So about that Washington Post article today that says you need $80,273 to live “comfortably” in DC…
1) Is that pre- or post-tax? These things matter.
2) Is this per household or average per person?
3) I guess things are looking up because last year the number was $108,092.
4) I started laughing and then I think I kept laughing to keep from crying. And then I shared the article with a coworker and we were both laughing to keep from crying.
Here’s the deal: at least as a single person, I find this ludicrous, even pre-tax. There are plenty of comments on the article to the tune of “hope that’s post-tax and even then you’d be making things stretch,” but I make half of that and there’s no possible definition of “comfortable” that doesn’t describe my life.
I’ve got a gorgeous, sunny apartment in a nice and walkable neighborhood, I’ve got a car (that I use to go hiking, on Costco trips, and to drive home. God knows I don’t drive around this city for the hell of it otherwise), I’ve got a gym membership, and I go to the grocery store and buy what I need for dinner without really sweating whether something is on sale or not (bonus points if it is, though). I’m going on vacation next month and I’m going to a friend’s wedding the weekend after that. Not only do I live a life of plenty, I live a life of too much—I need to go through and get rid of a fair number of my possessions because I don’t need everything I have and it’s just cluttering up my apartment.
I have to wonder about the level of lifestyle inflation that creates the prevailing sentiment around here that $80k is just barely scraping by because I honestly at this point in my life can’t even fathom just how much money that is. Obviously my net worth, while positive, is nowhere near that number, and if you told me that’ll be my salary in a few years, I would laugh in your face (I also actually don’t think that’s going to happen unless I go get a master’s or radically change career tracks to something that pays a bit better than non-profits).
There’s such a rampant poverty problem in this city that thinking even $40,000 can’t buy you a good life is cruel and astonishingly privileged. I guess I can see how it happens, though—housing prices are out of control, especially if you want a fancy apartment in one of the new buildings popping up all over the place. Add in a fancy car, expensive shoes, and happy hour multiple times a week and I guess maybe you are starting to feel squeezed.
Perhaps my life isn’t actually “comfortable” by DC standards because no, I’m certainly not out drinking and eating every night away; I can’t afford that. Part of how I’ve been able to save more money since I’ve been tracking things the last few months is by trying to spend as close to $0 on eating and drinking out as possible each month. Granted this isn’t too much of a hardship because at this point in my life the thought of spending evenings that way sounds like an exhausting chore, not like a way to have fun. But not being broke or weighing more than I want is another bonus to staying in, even if working out and then coming home to make dinner and read might make me a loser. Cheers to that.
If nothing else, the article was a good reminder to myself to be thankful for the life I do live, because it’s a pretty luxurious one, and I’m trying to focus on the small details to remind myself of that. The other day I picked up a mint and a rosemary plant at the grocery store because I can’t seem to keep my herbs alive and it’s been a while since my last ones died (sorry, plants!). Seeing those bits of green on my kitchen windowsill has made me smile every time, despite the fact that it’s been a hard week for me personally. It’s the little things.
I may get frustrated at times because I don’t make a ton and the amount of money I have left over at the end of the month is low enough that sometimes it seems I’ll never reach FI, but at least I’m not someone who thinks that $80,000 isn’t enough to live well on.
Although if anyone wants to give me an extra $40k so I can live more comfortably (aka bump up the savings rate to amazing heights), I’m certainly not going to say no to that…