How Europeans See Money Differently From Americans

Europeans see money differently from Americans. Where Americans are obsessed with money, Europeans seem to have a lighter approach about money. In other words, Europeans work to live while Americans live to work.

Stonehenge Sideways View - How Europeans See Money Differently From Americans

After almost finishing my loop around Stonehenge, I stumbled across a French woman who was lying on the ground sideways. She adjusted herself a little bit to get more comfortable, but paid no attention to fellow tourists wondering what she was doing.

She made me want to lie down sideways as well to see what she was seeing. I didn't because I felt a little silly copying her in broad daylight. So instead, I took this picture and tilted my phone. Perhaps you are now bending your head sideways or lifting your laptop sideways to see what she sees.

What do you see?

A European's Perspective On Money

I want to highlight a great comment from a European reader on the post, “Maybe It's Your Fault Why The Wealth Gap Continues To Widen.” I've been looking for someone from Europe to finally say these words I've been hearing since deciding to spend 2-3 weeks in a European country every year, five years ago.

I would just add some thoughts based on my European origin; I moved to the US two years ago.

America is one of the few places I know where the value of the car owned and income seems so disconnected.
In Europe, low-level employees drive used compact cars and upper management drives new high-end German cars. The value of the cars bought were maybe not 1/10th of income, but they still followed a relatively constant percentage of the income.

But within my new company in the US, full-size pickup trucks are pretty popular… at every level of the hierarchy! It is mind-blowing that the division manager earning $200k+ and a low-level employee at $40k spent the same amount on a car (or even more for the low-level employee as its financing options were probably less interesting).

One solution to solve part of the income inequality is the tax system.

I lived both in Australia and Denmark, two countries with a very strong middle-class but also very high taxes on luxury items. I think the two are correlated.

Concerning income taxes, even if most people in high brackets feel they pay an insane amount in taxes, they are still paying less in the US than they would in most of Western Europe.

High income taxes for high incomes have a double consequence:

1. You get richer slower once you reach a certain salary;
2. Higher taxes “reduces” greed : the interest of making more money once you reach a certain level diminishes strongly as most of it goes towards taxes.

What terrific perspective. I never really thought about how higher taxes REDUCES greed, but I think there's some huge veracity to this claim. I definitely was much greedier when I was younger, partly because I had less.

I wanted to prove to people that going to a state school was good enough. I was greedy for money because I didn't want my parents to worry about me anymore having caused them much heartache and headache growing up. I wanted lots of money because I was greedy for financial freedom as soon as possible after the first two years of work after college.

Back in the day when I was making a high six-figure salary, I always felt distraught at the $200,000+ in income taxes I had to pay each year even though there was still a healthy amount left over. I no longer wanted to work 60-70 hours a week for money, so I slowly lowered my work intensity over the last two years of my career until I finally pulled the plug in 2012.

My greed for money after a certain level almost completely went away because it made me feel a little sick that I was forking so much money over to an inefficient government that was managed by corrupt and lying politicians. I couldn't even get a rattling manhole cover fixed within one year, and then to see gridlock in Congress where they would still get paid despite causing a government shutdown was infuriating. If only our US taxation system allowed for more inclusive benefits for everyone.

Higher taxes allowed me to reduce my desire for money and increase my desire for a much more laid back lifestyle. Higher taxes allowed me to be more understanding of those who work 40 hours a week or less and complain why they can't get ahead. I mean, who doesn't want to have the corner office and not have to work to death to get there? I certainly want to win the lottery too.

I loved hanging out with early retirees who were able to convince their spouses to work longer so they didn't have to. No need for both spouses to suffer right? I grew up always thinking that no matter what, I was the one who had to provide for a family. My spouse working was a bonus that could not be counted upon. Such thinking was very stressful because I mentally didn't count on my partner taking care of me. Now, I am so pleased that men no longer have to be afraid of not being the breadwinners. Self-esteem among boys and men should increase as a result.

With the scepter of higher taxes, I was able to do some thorough research on figuring out when the marriage penalty tax kicks in. The underlying assumption of the post is that the government wants one spouse to stay at home. The other assumption is that after a certain level of income, you start losing your marriage tax credit and start paying a marriage tax penalty – so don't work too hard to make an unnecessary amount of money you hear?

Americans Have It Good And Europeans Have It Better

Traveling is a must because it makes you think differently. When you think differently, you find more meaning in life. And when you find more meaning in life, there's less conflict in the world because you are more satisfied with what you have.

Everybody points to Europe as having some of the highest tax rates in the world and how Americans are lucky in comparison. But the problem with this type of thinking is that unless we've experienced European taxation rates in our income earning lifetimes, it's a useless comparison. Same thing with saying US tax rates were much higher 50 years ago. Most of us weren't working then.

Denmark Example Of How Europeans See Money Differently

Let's use Denmark as an example for a happy European country with high taxes (30%-51.5%) and the second lowest wealth gap among 34 OECD nations. If you lose your job in Denmark, you're not too worried because you'll receive an unemployment benefit of 10,500 kroner ($1,902) a month after taxes for up to two years.

You’re part of a national system of free health care and education for everyone, job training, subsidized child care, a generous pension system, and companies who regularly provide one year's paid maternity leave. Not bad! Meanwhile, my family pays $2,250 a month for health insurance in 2021 because we receive no subsidies.

The top 20 percent of Danes earn on average four times as much as the bottom 20 percent. In the United States, by contrast, the top 20 percent earn about eight times as much as the bottom 20 percent. The Danish abhor ostentation based on my conversations with many locals while I was in Copenhagen a couple years ago, which is very much aligned with my Stealth Wealth proposal.

Europeans see money differently from Americans, and that's a great thing. And within Europe, the British and Germans see money and work a little differently than the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Greek. Americans work a little too hard to try and achieve an unobtainable dream lead by a very few. Our obsession with making lots of money is killing happiness. Remember that money is only a means to an end. What is your end?

Related: Why The Smartest Countries Aren't The Wealthiest

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About the Author: Sam began investing his own money ever since he opened an online brokerage account online in 1995. Sam loved investing so much that he decided to make a career out of investing by spending the next 13 years after college working at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse Group. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate.

In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income. He is aggressively investing in real estate crowdfunding to arbitrage low valuations and take advantage of positive demographic trends away from expensive coastal cities.

Updated for 2021 and beyond.

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112 thoughts on “How Europeans See Money Differently From Americans”

  1. Well, I was born in a european country and lived there all my life.
    That is before the Euro and after the Euro. With the Euro prizes went up over night. Inflation in my country is compensated we call it cold progression. Taxes are going up, energy costs are going up and this stupid EU has just followed the policy of sanctions to Russia without an emergency plan for energy supply, great. America has its own energy, some european countries were dependent on gas.
    Stupidity after stupidity. Social democratic systems tax hight and stiffle progress. The hight taxes do exactely that, they stop people from wanting to achieve more but that styffles development and inovation because its the clever and well educated that want to step up. So those people are slowly leaving europe, heading for, yep the USA where you can open a company and still achieve your dreams easier. And who comes to Europe? Yes, refugees, refugees who can not read or write, who have totaly twisted value systems, refugees who will recieve plenty from the social security stystem but likely never contribute. If you have lived of 50 Dollars a month and come to my country you get 400 to 800 Dollars a month without having to work, you get housing and food for free. That is a major impruvement! If you work 60-70 hours a week they tax you 48 % of your income. You pay for services you never need and you have no option to opt out. I work in technology and quite a few of my younger collegues have left the country, they dont mind working 60-70 hours but they want to keep the money to save and invest. The rest have reduced their working hours, why work like mad if you dont get more. This is the death of inovation and the strive to improve, China is hungry, all upcomming developing countries are hungry, Europe is stagnant and comfortable but therefor on the decline. It has a reason why socialism and communism did not work. People need the see the fruits of their labor, they need something to take home where they feal it is fair pay for their work.

  2. William Tinoco

    If people like you love high taxes and all of that leisure and socialism (no need of working for 2 years in Denmark because daddy government and taxpayers will pay you?), then why don’t you relocate to Europe. I have seen more Europeans leaving the “European Dream” coming to America and third world countries because they’re sick of paying high taxes, and they pay for two types of politicians: the ones of their country and the ones in the EU parliament. Stop trying to make America socialist. Europe is still a weak economy, and rich people there avoid taxes relocating in Luxembourg and Switzerland. It’s false that they pay that almost 50% income tax.

    Besides, America has more millionaires per capita than Europe, si it’s false that very few lead the upper echelon. That means that America lets its citizens become richer while Europe prevents them to become rich by making them stick out to the middle class. Europe is the continent for the middle class for a reason, not for the rich. A country for the rich will give you more freedom to move upwards or downwards, while a system for the middle class will prevent you from class movement.

    If you want to have high taxes, fine, just don’t force people who don’t want to pay them to pay them. You can take the amount you think you should pay in taxes and donate it to any charity. Capitalism lets you have a choice, while socialism forces you to pay to useless politicians and being stick in the middle class.

    America is obviously for the rich, that’s why it’s harder being part of the middle class, and that’s why the system creates more millionaires than any other country. It moves more people up.

    1. There is a lot to criticize in this comment, but lets just stick with the opening “America, love it or leave it”. Both conservatives and liberals criticize aspects of our country. Why is it that conservatives love using this as a way in which to shut down discussion? Would they have said this about apartheid or slavery had they lived in countries where those things occurred. What about more recent travesties, like red-lining or Tuskegee study. The point here IS NOT to say that high taxes is the same as slavery, so don’t go there! The point is that these were things with mixed support in the countries in which they occurred, and discussion would have help end these things. The great majority of people now agree that these things were horrible, so why would anyone offer up the idea that no-one should criticize their country’s government, but should instead just leave if they don’t like aspects of it. Do you real consider this a rational point? I’d actually love a well-thought through justification of this particular point, if willing (as opposed to a name calling rant).

      1. Inane stupidity is expected for those who cannot understand why the culture shouldn’t be destroyed to prop up the indolent. As expected.

    2. J.W.Ridgewell-Bearz

      Well, it is obvious that YOU & those like you are the problem in America. You refuse to have a socially respectful view & cling to the idea that greed is good. I truly hope that one day your finances fail you & you need to rely on the ‘system’ for support: Then you will discover why the European system is totally superior to the greed-lead US way. I pity you & most of your compatriots who’s greed will eventually bring you all to your kneed…..& rightly so.

    3. William you an idiot I sure you never lived any where else and socialize country dient mean socialism. You have know understanding of the rest of the normal world

  3. Not sure what the future will hold, but agree with most posters who have lived in both places (Germany & U.S. for me) that the European model was/is much more humane and satisfying. Surprised lack of discussion concerning amount U.S. spends on military and the low corporate taxes. If these two areas alone were re-organized, there would be plenty of money for infrastructure, education and healthcare. Of course, that also depends on the efficiency of the entire govt. itself, which as we see is not so high. Also telling were the many comments on how European labor has high taxes but other forms of wealth/income not so much. I think this results because the only way the “controllers” will put up with taxes is if their own fortunes are protected. I know overall systems are more complicated than this, but generally speaking I think it still is on point. Way back when I lived in Germany, one of the things that hit me the most upon arrival was the high quality of life and material goods esp. houses & buildings; and high value placed on interpersonal relationships, etc. Germans (generalization) have/had high ethics and strong drive to work, but they seemed to be more aware of value gained for that work – I can’t imagine the average German town (when I was there) putting up with half the crap (political, economic & social) that goes on in the average American town. In the end, in my experience, the difference seemed to boil down to education. In Germany, education, knowledge and expertise have/had very high value. Teaching, even at the primary and high school levels, was a respectable, well-paid occupation. And speaking of high school, at the time there were three paths for students to follow based on interest and inclination. This gives students a more satisfying result – why do college prep if you love to build hot rods? Anyway, the Germany that I knew kicked American ass all over the place and they still got 5 weeks off.

    1. “Germans have had high ethics.”

      Yes, let’s all remember those wonderful people who brought us WWII.

      1. Thomas Riccardo

        Because France, Britain and America indebted them to a point where their economy collapsed which brought extremism to the forefront everyone was to blame for the Nazi rise let’s not pretend it was some isolated incident only predetermined by Germany!

      2. Dominick Del Prete

        I lived in Germany. I married into a German family. I have had enough experience with Germans to state with utmost confidence that, as a group, they generally try to put their best foot forward in the world, because of the atrocities committed by their ancestors. The world would be a better place if we looked upon Germans today, not for what their ancestors did but what they are contributing to the world, and have for hundreds of years.

      3. Edward Wrote: “Yes, let’s all remember those wonderful people who brought us WWII”

        OMG, that’s your response… really? The people who started WWII are all DEAD. It’s in the past.

        Let’s concentrate on the here and now, try learning from each other… good grief!

      4. Silly, mindless comment. How about the US, the only country that continued slavery into the middle of the 19th century and the only country that put its citizens in, effectively, prison for having japanese ancestry.

        1. What does slavery have to do with anything? Who cares? (BTW, slavery continued in Brazil until the end of the 19th century and is common among domestic help in the Middle East today). Why am I not surprised that you are misinformed?

      5. And the US has been at war for nearly 200 years. And what about the Native American Holocaust, Slavery, racism…to this very day.

  4. I don’t see how $1900 a month is exactly considered being “taken care of” type money. And that is Denmark where cost of living is much higher than the USA, so $1900 in Denmark is worth less. Basically that is poverty level income in the USA. So after all the high taxes paid the best you can expect in return is poverty? That’s the problem with these EU vs USA comparisons, what is seen as “generous” benefits are only so in the eyes of Europeans, most Americans would balk at that amount especially if they had to pay the high taxes to get it.

      1. William Tinoco

        That’s the problem with the left: they use feelings instead of facts. Let’s be honest: Europeans don’t use A/C all day, not even Danish people. The reason why Europeans are better is because they spend less: you see Americans spending in brand-new TVs, expensive cars, having A/C all day, even recreational drugs and then say they don’t have money left. It’s their problem how they spend their income, so stop wanting rich people to pay your lifestyle.

        And happiness isn’t the same as well-being. I’ve known people from third world countries, por communities, being happier than Americans. Even if they’re excluded from society and when they work, employers take advantage of their ignorance to pay them less than minimum wage and no social benefits. Ignorance is happiness. If Europeans knew that with more money, they could buy better gadgets, new cars, and all that stuff with lower taxes, they wouldn’t be happy since they’d know they’re being stolen.

        Kids are generally the happiest humans on earth and it’s because they’re ignorant. Bhutan, the first country to use the Gross National Happiness instead of GDP used this system to distract the world from the abuses it committed against other ethnicities. Relying on happiness will obviously get more benefits for the middle class than for the upper class because the middle class is bigger than the upper one.

        And in America, where people are used to think that money=happiness, you can’t solve the problems with high taxes, since they won’t afford more. They’ll get free healthcare and education, while having to give up their luxuries and consumption. Since happiness is relative, Europeans don’t think that happiness is money but more free time and drugs while Americans think that happiness is money, then you can’t assume they’d have the same reaction. On the contrary, higher taxes will affects happiness negatively (first positively as they won’t have to pay healthcare, then, when it becomes the norm, they’ll want less taxes to pay for their A/C 24/7). It’s just a mistake considering these areas have different cultures.

    1. I still think that’s generous. You get that money and it’s worth more than it would be in the US because that money goes to rent, food, etc. – since healthcare, childcare, and education are mostly covered by the government, that unemployment payment goes a long way. So yes, I’ll happily pay those taxes to get these benefits. I’m already paying high taxes in NYC WITHOUT getting any of those same benefits. So yeah, I’ll say the Europeans are better off than we are.

    2. So u expect the government to feed u through these 2 years like u would earn 200k before u got fired. How about lower ur expectations? Ppl like u are the issue of this world. U only care about having all the nice things that rich ppl on tvs have. But u dont want to work for it. Be glad u dont end up on the street and suffer from hunger. Thats when u think that u better took the 1900 bucks. What a fool u r. I hope u end up being poor someday so u have to learn to adapt and get down from ur damn horse.

  5. And what’s with the parking spot obsession?
    Maybe the biggest factor is that Americans have too much money and it makes them careless in how they spend it. Even in politics, it’s like they don’t care enough to be informed and they vote for one of the 2 big “brands” and that’s that. Income is high, taxes low and so are prices.
    Recently i was looking at some numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and in 2013 the average spending per household was 51,100$ . Out of that, transportation was 9,004 , food 6,602 , housing 17,148. All in all not much is left after the musts and made me wonder how in the hell isn’t buying an efficient car a huge priority. The cost of ownership is huge and one can easily save 3-4k $ per year by going smaller.When it comes to cars ofc there are other factors like gas being cheap, poor public transport and underdeveloped railways.
    Americans are very vulnerable to marketing and that’s a bad thing. If you buy for example and Apple product,half the price is marketing and once you buy it,it’s only worth half. An economist might be tempted to factor in the resale value but vast majority of users don’t take advantage of that so it wouldn’t be appropriate to factor in the resale value.
    You could also look at it another way, if you buy on marketing, you are an irrational consumer and for competition to function ,the consumer needs to be rational. So spending without thinking actually harms capitalism – it also deepens income inequality since consumers get less for more.
    Americans also tend to have higher debt and lower saving than reasonable limits.
    So i don’t think it’s all that much about culture, it’s the system that enables the behavior and i do believe that having less money due to higher taxes would have a positive impact on the behavior of the American consumer since the consumer would be more rational.
    Anyway , there is one problem the US has that has to be fixed first and that’s money in politics. Without fixing that, nothing else can be fixed and the long term outlook can only be negative.
    Almost forgot to mention military spending. You can’t talk about he lack of a social safety net without pointing out how much of the GDP gets spent on the military vs how much others spend.
    Ofc cultural differences do matter and the education system. In France kids study philosophy in high school, in the US high school is very easy and kids barely learn anything (and graduation rates in big cities are beyond scary low). Someone said somewhere about US unis “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs”. If kids don’t learn much about the world in high school and after that they are trained to be just robots performing a single task , where do we get?

    1. “Bargain hunting” is costly in time. Americans value their time more and spend less time on it than Europeans.

      The US spends vastly more on social services than any Euro nation ($1.6 Trillion per year). Medicare costs more per capita than any socialized medicine system and only covers the elderly. The US does NOT however give unlimited money to healthy people – that is the only real difference. The US spends far more on social programs than it does on the military (much of which, btw, is spent defending europeans from Russia).

      US Universities are still the best in the world – American High Schoolers in the big cities generally don’t get into selective universities. Selective schools target children who go to top privates and competitive suburban magnet schools.

      1. U know why they are so popular? Because of the brand. Universities dont necessarily have to be good. I have heard that harvard students most of the time will get a pass because they pay a lot of money for it. I have also experience that dutch schools treat foreign students differently because they pay more fees than the national students. Chinese for example have basically unlimited chance to take an exam. Meanwhile, me as a european student only got 3 chances max. After that i will be kicked out. Thats and unfair system and ppl on the outside dont see that.

  6. Old thread, but since no-one else has mentioned this yet…

    I’m English, lived in Switzerland for a time, and have now been in the US for some years. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in how US v Europeans view money, especially as regards cars, is that every American I’ve ever discussed prices with talks in terms of monthly payments. Ask them how much their new car was, or their insurance, and you get ‘Oh, I got a great deal, $449 a month’, ‘I’ve just changed insurers and it’s dropped from $85 to $75.

    No European I know thinks like this. We say the cost of something as a lump – the car we’ve just bought was 6,000 GBP, or our insurance is 150 GBP a year (note: car insurance in the UK is madly cheaper than here – you know you’re all effectively funding a national health service via medical liability payments on your car insurance, right?).

    Thinking of things monthly leads people to think of them as permanent expense streams, that just flow out of your life for ever in a steady trickle. No-one in the UK expects to pay for a car indefinitely – they buy one, either with cash or short-term finance, then take pride in it being paid off, and drive it around for 5, 7, 10+ years more whilst they save up for the next one.

    This is why it’s so easy to sell Americans anything as a subscription model. It’s seductively easy to sign up to something for $9.99 a month, whereas in Europe you’d be marketing it as $120 a year – a much harder sell. (The auto-renewal rights that companies have here are hilarious too, and would never be countenanced by people agreeing to pay for something as a lump sum rather than a perennial drip feed.)

    I usually also find that when Americans are talking about their comparatively low tax rates, they entirely forget about their property taxes, which are paying for services which are funded at a ‘federal’ level through income taxes in the UK and elsewhere. Again, it’s because their property taxes are invisible, part of their monthly mortgage payment, part of the monthly cashflow that’s assumed to be just an inevitable part of modern living. I pay property taxes as one lump sum, saved and budgeted for over the year – it’s much more painfully noticeable that way, and drives my housing decisions much effectively.

      1. Can’t remember exactly how I found your site, but it was almost certainly via other financial bloggers – there’s a steep learning curve each time we move cross-border, have to get to grips with how taxes and other finances work there, and then work out how to save for our retirement across several regulatory systems and currencies. I’m profoundly grateful for the entire financial blogging community.

        I like your 1/10th rule. The usual advice for young people in the UK is along similarly sensible lines: seriously consider not having a car – bike, bus, live somewhere you don’t need one – but if you do, then buy an (almost certainly boring) old one for a couple of thou in cash, then drive it until it dies whilst saving up for your next one; hopefully that might then be 3-4k, rinse, repeat, until you get up to something respectable. Borrowing for newish cars IS done, but is still seen as slightly stupid.

        I have a teen and an almost-teen, and they’ve grown up with me drumming into them that the things that will make or break their financial life without them realising will be their decisions about housing and transport – how big, how much, how close to work, etc – because these not only have by far the largest budget impact, but are also the most painful to undo if you realise you’ve got it wrong.

  7. What the commenter forgets to mention:

    When you ‘cap’ someone because higher taxes would mean you would get richer less and less, you essentially trap everyone in society to be a wage slave. Everyone MUST work, and it is near impossible to get out of the rat race.

    Also, you assume that we should just be handing all this money over to the government! Look at record debt levels, corruption at all levels, and you want to give them more of our hard earned money? Don’t think so!

  8. I only read a few of the comments. Good discussion but the Europeans still don’t get it. They are bankrupt!!!! I love Europe and plan to live in Italy when I retire, but their system is unsustainable. Ours is also but that is pretty much due to us trying to be like them. This should be fun!!!!!

  9. Kirsten @ Indebtedmom

    My husband and I, combined, make well over 6 figures. With our student loan debt and very expensive daycare for two, we are not living “the life”. Still, I support higher taxes for the top earners. I want a great national healthcare system, subsidized child care, and paid maternity leave (just got back from scraping by for my 12 week unpaid, but maximum covered by the law, leave). We are greedy people, for sure, all trying to keep up with the Joneses, and I’m afraid for what it will do to our economy in the future.

  10. I would much rather people change their understanding of the value of money by living, thinking, and connecting with their neighbors and communities rather than by simply taking their money and giving it to politicians to waste.

    1. mysticaltyger

      I absolutely agree. Government says our taxes support community, but they often do the exact opposite and incentivize anti-social behavior. I’m thinking of subsidizing people for having kids out of wedlock, in particular.

  11. wallstreet25

    I feel ya bro. but there is a way around the high taxes. Its about entreprenurship. When you build a company, keep salary decent (in terms of taxes), then grant equity units based on percentage of income. You get the recipe of low taxes. How? When you get units of a company that is not publicly traded, they effectively have a value of 0, so no taxes at inception. Eventually, once it is publicly traded, its value shoots up to a ridic amount. You can choose to diversify and sell, or prolong paying taxes by holding. When you do decide to sell, your taxed at capital gain, which is low and behold smaller. Lots of ppl in silicon valley follow this route. Some of them even put it in a roth ira, so they are never taxed at all (IMO this is extremely cheating the system and needs to be regulated asap). But as david tepper says, it is what it is.

    1. Hmmm, sounds like a good strategy putting it in a ROTH IRA since it’s not worth anything!

      But, can we really say “eventually, once it is publicly traded”? I don’t see this as a common occurrence. Most companies never make it to IPO.

      1. wallstreet25

        You can get acquired too. I feel like as long as you can see the ebitda per unit, then you are not making a losing bet. Of course in silicon its all about valuation by the right vc.

  12. This is certainly an interesting topic to ponder. I’m American, but lived in France for 6 months during university and in Mauritania (West Africa) for a while after university.

    It was my experience that the French (and other Europeans I encountered) have a different attitude towards not just money, but life in general. It’s a more moderate, balanced view. For example, while they had fewer possessions, the ones they had were of higher quality (lasted longer, fit better, were of finer materials, etc.). This approach could be seen in how they did other things, too, like eating (No guzzling down big meals of low quality food. They ate leisurely meals – composed of fresh ingredients – with family/friends.) and drinking (They drank for enjoyment, to heighten the pleasure of an evening on the town, not to get plastered. I didn’t really encounter any obnoxious sloppy drunk [European] coeds, ever.) They would spend entire Sundays sitting at a cafe in some be-fountained plaza just relaxing, chatting with friends, people watching. Not every 16-yo had a shiny new car.

    In Africa it was largely the same thing, though obviously the particulars were vastly different.

    I know I’m speaking in broad generalizations and, as one person with a limited experience in these places, am not a statistically valid sample size. But, it seems to me that in both regions people were simply less into consumerism, commercialism, capitalism, materialism, etc. and all the accompanying trappings. Experiences and relationships were cherished over stuff/acquisition. Sharing and community were important. Education (in Europe at least) was highly valued. It was very refreshing and seemed a much healthier and holistic life in many ways. It would be awesome to see some of these good, healthy qualities adopted here in the US. :-)

  13. I taught English in Japan for a year between college and law school and I observed that the Japanese work even harder than we do. Even teachers who I worked with in the public school system had a intense work ethic. So I don’t think that Americans are alone in our values. That said, I recently made a career switch in favor of work/life balance and it is among the best decisions of my life. I can ski every weekend in the winter and mt bike after work and on the weekends in the summer. I wish I had more vacation time, but I’m still basking in the bliss of having evenings and weekends free to feed my soul! Working 50 hours a week is actually pretty sweet if you take advantage of your down time!

  14. It’s definitely a culture and education issue. I met so many people in corporate America over the years are so afraid of losing their job that they put 10 plus hours, goes home and work more, barely take vacations and pride themselves for being a hard worker. However, when you look at their overall well being. They’re in a mess – overweight, drinking sugary drinks, cups after cups of coffee, have all kinds of health issues and take all kinds of medications etc….. Thankfully, it seems like there is hope for change with more millenniums entering the workforce. They’re health conscious, prefer work and life balances, not crazy about having everything bigger etc….

  15. Very timely article, I just spent the last two weeks with my long time girl”friend” of 15 years from Mexico who has absolutely no desire to live here in the US. We had some very open conversations about money, retirement, lifestyle, savings, spending, …basically the stuff talked about here on your blog Sam. Her comments were interesting that everybody here works so much and forgets to live life along the way…but admits people in her culture really do not plan for their later years as much as they should. She is owns a yoga studio and teaches, makes very little money by our standards, but has traveled the world 5 times around and has amazing life experiences…but she could throw all of her worldly belongings in a backpack, how much you really need to her is way different than what most of us here think.

    I realize that nobody is irreplaceable and that I’m sort of starting to lean to the other side of wanting to suckle off the teet of the government for a while instead of paying into the system. I think what people don’t realize when they say tax the 1%’ers is that they worked their asses off to get to where they are…then when they get there they have to hand over 50% to the government. It sucks, it is easy to say oh poor you, but until you’ve worked 100 hours a week for a few years in a row to build something and then had to bust out your check book and send a check for what could buy you a brand new Aventador you don’t know how demoralizing it is. The creative and hard working, will suffer through for a few years and make their nut like Sam and I have, then say the hell with it and live the easy life…but honestly I think this country would be much stronger if we encouraged the producers of the world, not knock them down. Taxes are going up that is a guarantee…but making more money is definitely not as appealing as it once was since it is such a diminishing return on your time.

  16. I definitely concur with you on the different attitudes within Europe.

    From my post

    “Europeans see money differently from Americans, and that’s a great thing. And within Europe, the British and Germans see money and work a little differently than the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Greek.”

    Good point about charity and inheritance. Funny you should say that most wealth in Europe is inherited! When I was speaking to a guard at Wimbledon about the Royal Box, he said, “The richer you are, the less you have to pay.” So many of those folks in the Royal Box inherited their wealth.

    So I guess the question is, do we look less favorably upon those who inherited their wealth vs. those who built their wealth on their own? I say NO, b/c of how much people idolize the inheritees. A suitor in the game of love doesn’t care if you made your own wealth or inherited. So long as you are wealthy, cha-ching!

    For taxation and charity, see:

  17. I live in Australia and came to visit the US in 2011 and realise that in the US you need to have money to be happy and yes, almost everyone we met as friends of relatives in Boston drive fancy cars and they talk to each other in the car parks after the drinks about their cars. Consumerism is so strong there and personally i would prefer Australia than the US because of the layback life style and health care system. We noticed such a big gap between the rich and the poor and many homeless people in SF.

    1. Lots of homeless people in SF indeed. It is an epidemic and a blight to our government for not being able to allocate resources efficiently and properly.

      Much less homeless people in Europe FOR SURE. And that is a testament to the social welfare system.

      Why are we allowing US Veterans to be homeless for example. It’s a damn embarrassment.

  18. I was born in London and lived there till I was about 14 then moved to California with my family. One thing I do remember growing up was is, most people were more inclined to buy a used car with cash than buying a new one and having it financed. I guess people just had a better understanding of its not worth buying new and taking a huge hit on depreciation. In the US it seems quite the opposite.

    1. Europe doesn’t have a World Cup. Do you know what “world” stands for?

      Super Bowl…boring …yawn

  19. My sense is that the average standard of living in most European countries (even the poorer ones) is typically higher than in the US, not least because people care less about keeping up with the Joneses and focus more on what makes them happy in its own right.

    I work for a US consultancy in Belgium and have been playing with the idea of spending some time in the States. But one thing that certainly keeps me from doing it is the ridiculously low amount of holidays. In Belgium (as in other European countries) people have an average of five to six weeks of holidays a year, whereas in the US its often just two weeks. That seems unacceptable to me (and most people I know). Four weeks more of holiday equate less than 10% less revenues per year overall, but it’s money well spent.

    Why would I want to work almost the entire year when already 30 weeks of salary would give me a very comfortable existence on this planet? When you have a nice house and car, what’s the point of buying yet a bigger house or more expensive car or a yacht? At some point you can’t positively affect your actual wellbeing much anymore and it’s merely about having “more” and showing others that you have more. And keeping up with the Joneses is a game that you can ultimately not win, because there’s ALWAYS someone who makes more–no matter how well you do.

    I don’t have that compulsion, so I happily enjoy my six weeks holiday. Socialist? No. Lack of material goods? No. Lack of interest in working? No.

    Just the general idea that two weeks in Tuscany in April on top of three weeks holiday in Greece in summer is a pretty nice thing to do. And I don’t need to drive there in a Porsche to enjoy it.

    1. Love it! Two weeks a year of vacation is kinda brutal, especially after we all get 3 months off for years in high school and college during summer.

      I slowly pushed my vacation time off longer and longer my last few years of work to 6 weeks off a year. It was wonderful. I hypothesized that 10 weeks off a year would be perfect, and I think the amount is 8-10 weeks (2 weeks off a quarter and 1 day off for whatever).

      Enjoy the time in Belgium! Hope you get the foreign tax exemption for the first $97K too?

      1. Thanks, Sam. Unfortunately I don’t get any tax exemption in Belgium. Technically I have a self-employment status and bill the US company as a freelancer. Despite this “tax-efficient” scheme I still end up paying around 50% to the Belgian state in taxes and welfare contributions. That’s more than I would wish, but it’s also OK.

        On the plus side, capital gains from stocks are not taxed in Belgium. In the long run, the resulting savings will compensate for the high tax rate on income as compounding does its wonders.

        Belgium is one of the highest tax countries in the world as concerns earning money through labour, whereas it’s one of the lowest tax countries in the world as concerns earning money from existing wealth. To me that doesn’t make too much sense. I would reduce the tax on labour and increase the tax on capital gains. But for me personally, things will work out ok either way.

        1. Wow, that’s a lot for what I assume is under $150K/year? I’m not sure how I’d feel about that. I think I would want to stay in Belgium forever long after I retire to try and recoup my tax payments.

          Good to know capital gains is not taxed. Same thing in Singapore and HK.

          I really enjoyed visiting Brugge last year. Wonderful spot.

          1. Fortunately it is well above $150k gross, which allows me to save a significant portion despite the high taxes and social security contributions.

            For me all works out fine. What’s really worrying in Belgium is that even simple workers often pay significantly in excess of 50% to the state (taxes + employee’s social security contribution + employer social security contribution). The marginal income tax rate is at 50% for the majority of the population and social security contributions are not capped at a maximum level.

            I wouldn’t want to recommend the Belgian tax/welfare system as such. There are many less onerous and fairer systems in other European countries. But I do endorse reasonable redistribution, six weeks holidays and public social insurance.

            Bruges is indeed very beautiful. (I am actually a German expat in Brussels.) And thanks for maintaining this great website!

  20. Two points to share… I find LATAM to follow USA trend. Guys in Mexico prefer to have 50% of their first job monthly income in a credit for a brand new $40k sports car (SUV if woman) instead of a house retrofit for better living or reduce Credit Card/School debts.

    Once you clear that first credit and you are around your 30s its time to get a better, and with your career skyrocketing, a mortgage on a deluxe condo with the size of a hotel room. That should be 80% and still room for daily spending (on Credit Cards) and saving. Your are a genius uhh !!

    Second point… came to my attention the very polite order you mention the two groups of European countries to avoid the PIGS term used often by German guys that still oppose to European Union mainly because of that different approach to job, money and general lifestyle planning of such countries.

    1. Good stuff Carlos! Didn’t know about this 50% in one’s 20s and 80% in one’s 30s spending rules. LatAm is a place where I definitely want to explore more.

      I spent a couple years living in the Spanish house in college and 5 years before that studying the language. I LOVE, LOVE the Latin American culture.

      I also loved my time in Brazil. Wonderful. Lovers of life there!!

  21. Sam,

    Would you be as content working 40 hours or less and making less if you didn’t have your current “nut” (as you refer to it) that’s providing much of your income these days? Allowing you to live a more leisurely life?

    I suspect that if you didn’t have the savings and just had the 40 hour a week job with an average salary you’d be more keen to work more to raise your income. It’s all perspective but I wonder if your current perspective is a fair test, because you haven’t taken the normal route to where you are now.

    Additionally, if you’re sick of paying $200k in taxes on your high 6 figure income and cease to work and make and pay that much, who takes your place? Who fills in for that loss of tax income for the government? The answer is the rest of us…and eventually you. If spending stays the same but more of us cease to work for more money eventually we’ll all have to pay more taxes to keep the country moving. Meeting that balance is always a debate…Europeans have just settled for a different spot on that balance than Americans.

    I still prefer it our way…but I’m young and still trying to reach my end game (via more means, er money).


    1. JW,

      To answer your questions:

      “Would you be as content working 40 hours or less and making less if you didn’t have your current “nut” (as you refer to it) that’s providing much of your income these days? Allowing you to live a more leisurely life?”

      – I think so, because I was happy as a poor student. I’d feel happy knowing I wasn’t taxed as much and getting the same government benefits or more than those who paid more taxes. With less income, there is less stress. Less stress = happier life. Less pressure to perform means more vacation and relaxation at work.

      “It’s all perspective but I wonder if your current perspective is a fair test, because you haven’t taken the normal route to where you are now.”

      – What is the normal route in your definition? I think it is pretty common to start off working minimum wage jobs, go to college, and find a job where you work hard at and get raises over time.

      “Additionally, if you’re sick of paying $200k in taxes on your high 6 figure income and cease to work and make and pay that much, who takes your place? Who fills in for that loss of tax income for the government? The answer is the rest of us…and eventually you. If spending stays the same but more of us cease to work for more money eventually we’ll all have to pay more taxes to keep the country moving. Meeting that balance is always a debate…Europeans have just settled for a different spot on that balance than Americans.”

      – Everybody is replaceable. I knew that from day one, which is why I didn’t take my job and opportunities for granted. Many people are lined up to take all of our jobs.

  22. Fin Samurai,

    Great/Interest post. Definitely makes you ascertain the situation you currently are in. The car comparison was very eye opening – as I would have to agree. My older brother, who at the time, made less than 1/2 of what I was making, yet drove a car that cost twice as much? Does that make sense? Then obviously when the tax situation across countries is brought in, it definitely makes more sense what the “higher” individuals over there construct their life vs here. I appreciate this post FS, hope you have a great rest of your Monday!

    -Lanny, one of the diplomats

  23. A focus on the greed of the rich, but what about the greed of the poor? In America we have non-producers demanding the same lifestyle and material possessions as the producers. Is it fair to punish hard work, risk, and sacrifice so the greedy poor (and often dumb, irresponsible, and lazy) can get what they want without trying harder?

  24. Mysticaltyger

    The problem I have with higher tax rates is our corrupt and inefficient government (as you pointed out). That trumps everything else for me. There’s no way in h*ll the U.S. is going to run a welfare state anywhere near as efficiently and equitably as Denmark does. If anything, we’re more apt to end up like Greece or Italy.

    1. But Greece and Italy got terrific bailouts by the European Union and have terrific lifestyles.

      If the US gets in financial trouble, you know every OECD country will pitch in to bail us out as well.

  25. Great post, Sam. And I admire your ability to take in (what I assume to be) counter-intuitive or contrarian ideas and to honestly parse them. I enjoy your posts the most when I’m surprised by what you say, and I like that.

  26. Having been to a few European countries for work, it seems the *general* different in US vs EU is a question of opportunity.

    The US has blockbuster companies that explode in growth and make billions of dollars, whereas many other countries simply don’t have incentives for that type of risk.

    Sam, imagine if you hit the tax rates you paid when you made > $200k instead when you were only making $75k. Would your motivation have decreased sooner? I’ll admit, mine probably would.

    I think what made America great for the better part of the 1900s was the fact that ANYONE can make it here. To some extent, anyone still can today. If you were a youth in 2014 Spain or Portugal, the economic situation is just very different. Unemployment is rampant, labor costs are high, taxes are high, everything is working against you if you are an entrepreneur or an existing business owner, as growth just isn’t in the cards like it is in the US.

    I think, to a lesser extent, what made America great is income inequality. Hear me out, since the freedom of the US is what brought people here (both political and economic) in the first place, and to large extent, what keeps people here.

    The problem I see in the future, is if we continue making business more difficult, at what point will the country as a whole start becoming less entrepreneurial, less growth-oriented, less awesome?

    Everything’s got pros and cons, but I would see the motivation/drive disappear quickly if I lived in an EU country that was business-unfriendly.

    1. I believe the US will be very similar to a mixture of France, UK, Belgium, and Denmark within the next 50 years. We have a growing government and more elderly to support, so taxes will likely have to go up on the top 10%.

      “Sam, imagine if you hit the tax rates you paid when you made > $200k instead when you were only making $75k. Would your motivation have decreased sooner? I’ll admit, mine probably would.”

      Probably not so much for the first 10 years of work, because my motivation was to prove to myself and to my parents that I could become financially independent on my own. Work, at the time, was my only way to make money. I would look at 75K as nice, but I’d shoot for much more.

      For the second 10 years, I’d probably shift it down a notch b/c work gets old after a while, and I would have some kind of financial nut to make me feel more secure b/c I would still save like a maniac at a 75K income.

  27. It’s not just an issue about taxes, but also about the culture. We’re just a consumer society in the U.S. and we love commercials where they just sell us stuff. A big chunk of people watch the Super Bowl because of the commercials. Now the the World Cup is on, it made me realize that maybe soccer is not that big in the U.S. because the halves are played without commercials and it doesn’t bring the networks that much money.

    1. Nice observation about the World Cup ads! There’s none! They are happy to watch and play, just like I’m happy to shoot some hoops. Such a free or inexpensive activity that brings much happiness.

  28. Yeah, the car culture in CA is pretty crazy. Everyone is so concern about their car. I’m sure there are some well off people who drive cheap cars too, but they’re just not very high profile.
    I would love to live in Europe for a few years and experience their tax system. It sounds like they pay more, but they are happier because of all the social safety net.
    I’m still obsessed with money. It’s hard not to when you write about personal finance.

  29. The difference between the US and Western Europe is that they are socialists. It comes at a cost (higher taxes). Yep, they have better benefits…at a cost. I have friends in Germany and had the good fortune to travel to Norway, France, UK for work. In general they have less consumer goods than US citizens. Big screen tv’s are still rare. Walk-in closets extremely rare. Not many microwave ovens either. Fireplaces are very common due to historic high energy prices. Square footage of living space is smaller. Lots are smaller. Car engines are small and taxed on displacement. Any pickup trucks you see are driven by US military / expats. Population growth there is a fraction of the US. I love to visit there…but given the choice I’ll select our system every time.

    1. Mav,

      And I think what our European friends are saying is that the cost is worth it – less stress, less obligation, more safety.

      I still prefer more control over my finances and safety.

      Someone made a great point earlier that if the US middle class saved more, something equal to US taxes + the different between US & European taxes, we might see a much stronger middle class.

      What do you think?

      1. Just be careful what you wish for when you remark that you might prefer a Western Europe lifestyle. Let me share some of my personal findings while travelling about Norway and working with Norwegians. They are great independent people (viking heritage). In the summer I’ve sat outside enjoying dinner at 10:30pm in daylight. Some towns in valleys don’t see the sun shine directly all winter long (which likely explains the high consumption of drugs and alcohol). When flying from the continent of Europe to Norway expect to hear bottles clinking in the overhead bins…alcohol is being brought into Norway due the the very high in-country taxes. You will “queue up” (stand in lines) at state run alcohol stores and post offices. In a medium sized town on a Sunday I could not find a store open to get a simple cup of tea and a danish. Food is expensive, especially fruit since most will obviously not grow in this climate. A reindeer steak is excellent tasting and lean. The population was relatively poor until oil was discovered around 1970. Oil now provides about 25% of all goverment revenues and they are rightly concerned about how long their oil reserves will last. Again, it’s a beautiful country, with nice people, and I enjoy travelling and vacationing in Western Europe but I still prefer the overwhelming social and financial freedoms the US provides.

    2. Funny you should mention microwave. The flat I stayed in London didn’t have one!

      I think a good strategy could be to see what you can do for work in the US, and see what you can get during retirement in a European country. I’m sure they’d welcome us with open arms :)

    3. Big screen tv’s aren’t rare in Europe. Not by a long shot. There’s a very wide range of choice, actually. Most consumer goods you mentioned can easily be found there as well. It’s just that the “smaller” products in the market tend to crowd out the “larger” ones (e.g. walk-in closets, pick-up trucks) because space is scarcer. Name one thing that (West)Europeans would have a harder time getting their hands on.

  30. I don’t think it is a bad thing to want to make a lot of money and live the American dream. I think it can be a bad thing if that is all you care and think about though. I consider myself a very happy person and I have worked very hard to on my real estate business and investing to be able to afford nice things and have a lot of freedom with my family.

    I also think your first point is the key point, people in the US spend all the money they have and do not save. Or more money than they have and go into debt. If people would save more money while trying to earn more money they would have many more options in life instead of being stuck on a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle where they must keep working to maintain.

    1. Mysticaltyger

      Mark, I think your last point is spot on. If Americans would save the difference between what Europeans pay in taxes, we would have a stronger middle class and similar levels of economic security. The generation that lived through the Great Depression managed to do this. But today, people will insist saving 10% to 10% of income is impossible, even though our savings rate was typically at least 8% from the 1950s through the early 1990s.

      1. I did not inherit it, I bought him out last year. I basically pay for his retirement.
        I got started as a real estate agent in 2001. Struggled until about 2005 when I got into REO listings. Then I started setting goals and planning and things really took off. I have always done fix and flips with my dad, but when I started helping him he went from 1-2 a year to 5-10 a year.

        At the end of our partnership I was producing about 90% of the business on the real estate team and managing about 80% of the fix and flip business. It made sense for me to buy him out and take over everything.

  31. “Remember that money is only a means to an end. What is your end?”


    I stopped obsessing about money when I got a slightly lower paying job.
    Counterintuitive, sure.
    When I was looking to see if I could take the job I discovered something. We are at the point as a couple where one of us could engineer a layoff and the other could still get to FI in 4 years, vs. 3 if we both stay working now. (we’re 32 now)

    1. Sounds like a good goal to me!

      I felt the same way in terms of obsessing less about money once I started making less money. The less you have, the less you have to do with it e.g. reinvest and shelter.

  32. Julien @cashsnail

    I never lived in USA (nor traveled there) so I won’t make a judgement. But I lived for 25 years in France, studied in Germany, worked for some years in Belgium and now I live in an ex-USSR country (which is a crazy free-for-all system with insane inequality & low taxes / high corruption).

    I did feel a difference in greed depending on the tax rate. I was taxed at 30% in France & over 50% in Belgium. In Belgium I saw no point in working harder to get more as most of it would be flushed down in useless taxes. Entrepreneurship is very hard because you have to pay even more taxes but don’t even get the generous social security/pension/unemployement of regular employee.

    Now that I live in a country with 5% taxes rate for IT, no social security (but no cost too) & overall crap public services, I feel more motivated to start a business & build my own retirement.

    The people around care much more about their fancy car (social status) and appearance (there are mall of a size I never saw in western Europe). Advertisements about credit & mortgage are everywhere (with rate above 10%). It feels like the entire society goal is to buy & buy more to show off to neighbors/colleague/friends.

    1. “Entrepreneurship is very hard because you have to pay even more taxes but don’t even get the generous social security/pension/unemployement of regular employee.”

      This is the same thing in the US interestingly enough. If you are an entrepreneur, you have to pay double social security tax and it’s very difficult to get unemployment benefits.

      To clarify, even though you live in 50% tax Belgium, you only pay 5% tax because you are in IT? Is that 5% income tax?

      1. julien @cashsnail

        to clarify I left Belgium few months ago, I now live in Ukraine, which has a special 5% tax rate for IT (who are all self-employed). It’s an income tax, regular employees pay more taxes (15 to 17%)
        With the crisis looming & Russian pressuring on gas price, they may have to increase it this special rate. But it’s unlikely, IT outsourcing is a very good way to bring foreign currency and lower the commercial balance deficit

        But pension are close to nothing (good pension of public employees are in couple hundreds euros…) & social security is “free”. You can go to hospital (supposedly free), but they treat you only if you pay bribes at each steps, assistant, secretary, doctor. It’s often cheaper & faster to go to a private clinic & pay upfront a real price without having to bribe your way in the “free” hospital.

          1. julien @cashsnail

            It’s quite different from Europe. Infrastructure is crap (roads have pothole everywhere), you can’t drink tap water, there are electricity/water/internet outage happening randomly (internet is crashing for 30 minutes every couple months, electricity has very localized outage for a couple hours). Hot water is cut every year for a week (for “testing”). Public hospital are holding with duck tape, overall everything managed by government is from USSR era. Metro/bus are overcrowded. It feels a bit like living in a 3rd world country.
            But on the other side, business are compensating for this. You can go to super shiny private clinic, brand new gigantic shopping malls (like little town) where you can spend all your weekend, you can use “private taxi” (think Uber, but in an old lada with a guy listening to some strange russian rap)
            The concept of customer service is unknown, people don’t smile to strangers (there is a saying that “only idiots smile without reason”)

            The whole society is focused on consuming as much as possible (in order not to have any savings in the bank). They got burnt a few times too many by bank going bankrupt and/or stealing money from account. I don’t have any friends who keep money in the bank, the most serious one, just convert some money in dollars & keep it at home hidden.
            Girls prefer to starve themselves so they can buy iphone & fancy clothes. Guys buy fancy cars with tinted windows on credit (with above 15% credit rate…). If your car has tinted windows, you are someone that matter :p

            As for the cost of life, it’s overall cheaper than Europe. 100MB internet at home is 9$ a month, for phone : unlimited internet/sms + some hours of voice is 4$ a month.
            A 40 min taxi ride to airport is 10$. Filet of chicken is 2$ per pound.
            A visit to doctor in private clinic (an ear specialist) : 17$
            We rent a 1100 sqm flat, 5 min by foot from the metro and we pay 750$ with all utilities & car parking. Gas/diesel is 3.5$/gallon (a good 30% less than in Europe)
            A metro/bus ticket is 15ct, private mini-bus (which are also old & crowded) is 60ct

            Overall local products are cheaper than in Europe especially telco & chicken/meat/grain (it’s a grain basket for Europe). Services are cheaper because salary & taxes are so low.
            But imported food products are very expensive, around twice to 3 times more than in Europe.
            Electronic devices are 10-20% more expensive (and choice is a bit more limited, not all version goes to Eastern Europe market). Clothes & car are 20-30% more expensive.

            Working as IT (with special tax rate), you can live very well (and earn significantly more than in Europe). But you have to deal with crap infrastructure and a very different culture. I guess in 6 months I can make an article about what it is to live in an ex-soviet country ;)

            1. Fascinating! And I would love for you to share an article here on what’s it’s like to live in an ex-Soviet country six months from now!

              Let me go tint my windows first. I think it costs around $150 each.

  33. I am not necessarily for higher taxes, but I have to say that Europe does get some things right. A paid maternity leave would have been amazing, and it’s a shame that America doesn’t even mandated 12-week paid leave. I was on maternity leave of 3 weeks, and none of it paid.

  34. I don’t consider it greedy to want more money if you are willing to work for it. I do consider it greedy to expect others to pay for your existence, or if you lie, cheat or steal to get more money. And to be brutally honest, I find having to pay over half of your income to taxes is a rip-off, especially if, as you point out, there is a gap in the benefit you receive. It is a little misleading to say that the health care, pensions, child care etc. in Denmark are free when those who work are potentially paying over half their income to support that system.

    1. Julien @cashsnail

      It’s a different mentality. In Europe it’s very usual that half of your income is gone to the state. But on the other side, when you lose job you get unemployement, when you are sick you don’t pay much for healthcare and you get pension (there is no 401 blabla, saving is mandatory so even people who want to mess up their retirement can’t :))

      It’s a stress-free life, you know you won’t ever become super rich. But you also know that if you mess up you will get support.

      As I usually say to my wife : USA is great if you are young in good health & full of ambition. Europe is good for all people except those young with ambition (and it’s one of the reason why we left Europe)

      PS : as for the rip-off, statistics say that socialized system do work better in some case than “free market” :
      10% of GDP of Belgium/France/Germany/Netherlands/Switzerland goes to healthcare for 16% in USA while outperforming in most indicators.
      6% of GDP gone… You can double education expense instead (that’s probably enough to give college education for free nation-wide :))

      1. It’s great to get comments from our neighbors in Europe. There’s nothing better than first hand perspective.

        I think difference in culture between the US and Europe is what drives a lot of our (US) hesitance to allow the state to control more.

        You mentioned “It’s a stress-free life, you know you won’t ever become super rich.” However in the US we highly value the opportunity to be wildly successful if you want to, it’s possible. (Btw, I should add that we also believe you can be wildly successful too, it’s not only “US” but anyone. And I think that specific point is mis-understood by many non-Americans.)

        It’s that sense of freedom to pursue a dream in the “land of opportunity”, fueled by stories of the European (and Asian) immigrants (in many families our grandparents or great grandparents) that came to the US with little and created much, that make us hesitant to give more away for taxes and services. Not pulling your weight is strongly frowned upon here. Having to live on unemployment pay is generally not shared openly, it’s something people feel embarrassed about.

        What seems like a bad consequence to that US mentality, though, might be the extreme consumerism or the unbalanced consumerism – i.e., living in a run-down house but driving a Lexus (cause one can more easily afford the Lexus and it fulfills some image expectation).

        I’d be interested to know if perhaps the US mentality is also directed by the age of our country – we’re incredibly young compared to Europe, we haven’t had as many “recession” periods – was there a time in Europe’s younger days when lower taxes and lower state support was the preference?

      2. Rob in Munich

        If you’re talking about tax home pay on a salary than the average would be closer to 36% for a married high wage earner. Some countries such as Germany tax singles at a higher rate than families.

        Another big difference (could be wrong on this one) but for self employed people Social Security taxes (healthcare, unemployment pension etc) are paid based on your actual income where as in Europe it’s a flat rate. For example in Spain you pay between 300 and 700 euros a month regardless of income. Germany pension is a flat 20% of the gross and healthcare is 15% of a very complicated formula, but expect to pay at least 400€ a month.

    2. Good point. I think the reason why the European system works so well is because the benefits are INCLUSIVE of EVERYONE. Whereas in the US, there’s a lot of focus on picking the winners and losers. Why can’t we all get the same benefits? Why do only people below a certain arbitrarily low income get a child tax credit. Why is there a marriage penalty tax? etc.

      1. Interesting point about benefits being “inclusive of everyone”. This is a pretty idea on paper, but in reality more and more non skilled immigrants from poor countries are liking it too and they invade nice rich northern countries like Denmark and alienate the local population to the point that right wing nationalistic ideas are becoming very popular.

        There is simply no incentive to work and learn the language and assimilate if you can just live on welfare. Which leads to another point which I think makes US a better place – immigration policy. In the US immigrants are welcome but are not encouraged to do nothing with free money, so they are motivated to work hard. That makes them more appreciated members of the society than in EU.

        US is a great place to provide opportunity for EVERYONE who is willing to work hard and the rewards are greater. EU is more segregated society and it is harder for outsiders to succeed due to stereotypes around immigrants. In the modern world where borders are becoming more porous I think this will become the most important thing – how the country attracts and makes the newcomers thrive (or not)

  35. I don’t think we have an obsession with money as much as we have an obsession with having “stuff”. Honestly, I think America would be great if most of us changed our thought process. If we stopped over consuming, Americans would have more money to save. In addition, most of us will never achieve the level of wealth that most would consider rich. This isn’t a bad thing….just a different way of thinking would help everyone.

    1. Yeah, maybe you are right about the over consumption thing, from food, to clothing, to shelter. Hard to not grow into a big goldfish when there are no constraints over the size of our pond. Japan, for example is another matter. They pride themselves on max utility with inventions such as compact cars and the walkman.

  36. Is it really only the taxes that create that type of behavior? What about the culture and reason behind getting those taxes implemented in the first place? The culture behind spending and family behavior? What about the underground economy? How does the unemployment/underemployment rate look? What about each country, is it the same for all of them in the Euro zone? And more specifically about the cars, can you even get a pickup truck on those roads? What is the status symbol of choice in Europe? Is it the same in Luxembourg too? How about Greece?

    What do our brethren in Asia do?

    1. I’m from the Netherlands and this is my impression of how Europeans, but Dutch people especially, think about your questions: Of course culture is of influence of this type of behaviour. I believe that more future oriented countries are better suited for this tax system and the organisations behind it. More family oriented cultures (mostly south of Europe) also have less of these government organised systems than more individual oriented cultures (north of Europe) There are big differences in tax systems and social policies between countries of Europe. The European Union is trying to implement some of these policies in all countries, although this often leads to difficult discussions.

      The Dutch historically have been savings oriented and also like to have insurance for everything. The tax system and the social policies can be viewed like a big insurance system. You pay more taxes, but you know that any life threatening diseases and operations will not bankrupt you, that you will have some money to bridge the gap between jobs, that if you become/are handicapped you will have at least a minimum wage and that if you always paid your taxes you will have this same minimum wage when you’re too old to work.

      There are 2 problems with this system: everybody wants to get paid to do nothing, so you need to make sure that only the people who really need it get in. And due to the recent economic crises and the coming population ageing we will pay more to get less, so support of the population for these policies is slowly diminishing.

      I have seen some American Pick-up trucks on a military base, but let me tell you: you can drive it, but you can not park it anywhere in a regular parking space here in the Netherlands. Also, living, working and shopping is more combined in the same space, so the care is less important. If I would have to point out a status symbol, I would probably say a large house since space is scarce in this small country with almost 17 million people. In Greece it used to be a government job, because it meant you could not be fired. This has changed now.

      Unemployment is also very different in each country. We have a unemployment rate of 9% at the moment, when normally it is somewhere between 4 to 6%. While we do have this relative high unemployment rate, we still employ many people from Poland, Spain and other European countries (mostly unschooled jobs). In other countries the unemployment rate has been much higher in the last couple of years. I have heard numbers of 30 to 40% on the news, mostly in southern European countries. I’m not sure what the rate was before the crises.

      There also is an underground economy. We have a reasonable effective organisation that looks for people who don’t pay their taxes. But this underground economy also keeps a lot of restaurants running, since this is almost the only way you can spend your money. In the end, these restaurants pay their taxes and it all returns to the government.

      1. Rob in Munich

        Very insightful comment Shelly. I’m a Canadian who spent 7 years in Germany and then 7 years in Spain and now back in Germany again. And it’s exactly as you stated, Germans are over insured, the Spanish rely on family. A typical expat (read British) complaint about Spanish hospitals is on Sundays they are over run with family, loud and boisterous.

        Also taxes (as in take home pay on Salary) is almost the same Spain Germany.

        As for taxes as mentioned I am Canadian and my poor fellow Canadians get the worse of both worlds, high European taxes (even worse the VAT is added at the till!!!) and (almost) US style social services. Yes we have universal healthcare but there is no private option to fall back on, unless you count going to the US. And the list of exclusions is very long, everything from dental to drugs to rehab.

        Here’s a very telling difference, I had total knee replacement surgery done in Germany, 13 days in hospital than a full 6 weeks in Reha (Rehabilitation) plus almost a year of physiotherapy. Yes there are co-pays but I’d say the total cost was under 500€. In Canada I might have spent 3 days max in the hospital and rehabilitation would have been out of pocket. Not sure on drug coverage but again expect minimal coverage.

        Also like Canada the list of services not covered is growing year by year but so far the amounts have been quite reasonable (45€ for an extra good cleaning at the dentist)

        Dental care, while not as good as it was 15 years ago, basic dental work is paid for and more importantly 90+% coverage for braces for kids. In Canada this 100% out of pocket, you job doesn’t offer benefits you don’t got to the dentist.

        Oh and yeah, just two weeks vacation, as much as I love Canada we’ll never return.

        1. Rob,

          Fascinating. We Americans view the Canadian system with envy due to the free healthcare, and much higher average net worths. Is it really that bad? I’ve discussed with several folks to create a movement for US retirees to invade Canada and Australia for health care benefits.

          I feel that when you compare many things with Germany, things start to look a little inferior since Germans have such great process and precision.

          1. As a Canadian living & working in Canada I think a few of Rob’s opinions may be dated and industry specific.

            Universal health care is covered and something to be envied by rich countries who don’t have a similar plan and I agree our system is far from perfect. Basic health care is covered including things like emerg visits, operations, cancer treatments, baby deliveries, etc. I agree with Rob, there seems to be an ever increasing number of things not covered and will likely get worse as out population ages.

            Dentists – not sure how to comment. I have employer coverage however any dental visit costs significantly more that the plans cover. I think the message here is to go to dental school! :-)

            Education (university & college level) is heavily subsidized by the tax payers. Tuition only would be about $7,000 for a full course load each year. Obviously books, etc are more. International students are not subsidized and the same tuition would be close to $24,000. Canadians do make a habit of complaining about tuition fees for sure!

            Vacation – I am a professional so maybe that skews my perspective but I have never heard of anyone working full time and only having 2 weeks of vacation here. I started with 3 as a new grad and 15 years later I have 5 weeks of time. This is likely higher than average but I think two weeks would be abnormally low here.

            I also tend to agree with a previous poster – all the social programs do come with headaches. Lots of people want benefits that don’t really need them, people go to the emerg room for almost anything, and the future costs of our health care and pension plans will be difficult to pay for as boomers retire and draw on the systems more.

            Not a perfect system but all in all it is pretty good. I think it’s a reasonable balance between the American and European ways.

            1. PS
              Maternity(or paternity) benefits in Canada are a one year period and the mother/father receives unemployment insurance benefits during the one year period. The amount is not fully your salary but some fraction. I think the maximum benefit is about $40k per year.

        2. I live in Canada, I broke my femur and stayed 14 days in the hospital. I’ve been doing physiotherapy 4 days a week for 1 1/2 years now. The only thing I had to spend money on, were my prescriptions that I needed the first few months of rehab. They cost me about 10$ each, insurance covered the rest. Canadian healthcare system is the best. The only thing I paid for out of pocket were my prescriptions. I probably got 700,000$ worth of surgeries and physiotherapy covered by my taxes. Didn’t spend a dime out of pocket.

      2. Americans do not have it well; we’ve carried the Euro for decades because we are industrious and will work for cheap.

        Americans do not receive many of the handouts that Europeans do. No free schooling. Big Pharmaceuticals was choosing its prices to make a buck off of us, and most bankruptcies in America are due to health care costs.

        Our infrastructure is a D, which is bad because transport is so important. Social mobility is almost nonexistent. There’s no paid leave for pregnant women. Minimum wage is $7.25, but it’s not at price parity with any of the European countries, meaning that I pay more for food from my own country than Europeans do.

        And then there’s this whole “race to the bottom” line that’s total bs. Seriously, we aren’t racing. We’re waiting for a stable currency that was promised 30 years ago so that citizens of the US can actually increase their standard of living while the EU has a case of ideological priveledge.

        Our relative wages have not gone up in 4o years. Some things gotta give. It’s either tossing the central currency or rearranging the EU – I don’t care, so long as this squeeze stops.

        American Dream is dead, like the orange guy said. My mom’s pension disappeared to pay for the EU financial crisis. My dad can’t retire because he wanted me to go to school like he did when he was a kid and that’s the only way to stay in the middle class, here.

        I am 21, and I am in $70,000 of debt, can your side of the pond please get your shit together and stop punishing my country?

        Half of the country isn’t independent. We’re Interdependent. This broad assumption that Californians are all Americans us a joke. California makes $14 minimum wage, and us always batching at my state to not actually manufacture anything.

        If we can make this work, it should be a breeze over there. Good luck. I’m angry at the system, not at any individuals.


      Europe has a north/south divide. In the North people work hard and save. The public services such as transport and healthcare are world class. In the south, the weather is great and the food and wine is amazing. As such, people relax more and work less. This means less wealth, lower taxes and poorer public infastructure. The problem is, with the advent of the Euro, the southern European nations like Spain, Portugal and Greece were able to borrow more, at much cheaper rates, as they were part of the ‘Euro club’. This enabled them to improve standards of living (in a material sense) without creating the wealth required to do so. Now these nations are pretty screwed trying to re-pay the debt. Their economies are in decline and unemployment, esp those under 25, is around 50%! Meanwhile, in the North, countries such as England and Germany is very rich.

      In terms of cars, most Europeans have a life! They don’t car about what car you drive. If you visit a major city in Spain, France or Italy, most of the cars are small and beaten up. Nobody cares about cars.

      The only places were cars are a status symbol in Europe is Britain, where our culture is more aligned to the USA.

  37. Hi,

    I am a Spaniard working and living in Germany, but I also lived in the US while pursuing my MS degree in Aerospace Engineering, so I have experienced both worlds. Although I had the opportunity to work in the US after I finished my degree in 2005, I decided to come back to Europe. The main reasons for me to take that decision were:

    1) The work culture that prevails in the US: Many seem to ‘live to work’, where Europeans have more of an attitude to ‘work to make a living’ that matches better with my attitude towards work.

    2) Lack of social coverage and specially the lack of universal health coverage. This was for me certainly a NO-NO. How can a rich society not take care of its own members? At the end of the day, I want that the members of my community are doing well, because it means that I will be doing well also.

    3) The big social inequality between people with high incomes and the rest. In the way the society is structured, the inequality gap only gets bigger with time, and that is a recipe for disaster in the long run

    4) I got a fellowship from the Spanish government to study in the US. So effectively, a European country paid for my studies so that I could come back and apply what I learnt abroad. As and individual, I would have never paid those outrageous fees just to study in a US university.

    5) VISA status. As a European living in Europe, I feel like a full rights citizen. When I was in the US, I certainly didn’t feel so.

    When I left the US, I had the impression that USA was the best country to live… if you had money. And yes, money can buy you the citizenship. Otherwise, if you were an average citizen, it was much better to live in a European country. That might have changed in the last 10 years, but based on what I read in the media, it doesn’t seem to be so.

    BTW, I am very happy with my decision and I think I have made very well so far ;-)

    1. Hi Oriol,

      Thanks for sharing. When the government pays for one’s entire college education, how can one not help but feel extremely grateful to the government for everything that happens to the person’s life after graduation? I know I would.

      Sounds like you have a very nice balance. We have an immigration battle issue in the US. Will be interesting to see what happens.

    2. Heidi Vanderford

      I want to return to Spain as soon as possible. I’m American and can agree with this post it’s the have’s and the have nots here.

  38. Income Surfer

    Very interesting Sam. I can’t speak to how taxes influence conspicuous consumption, but would make some sense. I can speak to Europeans (generally) having more reasonable expectations. I hate to use such a broad brush, but…… In many ways the Europeans I know remind me of the Midwesterners (US) I know. They are a little more conservative by nature, generally less flashy, and for whatever reason they act less entitled. When I lived in the midwest for a few months, I was shocked that a Cadillac was considered a luxury vehicle. There weren’t even BMW or Mercedes dealers in my area.

    I’m in my 30s and honestly it’s seems silly for me to own houses and cars like my parents have…….when they have worked 30 years to afford such luxuries. Many of my friends don’t understand what I mean and would never think of driving a mid-size sedan. After all, everyone who’s anyone drives a $60k SUV……even if they are making $30k per year

    1. I like the analogy of Europe with the Mid-West. Much more low key. I used to travel to Des Moines, Iowa for my old job and definitely noticed a more humble environment.

  39. This is very interesting! I would have never known that there is such a huge difference. As a mom, one years paid maternity leave sounds pretty amazing & definitely more valuable.

    1. The concept that we Americans have about money is so convoluted and distorted that we will end up dying long before we will enjoy what we have earned. In a land where most don’t have to think that hard to murder our own mother, for a certain amount of money to say that our thinking of it is convoluted is just an understatement. If you offer an American something of relative value they will be alarmed, suspicious, or even ask you what you have to give in return. Whereas if the same scenario is done for an European individual they will not find it that strange to say “thank you” and move on. They do so because they really don’t have a perverted relationship with money unlike the Americans. That is why here in America, who you are, and the identity attached to it is how much you are worth in your field of profession is the most unhealthy and corrosive matter

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