Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Advice for living paycheck to paycheck.

With plans for a salary cap for Wall Street executives underway, My hypothesis is that there will be a whole new bracket of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. With well-over a decade of that lifestyle under my belt, I thought I would offer some advice.

Example Budget for Wall Street Executive making 500K:
Monthly take-home pay (approximately after taxes): $29,260
Monthly mortgage payment on 2.5 Million Dollar Condo: $17,000
(I mean you are not going to be able to sell right now, so you might as well stay there.)
Private school tuition for 2 children (per month): $6,000
(Your children and the educational system shouldn't suffer, so let's just keep them where they are for now. Plus that test to get into Sty and Bronx Science is REALLY tough)
5% Contribution to your Retirement Fund (it seems irresponsible not to suggest that you continue contributing to your future): $1,463

So, let's see here... what does that leave you? $4797 per month.

First, a bit of warning. This is actually about $600 above the median household income. That's right, Mr. and Mrs. Executive, the average American lives with less than your post-tax, post-mortgage, post-tuition leftovers of your legislatively-imposed income. Therefore, be sure to curtail your complaints to the appropriate ears. Country Club: sure, complain away. Subway: maybe not. (Oh, and P.S. the annual median income for women is very close to your new monthly income, so maybe be especially careful with comments around the fairer sex.)

Now, with that $600 above the average person's income, I suggest you continue to engage in some luxury purchasing. The danger of everyone buying IKEA furniture and Old Navy Jeans is that anything that is actually made by a human, gosh forbid an artist, may very well be lost. And besides, it is well-known in the paycheck-to-paycheck circles that if you do not occasionally treat yourself to small moments of luxury, you go insane. Or develop unbecoming hairstyles. Possibly both.

Don't forget your charitable contributions, just because you're nervous. I know you'll still need some tax-breaks... more than you did when you were in the upper tax brackets... It's hard to believe, but remember that what's happening here is worse everywhere else. I know it's easy to avoid the reports of homelessness, famine, drought, etc. but that's just not cool.

Also, try to remember the environment when making your choices. Although it is clear that even that has it's issues. (Dear USPS, I'm looking at you. Please consider a little strategic planning, we need you. Just not as much as we used to. One suggestion, make all mailings first class rate, even junk mail. Then use the temporary increase in revenue to do a massive restructuring, securing your pensions first, then tackling the changes in the way people use your services. No judgement, you and American newspapers are still the best deals going, but you both are becoming obsolete at a very rapid rate.)

Sorry for that side-bar, Executives, I know you are not used to waiting. I'm back.

Okay, wrapping up, here are some ideas for you:
- Do not panic. You'll be fine. After all, the top one percent has seen your income rise at a much faster rate than inflation, something the average American cannot say. I'm sure you still have some precious pennies stocked away somewhere.
- Try to remember this feeling you have. The trying to figure out what-should-stay and what-should-go feeling. You built your millions and billions on customers that experience that feeling everyday. Everyday. Everyday. When you are planning for how to get out of this, let's keep that in mind. There is no magic money. Just a tide that shifts from here to there, up and down. Trying to just save yourself will only make things worse.

(Note for readers: If you are actually a Wall-Street Executive and I have offended you, forgive me. If you are an Economist and you want me to site sources, I'm afraid I am a liberal MSNBC/CNN/Washington Post type, so if you are not, then feel free to refute me on your own blog. And if you're a man that resents being reminded that you make more money than women, and you really are beginning to hate that Obama passed that new legislation, sorry. And if you are a feminist that really hates to be called "the fairer sex", sorry. And if you're a grammarian that just noticed that I just left my comma on the outside of my quotation marks, then "bite me!")

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