Wall Street Journal explains how to go broke on $400k a year

By Anthony Zurcher
Editor, Echo Chambers

image copyrightThinkstock

Once upon a time, earning $400,000 (£250,000) a year was a ticket to easy street. But now? Well, it's hard just to keep your head above water. Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner will tell you that the really good wine clubs start at $150,000 a year.

Don't take it from Echo Chambers, though. We'll let the Wall Street Journal, pennysaver for the elite, break it down.

WSJ Wealth Advisor's Veronica Dagher explains in an article and accompanying video that "core expenses" for a family of four in Chicago - like an $850,000 mortgage on a $1.2m house, $24,000 a year in property taxes, $25,000 in home maintenance and $30,000 in groceries - really add up.

Then there's discretionary spending, such as $25,000 a year for two vacations, $15,000 a year for car payments, $10,000 for entertainment and $12,000 in "club dues". (Who are we kidding? I bet that paltry amount won't even get you a golf membership with real live caddies. What are we, savages?)

When you throw in other yearly expenses like children's sport ($10,000) and gifts ($6,000), Dagher estimates a total yearly outlay of $283,000, which pretty much leaves you living paycheque to paycheque after income taxes.

And let's also note there's no school tuition included for little Mason and Emma. They'll never get into Harvard going to public school!

"Now is the time to make some changes," Dagher cautions. "Save that bonus, and cut your spending - while you still have an income."

The Daily Kos's Weinenkel says the entreaty to "cut your spending" is the best part of the video:

"Let's forget that the median middle-class household income peaked at $56,080 in 1999 and it stands at roughly $50,017 now. Welcome to examples of the shrinking middle class, Wall Street Journal."

If that wasn't a strong enough dose of wealth hubris, Dagher provides plenty of examples of six-figure families living beyond their means.

"Sylvia Flores was earning more than $200,000 a year overseeing website content for retailers and tech firms when she got into trouble," Dagher writes. "She had a personal chef and a housekeeper, and took her husband and two children to Hawaii for frequent vacations."

All that extravagant living added up to more than $300,000 in credit card debt. Fortunately, Ms Flores has seen the light of day and now makes her own meals and shops at thrift stores.

"While lower earners can face hardships and financial struggles that are even more dire, the consequences of chronic overspending can be painful regardless of which income bracket you start in," Dagher writes.

Yes, it's hard for the poor. But the profligate wealthy have feelings, too. They're working hard and deserve what's coming to them.

"For high earners in demanding jobs, spending heavily can also help justify long work hours and compensate for time away from friends and family," she says.

Needless to say, some writers are not exactly amused by the Journal's piece.

Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan says the article is either "a deliberately unsympathetic joke designed to agitate the stirrings of an American class war" or "one of the whitest whines of all time".

The Journal's article is an example of "insidious reporting", writes the Los Angeles Times's Michael Hiltzik, asking readers to sympathise with high-earners in "situations that middle- and working-class families can only dream about".

Turn to the paper's editorial page, he continues, and you'll find opinion writers singing the praises of the wealthy while cursing the "moral turpitude" of the lower classes:

"If the Journal's editorial writers read their news pages, they may discover that their reporters are undermining their usual argument that we need to safeguard the income of the 'job creators' at the top of the economic pyramid by cutting income and benefits for the rank and file at the bottom."

"Articles like this fall into the category of reverse econ-porn," he concludes. "They offer the chance not to salivate over the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but to chortle over their heedlessness and stupidity."

So chortle all you want - the rich won't mind. The Wall Street Journal editors will get worried when you start looking for pitchforks and torches.