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$100,000 income: No big deal anymore

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"Now that I've made (a $100,000 salary), it's not all it's cracked up to be. We make sacrifices. It's not like I tell my kids we're going to have to eat peanut butter and jelly every night. We live well, but I wouldn't consider it anything extravagant," says Neale.

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Many now consider $250,000 the new $100,000 income. Adam says that level of income is typically required to provide what many have before expected of a six-figure salary. Adam also points to other expenses that are not necessities but are considered part of a middle-class lifestyle -- things like cell phones, high-speed Internet access, vacations, karate lessons, iPods, laptops and digital cameras.

"What you might think people deserve for a person that has a reasonable income is excessively high. Add in all the other expenses and there just isn't anything left, and that's part of the reason why a $100,000 income isn't going that far," says Adam.

Geography and lifestyle factors
With the cost of housing typically the largest expense for a family, location is one of the most important factors in dictating the power of a $100,000. While that level may not go far on the coasts, it may still provide a fairly comfortable lifestyle in much of Middle America. Jeff Eschman of Brazos Financial Advisors in Houston says that in much of that state, $100,000 income earners can enjoy very comfortable lifestyles.

There is still only a small percentage of people making this income. It points out that for your average person in your average job, this is becoming an increasingly hard country to live in. -- Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner

"I don't see many families who are at the $100,000 income level currently making a lot of sacrifices. Families at that income level should be able to afford a very nice lifestyle in this area," says Eschman.

In cities like San Francisco; Manhattan; Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., the cost of housing alone can take a major bite out of a $100,000 income. A survey done in 2006 by management consultant firm Runzheimer International considered what a typical family of four earning $60,000 per year annually spends and then compared the costs of maintaining that lifestyle in more than 300 cities. Using their findings, a typical family earning $100,000 per year would need to earn $244,333 in Manhattan and $203,000 in San Francisco to maintain that same lifestyle.

In low-cost areas, Eschman says, people at that income level tend to run into financial problems when their lifestyle outpaces their income. While this is a problem for many Americans in all income levels, top figure earners are not immune from it. Adam says she has even seen people with incomes of up to $300,000 having trouble covering their expenses.

Choice is yours
Bryce Danley, a Certified Financial Planner and advanced financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial, says the real power of any income is all about perspective and choices. He says buying too much house, spending too much on automobiles and having too much debt is commonplace with families in the $100,000 income level and largely responsible for the six-figure pinch. In one example Danley uses, a household that earns $100,000 a year owns a $375,000 home, leases two vehicles for $450 each per month and pays $250 per month on credit cards. After that household pays the mortgage, car notes and debt, and takes out Social Security and federal income taxes, it has spent 75 percent of its income.

"This is a very typical situation for someone in that income range. And we wonder why average Americans don't save any money -- it's because of the decisions they made in housing, cars and debt," says Danley.

While the real power of a $100,000 income has been drastically diminished, it highlights that the burden of increasing costs on those making less is even more profound. Danley says that regardless of income level, Americans' penchant for debt, consumerism and outspending themselves is what ultimately causes financial disappointment or stress.

"There is still only a small percentage of people making this income. It points out that for your average person in your average job, this is becoming an increasingly hard country to live in," says Adam.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Dec. 15, 2008
 
 
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