Definitions Of A Middle Class Income: Do You Consider Yourself Middle Class?

Middle Class Homes In Holland

I have a theory the majority of us, no matter how little or how much we make, consider ourselves part of the middle class. When I worked at McDonald’s for $3.25 an hour, I was dirt poor, but considered myself middle class because both my parents had jobs and I had a bicycle and a cozy home to come home to.

When I finally graduated from college and started making more money, I felt poor because all I did was work in expensive New York City! For example, I shared a studio with a high school classmate for $2,100 a month and that was in 1999! It was only until I moved to San Francisco did I feel I was part of the middle class again. Money was more plentiful, a starter home “only” cost about $1,500,000, and I had more free time to explore.

I’ve experienced all three classes to varying degrees and I believe there are wonderful merits to each of them. From the poor Haitian immigrant who goes to college and becomes the first black female mayor in Utah, to the billionaire investor who gives 99% of his net worth to charity, everyone tends to come to center. My favorite class is the middle class. But first, we must define what middle class means.

DEFINITIONS OF A MIDDLE CLASS INCOME

Standard Definition: $25,000-$100,000 a year is what most would consider as a middle class income. The $75,000 spread accounts for the wide cost of living differential between places like New York City and Fargo, North Dakota. Everybody who lives in NYC or San Francisco will tell you that $25,000 a year is poor. There’s just no way to get ahead, support a family, and one day retire with that type of income.

If you’re making $100,000 and live in Des Moines, Iowa, then you’re living large. The last time I was there, I had a fantastic ribeye steak for $20 bucks and saw a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 3,000 square feet houses go for $150,000. When the cost of an entire house is only 50% more than your annual income, you know you’ve got it made!

Mitt Romney’s Middle Class: Mitt Romney recently came out and said the middle class is “$200,000 and $250,000 or less.”  The $200,000 refers to an individual, and $250,000 refers to a couple. Why $200,000 + $200,000 doesn’t equal $400,000 still baffles me. But as you know, the government is sexist and it takes people to really care before math can change. There just aren’t enough individuals who earn $200,000 each and get married. Hence, the rest of us who are not affected will let sexism continue.

If you live in an expensive coastal city, $250,000 for a household isn’t exactly rich since about $65,000 of your income goes towards taxes. You can afford a car, take a couple weeks of vacation a year, max out your 401K and send your two children to private school. But if you ask any $250,000 a year couple whether they think they are rich, I’m sure most would privately tell you no. It costs $1.5 million here in San Francisco to get a decent house in a decent neighborhood. That’s 6X a $250,000 household salary.

President Obama’s Middle Class: Obama’s middle class is also $250,000 per household or less. He just doesn’t say it! Instead, he says “the rich” are those who make $200,000 or more as individuals and $250,000 or more as households. Strategically, this is a better way of getting more votes because there are mathematically less people to anger. If you say “the middle class is $250,000 or less,” you run the risk of angering a huge portion of the 95% of people who make much less because they might think you’re out of touch with reality.

Mitt and Barack have the same definitions of what a Middle Class income is, but they say it differently. In politics, you have to be careful with verbiage. Math always triumphs at the end. If you can get 50% of the 95% of the population who makes $200,000 or less in America to vote for you, it’s much better than getting 100% of the 5% of the population who makes more than $200,000 on your side! Thankfully, these bozos on 1/2/2013 came to a Fiscal Cliff compromise and raised the definition of “rich” to now $400,000 for singles and $450,000 for couples.

WHY WE CONSIDER OURSELVES MIDDLE CLASS

1) We adapt very quickly. Remember how fast the excitement went away after getting into college, getting a promotion, a holiday present or receiving a nice big raise? After about a couple months, we revert back to feeling like our old selves. We could be very upbeat selves in general, but we no longer feel that high of a big win. I have a friend who makes a million dollars a year, but considers himself middle class because his other friend makes tens of millions of dollars a year! The hedonic treadmill gets us all.

2) Nobody likes to feel inferior. If we so happen to earn below the median household income of $55,000 in America, we should realize we are “below median” and perhaps “below average” in household income generation. But, nobody likes to feel below average in anything which is why the term “lower class” sounds derogatory! Instead, we’ll find a way to justify our below median income by saying we live great, happy lives, and are doing things we love to do. We’ll tell ourselves making less is a choice, that grades don’t matter, and that money isn’t everything. There are certainly truths to all these reasons. Happiness stays constant above a certain income range, so there’s no reason to justify why we are poorer than average, but we curiously do.

3) We are scared of being murdered. The more you make above the median household income, the more you need to fear for your life. A lot of wealthy people cannot control the urge to splurge the more they make. It’s just natural to buy fancier cars, wear nicer clothes, and live in bigger homes. You only live once is Gen Y love to say! All is good until you realize there’s a stranger standing in your living room with a butcher knife ready to splice open your guts unless you give him all your valuables. We are seeing an uprising by the people against anybody who has more. We also see the government take away more of our income the more we tell them we make. By projecting we are middle class, we avoid the uprising, deflect criticism, and get to join in the hunt.

MIDDLE CLASS IS A WONDERFUL CLASS

I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and I will unequivocally tell you that being right in the middle is wonderful. When I was poor, I was insecure about my future. I wondered whether I’d ever be able to earn enough to buy a home and raise a family. I worried I’d amount to nothing in my parents’ eyes after spending so many years in school. Envy, a feeling I despise often entered my body as I saw friends take wonderful vacations and drive new cars. Why them, not me? Protesting big corporations and those who have more made me feel better.

When I was rich, I wondered whether I really was as evil as people painted out rich people out to be. Self-doubt began entering my mind as I questioned whether I really deserved to make what I was making. There is so much poverty in the world, I began to feel guilty about my wealth. As a result, I worked harder by getting into work earlier and leaving later. I then spent hours at night working on my online endeavors, so that one day I could no longer have to work and return to the middle.

Now that I’m back in the middle in “retirement,” life is more carefree. I know politicians are now on my side because they need the middle class vote to remain in power. I no longer fear being ostracized by others for earning an above average wage because I am average. There is less insecurity about my future because I have a house, some clothes, and a beat up car named Moose to get me around. I now spend time connecting with others online through my sites, sharing my knowledge and learning what I can from all of you.

The income definition of middle class is whatever we want to project! We work hard to provide for ourselves and our families. We take action to save money where we can. We realize the importance of community and rely on each other to flourish. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that being average is not good enough. Being middle class is what makes all our countries great!

Recommended Actions For Increasing Your Wealth

1) Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to increase your wealth is to track your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing. One of the best features is the 401K Fee Analyzer which has allowed me to save over $1,500 a year in portfolio fees. They also have a free Investment Checkup tool which analyzes your various investment portfolios for risk. There is no better free online tool I’ve found that has helped me manage my wealth. It only takes a minute to sign up.

2) Check Your Credit Score: Everybody needs to check their credit score once a year given the risk of identity theft and a finding that 30% of credit reports are wrong! For over a year, I thought I had a 790ish credit score until my mortgage refinance bank on day 80 told me they could not proceed due to a $8 late payment by my tenants from two years ago. Thanks to the late payment, my credit score was hit by 110 points to 680 and I could not get the lowest rate. I had to spend an extra 10 days fixing my score by contacting the utility company to write a “Clear Credit Letter” to get the bank to follow through. Check your credit score for free at GoFreeCredit.com to protect yourself. A credit score is important for potential job opportunities and getting the best rates on mortgage loans, car loans, and credit card loans. It’s all about lowering expenses.

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Mike Hunt says

    I’ve discussed this with my wife and we both came to an agreement that we are upper middle class or in the bottom most tier of the wealthy / rich class.

    You already know my annual income & net worth from previous comments.

    -Mike

  2. says

    Hey Sam,

    with all respect, I don’t think you can consider yourself in the middle class. You are going to tell me that your income is in the middle class range but not your net worth. Since Bill Gates doesn’t have a salary anymore, is he in the middle class? I don’t think so.

    My definition of the middle class include both salary and net worth. Someone with a net worth under 500K and earning between 50K to 100K is in the middle class in my opinion. If you worth 5M$, you don’t have the same problem than someone who has 300K mortgage and makes the same income as you, right?

    It’s the same thing for someone who makes 250K per year but has for 1M$ in debt. I’m not sure I would put it in the middle upper class… I would probably consider that he is part of the middle class.

    In the end, the middle class also relates to where you live. You should compare your salary and your net worth with the median of your city/state. As you said, living in Iowas is much cheaper than living in NYC!

    I consider myself in the middle class since my wife doesn’t work. My income is relatively high but our household income is relatively medium :-)

    • says

      I’ve never been compared to Bill Gates before, but thanks I guess!

      If you have a net worth of $5 million, but can only generated $100,000 in income a year living in SF or NYC, I say you are middle class. You’re doing OK, but you’re not rich.

      Based on where I live (SF), I am very middle class.

      • MacroCheese says

        You’re kidding right?

        You could draw down $125,000 in principal every year from that nest egg and still haveover $1,000,000 left.

        That coupled with a $100,000 salary makes you much better than middle class no matter where you live.

        • says

          So you are saying draw down $125,000 for 32 years, and at age 67 have $1 million? What if the person lives until 90?

          $125,000 a year is $125,000 a year less than Obama and Mitt’s middle class income a year, and only $25,000 more than the $100,000 general definition in point #1. So how is this rich again?

    • SusieQ says

      I agree with you – while our net worth is higher than most and we are early retirees, we are really just simple folks – we live well below our means, and consider ourselves just average. I guess I don’t think of that often – I’m not one to really care where I fall on some scale.

  3. says

    I do consider myself middle class as an individual and as a couple (myself and my girlfriend). My view of middle class (in my area, which is not super expensive to live in) is about $50,000 to $150,000. Anything much higher than $150,000 is probably in the top 5% of household incomes in the area.

  4. says

    I think most people DO consider themselves middle class, just like most people consider themselves at least a little smarter than average. I don’t think it’s so much about income levels though as it is the perception of being able to afford the “typical” things that those around you have (without a lot of struggle).

  5. Michael says

    I’m a real advocate of so-called “stealth wealth.” In my family situation, we’re likely in the top 2 or 3% of households (based on income) in our area, but we live in a rather understated home (3 bed room, 1.5 bath, 1650 sqft on just less than .1 acre), in a neighborhood with one of the cheapest costs of living in an already cheap part of the country. We work hard and bring home large incomes, and aside from a few vices like good beer and the occasional nice dinner out (and our indulgences don’t look so out of place given how people try to “keep up with the Joneses” spending way more than we do), all of our earnings get plowed into building wealth.

    That said, by the definition of “rich” above, we are not “there” yet. I have no doubt that at some point in the future our incomes will rise to flirt with that line, and eventually surpass it, all-the-while I’ll be sick to my stomach over the taxes we’ll be paying. Hell, I’m already sick to my stomach with the taxes we pay now! And I don’t even live in 10% state income tax land like some people. Regardless, I think I’d be foolish to consider our family anything but “upper-middle” class based on the region in which we live, and other factors.

    • says

      Same here Michael. We speak the exact same language regarding “stealth wealth.” I would much rather someone perceive me middle class or poor, than rich. Based on how I dress and what I drive, as well as my age, that is exactly what they will see.

  6. says

    I define the middle class as ‘You can keep things going with your income but you’d be in trouble if you lost that income for a length of time.’ If you aren’t making money but can still live large you’re likely in the upper class.

    With that definition, I’m purely middle class.

  7. says

    According to every definition you got up there, I’m in the middle class, lol. Thing is, my wife and I are happy. We’ve got a house, our two daughters, and we make enough to eat and have heating. So what else do we really need? I don’t really want to become an upper class dude for why you say, more stuff to protect and worry about. Bah! As I am, in the neighborhood we’re in, we don’t really have to worry about getting knifed for our possessions. It’s a sweet deal sitting in the middle!

  8. says

    I live in Rochester, MN – which geographically and economically is not all that far away from Des Moines, IA. I make a good salary, and admittedly live pretty well even while paying off my mountain of debt. I think a lot of people who are in the “upper” portion of the middle class salary range still view themselves as “in the middle” because they don’t manage their money wisely and they don’t realize the full potential of their income.

  9. says

    I like to think that the definition of middle class is more qualitative than quantitative. Your example of earning enough to afford a home, transportation, private school education for two children, while retaining enough to save a sufficient amount for your own personal retirement is what I’d consider middle class. Obviously, the amounts necessary to fund these expenditures/savings totally depends on where you live.

    Historically, middle class parents have been able to give their children better futures than they had themselves. This is the reason why I think the private school qualifier is important not quantitatively, but qualitatively.

    Going on a tangent – and I know this is a pretty controversial topic – being able to afford a private school education is a must for me if I were to ever have children and call myself middle class. Having attended both public and private schools, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t feel right having kids without being able to afford private school. I know that private schooling gave me a ton of advantages, and it challenged me intellectually in a way that I never found in public schooling. Having the capacity to pay for private school for my kids would, to me, give me the comfort of certainty that I’d give my kids better than I had – a key part in my definition of American middle class.

    Running away now before being burned at the stake for a very favorable opinion of private schools.

      • says

        Surprise! There are plenty of places where you can pick your school, meaning that you don’t have to live remotely close to attend. Thus, the best students of the worst schools choose better schools, and then all schools go to hell.

        My middle school had excellent test scores. A few years later, it can no longer have “school” in its name because of school choice, whatever. It’s happening everywhere; your school board will probably pick your kids’ school next.

    • says

      I agree with you about private school. I went to private school and so did my children. I don’t think private education would be part of the middle class though. A family earning around $100-150K probably cannot afford private education.

      • Meme says

        No true, my single mother managed to send me to private school on a small hourly retail worker’s wage. No government assistance either.

    • says

      There are some really solid public schools though JT! Have faith! I went to private when I was overseas, and public when I was in America, and I didn’t notice that huge of a difference.

      Just have your kid take AP level classes and not mess around w/ the wrong crowd and they’ll be alright!

      • says

        Smooth transition then. School district here puts kids on “tracks,” so if you transfer from private schools, AP isn’t always an option. Basically, if you’re going to move your kids from private to public, do it before everything is set in stone. Cut off seems to be either at middle school or high school.

    • says

      I think that perception of quality public schooling is a localized thing. Here in the Bay Area, Palo Alto schools are considered the ‘cream of the crop’ (Cupertino gets an honorable mention, but it technically has higher scores). Yet rich people living there will still send their kids to private schools like Harker and Bellarmine.

      So I’d say area leads to a definite pecking order. In college, a number of my friends from wealthy backgrounds (especially from north of Chicago) went to public schools, yet they impressed upon me that “they might as well have been private”. YMMV.

  10. says

    I would consider myself middle class and I think our income backs that up. Defining middle class has much to do with location, as you highlighted. Living here in the Midwest, I’d define middle class as anybody making between the $25k-150k. If you’re living on the coasts then I’d say that bumps up to $50k-250k.

  11. says

    I suppose that my family is firmly in the middle class, but it is just a label… As you referenced, different salaries mean far different things, depending on where you live. Here in the Midwest, you can get a nice suburban four bedroom for around $200,000, which makes your salary stretch a bit all around.. It is hard for me to even comprehend folks spending 3-4 times that amount on their home, and what type of mortgage payment would really mean.

    I don’t really strive to get in the upper class, nor am I concerned about slipping into the lower class.. I just want to find the best life that I can for my family and I..

  12. Hiro says

    “But, nobody likes to feel below average in anything! Instead, we’ll find a way to justify our below median income by saying we live great, happy lives, and are doing things we love to do”

    Well said! Another solid evidence why I love your blog because it’s more than finance, money, politic, etc. You also covered the human behavior aspect of life in your blog in a realistic manner.

  13. says

    We are middle class. That range is huge because I still consider ourselves middle class before and after I quit my job. The only time I wasn’t middle class was probably when my parents were both working minimal wage jobs.

  14. says

    I consider my family middle class, and I think the income for middle class depends heavily on geography. where I live, you can get by perfectly well on about 45k per year, but in more expensive locales, you’d have a lot of trouble making rent, much less saving and buying a place

  15. Chris says

    I’ve never thought about the “cap” put on middle class. Around here $250K/year is ridiculous. I guess I just accepted that number because I hear it all the time on the news. I think middle class is relative. If you’re able to feed your family, own a house, and own a car then you are middle class. I’m not sure where the line is between upper and middle. I suppose upper would be if you stopped working today you and your family would never have to worry about money and not have to change your standard of living. Median income in my neck of the woods is about $26K so I guess I’m above average :).

  16. says

    Sam, I agree that the middle class is the best class. As a tax guy, I would be more specific and say that the upper middle class has it the best ($150k-$250k range). You make enough not to have to worry about things like a pesky $300k mortgage, but don’t make so much that you get taxed to death! Plus, if you practice frugality like you do, you aren’t really left needing/wanting most anything.

    I have a tentative plan to make $100k by the time I’m 30, and $200k by the time I’m 35. I haven’t reverse engineered it to a ‘T’ yet, but I have a high level overview of my plan. The upper middle class is the place to be!

  17. says

    My income is in the top 10% of households. But Romney says I’m Middle? When I was in school 50% was middle. Hmm. Maybe your math doesn’t have to make sense when you’re a politician.

      • says

        Mike was referring to my asking for three days a week at my job. To spend two days a week experimenting and learning about starting an online venture. Not necessarily only blogging. Although the blog was a way to get that message out, and motivate others to demand more. I also spoke with Mike that I may not be able to reduce my work week at all, and that my wife might decide to take a year leave of absence to try the same. The latter is the way we are leaning currently. We want to try making $1.00 Online. Then $10. Then $100. etc. NOT through the blog. I have no intention of monetizing the blog any time soon. Just documenting what we are trying and what is working.

        This is what I replied to Mike on http://www.thefinancialblogger.com/do-you-go-all-in/

        @TheFinancialBlogger – It was great to meet you also. I learned a lot from our talks. I want to clarify that I technically haven’t gone all in on blogging as suggested in this post. I am negotiating a 3 day a week work week. One that would probably become 4 days. Also , I am not all in on Blogging, but instead life. I intend to use the time off to pursue many new things. To go to the park with my three children when they want, not when my job allows, and also to experiment with other forms of income. I understand that Blogging is not perhaps a financial goal, but I think people could relate to my story and journey. I imagine others are like me, and are tired of hearing home run stories from people who started on 3rd base. I started with everyone else, staring down the pitcher. Scared of the next pitch.

  18. says

    In reference to living in the east coast, a family needs a minimum of $203,310 to live a normal family life in the suburbs of New York! (If you rent, the costs for Manhattan would be around the same ballpark.) No wonder NY is one of the most expensive cities in the World!

      • says

        The ideal income is for a family of four to live in the suburbs of New York

        Assumptions:

        *a family of 4, both parent are professional and in their 30s,

        *one of the children is primary school age and the other is a baby, age 1.

        *they have a modest lifestyle, but there is room for a few extras

        *they are home owners with a $3,000 monthly mortgage payment that includes property taxes and homeowners insurance

        *the older child goes to public school and the younger one goes to a daycare that costs $1,200 a month

        *utilities include electricity, water, cable, internet, mobile phones, etc.

        *transportation includes gas, possible one car payment, car insurance, tolls, etc.

        *healthcare includes payroll deductions, out-of-pocket expenses, etc.

        *all taxes include federal, state, local, FICA, etc.

        Expense: $/Month $/Annual
        Necessities

        Housing:
        $3,000 / $36,000

        Daycare:
        $1,200 / $14,400

        Transportation:
        $1,000 / $12,000

        Utilities:
        $900 / $10,800

        Groceries:
        $800 / $9,600

        Healthcare:
        $700 / $8,400

        All Other:
        $500 / $6,000

        Extras:
        Vacation
        $250 / $3,000

        Eating Out
        $200 / $2,400

        Family Fun
        $150 / $1,800

        Retirement:
        401(k) x 2
        $2,850 / $34,200

        529 College x 2
        $1,000 / $12,000

        Sub-Total
        $12,550 / $150,600

        All Taxes (35%)
        $4,393 / $52,710

        Grand Total
        $16,943 / $203,310

  19. elai says

    I think the $250k for couples vs $200k for an individual comes from shared costs. You’ll definately feel like your at the same income level as an individual with $200k, since that $50k will pay for the extra food, cell phone service, car and a little bit more extra space the other person needs with a couple. They don’t need an extra kitchen, bedroom, etc.

  20. Betty says

    It has been quite a few years since psych 101. So I might
    have a memory problem. What comes to mind is that only
    those who are wealthy from old money were truly rich.

    Meaning, if you had to work to earn your wealth you are
    not in the wealthy/rich class regardless of your net worth or
    income.

  21. says

    Sam, this is very interesting. I don’t see myself as part of any class – I outgrew the class system during my early years in Bulgaria. You know that according to theory the ‘proletariat took over the means of production’ in the countries of Eastern Europe. In effect, a bureaucratic strata took over everything – and messed it up, of course. Thinking and reading philosophy from early age made me realise that – so I decided that trying to place myself according to class is pointless. Then decided to become an intellectual (and this is what I am at the moment).

    To make matters worse, I moved to the UK: a strange place where inside all is neatly organised in a clear class structure (class is defined by values and not income though). Apart from that, there is this ‘dark, un-structured mass’ known as ‘foreigners’ – this is where I belong even after 22 years here. And btw being middle class here is not very cool; it is boring, predictable and lacks the flight of spirit that the working classes and the aristos share.

    • says

      Interesting insight about class structure defined by VALUES instead of income. What values do the upper class have that the middle class do not?

      By foreigners… I’m assuming you’re suggesting there is a lot of racism in the UK still?

      • says

        Sam, middle class in the UK, for instance values education – as a means for social mobility. Neither working class nor upper class members do. Also, middle class people wash
        their cars regularly while upper class and working class members don’t (this sounds like a joke but it isn’t). There are fairly strict differences within the middle class – in the UK people know whether you are upper middle class in about three minutes after meeting you (this has spread to former colonies, interestingly and they can place people easily).

        Not racisms, so much as this arrogance that assumes that ‘Brits know best’. So if you are classed as a foreigner no one expects you to know how to behave properly; which is so liberating. As a member of Parliament who is German (yes we foreigner can) said, when people start criticising her spelling she knows that all else is fine.

  22. says

    I consider myself middle class because of my husband’s salary (I’m a stay at home mom and we easily make it work financially), and because we have a lot more money than my parents ever had. I grew up pretty poor, and it’s nice to not have to worry about paying the bills as an adult. So I guess my definition would include the perception one has of one’s wealth. Compared to my parents at my age, we are rich. Compared to all of society, we are just above average I would say.

  23. says

    Cool article – I think about this subject a lot around election time (because just about everyone thinks they are middle class, so politicians only talk about helping the middle class, therefore EVERYONE thinks the candidate is talking about helping them).

    I liked your point about how we adapt quickly, which is why we don’t view ourselves as upper or lower class, even if we are. I think that’s a great point.

    Nice post.

    Tim

  24. says

    My husband makes just under $40,000/yr and I’m a stay at home mom. I consider ourselves in the upper lower class. We certainly are able to shelter and feed ourselves but not too much more. I wouldn’t consider us poor but I don’t think all lower class families are poor.

      • says

        Its just, I don’t identify with either the middle class or the lower class. Because with the lower class I feel like its people who really struggle to put food on the table and worry a lot about how they are going to pay bills. But I view middle class as being able to comfortably live on the salary you have. I am in neither situation so what do I call myself. I don’t worry about feeding my family and paying bills but I do have the bare minimum to be able to and certainly don’t live comfortably on what we make since we do struggle with putting money aside for retirement

        • Shawn Gambon says

          Dude, I totally see where you’re coming from. I am upper lower class, too. We have never gone hungry and we provide adequate housing, clothes, food, and other necessities with a little stuff left over so we’re not EXTREMELY lower class, or in other words poor, but we aren’t even lower middle class yet. I live in New Orleans and my wife and I make $53K/year combined before taxes while living on the Westbank. It seems high for NOLA because people argue that it is above the median/average household income, but the thing they have to realize about the median/average household income in NOLA, now around $45K, is that most people in NOLA are lower class and poor in neighborhoods like the Ninth Ward and the projects or ghetto, while the rest, mainly upper lower class people, live mostly in non-affluent suburbs or such like Greater Algiers and some parts of Gretna. In NOLA for a family of 4, this is the breakdown of income ranges (before taxes):

          POOR/LOWER CLASS: Under 25K
          UPPER LOWER CLASS: 25K-55K
          LOWER MIDDLE CLASS: 55K-65K
          MIDDLE CLASS: 65K-100K
          UPPER MIDDLE CLASS: 100K-200K
          LOWER UPPER CLASS: 200K-500K
          RICH/UPPER CLASS: Above 500K

  25. Financial Advice for Young Professionals says

    Haha its only natural for you to consider yourself middle class but I hate to break it to you. You’re way above middle class. I’m sure your online income alone surpasses the average IS salary. I think that’s awesome though and you’ve worked hard to get where you are. So I have no problem with that.

    I think middle class is awesome, I make a good salary but will probably never make millions an I still get to enjoy everything I do. I save, max out retirement accounts, take trips, etc. I don’t drive a new car but I own my condo and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.

    • says

      I doubt it!

      One of the things I wonder though is whether I worked “upper class” work hours? If the middle class works 40 hours a week, and I regularly worked 65-70 hours a week (work + online), but make the same hourly rate as a middle class income level, doesn’t my higher income make me middle class b/c I had to work much longer for it?

  26. says

    I usually do not think about it at all. Using income I am definitely middle class whether upper or just middle class I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me. I created my own set of values and goals to meet my expectations.

  27. Darwin's Money says

    Being middle class can have so many variables, it’s tough to nail down. I certainly am not “upper class”, but realistically I’d call myself upper middle class without being ashamed of it. But it’s more than just present income or present wealth.

    First off, I don’t think most people that even come into money or earn a lot as a first generation are really “upper class”. There’s a difference between someone who was raised in an “old money” family that makes $500K a year and someone who is a first generation wall street trader making similar money. It’s fast money vs. old money. There are differences in the way these people think about money, behaviors, culturally, etc. (the old money is probably more refined, less likely to be in debt and make stupid financial decisions, etc.)

    But that aside, location plays a huge role. That’s why it’s silly when politicians set these arbitrary limits about who “the rich” are like you mentioned.

    If I had pick a number, any number in my area to say what distinguishes first generation money as Middle vs Upper class, I’d probably put it at like $350K. See, many friends and colleagues have 2 working spouses bringing in probably $250K-$300K between the two of them by the time their in their 40s and I just don’t think of them as upper class. Sure, they live in bigger homes and drive nicer cars but their lifestyles aren’t really much different than ours, just more to juggle since the nanny can’t pull off the same stuff my wife does by staying home. To the contrary, we’re friends with a surgeon who (it is estimated) makes over $500K. Their lifestyle, house, etc. is probably upper class. Top notch private schools for the kids, always the best restaurants, clothes, cars, vacations, etc. Anyway, just my 2 cents, I’m sure it’s dramatically different in different parts of the country.

    • says

      Why would you ever feel ashamed of being “upper class” in the first place though? Does being “upper class” have a negative connotation? Does being “lower class” have a negative connotation as well?

      • Darwin's Money says

        Well, under this administration, there is now a “stigma” attached to being wealthy. I’m sure you’ve felt a difference since prior administrations. Fat Cat, etc.

        Lower class, yes I think there’s a stigma. My mother grew up poor. Dirt poor. Her father died when she was a kid and her mother didn’t have very marketable skills and she tells stories about what it was like growing up poor in a city. I can tell the way she gets talking about it that it had a lifetime effect on her self-esteem and a sense of shame about where she came from. Being poor is not just a financial condition, it is a social and emotional issue for life.

  28. Patrick says

    @JT

    I definitely look back on my private education through high school as to contributing why I am better off today than others in my age group. My private school cost roughly $4,000 a year in a town where the “rich” doctor or lawyer made $50,000 a year.

    I worked through high school to help pay my own tuition as my parents were not able to afford both the school and the athletic activities for me and my brother. Did I think it was unfair to have to work and pay bills at such a young age? No, because I had been helping out for years and it was an honor to help my parents and contribute to the family.

    Of course, back then there wasn’t nearly the government programs and handouts that we have today. Which is why I agree with Romney more and more about how pathetic it is that we live in a society where so many are willing to be dependent upon the government rather than be dependent upon themselves.

    • says

      Costs were probably the same here, maybe a little less at the time I went. The biggest difference I noticed was competitiveness. Everything was a competition at the private school I went to. Wasn’t the same in the public school. Oh, and the old nuns who could have been drill sergeants – can’t forget them. A little bit of fear goes a long way. ;)

      It varies, of course. But all else being equal, the money is worth it IMO.

  29. says

    Loved this post Sam – especially the political discussion within… “If you can get 50% of the 95% of the population who makes $200,000 or less in America to vote for you, it’s much better than getting 100% of the 5% of the population who makes more than $200,000 on your side!”

    Mitt Romney’s campaign advisers should take note, because Barack Obama does a much better job at this.

    That being said, I’m not sure being in the middle class completely encapsulates the “American Dream.” Most people will say it does, because that is where they are. To me though, the American Dream is all about the potential to achieve and break out of the lower or middle class and emerge into the upper class. After all, who aspires to stay average their entire life? Everybody wants to be rich – which is why you see them all standing in line to buy Powerball tickets.

    • says

      Buying Powerball tickets … how funny.

      I’ve done that a few times, but just wrote the money off since I knew the likelihood was very, very, very small that I’d win.
      As long as I can manage to put away 500x what it costs for a Powerball ticket every month (if not even more), then I am somewhat content.

      Truth is, if I had about $3M saved up today, I’d most likely renounce my current employment and go do something else. But I’m working on building that nut just like the other employees of the nation.

  30. Mike says

    I tend to not focus on my class, because I find it keeps me from actually investing in the things that I need to focus on. But I do come from a middle class existance.

  31. says

    I consider myself middle class and fall within the income range. Although, I think I will always consider myself middle class until I have more money than I know what to do with coming in. At that point, I think I cross into upper class.

    I know this definition sucks, but it’s the reality in my mind. Dollar wise, I’m guessing it is around $500k a year, but could be off because I’ve never experienced it before…

  32. says

    I think “middle class” income varies depending on where you live, which neither obama or romney will ever mention (it’s just too easy to spew out a figure and say, “that’s middle class.”) $200K is definitely “middle class” in SF, NYC, and LA. But it’s not at all in Kansas City, Denver, or Sioux Falls – heck, it’s wealthy compared to the cost of living.

    Based on my salary and the cost of living, I consider myself below middle class (so I guess poor but I just can’t bring myself to acknowledge this state of being considering how much education I’ve completed!) living in LA (that’s Los Angeles, not Louisiana). However, if I moved to a more reasonably priced area, then I’d consider myself middle class. Oh, how relativity makes everything look skewed.

  33. says

    Where we live and what we can buy with one amount of money varies soooo much, especially with housing as you pointed out. I don’t plan to live in California forever because even though the weather is great, money just doesn’t go as far here with all the taxes they take out. And you make a good point about Romney and Obama both defining middle class the same but the semantics is different. Whomever ends up in office, I hope our recovery continues. Things are looking better it just takes time.

  34. Kris says

    Lets see, what class are we? We did have a great income, but much of it went to schooling. In the last two months, funding was cut and I lost my job. Next my husband decided to go out on his own so our income right now is zero. Based on assets, I am sure we are middle class still though.

    Life is always exciting, that is for sure.

    By the way Sam, I am still labeling you as rich. :)

  35. ASU says

    I like the poster above who mentioned “stealth wealth” and I guess you could say we are decent examples of that. My income has increased dramatically over the past few years..from low $100′s, to $200′s, over $400k this year. My wife adds another $50k.

    From the outside, you would never know it. I wear a G-Shock watch, drive a 7 year old car, and shop for clothes at Kohls.

    The money goes into income producing assets so I can walk away in 5 years in my mid 40′s.

    Sam, I admire what you have done and am following the same path. I also live in a very affluent part of the country (OC very affluent beachtown) and know what real wealth looks like. Compared to that, we are definetly middle class.

  36. says

    I agree that there is this need for most people to identify as middle class. There is something honorable and noble to say that you are smack dab in the middle. You are in the center and therefore can say you are both poor and rich at the same time. Whatever is most suitable at the moment. Its the middle class that is most identified with making this country great in our society which is why probably so many people want to claim entry.

  37. says

    I find it easiest to define “middle class” as everyone that is in between the poor and the rich. The CBO breaks it down into quintiles by income. I’d say everyone that is at the beginning of the second quintile up to $1 less than the upper quinitile.
    That way you can have the “lower middle”, “middle” , and “upper middle” classes that people frequently bring up.

    So, you were in the upper-middle to rich class when you were working. ;-)

    And thanks for the articles that you’ve written … they’ve cause me to force myself (painful as it seems at times) to put more away instead of spending it. :-)

    • says

      I will always consider myself middle class and project myself as middle class for as long as I live. It’s a great honor to be like everyone else!

      Hope you continue to sock more away and live a great middle class lifestyle!

  38. says

    I too consider myself a middle class. I agree with you that every single one of us has a different interpretation of middle class. As for me, having an average-sized house, a car, a stable job, a few financial investments and at least once-a year vacation to a country I have not been in – is my definition of middle class.

    Truth be told, if I look at the numbers I’m considered rich or wealthy.. However, like many “wealthy” people. I think I’m a regular joe smoe

  39. says

    My story is probably pretty similar to yours. I did the fast food thing as a teenager too, and I totally considered myself as living in a middle-class home because of my dad’s job. I don’t know, I think it’s a mindset thing; even though I’ve had to work for pennies, I always felt like I would eventually earn the same, if not more, than my parents. Now whether or not that would be considered middle class today is a whole other story.

  40. says

    Sam,

    You might think of yourself as belong in the middle class, but if you expand the group beyond just central SF, then I doubt others will see it the same way. The median person just does not have millions in net worth or passive income into the six figures. It’s nothing anyone should feel guilty about if one’s earned their way there, though envy does always try to cut in. I bet in SF, even being as well off as you are, there will be others around to make you feel back solidly in the middle!

    Middle class where I live at age 30 is probably individual income between 35K to 100K, with distinct social segments ranging from 35K to 50K, 45K to 75K, and 70K to 100K depending on profession. Upper class beings in the lower 100Ks, so lower 200Ks if you’re in a dual-earner household.

    • says

      Hi Kevin,

      Like you said, middle class is under $100,000 a year b your definition and that is definitely where my passive income is.

      I’m very proud to be middle class! Middle class is about what WE see ourselves not how others see us.

      Best,

      Sam

  41. gma4me says

    I’m making more today then I ever have. 20,000. Ive been a single mom for 4 years now. I bought a home on my own 3 years ago put oil in the tank ( now pellets) buy food pay electricity phone and I still have a couple of bucks left over. I grew up in the same situation and don’t know how to live any other way. We have everything we need and some how we have some things others would take for granted like a computer.I worry from time to time but always find the way to wake up and do it all over again. We are happy doing the little things in life and have lots of time together which I think is worth more then money. I’m not sure what class I fall in nor do I stay awake at night thinking about it. I feel sorry for those how have their priorities wrong. People are born and people die and it really doesn’t matter how much they make in between. its what they do with their lives that really matter. If I had the extra money like winning the mega bucks my dream would be to find people I could help up. Not a hand out but people who make a difference no what their situation.

  42. Karina says

    Ok, am stay home mom of two girls and i know that i can’t say am in middl class range. My husband who is supporting this year our home income, we will be making around 53,000.00. Now in days i considered that poverty (the right word, no middle class). He is struggling in trying keep up with the expenses. We live in a mobile home he is trying to pay up for. I do wish i could work and not depend on him so it won’t be hard on him. Daycare is so expensive! So the way I see it, we would have to be making at least 90,000.00 to afford daycare, finish paying mobile home, and be able to travel or go out once a while.I mean me and him have
    not have the chance to enjoy each other. I don’t ask to be rich but live without no worries. We are thinking to live in a house in three or four years but for now am hoping to have more time.

  43. Appearances deceive says

    I consider myself middle-class based on household income of about $120K, yet I feel almost poor (the reason I say “almost poor” is because I, too, have been poor in my lifetime, albeit not for most of it). My husband and I, after years of living comfortably within our means, decided to buy a home in a more expensive region. Expensive as in higher property tax, sales tax, food prices, gas prices, and nearly everything that’s part of our daily lives. Even though our old home was paid off a few years ago and we have land elsewhere that is also paid for, we feel strapped simply because neither is likely to sell soon.

    It is not “up against the wall” strapped but more like “Better not lose that job” strapped. So another poster’s comment about considering more than just salary when defining wealth is spot-on. In a very short time, with just one major change, you can go from feeling fairly comfortable (NOT rich!) to feeling the effect of every unexpected expense.

    Some people will no doubt ask why would we put ourselves at greater financial risk, as this is our retirement home, not a career-based move. True that if we were indisputably poor, we could not do this. But even those who have more than poor people do can still feel poor due to taking on a large debt late in life, whether that debt is voluntary (relocation and new home) or involuntary (uncovered medical expenses). But to live with no financial worries would mean staying in an area that just doesn’t feel like home. Life is full of risks of all kinds.

  44. Roger says

    If there are three classes that have varing rangers across the country then one could separate the country into income territories with the three individual numbers. One (1) being the “Lower Class”, Two (2) being the middle class, and Three (3) being the “Upper Class”. Those territories with One (1) of Two (2) would have to pay the lower taxes and be attractive to the “Upper Class”. Meaning they would want to invest money there until those Classes raise to a higher level. Then territories would build up and up. I feel that building a fuzzy cloud around what the three class are, is not fair, since to everyone who can drive for miles and miles and see nothing but shacks, or homless, or homes that are of the fealthy rich or are just good enough does not help in getting money where it is needed for the territories mentioned. To say that 200K or less is “Middle Class” is a cheap shot. Lets put money where it belongs. Put money in places were it counts. Not, constantly in the pockets of the “Upper Class” accross the board.

  45. Duke says

    Me and my wife were able to go completely debt free (still have a mortgage though) by not trying to keep up with the rest of the people around us. My car is 13 years old and her car is 9 years old. I’ve been budgeting after hitting rock bottom in 2009. I write down all my bills for the current pay period and I make sure to include groceries, food, and gas as part of my bills. I put a little away in another account that is out of sight, out of mind that I don’t access often (for saving/rainy days). My wife finally got a job about a year ago and I’ve been promoted, but that didn’t make me run out and spend more. We kept things simple and didn’t spend beyond our means. I earned 96.7K this year and my wife made approximately 39K this year and I’m finally able to purchase a new car for myself. We’re now saving to buy a new car for her

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