What Is Middle Class? You May Be Richer or Poorer Than You Think.

middle class

My sister lives in North Carolina. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Naturally, we have very different viewpoints on money. After all, a new report shows that you need to earn more than $60 per hour to rent a two-bedroom house in my city, whereas my sister just bought a 3-bedroom home (albeit a fixer-upper) for $60,000. Technically, she and I are both “middle class” but I got to thinking about what that even really means today.

Middle Class As a Number

There isn’t any specific legal or governmental definition of what it means to be middle class. Generally speaking, if you earn more than the lowest 30% of wage earners and less than the highest 20% of wage earners, then you’re somewhere in the middle class.

People also frequently define middle class in comparison to median income. If you earn between 67% and 200% of the median income, then you’re generally considered middle class.

If you’re interested in where you fall income-wise, then you can use the Pew Research Center’s income calculator to find out. You’ll enter your state, region, income, and number of people in the household. This will tell you if you’re lower, middle, or upper class compared to the rest of the country. It will also tell you how many others in your area fall into the same category.

For example, if I enter an income of $100,000 for a one-person San Francisco household, I discover this household would be:

  • Upper class
  • 19% of the rest of the US is also upper class
  • 30% of the San Francisco area is also upper class

I also learn that 52% of people in the US are considered middle class but only 47% of people in the Bay Area are in that range. Only 23% of the population here is lower class, as compared to 29% of the rest of the US.

Middle Class Isn’t Really a Number

You can gain a little bit of information about class when you look at income. However, there’s so much more to it than that. Middle class is really a mindset, a lifestyle, a way of being. People in this category generally go to college, although not necessarily to the Ivy League. They often live beyond their means with credit cards and mortgages, but they may have good credit scores and access to additional money in emergencies.

Middle class income clearly affords my sister a different lifestyle than what it affords me in San Francisco. And yet, despite the fact that my money would go further there, I frequently pay for pricey cocktails and organic groceries and the services of a housecleaner using my middle class Bay Area income.

Class is a confusing thing, especially as the gap grows between the lower and upper classes. (We used to define the middle as between the lower 20% and the higher 20%. Now we define it as between the lower 30% and the higher 20%. Middle class shrinkage is a real thing.)

Do You Feel Middle Class?

Your perspective on wealth or class makes a big difference. You may technically be in the middle income-wise but feel poorer or richer because of your perspectives on earning and wealth. For example, in a recent survey, most people earning $100,000+ don’t consider themselves upper class.

Technically, by the numbers, this is an upper class group. However, nearly one fourth of them said they’re upper-middle class. Perhaps that’s reasonable. But what about the quarter of them that say they are either working class or poor. That’s right 7% of people who earn $100,000 or more think of themselves as poor.

Where you live affects this. If you live in an urban area, you’re more likely to consider yourself poor by comparison to others. Many people see homeownership as one milestone to becoming middle class, but you’re more likely to rent in a city than in the suburbs.

Plus, if you’re in the middle income bracket, chances are that you have a lot of debt. If you do own a home, there’s a mortgage. Even if you don’t, you probably also owe a lot towards school loans, car loans, and/or credit card debt. When you have a lot of debt, you feel poor, even if you earn a lot of money.

What is Wealth?

Wealth relates to money. However, that’s not all that there is to it. Research shows that millennials think it would take nearly $2 million net worth to be wealthy, and yet 75% of them still feel rich. People feel rich when they make their money work for them. If you use your money to obtain the lifestyle that you want – including health, education, family time, social activities, etc – then you can feel rich.

Sure, you might not call yourself upper class. You might not even identify as in the middle. But you can still identify as rich in the things that matter if you have the right perspective on your wealth.

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Suburbia in the City? Pros and Cons to Bringing Suburban Life to Urban Areas.

suburbia in the city

I recently read a New York Times opinion article about the trend to have suburbia in the city. It caught my eye specifically because it highlighted changes in San Francisco, which is where I live. I live here because I love the city, with all of its pros and cons. I don’t enjoy spending time in the suburbs, so naturally, I’m a bit skeptical about this trend.

What Does It Mean to Have Suburbia in the City?

Before I read the article, my mind immediately drifted to the store Target. I moved to San Francisco about fourteen years ago. When I did, there was no Target in the city. We had a Best Buy and a few other similar large chain stores – mostly out of the way in areas that I didn’t typically walk around. But then Target came in.

I hated it at the time. I still don’t really shop there much, although I admit I’ve been in a time or two to pick things up because it’s convenient. But increasingly I see chain stores here and there. My own street of mostly local restaurants now has a few big names you’d recognize if you’d traveled here from somewhere else.

I don’t like it. If that’s what it means to have suburbia in the city, I’ll pass. After all, if I wanted that cookie-cutter life, I’d certainly prefer to pay far less than city rents to have it. One of the key points in the article is that those people who do decide they want suburbia in the city will pay a pretty penny for it. It’s not as cheap as actually moving to the suburbs.

Bringing in the Good Parts of the Suburbs

The article does mention those chain stores. It highlights the fact that people used to flee the cities for the suburbs in order to start families. Now they don’t. So perhaps they want some of those creature comforts – those familiar foods, those familiar stores. But that’s not the thrust of it. What it seems the article wants to highlight is that there is a way of life in the suburbs that people yearn for in the city.

It specifically mentions The Landing apartment building, in which residences are clustered around yards. Ah, yards. Yes, we don’t have too many of those in the cities. Having a dog myself, I can see why there are people who long for the yards of the suburbs. Personally, I’m okay with visiting the local parks every day. But a yard does sound appealing. You can grow vegetables in The Landing’s planter boxes and rest on their hammocks. I get the appeal in that.

What People Want is Connection

What I realized in reading the article is that it’s not really about suburbia in the city at all. It’s about connection.

Historically, people may have found a strong sense of connection and community in the suburbs. All of the kids would run from house to house to play with their friends. The cul-de-sac was a safe spot for football games. Neighbors joined one another for big backyard barbecues.

To be honest, I never experienced that living in suburbs or smaller cities. I have always found those places to be isolated. People seem to stay in their own yards, in their own cars. I, personally, have found so much more connection in the city, where I walk or ride the bus, visit the park, and talk to strangers.

But I can certainly see how the city can feel disconnected for people. If you’re walking with your headphones on then you’re not connecting with people. And so, I can see the appeal of The Landing, which is really all about creating community in your own little part of the city. You get to connect with your neighbors. If you can do that while lounging in a hammock, that sounds wonderful (although I question how many days per year the weather in San Francisco is really hammock weather.)

So, I think suburbia in the city could be good or bad – depending on what it means. When it creates connection and adds a little convenience, great. When it makes a city look like every other place in the world, I draw the line.

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Time Freedom: Embracing an Abundance Mindset for A Better Quality of Life

time freedom

One of my favorite things about my life is the time freedom that I have. I worked hard to be independently-employed. The money I earn is nice but it’s simply a means to an end. The structure of this kind of work affords me the opportunity to define how I spend my time. Recently, I’ve been reading a book about abundance that allows me to take this to the next level.

What is Time Freedom?

Time freedom is really a very simple concept. It’s the ability to define how, where, and with whom you would like to spend your time. It is the cornerstone of why I love working freelance instead of 9-5.

Time freedom doesn’t mean that I don’t work. It means that I do work that I enjoy. More importantly, I’m able to adapt my work to a schedule that allows me to maximize my time. I’m able to do all of the things that I want to do in a day including my work.

The Fear of Scarcity Reduces Time Freedom

One of the traps that I’ve fallen into over the years is that of reducing my own time because of scarcity fears. I worry that I’m not going to make enough money. Therefore I devote more hours to work than is healthy. If I’m passionate about a project and really involved in it, then that’s different. However, if I’m driving myself to the brink of exhaustion because I want to earn more money, then I’m eating away into my own time freedom.

Embracing Abundance

Recently I’ve been reading The Abundance Project by Derek Rydall. The gist of his belief system is that we all have exactly what we need within us. In order to experience abundance, we merely need to recognize this fact.

Of course, he goes into a multi-step approach to practically realizing abundance. The main point, however, is that changing your perception from one of scarcity to one of abundance makes all of the difference in your life.

This makes perfect sense when it comes to time freedom. When I am in a scarcity mindset, afraid not to earn enough, I overwork. I don’t give myself the balance that I need. On the other hand, when I am in an abundance mindset, I balance everything better. I still give time to work. However, I use my time freedom to make sure to enjoy my other priorities as well.

Giving Time to What Really Matters

Abundance means so much more than just having more-than-enough money. In fact, to embrace an abundant lifestyle means digging deeper into core values. Money helps, and certainly aiming for an abundance of money is fine. However, when you look at what you really value, you realize that you need much more than money. Some of the things I personally value include:

  • Long walks with my dog
  • In-person chats with my friends
  • Attending performance art and other events in my city
  • Connecting regularly with my siblings
  • Spending time each day reading and writing
  • Creating art of various kinds

These are just a few of the things I want to focus on. Earning money isn’t on the list, though it’s necessary. In order to have these things, what I really need is time freedom. When I recognize how important it is to give my time to those things, I loosen up on a work focus. As a result, I more thoroughly enjoy each day of my life.

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