Over at Everyday Tips and Thoughts, proprietor Kris expresses some shock at the idea that a family profiled on CNN Money might not be able to live on $110,000. Particularly startling is the way CNN frames the decision the couple contemplates: whether to have the mother drop to half time, at a salary of $32,600, so she can be home with their two children: “Is that enough [along with the father's $78,000 salary] to support their lifestyle?” Readers are registering their outrage that anyone would think $110,000 is too little to support what surely must be an extravagant and spendthrift way of life.
But…but, I say, but…
It depends on where they live. “Lifestyle” may not mean a dwelling in a McMansion and tooling around town in two Mercedes SUVs. It may simply mean they want to live in a sophisticated city that offers cultural amenities unavailable in cheaper areas. Often in such cities the public schools are inadequate—well, heck…in most American cities the public schools are inadequate. If you care about your kids’ education, you send them to private schools. Tuition at the day school my son attended—in Phoenix, a low-rent town—is now $12,740 for pre-kindergarten and $15,100 for K-8. That’s per kid. Yes, per year.
In a more desirable city, you not only have the breathtaking cost of schooling, you also have the staggering cost of keeping a roof over your head. Recently I looked into returning to San Francisco, my mother’s hometown and a place that I truly wish I could live. A one-bedroom apartment in a development that is universally panned on Yelp is $2,400 a month! God only knows what it would cost to live in a better area. Studios in San Francisco typically run around $1,800 to $2,000 a month.
That’s just for starters, before you pay for the lights, commute to work, buy baby’s shoes, or put food on your table. Imagine what it would cost to raise two children under those circumstances!
Yeah. It’s true: Dad’s salary of $78,000 would provide an adequate lifestyle for a family of four in Phoenix; $110,000 would keep them in comfort. But Phoenix is a hole in the middle of a cultural desert. You can’t put your kids in public school here, and even at a $15,000/year private school, the quality of education is just OK compared to high-ranking private schools in other states. Parents who can’t afford that but are committed to educating their kids well and keeping them physically safe often home-school. You spend your summers trying to stay out of 115-degree heat. Politicians like Governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who represent the prevailing mentality, are such crass troglodytes that when you get on an airplane and someone asks you where you’re from, you’re embarrassed to admit you live in Arizona—when traveling, many Arizonans tell strangers they come from somewhere else.
Some people prefer to live in more enlightened venues. Unfortunately places like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, Paris, and London cost a lot of money. In those cities, $110,000 wouldn’t go very far for a family of four.
The fact that Dad is earning 78 grand as an assistant principal and Mom is presently earning $65,200 as a literacy coach (!!) suggests they live in a high-cost-of-living city. He sure wouldn’t earn that in a right-to-work state like Arizona, where education has traditionally been short-changed. Median base pay for an assistant principal here is $65,000. And I kinda doubt anyone ever heard of a literacy coach around here. By “support their lifestyle,” they may mean living modestly in a great city with civilized amenities.
You can live lots cheaper in lesser cities. You’ll make some trade-offs, though… My college freshmen just turned in an assignment for which they were asked to tour the campus library, take notes, and write a narrative describing their experience. Several said they had not been inside a library in many years. These products of our fine school system, all them bright and hard-working young men and women, write like this:
“In the General Collection there are many books to chose from, looking in the PQ through PS one of the most famous authors was Charles Dickens. The title is The Old Curiosity Shop.”
Literacy? What’s that? We got sunshine. We don’t need no steenking books!