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Aug 16 2009

I’d like to welcome some people to the real world, but they aren’t here yet.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post, entitled “Squeaking by on $300,000“. Squeaking by… on $300,000… I think I could “squeak by” on that kind of money.

Let me say this first: I do not begrudge anyone their earned income (provided that income is not derived from an illegal source). Let me say this second: I’m not harping on the particular woman in the story either. She’s a professional woman who is now finding herself in a very bad situation that she could not have foreseen. I simply think that she’s indicative of a widespread issue.

I don’t think she’s a terrible woman: I just don’t think she’s making a lot of great decisions. I think her reasoning is based on a view of day-to-day life that may be valid for “rich folks”, but doesn’t apply to “real life” as those of us who live near the poverty level see it. If your income drops drastically because of changes in the world’s economy, you are going to have to change the way you live. Some people don’t seem to understand this.

What I want to mention in this post is the ever-widening gap between those of us who have been living paycheck to paycheck for years, and those who (like the woman in the news story) are desperately trying to cope with “squeaking by” on $300,000, paying $35,000 a year in property taxes, paying the nanny $40,000 a year, paying the gardener $500 a month, and paying $8,000 to $10,000 a month to keep the 4,000-square-foot house on three acres running. It’s not just a gap in income, either; it’s a gap in “knowing what the fuck is really going on in this country”. It’s a gap between people who can recognize, and people who cannot recognize when they’re living beyond their means.

I have difficulty with the statement “living in a 4,000-square-foot house on three acres is the practical thing to do”. I suppose I would consider it practical if I could afford it. What if I could afford it at one time, but no longer could? I’d get the fuck out of there and quit digging the hole any deeper. I’d like to discuss some of the reasons given that support this decision as “practical”. “I couldn’t sell the house right now” should be translated as “I want more money for the house than it would realistically bring on the market right now.” “This is where my kids go to school” is simply meaningless. Kids transfer from one school to another every day. Your kids are special to you, but the aren’t that special. “It’s where my job is” is another one that, while fairly true (I’m sure her job isn’t next door to her home), is still meaningless. How far do you live from your workplace? Get out a map and a compass. Draw a circle with your workplace at the center and the radius your current distance from there to home. How many houses are in that circle? All of those are as close or closer than you are now. If you can afford one of those, great. If you can’t, you’re going to have to drive/ride a little further to get to work each day. Real fucking simple.

The woman considers the nanny one of the “non-negotiable facts of her life and not discretionary.” I’ve got a little news flash for you. When shit starts falling apart, everything becomes negotiable, and that definitely includes the nanny.

Mr. Pink and the World's Smallest Violin

Yes, we all adjust our lifestyle to match our income while our income is increasing, but what happens when it’s not increasing? Those of us on the lower end of the scale encounter this sort of thing quite often. It seems that people on the higher end of the scale simply don’t get it. If you don’t have as much coming in as you used to, you’re going to have to change your lifestyle. If your income drops dramatically, the changes are going to have to be dramatic in turn. If you feel that you simply can’t make that change; that you simply can’t make it through life without both the BMW SUV and the convertible; that a $40,000 a year nanny is a necessity of life; that doing without any of these things is a personal affront that you can’t deal with, then I have to show you something. Do you see that picture above this paragraph? That’s the world’s smallest violin, and it’s playing just for you.

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