Here's a map of how much money one would need to earn per year in every state to be part of "The 1%". Frankly most of the figures are a little lower than I expected; I'd have guessed that seven-figure incomes were necessary to reach the top of the economic heap. That the real amount is lower probably speaks more to how little most of us earn than how much the elite earn.

I'm not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about money. Were I, I would not have chosen a profession in which the income ceiling is not only relatively low but also well understood to be low by everyone who gets into the field. Nobody becomes an educator and is then shocked to discover that he or she is not earning a quarter-million dollars per year to teach middle schoolers or college freshmen. I don't earn a ton of money but I already feel like I have more than enough. I'm sure I would feel differently if I had a spouse, children, starving orphans, or pets to support or if I didn't live in an area where cost of living is about as low as it can go in this country.

It's a strange thought exercise, then, to imagine myself earning the kind of numbers you see on this map. If I was earning $450,000 per year, what the hell would I even do with it? There really isn't much one can spend "going out" here. I suppose I would go on three vacations per year instead of one or two. Other than that, I'd be spending money just to spend it. A bigger house that I don't really have any use for and an even more ridiculous car. Maybe some new clothes I probably wouldn't wear anyway. Pay off the rest of my student loans and commercial debt, neither of which are enormous. Other than that, I'd just end up hoarding money that I might not live long enough to spend in retirement.

Research on perceptions of wealth indicate that people think of "rich" as anyone who makes about 50% more than they do. Maybe without realizing it I've mastered the art of feeling rich on my existing income, or maybe I'm a particularly cheap date. Now taking suggestions for expensive and wasteful habits I can develop.

73 thoughts on “ON INCOME”

  • The fact that people define "rich" in terms of income AT ALL shows how financially illiterate, and innumerate, most people are. Rich means wealthy, i.e., having wealth. I know a couple who each earn six-figure incomes, have no children or pets, live in a $300K house (it's a McMansion, but they live in a low-cost area; where I live, $300K won't buy you a 1BR condo in a dodgy neighborhood), and haven't a penny to their names. They recently chose to replace a working older car with a brand new Chevy Volt which one of them only drives to the commuter rail station each day. Needless to say, they had to finance it and are making monthly payments. They make a lot of money but, since their debts exceed their assets, are not only not rich, they are poor.

    A couple of years ago The Economist said a person would have to earn $350K to be in the top 1% of income, and have $10 million in assets to be in the two 1% of wealth. That means a couple would need $700K/year and $20 million in assets.

    That's why I always shake my head at the whole "1%" thing. My wife and I are not even close, but we live very well and have a good deal of money set aside for retirement.

  • Continue living at the same level and pursuing the following strategy (pilfered from mrmoneymustache.com):

    1. Figure out how much money you are taking home and subtract the amount you are spending.
    2. Be sure to keep all that surplus money at work, by paying down high interest debt first and then investing the rest.
    3. Once the total value of all your investments reaches 25-30 times your annual spending, paid work is now entirely at your discretion. For life.

    Kudos to you for "feeling rich" on your existing income! That's at least half the battle.

  • If you're feeling burdened by too much money, but a yacht and a plane. That burden will disappear immediately.

  • For very sound reasons, I would move to NYC for the years I have left. However, living as something approaching a human being there would eat up a formidable slice of the pie.

  • Chris L sorta kinda beat me to it, but a coke habit'd help you burn through some of those unneeded dollars real quick.

  • I consider rich to be having all the money I need, plus extra. There's nothing better than not owing or not being burdened by what is owed. I'm rich making $33K annually. I'm also absurdly lucky (own a house, new car, have savings.)

    But since my wealth comes from a dead relative rather than a Protestant Work Ethic, I still know to say Fuck You to the idiots who claim anyone can get there with enough gumption and perseverance. I started on second base, others started on third with a lead, but I still feel like life handed me a homer.

  • If you make more than 50K USD a year then you are pretty much in the top 1% when you look at it globally. So your sense that you are well off is actually pretty well justified.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    And I have a wisecrack corollary:
    whoever has illnesses or ailments whose cost are lower than its insurance deductibles, that person is wealthy.

  • @Nunya: I see your boat/plane and raise you… A horse!
    Boats and planes can be parked and neglected. Not so with a horse.

  • I've known secondhand some wealthy people and their ability to piss money away is pretty amazing. Between houses, luxury cars, gadgets, hired help, tennis lessons, country club memberships, vacations in the luxury resort with all the amenities, second homes, you can blow a lot of money.

  • You ever see Chris Rock's bit on the difference between "rich" and "wealthy?"

    "Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his check is wealthy…. I ain't talking about Oprah, I'm talking about Bill Gates. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah's money…"

  • By all means, avoid having children. They'll suck the money out of you in a hurry.

    If only I'd have avoided a bad marriage, I'd be well on my way to retirement too. But alas…

  • Buy art! If you take your private jet to New York or London for an art auction, so much the better… You can spend your entire fortune on something that takes up 2 x 3' of wall space. Or fits on a coffee table.

    But I remind myself that most of the 1% in this country don't know what to do with their wealth, don't care about it except that it represents their "winnings" in the lottery, be it stock market or real estate circus or whatever. Americans are mostly clods whose taste can be satisfied with a rock concert or two, a steak dinner and a movie. You have to be educated to appreciate real quality in anything, not necessarily by formal education as by passionate interest + cultivated taste + experience. So many of the wealthy are good at making money and nothing else. So they make more money. The distinctly American way… That's why the McMansions and jets and yachts seem so criminal… they're there for show, they aren't even enjoyed by the owners.

  • Many years ago—showing my age here—my friend and I caught the end of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"+ and they had a segment on the highest paid CEOs that year. The highest at that time was $25million—though I'm sure there was more to it than that.

    Twenty-five. Million. Dollars. Let that sink in for a second.

    We just looked at each other and said WT…!!

    Then tried to think
    a) Why?!
    b) how you could spend that.
    So we went through and did a good job spending it, but that was the first year. Because next year, you get another $25 million more.

    Supposedly someone asked someone like a Rockefeller how much more they could need to have enough. He said, "Just one more dollar."
    So in its own way, money is like heroin.

    +There's something about the sociological nature of that show that captures the essence of what was changing in society at the time. Could you imagine a show dedicated to blatant displays of wealth in the 60s and 70s? Yes people gossip, and have always lusted after money, but open covetousness was always considered something to be looked down upon. To quote the zeitgeist of the time, "greed is good."

  • villageidiocy says:

    Easy peasy.
    Employ other people at a living wage doing something you'd rather not or can't. Cleaning? Gardening? Taxes? Get a personal massage therapist on call, paid for full time work but who is also an artist. When they aren't rubbing your back they are making art, and you are making sure that they have enough money to plow into the economy to help other folks. Give them retirement, healthcare, reliable hours, vacation days, weekends off, overtime, sick leave etc etc etc. Your money will melt away, all for the good.

    And give vast quantities of money to the politician of my choice. Somebody like Elizabeth Warren.

  • villageidiocy – In addition to your suggestions I'd say charities of your choice. A half million here, $100K there. Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, various battered women shelters, low cost dental clinics in neighborhoods that need 'em, etc. I know I could burn through beaucoup bucks every year.

  • Mr Micawber's famous, and oft-quoted, recipe for happiness:

    "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

  • Part of the point that I think you might have missed is also the amount of time and work that a lot of people put in to put themselves into the 1% club. Sure some CEO and board members don't have to do a lot of work, neither do old money, but there are many at the executive level who put in crazy hours to afford the lifestyles they have developed, only to work so much they don't even have the time to enjoy that lifestyle. To me that totally defeats the purpose to begin with.

  • It's not that hard to burn through huge piles of filthy lucre quickly. Just find the closest casino and develop a gambling addiction.

  • Um, charity. Whether in your family (college/travel funds for the nieces and nephews), or giving to domestic or international charity work. It's a sin to die rich.

  • I "make" < $13K a year (social security).

    I own my home but since it's not "appraisal ready" I am currently spending about $700/month in interest payments on about $30K in S/T debt–the average interest rate is around 18-20%–and not even paying down the debt.

    I also owe about $3K in back taxes. sewer and water bills.

    I feel incredibly well off compared to most of the people I meet when riding the subsidized city buses. I will be meeting fewer of them, soon, as austerity measures at CNY Centro are going to result in curtailing the scedules for late night and weekend service, I wonder if the cops and ER departments will also stop investigating crimes and treating the victims of late night/weekend assaults of various sorts.

    I was told by the guy who owns the PT place I've been going of late the big problem in AMERICA is entitlement. If people would learn to be satisfied with what they have, not be gettin no free healthcare cuz they're too lazy/stupid/dishonest to pay for it and if women would stop having teh babeez without having to pay any consequences….yada, yada, yada. I thought it a bit ironic that he was telling me this, as I'm only there because the VA is willing to pay for it. I also noticed over the last several weeks how many elderly folks are in there and how many of his patients are in there because of their insurance.

    I don't know how those folks are treated re: having to make up the difference between what their various insurers or gummint agencies will pay for their care. I do know that I refused to go there until they understood that I would not pay them for anything. \

    Oh, he's upwardly mobile, btw.

  • Ooh, I almost forgot.

    When I said that Norplant seemed like a good idea for people who had too many of teh babeez, he thought that was a RILLY bad idea. Goes agin' the bible don't you know.

    Did I mention that he's a black man? You would think that he might understand that cherry pickin' the Wholly Babble allowed many good, GODLY KKKristians to own is forebears.

  • First, "The One Percent" is a misleading term — clever for slogans, but not a real thing. And measuring it by income even more misleading. Verbal (above) via Chris Rock, explained it best.

    It's about power, not money. If you were to hit the lottery and get an annual stipend that put you in the financial "one percent" in your area, you would just be another schmuck with $450,000 a year. You will not be voted into the exclusive country club. You will not be invited to go to Martha's Vineyard with Obama. You will not be offered a directorship at Goldman Sachs.

    I live in an area that sees a lot of One Percenters — actually, they're 0.01 Percenters. These people can spend $100,000 on a weekend of golf. They fly in on their private jets, helicopter to a a friend's vacation house that just happens to have its own private 18-hole golf course, maintained by a staff of 100.

    A couple of years ago, the then CEO of Starbucks bought a vacation home here, one of two in the area — $11.5 million. He paid cash. And he thanks you for buying those overpriced coffee drinks.

    Two weeks ago, I flew in from San Francisco (in coach) and noticed that our little airport was jammed with private jets parked everywhere there was space. We get a lot here, but I've never seen that many at one time. Usually, the planes are time-share or charters and they dump and go. If they park here, they're private or corporate. Turns out Mitt Romney was in town, and these people had come to pay homage.

    These are the true "One Percent." They would scoff at your $450,000 a year.

  • I get to ride a dwindling bus system to keep off my feet as well.

    I can't wait for the Republican "walk it off" health care program.

  • I'm sure this was just a joke piece, but I still have to answer it.

    Expensive hobbies are one way to blow holes in your bank account, especially if those hobbies involve horses. So is building a solid home, even if you are not Mr. Blandings.

    But if you want your excess to matter, and to give your live meaning, use it to set up a scholarship, feed the hungry, support pet rescue, start a public education campaign, or even start a goddamned business and give someone else a job. It's more rewarding than you think.

  • To undersore what some other comments have mentioned, the problem with the Business Insider Map at the link is that it's reporting top 1% of income, when we usually mean top 1% of wealth.

  • Also keep in mind that the link you posted is HOUSEHOLD income not personal income. It's hard but not THAT hard to make 1% income if both you and your wife work. There's a big difference between a $150,000 job and a $300,000 job.

    But yeah, Ed being single and childless does make a huge difference. Just living by myself I don't need much besides internet and a bed in a decent location and don't care for many luxuries except for craft beer.

    But put kids in the equation and everything changes. If my kids want to break into one of those industries that requires years of unpaid internships to break into then, well, I'm going to be keeping them in rent and ramen money for as long as that takes. Those sort of things ain't cheap but I'm not going to let the opportunity to make that kind of money pass…

  • @BlueSun — absolutely. I have two friends who are technically in the One Percent by income. They're pretty much just the same as you and me. They have nice homes (not mansions) and nice cars. They can take better vacations — but their vacation time is limited. One has six weeks vacation, but can only take two weeks at a time, and has to negotiate for that. He just can't declare that he won't be there thus and such week.

    The other hasn't had a real vacation in three years — or even a real day off. His company expects him to be available 24/7/365 — even when he's on "vacation" — and he is chained to his phone to answer emails and texts. He is exhausted constantly — mostly from putting in 10-12 hour days. He has not been in the same time zone for more than four or five days in the last year.

    Neither of them has any political power greater than yours or mine.

  • Median household income in the US is still only about $50k. It hasn't varied that much since the end of the Reagan administration, adjusting for inflation.

    The "masters of the universe", the people who have *wealth* are not merely rich, but they can basically buy whatever they want whenever they want. Send Junior to private schools, an Ivy, and then Junior gets a job at a top financial firm making the big bucks. And he "worked" for his money. Just like everyone else.

    The map Ed linked to really underscores the point that the super rich are really, really super rich, and the vast majority of us claw our way to breaking even.

  • There's a big difference between being in the 1 percent versus the .1 percent or the .01 percent.

    It's easier to visualize if you see it on a graph. The closer you get to the top fraction of a percent the wealth shoots up almost vertically.

  • Oh, it is easy to spend more money once you have it. Right now, you probably don't buy a lot of things you might want because you are living within your budget. Or, as you point out, you only vacation once or twice a year–and really take care to stretch your vacation dollar by getting the lowest fare possible, searching for inexpensive accommodation, etc. But if you had more money, you might just travel more and stay in more expensive places/buy more stuff/have a more expensive car. Your spending expands to your income, oddly enough.

    But if you can't think of anything more you would do, then here's a good suggestion for disposing of your disposable cash: give it to me.

  • I make a good income but work long hours and have little time. I hire someone to clean my house every other week, I tend to took travel more on schedule than on price (within reason: I do fly coach), and I stay at Marriotts or Courtyards rather than Super 8s or Motel 6s. I eat in restaurants (usually modestly priced ones) more often than I should and am actually trying to eat at home more, even if it means prepared foods because I'm too busy/lazy/untalented/uninterested to cook much. If I worked less hard but had lots of money, I'd probably jet around the world attending film festivals, which would cost a GREAT DEAL more than my current lifestyle even if I attempted to do so frugally. But part of what keeps me from spending more is limited time to shop/travel/pursue leisure activities, coupled with limited time to enjoy the possessions I've already acquired (so why acquire more?).

  • DeKalb, IL gives Peoria a run for its money in terms of cultural destitution. So, when I was there for graduate school, I developed a couple of habits/hobbies that meet a few criteria that will make sense to Ed: (1) the hobbies are fun; (2) they don't require any kind of social network of similarly 'enlightened' friends to enjoy; (3) there are internet communities of enthusiasts to help you get started; (4) you can take the hobbies and things you purchase for them with you when you move; and (5) once you have more expendable income than a graduate student, these hobbies can get expensive, and while you were poor, you learned how to appreciate incremental improvements in the hobbies.

    For me, these were high-end audio and espresso. Espresso and coffee was an easy one, because I make coffee a couple of times every day. Therefore, I get to appreciate any kind of improvement (in equipment, in beans, etc.) pretty frequently. It was easy to make a really small investment to start (~$150), the change was definitely noticeable, and once you've got a bunch of extra money lying around, it's easy to spend $3000+ (not that I have) on equipment and coffee subscriptions.

    Audio, though, is probably the best hobby-investment I've made in terms of time and money. It'll cost you around $500 to go from Bose/whatever shitty soundbar you bought at Best Buy to a basic used setup that allows you to hear the lyrics in songs, distinguish one instrument from another in a symphony, and enjoy movies on a much more involving level. Each part of a system is customizable, from obvious ones like CD players and speakers, to different types of speaker wire and interconnect cable, to power and acoustic conditioning, and even down to stands and the footers underneath your preamp. You can spend as much or as little as you like, and each change you make allows for a new appreciation of the music (and movies, if that's a part of your setup). For me, it became easier to listen to styles of music I'd normally just disregard, because listening to that music as a way of listening to my system really opens your mind/forces you to forget your aesthetic prejudices. Moreover, while it can be cool to show off your stuff to people who think that $3000 for Bose Surround is a good investment, this hobby really doesn't require anyone else to enjoy it. In fact, it flourishes most when you're the only one there to enjoy it.

  • In 2008 I was unemployed and on food stamps. I busted my ass to find a way up the economic ladder but I got such a staggering amount of help from the government, my family and the fact that my upper-middle class parents gave me a stable and loving upbringing. I make a lot of money now and feel lucky as fuck, my own brains and determination are responsible for maybe 15% of it – and that itself gives me too much credit because my brains and determination are themselves the result of chance.

    I tell this story because when I imagine what it's like to be someone like Mitt Romney, I can see how it legitimately feels like nobody helped you with shit. What did you receive that your peers did not? Did you ever have to make a call to dad asking for money? Did a government grant make it possible for you to take class? Nobody had to pull strings to get you into Harvard or get you that first job at Robberbaron's Capital Partners because your last name gets these things for you without active participation by anyone, including your dad.

    Let me put it this way – when I was out in the cold there was a doorman who saw my name was on the list and let me in, and I am eternally thankful.

    Mitt Romney walked through the automatic door and, seeing no one around, declared 'Motherfucker, I sure am good at walking."

  • Not a surprise here…but as a CPA it is my business to know such things. This data would seem to be in line with the annual data the IRS puts out.

    This supports my view that taxing the rich is far from the cure-all liberals make it out to be…there just aren't that many truly "rich" people out there (in terms of income, but most other ways as well). If you only want to raise taxes on the top 1%, well, you just will not get as much revenue as you think, which is why it seldom works out that way. The truly wealthy don't always have the highest incomes. Most of their wealth is tied up in long term assets that have never been taxed. A former client of mine was very wealthy, but most of that wealth came from walmart stock he had owned for decades. Of course, he had a high relative income, but nothing like you would expect for his wealth. And he planned on keeping it that way.

    So, most "rich" people, rich in terms of annual income, get that income from earnings. I know you liberals sit all day stewing about the millions of trust fund brats making billions off capital gains and paying next to nothing in taxes, but that is unbelievably rare. Most high income earners pay an enormous amount of taxes. Ed, if you were paid $450K, understand that you would net less than half of it after taxes (don't even start telling me about all the tax loop holes and off shore tax havens and shit you know nothing about reducing that rate to 15%…again, rarely is that the case). So, $225k or less. And suddenly it doesn't seem like as much. Still a good chunk of change, but rich? Not in my book.

    Now, there are the hyper rich. The Buffets and Gates of the world. Things are very different with them…none of the rules that apply to the other 99.999% matter to them. Same situation though, in that policies to "tax the rich" will not suddenly result in trillions of dollars rolling into the government (see France's recent failed attempt at a 75% tax rate on the rich).

  • The minute some jerk says "you liberals," it invalidates everything else he says. It's just farting through the lips.

  • The take home pay calculator says that somebody making $400000 would take home about $260000, which is probably pretty high because it's before any tax maneuvers. No way Dookie is a CPA if he's that illiterate about take home pay.

  • "I tell this story because when I imagine what it's like to be someone like Mitt Romney…"

    Nor can any of the rest of us who have been humans since birth.


    Fuck you.

  • Megan and Dave Dell and others got there first.

    Charities–not just dropping cash somewhere that makes you feel better but deciding where it can do the most good. It becomes a social/political/philosophic question, but the good kind. There's even a website that evaluates charities re: which give the most bang for your buck. Or you could ride piggyback on Bill and Melinda's. Scholarships? Books for Africa? Lobbying for sanity? It's a good quest, the best kind.

  • The one at paycheckcity.com is dead accurate, but of course there's no guarantee you won't owe money at the end of the year.

  • The Jack of Hearts says:

    You are fortunate to be self-aware and practical enough to be satisfied with your financial state. Perhaps to one in academia, intelligence and education is a more attractive or valued status symbol than the accumulation of material goods?

    My annual income has gone up by about 10k in the past five years. That is a significant amount when in the lower five figures. I went from scraping money together for car repairs and knowing every second exactly how much was in the checking account and how long it needed to last to now being within a year of paying off all debt, if I stay aggressive enough with payments. The best part of having enough money is not having to think about money all the time.

    I have a male boss who is rather fancy; he is rumoured to get manicures and I'm pretty sure he got highlights in his hair last summer. I guess you could go that route if you're looking for frivolous habits, lol. There is also art and rare wine collecting. With art (at the higher levels at least) there is the added challenge of needing to be inside the right circles; there are a limited number of desirable originals and you must be deemed a worthy collector by the dealer or gallery. Simply having a lot of money does not open all doors.

  • Flying lessons. That's what I did when I was in my 20's with a great deal of disposable income. Great fun if very expensive, but there's something way cool about being able to say "I can fly a plane."

  • I am a CPA also.

    The highest tax rate is for self employed people who make around $125k to $175k a year.

    They pay a marginal tax rate with Illinois state taxes included of 46%. That is the marginal rate, not the effective tax rate.

    And just looking at the take home pay calculator, it seems it is not taking into effect the fat the SS tax is capped at $118k. So you take home even more than what it shows.

  • Typing in $450k in earning on Schedule C (SE tax) in my tax software gives a tax liability of $158,838 for federal and $21,703 for state.

    Roughly $269k in take home pay.

  • Chiming in very late here:
    Ed, you've expressed a number of times how much you hate both your town of residence and your job.
    if you have enough income to sock some away, why not do so for as long as you can tolerate it, and then move somewhere nicer and teach at a community college. While I have not taught at community college, a number of friends have. They all say that although the pay is fairly low, the students are engaged and motivated and the work rewarding.

  • @Dan – Yeah, that's fun and all (I did it for years) but no pension or benefits. Now I'm working in China to make up a bunch of money so I can put a piece of carpet in my cardboard box when I retire.

    Ed, my advice is not to leave your tenured-track (and presumably soon tenured) job unless you are moving to another tenured position. Old age comes quicker than you can imagine. Take interesting vacations, take up flying or paintball or painting or something you find interesting, get what joy you can from work but remember – they wouldn't have to pay you to do it if it was all fun and games.

  • Not that it matters but I wasn't just referring to income and payroll taxes (…take home pay, which is something I didn't even say but everyone seems fixated on). I'm talking about what you have left after all taxes…personal prop, real estate, sales/use, etc. That is often well over 50% for high earners without a lot of other non-earned/passive income.

    Not that it matters.

  • Madmoney habits? For me that would be not having to tear my pellet stove's back off (at 1:00 AM) remove both gearmotors for the pellet feeds and dissasemble one and put it back together (3 or 4 times) before swapping the upper unit to the lower and vice versa, reloading the hopper and keeping my fingers crossed for an hour or so until I was sure it was back to normal operation. Madmoney would mean I would have my gas log hooked up. That's what madoney is to me.

  • Not that it matters, but if one WAS a trust fund baby and made $450,000 on qualified dividends his federal income tax liability would be…. $73,628.

  • It's easy to forget how steep the income curve is. The top 1% doesn't earn all that much money compared with the people who make the big bucks. They're still working for salary, and as James Clavell used to say, you can't earn fuck you money out of cash flow. $500,000 a year is a salary, and too many people let their income dictate their lifestyle. You can hear some movie star got $3,000,000 making a movie, but that's salary again. It's a damned good salary, but it's still salary.

    The big money is in owning government backed assets like shares in government chartered corporations, government registered land or government printed greenbacks. These assets appreciate in value and they produce income, but you can generally control how much income so you can avoid taxes. It's a whole different game from having a salary. They used to say Boston women didn't buy hats, they had hats. The wealthy don't have to earn money, they have money.

    To be honest, it is surprisingly easy to find things to spend money on. I remember reading a 1939 issue of Fortune which had an article on how well paid executives got by on $18,000 a year. That was 10 times the median household income and worth over $300,000 a year now, so not quite 1% money, but close. The east siders spent more on fancy apartments, booze, nannies, clothes and status goods. The west siders had cheaper rent, but they would spend more on food, books, cultural crap and charity. Then, as now, it was easy to go broke on any income, though it got easier as you got poorer.

  • I can't imagine an annual income I'd be unable to spend, though I already earn one I choose not to spend. If I didn't have to work for it, I'd have more free time to spend even more.

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