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Old 06-08-2019, 07:56 PM
Wesley Clark is offline
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What is an upper middle class lifestyle


If you assume there is a lower middle class, middle class and upper middle class, what would an upper middle class lifestyle entail?

To me lower middle class is like the Connors on Roseanne. They own a house and cars, but they have almost nothing left over and are barely making ends meet.

Middle class means you have it better. But you still have to worry about a big medical bill or a major home remodel. You drive fairly new middle class sedans (Toyotas, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, etc)

But I guess what is upper middle class? To me its around 120-200k household income in a low cost of living area, probably closer to 250-400k household income in a high cost of living area.

To me if you can afford a 5 bedroom home*, 2-3 nice cars, expensive vacations, etc. you are upper middle class.

*even 400k in income probably isn't enough to afford that in a high cost of living area like SF or NYC obviously.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:00 PM
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I think it's living in a house you like, going on vacations you want to go on, buying the food and clothing you want, and rarely worrying if you can afford to see the doctor, or to fix/replace the car when it dies.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:06 PM
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Generally I agree. I do think that your income range for upper MC is a bit low. I think it should be 150-250K. 120K still means that a major remodel or a nice new car would be a stretch. Fixing things and a mid-level car is easy at 100-120K.
In the DC area, $175K is solidly in the middle class. But you drive older cars and can't really afford to buy a house. Upper it certainly is not.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:25 PM
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I think it's living in a house you like, going on vacations you want to go on, buying the food and clothing you want, and rarely worrying if you can afford to see the doctor, or to fix/replace the car when it dies.
Yes, but this could all apply just as well to less-than-upper middle class, if their wants are modest enough.

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Generally I agree. I do think that your income range for upper MC is a bit low. I think it should be 150-250K. 120K still means that a major remodel or a nice new car would be a stretch. Fixing things and a mid-level car is easy at 100-120K.
In the DC area, $175K is solidly in the middle class. But you drive older cars and can't really afford to buy a house. Upper it certainly is not.
As the OP notes, the problem with defining it according to income ranges, is that it matters quite a bit how big a family you have to support on that income, and where you're living: the same income is going to afford a very different lifestyle in Peoria, Illinois than in New York City or San Francisco.

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Old 06-08-2019, 08:27 PM
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For me upper middle class means you have plenty of money to do almost anything you want. It does vary by area but age also plays a part. Where I live - major metropolitan and expensive - $75 - 80k per year is not that big a deal. But if you are only 23 years old - as one woman I know is - and still living with your parents it puts you straight in the middle class right away. (she was a "favorite" of one of the directors. The director just retired and she is now too expensive to bid on any real work as her salary fits with a 8-10 year veteran not a newby) She essentially spends most of her time attending our reviews taking notes.
Most of my project managers make close to $150 - 180k per year and are under 45 years old. To me that puts them squarely in the upper middle class even in this area.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:38 PM
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Since cost of living can vary very much from one location to another, I'd take this at the other end; By the type of occupations we typically associate with "upper middle class" and then look at what they can afford in various locations.

For upper middle class, I'd look at engineers, lawyers, doctors. I'm not sure what you would call the upper end of that like senior electrical engineer, partner at a big law firm or surgeon; "Lower upper class" is clunky but I'd hesitate to call them solidly upper class.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:49 PM
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Doctors are kind of a weird field, as they can make more money in a low cost of living area (since demand for physicians there is higher). So a physician may make 300k in boston or the bay area but make 500k in a small town in the middle of the midwest.

But if you're making 500k in a low cost of living area, that's kind of beyond upper middle class in my view. I'm not sure what the term is, but you can buy a Mcmansion for 400k in a lot of the midwest and the south. Thats almost nouveau rich by low cost of living standards.

As for lifestyle by vocation, that changes too. In a low cost of living area a pair of engineers can afford a 5000 sq ft home. In a high cost of living area they can afford a 1000 sq ft condo even with the higher salary.
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:31 PM
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To me if you can afford a 5 bedroom home*, 2-3 nice cars, expensive vacations, etc. you are upper middle class.

*even 400k in income probably isn't enough to afford that in a high cost of living area like SF or NYC obviously.
You can look up income %-tiles by place, though I don't know of a source doing it by both place and household size.

Here's 'New York area'. You can also look up the City or boroughs or neighborhoods within it. Data seems to be a few years old

https://statisticalatlas.com/metro-a...usehold-Income
The mean income of the top 5% is $509k, mean of the top quintile 274, mean of the fourth quintile 114k, the median 69k

https://statisticalatlas.com/United-...usehold-Income
In the US as a whole those numbers are 359k, 200k and 89k, median 55k

People sometimes overestimate how much higher NY incomes are to compensate high living costs particularly high real estate prices. But a lot of even well off people bought homes long ago and aren't paying mortgages or rent commensurate with current marginal prices. And further down the spectrum a lot people in NY (the city) live in below market Rent Stabilized or public housing.

If you assume 400k as 'upper middle class' in NY and a much lower number elsewhere then a much a smaller % of people in NY are 'upper middle class' than nationally.

Also though when some people say NY (or 'New York City') they mean Manhattan or parts of Manhattan. On the Upper East Side 231k there only gets you to the mean of the 4th quintile, closer to the off the cuff idea of the city as a whole.
https://statisticalatlas.com/neighbo...usehold-Income
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:43 PM
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Doctors are kind of a weird field, as they can make more money in a low cost of living area (since demand for physicians there is higher). So a physician may make 300k in boston or the bay area but make 500k in a small town in the middle of the midwest.

But if you're making 500k in a low cost of living area, that's kind of beyond upper middle class in my view. I'm not sure what the term is, but you can buy a Mcmansion for 400k in a lot of the midwest and the south. Thats almost nouveau rich by low cost of living standards.

As for lifestyle by vocation, that changes too. In a low cost of living area a pair of engineers can afford a 5000 sq ft home. In a high cost of living area they can afford a 1000 sq ft condo even with the higher salary.
If you're looking for specific class-based lifestyle characteristics that don't change whether you're in Manhattan or a rural area in the Midwest, I don't think you're ever going to get a satisfactory answer.

The concept of class is going to have modalities according to specific contexts so an answer to your question will require abstracting beyond the square footage of dwellings or specific income amounts. Think of not just high vs low density but countries or eras, it wouldn't make any sense to get stuck on square footage or currency unit amounts.

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Old 06-08-2019, 09:43 PM
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An upper middle class person may be frugal, but they don't go to bed worrying about money.

They have the money to make all the "right" decisions. They take their cars to get serviced even if everything is running smoothly. They keep up with physicals and dental cleanings. They can always afford to get a second (or third) opinion. They always keep a decent emergency fund. Because they can afford to make all the "right" decisions, it is easy for them to see the irresponsibility in everyone else.

The upper middle class have regular "help". Like, someone who cleans the house once or twice a week, and someone who does the landscaping. They may hire someone to cook all their meals for the week. They have full-time nannies. A comfortable middle class family might have occasional help. But not regular help and not help like this.

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Old 06-08-2019, 09:44 PM
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I know. I was surprised when I first heard that median household income in NYC was around 60k. I couldn't figure out how people lived in a place where rent is 3k a month on that kind of income.

But like you said I'm sure a lot of it is a mix of people buying homes back when they were cheaper (there was another SD thread about how brownstones used to be under 100k in the 80s) and a lot of rent controlled apartments.
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:46 PM
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An upper middle class person may be frugal, but they don't go to bed worrying about money.

They have the money to make all the "right" decisions. They take their cars to get serviced even if everything is running smoothly. They keep up with physicals and dental cleanings. They can always afford to get a second (or third) opinion. They always keep a decent emergency fund. Because they can afford to make all the "right" decisions, it is easy for them to see the irresponsibility in everyone else.

The upper middle class have regular "help". Like, someone who cleans the house once or twice a week, and someone who does the landscaping. They may hire someone to cook all their meals for the week. They have full-time nannies. A comfortable middle class family might have occasional help. But not regular help and not help like this.
Thats a good divider too. Upper middle class families hire a lot of people to help them. People to mow their lawns, watch their kids, clean their homes, etc. At that point you're more buying time and convenience.
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Old 06-08-2019, 10:07 PM
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If you can apply to send your kids to a relatively selective private school and not double over in pain when you find out what the tuition will be, you're upper middle class.
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Old 06-09-2019, 02:01 AM
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To me if you can afford a 5 bedroom home*, 2-3 nice cars, expensive vacations, etc. you are upper middle class.

*even 400k in income probably isn't enough to afford that in a high cost of living area like SF or NYC obviously.
Depends on when you bought your house. I have a five bedroom Bay Area house, now paid off, but I bought it 23 years ago. Couldn't afford it now.

I heard from our City Councilman the other day that the cutoff for affordable housing in our city is $82K a year. If you think that's high, the cutoff in Santa Clara county is more like $130K.

I never came anywhere close to making $400K, by the way.
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Old 06-09-2019, 05:43 AM
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I think it's living in a house you like, going on vacations you want to go on, buying the food and clothing you want, and rarely worrying if you can afford to see the doctor, or to fix/replace the car when it dies.
That's a good explanation, but I'd add one thing. Upper middle class can do one or a few of those things, but can't do it continually like the 1%-ers. A UMC family can buy an expensive new car, or take a round the world vacation, or buy a new boat. But they can't do all of them at once. I consider upper class as being able to do all of those things with little regard to the cumulative expense.

jmo.

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Old 06-09-2019, 08:15 AM
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That's a good explanation, but I'd add one thing. Upper middle class can do one or a few of those things, but can't do it continually like the 1%-ers. A UMC family can buy an expensive new car, or take a round the world vacation, or buy a new boat. But they can't do all of them at once. I consider upper class as being able to do all of those things with little regard to the cumulative expense.

jmo.
Yes, that sounds right to me.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:08 AM
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Depends on when you bought your house. I have a five bedroom Bay Area house, now paid off, but I bought it 23 years ago. Couldn't afford it now.

I heard from our City Councilman the other day that the cutoff for affordable housing in our city is $82K a year. If you think that's high, the cutoff in Santa Clara county is more like $130K.

I never came anywhere close to making $400K, by the way.
I know, but you bought before housing prices went insane. If you want a house like you have now on todays market you may need 400k in household income to buy it.

https://www.michelleyelen.com/wp-con...mographics.jpg
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:55 AM
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An upper middle class person may be frugal, but they don't go to bed worrying about money.
My understanding is that there are a fair number of the upper middle class who live paycheck to paycheck--they like to spend money.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:01 AM
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If the question is about what the lifestyle is like rather than a definition of what is "upper middle class", I suppose I am qualified to answer for the NYC area, based on the OP's definition. Specifically, I can speak for the upper middle class areas of New Jersey's "Gold Coast" region from Jersey City to Fort Lee. The main point being that that area is dominated by apartments and condos, rather than single family homes and has relatively quick access to Manhattan. People who live further out in the suburbs and commute in have different lifestyles.


Most of the upper middle class types live in relatively new luxury condos or maybe own brownstones or townhouses they bought before the neighborhoods gentrified. Most of the condos are doorman buildings with lots of amenities.

There does seem to be a trend in creating buildings as self-contained living environments with their own gym, pool, lounges. I'm not crazy about that, as I like living in a "neighborhood".

Jobs tend to be based on New York - finance, tech, media, law, etc.

Most families seem to have at least a nanny and maybe a cleaning lady who comes in occasionally. Sometimes the wife stays home and doesn't work.

I would describe clothing styles as "sharp and put together" but also kind of bland and generic in a Banana Republic sort of way.

We generally have money to do whatever we want, within reason. Mostly because we live well within our means and made good investment decisions. But our whole family can go to Ruths Chris or an equivalent restaurant like once a week and we wouldn't put a dent in our finances.

I feel like drinking is pretty common. Not excessive, but still very much a part of leisure activities.

During the summer, many of my neighbors tend to "go somewhere" on the weekends. Jersey Shore, the Hamptons, Fire Island, Shelter Island, LBI, the Pocono Mountaints, places like that. We tend to either go to my family's summer house or my wife's parents.


It's kind of odd from a "class" perspective, because I see high school friends with more "middle middle class" jobs like policeman or school teacher who own 4 bedroom homes where as many of my neighbors make a lot more money, but rent 2 bedroom condos.
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Old 06-09-2019, 03:40 PM
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I grew up in the lowest income quintile, and we worked our way up to the top quintile. So I've been through all the 'classes' of income.

Lifestyle is individually dependent. I know people who live 'upper middle class' lifestyles on middle class salaries - they just borrow a lot of money, have no savings, and are constantly in financial trouble. On the other extreme there's Warren Buffet, who still lives in the small bungalow he lived in when he was poor.

My wife and I would probably be considered upper middle class now, as she is a senior manager and I am a senior engineer. But we have never owned a vehicle more expensive than a Ford Escape, and currently one of our vehicles is 16 years old and the other is 5 years old. We don't go on fancy vacations because we can't afford it. We did do a cruise for our 25th anniversary, but other than that it's almost always a driving vacation to a lake or something. When we travel we stay in Super 8's or motels of that level. I suspect that is because we both came from poverty and never had expectations or desires for fancy living.

We have a really nice house, but we bought it two decades ago for $265,000. It's worth more than double that now, and I don't think we could afford the mortgage payments if we bought it now, and would probably have to live in a smaller place on some crowded street.

It's funny how when you are making $50K you think about what it would be like to make $150K, but when you actually get there it really doesn't feel very different. The biggest difference for us is that we actually have some retirement savings, two pensions, and we don't have to live paycheck to paycheck. But in terms of lifestyle, pretty much nothing has changed. We still do the same things for fun, I still buy my clothes at Mark's, we still eat at home or at cheap restaurants, etc.

The biggest difference is that the grinding worry about money is gone. If a car breaks down, even expensively, we can pay for it. If the house needs some work I can't do, we don't have to take out a loan or load up a credit card to do it. We have no debt other than a small mortgage that will be paid off in a couple more years. That's a great feeling.

But then I know people who make the same family income and still have all the problems of middle class because they can't manage their money. They lease $75,000 cars, Wear $1000 suits and $500 shoes, and they are in debt up to their eyeballs and still living paycheck to paycheck. Hell, there are Hollywood stars in deep financial trouble after earning millions of dollars. So a lot of what makes our lifestyle satisfying has more to do with the choices we've made and not the income we have or the class we're in. It's possible to save money and not live paycheck to paycheck on a much smaller salary if you are careful with your money.

Last thing: "Money can't buy happiness" is a cliche for a reason. Whether you are happy or not has a lot more to do with the choices you make in areas of your life that have nothing to do with your 'class'. I've been happier and sadder at different points of my life, and it always had more to do with friends, family, career, hobbies, and my own personal development more than whether I had money. And that was true when I was desperately poor and trying to scrape up rent money every month. So don't let 'class' define you - or others.

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Old 06-09-2019, 04:03 PM
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My wife and I would probably be considered upper middle class now, as she is a senior manager and I am a senior engineer. But we have never owned a vehicle more expensive than a Ford Escape, and currently one of our vehicles is 16 years old and the other is 5 years old. We don't go on fancy vacations because we can't afford it. We did do a cruise for our 25th anniversary, but other than that it's almost always a driving vacation to a lake or something. When we travel we stay in Super 8's or motels of that level. I suspect that is because we both came from poverty and never had expectations or desires for fancy living.
Assuming you can afford to spend a bit more than you do now, without affecting your long term financials in a way that will matter, aren't you being inefficient by not using the resources you have? Can't you afford to upgrade the 16 year old vehicle, take vacations somewhere farther away, and at least stay in Holiday Inn Express or Marriott? (speaking from personal experience, there is a huuuuuge difference between a motel room that smells funny and is noisy and one that is spotless with good smell and clearly clean bedding. In a real hotel. Yet the price difference can be from ~60 a night to ~105 a night)

People who live frugally and sock money away for a future need they will never live to have are also as tragic to me as people who blow all their wealth frivolously.

Both are the wrong choice. If you horde money and live miserly until you die with millions in the bank, that's just as bad as having millions and blowing it all on inefficient purchases like private jet trips and cocaine.

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Old 06-09-2019, 04:35 PM
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We don't hoard money. We have less than the 'recommended' amount of savings for retirement. I have a nice computer, and an iPad Pro, and I built a nice home theater with projector and all that. I have a pool table in the basement, and we have a nice house with a nice view. I really don't want anything else, other than gadgetry for my hobbies.

As for our cars, we haven't upgraded them because we don't want to. Once you get off the notion that you always need the latest and greatest vehicle and stop thinking about it all the time, it turns out that there's almost no difference between a 2013 Ford Escape and a 2019 one. Certainly not enough that warrants a $650/mo auto loan. I went to the International Auto Show this year, and didn't see a single vehicle I'd rather have, when the opportunity cost was taken into account.

It's all about opportunity cost. The way to think about a new vehicle is not just that it's new and cool, but that it represents $30,000 or whatever that you could have spent on many other things. One thing you don't get even with an upper-middle class income is the ability to buy whatever you want without tradeoffs. If I buy a $30,000 car, that's $30,000 that I can't spend on other things I might want more. So before pulling the trigger on a big purchase like that, I'll make a list of other things I could do with the money - buy a better computer, plus upgrade my telescope, plus going on a nice vacation, plus.... Then I'll realize that I really don't want the car so much that I'd trade all those other things for it.

There's also the 'acquisition trap' that poor or middle class people can get into - because their income is low enough that there are always things they want but can't have, it becomes easy to tell yourself that whatever emotional problems you are having could be completely solved if only you had that thing you are obsessing about. Then if you finally come into enough money or a steady job so that people will lend you money, the temptation is strong to finally buy that thing that you've obsessed over for years - only to find out that once you have it, it's really no big deal. Then you're on to the next big thing...

A lot of houses in our neighborhood have speedboats or RV's in the driveway in the summer. Working class people buy $75,000 blinged out Ford Raptor trucks on 8 year loans so they can afford them. Then they spend the next 8 years broke because of their $1000 truck payment, and the truck ceases to be anything special to them after a year or two. We made the conscious choice to avoid bad decisions like this. That doesn't make us frugal, it makes us smart.
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Old 06-09-2019, 04:38 PM
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Assuming you can afford to spend a bit more than you do now, without affecting your long term financials in a way that will matter, aren't you being inefficient by not using the resources you have? Can't you afford to upgrade the 16 year old vehicle, take vacations somewhere farther away, and at least stay in Holiday Inn Express or Marriott? (speaking from personal experience, there is a huuuuuge difference between a motel room that smells funny and is noisy and one that is spotless with good smell and clearly clean bedding. In a real hotel. Yet the price difference can be from ~60 a night to ~105 a night)

People who live frugally and sock money away for a future need they will never live to have are also as tragic to me as people who blow all their wealth frivolously.

Both are the wrong choice. If you horde money and live miserly until you die with millions in the bank, that's just as bad as having millions and blowing it all on inefficient purchases like private jet trips and cocaine.
Aren't your presuming that Sam Stone even wants those things? What if he simply prefers staycations over vacations? And what makes you think he only stays at cheap smelly motel rooms?
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Old 06-09-2019, 04:43 PM
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Aren't your presuming that Sam Stone even wants those things? What if he simply prefers staycations over vacations? And what makes you think he only stays at cheap smelly motel rooms?
Super 8. I've stayed in many motels, and also the "express" type of hotels, and for me there's been no comparison.

I can't compare his value system other than to say, that for me, visiting foreign countries are intense and memorable experiences, while staycations are not. It's the difference between a week with 100 new and unique things every day and some weeks that are the same except you relax more.

But, sure. If he thinks he's being optimal and he's actually saving at below the recommended rate, then he is being optimal.

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Old 06-09-2019, 05:16 PM
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Super 8. I've stayed in many motels, and also the "express" type of hotels, and for me there's been no comparison.

I can't compare his value system other than to say, that for me, visiting foreign countries are intense and memorable experiences, while staycations are not. It's the difference between a week with 100 new and unique things every day and some weeks that are the same except you relax more.
Personally, I've had staycations that were memorable experiences and vacations that were a whole bunch of "meh". Hell, if you've got enough disposable income and time, you can you can find plenty of "new and unique" experiences in your own backyard.

I actually think that's what an upper middle class and wealthy lifestyle really gets you. You have enough resources to have a great time no matter where you are. None of the "well-to-do" people I know wait for "vacation" to live it up. They live it up every weekend.

Not everyone digs "intense and memorable", especially if their jobs are "intense and memorable". For lots of people, they'd rather spend their vacation sitting on a boat in the middle of nowhere, listening to crickets with a ceiling of stars overhead. I know, how boring is that? But it's the life of Riley for many people. They'd much rather be out on a fishing boat than staying at a four-star hotel. You can't say someone is being "inefficient" with their money if they are doing exactly what they want to do.
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Old 06-09-2019, 05:37 PM
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Super 8. I've stayed in many motels, and also the "express" type of hotels, and for me there's been no comparison.

I can't compare his value system other than to say, that for me, visiting foreign countries are intense and memorable experiences, while staycations are not. It's the difference between a week with 100 new and unique things every day and some weeks that are the same except you relax more.

But, sure. If he thinks he's being optimal and he's actually saving at below the recommended rate, then he is being optimal.
I mentioned Super 8 because I have been continually surprised at how good they are for the money. We stayed in one in Billings Montana that looked like a luxury hotel inside. I've spent a career travelling and staying in Marriots, and I've stayed in places like the Banff Springs Hotel. When I was a professional gambler I stayed at 5-star hotels, generally getting them comped or discounted. I know what luxury hotels are like.

See, for me I really don't care about that stuff. I'd rather carry my own bags, and I don't give a damn if there's a nice folded towel swan on my bed or a chocolate rose on my pillow. Give me a clean bed and a decent room, and leave me alone. That's pretty much what I like.

I also like 'Staycations', because one of my stresses has always been that I have many hobbies and can't indulge them during the work week. Astronomy, for example, has to be done at night. There's nothing I like more than a nice week where I can just focus on my own projects and relax.

I also like road trips. My favorite 'vacation' in the last few years was a whirlwind drive to Idaho and back over three days to watch the solar eclipse. 2600 kilometers of driving. It cost us about $500, including gas, and I'll remember it forever. On the other hand, I spent a week in Paris and Eastern France, and hated every minute of it. I can't stand pretention, and I don't want to be coddled or spoiled, and I don't care about fancy surroundings.

Having an upper middle class income does not mean you like or choose 'luxury'. I just want freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want. Luckily, I don't want much.
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Old 06-09-2019, 06:06 PM
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If you can apply to send your kids to a relatively selective private school and not double over in pain when you find out what the tuition will be, you're upper middle class.

I agree.

If you’re in UK as I am and you can afford to send your child to university without them having to take our massive loans and come out 50k in debt at the end of it, you’re upper middle class.
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Old 06-09-2019, 07:09 PM
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I can't compare his value system other than to say, that for me, visiting foreign countries are intense and memorable experiences, while staycations are not. It's the difference between a week with 100 new and unique things every day and some weeks that are the same except you relax more.

But, sure. If he thinks he's being optimal and he's actually saving at below the recommended rate, then he is being optimal.
Since you brought up value systems and what visiting foreign countries is to you, do I remember correctly that you went on a sexual safari through Eastern Europe, disbursing sums both for prostitutes and sugar daddy deals, racked up a lot of debt then posted a thread where you were considering whether or not to declare bankruptcy over that sexual safari debt? I think you may find most people have value systems which are compatible with Sam Stone.



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Last thing: "Money can't buy happiness" is a cliche for a reason. Whether you are happy or not has a lot more to do with the choices you make in areas of your life that have nothing to do with your 'class'. I've been happier and sadder at different points of my life, and it always had more to do with friends, family, career, hobbies, and my own personal development more than whether I had money. And that was true when I was desperately poor and trying to scrape up rent money every month. So don't let 'class' define you - or others.
I think it's a question of diminishing returns for material vs increasing returns for social/existential goods. Past a rather modest standard of living, how happy you are is much more about the kind of relationships you have with others or with your own life than about maxing out your score in some planetary Monopoly game. People could experience happiness before the latest iPhone and 2019 Car of the Year came out.


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There's also the 'acquisition trap' that poor or middle class people can get into - because their income is low enough that there are always things they want but can't have, it becomes easy to tell yourself that whatever emotional problems you are having could be completely solved if only you had that thing you are obsessing about. Then if you finally come into enough money or a steady job so that people will lend you money, the temptation is strong to finally buy that thing that you've obsessed over for years - only to find out that once you have it, it's really no big deal. Then you're on to the next big thing...

A lot of houses in our neighborhood have speedboats or RV's in the driveway in the summer. Working class people buy $75,000 blinged out Ford Raptor trucks on 8 year loans so they can afford them. Then they spend the next 8 years broke because of their $1000 truck payment, and the truck ceases to be anything special to them after a year or two. We made the conscious choice to avoid bad decisions like this. That doesn't make us frugal, it makes us smart.
Some people seem to have the same kind of relationship with money as bulimics, alcoholics and gambling addicts do to their poisons. It's like trying to make up for a protein deficiency by eating more sugar. It's going to feel nice for a little while but will only sink you deeper. I think it was JS Mill who talked about how humans can of course experience many of the more basic pleasures (and there's nothing wrong with that in itself) but that focusing them even after they should be sated will stunt your development.
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Old 06-09-2019, 08:18 PM
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Having an upper middle class income does not mean you like or choose 'luxury'. I just want freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want. Luckily, I don't want much.
That sums it up perfectly for me also. When we moved here we looked at private schools, and none were better than the public schools in our neighborhood. Most were church schools, which were non-starters. I could buy a new car if I wanted, but what a waste of money.
At some point in our lives we have plenty of time but not enough money to do everything we want. Later we have plenty of money but not enough time. That's where I am - even now I'm retired.
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Old 06-09-2019, 08:35 PM
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That sums it up perfectly for me also. When we moved here we looked at private schools, and none were better than the public schools in our neighborhood. Most were church schools, which were non-starters. I could buy a new car if I wanted, but what a waste of money.
At some point in our lives we have plenty of time but not enough money to do everything we want. Later we have plenty of money but not enough time. That's where I am - even now I'm retired.
I think that kind of ties into what monstro said earlier. I wonder if at a certain level of income, you realize your time is more valuable than money and you start hiring people to do things for you so you have more free time.

If there are non-financial dividers between classes (aside from things like education), I'd say thats one of the dividers between middle class vs upper middle class, when you realize your time is more important than money (because you have more than enough money) so you start hiring landscapers, cooks, cleaners, nannies, tutors, etc. freely.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:22 PM
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I know. I was surprised when I first heard that median household income in NYC was around 60k. I couldn't figure out how people lived in a place where rent is 3k a month on that kind of income.

But like you said I'm sure a lot of it is a mix of people buying homes back when they were cheaper (there was another SD thread about how brownstones used to be under 100k in the 80s) and a lot of rent controlled apartments.
There's that - but there's also the fact that rents are different in different neighborhoods ( $3K in some neighborhoods gets you a studio - in my neighborhood it gets you three bedrooms and some change) and also that lifestyles are very different in different places. Right now , I live in Queens. I own my 3 BR house which I bought 31 years ago and two cars. If my income suddenly doubled, I would sell the house , ditch the cars and buy a one or two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Because I don't need three bedrooms for me and my husband and I won't need cars in Manhattan.

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To me if you can afford a 5 bedroom home*, 2-3 nice cars, expensive vacations, etc. you are upper middle class.

*even 400k in income probably isn't enough to afford that in a high cost of living area like SF or NYC obviously.
That 5 bedroom home - there aren't that many of them in NYC. I myself have never seen one- the closest it gets is a three bedroom house that has had a fourth bedroom added in the basement or attic.. I'm sure there are some- but if I see a listing for a house with 5 or 6 or more bedrooms, it's almost always a multiple dwelling. (it is very common for people to buy a two or three family house and rent out the other units - something that I've only seen in urban areas) ) Are houses smaller and more expensive than those in other places- absolutely. I just got back today from visiting my brother-in-law in Rochester - his house is twice as big as mine, he has four times as much property and it's worth half as much as mine is.

But people with $1M a year in income can't be excluded from the upper middle class simply because they live in a 3BR Manhattan apartment and don't own cars. They could certainly afford a 5 bedroom house and a couple of cars somewhere in the area, but they have decided that not only is their time worth something, so is the location.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:56 PM
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I don't think you can exclude age and savings from the equation. You aren't upper middle class unless there's a high probability that you'll retain a similar lifestyle once retired. Not identical, necessarily, but not having to eat cat food.

The youth are going to have to save a higher fraction of their income for retirement. The older generations have been irresponsible and failed to repay what they took. There is also more uncertainty about the global economy and even the state of civilization.

An older household that makes good money now but is close to retirement and has failed to save for it is also not upper middle class. Maybe that's because their jobs didn't pay well until recently or maybe they were irresponsible with their money, but either way, if they have to sell their house and lower their standard of living just to make ends meet, they shouldn't be counted in the upper middle class.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:11 AM
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I'm definitely not an economist, and unlikely to ever have much experience with an upper middle class income, but I'll throw in the two pennies I can spare:

I think it's important to note the difference between an UMC lifestyle and being (economically) upper middle class.

The lifestyle might well include a large home, a fancy car or two, private school, hired help, and a couple of high end vacations every year. Nouveau riche.

But that's not the economics. You might well be a high earner, happily driving your 15 year old Subaru home to your modest bungalow every day. Spending and earning are very different functions.

(The OP reminded me of a set of questions from my daughter as she completed a homework assignment for Econ 1101 last semester. She was instructed to figure out the net worth of a family, and compare it to income, so I was the obvious source to ask nosy financial questions. And we are struggling. Disabled husband, two kids in college, two in elementary school. We aren't able to help the big kids much, but we do pay for phones and car insurance, and provided both with reasonable used cars.

However, because we have a very modest amount of debt - currently about $5000 remaining on the mortgage - and don't mind driving an old vehicle, if it's maintained, our net worth puts us ahead of the majority of Americans. Yeah, it's a mobile home, but it's on almost 5 acres of land that is appreciating fast. Yeah, both trucks are old, but they're paid off. No, the furniture isn't fancy, but none was purchased on credit. Our children don't attend fancy schools, but we intentionally bought a home with access to good public schools, and a good university plus a technical school to take advantage of state funded dual enrollment for high school kids. We live a lower/lower middle class lifestyle, but I make financial decisions that are advantageous.)

Lifestyle, earnings, and absolute wealth are very different things, and I'm not sure that one can describe a class without factoring in all three.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:00 AM
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Can't you afford to upgrade the 16 year old vehicle, take vacations somewhere farther away, and at least stay in Holiday Inn Express or Marriott? (speaking from personal experience, there is a huuuuuge difference between a motel room that smells funny and is noisy and one that is spotless with good smell and clearly clean bedding. In a real hotel. Yet the price difference can be from ~60 a night to ~105 a night)
I've long discovered that I'm a "2-star, family owned" kind of girl when it comes to European hotels. Part of that is that while 2-star, family owned hotels tend to tile or parquet, a lot of 3- and 4-star hotels have carpet, and I have a nose whose opinion about carpets is not printable. 5-star hotels are likely to have partial carpet over slippery floors. One of the reasons I like being able to book hotels online from sites with pictures is that nobody bothers indicate whether carpet exists in their hotel but you can usually tell from the pics.

From the point of view of my clogged nose and watering eyes, Marriott and Holiday Inn Express blow about as many pissed cats as Super 8. All of them have carpet, and "carpet" is just a 4-letter word with extra budget. For many people, the criteria used to decide what's "better" isn't necessarily the criteria used by those selling us whatever.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:10 AM
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I work away from home; usually out of the country. I take advantage of weekends with nice weather (*shakes fist at the rain falling outside*, today is a bank holiday) to visit whatever place I'm working in. I also have a home in one of the most visited cities in the world (Barcelona), another up in the Pyrinees, and my closest relatives live in a small town that's got a steady stream of international tourists year-round. 2.SiL works in our local tourism office; 2.Bro will "play guide" for foreigners who happen to drop by during the local Fiestas, sent to him by his wife. I remember that one year he had a retired couple from New Zealand, a Japanese family and a Canadian man along with their own visitors from Germany and France, and a Chinese friend's own visitors from China. My staycations are other people's exotic trips

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Old 06-10-2019, 01:31 AM
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I think that kind of ties into what monstro said earlier. I wonder if at a certain level of income, you realize your time is more valuable than money and you start hiring people to do things for you so you have more free time.

If there are non-financial dividers between classes (aside from things like education), I'd say thats one of the dividers between middle class vs upper middle class, when you realize your time is more important than money (because you have more than enough money) so you start hiring landscapers, cooks, cleaners, nannies, tutors, etc. freely.
Heh. The father of a girl in my daughter's barn was the founder of a company which IPO'ed, and he became rich. Helicopter to work rich. When he wanted a berth at a dock he bought the houseboat that was there rich.
He bought lots of toys. And his wife was responsible for handling the installers and service people and everything else. She did not want help around all the time to help her out. (I wouldn't want it either.) She basically told him, stop buying stuff or I'm leaving. Or not dealing with it anymore. He stopped.

BTW the helicopter thing didn't work out because it pissed off the neighbors and because his house was very near a small nuclear reactor. Mo money, mo problems.
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Old 06-10-2019, 04:03 AM
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Having an upper middle class income does not mean you like or choose 'luxury'. I just want freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want. Luckily, I don't want much.
Absolutely this.

I've been lucky to be in gainful employment since the age of 16 and have never bought in the aspirational nature of the upper middle-class lifestyle. When my wife an I had our first serious discussions about life together we both agreed that we didn't care about big houses and fancy cars and expensive clothes and other fripparies.

We were very much of a mind that we wanted a house that was adequate for our modest needs, a little bit of garden but not much more than that. A car is a tool for us, it just needs to do the job. Clothes, jewellery etc. absolutely don't care. I went out yesterday and spent £200 on clothes but that is the most I've ever spent in one go and it got me 7 shirts, a coat. two trousers, three pairs of shoes and boots, plus underwear. I am a cheap date and my wife is the same.

So by being frugal and modest when we don't have to we have huge scope and freedom to do the other things (like holidays when we want and meals out when we want) that do matter. To look at us you wouldn't know our net worth or debt levels or peg us as upper middle class and I rather like that and wouldn't care much for that label anyway.
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Old 06-10-2019, 04:43 AM
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We are in the top 5% or so of US incomes and we do our own cleaning, child care, lawn care etc. We do take nice vacations a couple times a year and my wife drives a newer car. I honestly don’t care about material things too much. I’d rather save money, retire at a reasonable age, and then travel. The number one priority for spending is living in a place that is safe and has a good school system. Not to get too political but it’s ridiculous and not quite fair the disparity in schools.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:54 AM
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I work away from home; usually out of the country. I take advantage of weekends with nice weather (*shakes fist at the rain falling outside*, today is a bank holiday) to visit whatever place I'm working in.
This is how I've seen most of the world. There's no reason to spend our own money when the job will get me close to many great things.

That doesn't mean I've not taken the occasional, dedicated trip (e.g., to Barcelona or New Zealand), but I saw most of western Europe because I lived there, saw most of what I wanted to see in France because of business trips; ditto for Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, India.

In Asia, we get five star hotels. In North America, I prefer to spend my own money on Motel 6 (for a single night stop) or Holiday Inn Express (if I'll be there a few nights).

I'll fly if I have to, but I much prefer a road trip if I have the time. Florida and back from Michigan is easy. In a few weeks we'll drive to California and back. I've driven nearly every part of Mexico from Sonora to Chiapas and a whole lot of points in between. That New Zealand trip was three weeks in an RV, too.

I rather identify a lot with Sam Stone's attitudes.
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:18 AM
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That's a good explanation, but I'd add one thing. Upper middle class can do one or a few of those things, but can't do it continually like the 1%-ers. A UMC family can buy an expensive new car, or take a round the world vacation, or buy a new boat. But they can't do all of them at once. I consider upper class as being able to do all of those things with little regard to the cumulative expense.

jmo.
I'll third this: I've come to the same conclusion. I'd add the caveat that UMC can easily afford to do some of the things on the "upgraded lifestyle" list: a regular middle-class family can afford to do a small amount of them but they need to watch their money to do so.

This does not mean that the UMC family does spend their money on luxuries, just that they can afford some without worrying too much about whether they can afford them.

And like you said, I have also come to the conclusion that upper class means you can afford all of these things without batting an eye. Which doesn't mean that all of them do so, nor does it mean they'll never run into money problems if they go overboard with the second houses and worldwide cruises.
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:06 AM
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Since you brought up value systems and what visiting foreign countries is to you, do I remember correctly that you went on a sexual safari through Eastern Europe, disbursing sums both for prostitutes and sugar daddy deals, racked up a lot of debt then posted a thread where you were considering whether or not to declare bankruptcy over that sexual safari debt? I think you may find most people have value systems which are compatible with Sam Stone.
Partially correct. I tried several dating strategies and also tried the prostitutes on nights when I wasn't getting any. It was cheap and cost-effective - my debts were accumulated over time and had little to do with this. I asked about bankruptcy because it seemed like if I could dump 30k in unsecured debt, but the damage to my credit rating cost much less than 30k, it would be a logical thing to do. The total cost was about $3500 for 10 days.

As I found out, subtle rules regarding income to debt are why people don't do this as often as you would think, only if I lost my job and couldn't get a comparable position for a year would bankruptcy in the form that deletes debts be even allowed.

So, yes, part of what made the experience so thrilling was I was in a good mood the whole vacation from regular sex with hard body women.

So even little stuff like the alternate outlet designs and the high ceilings and so on seemed really cool.

Last edited by SamuelA; 06-10-2019 at 11:08 AM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:12 AM
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Partially correct. I tried several dating strategies and also tried the prostitutes on nights when I wasn't getting any. It was cheap and cost-effective - my debts were accumulated over time and had little to do with this.
I thought your 25K debt was tightly linked to it. I guess sex is a lot cheaper in Eastern Europe than I thought. I'm not planning a trip but I am curious as to what the buck-to-fuck ratio was. Maybe that could replace the Big Mac Index.

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Old 06-10-2019, 11:20 AM
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People who live frugally and sock money away for a future need they will never live to have are also as tragic to me as people who blow all their wealth frivolously.

Both are the wrong choice. If you horde money and live miserly until you die with millions in the bank, that's just as bad as having millions and blowing it all on inefficient purchases like private jet trips and cocaine.
I suppose I am scraping up against the lower range of upper middle class, but the above sort of misses the point.

The only reason to have money is to get what you want. I don't want expensive cars or private jets or cocaine. I want security. I want the feeling of having more than I need, not the feeling of spending more than I want.

We don't deny ourselves every luxury - we are going to Disney World in September, and I want to put in a new deck on the house. But having those things will not affect my peace of mind, because we budgeted for them and we can do them and the cost will not materially affect us.

I can't have fun with things I don't feel I can afford comfortably. That's not necessarily a virtue; it's a part of my personality. Yesterday I did the grocery shopping, and I got everything on the list, and still stayed $30 under budget. For me, that's fun - I feel like I won against the universe, or got away with something. Saturday I fixed the ice maker. We could afford to call the repair guy. We have a budget line for household repairs. But we didn't need to spend it. Found money!

I strongly suspect that, even if I won a hundred million in the lottery, I would still save the plastic bags that bread comes in to pick up dog poop when I take Leet the Wonder DogTM for Nice Walks.

Spenders eat better, and savers sleep better. At my age, I'd rather sleep.

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:40 AM
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When we were in that income bracket, I bought a new car for cash every 2-3 years, had a nice motor home (cash), and my house was paid off. We paid off our credit card each month, and were able to travel whenever we had vacation time without going into debt. That doesn't mean that we spent wildly or foolishly, just that we had the income to exceed our needs, with enough left over to build on our retirement fund.

Contrast that with the 23 years I spent in the military at from poor to barely lower-middle incomes, with four kids in the house. We managed to stay out of debt, thanks to being very frugal, and my car lasted me 13 years (purchased on financing). After scrimping and saving for all those years (also thanks to provided medical and housing), and thanks to a small inheritance from my mother, I managed to retire from the military with about $28,000 in the bank. Most people I knew who retired as enlisted had zip.
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:43 AM
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Having an upper middle class income does not mean you like or choose 'luxury'. I just want freedom. Freedom to do what I want, when I want. Luckily, I don't want much.
I'll third this. UMC income means that you have all the basics covered in a practical fashion- i.e. you're not buying used tires for your car, you get your AC serviced annually, and you have enough cash on hand or credit* to immediately and competently remedy most any major appliance/home system that might encounter serious problems, including your car. And if you are working on that stuff, it's because you enjoy it, not because you're compelled to by financial considerations.

And there's also a disposable income component- once you have all the above housekeeping covered, UMC households typically have enough spending cash to do what they want to a greater or lesser degree. They may not be able to do all the things they want to the degree they want (e.g. travel first class, stay in 5 star hotels in foreign countries), but they can definitely do foreign travel, for example.
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:44 AM
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I thought your 25K debt was tightly linked to it. I guess sex is a lot cheaper in Eastern Europe than I thought. I'm not planning a trip but I am curious as to what the buck-to-fuck ratio was. Maybe that could replace the Big Mac Index.
For the hard bodied women, the amounts varied between about $75 to $250. That is, professional prostitutes were cheaper but I also found a girl who went out on a date with me and then made an indecent proposal.

Naturally, the woman who I 'honestly' dated all week in the day time started having sex with me for 'free', but the cost of all the previous dates and gifts made her bang/buck ratio more expensive than hookers.

I always have tentatively planned to find a 'good but hot' Eastern European woman to marry, but the ironic thing is I am pretty sure the bang/buck ratio is unfavorable for marriage. Sure it can appear cheaper but you have to figure a huge percent of my income would go to her needs and then if everything works as expected she would produce offspring and that's where it really gets expensive...

Last edited by SamuelA; 06-10-2019 at 11:44 AM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:31 PM
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I am married and we have two children, aged 4 and 11 months. Our combined household income is just shy of $300K. We live in the midwest and our city's cost of living index is below the US average. I consider ourselves middle class to upper middle class. We are not wealthy or "the rich" but we recognize we earn more money than a large percentage of the population. What does this mean for us? Some examples:
  • We both fully fund our 401K annually to the maximum allowed amounts for our age. My wife is 10 years younger than I and on-target for her retirement savings goals. I am behind the recommended amount needed for retirement, mostly due to past economic set-backs and dumb/bad decisions made decades ago that I've never been able to catch-up from.
  • We have a large victorian home in a historic district that we paid $240K for and have invested about $150K in renovations. Most homes in our area are now selling for over $500K. This combined investment results in (in my opinion) a fairly high mortgage payment each month. As it is a 130+ year old home, our maintenance costs are probably higher than the average. And of course heating/cooling 3 floors and 4600 square feet is not cheap.
  • With our current income and home, our daughters are growing up in a home that is much nicer, bigger, and more unique than either my wife or I had as children.
  • We are able to send our children to one of the best daycares in the city but there is also a high cost for that care. We pay almost as much each month for daycare as we pay for our mortgage. Combined these two expenses consume a large amount of our take-home pay.
  • We are looking at private schools for our children. We cannot afford the more expensive schools in our city ($25-40K per year) but we are looking at 2nd tier private schools. Note: The reason we are looking at private schools is because we live within the city school district and our city's public schools are some of the worst in the state of Ohio. If we lived in the suburbs with the associated higher property taxes and above average public schools we would send our kids to public. The public schools in our area are the worst-of-the-worst and since we do have the means we will send our girls elsewhere.
  • When I go grocery shopping, I don't worry about buying off-brand versions of products to save money. On some products we do in fact buy off-brand but it isn't necessary because we are concerned about money.
  • My wife owns a 2009 vehicle that is paid off. A year ago, I bought a 2 year old "luxury" vehicle and have a monthly car payment. Prior to buying this vehicle I had owned a Mazda for 16 years and had over 180K miles on it. When my vehicle is paid off, my wife will buy a new(er) car, most likely used and less than 3 years old.
  • We have employer provided health and dental insurance (high deductible plans) so we are able to maintain regular doctor and dentist appointments, etc. When we have had major events (childbirth, a couple surgeries, etc.) the out-of-pocket to cover our deductible has been painful but we had the money or could easily meet payment plan commitments.
  • We do annual vacations to a cabin my in-laws own on Lake Huron so that doesn't costs us anything other than gas, food, and beer money. We have done a few bigger trips over the last 6 years (since getting married and starting a family) including our honeymoon in the DR, a trip to Cancun to celebrate a brother-in-law's birthday, and last year we went to Italy with another couple. Prior to getting married and having kids, we did ski trips annually for about 3 years in a row.
  • Both my wife and I carry too much personal debt. For both of us, we have too high of a debt on credit cards. I also still have a large amount of student loan debt. My wife had a much lower amount to start and has paid hers off. Due to our mortgage, childcare costs, etc., it is very difficult for me to make a dent in my personal debt. It is my largest financial concern.
  • With planning we can spend more extravegantly on gifts for each other for events like anniversaries, birthdays, etc. But neither of us have received a Lexus with a red ribbon for Christmas. Haha!

Again, I realize we are more fortunate than others and we do
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  #48  
Old 06-10-2019, 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Shodan View Post
I suppose I am scraping up against the lower range of upper middle class, but the above sort of misses the point.

The only reason to have money is to get what you want. I don't want expensive cars or private jets or cocaine. I want security. I want the feeling of having more than I need, not the feeling of spending more than I want.

We don't deny ourselves every luxury - we are going to Disney World in September, and I want to put in a new deck on the house. But having those things will not affect my peace of mind, because we budgeted for them and we can do them and the cost will not materially affect us.

I can't have fun with things I don't feel I can afford comfortably. That's not necessarily a virtue; it's a part of my personality. Yesterday I did the grocery shopping, and I got everything on the list, and still stayed $30 under budget. For me, that's fun - I feel like I won against the universe, or got away with something. Saturday I fixed the ice maker. We could afford to call the repair guy. We have a budget line for household repairs. But we didn't need to spend it. Found money!

I strongly suspect that, even if I won a hundred million in the lottery, I would still save the plastic bags that bread comes in to pick up dog poop when I take Leet the Wonder DogTM for Nice Walks.

Spenders eat better, and savers sleep better. At my age, I'd rather sleep.

Regards,
Shodan
Despite our differences in other forums, this makes me think IRL we could almost be friends. This is pretty much exactly how I approach money and budgeting.

Last edited by iiandyiiii; 06-10-2019 at 12:54 PM.
  #49  
Old 06-10-2019, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Partially correct. I tried several dating strategies and also tried the prostitutes on nights when I wasn't getting any. It was cheap and cost-effective - my debts were accumulated over time and had little to do with this. I asked about bankruptcy because it seemed like if I could dump 30k in unsecured debt, but the damage to my credit rating cost much less than 30k, it would be a logical thing to do. The total cost was about $3500 for 10 days.

As I found out, subtle rules regarding income to debt are why people don't do this as often as you would think, only if I lost my job and couldn't get a comparable position for a year would bankruptcy in the form that deletes debts be even allowed.

So, yes, part of what made the experience so thrilling was I was in a good mood the whole vacation from regular sex with hard body women.

So even little stuff like the alternate outlet designs and the high ceilings and so on seemed really cool.
I'm betting that when you were a kid you grabbed the marshmallow right away.
I'm with Shodan on this one.
  #50  
Old 06-10-2019, 03:35 PM
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Originally Posted by iiandyiiii View Post
Despite our differences in other forums, this makes me think IRL we could almost be friends. This is pretty much exactly how I approach money and budgeting.
I think that the vast majority of posters in here would actually get along famously in real life. The differences of opinion we all have are amplified and somewhat distorted by the nature of online discourse and of course we pay far more attention to the contrary positions.
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