How much income do you need to live well?

posted 3 months ago in The Lounge
  • poll: What pre-tax salary do you need to live well? (not household income)
    50-75k : (31 votes)
    22 %
    75-100k : (39 votes)
    27 %
    100-125k : (18 votes)
    13 %
    125-150k : (16 votes)
    11 %
    150-200k : (9 votes)
    6 %
    200-300k : (16 votes)
    11 %
    300-400k : (2 votes)
    1 %
    400k+ : (13 votes)
    9 %
  • Post # 16
    89 posts
    Worker bee
    • Wedding: June 2019

    I think it’s a little absurd that you think you need an income of $550k annually to “live well”. That is top 1-2% income levels. Unless you’re in an insanely high-earning career path, you might want to re-evaluate your definition, or you may be setting yourself up for a lifetime of dissatisfaction.

    Tbh, the $550k number doesn’t even make sense to me based on your definition. Let’s assume you live in an extremely high COL area and a “median” house costs 800k. That’s 40k in mortgage payments. 100k in private school costs for 2-3 kids. 15k for a luxury vacation. That still leaves 100-200k post-tax for savings and discretionary spending- more than most families make in a year. What kind of clothing budget do you think you need?

    Personally, I feel my income of approx. $150k is more than sufficient, and would continue to be even if I had kids. My definition of living well:

    1. Ability to comfortably afford a mortgage in a reasonable school district. We intentionally moved to a lower COL area recently to increase our spending power.

    2. Ability to max out my retirement accounts and have a safety cushion of 1 year of living expenses

    3. Ability to take a 2-week vacation somewhere it does not cost thousands to fly to. 

    4. Work-life balance and flexibility that allows me to exercise, cook, and spend hands-on time with my loved ones. Ideally, a job that requires a stable 40ish hours of work a week that can be performed anywhere at any time. 

    After a certain level of income, I would always pick more free time over more earnings. To me, balance is the key to a life well-lived. 

    Post # 17
    269 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: May 2012

    We would meet your “living well” income and honestly we don’t spend nearly as much on stuff as you write out, so I’m a little confused.

    We take several vacations a year, mixed between international and domestic. We find staying in nice Airbnb’s more comfortable a lot of times, so we have a separate bedroom for the teen + kitchen/living space. Cheaper too. Using price alerts, we generally fly to Europe (direct, at the times we want) for under $500/person 

    I have several designer handbags, and nice labels in my closet, but it’s not constantly replenished.How many do I really need at once? I can only carry one bag at a time or wear one dress.

    We aren’t car people, so we just save up and buy a car in cash and drive it for 5+++ years. 

    We did manage to pay off our mortgage in a short amount of time. Private school and college tuition isn’t an issue for the teen.

    Eating out at nice restaurants gets a little old. Honestly, in the last few years, a bunch of friends we’d go with all agree that they are all pretty much the same thing… check out the buzzy new restaurant, go there for good food that is more or less the same as the other 5 new ones, lay down $200 to eat, and go on our merry way.  Just gets boring after awhile. We even just returned from Europe and hit a few Michelin restaurants and none of them were my favorite places on the trip. Now if you tell me there is a awesome new taco joint, I’m there.

    Anyway, the whole point is that you can live well on any salary as long as you stay within your means and don’t get caught up keeping up with the Jones. With $300k+++ you should be able to save crazy amounts of money…why spend it all?? A Honda will get you to the same place as that Range Rover. Have you ever read Mr. Money Mustache? He saved a ton of his income, retired at like 30, and is living well on a fraction of what an average salary is, because he finds contentment with less.

    Post # 18
    7442 posts
    Busy Beekeeper

    I don’t know how to vote since my husband and I have joint finances. We need a certain amount as a family, but it doesn’t matter who makes it. We’re at about $175k combined right now (excluding OT, bonuses, and my husband’s side gig since he just started that) and it’s fine. We are not wealthy but we’re comfortable. Our income will be going up by about $6,500/year when my husband’s new contract kicks in this fall and I’m very much looking forward to that day. We have an average house in a lovely city with a reasonable mortgage. We have one child in daycare ($20k/year) and one paid off car. We save for retirement and opt for several long weekend trips per year rather than one big vacation. I’m very frugal and we really focus on spending our money on things that matter to US. Some people can’t imagine sharing one car with their spouse whereas I can’t imagine spending thousands and thousands of dollars extra a year just to avoid coordinating with my husband once in awhile. Once the kids are all in school and we aren’t paying for daycare anymore we’ll be very comfortable. Daycare is the big killer when the kids are little. 

    Post # 19
    547 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: September 2020 - Summer Camp!

    To me, living well would be…

    -Affording a home that’s not a fixer-upper in a neighborhood with a good school district (I don’t believe in private schools)

    -Enough money where I don’t have to pack lunch every day and not feel guilty about it

    -Affording dinner 2x a week or going out to a concert/orchestra/museum at least every other week

    -Buying a gently used, practical car maybe every 7-8 years (but being able to afford a new car if I want, but I don’t)

    -Money for children’s hobbies (music/art/dance lessons or sports if that ends up being their thing)

    -Money for quality clothes that aren’t necessarily designer. 

    -Enough to have 1 vacation that uses a hotel and camping gear for smaller camping trips. 


    It’s interesting how different living well can look to people. I find it interesting you start your lowest at 50k, since I’m sure a couple where both make 40k in a low CoL area can live well. Our area is expensive though, so not us. 

    Post # 20
    698 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: January 2019

    You are still completely short sighted. My pre-tax income is $42K because I’m a public school teacher, my husbands is about the same. Prior to marriage I was saving plenty, enjoyed going out for drinks once or twice a week, enjoyed hobbies and vacations, and shopped. I have zero debt but I very much still had living expenses. Now combined we just bought a nice 2000 square foot house in a good area, I bought a new car and we are still doing well and saving a lot of money. Last I checked the US was a first world country and we’re living plenty well. bougainvillea :  


    edited to add: I live in a relatively high COL area compared to salaries, a decent townhome starts at 300K but the starting teacher salary is under 35K. Many people are leaving our state because it’s not affordable with the gap between wages and COL

    Post # 21
    713 posts
    Busy bee

    ‘Living well’ to me is tied to attitude, not income. A good lifestyle to me is about being healthy, having loved ones around, and being close to nature. That’s the stuff of happiness. 

    Yeah, in the real world we do need incomes, but you may be setting yourself up for massive disappointment with your expectations. 

    Not everyone equates being financially comfortable to living well. While a lack of money to cover essential needs can definitely contribute to dissatisfaction, excess of it doesn’t automatically make one happy.

    Post # 22
    547 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: September 2020 - Summer Camp!

    LilliV :  We’re planning to get rid of our shared car entirely, since we’re going to be living in an area with good public transportation. I hate driving so much, but it probably makes more sense when you have small child. 

    Post # 23
    949 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: July 2019

    As a single mom of two, earning about $80k per year was comfortable for me. I live in a higher cost area within a very low cost region so lower than average but my modest house cost double what it would in a nearby city with lesser schools/services.

    I had to leave a toxic company and take a pay cut so Im earning less than that now and its more of a struggle. However when FH and I moved in together and he started splitting bills that helped a LOT.

    However we want to have another child and buy a bigger house which means we will either need to really cut back to afford those things, forgo them, or increase our income. I hate struggling so we chose option 3. Im pursuing an education option that should get me back to $80k within about 12-18 months and the industry earning potential within 2-3 years is well over $120-130,000. Combine that with FH’s income and we will live well. Teamwork makes the dream work!

    Post # 24
    269 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: May 2012

    LilliV : agree about the car! We have one paid off car, and have been fine for 1.5 years with it. Hubby sold his car right before a vacation so we didn’t have one for a couple weeks before the trip. Started looking when we got back then realized we were perfectly fine coordinating the use of our car + the occasional Uber ride. Saved thousands.

    Post # 25
    1115 posts
    Bumble bee
    • Wedding: September 2017

    This post makes me laugh a little. And it also made me really think about my life.


    3 years ago we lived in a cheap house (my husbands 1st house that he ever bought). The mortgage was $1,300. I drove a Jeep with a $300/month payment. We used CheapCarribean for vacation sales. I thought we had a good life? We always had food and a roof over our heads, each had our own cars (and they were new cars). 


    Now, our mortgage is $4,000/month (and pssst, we bought the shittiest house in the neighborhood and renovated it. We bought for over $100k less than the previous lowest sale), my car payment is $900/month, his is $600. We have other trucks because we own a construction company, but I won’t even go into all of that. 


    I know private school in my area can go upwards of $30-50k per kid, so we moved to one of the best school systems. As a result, our property taxes are almost $20k. 


    Do do we NEED a big house and fancy cars? No. Do I like it? Yes. My point is, the majority of us could live off of MUCH less. You included. I feel like this was made so you could brag about your *supposed* income 

    Post # 26
    1207 posts
    Bumble bee

    Is everything a lot more expensive in the US compared to the UK or something? Because you started your poll at 50k which is double the average UK salary. I used to earn post tax around £3200 per month (£52,000 roughly per annum pre tax) at one point and I was living extremely well off that. I was able to save half of my wages and do pretty much everything I wanted to, I had no money worries at all and plenty of luxuries.

    I now take home £1750 per month as I’ve had a career change and money is fairly tight, we’re not poor by any means, but I have to plan larger purchases and keep an eye on spending. Saving money is hard unless we are very frugal. However, I can’t even imagine how anyone could feel like they need a minimum salary of 200k a year just to live to well, I think we clearly have very different ideas of what living well means. 

    Post # 27
    7442 posts
    Busy Beekeeper

    cuppercake :   moissamight :  we’re about 4-5 years in on one car living and it has saved us SO MUCH. We have decent public transit for commuting to work (which I use and Darling Husband drives since his office gives his free parking in Boston which is crazy) but having 1 car is necessary for the weekends for us since family doesn’t live on public transit and we have a dog we need to cart around sometimes.  Whoever isn’t with the kid/dog use ride shares whenever they need to and the first couple years I did the math and we saved about $2,500 on not having the car (which was paid off! that was for insurance, maintenance, registration, inspection, occasional gas) and only spent about $450 on ride shares. No brainer for us! I either walk or take the train to bring my toddler to daycare. It cracks me up when people say they absolutely have to buy a new huge SUV because they are having 1 kid. Kids don’t take up that much space. And you can walk outside with them even in New England winters so long as you bundle them up! 

    Post # 28
    106 posts
    Blushing bee

    I earn about 25k a year. As does my partner. We live in South England and live pretty well. It affords us a large two bedroom flat with a garden and garage. We don’t have a car (don’t really need one) and can save enough for our Japan trip next year. 

    For us that’s living well. Not having any debts and knowing we can get through each month. We still afford some trips up to London to see friends. I dunno. Maybe some folks consider that a small amount or something but we don’t need to worry about money and that’s all I want lol

    Post # 29
    121 posts
    Blushing bee
    • Wedding: January 2018

    I live fairly low COL area and I lived pretty well for a single mom at 64K per year.  Of course, I’ve been in my house for 17 years and it’s at a low payment for the area. I took a nice vacation each year with my daughter (Disney, cruises). I’m now married and my husband and I together are making 100K which is nice, but he’s going to pharmacy school so after he’s finished, he’ll be making probably 110K so together it’ll be closer to $175K per year.  That will make a HUGE difference for us.  Instead of once nice vacation per  year, our plan is to have one EPIC vacation and one nice vacation per year, plus a vacation for just me and my daughter.  We’re going to say in my nice small house and get it paid off, pay off his school loans, and then just save and vacation.  Neither of us need flashy cars or a lot of stuff.  All we really need is each other and vacations!  It’ll also be nice to be able to help my daughter with college when she gets there, like my parents couldn’t.  

    Post # 30
    375 posts
    Helper bee
    • Wedding: August 2019

    ariesscientist :  In the US, we lack a lot of very basic things that the rest of the developed world has: tax-payer funded healthcare (we generally pay for an insurance policy and then have deductibles/copays, which comes out to more of our money percentage-wise than if it were just taken out of taxes), public transit (outside of some larger cities), parental leave (if we want to take 3 months, we need to have 3 months of salary saved PLUS we often end up having to pay hundreds more for our insurance while on leave), subsidized childcare (it costs $2,000+/month in big cities, per child), subsidized higher education (the average student loan debt is north of $20K, and it’s not uncommon to have $100K+), a strong retirement system (social security is a joke), the list goes on. Additionally, our health insurance is tied to our jobs, so when you’re planning for a rainy day (we have fewer worker protections, so in a right-to-work state you can be fired for any reason), you also have to factor in $1,000+/month for stop-gap insurance, and it could take months/a year or more to find a job. 

    All of that to say, without those social safety nets, we need more money banked. I know that probably contributes to our sense of feeling secure/living well. 

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