Interviews by David Walters
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
4 Men with 4 Very Different Incomes Open Up About the Lives They Can Afford.
From a father on the poverty line to a CEO millionaire.
The poverty line for a family of three is $20,090 a year. The median household income in America is $53,657. Politicians draw $250,000 as the line between the middle and upper classes. And the true starting point of real wealth remains a cool $1,000,000. We asked four more or less typical men, each of whom earns one of these incomes, to tell us about the lives they can afford.
$1,000,000 Per Year – Tim Nguyen, 35
Location: Huntington Beach, California
Occupation: Business owner, CEO/cofounder of BeSmartee, a DIY mortgage marketplace
Family status: Married with a 9-month-old son
Homeowner? Renter? “I’m a homeowner. No mortgage.” (Price of home: $1 million.)
Do you keep a budget? We track every single penny that comes in and out of our bank account. And we give 6 percent of our money away to charity. We have a big heart for animals, children, the elderly, the underprivileged.
What’s a weekly grocery bill for you? I break it down monthly. We eat mainly at home. We spend around $1,200 a month.
One thing your family needs but can’t afford: There’s nothing that we need that we can’t afford. Anything reasonable I can afford.
One thing you want but can’t afford: The thing that keeps me up at night is wanting to retire my parents. There’s a certain dollar figure that would allow me to pay off all their debts. That’s my first goal: to retire my parents so they can be independent and just live their lives.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: We budget our money all the time, so we’ve already been planning for everything—I could tell you exactly where all my money is going over the next five years.
Do you have credit cards? I have one credit card. It’s cash for points, so we charge everything on the card and pay it off at the end of the month.
How much debt are you carrying now? Less than 10 grand.
Saving for retirement? Yes. [I’ve put away] north of $5 million.
At what age would you like to retire? I’ll always be working. As far as working on a start-up, I want to be done with that in five or 10 years. But as far as working, investing in real estate, things of that nature, you can do that until you’re 90.
College plans for your kids? We set up a trust with our attorney where our kids will have money for college. But they’ll only get more than that if they achieve their milestones, such as getting a certain GPA or volunteering in the community. We want our kids to be good citizens. They can’t be spoiled brats. We want them to understand what it means to work and to earn your way to the top. We put the rules in place to help reinforce that.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you’ll be earning in ten years’ time? My goal is to have a net worth of $150 to $200 million.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I’d say eight or nine. Lately, with the start-up, I’ve been putting in two to three hours more per day than I’d like, and that’s taking away from family time. So if I could get those two or three hours back, I’d be a happy man.
How often do you worry about money? Maybe once a week. I’ve been broke before. I’ve refinanced my house to pay my employees. I’ve been through all that—that was me worried. Now, because I’m able to forecast and plan my money better, there’s not as much worry.
How much money do you think you’d need to have the life you want? I need about 25 [million]. That includes retiring my parents, an upgraded home, and enough money to make sure my kids have funds available when they want to start their own businesses. There’s a certain amount of money you need to live the life you want. Beyond that, it’s really a game, and money is the scoreboard.
Do you think your taxes are too high? I’m happy with taxes. I had a really good year when I was 22 or 23—I made about 250 grand—and I came home and complained to my dad about it. I said, “I can’t believe I’m paying all those taxes! Half the money is gone!” And my dad said, “You should feel lucky that you live in a country where you can pay taxes”: He came from a communist-run country. Ever since that day, I never complain about my taxes.
$250,000 Per Year – Yakov Villasmil, 41
Occupation: Real Estate Agent
Family Status: In a relationship; one son, 10 years old
Monthly rent: $2,000
Do you keep a budget? Yes, I’m very organized with it. Overall, my fixed expenses are about $7,000 a month. They include rent and about $1,000 a month for transportation, $180 a month to the cleaning lady, $200 for gas for the vehicle, and a handful of little things—$300 a month for Netflix, Pandora, Skype, subscriptions like that.
What’s a weekly grocery bill for you? I would say about $200 a week.
One thing your family needs but can’t afford: Nothing.
One thing you want but can’t afford: I’m a fan of watches, and there’s a Cartier that just came out that’s about $10,000. It’s not that I can’t afford it; it’s just not a priority right now.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: I spend money traveling every year, and that’s something I put some thought into. Last December, I went to Austria, Slovenia, and Italy.
Do you have credit cards? Fifteen.
How much debt are you carrying now? $7,700 on one card, and it should be paid off by the end of the month.
Saving for retirement? I am saving, but not for retirement. I’m saving up to buy an apartment building, which will give me another stream of income. My money is all in play right now to make more money. The kind of life that I want to live when I retire is not one I have to manage by having, you know, a million dollars and 3 or 4 percent [interest]. It’s not going to happen.
At what age would you like to retire? I don’t think that I want to retire.
But say you did: At what age would you be able to retire? I want to be financially free by age 50.
College plans for your kid? No, but it’s all part of making sound investments.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you’ll be earning per year in 10 years’ time? In 10 years’ time, I want to have $50,000 a month from apartment buildings, and another $50,000 a month from the real estate business. A million-five per year is the goal.
How often do you worry about money? Every single day. Every single minute. I always want more, and every single day I’m thinking, “What’s the next move?”
How much money do you think you’d need to have the life you want? At this point in my life, if I had $600,000 yearly income, I would have the life that I want to be living. But then again, when I get there, I’ll want to buy the jet.
How happy are you, on a scale of one to 10? I’m a good nine every day.
Do you think your taxes are too high? You know what? No, I don’t think they’re too high. I remember I had a boss about 10 years ago who said, “You guys complain about the taxes being taken out—if you don’t want them to take that much, just make less.”
$53,000 Per Year – Michael Greene, 48
Occupation: Concierge for a property-management group
Family status: Married with 3 children (a 21-year-old stepson and 8-year-old twin girls)
Monthly rent: $1,000
Do you keep a budget? We do. Because of the size of our family, we have to budget at least $150 per month for BJ’s [Wholesale Club]. BJ’s is our friend; we have to buy in bulk.
What’s a weekly grocery bill for you? Probably in the range of $100 to $125.
One thing your family needs but can’t afford: A ranch-style home, four to five bedrooms, two to three bathrooms. I’d love to stay in Brooklyn, but right now the asking price is between $500,000 and $600,000.
One thing you want but can’t afford: I’ve always liked Volvos. If I could get a big, six-seater Volvo, that would be nice. In my color: navy blue. With a little TV in the back for the kids.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning? We bought bedroom sets for ourselves and our girls four years ago. Our set was between $5,000 and $6,000, with the dressers and everything. Our girls’ little beds—which they’re about to outgrow now—we got a better deal for them: around $2,000 or $2,500. I had to go into my savings a bit to get it, but we got it. We got it done.
Do you have credit cards? Just one. A Chase Visa. I’m definitely on top of my monthly payments, and I try not to go anywhere past $300 to $400 a month. That would be stretching it. And I have to thank my wife for that. She helps me stay focused.
How much debt are you carrying now? No credit-card debt, but I definitely still have a student loan from the mid-nineties that I’m trying to bang out. I think I still have seven G’s left.
Saving for retirement? Yes, I am. Our company offers a 401(k) plan, and our union offers one, so I have two separate running retirement plans. Gotta do it. I don’t know how much is in there at the moment.
At what age would you like to retire? I’m 48 now. Realistically, I’d say I wouldn’t want to go past 60. But I think I’m looking at 60 before I’ll be able to retire.
College plans for your kids? We have a college plan in place for the girls. I put away money biweekly—$75 to $100.
How much money do you think you’ll be earning per year in 10 years’ time? I’d love to say I’ll be making double if not more than double what I’m making now.
How often do you worry about money? Money is not something that I stress over.
How much money do you think you’d need to have the life you want? I’m not a greedy guy. Because of my upbringing, where we learned how to do more with less, and with the times and the economy we live in now, my family and I could be very comfortable at $200 to $250K a year. I could be very comfortable with that.
How happy are you, on a scale of one to ten? Eight.
Do you think your taxes are too high? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
The Poverty Line (Or: $7 An Hour Plus Tips) – Demetrius Campbell, 25
Occupation: Bar-back at the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock building
Family status: Single with two daughters, 7 and 4
Monthly rent: 30 percent of income through antipoverty nonprofit Heartland Alliance.
Do you keep a budget? No, but I have been working on trying to recently. I know I have to pay bills for food, for clothes, gas. It’s a lot of things that go into budgeting. It’s hard to plan for, because you never really know what you’re going to need to spend money on. And the amount of money I make varies, because I work different hours. The biggest two-week check I’ve had so far is $250.
What’s a weekly grocery bill for you? In a week, about $130 to $140—that’s when I have the money to spend. I’m on food stamps, and I get $400 a month through EBT.
One thing your family needs but can’t afford: I don’t really think about stuff like that. I just try to make do with what I have. I feel like I’m just working to pay for the bills. I don’t even have time to spend with my family—to take them out to certain places.
One thing you want but can’t afford: I’d buy a newer-model car. And every time those commercials come on TV—the Pillow Pets—my kids always ask for those. It’s discouraging, having to tell them all the time that we can’t afford things.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: I bought a TV—a Black Friday deal. It’s a Vizio 39-inch. I paid like $250. I had to work for it. I saved up.
Do you have credit cards? No.
How much debt are you carrying now? I’m in a lot of debt. I have traffic tickets, hospital bills, old phone bills. I’m pretty sure that my debt from the tickets alone is oughly $3,000. By the time you get the money to pay the ticket, the fine has doubled. Then you get another one and can’t pay that one. Like, I’m on a boot [booted vehicles] list, and I got the money to get off the list, but my car got towed that morning, so I had to pay half that money to get it out of the impound. It just keeps going like that.”
Saving for retirement? No. Retirement is a long ways from now.
At what age would you like to retire? As young as I can and still have money. Probably late 60s.
College plans for your kids? I’ve thought about it. Once I get all my debts paid off and I’m in a better place, I’ll start putting as much money as I can toward it. I’ll take steps to put myself in better standing.
How much money do you think you’ll be earning per year in 10 years’ time? My goal is to triple what I’m making now.
How often do you worry about money? Always. Living like this is hard to do.
Does money ever keep you up at night? I can say that it has. It’s a lot of things building up—having the money when the bills are due, having a ticket, and not being able to pay it before it doubles.
How much money do you think you’d need to have the life you want? 50 to 60 thousand a year.
How happy are you, on a scale of one to 10? I’d say a seven or eight. But you might get lucky and catch me on 10 now and then.
Do you think your taxes are too high? Yes, I do.
Quote of the day:
If you want something you’ve never had then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.
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