life Parenting Work

Tradeoffs + Parenting Is Hard

July 7, 2021

When I look at Instagram and sometimes when I just . . . look around in the wrong locale, it seems like everyone has:

Beautiful modern home. (Us: Nope)

Luxury cars. At least one Tesla. (Nope)

not ours

Full time childcare. (Yes. Our largest expense category by far, more than housing.)

Amazing vacations, both with and without the kids. (Somewhat. This is definitely a goal.)

Retirement at a reasonable (or younger-than-average) age. (Probably. But we’re talking late 50s/early 60s, not 48.)

Private school. (For now, yes. Though not the priciest one.)

Fully funded 529s. (Uh, no. We do contribute steadily, but all 3 accounts put together still wouldn’t buy one year of private college at this point. Working on it.)

Sleepaway camp. (No for now, but maybe someday)

383427 kid activities. (No since 2020, but I see this ramping up soon.)


Yeah. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I’m here to report that this list in its entirety is not feasible even with two jobs that I would consider highly compensated — jobs that took a combined 22 years of post-college training to qualify for. I have a (non-medical) friend who can afford all of this, but even she has the benefit of family wealth in addition to a partner who probably earns 7 figures.

Maybe if I had chosen dermatology. And ALSO had invented an anti-aging miracle serum. (Speaking of which, probably indulgent self-care and intermittent plastic surgery could be added to above list).

I am not sure what I am even trying to say here except that doing our quarterly finances and concurrently tearing through Emily Oster’s book made me think a lot about our life choices. And often I can’t even figure out if we’ve made the right ones. For example, every Sunday afternoon the list of chores and that amount of mess in our home often feels depressing and insurmountable, making me question everything. Hearing about how wonderful Teslas are makes me side-eye my 2011 Prius. When I struggle with the kids’ behavior (and whether you can glean that from this blog, let me set the record straight – often I do. Some kids more than others), I question what I have done wrong to make it feel so hard. (As in: I have ruined them because I work, haven’t I.)

But there are also moments when I recognize how lucky I am to have a job that I generally enjoy and feel so happy to have that PLUS my 3 healthy kids. And I also recognize that even people who have everything on the list often end up unhappy and anxious. And even they probably feel like they are lacking in some way (compared to Elon Musk or something).

WELL. This has been a post. On the up-side, C LOVED soccer camp yesterday! He came home raving about everything *especially* the lunch. Hahaha. On the down, I am missing G’s first dentist appointment. (It got moved because she had been sick, and the only day available for months was a clinic day).

Tradeoffs.

Two parenting podcasts I have enjoyed recently:

3 in 30: How to Develop a Peaceful Routine with Kids (this is what I want, so badly. Our home is not very peaceful EVER unless screens are involved.)

The Mom Hour: Never Thought The Day Would Come (gives me hope!)

78 Comments

  • Reply A. July 7, 2021 at 7:46 am

    In all honesty, I wouldn’t even know what to do with 2 doctors salaries… so it is all very relative I guess. It all depends of needs and desires, but also specifics, like taxes and students debts.

  • Reply Lee July 7, 2021 at 7:47 am

    What is WITH the Teslas?!

    I feel this post so much and struggle with the same things. It seems everyone around us — and granted, we choose to live where we live — has more/does more/spends more. Some in ONE-income families. HOW?? I truly don’t get it. I sometimes wish it weren’t taboo/impolite to ask friends about their money, you know?

    I think the only antidote, as you say, is being grateful for what we do have. And for me it’s also “keeping my eyes on my own paper” and not comparing if possible. It’s very hard. (I also tell myself that more people than I realize are probably deeply in debt; sometimes that makes me feel better. Sometimes.)

    • Reply A July 7, 2021 at 9:39 am

      Agree. I’d like to at least ask questions like how did you save for down payment etc but don’t. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind answering some questions my friends might want to ask me but don’t for taboo reasons.

  • Reply Sara July 7, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Completely feel the same way! We make what most normal people would consider “a lot” of money. Our house is expensive by normal standards, but we still live in one of the smaller houses in our neighborhood in Northern Virginia. We have saved a lot for our two kids’ college funds and for retirement, but don’t drive nice cars or enjoy other luxuries that people probably think we could afford on our salaries if they don’t do the math. It takes A LOT of money to afford everything you’ve noted unless you also have family wealth or take on a lot of debt! I am grateful for what we have – we really don’t need to think/worry about money day to day – but it is hard to keep my eyes on my own paper sometimes.

    I am curious to check back in later to read other people’s thoughts 🙂

  • Reply ahealthyslice July 7, 2021 at 8:29 am

    I love Instagram for seeing how people live their lives and I am inspired by it, but ultimately staying laser focused on our own priorities (and continuously discussion and refining them) keeps me feeling fulfilled.

    For example, as a homeschooling mom I could focus on friends with more freedom to do what they want during the days because their kids are in school, or I could focus in on what I love about homeschooling, why we chose it, and how it contributes to our family goals and priorities.

    I agree with the above commenter above about the “keep your eyes on your own paper” mentality. It’s nice seeing that others do and using it for inspiration (envy often shows us what we desire), but then using it for good and feeling empowered to work towards making your personal long term goals a reality.

  • Reply Rachael July 7, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I work in the mortgage industry and do MANY loans for doctors specifically – typically in the Chicago and Naples area.
    It’s astonishing how many people live at the very top of their budget and are definitely living paycheck to paycheck, even drs who are earning high five figures per month. (and for mortgage purposes, we do not factor in daycare or school tuition or anything like that – only housing and debt expenses). Just my two cents from someone who sees all the ins and outs of peoples finances every day😉

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 11:07 am

      This is a very good point. You have no idea whether these people who have all these luxury goods are spending all the money they have on them.

    • Reply CNM July 8, 2021 at 12:22 pm

      My spouse is a CPA and he has mentioned this, too (not, of course, any specific names or anything!). Most people live at the top of their budgets and save zero.

    • Reply Hope July 11, 2021 at 2:58 pm

      I have worked in mortgages also and just looking at mortgage applications is an eye opener. When you view credit reports you see how people live paycheck to paycheck in order to keep up with “ The Jones “ They have good jobs, But they need the trappings as well. Two expensive cars, vacations, clothes, jewelry. They live in expensive areas with high property taxes (that can no longer be written off ). I live on Long Island . Everything is fine as long as nothing happens in the way of an emergency. It comes down to choices about what matters most to you.

  • Reply Hannah N. July 7, 2021 at 8:41 am

    I can relate SO much to this. I often wonder if it’s my own failings or what I am doing wrong that makes parenting. working full time, keeping up the household feel just so hard. And that leads to me looking around at other families and wonder how they do it, buy it, afford it, manage it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Knowing that others have similar struggles and thoughts about this stuff helps so thank you for sharing!

  • Reply omdg July 7, 2021 at 8:55 am

    Sooooo…. I d sometimes feel this way. Here’s how I manage those feelings.

    1. Owning a nice house: I recognize that many people live at the top of their budget, take on more financial risk than I am willing to, and/or have family money. I felt this more when I sent Dyl to private school outside Philadelphia — most of the families there had million dollar + mansions, and… we rarely invited their kids over to our house to play because we didn’t want to feel judged. I also had two friends in residency with parentally subsidized lifestyles comment negatively on my house. My solution has been to decide those people are assholes (I mean really, who tells another person that their house is “disgusting” because we don’t live in a house that could literally be shown to prospective buyers at any moment of the day?). Also, it is easy to see that their lives are also far from perfect, and that in many ways I have things they will never have no matter how much money their families give them.

    2. The car thing I will never understand. I kind of think expensive cars (including Teslas) are a total waste of money, so whatever. I’m sure people feel that way about my expensive pants, but at least my pants are only $250.

    3. As far as the vacations go, you must know that those photos represent only a snapshot in time, right? I have been reminding myself that what I really crave is the FEELING of vacation, not the travelling itself. It’s really the moments where you feel fully relaxed and disconnected from work that are what I crave, not the instagram worthy beach shot. I feel that way sitting in my backyard watching my kids play with her friends while chatting with my neighbors, while
    swimming laps, or watching a good movie on Netflix with my husband.

    I thought you’d sworn off instagram lol?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 9:58 am

      All good points and yes I got back on Insta (in moderation) and maybe this is just evidence it was a bad move.

      That said I see many of these examples in real life … #southflorida

  • Reply K July 7, 2021 at 9:01 am

    The old saying ‘don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides’ seems relevant here. Instagram is like a perpetual job interview or first date; people are putting their best foot forward and aren’t talking about failures or debt or the mess out of camera range. Reflecting on our choices is normal and can be healthy when it helps reconnect us to our values. But reactive questioning based on social comparison can be painful. It also helps to remember that excellence is different than perfection. A wonderful parent can still make mistakes, and delightful healthy kids misbehave. Take good care.

  • Reply Ashley July 7, 2021 at 9:21 am

    I get this on some level. I feel like DH and I have done well for ourselves, but it all feels really hard sometimes and I don’t feel like we “play” as much as some families who seem to be adventuring all the time, vacationing all the time, putting their kids in the most expensive/competitive activities, etc. And I also am clueless on how they’re funding these lifestyles.

    I have also realized that I need a lot of downtime to function well, and so do our kids, which is at direct odds with some of the aforementioned activities. I don’t want to say we have it harder, but based on much observation and talking with friends, I have come to believe our kids are more intense than many of their peers, which factors into the level of exhaustion we often feel. Which makes me question everything we’re doing as parents.

    IDK. I don’t know if I’m doing this adulting thing right, either.

    • Reply Elisabeth July 7, 2021 at 10:58 am

      As a Mom to two very intense kids (low sleep needs, adventure junkies who love to be constantly stimulated) I feel you @Ashley! I have a friend whose kids basically want to stay home and do art projects and play in the backyard whenever they can get an opportunity. I can do that for a few hours a MONTH and my kids are climbing the walls. I sometimes wonder where I went wrong (I’m introverted and would love to spend a whole afternoon with us each reading books in separate corners) – but at the end of the day, that is just my kids personalities.

      I just blogged about this last week, but I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that parenting is just plain hard. Even for people that make it look easy (I highly recommend Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting). More of us are separated from family and have very little by way of an unpaid support network (a babysitter is not who you want to call for a middle-of-the-night emergency); I am constantly in awe of families in my area who have grandparents that take the kids EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND. I can’t even imagine!! Free babysitting with no prep work? More and more of us are working longer hours, our kids have less flexibility in terms of independent mobility (going to friends houses alone; playing in the neighbourhood without supervision) – which means we, as parents, have exponentially higher responsibilities in the parenting realm than we did before, coupled with increasing work pressures.

      In terms of funding things, I feel like sometimes it’s a lot less about the sheer monetary side of things and is more about the time/skillset. My husband and I have no DIY skills whatsoever. I love design and modern aesthetics, but we have to outsource everything. And that takes a lot of time and coordination and decision-making. And I just don’t have the bandwidth for that. So we have tons of home repairs and reno’s that I’d love to do – and that we could technically afford to do – but the logistics are just too overwhelming. I also struggle with low energy and am quite introverted, so once I get through work/home responsibilities…I just don’t have much left in the tank. Some of my friends are Energizer Bunnies and will start a home projects at 11 PM. I’ve already been asleep for hours…

      For where we live, our family joint income would be considered high. We’ve very frugal (bought our used car outright; no consistent childcare cost as I only work part-time) but still – the bills pile up. Aggressively paying down a mortgage, eating healthfully, the constant cost of insurance/taxes/electricity associated with home ownership, enrolling the kids in various activities etc. adds up. And honestly, most people with a perfectly curated Instagram feed with a Tesla in the driveway of a stunning home are likely deeply in debt and have no savings (despite 6 or 7-figure incomes)!

  • Reply A July 7, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I hear ya! I’ve needed a place to vent on this topic. I don’t know how some people do it…like an acquaintance/family friend who has two homes (regular home and lake home) with all the things (boat, BMW SUV, etc) on one income (a PT at a small hospital)?! On the other hand, my mom, a single mom, raised three kids on a teacher’s salary. Did we have 529s (or the equivalent) and other things? Heck no, but we survived and all three of us graduated from college.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 9:45 am

      Boat, lol. I can’t imagine anything I want less than a boat!!!!

      • Reply Omdg July 7, 2021 at 12:31 pm

        Horse?

    • Reply CNM July 8, 2021 at 12:29 pm

      My guess is these people have family money or inherited properties.

      I was wondering the same thing about a couple that I know with 2 kids. Husband is an estate attorney in solo practice, wife works part time as a grant writer. They have luxury cars and a home that is easily $1.5 million. Kids go to an expensive private elementary school I do not resent these people; they are nice and all that, but I wondered to myself how this all worked financially. My spouse, who knows the husband better than I do, said that they *both* have trust funds and a great deal of generational wealth.

  • Reply Irene July 7, 2021 at 9:56 am

    I have a lot of thoughts about this! My husband earns a fantastic salary which to this day surprises me when I think about it much. But he has made trade offs that have allow a slightly lighter work schedule but he earns less than the truly crazy amount some of his former coworkers earn now. And guess what? More than one of them are in debt from continuously outspending their income. We constantly remind ourselves that you can outspend ANY income and comparing to people who may or may not actually be able to afford their lifestyle is a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable.

    My biggest re-framing items on this topic are:
    1. My reduced hour pay alone is considerably higher than the median family income in this country. The idea that we are struggling in any way is a complete non-starter.
    2. Loving your job is BY FAR the greatest luxury available. I buy my own happiness with my reduced income in this way as opposed to taking on a higher paying job that *I* would hate no matter how much others love it.
    3. Not worrying about random dollars here or there or doing a ton of comparison shopping is the second biggest luxury in my life. There is no handbag or car that would remotely compare to the happiness I get from having flexibility in my budget for every day life. Again this is me, some people love hunting for a bargain but I do not.
    4. I feel good when my money and my time are spent in line with my priorities. A fancy car is not in line with my priorities. Fancier anything is generally not in line with my priorities, although I will spend more for space during vacation because it actually affects the quality of my time with my family 😀
    5. Having low fixed costs in terms of relatively low mortgage and no car payments gives us freedom to make changes in the future. I think at some point my husband wants to work for the government or take a lower paying but more meaningful job and we will be able to do that. I have also needed to take time off work to address kids stuff and that has been unpaid at times. This is probably more important to our family than people with all neurotypical kids but it is something that gives me peace of mind.

    Everyone is so different but I think you guys are doing great. Don’t let anyone else get you down!

    • Reply Elisabeth July 7, 2021 at 11:10 am

      @Irene: some great points!!!

      Aligning where your money goes so it supports your priorities/values is key!

      And I also second the luxury of being about to afford everyday “life.” My parents had very little money when I was growing up, and I remember one of my sisters saying – when she got married and started having kids – “I want to be able to treat them to an ice cream or a doughnut whenever I feel like it.” My parents made the choice to be extremely frugal, but they really didn’t have much room for incidentals. My Dad said one year a family dental bill ended up being an entire months salary! Gah! While I think I may go too far in the opposite direction (going out for ice cream isn’t a huge treat to my kids because it happens often in the summer, for instance), it is so nice to not have to think about incidental expenses and being able to say “yes” without dithering. That said, if I said yes to everything, I would end up with money issues and then wouldn’t be able to afford this flexibility. And I have no problem saying “no” to things; I love to save and know it’s important if I want to preserve the flexibility I currently have.

      I honestly just think some people find it easier to self-regulate expenditures and live within the bounds of their income…

      Also @Sarah: again – thanks for broaching these subjects. It’s clearly something that strikes a chord! Love the discussions and insights that come up. The range of perspectives is always so helpful!

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 11:19 am

      This is so so good. I agree completely. My husband makes a good salary, but we are not rich. We sacrifice (and have help from grandparents) to send our kids to the best school we can afford, which means we are around a lot of wealthier people. I do not care if someone judges my old house (straight out of the 1960s, no fancy upgrades) or my basic Honda Odyssey or my Gap clothes. We keep our overhead costs low for a reason — we have a low mortgage, no car payment, and right now no additional childcare. This gives us the freedom to live according to our principles, not anyone else’s. Why should you care if someone else has a Tesla?

      Tbh though if you review your principles / values and the choices you’ve made as a family don’t align, that’s the place to start examining the source of your dissatisfaction. Is one of your values having expensive material goods? What does being able to afford those things (or justify financing them, as the case may be) mean to you? That’s probably a more worthwhile place to start than continued Instagram scrolling.

  • Reply Amanda Rogers July 7, 2021 at 9:59 am

    Sarah I am sure you have come across the White Coat Investor at some point in your research on the FIRE movement – he has three wise sayings that I try to remember. 1) You can have anything you want on a doctor salary, but not everything 2) If you get at least some of the “big rocks” right (mortgage, cars, school costs, vacations) there is a lot of room to do other things and 3) Even with a high salary, you don’t get a pass on math. Regarding #1, I think lots of people think they can have everything and truly are just not saving much for retirement, kids colleges, etc. Regarding #2 it seems like you are very wise regarding your home and car spending. Childcare and private school are big ticket items for you but spending a lot on these aligns with your priorities so don’t feel bad about it! Regarding #3 we all have to be realistic. My husband and I (both doctors) have high salaries and sometimes I do feel like its dumb that he is driving a 2008 Honda (my Honda is a 2017…so fancy), but we still have lots of student loans to take care of and so the math actually says that we still have a negative net worth, despite our high income. I remind him of this when he brings up the Tesla thing… I think a lot of people look only at their income and not their net worth when they make decisions about spending, leading to lots of living paycheck to paycheck.

    • Reply Gillian July 7, 2021 at 1:41 pm

      I am a physician also and my husband is a lawyer. We had a ton of student debt at one point. I think this is something people in finance for example just don’t end up dealing with in the same way. Also training takes so long, we are just getting started in our careers when others have been earning much more than a resident salary for almost a decade (depending on the specialty). I also think there are tax implications for other high earners (thinking finance or real estate here) that doctors and lawyers are not part of. No to complain. I love my job and would do it all again and I make a great living, but it is all relative.

  • Reply Emily July 7, 2021 at 10:05 am

    The FOMO and wanting things I wasn’t even aware of (or aware people I knew had) is honestly the main reason why I mainly stay off Instagram, vs. any sense of it being a ‘time wasting’ app. I know that my life is basically fine but it is very easy to feel like something is lacking when you see the ‘highlights’ of both people you know and ‘celebrities’ on Instagram.

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 8:50 pm

      Yes! It’s a reason I stay off social media as well. It’s easier to be content when I focus on my life and don’t see the highlights of other people’s lives.

  • Reply Noemi July 7, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I’m glad I’m not reading the blogs you do, or browsing the social media that you browse, because I have none of those things. Not one. I’m a middle school teacher and my husband works for the city in a very high COL area. We can’t afford private school (and our public school district is frequently in the national news for being a shit show). Our house is 100 years old and it shows its age – it needs considerable work just to remain standing and we currently don’t have the money to do any of that work. We haven’t even opened 529s and our daughter is 11 (so we’re way past crunch time). We do not (and never have) had full time child care (I’m still super stressed about getting my son into an aftercare program at his new school next year). We don’t have a Tesla (but we do love our Chevy Bolt so maybe we get a half on this? Probably not because a Bolt is definitely not a Tesla… and we could only afford our Bolt because of generous state and federal rebates that were available at the time. It is also our only car.)
    And yet, I feel like we are doing pretty well. We were able to afford our mortgage without a tenant’s rent for the first time since we bought our house 9 years ago. We only have six more years on the loan to my parents for the “gift money” that allowed us to buy the house. We have a little extra in our savings accounts. We are talking about putting money away for the biggest and most important house renovation (water damage in a back room). I definitely feel trapped in my position because I’d fall so far on the salary schedule if I moved to a new district, but I’m not miserable where I am. So yeah, things feel pretty good. I also don’t participate in ANY kind of social media because it makes me feel like sh** so maybe that is my secret. 😉 I learned early that I will compare my insides to people’s outsides so I just stopped gazing upon their outsides. I’m also always going to have less than a lot of people I consider my “peers” because I make so little money (despite a lot of years of schooling) and live in such a high COL area. I feel very lucky that my IRL friends are all in similar financial situations – it makes planning things easier because we are all comfortable spending around the same amount – and I just don’t go online to see how people in other financial situations are living. I don’t know. It works for me. I can imagine if we were in professions that make more, and followed people in those professions online, it would be a lot harder…

    • Reply Noemi July 7, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Oh and I REALLY struggle parenting my kids. All the time. And I’m a teacher! But I feel like I’m making the wrong choices with them constantly, and I’m pretty sure I’m messing them up irrevocably. So yes, parenting is SOOOOO HARD.

  • Reply Gillian July 7, 2021 at 10:36 am

    We live in a VERY high income area…in one of the smallest houses. We chose our community for the emphasis on excellent public education and the brevity of our commutes. And I would not make a different decision. However, when my kids ask why we can’t have a bigger house, a newer car (one of ours is a 2011 too SHU), a second house, a better vacation…it is hard not to compare. We are without a doubt wealthy and living well within our means. But its all relative…

  • Reply YS July 7, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Like another poster said, this is so relative. I am a divorced mom who has joint custody, lives in an apartment (cozy but still), will likely have to work until my mid 60s at least, and am so far removed from ever owning a Tesla despite being surrounded by them. I couldn’t care less about the Tesla, though. Sometimes I get bumbed about not living in a house anymore, but I love not having a mortgage. I have a good paying and solid job which will always be in demand, but I live in an expensive area, so the good salary for a one income household only goes so far.

    Please count your blessings.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns July 7, 2021 at 10:53 am

    I love the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If I find myself comparing our lives to others and getting bummed, I will try to focus on that statement and think about what our goals and values are and how that results in different decisions. We have 2 Toyota sedans and are really in the minority in our industry (asset management) for not having a luxury vehicle but I am VERY HAPPY TO NOT HAVE ONE. What a huge waste of money, IMO. Granted, my husband LOVES cars, so he would appreciate a nicer vehicle but not to the extent that he will drop that kind of money on it because he is way too practical and recognizes that we have young kids that drop snacks and water cups everywhere/stain things/etc.

    This comparison often comes up for me when I look at others who have chosen to stay home. There is so much guilt and positioning around that decision so it can sometimes feel like there is a ‘right’ decision. So I can feel defensive about my choice to work, but when I take out what others are doing and what they think it right and think about what I feel is right for our family, I know working is the right decision. Given the option to stay at home right now (which we fortunately could afford), I would NOT WANT TO!! In our house, we say “Thank God It’s Monday” some weeks… Right now, working while our kids are at school is SO MUCH EASIER than being home with them. And they have more fun at school than they would at home between the social interaction, projects, time outside, etc. Even the baby seems to enjoy being around other kids, even though he’s only 7 months. I find parenting a 3yo to be extremely challenging and then couple that with a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night and extremely hot/humid weather that has trapped us in our house quite a bit this past month and it makes for a difficult stretch of parenting. And I know many feel the same way because I just had a long text exchange w/ the mom’s group I joined when our oldest was a baby and EVERYONE is struggling. So all that is to say that you are not alone and there isn’t a decision about work, IMO, that results in easier to parent or better behaved children. I think back on Emily Oster’s writing in Cribsheet about the decision to work outside the home and I believe she said there wasn’t a significant benefit to working v staying home so you should do what makes you happy. In my case – that is working because I enjoy my job and coworkers. And I imagine you’d say the same thing about your career! But like another person has said, we are super lucky to love our jobs.

  • Reply Sharon July 7, 2021 at 10:56 am

    I ask my husband the exact same question at least once a week! We both work full time and are well compensated, but our lifestyle is not anywhere near how others live in our high COL area. Child care, and especially nanny taxes, take up a huge portion of our budget.

    I think people either have family wealth, take on significant debt, or have minimal child care expenses. Those who can rely on free family care are incredibly blessed.

  • Reply Elisabeth July 7, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Couldn’t help but post a few quotes I found especially relevant from the Jennifer Senior (All Joy and No Fun) book I mentioned.

    ***

    “Today we are far less clear about what “parenting” entails. We know what it doesn’t entail: teaching kids mathematics and geography and literature (schools do that); providing them with medical treatment (paediatricians); sewing them dresses and trousers (factories abroad, whose wares are then distributed by Old Navy); growing them food (factory farms, whose goods are then distributed by supermarkets); giving them vocational training (two-year colleges, classes, videos). What parenting does involve, however, is much harder to define. The sole area of agreement for almost all middle-class parents – whether they make their children practice the violin for three hours a day or exert no pressure on them at all – is that whatever they are doing is for the child’s sake, and the child’s sake alone. Parents no longer raise children for the family’s sake or that of the broader world.”

    [On the shift from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mom”] The change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural emphasis: the pressures on women have gone from keeping an immaculate house to being an irreproachable mom.

    Before the “sacralization” of childhood (another apt-description from Vivana Zelizer), parents’ hearts weren’t expected to double as emotional seismographs. It was enough that they mended their kids’ clothes, fed them, taught them to do good, and prepared them for the rigors of the world. It was only after parents’ primary obligations to their kids had been completely outsourced – to public schools, to paediatricians, to supermarkets, to the Gap – that the emotional needs of their children came sharply into focus.”

    ***

    I don’t think these modern shifts are all bad. When I think back to my own childhood, I think my Mom was terrific. She played with me FAR more than I “play” with my kids and was very involved in my life. But it felt like it was on her terms. She would initiate a tea party. She would ask if I wanted to go outside and play in the yard. I wasn’t constantly looking to her for entertainment. It was okay for me to be bored (she knew it and I knew it). It was okay for her to say “No.” She didn’t feel the immense pressure I feel to have my kids happy, healthy, skilled, entertained at every moment. I feel like I am on-call with parenting 24/7 in a way that simply didn’t exist (pressure-wise) at least in my parents generation.

    • Reply Rachel July 7, 2021 at 2:48 pm

      This is my all time favorite parenting book. I’ve read it twice and I can;t remember the last book that I chose to read twice. It’s truly so so so life changing if you havent read it.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 2:50 pm

        I have and loved it but maybe I should read it again 🙂

  • Reply Grateful Kae July 7, 2021 at 11:21 am

    Yep, we talk about this ALL the time, too. We live in an older ranch style home built in the late ’70’s, and I would say probably at least 85%+ of my kids’ friends live in either much newer/bigger/fancier homes than we do. And since we do NOT have unlimited money, we are very happy to have a smaller mortgage. It allows us some of the “luxuries” that people probably see us enjoying- things we value more, like vacations, having our kids pretty involved in their sports, eating out often and, we recently bought a hot tub, which we use almost every single day. 🙂 (I also never, ever get massages, spa treatments or nails done, don’t buy expensive clothes, purses, sunglasses, etc. My 2012 van also is pushing 150k miles.) I certainly don’t feel like we are lacking at all- and we aren’t- but yet, it is hard when you see other people doing all the same things we are (vacations, sports, lessons, etc.) but then on top of it all, they ALSO seem to have a bigger, newer house, a lake home, a boat, expensive clothes, toys, maybe one parent doesn’t even work or works very part-time…It is mind boggling. I can never figure out what their “trade-offs” are…or maybe they just don’t need to make them!

    I often look around and feel so comfortable in our home (which we finally just remodeled/updated some after 7 years living here), and feel so grateful that to me, it is “so nice” (very relatively speaking). But then I’ll go drop my kids off at a friend’s house, and when I drive back into our older neighborhood I think, “Whoa, our neighborhood looks so crappy in comparison! Our house suddenly looks tiny and old.” :/ I hate that I even think that, because a) I’m sure many people in the world would love to have what WE have! It never ends and b) If I never saw those other homes, I wouldn’t feel like my house is lacking at all! It’s the damn comparison game playing tricks on me. 🙂

    I have mostly just decided to assume that most other people have some family money or something (which we don’t) and stop trying to figure it out. 🙂

  • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 11:33 am

    I actively struggle against this mindset a lot too. Just recently I was sighing over my kids’ friends with fancy country club memberships, which is something that will be forever out of reach for us — not just because we would never want to justify spending that kind of money, but because that kind of expense isn’t even aligned with our values! Same with owning a newer car or having a bigger mortgage. We live in an older home in a nice-but-modest neighborhood and many of my kids’ friends live with a lot more luxury. I have to make an effort to not feel sorry for myself — because we really do have a lot, certainly more than I grew up with. Like a previous commenter one of the biggest luxuries I enjoy is not comparison shopping! That’s HUGE. We don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck — which is something that can happen no matter your income — and that’s a major blessing to me.

    I also remind myself a lot that people can have family money, they can be in debt, they can just make a ton of money — it has nothing to do with me and also doesn’t guarantee an easier or happier life for them. And if someone is going to look down on our smaller mortgage and paid-off cars, that’s their problem, not mine. I’m not here to be insecure.

    • Reply Alyce July 7, 2021 at 7:30 pm

      I don’t have this problem, largely because I prefer to compare my situation to people with less than me rather than compare my situation to people who have more or people that I think are similarly situated. I compare my current situation to my childhood, where my parents raised eight kids on mostly one, but occasionally two public school teacher salaries. Everything about my life is so easy compared to my childhood or my mother’s experience that I literally cannot ever feel bad about my current situation. I also live in a neighborhood where my household income is many times the average, so I feel more inclined to be modest in my spending so I don’t make others feel inadequate or less than because of what they can afford. And when I encounter people richer than me (which I do routinely – I’ve always traveled in absurdly rich circles courtesy of the fancy private schools I attended as a scholarship kid – many of my closest friends have absurd levels of generational wealth who live off of investment income and travel between multiple multi-million dollar homes around the world, or are successful Hollywood actors married to other successful actors, or even at the very extreme end one of my grade school friends literally married a prince and is now a princess of a European country – these are the only types of people who can actually have all these things you’ve listed), it’s enough for me to simply acknowledge that they have more money than me, which is why their lives are so different from my own. For me, acknowledging that simple reason why makes it super easy to accept the differences without feeling bad about my lot in life. I think it’s harder when you assume based on job title that you’re roughly in the same place financially as others around you and you see them living more lavishly than them. When I consider the spending by my professional peers, I know that they make a lot, but also need to pick and choose how they spend their money just like I do. They just choose different things than my family does, and some of their spending and saving is visible to me but most of it isn’t, so I truly don’t know enough to make a valid comparison. And I don’t lose sight of the fact that I have more than 99% of the worlds population, and it’s terribly gauche to forget that.

      • Reply Alyce July 7, 2021 at 7:32 pm

        (This was not meant to be a reply to Amy’s comment. Just a general comment that got mixed up on my phone.)

      • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 7, 2021 at 7:44 pm

        Solidarity, Alyce. (I didn’t have 7 siblings but the rest of this speaks to me.)

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 8:04 pm

        I hope it didn’t come across that I did forget – but yes, 100% agree! I think it’s more like my adult self finds it surprising (though it should not be!) that the “American dream” as featured on Insta (and exhibited at least in theory in many acquaintances) is not realistic even with two really high paying jobs.

        • Reply Alyce July 15, 2021 at 9:54 pm

          Our perceptions of the “American Dream” and what it actually costs were never anchored in reality. And of course, that reality has shifted and become all the more difficult to attain as education, housing, and healthcare costs have skyrocketed while pay has been relatively stagnant. Now that we’re adults trying to attain the American Dream not only for ourselves but also our kids, we really feel that disconnect.

          But to my mind, the real flaw is that so much of the American Dream is toxic consumerism. And we should be pushing back on the idea that the things on the list are actually the things that we should be striving for.

      • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 9:00 pm

        I think your approach is wise, Alyce. There is a part of me that feels like nothing is enough (I grew up with enough, but only just, which I think has fueled an unflattering materialism and tendency toward envy that has persisted into adulthood), but staying focused on what I do have instead of what I don’t helps keep that in check.

  • Reply Erin July 7, 2021 at 11:59 am

    This mindset can be really problematic, and hard to avoid if you are intaking a lot of perfection, especially from social media which is totally fake. The vast majority of who I follow are people I know in real life, with messy, unfiltered accounts and that helps bring perspective. It does seem like for many, any access to social media leads to these thoughts and that might be a good reason to cut it out for good, or to simply unfollow people who ever make you feel worse about your own life, which as you said, is a great life.

    What helps me combat this mindset, truly, and this sounds bad – is being overly confident that my choices are the right ones – to the detriment of valuing other perspectives sometimes. I think Teslas are idiotic and a total waste of money. I’d never want to have my kids in thousands of activities because that sounds horrifying to manage and the opposite of what I want my, or my kids lives, to look like. Being house poor in a huge mansion seems awful to me, and everyone I know in that situation is RIDDLED with issues with their houses and it takes over their lives. No thanks!

    Like many others have said, it’s truly all relative, and most of the audience here are really in the top 5% of the country, and top top top 1% of the world.

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      Ha! Yes.

    • Reply A. July 8, 2021 at 7:20 am

      Erin’s comment : A+. I agree with every word.

  • Reply Kersti July 7, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    The other day, my dad said that the Tesla is to this bubble as the Hummer was to the last bubble. I look around my community and can’t help but be reminded of 2006. However, then it was Tuscan McMansions, designer clothes (remember the Loubtin craze?), and Hummers/giant SUVs. Now it’s Midcentury Modern/Modern Farmhouses, Pelotons, and Teslas. Something has to give. I recall feeling like somehow I was living my life wrong in the last bubble years, and then I saw it all go down the tubes for so many people. It could happen again. In other words, a lot of what you are seeing is probably fakery caused by the extreme economic conditions we are currently living under. At least that’s what I tell myself and it makes me feel better, ha.

  • Reply Chelsea July 7, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    It’s interesting how much “normal” changes depending on who you are with. When my DH was in grad school and we lived in family housing, we felt rich because we had a car and weren’t trying to support 6 people on a single graduate student salary.

    Then we moved to FL and were surrounded by a lot of high income families at our kids’ preschools (two dentists, Dad is a big deal banker, etc.) and it felt hard to connect when they were talking about nannies and vacations to Iceland (everyone in FL wants to go to Iceland, perhaps unsurprisingly) and we had absolutely zero extra income.

    Now we mainly spend time with people who live in our neighborhood and have a very similar socioeconomic status and it just feels so wonderfully “normal”. Everyone lives in a little 1960s house, no one has a new car, but we can afford things like kids activities and Y memberships and modest vacations and running shoes and the occasional meal out without a huge amount of stress.

    I suppose all of this is to say that “normal” is definitely in the eye of the beholder!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 1:16 pm

      So true but I also had to remark that … I’m kind of dying to go to Iceland. Hahahaha. (But not until kids are all over 8 or so!)

      • Reply chelsea.e.myers@gmail.com July 7, 2021 at 3:20 pm

        I really, really want to go, too. My good friend is going this summer for her 40th (without kids), and it sounds amazing!

  • Reply Kat G July 7, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    You are hanging out with the wrong ppl! Okay not really but that might help? Also- recently lamenting how difficult it is to have friends once kids are older- but I’m also much more oblivious to what other people think or have as normal, much easier when they are older. Much easier to judge too much indulgence when kids are older too…
    I mean I’m just not friends with ppl with that lifestyle in social, anymore. Because they aren’t really that in our lives anymore? Choices open up

    I LOVE CARS but I don’t think I could drive in something that expensive but then again it’s about what I would do; which is travel (and rent a nice car!) and if you were at home you might doubly blame yourself and you know you shouldn’t anyway, but prob more frustrating if you felt you should have more control over their behavior?

  • Reply Rachel July 7, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable post with us. I’ve said this before, but it’s so nice when a blogger can be real about their fears and challenges. I think we have ALL felt like you are describing. I’ve been off social media for 10+ years and this is why. My personality type just can’t handle the comparisons and I’m not good at making my life look fancy. I know it’s not a great reason and I could try to push through, but it was making me so unhappy.

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      Sounds like a great reason to me.

  • Reply DC Lady July 7, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Love reading through these comments — I live on a postage stamp in a very high COL area, but consider myself very fortunate and sometimes, but rarely, envy others. The pandemic was terrible, but taught me the simple things that truly bring joy — walks outside, good books from the library, a nice cup of coffee in a quiet home, quality family time, etc. I work deliberately to ensure our finances are supporting our values — childcare, family (including travel), savings, and it seems you do as well.

    My husband grew up in an area of the U.K. that frequently had bombings and ongoing conflict for decades, so he has a much better perspective than I do. I visited Haiti in college and that helped shape my perspective on how truly fortunate we are in the U.S.

    Not a sermon, but wanted to add some ideas on happiness, as I don’t think it is things (but would put our full time childcare high on the list, followed by experiences, including travel).

  • Reply Jordan July 7, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    This is so fascinating. I lived in the SF Bay Area for almost 10 years and the amount of wealth there was staggering. My husband and I had really great jobs in tech that enabled us to afford our rent there, but we quickly realized that we simply couldn’t compete with the amount of money required to have the basic things (not even Teslas!) and enjoy some quality of life (we were commuting 1.5 hours each way in traffic, etc). Also, there was a HUGE mentality of keeping up with everyone. I remember lamenting to my parents that we were the only ones who hadn’t traveled to Thailand. They, rightfully so, reminded me that we were in a bubble and it is so right and a great reminder for so many of us. Now we moved to Colorado to have better quality of life, and we do! But here, instead of people bragging about the companies they founded, it’s how many 14ers they hiked or how their 4 year old can go down a black diamond ski hill (seriously. I found myself feeling bad watching Insta videos of my daughter’s preschool classmates skiing better than she could!). Ugh! Now I just try to stay focused on my own goals/values/family life. I will also say that Insta is such a highlight reel – we went to Aspen for the 4th of July weekend (another example of extreme wealth was driving by the private jets at the Aspen airport!!!) and I shared some cute pics afterwards of our hikes, the kids in matching outfits, my parents with the kids on a gondola, etc. What I didn’t share? The kids refusing to nap or go to bed before dark, screaming so loud during a tantrum that I worried our Airbnb neighbors would call the cops, having to get out the tablets at a restaurant (something I said I would never do as a parent!!) and arguing with my parents about how just telling the kids to listen better doesn’t result in automatically better behavior. All behind the scenes of our gorgeous family vacation pics on Insta- keeping it real 🙂

  • Reply Ali July 7, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    I think your title to this post says it all. It really is a matter of tradeoffs at pretty much any income level. We live in a MCOL city, but in a very pricey area of town (for the excellent public schools). We drive considerably less nice cars than most in our neighborhood, I spend most of the summer amazed at how much people spend on kids’ summer activities, and will admit a little jealousy at how much my neighbors spend renovating/ decorating their homes. We value living in a nice neighborhood (mostly due to schools and the overall community feel, my house itself is NOT fancy) and prioritize that over other things. More than anything though, I value not having to stress about money. We live on far less than we make and save a good bit. Not enough to retire FIRE-style, but I would suspect we save far, far more than most of those we are around on a daily basis. It is worth a LOT to me to not be stressed out about how we will pay our bills, much more so than pricey meals, vacations, etc are worth to me.

    This is such an interesting discussion from the comments! You have the best commenters around!

  • Reply Sara July 7, 2021 at 4:02 pm

    I love this post!

    This reminds me a lot of a podcast ep I recently listened to, Greg McKeown’s interview of Arthur Brooks. Arthur Brooks talked about how one of the essential ingredient of happiness is “aggressively managing our wants.” He said that people think it’s what they HAVE that makes them happy, but really the equation is what we have DIVIDED by what we want (and, of course, the larger that denominator of wants, the less satisfied we feel). He also talked about how the American notion of “bucket lists” directly contributes to dissatisfaction, because it draws our attention to things we don’t have.

    I have listened to this episode twice (and will probably listen again 😂) because I feel like I REALLY need to internalize this idea of aggressively managing my wants. It would be worth a listen if you are thinking about this topic!

    • Reply Amy July 7, 2021 at 5:22 pm

      That is a really great point about bucket lists and something I had never considered. Thanks!

    • Reply Kathleen July 7, 2021 at 11:15 pm

      Sara, I was just going to recommend this exact same podcast episode (and Arthur Brooks’ podcast “The Art of Happiness” more generally). All the happiness research suggests that these high consumers Sarah remarks on are no happier (and may well be less so) than the average joe.

      Aggressive management of wants is so key! I’ve found that careful curation of who you follow on social media helps with this. I follow reasonable people who I know and like in real life, a few cooking accounts, minimalism accounts, stoicism accounts, and select FIRE accounts. This leads to normalizing anti-consumer tendencies (plus some great recipes — which also encourages home cooking!)

  • Reply coco July 7, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    I get what you mean and this happens more often than not when we are comparing with others outside appearances. I am sure they also compare with their peers or aspirations and feel the same way no matter if they tick these boxes. it’s really a matter of knowing our own values and family values, and remind ourselves often that no matter how much or how little we have, we can have a comfortable and fulfilling life.
    I try to teach/pass this concept to my girls who were born in a privilege family (very different than mine or my husband’s). I always worry they’ll take everything for granted, so I am mindful of telling them exactly why we make certain decisions. For example, when we were in DC for two months without a car, paying expensive hotels daily but took bus to everywhere instead of uber. The girls asked why we don’t have a car or take a taxi, as we have driver in the Philippines, I told them that we choose this way so we can stay in a comfortable place and buy good food. They understood and endured the walks. It’s about trade off, teaching them that we can never have everything, we always need to make choices/trade offs in life.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 7, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    On your list we picked the house (where they’re cheap!) and the 529s. We did have childcare back when the kids weren’t in school yet and DC1 did a few years of private school ($8k/yr—less than preschool cost!). We were going to take our first actual vacation not at DH’s parents’ (or wedding or work trip) last year but somehow that triggered a pandemic.

    I do love my Honda Insight but it’s just a hybrid not electric. DH has a Honda clarity which is also a hybrid.

    I think it’s ok that 99% of the people in the US have to make trade offs. (Our Friday ask the grumpies post was going to be on this topic but it got bumped to next Friday.). Like our next Friday questioner, we compare to what we had growing up (much less) so it is easy to feel astonishment in the abundance and a little guilt at having so much rather than comparing to people who have more. Having security and not having to stress out about money is mind blowingly amazing.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 7, 2021 at 8:04 pm

      I will look forward to the post!!

  • Reply Meg July 7, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    Appreciate your honestly in this post. I think as you point out, it is all trade offs. My husband and I both grew up very poor (I’m talking welfare, foot stamps, etc.) so we do not have any family wealth, instead we send money home to both sets of parents every month as they did not save for retirement (typical of immigrants trying to make it in this country). We live in NYC and our household income (90% of which my husband earns) puts us in the top 1%, probably closer to the top 0.05% if I am being honest. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see the type of money he is making, having that financial security after the way we both grew up never will never old. However, there are incredible trade offs. My husband is never able to be home for dinner, there is no such thing as actual vacation time in his industry, he regularly works past midnight and wakes up at 5am for calls with Europe. His work demands that he is thethered to his phone and his laptop— we joke that his laptop is the third person in our marriage. I can’t remember the last time this guy had a day off and could disconnect to be mentally present with his family. I don’t post this comment for pity at all— just offering a look from the folks that seem to “have it all”— sure we can pay for our kids college tuition today if we wanted to (she is 10 months old) but her dad will have missed her entire childhood in exchange. There will always be trade offs— and of course I will acknowledge there is luck and opportunity at play here too.

  • Reply kamalakarthikeyan July 7, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Dear Sarah,

    I am a SAHM from India. My response to this post will bring up experiences from the other end of the spectrum. Sometimes, while dealing with significant dilemmas like Tradeoffs, a total shift in view can help.

    My husband and I, both are from humble origins and have tried to steer the family into the upper middle class economic strata. We are both eldest kids and have had the responsibility of shouldering the economic burden of our respective families. None of us could do our post graduation studies because our families were desparately waiting for us to start earning. We got married early, but could not start our family until we cleared off some of the existing debts, paid the tuition fees for my brother in law’s college etc.

    We have never felt bad about any of this. We know that it takes a few generations to gradually move the whole family into a better economic situation. My family includes more than my husband and kid. We cannot be happy if our extended families aren’t.  

    I am not trying to boast, just trying to give insights into a totally different way of life that someone across the world is living. In spite of our tight budgets, whenever we see someone in need of financial help, we give away the biggest amount that we can. We can earn back that amount over a few months, but we know that help cannot be done in installments. We have many times been in the receiving end of such kindness too.

    My daughter is very good at studies and hopefully will get admissions into some of the best colleges here. However we have prepared her to accept that we can only afford what we can, and she needs to choose a college within our budget. I don’t think we are robbing her off the opportunities. I am confident that she will do well no matter where she goes. Developing that flexibility, and attitude in my child is our parenting success.

    Hope this helps. And sorry if you find this irrelevant.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 8, 2021 at 5:41 am

      very relevant!! thank you so much for sharing. very important perspective.

  • Reply kamalakarthikeyan July 8, 2021 at 12:56 am

    Dear Sarah,

    Another important question that I would like you to consider is : “How do the people who have much less than me feel about my social media feeds? Will they feel jealous and resentful?”

    Well, our answer to them would be that we have worked very hard to arrive at where we are, isn’t it …

    We can apply this same logic when we see others who have much more than us. We can choose to genuinely feel happy for them. We can feel happy that their hard work (or it could be even luck) has paid off so well for them.

    When we learn to rejoice for the successes and happiness of others, there won’t be any need to curate our social media feed, or curate people in our real life too.

  • Reply CBS July 8, 2021 at 4:18 am

    This is so interesting. I think it depends on the circles, my social circle of early career acadmeic folks are in the peak years of paying more for childcare than they do for a mortgage in a relatively HCOL city, and my older colleagues are earning more, but no one particularly seems to care about luxury goods. A used Leaf or an ebike is likely to elicit more excitement than a fancier car. People tend to care about travel (because a huge % are international), good food and coffee. I would definitely prefer to spend my spare cash on books, stationary, or Lego than a bigger car payment (we have a Civic, but I’ve never learned to drive so I mostly get around on the bike).

    I do, however, notice it when I’m home in California. I’m pretty sure my relatives thought having a baby in an apartment was child abuse, and while the pandemic forced a move to a house, it is very, very modest by US standards (1100 square feet) but it has a massive garden, a bright conservatory, and is perfect cozy nest for a family of three. The emphasis on material goods and “pampering” is much higher. Last time we were back, my husband asked why people’s lips looked different, he hadn’t seen women with fillers before?

    • Reply A. July 8, 2021 at 7:51 am

      We are also academics, and even if salaries are very very good here (for our standards anyways), I have to agree with you, the « money culture » is very different in academia… All profs I know could have more, but yes, there is some modesty, they like to take their bike to campus instead of cars, go kayaking in the weekend, drink natural wines, wear Patagonia and buy lots of books… but not much else. Luxury is so relative, but it is also linked to a culture, a way of living. A day of luxury for my is gardening, a good book, local wine, my son playing with his Lego for hours… I don’t need a Tesla or Disney Cruise (god the horror) or new Iphone. Those things have no actual value for ME. I don’t compare with others, I love my life and honor what I have.

      • Reply CBS July 8, 2021 at 9:18 am

        Yes, I think there is something slightly peaceful about knowing that there isn’t going to be a massive salary bump or a bonus or something. If we really cared about money, we would have done something more lucrative. There are huge inequalities in academia, and even getting through the PhD requires a tremendous amount of privilege but the lifestyle is less materially competitive.

        This post did prompt me to think about what I cared about materially and most of it is hobby related and echoes yours. I like to be able to buy books for me/my kid without a second thought (even the just released hardback), nice tea and chocolate, plants and tools for the garden (the rotating compost bin, the fancy bulbs), yoga classes, lego sets, something for the model railway my husband and son are building out. Even if I indulged in each of these areas each month, it still wouldn’t the difference between our Civic payment and a Tesla.

        • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 8, 2021 at 11:52 am

          Academic folks I know at Michigan (their salaries are public, so we’re talking joint family annual incomes of 400K – 600K, give or take) put their money towards buying time– personal assistants, house cleaners who don’t make you pick up first, multiple nannies, etc. and extremely nice vacations. So there’s spending!

          (One of them chided me a few years back for not doing fancy vacations– but she didn’t realize there’s a big difference between what she was making at the time and what I was making… that extra 100-200K may not seem like much when you’re making so much, but when you’re on the other side of it…Even if we could have afforded the fancy vacation at the time, we would have been trading off security, whereas she wasn’t. https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/money-security-easier-to-save-money/ )

          • A. July 9, 2021 at 7:59 am

            400-600 omg… here 200/year would be at the END of the career here… and sometimes, academics are not full prof, they stay assistants for a while and start their careers after said phd and other fellowship, at around 30-35 yo… I don’t know academics with multiples nannies and assistants 🙂

          • nicoleandmaggie July 9, 2021 at 8:09 am

            To be fair– that’s dual academic couples (some of whom are household names if you read the NYTimes), so two 200+ salaries. But yeah, I was at a conference at Michigan once and a few of the local economists were asking the more lowly paid (read: upper middle class) out-of-town economists why they had to tidy before the cleaners came and were giving tips on telling the cleaners not to do the children’s rooms so their kids would grow up with some responsibility. (Disclaimer: I do not have a housecleaner.) I don’t think it was a status thing so much as they couldn’t imagine the difference between a joint income of >400K and a joint income of ~200K (which is still a lot!).

      • Reply Grateful Kae July 8, 2021 at 11:14 am

        Yes, luxury is definitely so relative. I think that’s such a great point! It’s good to keep in mind too that for some people living a “wealthy” lifestyle, they really might actually, truly value those things more! It probably isn’t “only” about appearances (I would hope). So while maybe to me it seems like a waste for someone to spend $20k putting in a big fancy brick patio, they might just love and enjoy entertaining friends and family with outdoor parties every weekend, so a nice patio could be a good value for them and something that brings them real joy. Maybe that person hates reading, wine and gardening. 🙂

        My husband has expressed interest in someday getting a “nicer” car (currently drives a perfectly nice Honda Accord, but he sometimes dreams of something fancier.). But he is not the type to ever, ever do anything just for appearances. That’s so not his style. I know he would like a nicer car because he actually likes the feel of it, sitting in it, how well a nicer car maneuvers, etc. He also geeks out on techy stuff. For him, it would be solely about HIM experiencing a nicer car, end of story. Also, he drives 30 minutes each way to work every single day, so he feels like this would be a worthwhile investment for him, something that would bring him a good amount of “joy” every day. (I don’t know that he will actually get a nicer car though, lol. Not really in our budget currently. And if he does, I’m sure it would be relative and still not be a Tesla 😉

        • Reply Amy July 8, 2021 at 11:45 am

          Yes!! All good points about luxury being relative. 20k on a patio (or a new bathroom reno, a nice car, etc) could be a waste of one person’s money and a worthy investment for someone else. For myself, I’ve realized that quality and beauty matter — so I’ll pay more for something a little nicer even though that might look like frivolous spending to someone else.

  • Reply Tara July 9, 2021 at 10:32 am

    We are probably in a similar boat as you. Spouse is a physician and I earn close to his salary. We don’t own the luxury car (still drive the 2000s Honda from med school), etc. and I still budget our groceries and shop ads. But we aren’t particularly frugal either, in that nowadays if there’s something I really want, I may hunt for the best deal but I won’t feel like I can’t buy it. I do think it’s just about choices and not one choice or the other is necessarily wrong or right (unless someone goes into deep debt for these things, but even that is a choice). There will always be those who want to “Keep up with the Jones’, and it’s a rat race that never ends. We can basically pay all of our expenses including daycare/mortgage (HCOL city) on one income (mine), and save the his. I spoke to a financial advisor the other day and he told me the majority of his clients including high earners, spend 85% of their income. Personally, that makes me uneasy as a choice for us, because I knew what it was like living paycheck to paycheck growing up.

    All that to say though, I’m still very grateful that we have the privilege to make this choice. Many families in America are living paycheck to paycheck for the bare necessities not by choice

  • Reply Link Love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) July 10, 2021 at 3:15 am

    […] comments on this post are well worth a read.  I was going to do a reaction post (in addition to a related Ask the Grumpies […]

  • Reply Noemi July 10, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    This Vox article is so related to this post and the comments.
    https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22547185/consumerism-competition-history-interview

  • Reply Jen July 11, 2021 at 7:23 pm

    It’s all relative isn’t it. Your lifestyle is completely out of reach to my family and I feel a bit jealous sometimes, but I also know that our lifestyle is completely out of reach to some of my friends.

    My husband comes from a family that struggled a lot financially growing up and talking to him makes me really appreciate how much we have!

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