half or 1/3 less in price. for what i pay in rent for a studio here i could probably rent a 3 bedroom home in many places.

  • guest

    I appreciate and relate to this author’s perspective. Many Americans can be downright ridiculous about what they consider to be poverty. When a single twenty-something who makes over 40k a year thinks she’s anywhere near poverty (this was the thought of a friend of mine last year), there’s something seriously wrong. And the only reason anyone thinks like that is because they’ve never actually experienced poverty. When I was growing up, my dad brought home $1000 a month (during good months), and that was for a family of four. That’s poverty. So, no one is going to convince me that I, a single woman making more than 30k this year, am poor. 
    Thank you for the article.  

  • guest

    I also want to add that the people who are complaining about the author’s “tone” are missing the point and only furthering the author’s thesis that people are too quick to label themselves as “struggling” and “poor.” There is a culture of entitlement that is so deeply set in some individuals as to make them incapable of accepting these simple words: “you may be doing fine; you may not need all the things you think you need.” And if you truly are struggling, you wouldn’t even feel the need to justify yourself to this author; you’d know that she’s not talking about you. 

    • Walk a mile…

      Thank you!!  All I hear from the majority of the negative comments here is how someone or something else is to blame for the financial “struggle” the commenter is experiencing.  Okay, you may be “struggling” financially, but do you still have a roof over your head at night?  Do you at least have enough to eat that you don’t go to bed hungry?  Do you have clothes to wear?  If your answer to these questions is “yes” then you could be doing much worse.  It’s not a contest of who’s struggling the most or who/what is to blame for your current situation, but about having a little compassion for those less fortunate (which there are many the world over) and a little humility.  If this article pissed you off that badly, maybe you need to take a good look at YOURSELF to find out why.

  • Miya Jones

    This was a great article and you have a very valid point! I know people who make 2x as much, and for the same reason, spend 2x as much, and can never seem to get ahead. At 28, I am learning that isn’t not what I make, but what I keep. Thanks for sharing! 

  • Jill

    Again great perspective Kim! I love Learnvest because of the diversity of backgrounds (upbringing, locations, education, race, etc…) and it is apparent in the stories that we share on these comment boards. As a college student I really identify with what the author says about our choices defining us. My first year I had barely (like $1000) to spend ALL year due to family issues. The second year, I had work study and another decent paying job which probably increased my earning to (6500 that year) but my family finances improved. The third year, I only had work study so that was like (2500) but family finances was low for a little bit. Now in my final year, I have had an internship and will make probably 10000 and who knows for when I get my BA. Throughout these past 4 years, there were times when I could only afford laundry, books and ramen, now that I have more I choose to indulge myself in eating out (chipotle and low cost places) and shopping from time to time. In an above post I mentioned that we have to be content in the little that we have so that we can actually appreciate what we have. Even in my first year I was thankful that despite my financial situation, that my parents (and God) made it possible for me to have the opportunity to obtain a college education. These 4 years and Learnvest have taught me how to manage what I have and that EVERYTHING is an investment. Again this article may not be for everyone but it is definitely for people that CHOOSE to spend their money on whatever their hearts desire. No one is judging anyone, we just have to understand that we pay for some of what we choose for ourselves.

  • we’re_ok

    Thank you! I work at a non-profit where I screen people for income-based eligibility. I’m on a modest salary but I know from asking people all day about their income, assets, expenses and dependents, that I’m definitely sitting pretty by comparison. I worry about staying on my budget and meeting goals, but I’ve done some careful planning and set as much as I can on auto-withdraw/pay to make sure the big stuff’s taken care of. Most people I screen don’t have that kind of security. All of us who do should be thankful.

  • LeAnne

    The main flaw in your argument is that you fail to take into account the fact that it costs significantly more to be middle class.  For example, the middle class has to pay significantly more taxes than the lower class.  Benefits such as being able to deduct your student loan interest start to drop off in the middle class.  Certain credits (like the previous Making Work Pay) are not available to many in the middle class.  Affordable Financial Aid for higher education is many times not available to the middle class.  In order to make middle class wages, many people have to travel further to their job, spend more on their appearance, and have less time to spend on doing things themselves, so expenses also increase significantly.  The middle class might make more money, but the lower class gets to keep more of the money that they make. 

    So, no, I don’t feel “lucky” when I receive my salary.  I’ve worked very hard to earn it.  And there are days when I made more money per hour waiting tables than I do at my salaried job because I don’t get paid overtime. 

    I would not classify myself as poor, but I do feel the strain of having to funnel money into programs that do not directly benefit me in addition to making sure my own needs are taken care of.

    • Erin

      Exactly!   We pay the taxes on programs that we can’t even use.

      I think my major bitterness with this is that my sister, who has a college degree, works at Walmart.  Her husband doesn’t work….perhaps out of laziness?  They have 2 children in elementary school.  She qualifies for food stamps, help with her electric bill, subsidized housing (and they have a roommate that pays a portion of the rent), free health insurance.  At tax time, I usually have to pay.  She gets a big fat check for $8,000.  Instead of saving it for retirement or setting it aside for an emergency account or getting her van fixed, she blows it.  She bought passes for Disney World, went on vacation to visit relatives, bought a new flat screen and Wii for her kids.  She has cable which costs $100/mo.  I’m sorry, but if you can afford a luxury like cable, you shouldn’t be allowed to get food stamps as well.  Poor budgeting and laziness should not be paid for by the middle class.

    • Hut

      I came across your response and needed to say I could not agree more. Though there is some truth to the original point regarding poor spending and how this can effect our economic standing the amount of hard earned money we are forced to provide to various community programs is rather excessive. To be honest, I may have less of a problem with this if programs like WIC had more stringent guidelines. In other words, the more children the drug dealer down the street has the more funding they receive, what is their motive to not continue to have children and take more of our money? The government needs to set a limit on the funds these people receive. As much as I believe in helping those in need those in need, there needs to be limits.

    • Patjo

      Well said, we are also middle class and while I don’t consider myself poor, we still struggle sometimes. My commute is eighty miles one way, so I have to rent a room where I stay during the week. My four kids don’t get free lunches, free healthcare or foodstamps. We pay a lot more taxes to support a lot of people who just have kids they can’t afford and then let others pay for them. I know people that know how to work the system.they deliberately don’t work or work very little while they drive cars and even may own a house. At the end of the day, the middle class is the one that supports such people and it is no surprise that many of us feel taken advantage of. It is pretty tiring if you watch others that don’t work do just great while your money disappears in programs that subsidize other people’s laziness.I am not saying that everyone milks the system, and we had been very poor for years making very little and I was glad to be able to have insurance available that picked up the deductible we were not able to pay, but we did not go o out and try to get every dime we could just because we felt it isn’t right to have others pay for you if you can manage. Unfortunately, we now have to pay for all those that just manipulate the system and get by with it.

    • Walk a mile…

      You sound exactly like one of the whiners this author is talking about.  The point of the article wasn’t about how much more it costs to be middle class today – it was about the fact that even though a dollar today might not have the same purchasing power it once did, if you have a roof over your head and your other truly basic human needs are taken care of, then you still are better off than many in the U.S. and MOST of the world. 

  • Valerie

    Great article. While I think wealth is more about your priorities and what you can feel comfortable living on, it’s important to realize you could actually LIVE on a LOT less.

  • Katelynmcmurphy

    I found this article thought-provoking.  There was definitely some uncomfortable truth in it for me.

  • Dblnk

    Are you proud of “your story,” it’s actually somewhat shameful.

    • Marcie Walker

       What in that is “shameful”? Seriously, I’d like to know what you’re referring to.

    • Staydontgo


  • PA Gal

    Kim, I respectfully disagree. I make about the same
    as you. I do not live an extravagant lifestyle — no cable, home internet or
    vacations. I live in central PA where mass trans. is not an option — I drive a
    14 year old car. I am a single woman. I’d love you to share your six month
    budget with us. All my money goes toward rent, gas, insurance, utilities, car
    maintenance, groceries, tithing, taxes, minimal gifts (usually homemade for friends
    and family b-days, a paltry retirement savings — very little on clothes or
    entertainment. Please share you secrets! 
    I grew up middle class (my father worked full-time and my mother
    part-time after we were school age) and our family enjoyed a comfortable but
    not extravagant lifestyle.  A lifestyle
    that seems exytagant to mine now — I am barely making it.  I have had to borrow money and go to the food
    bank on more than one occasion in the past two years.

    I have worked for non-profits or state government my
    entire life after graduating from a state college (I took out student loans for
    half and my parents paid for half).  I
    love your eye glass frames . . . I haven’t had new frames in four years and don’t
    know how I can afford them?

    The poverty line (as defined) is CRAZY – it should be
    called the destitute line.  In our
    wonderful country, 15% should NOT live below the line, particularly families!  I DO feel blessed every day to have a job and
    one with benefits (I am an ovarian cancer survivor) BUT shouldn’t our government
    try to help create better paying jobs for those serving the drinks and making
    the burgers?   And what do you do for your friend’s weddings?

    • Mostlywentzel

      PA Girl, I am curious as to your budget. I live in Central PA as well. 20 years ago, I supported myself on about $20k. Until recently, my husband was a supervisor at a manufacturing plant where none of his employees made over $30k and most of the other non-managers made, at best, low $30s. Of these people, I know of a few who are single and not only have cars, etc, but have purchased homes. This area has a fantastic cost of living and apartments can be found for $6-800 that include at least some utilities. Townhomes can be bought for under $100k. So not that I doubt your struggles, but I know that it is entirely possible to live on that amount of money in this area without depriving yourself.

      • PA Gal

        I bring home less than $2,000 per month.

        Monthly expenses:

        Rent  1,400

        Utilities 120

        Groceries 150

        Gas/car ins. 189

        That leaves $141 a month for savings, entertainment, extra
        expenses, clothes, tithing . . .

        Where do you suggest I cut, in order to buy the house, a car
        payment, vacation, life insurance, renter’s insurance?

    • Betsy Smith

      I am curious about your budget, actually. You spend $30k a year on “ rent, gas, insurance, utilities, car

      maintenance, groceries, tithing, taxes, minimal gifts, a paltry retirement savings — very little on clothes or
      entertainment.” Living in central PA? I am not living there, but the average cost for a 1BR apt in this country is somewhere around $750 in a non-city environment. That should be about $9000 for rent. Let’s say $10k and rent is 1/3 of your budget.Gas? How far do you drive? Driving 30 miles a day (which already seems pretty far to me if you’re not near a city or in a relationship where your jobs are spread out) would be driving about 10,000 miles a year. If your car gets 20 mpg (not unrealistic), that’s about 550 gallons a year. At $3.50/gallon that’s about $2K/yr.
      Insurance – neglecting health insurance for now. How much can you possibly be spending on car insurance on a 14 yr old car? $2K/yr if you have some tickets and things? Renters insurance isn’t usually enough to even consider. You are single so I imagine you don’t have life insurance.
      Utilities – As a single person in a 1BR apt in the northeast, I have never spent more than about $1K/yr on heating/cooling/electricity. If you are spending way more than that you might want to figure out ways to bring that down. Throw in a cell phone and maybe some basic cable/internet and that’s another $1K.
      Car maintenance – again, how much can you possibly be spending? I had to get new brakes and a couple other things done last year and I spent almost $2K in car maintenance. Previous years I didn’t spend anything beyond oil changes. I would think if you’re spending more than 1K a yr you are paying too much and maybe should consider buying a different used car that doesn’t need so much maintenance.
      Taxes – I paid about $2K/yr when I was making $30K. I wasn’t paying medicare/ss taxes so let’s make that $4K.
      Groceries – as a single woman I spend about $200-250 a month without trying to be frugal. That comes out to $3K/yr.
      Tithing – what are you, Mormon, and giving away 1/10th of your income? Personally, I say that’s someplace you should think about cutting down on, or at least not complain about because it’s completely voluntary. Let’s say you give away a more reasonable but still high amount of 1K.

      So we’re down to:
      Rent – 10K
      Taxes – 4K
      Groceries – 3K
      Tithing – 1KGas – 2K
      Utilities/Car maintenance/Car insurance – 5K

      That still leaves 5K/yr for shopping, presents, saving, entertainment, and health care. Whether this is livable or not really comes down to how much you are paying for health insurance. If you have to pay thousands for health insurance/care, that’s what’s making the difference. I don’t have any suggestions to change that other than to recognize that if you have a huge outlay that not everyone has, that does make you different and that it’s reasonable for most people to be able to live fine on $30K/yr. If this is the case though, you should find out if there’s a way to reduce your taxes because of it.

      Ways to cut this down – stop giving money to your church, live in an apartment with rent below the average (after all, if you are paying the median, you’re pretty solidly middle class), live closer to work/drive less, get cheaper car insurance (mine is actually only about $1K/yr), try to save utility money, look up ways to save money on groceries. Or, if any of yours are WAY higher than these estimates, figure out why and try to decrease them. That budget was about what I lived on while making $30K/yr in graduate school recently, except that I increased some of them to account for ways I think might be more common (ie, I spent almost no money on gas because I biked to work but I realize that’s not realistic for many people, and my stipend wasn’t considered medicare/ss taxable).

  • teg4mel

    Financial budgeting is all about choices. If we want to live a life that is more expensive than our salaries allow, that is a choice. A choice that I have found myself easily falling in and out of over the past ten years in and out of college. This article further pushes me to appreciate what I HAVE and understand that there is no such thing as “enough” until we allow ourselves to be happy with what we have at the moment.

  • PVeeraplin

    I grew up in a single-mother household straddling the working/middle class line. We never wanted for anything, but my mom was hiding a huge debt (over $20k) behind her smiles and “Yes, I’ll buy it for you.” Now that I’m on my own, making more than she ever will, I find that my poor spending choices in the past are delaying my goals. 

    I recently got married and my husband and I are making debt payment a priority. We won’t start trying to have children for another 1-2 years until we pay down his credit card debt ($10k) and our student loans (his $9k, mine $72k) – again, due to poor choices in the past (his failed small business, my private university expenses). Moving forward we are both committed to a financially and emotionally secure future for our children and ourselves. It the end, it’s all about choices and setting priorities on what we want out of life. You can’t undo the past, but you can make changes now to better your future.

    Thanks for your perspective and don’t let the Negative Nancy-s discourage you.

  • NN

    Completely agree. Well written. It is everyone’s responsibility to own up to their choices and realize we  are very fortunate in this country. We have clean water, food, plenty of clothing, shelter and most of all … freedom. We are all truly fortunate no matter how much we make, especially if you are reading this. That means you  own a computer or maybe an expensive phone that many people also don’t have. I don’t make much myself, but I feel fortunate and I am very frugal with my spending and feel good about my choices.

  • Nnwinston

    Thank you so much for that reality check. I am one of those people that you speak of. I make $75K a year and struggle to make ends meet. My usual excuse is the two kids that I support on my income but your post reminds me that it is because of my choices and not my situation. I feel empowered to look at that and make some changes. Cheers…

  • Jennpete

    Kim, thanks so much for providing this perspective.  I am a social worker and on a daily basis am confronted with the “invisible” lives you talk about.  Because we are so separated by race and class in this country, we have an incredibly skewed perspective of poverty.  Let us continue to educate ourselves.

  • Kievjaguar

    You may feel rich having nothing and may feel poor having Bill Gate’s income. It is up to you to decide. No comparison with the Joneses. Of course, educational system in the United States is desired to be better. It looks like it is easier for the country to bring educated employees from outside the USA, then provide affordable education to the Americans. Graduates start their life after college with tremendous debts!

  • PA Gal

    Kim — are you going to respond to the questions you’ve been asked today?

  • Just Jill

    Definitely an interesting point, but it does come off a bit scolding. I think that your article somewhat ignores that the middle class tends to live a bit safer (we have health insurance, car insurance, and contribute to our 401(k)s) where others don’t. This can and does dramatically impact how much money you have at the end of the day, no matter how much you cut back.

  • Rsfla70

    I hear where you are coming from. I am truly middle class.I am a single mother of two. I went back to school to gain a profession after my divorce. What makes it difficult to pay all my bills are the constant surprise bills I get monthly; a doctor who didn’t get enough from insurance, I owe taxes rather than get a refund, my daughter’s school from last year when I struggled with private school (I’m paying the price for that choice, she has graduated from there now). I work as an independent contractor with no benefits, no taxes witheld, no paid time off. So, if I take off for a holiday or family reasons, I lose money. I do not take vacations, do not get nails done, do not get hair done. There are no luxuries unless I save for it. I am working very hard and successfully at paying down my credit card, which only had a balance because of a large unexpected medical expense for my daughter. I protect my credit with my life. My rent is $1300 and it was the lowest I could find in a safe neighborhood. I think the labels of “poor” and “middle class” are gray areas. I could not pay rent and drive a car (which I need for work) on 35,000. I do not know why the government believes I should. I resent it when people say things like, “You earn a lot more than others. You should be able to afford a lot more” The cost of living here in Florida is very high. Financial stability is not as simple as Ms. Stiens proposes it to be.

    • Betsy Smith

      I think it comes down to if you can choose to live in a “safe neighborhood” you aren’t poor! Poor means you live where you can find someplace you can afford. Do you think those poor people WANT to live in unsafe neighborhoods? No, but they have to. Those of us who are able to choose not to are not poor.

  • pinenuts0

    Life lessons my tiger mom taught me:

    1. don’t have ANY kids unless you can absolutely afford them
    a. take every precaution possible to ensure this including abortion, abstinence, etc.
    2. you have to outwork everyone around you and only expect the absolute best from yourself … life does not OWE you anything … no person or gov’t OWES you anything 
    3. don’t get married until you are completely financially stable…don’t marry anyone with debt
    4. be frugal at every turn (i.e. never had a mani/pedi in my life)
    5. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY choose a lucrative major

    I took the above advice and, as a result, will be graduating from University of Michigan with $0 in debt and multiple lucrative job offers in consulting and finance … I am extremely happy and satisfied with life…thank you mom 

    • Fl

      I think a lot of people in finance think that everyone should just work in finance and make good money.  Unfortunately, society does not just run on money managers.  We need teachers, doctors, social workers, plumbers, mechanics, bus drivers, etc. and people in these fields work hard and deserve to make a good living as well.  We are not slaves simply here to do the rich man’s bidding.

  • Casggp

    People think they don’t make enough because they don’t live the lifestyle that they deserve (per their salary), aka living within your means.  Everyone wants to live in “good” neighborhoods, have the latest things, etc., but if your income doesn’t permit it then you shouldn’t.

    I think that people forget about the “working poor”.  I grew up with immigrant parents and we were always in that group throughout my childhood.  It was difficult in the fact that you make too much to qualify for anything (per the federal poverty guidelines) but still owing taxes every year to the IRS and barely scraping by without any type of health or dental insurance for the family.  

  • I grew up poor as well. But, I don’t think you have the life experience at this point to be making judgements. I live in the DC area. My salary would be awesome if I lived in Kansas, however, for this area, I am POOR. Not 3rd world country poor, because this is NOT a third world country!

    Your article seems to excuse employers who haven’t kept up with COLA increases. If you work 48-50 hours a week, like I do, you should be able to afford at least a decent apartment without government assistance. I barely afford the worst in the area. That’s with a college degree, 10 years experience, and 3 years tenure at my position.

    Call it whatever you want, but when I can’t afford a two bedroom apartment in my area with a husband and child, I am poor.

    • I agree

      Amen sister! It’s much easier to be “idealistic,
      principled, romantic, optimistic, dare I say naïve?” about the middle
      class until you’ve lived a bit . . . as in age 53 and I still have no home . .
      . no savings . . . a very small retirement . . . I thought like Kim when I was
      her age . . . live a little . . . undergo a life threatening illness that
      depletes anything you may have saved . . . then post again in 25 years . . .

    • Ducketstospare

      One day I was in a Walmart, and a woman, poor like you are poor, complained that the economy was so bad she could not go to Tokyo for Christmas as she had planned, but would have to settle for Paris.  I feel your pain just I felt hers.  The horror — the horror!

    • micheles

       Agree completely. I also live in DC and find it inexcusable that employers feel it is okay to pay $30,000 a year for work that requires a college education in a metropolitan area where that puts your income in the bottom 14% of households (according to the very fascinating New York Times calculator: )
       When you are young, living with roommates makes that kind of situation workable, but with a family and higher health care costs (having health benefits does not mean ‘free health care’), what the writer is calling a “lifestyle” becomes much closer to necessity for many people.

      • If you don’t have the cash to take care of a child, it’s probably a better “lifestyle choice” to not have one in the first place…

  • KeelyAnn

    Honestly, I would love to make that much: $22,000. I work 2-4 jobs and last year I made $12,000 and was excited. I still live with my parents it’s true, but my rent is to buy groceries for our family of 5, and that is no easy task. I thankfully have no debt yet for school, but the pace in which I am going is frustrating and not necessarily beneficial. My time is consumed between work and school and if I get sick I brush it off pretending I’m not because I can’t afford to get sick, let alone do I have health insurance. My progressing kidney infection is on hold until I can get a few more paychecks to visit the doctor for a perscription. Does this mean I’m poor? 

    Yes, I have frustrations with my income, but really, I feel blessed to have a job. I have multiple jobs, and many of my friends don’t. They live off Mommy and Daddy’s money still. I’m not stable enough on my own yet, but I’m trying and pushing myself to get there.

    I love reading LearnVest tips and stories because they give me inspiration and are uplifting, but in a situation like this I can’t help from feeling guilty. I love this informative piece by Kim, but even being below the average beltline here I feel like I should be doing more. Are there any tips or suggestions for me to get out of this rut, or does this just mean I’m a dead end?

    I know this is confusing, but I am proud of how far I’ve come. I’m thankful to have what I do. I’m comfortable in the safe enironment I’ve been provided. I understand I am very fortunate. But I can’t help thinking there’s more here, this article was extremely insightful, it just isn’t helping me see how to manage my finances better. Just throwing it out there; thanks!

    • you still live with your parents. You are still in school. I say that with your salary, you are doing pretty well for yourself. I held multiple jobs while in college as well, onli difference is that my whole family was not in this country. I was here by myself, I had to pay rent by myself, I had to pay for my groceries myself. After much much hard work, I finally feel like I made it…

      So don’t give up, keep working as hard as you are. But please please, don’t feel like you are not making enough. In your situation, you sure are =)

  • Guest

    It’s so true that $40,000 a year is NOT poor. Where I live, that’s a decent living. But, so many people complain about what they are doing without. I don’t understand. We gave up cable tv because we were always watching local, antenna available channels. So, we decided to save the money, or spend it other ways. As this writer says, we are making choices about how to spend out money.

  • Malikaj

    So true, my sister makes over $75,000 in the DC area an cannot make ends meet. She blames the kids (2), but I say it is because she lives beyond her means. My mom raised three kids on less than $25,000 in NYC. Granted I had never been to a real restaurant until I graduated high school, but my sister and  her hubby eat out constantly and complain about the electric bill. 

  • Imdb

    Amen! So glad people are starting to get the BIG picture! You are the person that chooses the big house with the big electric bill with the big lawn with the…the list goes on and on! We could all live on a lot less. This time last year I was almost $18k in debt. Now, I’m down to $6k. I still have a ways to go, and yes I had to get a 2nd job (and a third one for a short while), but I’m also in a far better place. Also got rid of cable, smartphone (my little ghetto phone still calls and texts), gym membership, etc. Amazing how much all these NEEDS (or so we tell ourselves) add up to. I can’t wait until the end of this year when I have everything paid off and can begin to save!

  • nm223

    I’m actually more curious to know what financial decisions you have made so that you are making a $39K salary work in DC.  I think that’s wonderful, and could certainly use some tips!

  • HarlemGirl

    So glad this article was published!  Always great to be reminded to count your blessings and keep perspective. 
    One thing I have to call out about living within your means is that it can be so heavily influenced by where you live and depending on what you do, moving to a lower cost metro area is not always an option. For example, I live in NYC and I work in the fashion/beauty industry, and industry that mainly only exists here. I make a decent salary by any account, but that’s also because I have 5+ years in the industry and was making at or below the poverty line when I first started out.  Most of my take home pay is eaten up by my student loan payments and housing costs.  I live with my boyfriend in what realtors like to call a “transitional” neighborhood so our rent is much cheaper than in other areas of the city.  The only places cheaper would likely be quite dangerous, and our neighborhood now already has a bit of a crime problem.  Moving to another part of the metro isn’t really an option, because any savings we’d get there would be offset by the increase in our transportation costs by forcing us to get a car vs relying solely on public transportation as we do now. Moving to another city also isn’t an option because my skill set isn’t as highly valued in other industries so where someone in my position can make up to $100K+ in NYC (I don’t but some do), in another city without the fashion & beauty employers, the most I could hope for is maybe $40K, which doesn’t net out into any more real disposable income. 

    So we should all be mindful about complaining when others have so much less, we also need to remember that everyone isn’t out spending all of their paychecks on martinis and manicures. So much of your day-to-day financial struggle is dictated by where you live and moving isn’t always the best option.

  • Kristirlee

    I absolutely love this article. I got a kick out of some of the posts as well as a REALITY check. I’m humbled and ashamed that I would even think that I am poor or not making enough to meet my daily obligations. I’m quick to say how I make more then some of my friends with a college degree and yet I don’t have one. Yes, I do struggle at times, but it’s our daily actions over time that creates the struggle. Either you habits will work for you or against you. I am a single parent of one and I think I do damn good after reading this article. I don’t think I give myself enough credit, but life is what we make it and that goes for our finances as well. I made the choice to put my son in private school through 2nd grade because I recognized he was gifted. I had to sacrifice in order to afford the $500 per month tuition and that was driving a 96 toyota camry up until last year. I feel blessed that I had the option to put him in a better educational environment and I am grateful that I have the option of where I want to live. I may not have everything I want in life, but thank God, I do have all I need. If I had everything now at 31 what in the hell would have to look forward to. I feel blessed that I can make the best of each time and enjoy the process of watching me CREATE and build my life (financial, mental, spiritual). Thank you for this article and thank you for the push into gratitude. I am abundant and from the sounds of it, so are the  the people who commented! Thank goodness we have the power to choose….let’s stop being victims and just focus on the daily changes that will bring us the joy we think extra money will. Clearly more money is not the answer if your habits don’t equal success! xoxoxo

    • “Clearly more money is not the answer if your habits don’t equal success! xoxoxo”


  • Jessica S. B.

    Love it! It really is all about perspective, and not giving in to peer pressure.
    “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”

    • to you and the author for saying “Everyone complains about being poor, but then goes out to drinks each week.”

      BRAVO! On point

  • Candoit

    I appreciate this article for the basic meaning behind it.  I listen to friends say they are poor with their brand new 2 cars and with each updated iphone.  There are many things in life that are luxuries that most people consider necessary. 

     My husband and I have lived on 28,000 dollars a year in one of the most expensive and heavily taxed counties in the country.  My husband was unemployed for 2+ years after graduating from college(he picked up part time temp work when possible) he now has a week by week contracting job that adds additional money to our income but has no job security so we must live like we make 28.  Between the two of us we have about 65 thousand dollars of student loans. We have no credit card debt. We don’t have cable, our cars are reliable and trusty 2002′s that have good gas mileage. We live smack in the middle of our 2 jobs that are 45 mins to an hour away for each of us.  We found the least expensive apartment we could find, we coupon clip, budget, and turn down invitations to social gatherings to not spend money (we do not complain we are poor and then get drinks) .  All this goes okay until there is an emergency.  Like my car getting totaled last week. now what?The basic premise of the article makes sense, appreciate what you have, recognize that others have less and survive, evaluate what is truly necessary and what is a luxury and if deemed necessary make changes.  But this article also comes of as negative, judgmental and lacking in empathy for those who have followed all the budgeting “rules” and make good choices and still struggle to make payments on time.  Coming from learn vest I would expect their to be a glimmer of hope and positivity for making and encouraging change instead utilizing “shame.”

  • The poverty line in NYC is a whole different story.  In my city, I’m poor. But not poor enough for subsidies, so it’s a struggle.

  • MJ

    While I understand your point, not being poor does not make you wealthy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go to a fancy dinner once in a while, buy a nice dress, or expand your horizons by visiting another part of the world. These are the things people work for, not just to survive.  Anyone can survive, but should we have to? Especially when there are people on the other end of the income spectrum who have so much more than they will ever really need? I don’t think middle income people necessarily squander money. The middle class wants security- in the form of extra cash to buy a house, send the kids to a better college, or just to pay the bills in the event of long-term illness or disability.  You want to know you can stop working someday and actually LIVE. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good thing to aspire to. The upper class depends on people used to living on little to not question things and keep their oppressive systems running. What we need is a minimum wage that rises with the cost of living-so everyone can be middle class, and those who want more can work for it.

  • kat

    Girl, PREACH! I love you for writing this, I grew up with a similar economic experience, and graduated with a political science degree and similar massive debt in 2011…fortunately I did nab an office job not in my field, and know how blessed I am to be able to make my rent and loan payments every month. Ladies need to get some perspective and a dose of reality! The middle class is doin quite alright if you ask me, and I couldn’t be more excited to be in it for the first time in my life. Food in my fridge, roof over my head, bills paid ALWAYS. and so what if I can’t buy those shoes I really want.

  • Sbstephanie

    I am so glad somebody posted this…I am ALWAYS listening to people complain about money (or rather the lack of it) and they all make at least $40,00 0 all the way up to just over $100,000 & still find room to complain about not making money! Did I mention that NONE of these people have kids? 

    My husband works & I go to school with 2 kids- we are in our early 20s. We started making $36,000 when we had 1 child & now we have 2 kids & make $65,000 while I am still attending school. We finally have gotten to the fortunate point where we can eat out once a week and go for drinks every other month (a glass of wine at home usually works out just fine!). But we’ve never complained. In fact, we’ve been criticized for not going out enough & using our money! And I think, WHAT? We eat out once EVERY WEEK (which is a LOT compared to how we lived making 36k)! But, people are accustomed to going out & spending money all the time, so those expectations are placed on us as well. Well, I’m not caving in…Rather $$ in the bank than obsessing about how others make more than me.

    Not saying people never have room to complain, but if you have gotten your nails done, gotten a facial, gone to Starbucks, seen the inside of a restaurant or tanning salon, travelled, hired maid service, bought an expensive phone…(you get where I’m going with this) in the past 6 months, NO SELF PITY PLEASE

    • gcola3

      This is a great snapshot.  Good for you.

  • Anantdev

    I don’t drink, and I rarely eat out. I live in L.A. County.
    Rent, gas, and food are expensive. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am
    in my career, but my salary doesn’t buy what it would have in the past.
    Inflation is a reality, and wages have not increased at the same pace.

    I feel the author of this article is complacent with the
    status quo, simply because she is now better off than her parents.  It’s not ok to project that onto others.  

    There have been times in the last 10 years where I’ve had to
    make the choice between food and insurance (I chose food, and avoiding risky behavior
    (you know, like skydiving, and crack – neither of which I could afford)). I
    have couch surfed, I’ve shopped at thrift stores, I’ve missed out on social
    events.  I spent my retirement, not to
    keep up with a lifestyle, but to survive, and pay very real bills. I absolutely
    do not feel sorry for myself. If anything, I learned from the experience.

    I learned, while I was unemployed for a short while, that I
    was ineligible for a trip to the “free clinic” because I made too much money
    from unemployment benefits. I learned that I was ineligible for food stamps.  I learned how to stretch my dollar, so I could
    make some choices. I also learned I will never touch my retirement again (oh,
    wow, there I go with my middle class problems…).

    I do not consider myself to be poor by any stretch of the
    imagination. I feel so thankful that I was able to become educated (I paid for
    college and went to public schools). I am now too aware to intentionally make
    bad decisions with my finances. However, I am pretty much still living paycheck
    to paycheck, so, this limits my choices about where I can live, and if I am
    able to bring a child into this world, for example.

    I think many people in the “middle class” are also living
    paycheck to paycheck. I think it is true that many are one emergency expense
    away from financial disaster.  I know
    people in debt for trips to the emergency room.

    I think it’s ok to want
    more. It is not selfish to demand a quality of life, and some dignity.  I don’t think this is a spoiled attitude.

  • Tessa

    Thank you for your article. I am in the same age bracket and graduated college 2008 just as it seemed all the jobs were drying up. I’ve made ends meet and I have never used public assistance, but this will be the first year that I will make over $24,000. I’ve bounced around the US. Shared apartments with people (i.e. rented a room) and gotten some graduate school under my belt. I’m still working on graduate school part-time (student loans are paying for tuition and books, so with three classes each semester it is about $4,400) and working almost full-time (making about $2,000 a month) enough to pay all my bills and have a one bedroom apartment. Yes, rent and utilities take about $750 a month and I have no health care or sick leave, but I’m making ends meet and I’m doing pretty good. I don’t go out for drinks and just about any extracurricular activities I do are free ones like hiking. I don’t have a TV and about half my furniture came from Goodwill, but it is actually really nice solid wood furniture. I have a laptop and I have netflix. Everything is perspective.

    • Vixter2

      Let us know how it goes when you start paying your share of the ObamaCare mandate.