Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Drop in Lifestyle Is Not Necessarily A Drop Into Poverty

I'm feeling a tad unsympathetic.

A good friend of mine, who has been earning over $200,000 a year as the head of a public relations firm saw her business go belly up a couple of months ago when her two best clients decided they could no longer afford PR services.

So she's going from $200,000 to zero, right?

As it happens, not exactly.

She brushed off her resume and five weeks later, has landed a position in another firm.

BUT (trust me, this BUT is bigger for her than it is for me), the new job pays $115,000 per year.

She hasn't stopped whining about it since.

Hmm--but maybe she has a lot of debt? Maybe she can't afford a pay cut?

Guess again. She paid off her student loans years ago; her two sons are grown, educated and on their own; Her home is paid for (though her beach house isn't); So are her two vehicles. Not to mention retirement funds that are in excess of two million (except maybe in the last month).

So what is the problem?

It's her lifestyle.

It's a two hundred thousand dollars a year lifestyle and she's ticked off to think that she must now muddle through on a mere $115,000. It's not that she can't live without her personal trainer and her beach house and her part-time chef (I am NOT kidding!) but that she REALLY doesn't want to. And she resents that she will not end her career as the head of her own agency, but as the 'underpaid' employee of someone else.

We've had our "everyone loses in a recession" talks, but I'm not in mood to equate her circumstances with those of my more truly poverty-stricken clients, any five of whom would gladly share that $115,000 per year that she now finds insufficient.

I think what I most resent is the apocalyptic tenor of our conversations. She believes her life is over. I think it's just in for a downsizing. Actually, since she's just 54, I think she still has time to take over her new firm! And who knows how much she might be making then.

But in the meantime, can we just agree that though her income is greatly reduced, she is not exactly a baglady? Puhleeeeez!


Michelle P said...

I wouldn't feel sympathetic either. She needs to adjust, and it shouldn't be that hard!

Anonymous said...

I don't make remotely close to what your friend makes (though I am also 20 plus years younger than her), but I try not to get in the 'rat race' of lifestyle inflation so one day I have to change job and end up making half of what I do now, I don't have to significantly change my lifestyle.

Out My window said...

She needs a firm dose of reality. I would kindly tell her that many people are doing so much worse and her complaining makes her appear ungrateful, shallow, and spoiled. I have a sisters like her.

Barb said...

We can surely agree. While I realize that this is a mental adjustment, if she was actually living a lifestyle tat required her spending all of that two hundred thou a year-good grief.

Anonymous said...

I'm annoyed that I haven't got a COL in many years. I think I'm worth more. I know I'm worth more on the open market. And I don't like making cuts. Our expenses are going up too, especially healthcare. I want a raise.

But I know I'm still making a lot of money. I don't think we're 1%ers but I'm pretty sure the last time I checked we were 5%ers, though with the huge amount of income inequality in this country that's not saying much (we still qualify easily as middle-class under Obama's tax plan). :|

I guess I feel a little sympathetic. I would hate to have to give up my $20/week cheese habit. Which is truly a luxury. But it is hard to cut back!

At the same time, she should shut up about it around people who make less than she does. It's rude.

Anonymous said...

correction: not in the top 5%, or even 10% (according to financial samurai), though possibly we are as a family. Man, I want a raise.

Sharon said...

Actually, if you calculate the difference in taxes, she is probably not seeing a HUGE cut in pay. What is she whining about?

Hubby and I are trying to save 20% of his salary in 2012. We've looked at the budget. We have to cut, but unfortunately the only categories we can cut are the ones that we enjoy, mainly because we spend nearly 40% of our income on home related expenses. Saving 20% will in essence be a 20% lifestyle cut for us. It will be a great exercise in restraint.

Terry said...

I'm the same age as your friend and, as a social worker, have never made anything near that. Sorry, like you, I've too many truly impoverished clients and many friends and acquaintances raising entire families on $40 K or less and they're not complaining ! Geeeeesh!

Anonymous said...

No matter who you are and what your status is in life, it is still difficult for anyone, at any age, to experience a 50% drop in income.

One's man's garbage is another man's treasure. Things need to be put into perspective and I am sure your friend will eventually do that.

One person may have their electricity turned off while another may think having that same electricity was probably a luxury. You may not think a personal chef or trainer is important but now those two people are out of a job. Which will have a ripple effect on their respective families.

All of us have had to adjust whatever lifestyles we've had. It's not comfortable regardless of who is observing it from whatever level of lifestyle they themselves may have had.

We all should be compassionate towards each other, regardless. Your friends' drop in income equals $100,000 less that will be spent in our economy and however we feel or think, that drop affects us all.

Grace. said...

Since we've been friends for three decades, I'm sure I get a larger dose of her whining than anyone else. But it is interesting to me that she knows very well that I make nothing close to $115,000 and that I work with people who make far less than I do. I do believe she will adjust because it has always been her style to pay cash--she has no credit card debt, which is something I wish I could say. I do think her emotional response to this crisis is a tad shallow, but, in general, she is not otherwise a shallow person--stunned might be the better term.

Bob Lowry said...

She simply represents the entitlement mindset that has gotten the U.S. (and much of the Western world) in a jam. When a person, or a society, believes they are entitled to a certain way of living or a certain level of comfort, adjusting to a new reality comes as a personal affront.

As others have noted, your friend needs a wakeup call and a large dose of gratitude for what she has.

Barb said...

Grace, even if she's temporarily stuneed, acting such a way when )I'm assuming) she knows something of your financial situation is unforgivable. As far as compassion, while I know she's experienced a shack, I'm sorry-this is the real world and she needs to get a grib.

Retired Syd said...

I was trying to remember how I felt in 2003 when we experienced a 50% drop in our family's income (my husband's company imploded in the crash and he was out of a job.) I probably was worried, but despite that, I told my husband not to go get another job for a year or so, just to take his time and find the right next thing after a stressful time. I knew we could handle it at least temporarily.

But then a funny thing happened, and maybe your friend will experience this too. We didn't miss the income. We obviously made cut backs, but he enjoyed the early retirement and never wound up re-entering the workforce. We adjusted.

It was a great lesson for me because I knew when I joined him in retirement we would have to cut back even further and I also knew we could do it and be fine.

Unfortunately in your friend's case, she's not getting anything in return (like time--in a forced retirement), so it may be harder to stomach. But hopefully she'll find that the stuff she thinks she can't live without turns out not to be so difficult to after all.

Florence said...

If you think she could take a joke, you could take her to a thrift store and on the way home pick up a snack at the day-old bread store.

Grace. said...

Oh Florence! You are too much! Normally this particular friend can take a joke (she's very funny as a rule) but umm--I kinda don't think so this time.

Barb--she needs to get both a grib and a grip!

Hawaii Planner said...

I would give her a few weeks to adjust to her new reality (because no one would be thrilled about a 50% drop in income), sympathize with her, etc. After that period of time, given how long you've been friends, I would have a kind but candid conversation with her. It's difficult to adjust to change like this, but she's extremely lucky (financially) and needs to focus on how she could enjoy and appreciate the stage of life she's in now.

MasterPo said...

MasterPO has never made even half that. NTL, MasterPo does symapthize and empathize.

10 years ago MasterPo was at the top of his game professionally and income(ly).

Then 9/11 came.

Long story short: Layoff, 9 months unemployed, finally took a job that bad just 30% of what MasterPo was earning before.

Yea, it hurts.

Even now 10 years later MasterPo isn't back to his pre-9/11 income level. Getting close but when you factor in 10 years of inflation it's not an even comparison. MasterPo would need to increase his pay another 32% to break even and that doesn't seem likely.

Anonymous said...

Grace's friend doesn't feel 'entitled' to anything. She owned her own business. She worked for what she had. I don't think anyone handed her a thing.

The people you are referencing are those who don't want to work yet want others to hand them free benefits. That's the part that is wrong with the country. Not a hard working, self-employed woman.

I am sure it must have been tough and difficult to lose one's business after building it up for so many years and then take a 50% cut in salary. Eventually, however, Grace's friend may soon find out just how lucky and fortunate she truly is.

LC said...

If your friend is like some other self-employed business owners I have known, she may be moaning about the loss of income, but her shell-shocked state may really be from the death of her business, her baby that she worked, for sacrificed for and nurtured.

She is fortunate to have a friend like you who is sticking through the stage of shock that is blinding herr to the pain of others.

Grace, thank you for your comment on my blog. It helped me during this stage of the journey with my mother.

Teri Green said...

Having or Living cheap doesn't necessarily mean not having the best as long as it delivers its purpose. Just like, selling a large or a 3-bedroom house and getting a 2-bedroom or 1-bedroom with a very low cost you can really gain from this in terms of financial savings, savings that can support your support your retirement.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting article about the uber rich's fall from grace (no pun intended):

One of the uber wealthy had to fire 14 of their 15 maids. Plus their personal chef. We may be happy to see the rich fall, but what about those 14 maids that lost their jobs, as well as the chef? Who cries for them? Everyone suffers from the drop in wealth.

priskill said...

Yow! While I do appreciate the comments reminding us that loss IS loss, at whatever level it occurs, and the ripple effects of unemployed personal chefs, chauffeurs, etc., I do feel your impatience -- hopefully, she has been at least equally compassionate about YOUR journey (guessing yes, since you are friends of 30 years).

Reading this, I DID feel kind of relieved and even -- -- wait for it -- thankful to have a much humbler lifestyle and not be burdened by the kinds of expectations built into the presumptions of wealth. Would I like more money? Sure! Am I pretty happy with needs taken care of and some wants as well? Yup. I think that is contentment -- hopefully, your friend will downsize to something like joy, or maybe take over the new company. Either way, it's hardly the great American tragedy, and life is still good. Thanks for the opportunity for a little therapeutic schadenfreude (spelling??) Really enjoy your blog!

Linda P. said...

Like some of the other commenters, I wondered if this friend's complaints weren't tied to her loss of her business and her inability to control her own fate, as she works for a company rather than owns one, rather than shallow whining. About a year ago, I had my feet knocked out from under me, although due to medical reasons rather than financial or business ones. I had worked hard to maintain my health and had plans for how active I would be as an older woman, but a chronic and incurable illness hit and robbed me of the ability to maintain my previous lifestyle. I can mostly deal with the big things, but sometimes it's the little things--things I equate to her seeming shallow complaints--that bring home to me what I've lost. Maybe you're hearing about the personal trainer and such things, but what she's really saying is that she's grieving that her whole vision for herself, one she worked hard for and thought she had earned through her cash lifestyle, savings, and other efforts, has been lost. I'm not listening to her, and you know her better than I do, but I wonder if it's a possibility.

Grace. said...

I have to say that I do think those who are saying that my friend is grieving more than the loss of money and lifestyle, are, in fact, correct. And I also agree that that is reason enough to cut her some slack.

Living Almost Large said...

She probably also feels that she can unburden her real feelings to you rather than the general public who would say the exact same thing most commentors are saying...boohooo...$115k is a lot of money.

Harry and Fairy said...

Plan ahead for "disaster". Disaster is diffrent for everyone. Some people just live paycheck to paycheck no matter how much they make.With 6 months expenses tucked away the impact of losing a few thouand a year shouldn't even be noticed.

Donna Freedman said...

It's time to have the "I know you're very disappointed about the recent change in circumstances -- but you need to stop talking about it" chat with your friend.
She'll keep unloading on you as long as you appear to be listening.
If she doesn't want to hit the bakery outlet, how about driving her past a food bank? Remind her that she is still far, far ahead of other people and she does need to count her blessings -- even if she considers those blessings greatly diminished.

Diane C said...

If your friend brings a whiny, poor-me attitude to her new job, she may have trouble getting along there. I hope for her sake and her new employer's sake, she can manage a little time off between gigs to mourn her losses, clear her head, count her blessings and begin to get some positive traction in her new circumstances.

Lisa said...

I was whining when I HAD a job about no cost of living increases for the last 4 years. Now that I am unemployed.... well, I have a new appreciation for what I did have.

Louise said...

it's a 'first world problem' if i ever heard one!, hopefully in a few weeks she'll have adjusted a bit and can see that she is still lucky to have a job

Another Terry said...

How come we associate a bagman with lots of money but we associate a baglady with destitution?