What we spent in a month
May 19, 2021 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Six American families open their doors — and their wallets — to show us how much life costs. (NYTimes)

Paula, a home health aide, and Aaron, a machine operator, are raising two children, Khailn and Destyni, in Lancaster, Pa.

Brittany, a lawyer and YouTube vlogger, and Huy, a marketing manager, had their first child, Ezra, in the middle of the pandemic and invested in a compostable-diaper service to avoid landfill waste.

Tarah lives with her son, Taryn, in Canandaigua, N.Y., and works as a medical secretary for veterans and an in-store Instacart shopper for Wegmans.

Shemekka and Michael own a consulting firm in Raleigh, N.C., where they live with their six children.

Claudia, a jewelry artisan, lives with her son Gary (and his children, two weeks of every month) in Santa Fe, N.M. When the pandemic kept Claudia from selling her jewelry in the city’s main plaza, she had to rely on a government loan and a credit card to get by.

Chloe and Alex live in a ranch house on their farm outside Martell, Neb., with three daughters. While waiting for business to return to normal, they’ve barely had in-person contact with anyone.




posted by Toddles (73 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is really interesting; I'm always really curious what the "normal" range is for things like groceries. I also read Money Diaries to scratch this itch.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:51 PM on May 19 [5 favorites]


Not sure if I'd count savings/investments as spending. Otherwise you could argue that I always spend my entire month's pay since I put a set amount + anything left over after bills, groceries, etc. into savings and my brokerage account.
posted by extramundane at 9:18 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]


I always wonder about groceries too! I always spend about $400 a month for myself and my two kids who stay with me half time. Which sounds economical, but I throw away a ridiculous amount of food that goes bad in my fridge because I turn into a whiny spoiled child when I am faced with leftovers. And that makes me feel like I could be saving so much more money on food.
posted by MiraK at 9:46 PM on May 19 [6 favorites]


That was less terrible than it could have been. At least none of them complained about the cost of their nanny.
posted by GuyZero at 9:49 PM on May 19 [4 favorites]


I wonder what the first family's line item of "rentals" means? The explanation given sounds like they're talking about toys, but $450 a month on renting toys for their two kids? What kinds of toys can people even rent? Is this, like, polo equipment? Jet skis every weekend? Stuff like that?
posted by MiraK at 9:57 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


I think there's a typo in either the budget or the descrition, and the "Pac-Man Table" rental is either a $47 or $447. The $47 figure makes more sense as a rental. One flaw with these one-month snapshots is that we can't tell if they do that every month or if it was a one-off.

It's really interesting to see how others live, especially those whose lives are very different from my own. I appreciate that they explained each item instead of just listing a number. And I was relieved to see that there weren't a lot of the "frivolous" expenses that conservatives like to use to blame the poor for their own poverty (e.g., 'why are you drinking a $5 latte every day' kind of stuff)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:15 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the first family's line item of "rentals" means

Maybe furniture, or storage space?
posted by Silvery Fish at 10:17 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


I searched around a bit, and on one (birthday/etc) party arcade game rentals site, rentals for 2 days or less range from $350-$800 depending on various factors that aren't explained; another site offers Pac-Man standup at $200, a third a bundle of 4 machines including Pac-Man table for ~$500. I wouldn't use my research for price shopping, but it suggests that $447 is likely a valid figure.
posted by Callisto Prime at 10:40 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Interesting to see only one family has cable - and how expensive it is. I was always amazed when visiting my brother in Boston as to how expensive cable is in the US.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:53 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


For those whose monthly spending line doesn't include online newspaper subscriptions: archived version
posted by chavenet at 12:53 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


I read it as the table costing $447, and they are paying $47 a month to pay it off.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:12 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


How do you pronounce Khailn?
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:27 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I find it fascinating how each family - and probably most of us really - reliably have at least one item on their monthly budget that requires a "WTF explanation" to the world at large. To non Americans, that category seems to lead of with bills for pets and anything medical.

It reminds me a little of an article by Jon Ronson where he worked out that there are 6 divisions by 5 that are necessary to go from the monthly income of a billionaire to that of somebody earning $10 an hour. He sought out people in each category and interviewed them.
posted by rongorongo at 4:45 AM on May 20 [18 favorites]


I find it fascinating how each family - and probably most of us really - reliably have at least one item on their monthly budget that requires a "WTF explanation" to the world at large.


Candles $3,600
posted by Literaryhero at 5:36 AM on May 20 [19 favorites]


The thing that gets me is how much people are spending on cars. Too bad it's impossible to build functioning public/active transit in this country!
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 5:39 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


Wish they included one household without kids.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:44 AM on May 20 [37 favorites]


Hm, don’t know how to feel about the lowest income family still spending more than double what I spend on the same amount of people. I didn’t feel poor when I woke up this morning, but now... or maybe I’ve just been lucky with costs? No way I could afford rent over $1k.
posted by brook horse at 5:56 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


When I see how other people in roughly the same income range as me live I always have to say to myself "Remember debt is invisible". How do they have a new car every 5 years? How do they go on big vacations? How do they own a nice house? I have and do none of those things. The difference is I have no debt and a fair amount of retirement savings. My bet is that many of my income range peers do not. My savings and their debt are both invisible. All you ever see is what people spend on. Just yesterday I read that over 50% of people with homes in the US have leveraged their home equity and that is most people's main retirement investment.
posted by srboisvert at 5:58 AM on May 20 [29 favorites]


I wonder what the first family's line item of "rentals" means

Could be rent to own.
posted by srboisvert at 6:01 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Wish they included one household without kids.

If you're going there, I wish they'd even vaguely tried to talk to a group of people that looked like America. If they were doing that, they might, maybe, have one of their six families be from little rural burgs like Canadaigua or Lancaster or wherever, Nebraska or even Santa Fe instead of that being most of their families.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:18 AM on May 20 [13 favorites]


I think you're right srboisvert: "Paula: We got the Pac-Man table for the kids for Christmas ($47). They played it twice. There’s no sense to be paying on something they’re not playing."
posted by brilliantine at 6:20 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I simply resent my household not being considered a family because I do not have children.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:26 AM on May 20 [36 favorites]


Could be rent to own.

I assumed it was the game table plus some amount of other items that they have rented or rented-to-own such as furniture and appliances. As has been discussed so many times here, that's a terribly expensive way to buy things, but also one of the very few options for someone with limited savings and/or credit to get new things.

These were interesting and I thought the authors did a good job of avoiding the "watch the train wreck" feeling that budget pieces often have. Many of them were making choices I don't think I would make (but who knows how I would act if I was in that actual situation), which is always fascinating to read and think about. Everyone having kids made it less relevant to my own life, but easier to compare and contrast between the stories, so I can see why they did that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


It's hard to win doing a feature like this one. I agree it would be better to have some more unusual but still common homes -- like, say, two senior citizens, or a young childless couple in a city -- but on the other hand, they did a decent job with geographic and racial diversity. So.. hey, NYT, decent job, but you're the biggest news organization on the planet, maybe throw a few more reporters at this next time?

I'll just say this -- after reading the piece, I'm realizing how incredibly privileged and fortunate my family is. We're not wealthy by any means but we have none of their hardships (knocks wood on healthcare situation) and holy cow, what people pay for housing.
posted by martin q blank at 6:32 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


This was pointed out in some other places I saw this article linked but it's really telling that they couldn't find a single family that is paying for childcare? That seems like a fairly significant omission for a piece about the financial lives of families with kids.
posted by peacheater at 6:45 AM on May 20 [35 favorites]


We're not wealthy by any means but we have none of their hardships (knocks wood on healthcare situation) and holy cow, what people pay for housing.

Do more than knock on wood. Plan for it. Because it absolutely will come and it can come shockingly fast. My wife and I still fine but watching my parents' very rapid and expensive health decline has been terrifying and eye opening. Thank goodness they are in Canada.
posted by srboisvert at 6:54 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I simply resent my household not being considered a family because I do not have children.

I agree with that feeling. I think a "family unit" in this case is a convenience that simplifies the work of the journalist in finding and building relationships with subjects to interview. Households of roommates have a different and more complicated decisionmaking structure, to even agree to the interview, and they allocate funds differently. ... At least in my experience of roommating. I don't pay my roommate's student debt, for example, and she doesn't pay mine, but we both have it, so is that a household expense? Do you break us out by individuals? Big ol can of worms.

I agree that the childcare cost is a huge omission. I would also have liked to see a household that lives in a "nontraditional" structure (manufactured housing / trailer park) or has disability as a main source of income... or lives in a food desert or a reservation.... I see why they wouldn't do that, though. It would be hard to focus on any of the other households in the article with that kind of contrast.
posted by snerson at 6:55 AM on May 20 [8 favorites]


This was fascinating and I'd read a lot more of them. While they were brave to let the reporter into their lives, this format also seems much less problimatic to share than a full financial breakdown with income. I actually posted my own (not gonna put it here but see my socials.. my groceries for 1 is $449). One thing I noticed is that, when putting it together, there are ways to shade the truth a little bit -- like do you include investments or business expenses.
posted by joeyh at 6:57 AM on May 20


I simply resent my household not being considered a family because I do not have children.

I agree with that feeling. ... Households of roommates have a different and more complicated decisionmaking structure


I think you, uh, jumped right past an entire category of people. The ones who are likely most annoyed at their families not being called such if they don't have kids. Ones who do share expenses and pay each other's debt (usually, though not always).
posted by brook horse at 7:03 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


Candles $3,600
That's some serious historical cosplay.

Interesting article. As someone who grew up poor and thinks of myself as privileged, wealthy, and astonishingly carefree (I haven't hesitated to buy a grocery store item because of its price in 15 years), I'm kind of astonished that people who decide that getting a second job for instacart is a good idea spend more or less as much as my household in a month. I don't know what to make of that. Except that being even on the border of poor is really expensive. And that salaried jobs and living in dense cities are things to be very grateful for.

I can't decide whether including much poorer people would make the piece better or worse. Perhaps that's better placed in a different article.
posted by eotvos at 7:11 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


This was pointed out in some other places I saw this article linked but it's really telling that they couldn't find a single family that is paying for childcare?

Good point. And then there's the only budget line item (or actually the lack of it) that made me feel extremely judgmental: the family where the parents aren't getting married because the guy has unpaid child support going back a decade? There's no child support payment listed in their budget. This same family spends $750 on their dogs and $450 on "rentals", they can afford to make payments on the child support, but they choose not to. Ugh.
posted by MiraK at 7:39 AM on May 20 [26 favorites]


Wow, all of these families spend more in a month than I make in a month. Like nearly all of them spend over double what I make for my household.

I guess I am lucky that I don't have children with my wife. Yikes.
posted by toddforbid at 7:41 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


How do you pronounce Khailn?
posted by schoolgirl


I read that as k-HAIL-n = rough equivalent to Kaylin, KAY-lin
posted by djseafood at 7:41 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


I can't help but feel incredibly frustrated when I see people try to calculate their "spending" but then include items which are wealth neutral (principal repayments of debt, or investing) or don't account for time shifting costs properly. Accounting 101 and financial literacy should be part of everyone's basic education...

Living child free is basically life on cheat mode: it's also a very cheap life due to my general introversion, and low cost hobbies. It's also true that accumulated wealth makes it even easier to lower your expenses further (job with perks / benefits, remote working in low COL area, home ownership, no debt, etc). My taxes are 3x higher than my living expenses, which break down as follows:

25% Groceries + Eating Out
19% Car related costs (leasing, petrol, toll)
14% Home related costs (rates, maintenance, insurance)
11% Utilities (electricity, water, internet, phone)
10% Health (insurance)
7% Holidays, Travel
posted by xdvesper at 7:43 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Maybe that guy who owes back child support is getting his wages garnished. I hope so. But these are the same people who are spending almost $2500 on food in a month, WTF. I'm not sure how that's even possible. And they pay a "monthly fee" of $739 for vet appointments and shots? And they're a home heath aide who doesn't have enough work and a machine operator, but they're spending almost $8,000 a month? None of this makes any sense.
posted by HotToddy at 7:54 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


They spend about the same amount on food per month per person as the struggling single mother and son. Cost of couch oreos adds up.
posted by joeyh at 8:01 AM on May 20


Unpaid child support is bad enough but what on earth is this part: "We got engaged for the first time in 1992, when I was pregnant with our first son. After that, I just didn’t hear from him. And then in 2010, I saw him on Myspace and sent him a friend request." ????
posted by randomnity at 8:07 AM on May 20 [14 favorites]


I guess I'm really fortunate in my life circumstances because I don't feel poor at all, but I make less money than almost all of these people.. and literally all of them if you count my net paycheck rather than my gross. Just stunned at the diversity in people's budget allocations - all these people are very different from each other and they are all very different from me.

My spending last month:

Mortgage/property tax/home insurance: $1300 (every month)

College savings for kids: $450 (every month)

Kids' activities: $480 (every. fucking. month. stupid enrichment who needs this crap so what if they never learn to swim why does she love gymnastics so much)

Medical: $450 (therapy out of pocket since new insurance doesn't cover my therapist, #worthit, but I'll be glad when this is over! This is what keeps me from saving.)

Groceries: $420 (see my comment upthread)

Gas/car repairs: $380 (had to fix alternator, usually this is lower as I hardly drive and have a newish car)

10% deposits for kids' summer camps: $320 (kill. me. now. bloody kids are expensive! But this expense is shared between my ex and I, so I'll end up paying $1600 for the summer eventually)

Donations: $200 (standard)

Utilities: $180 (standard)

Takeout/restaurant: $130 (standard)

Internet/phone/streaming/online subscriptions: $125 (standard)

Other (clothes, books, furniture, garden, etc): $115 (fluctuates; can be as high as $300 some months)

Gym: $65 (standard)

Total: $4615, and that pretty much wipes out my net paycheck. I have retirement contributions, taxes, and health insurance taken out of my pay before this.
posted by MiraK at 8:10 AM on May 20 [7 favorites]


God it's just so hard to be a person.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:03 AM on May 20 [26 favorites]


I know there have been times I have been pretty shocked at how quickly coffee or even cheap lunch out while you're stressed and running around adds up A LOT, so... I get it even though we know it's not a wise decision.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:23 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Spending diaries are really interesting, I started to scroll through the piece saying to myself ‘everyone is different, they have different priorities, don’t judge them after they’ve been brave enough to share’.

Thirty seconds later “Wow! How much do they spend on restaurants? I spend that in a year, maybe… Dogs cost how much?? Is that an actual name of a kid? Kids activities cost that! Yikes!” etc etc etc.

I’ve now progressed to reminding myself that there are things I spend on that seem mad to others. My neighbour was a bit shocked when i mentioned having a Roomba, she said “but those are really expensive aren’t they - like over £200”. I was way too embarrassed to admit it was more than double that.
posted by ElasticParrot at 9:23 AM on May 20 [11 favorites]


I like that I feel normal after reading this. Our monthly expenses every since we bought a house (2 parents, 2 kids) are usually around 8K, which I thought was obscene.

On the other hand, at this point in time we both have what I consider pretty darn high-paying jobs (my take home is $4400). This is much higher than average in Canada. In fact, my job alone is close to the average household income in Alberta. So I'm confused - how can these people be earning enough to have those monthly expenses? Do Americans pay a lot less taxes than we do? Or are wages higher (I don't think so)?
posted by kitcat at 9:23 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I assume that when everybody says "groceries," that also includes drugstore items like shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, detergent, etc.? When I look at what I spend on just food, the amount is much lower.
posted by JanetLand at 9:24 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Some of them do seem incomplete, like "Claudia" says she uses her credit card a lot but doesn't have a monthly payment listed. Which might just mean she's not paying it :(
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:30 AM on May 20


Maybe it was rude for me to plonk that comment there without sharing some of our expenses, and maybe you'd like to know what things look like for a Canadian (although just one Canadian). Keep in mind in Alberta our stupid government recently allowed the car insurance and utility companies to charge us crazy amounts. The disposable income part is out of whack because of the pandemic (it's extremely minimal spending on clothes and fun stuff) but here is some:

Mortage/property taxes/home insurance $2200
Car payment 540
Utilities 500
Cell phones 160
Daycare 600
Car insurance 300
Groceries (including toiletries, cleaning stuff) 1200
Take-out 200
Tutoring 600 (kiddo has some learning difficulties)
Debt 1300
Future education savings 100
Security system/internet 100
** no medical expenses **
posted by kitcat at 9:38 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


nakedmolerats, she might be accounting for the credit card charges as part of the rest of her budget. We pump as much money as we can through our card and pay it off every month to take advantage of the cash back, but our budget doesn't have a separate "credit card payment" line because those charges are accounted for under "groceries," "gas," etc.
posted by telophase at 10:10 AM on May 20 [10 favorites]


We pump as much money as we can through our card and pay it off every month to take advantage of the cash back, but our budget doesn't have a separate "credit card payment" line because those charges are accounted for under "groceries," "gas," etc.

Yeah, I do this too - when I finally paid down all my credit card debt in November, I converted a couple of my utilities to auto-charge my cards and then pay them off each month, and that's all I use the cards for. It keeps the credit rating high.

I've been a little hyper-focused on my budget (for me, anyway) as of late because I've also started working with a financial planner who's helping sort out whether I'll be ready for retirement and such. She was most recently baffled by what I'd stated was my monthly grocery bill - "you're only spending $200 on groceries? That seems really low." She convinced me to up that to $250, pointing out that I could definitely afford it - and she's right, I can.

However - what I couldn't get her to understand is that only lately have been able to afford that figure; the job I started last year bumped my annual salary up by 14% from what it had been for nearly a decade. And spending that decade living that close to the bone with that much less money taught me a lot of very frugal habits, which I'm still using - and that I actually was kinda okay on just $200 a month for just me. I know how to shop sales, I have the CSA each year that gives me a lot of vegetables and a lot of them get stashed away for later in the year; usually all I buy for groceries each week is some kind of random protein thing I can use to make dinners through the week (one pack of chicken thighs lasts a single diner a while), a bag of salad greens for salads, and maybe stocking back on on any staples if they're running low.

....I think that there's other stuff hiding on my budget that i haven't accounted for, because she pointed out that my budget has me coming out $1,000 net per month - and it doesn't feel like that. I'm going to be watching my spending a little for the next couple months to see where everything is going, methinks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Did the financial planner figure in healthcare costs? Mine forgot to ask about that and similarly told me I had more money than I actually did.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:26 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


The only one that got me feeling judgmental was Mr. Child Support. But, since we don't see income, it's possible that whatever he pays now was excluded as not a "family" expense. Anyway, I doubt anyone's budget could stand up to motivated scrutiny. The U.S. in particular is set up to squeeze the non-rich so relentlessly and so subtly that it's very hard to blame most people for spending "too much." (My "affordable" NYC one-bedroom rent is ~$2500/mo.)

It might be interesting to see Mefi budget breakdowns, but it might also cause civil war!
posted by praemunire at 10:27 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


We are luckily in an okay position to cover it but we are seeing this month what happens when the whole family needs medical stuff at once and you haven't spent your deductible yet. Last month I stubbed my toe on a door frame so hard that it hurt to put weight on. I went to urgent care to see if it was broken. It wasn't, so I spent $400 just to hear it was a sprain or a bad bruise. Ugh!!!
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:50 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I think you, uh, jumped right past an entire category of people. The ones who are likely most annoyed at their families not being called such if they don't have kids. Ones who do share expenses and pay each other's debt (usually, though not always).

Your thought is correct! I skipped right past that category because I do not belong it (if you're referring to long term relationship folks / polyam fams) and I had no additional thoughts to offer towards it other than "not being referred to as a family because there are no kids involved sucks." Roommating, however IS something I have experience with, and insight into, and plenty of folks live that way as well. I apologize if I made anyone feel more erased, but it's just not my wheelhouse, you know? I haven't been in a LTR, I have not combined my finances with a significant other. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯ them's the apples.

One thing I do like about the photography in the article specifically is the additional glance into a family's material culture. The family in the row house is definitely into wolves! I don't think I'm that consistently into something in my decor, but maybe I would notice it if I saw it published online, lol.
posted by snerson at 10:58 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Did the financial planner figure in healthcare costs? Mine forgot to ask about that and similarly told me I had more money than I actually did.

I've deliberately not included my current medical costs in that budget, becuase it's a temporary situation. And yeah, it would account for the pinch I'm feeling now...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on May 20


So much medical/insurance...
posted by gottabefunky at 11:04 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Also, the poorest family here spends more than I take home in a month, and I feel like I make a very decent income. So, so confused.
posted by HotToddy at 12:11 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Also, the poorest family here spends more than I take home in a month, and I feel like I make a very decent income. So, so confused.

I had the same feeling; but there are a couple of things:
-A lot of them are spending that out of two incomes
-The way this information is presented seems like it might be obscuring a lot of credit card debt. "Credit card bill" doesn't necessarily tell you what the total DEBT is. Though obviously, it can give you a pretty good hint.

This really laid all of my various significant privileges bare in a way that is simultaneously unsettling and reassuring.

Like, I feel pretty unstable/unsustainable a LOT of the time--my job never feels secure, as a renter I feel I am exposed to all manner of unexpected price shocks, home purchase costs seem insurmountable, I am providing financial help to a number of people--but if I run my raw numbers I am still living below my means, just not *ridiculously* below them. Reassuring.

But also this really shows how simple and effortless it would be to lose my grip on all of that and cause a snowball of debt. All I gotta do is get hit by one car or have one bad mammogram or get caught in the next layoffs and I will be absolutely irrevocably fucked forever and ever amen. I feel like having read this, my plan to upgrade my living situation (rented during the pandemic, definitely discovered a number of unpleasant surprises resulting from renting via video tour...) now feels foolhardy rather than deserved. UNSETTLING.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:23 PM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Where does anyone see incomes bc I don’t see them, which kind of makes it hard to evaluate expenses.

Also how is a car that costs $694/mo a “beater” that you can park anywhere?
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:38 PM on May 20 [6 favorites]


I apologize if I made anyone feel more erased, but it's just not my wheelhouse, you know? I haven't been in a LTR, I have not combined my finances with a significant other. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯ them's the apples.

Yeah, sorry, it just seemed like you were offering that as the reason why the journalist didn't talk to any families without children, since you said it was a convenience they used to find people to interview. But maybe I interpreted your structure wrong.

Also, the poorest family here spends more than I take home in a month, and I feel like I make a very decent income. So, so confused.

I keep feeling this too, and I have several "nice" expenses. Like my car is in no way a beater, I've got a walk in closet, and I don't really pay attention to grocery store prices. I am poor but I have just enough to be comfortable and have a little bit of savings thanks to the stimulus. I make a little over a third of what the poorest family spends. Credit card debt can't make up that huge of a difference, can it? Not even any judgement on their part, I'm just... confused?
posted by brook horse at 12:56 PM on May 20


I think in New York, a high-tax state, you'd need to be earning somewhere around $90K to take home what the lowest-spending family is spending. Most of these homes are two-income, so...2 people earning $45K each isn't that well-paid. Also, a couple of the narratives include what appear to be extraordinary expenses--e.g., a whole vacation. A more accurate picture of their spending would've amortized it.
posted by praemunire at 1:21 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Credit card debt can't make up that huge of a difference, can it?

OH man, oh man. It most certainly could. The average US credit card debt is almost $7000. Within my immediate acquaintance i know people who have gone into bankruptcy with nearly 100K in credit card debt. One of them has done this twice. I currently have an amount of credit available to me that makes my stomach turn to water, and for literally no reason that I can divine. I don't even apply for credit; they just increase my credit line periodically, hoping I'll fuck up. Now I get dinged because I don't use ENOUGH of my available credit.

This isn't even meant in judgment of anyone; I just came to the whole credit game later in life and have been astonished to learn just how much debt your average person can get their hands on without even really trying. If I decided I wanted to live right up to my credit limit and just pay the minimum every month, I too could buy a horse for my nonexistent children lol.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:24 PM on May 20 [7 favorites]


2 people earning $45K each isn't that well-paid.

Oh no it's totally not, but this comment is exactly why I keep looking at my $20k income supporting 2 people and going, "Oh. I guess I really am quite poor, huh?"
posted by brook horse at 1:32 PM on May 20 [8 favorites]


My assumption is also that a lot of them are spending more than they make right now, possibly exacerbated by COVID. A lot of the inner text refers to either mounting debt or spending down a lot of savings they had.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:56 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Also how is a car that costs $694/mo a “beater” that you can park anywhere?

Could be a combination of predatory high-interest loans and rolling the negative equity of previous car notes forward multiple times. I have known people who got into that trap, and then have had to make astonishingly high monthly payments to ever have a hope of getting out of debt.

If you have shitty/no credit and need a car right now, there are some really bad deals to be had.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:10 PM on May 20 [8 favorites]


Credit card debt can't make up that huge of a difference, can it?

You'd be surprised. Australia generally has less debt problems than the US (also, universal healthcare, interest free loans for education that are repaid as % of income above a threshold) but man our credit card debt is still horrifying.

The Securities Commission 2018 report said that 18.5% of card holders in Australia are in a situation where they would probably never pay off their debt - and you'd assume they also took on a much higher debt than the average card holder, so this may represent as much as 30% of all credit card debt being unrecoverable. In what is a booming economy, not a recession.

These 18.5% of card holders fell into a categories like, where the card was over 60 days due with no payments being made, or had reached 90% of their credit limit with only minimal repayments being made for the past year and no effort being made to repay the principal.
posted by xdvesper at 7:30 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


18.5% of card holders in Australia are in a situation where they would probably never pay off their debt

Anyone else choke at that?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:41 PM on May 20


Also how is a car that costs $694/mo a “beater” that you can park anywhere?

Could be a combination of predatory high-interest loans and rolling the negative equity of previous car notes forward multiple times.


Yeah it could be, but this is the couple living in Mountain View with the $11,000+ in monthly expenses and rental property in multiple states. He’s calling a brand new $30,000 Camry a beater, compared, I guess, to his friends in San Fran that drive Teslas and have to worry about where they park them.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:20 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


If you're going there, I wish they'd even vaguely tried to talk to a group of people that looked like America. If they were doing that, they might, maybe, have one of their six families be from little rural burgs like Canadaigua or Lancaster or wherever, Nebraska or even Santa Fe instead of that being most of their families.

An interesting criticism.
posted by cinchona at 11:38 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


2 people earning $45K each isn't that well-paid.

Two earners at $90k puts you in approximately the top 25% of household income in the US. So basically yes, it is well paid. The median income in the US for a household is about $65k, and varies very little across the entire US, major cities to small towns when you compare each one individually.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:14 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I do have to add that even though earning $90k puts you in the top 25% for a specific year, something like 40% (a far bigger number than one might expect) of US households earn $100k at least one year in their earning career.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:24 AM on May 21


The median income in the US for a household is about $65k

"Household" in those calculations includes households of one. Median household income is thus generally lower than median family income. As I noted, these are all families of more than one (and IIRC, all more than one wage-earner, though I doubt that one teenager is earning much).
posted by praemunire at 11:45 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


(Median individual income in 2019 was about $36K, meaning that a two-earner family with 2 $45K incomes would probably be above-average, but not remarkably so. Also, I used a high-tax state as my benchmark because it's the one I'm most familiar with. Most of these people will not be paying NY-level state taxes, nor any city tax at all. People living in NYC are having ~12% withheld in state and local taxes; most of these states will require an even lower salary to have a take-home to match the lowest monthly spending given here.)
posted by praemunire at 11:52 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


So much medical/insurance...

I was just talking to my mom on the phone planning a cross border trip from the US to Canada with a compassionate exemption because she has terminal breast cancer and is declining fast and she was laughing about having too much health care and the price being right. I said what do you mean two much? She said she has so many scheduled provider home visits that she had to call some and reschedule to avoid conflicts. Then I asked what the right price was and she said "free" and started laughing. Then she was telling me about her planned hospice location and how nice it was. I think she was probably high on pain meds but still it hits hard how little my very expensive health insurance actually provides here.

Meanwhile, I'm a Canadian living in Chicago trying to figure how the hell we can ever get back to Canada. Megamillions or maybe Powerball?
posted by srboisvert at 12:43 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


"Household" in those calculations includes households of one. Median household income is thus generally lower than median family income. As I noted, these are all families of more than one (and IIRC, all more than one wage-earner, though I doubt that one teenager is earning much).

I don't find that difference to be particularly notable, since 'household income' can also include a non-working spouse, and it's way easier to find household income than it is family income. I just googled, and I'm still not I found the correct number for 'family income'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:09 AM on May 24


I don't see an expense for candles, where did I miss that?

My Depression-era parents taught me to avoid debt and be frugal; that's been useful. Then I went to a Quaker college, and embracing simplicity was a thing. When I had more income, I just saved a ton more, that worked out. There are consumer goods I'd like to have, but not many. The US being awash in a massive surplus of consumer goods makes it pretty easy to live cheaply in many areas. When it comes to some big expenses, like housing and education, I wisely chose parents who could pay for my education, and loan me money to buy a business, the equity from which helped me buy a house 30+ years ago, so that worked out.

The aggregation of more and more wealth by the already wealthy is screwing us in housing and many other ways.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on May 24


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