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What is “Almost Rich” Anyway?

What is “Almost Rich” Anyway?

There’s an article at Toronto Life magazine which alternates between interesting and obnoxious. Called “Almost Rich“, it’s written by “one-percenter” Jonathon Kay, who hopes to dispel what he sees as a mistaken belief that he and people like him never worry about money.

It’s valuable insofar as the top one percent in Canada isn’t necessarily obscenely rich. That’s more like our top 0.1 percent. Getting into the top one percent requires an annual household income of not quite $200,000, which is certainly a lot of money, though it’s not such a mind-blowing sum one can’t imagine ever spending it all.

And that’s worth noting. There’s the lower echelons of the one percent, who are very comfortable. And then there are the real high-rollers, whose money is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. There is a practical difference between these groups. I acknowledge that first point. Then the argument starts to go off the rails.

Kay argues that he feels like he is essentially middle class. By his own admission, he has more money than 99 percent of the people around him. Yet, as he tells us, he and many of his friends find themselves living month to month, often even in heavy debt. He also complains how difficult it is to compete with your friends by having the right kind of furniture, car, etc. That’s a very middle class problem, isn’t it?

Let’s make this simple. What does it tell you when somebody who has four times as much income as you ends up just as broke at the end of the month? Give up? It means they’re spending four times as much.

I don’t actually begrudge any of the people profiled in that article for making as much money as they make. It’s more than a little disappointing that six of the seven earmark no money at all for charity. It bespeaks a certain “me” attitude to spend $800 a month on wine and not a red cent for a worthy cause. (It’s almost as self-indulgent as writing an article about it and expecting, apparently, sympathy.) Still, it’s not the income itself that is the problem. It’s the woe-is-me attitude.

Kay is pulling a fast one: he’s focusing on the surface similarity of this “hand-to-mouth” financial behavior, while glossing over the fact that almost all this spending is for luxury items. And that makes for a very big practical difference between Kay and his ilk and the rest of us.

A person who buys a new Mercedes every three years, or lives in a million (or multi-million) dollar home, or† any of a laundry list of other indulgences, has options. If money’s tight, they can live in a smaller house, a less exclusive neighborhood, send their kids to public schools, drive a less expensive car — any of these small sacrifices would immediately take them out of the red.

What options are available to a person whose monthly expenses instead go to food, affordable shelter and non-designer clothing? Eat less? Go naked? “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” sounds disingenuous coming from someone in this income bracket. Spending your money as fast as you make it does not qualify you as middle class. It qualifies you as either bad at math or incapable of delayed gratification. That may be true of many middle class individuals as well, but it’s not a defining characteristic of the group.

I do want to note that I don’t consider Kay and others in his income bracket as the enemy. They’re not the Wall Street tycoons that have screwed over the rest of us. Half of the people profiled haven’t even contributed to their RRSPs. It’s worth pointing out that, despite its effectiveness as a slogan, the one percent isn’t a homogeneous group, and certainly not all of them are financial movers and shakers, pulling all the strings behind the scenes.

The people in this article make more money than most of us, but, again, I don’t hold that against them. I wouldn’t mind being in that income bracket myself, but I also understand that I really don’t have anything to complain about. Kay, who makes more than four times what I do, might do well to recognize he doesn’t either.

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93 comments

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6:37PM PDT on Mar 17, 2012

i completely agree with this article's stance 100%!

2:32PM PST on Mar 8, 2012

Yes, and it's the RICH PEOPLE WHO STOLE ALL OUR MONEY WHO SHOULD BE PAYING
PENSIONS, NOT THE MIDDLE CLASS!!!

10:38AM PST on Feb 24, 2012

The Taxes on a Family that makes 200,000.00 a year is the funding for All those that are on public assistance, SS, SSI and lets not forget PENSIONS!

10:35AM PST on Feb 24, 2012

LoL Oh My I cannot believe that 1/2 the people think that a Gross 200 K a year is Rich. what Country are we living in?
200 K comes to a Net of 135 K a year which is 2,600.00 a week. Mortgage, based on wanting to live in a fairly safe neighborhood is 500.00 a week, Property Taxes are 100.00 a week, Car Payment with Insurance for 2 people is 300.00 a week, Gas to Go To Work is 100.00 a week, Electric/Heat is 100.00 a week, Phone/Cable is 30.00 a week, Food for say 3 people with a pet or 2 is about 300.00 a week, Medical is 300.00 a week, clothes is 100.00 a week. Gifts for Holidays or Birthdays is 100.00 a week, average maintenance on a home is 50.00 a week, a Childs school activities are 50.00 a week, Donations are 50.00 a week. What about a College fund for 1 child? What about a Retirement Fund for 2 people. Hmmm, let's see...310.00 for retirement and 200.00 for College funds. Now this family is left with.... WHAT? They only have $10.00 left a week. OMG I really can see just How Rich this Family Really IS. They don't even get to go Camping for go to the shore for a vacation. I wonder how they can get their hair cut. I hope their Cars don't need repair.

11:57PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

I have peace of mind, am in good health, people around me love me, the only real problem I have in my life is that I don't have the money to buy what I really want, an indoor heated swimming pool and other similar luxuries, and I wouldn't complain. I've been poor, all my life, and it's horrible! I am always worrying...but only about my lack of money.

6:55PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

what is "almost rich"? well it sure as heck isn't me. I live in a shoebox (it feels like it) and apparently I'm damn lucky to have this tiny space that I call home.

5:43PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

Almost rich is when you don't need to feed your kids Ramen noodles 7 days/week, you do not rely on food banks or soup kitchens to make it through the week, when you can take the full prescribed dose of medicine and not split the tablets, when your energy gets disconnected due to inability to pay the bill and you freeze in the winter or cook in the summer, when every call you receive is from a debt collector, and when you are not facing eviction when the rent becomes due. I survive on social security and live from week to week.

5:34PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

The urge to anger and sarcasm is really hard to resist.

Everyone has their own criterion. Mine is simple.
Really rich is excellent health for everyone, yes I really mean every being on this earth.
Really rich is no one dies because of hatred or war.
Really rich is every child is immunized and parents stop believing lies about it
Really rich is every person can read, write and do maths at least up to algebra well.
Really rich is no one is homeless or afraid of being homeless.
Really rich is people getting help before they're dependent on drugs/alcohol or any thing else.
Really rich is kids not being molested/beaten/watching their "adult" care givers fighting and or being beaten.

Personal wealth besides the above? The ability to pay my bills and set aside some money for retirement while helping my kid get through college.

That's about $35,000.00 a year. That's rich enough.

5:25PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

Kay is so far out of touch with reality, he might as well be making two billion a year instead of 200 grand. The poor baby doesn't want to keep up with the Joneses, he's pouting because he can't keep up with the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Rothschilds...

3:51PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

Thanks

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