Making Ends Meet on $300,000 a Year

BusinessWeek‘s June 16 issue has a story on the “not-so-rich” rich. It asks “Just what does it mean to be wealthy these days? … Many facing higher taxes [if Barack Obama is elected president] don’t consider themselves part of the exalted crowd. They have good incomes, to be sure, particularly compared with the median household income of $48,200. Of the 149 million households filing federal income taxes for 2006, some 3% reported income between $200,000 and $500,000; fewer than 1% claimed income above half a million dollars.” The article goes on to cite comments by a few others in this income range who say they feel “stretched” and “middle class at best.”

It would help to have a sense of what a household budget at this income level might look like. Here’s an attempt at one. I assume two employed adults and two preschool-age children. I use a pretax income of $300,000, which comes to $25,000 a month.

A lot of this — loan payments, property taxes, savings, child care expenses, and others — will vary depending on household circumstances. But are there any significant errors or omissions here?

Calculations by the Tax Policy Center suggest that Obama’s plan would increase taxes for this type of family by perhaps $6,000 a year, or $500 per month (about 2% of pretax income). Is that too much to ask? You be the judge.

37 thoughts on “Making Ends Meet on $300,000 a Year

  1. I make a pretty good wage (not on this scale), as does my wife, when she works full time (which, at the moment, is not the case).

    If my taxes went up $250 per month, I could pretty easily cut out several nonessential items to cover the difference. I wouldn’t be terrible enthused about it, but I wouldn’t regard it as a major imposition if the economic policies of the country in general were a little more focused on long term sustainability, infrastructure upgrades, paying down debt, etc.

    It’s kind of tough to evaluate if taxes are too much to ask if you’re not also taking into account where they’re being spent.

    P.S. -> $75,000 in car loans, in my humble opinion, is personal financial idiocy… however much money you make. :)

  2. I suspect that in order to generate such income, many folks live in relatively high tax states, and many folks live in high priced real estate areas.

  3. On the other hand $1500 for childcare seems a bit low to me. We’re paying $2000 for babysitting (NYC rate, one kid) just so my wife can work full time. And we’re nowhere near $300K. These calculations seem reasonable to me.

    Can we assume that health insurance costs will be lower?

  4. I also note that the recent Jensen and Shore paper (Freakonomics blog link) indicates that many folks who reported income in that range have had highly variable income. They may report $300,000 in income, but that may not be an appropriate baseline budget for them.

  5. State and local taxes in New York City or California are closer to 10 percent than the 2 percent in your calculations. Home prices in Manhattan or the Westchester County suburbs are closer to 2 million than the $600,000 you are using, and the real estate taxes in the suburbs are more like 2,000 per month than the 1 thousand in your calculations. Also, it costs about $550 per month to garage your car in Manhattan if it is an SUV, $350 for regular cars. One of the big problems with our tax system is the failure to adjust the tax burden for cost of living variations. Someone with $300,000 in income in say, Dubuque, Iowa is wealthy while someone in NYC with that income is just another overtaxed working stiff.

  6. These “necessities” are more like life mistakes or unfortunate addictions, from the way you describe it here. Do you really find that you’d recommend to others with this income that they buy $75000 worth of cars? A $600,000 house? Or would you perhaps be willing to admit that these are the goals of class and status that go well above and beyond need? Should we pity you for wanting so desperately to be able to hold on to the symbols of bourgeois success in a time when scarcity is killing millions around the globe? It’s hard to find any rational way to identify with your position here unless we agree that the status items and lifestyle ($1600 for food?) are somehow “necessities” being taken from you by the government. But get this: we work to MAKE a nation. We work to MAKE communities. The government (and the taxes you donate to it) should ideally be an agent in this process of building. But if you think we work to make ourselves individual islands of wealth and status who can lie to ourselves that we’re somehow self-made and beyond the responsibility to others that the government is asking us to remember… well… perhaps this is the sign of a thorough infestation of decadence among the “educated” in our country that will ultimately mean its demise.

  7. Clearly this family is living very luxuriously, $500/month for a country club, $1,600/month for food, $9,000 per year for vacations — ever heard of camping, or driving to Six Flags and staying at the Holiday Inn. And a $600,000 house, I know in Orange county California this just buys a very nice middle class house in a nice suburb, but in the vast majority of the country you need less than half as much for such a house.

    A key thing though is, it’s not that Obama would be making them pay extra taxes for no benefit in return. Even at their income level, the benefits from Obama’s tax increases would be substantial. These include a great decrease in their health insurance costs, and the health insurance costs of their employers, which should eventually be passed along in higher wages.

    The tax increases would partly go to increase public health and safety, substantially benefiting the quality of life of them and their children.

    College would become a lot more affordable, so their children wouldn’t be saddled with so much student debt like they are, and they would have to save less for their children’s education.

    Public recreation would be better, so maybe they could play on the public tennis courts or send their children to a free public community center, instead of having to wall themselves off from the rabble like the elites in Honduras — and that is the path that the Republicans have already sent us down to a horrible extent.

    The list goes on and on.

    Even for a family this wealthy, I would guess that the costs substantially outweigh the benefits, and this is overwhelmingly true for the median family.

    The main reason is that Obama’s and the Democrats spending programs, by and large, recognize what the scientific academic economics community learned long ago. An intelligent government role can greatly increase efficiency, wealth, and welfare, due to problems with the pure free market like externalities, asymmetric information, inability to perfectly price discriminate, inability to patent, large economies of scale and monopoly power problems, especially with idea, knowledge products, and more.

    The Republicans of the last three decades have a hostility to science and thinking in general when it interferes with their ideology, and their simple-minded, the pure free market is always the best and magic, slogan economics has cost us greatly.

  8. One other thing, which is huge, is the prestige externalities, prominently researched and written about by Cornell economist Robert Frank.

    The taxes would be paid by everyone in one’s peer group, by and large, so if you ended up spending $5,000 less on your car, on average, so would your peers, so you wouldn’t lose any prestige. As typically, the utility of a luxury car, versus an average one, is probably at least 90% prestige, the utility cost of that $5,000 less in spending would by more like $500, but the whole $5,000 in taxes would go to health care, education, public safety, cancer research, etc. (inconspicuous consumption as Frank would call it).

    The same goes for spending on clothing and accessories, country club, and even vacation hotels are highly context related in their utility.

    Furthermore, if their income goes down X%, so does their peers’ who bid against them for homes, so there will be a savings in home prices. It’s not a complete free lunch, because, for example, older couples moving from a larger home to a smaller one will on average pocket less of a difference, but there will be far more gainers from this than losers.

  9. What is most instructive is reading the reader comments appended to the online version of the BusinessWeek article. There are several $300k/y earners who argue their case very forcefully :-).

  10. $1,600 a month for food expenses for a family of two adults and two pre-schoolers? I have to assume that includes several eat-out-with-babysitting nights.

    I’ll quibble the car costs. Unless you’re assuming the cars will only last four years (in which case, why did you buy them instead of lease), the cash flows you present assume (1) that you bought both cars at once and (2) that you did so right around when your expenses went up with one or both children.

    Otherwise, you pay off the loans now and reduce the savings until years 5-?? (8?) when the car money goes into education funds.

    Also, you quickly realize that you should pay off your student loans and car loans quicker, since you’re not making 7% on that money. Right now, you’re putting just under $35K a year into retirement/education funds that aren’t going to be returning anywhere near that amount.

    Cut the meals out (which looks like at least $400-600/month of that food budget), pay down principal, and don’t impulse-buy two cars at once, or dump them the minute they are paid off.

    If any increase in taxes is what’s required to get these people to look at their budget, then it’s probably a good thing.

  11. Pingback: How Do You Know Whether You are Middle Class? Can You Stay There? | GROWMAP.COM

  12. Did anyone notice that these people are paying $8,000 per month for tax not to mention car license fees, sales tax etc. They are paying about 33% of their income to the government.

    A couple earning $100,000 with a $200,000 mortgage and 2 kids would be paying about $13,000 per year or 13% of their income.

  13. I live in Oregon and my wife and I pay 45 percent in taxes. We are both primary care doctors and we are going to pay 49 percent total when Obama is done with us. We have a household income of about 300000 . The issue is not whether we pay more taxes . It is where are the taxes going. Every day I see so much waste in the health care industry. I know Obama says it’s due to doctors but it’s also due to lawyers and us having to cover our asses . It is also due to government imposing layers and layers of beauracracy on our job enabling us to take care of less patients and practice less medicine while employing a bunch of unnecessary watchdogs who make a point of justifying their salary with ridiculous comments and investigations. Then there is the power that patients wield in this country. Regardless of whether I think something is medically necessary or not I often end up doing what the patient wants (which adds to medical expense) as I don’t want to be sued. Think it gets better under obama? Yeah right. Health reform – there is no tort reform so we still need to cover our asses with needless investigations and treatments. Also, physicians pay will be linked to patient satisfaction scores which means there is even less incentive to practice guidelines and more incentives to simply ‘do what the patient says- at the expense of the rest of the population. I could go on and on. my point is , if your raising my taxes to 49 percent like England and Canada , I have no problem with that. Heck , my wife is Canadian, I lived there for six months and I am British by nationality. Just have the money go to the population. Not to lobbyist causes, lawyers, bureaucrats and unnecessary medical care because I need to cover my ass and ‘Keep the patient happy (even if it goes against medical literature) because I don’t want to be sued or get paid less for the same work.

  14. I have to admit that I make $300,000 per year. I live in a 2400 sq. ft. house built in 1985. I paid roughly 60k for the combined total of 2 cars. I get by. I will not go into deep explanation besides that but, yes, they tax the mess out of me. And my student loan repayments are astronomical. I have things, but nothing extravagant. No yacht (actually, no boat), no rv, used cars, no country club, no golf. Don’t think I am rich. Take 35% of this off the top for taxes. That’s over $100,000/yr.

  15. This is insanity. $300,000/year income is rich. It is not middle class or poor, it is rich. The budget you display shows that the person makes very poor financial decisions. If the person wants to claim they are only “getting by” on $300,000 a year, why do they have a $600,000 house on loan, $75,000 of autos on loan, $500 a month on gym membership, and a ton of other expenses? “Getting by” in reality means renting a crappy apartment or living in an old house in a neighborhood where audis and bmws are not present.
    I suggest the person making $300,000 a year finance a $200,000 house, purchase no more than $30,000 of autos using cash, and do actual physical work that pays $$$$ on the side instead of spending $500/month on a gym. Save all of the money that would otherwise be wasted for 5 years. Then, if you still want to be a douche, buy your fancy $600,000 house and $75,000 in autos using CASH.

  16. Yes, you are are rich if you make $300,000 a year. If you want to live like you are earning $3,000,000 a year on a $300,000 income, that is your business.

  17. My husband and I make a combined income of $300K per year. We certainly don’t live a luxury lifestyle: we clip coupons and work incredibly hard. 20-25% goes to savings for our retirement and our kids college funds, we have a significant amount that goes to student loans(we both paid 100% for our educations-grad school and law school) and a large chunk goes to childcare. I’m certainly not saying we’re starving but we aren’t spending on luxury items either.

  18. People are missing the point. The point is that the $300,000 club is only the upper 3%, which most people would say are wealthy. The truth be told, this is not wealthy. The budget is real. Sure, $600,000 sounds like a lot for a home, but it isn’t that much. If the “wealthy” can’t have nice things, what’s the point? Why work so hard? Why push to go to good schools, get good jobs if we are expected to have to go camping? I am not in this group, but I aspire to..and push myself every day. If the payout is that I can only buy a cheap Hyundai, well then I may as well quit now.

  19. live in san francisco bay area and your 300000 is really 200000 and try to find a home for under 600,000 it can be done you will get a fixerupper! oh yes ,you need to save up 150000 to get the fixeruper ok what was the American Dream anyway a 300000 income living in a big city gets you by fine you will not save alot for your KIds 200000 collage bills forget the boat, its 6 bucks to use the bridge or did you forget take 10% off the 200000 for a sales Tax you ned 500000 to have toys tax the 500000 to 1000000 and what about the average bank CEO making 12 million or more same as stars and pro sports, so please leave the the 250 a year for a married couple alone, wait till they are having a combined income of 500000 thanks

  20. obama is a real socialist. If he would just say he was a socialist it would be ok….but so far sweden is looking better to me. Why should laziness and lack of aspiration and be rewarded with social programs that recompense this behavior. Also whats wrong with a flat tax. say 17% for example, ( with only poverty level incomes not paying the 17%) because after all 17% of 30,000 is not as much as 17% of 300,000. Also obama, why not try to stop the spending, you dont have a blank check, and its our children that will have to repay this. (actually not mine, im leaving this country its become too ridiculus)

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  22. To the A-hole who said that rich means buying a $600K house, remember that is only in parts of that are less desirable/less jobs/less opportunity/less culture/less benefits, etc. Where I live 600K buys you a one-bedroom apartment without a view. Get some perspective. And, no, the income does not make up for it.

  23. There is some truth to everyone’s comments and they have been fun to read. I think part of the problem with defining “rich” is the perspective and the cost of living in your region of the country. What are the minimum luxuries that a “rich” income should afford? Would a flat screen tv or the latest smart phone qualify? How about driving a BMW or Mercedes? I see many college students and middle class families that have these things. For me, I like Forbe’s magazine’s definition of rich which would be defined by having an income of over $1M/year. I think most people would agree that is rich no matter where you live. But this leaves a huge range from $50k/yr to $1M and the people near these extremes are clearly not in the same class either. So where does that leave people with incomes of $200-$500K? These people should be properly defined as affluent. They are not rich, but they can afford certain luxuries that most middle class families cannot. In this range, buying a nice house (not necessarily a mansion, but nice), driving luxury cars, and perhaps having a small country club membership or private schooling kids may be in reach. But these people still need to shop at Walmart and Macy’s and consider buying used cars like most middle class people do if they don’t want to work their whole live accumulating stuff. The affluent will not typically be driving Ferrari’s and Lambo’s and taking private jets to wherever they please. Rolex? More like Timex, or time to keep the watch you already have.

  24. Hello! Your reality simply isn’t the reality of the rest of the World… In fact try to think of all the people working hard all over the world for mere survival? You should be very very thankful! Easy solutions for you: Buy used cars, fix them yourself, take care of your kids yourself, eat less ($1600/month on food??) Clean your own house, dump the iphones, stop buying clothes every weekend and so on… You will see that you can suddenly start helping your local food bank/homeless center or tutoring center…or buy more stock haha Happiness level in your house will also go up if you stop your consumerist race, promise. Peace!

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  29. This article isn’t about those that are living on less $300,000, it’s about what it takes to be considered wealthy. If you have a nice $500k house and are financing it, you are not wealthy. Wealthy is means you OWN. Everyone else is renting from the banks, stop making your payments and the banks will take “your” possessions.

  30. I make about 150000 a year. To me it is a comfortable living. I live in the south. I was looking at the monthly budget breakdown and I was shocked at how many expenses are on there. I could not imagine having that. Also, with the economy the way it is, who has that much money to save for education. My son is a junior in college and we are debt free with that so far. We did not save 900 a month. I don’t know maybe it’s just me. I think half of that budget can be tossed.

  31. Pingback: What % of working class makes $300,000.00 a year? – hisgamemylife

  32. Interesting read. Great comments. One was, what is the point of making more
    when you can’t live a certain way. I am in this income range and feel like me, and others in my income range and above pay for the services the country requires.
    bottom line, we pay a lot of taxes. what is alarming, is the general opinion that the wealthy should just pay a little more. after all they have it right.
    Why would’nt the ones getting the services for less be thankful for those that
    are paying more. It’s like a group going to dinner and half the group doesn’t
    pay anything and a few people pay the whole bill. Rather than saying thanks,
    the non payers hate the fact that the ones that paid are working a little harder,
    or smarter. Besides the tax challenges, we also have to take care of our families.
    there is a lot of responsibility to making a little more. Definitely not the country
    club life.

  33. I once made as much as $180k per year. It was only for a couple years. I often have made about $120k per year. Over the last couple years more like $90k per year. For the way my wife and I live it’s enough. We won’t get rich on it, but it’s enough. My wife is a homemaker so that’s all my income. But what I wanted to say is the enemy is not the so called 1%, which is probably the $300k or so earner. And it doesn’t matter if it’s $250k or $500k, it still has to be managed. I know people struggling on $1M per year because they live so large. To my point; it’s the 0.0000000000001% that are the enemy. These are the Rothchilds, Warburgs, Rockefellers, Redstone, etc. Trillionaires who don’t wan’t anybody to have anything but themselves. In their mind the two doctor couple making $400k per year is no different than the $40k per year truck driver. The goal is to destroy both of them. Ever wonder why the IRS never bothers the bum on the street? That’s their goal – to impoverish. The taxes are NOT to raise revenue but to strip freedom away from those who strive. This is the short version of what’s going on. Taxes are intended to destroy not to raise revenue. By the way, tax revenues pretty much all head straight to Europe where the main five federal reserve bank owners all live. If you’re not one of them, it really is better to live way below the financial radar screen. Sad but true.

  34. Totally agree with Lorenzo. Big govt strips away the freedom from hardworking Americans. It shouldn’t matter to anyone how someone earning $300,000 spends their money. Lots of judgemental folks who seem to be projecting their insecurities here. Govt shouldn’t have the right to steal from us. It’s our money and we should keep more of it. Govt is incompetent.

  35. I am a physician who makes about $300,000/year. I have several friends who are in the same situation. What I have noticed is that there are 2 main differences between my situation and colleagues which dramatically affect how we feel about our standard of living.

    1. Student debt – given my extensive training, my wife and I have about $500,000 in educational debt. To responsibly pay this off over 10 years (if I take longer my kids will be in college and will not have saved anything) we pay about $8000/month AFTER taxes (40-45% tax rate). It has always seemed ironic to me that if you buy a $3 million home most of that payment is tax deductible, yet if you have a “business investment” in yourself it is not. Many of my friends who make far less than me had their wealthy parents pay for their medical school and they are living far better than me.

    2. Where you live – I lived in Michigan for many years and now live in California. My mortgage in Michigan was $950/month. For that same house here it would be $4000/month.

    There is no doubt that my wife and I live “well” and there are some spending decisions that we have made in the past which make the budget tighter but making ends meet is the #1 concern in my life. I do look at many blue collar professionals though who started working at 18 (I’m 33 and just started making money), have no debt, do side jobs under the table in cash and their standard of living is about the same as mine. Part of the issue to is that people with passive income, non-taxed income or old money have many ways of tax sheltering. As a W-2 worker things are different. My total marginal tax rate is almost 50% and I must say that does really affect your decisions on how much more money you want to try and make.

    One problem that I do see in society is that standards of living never go down. It is a one-way ratchet. Many people in my situation have lived luxurious lifestyles when they had 2 incomes and no kids. Now they have kids and one income and they feel beyond squeezed. I think previous generations that were always used to one income did not have have as much of a lifestyle shock once they had kids. Now 2 incomes is the norm.

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