What do you think about the idea of a two income trap? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 08:56 AM - Thread Starter
 
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This thread, and a sister thread, http://www.mothering.com/discussions...wo+income+trap, were originally from the SAHP forum and the working/student parents forum. Please see posts #38 and #43 for some context on the phrase "parent in reserve" and also on the historical work of women. Thanks for an interesting discussion!
I'm curious about what you think of the idea, or theory, that there is a two-income trap? I am currently a SAHP, but we are not able to live long term on one salary, and I plan to re-enter the workforce sooner rather than later.

I have been very interested to hear what others think of this theory about the two-income trap.

In another forum on MDC, this theory came up, and the more I think about it, the more I think there is no "trap" that we can avoid falling into by simply learning to live on one income instead of two.

Basically, two income trap is an idea, put out in a book of the same title, "The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi. The book talks about how, as an article in Mother Jones magazine wrote,

"many families have sent both parents into the workforce to try to make ends meet. After all, surely if both parents work full-time it shouldn't be hard to ensure financial security, right? Wrong, say authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi, in their book, The Two Income Trap. Two-income families are almost always worse off than their single-income counterparts were a generation ago, even though they pull in 75 percent more in income. The problem is that so many fixed costs are rising -- health care, child care, finding a good home -- that two-income families today actually have less discretionary money left over than those single-earner families did."

I think it is a valid point that a generation ago (actually, I think it was more like two generations ago), it was much easier for a family to make it on one income. And, yes, that most certainly was the norm.

The book points out, accurately I think, that the reasons for this change is because of the changing economics.

Inflation has far outpaced the rise in personal income, so families' money stretches less and less. In recent years, I think it's gotten worse due to the housing baloon, the rising cost of health care, and job instability (downsizing, outsourcing, lay offs in what historically had been pretty safe fields to work in).

Anyway, my point is I don't think it's a "trap" that we fall into by having two incomes instead of one. It's not so much that people get used to having more money, and buying expensive things, with two incomes and set up their lives as such (although there will be some anecdotes about this).

I don't think for the majority of us it's a matter of just living more frugally and "learning" to live on one income instead of two.

There really is no way to get back to the previous generations' ability to live on one income until we address national and global concerns such as housing baloon, the rising cost of health care, and job instability (downsizing, outsourcing, lay offs).

I know for my own family, we can not live on one salary. We need one spouse's full salary and about 1/3 of the other spouse's salary to pay basic expenses. With one income, we don't make it. On two incomes, we have 2/3 of the second income as discretionary funds. It gives us a lot of cushion and freedom. Health insurance and retirement are whole other issues.

I feel, for us, in the current economic times, it's not just an issue of income. If one of us lost a job due to downsizing, outsourcing, or lay-offs, our family would have a back up job to get us through the leaner times.

Is there a two-income trap, or is it just the forces of our economic reality?

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Clarification of the phrase "parent in reserve"

I'd like to clarify that "parent in reserve" does NOT indicate a SAHP does not contribute or have value in a household.

That phrase "parent in reserve" is from the book, and means basically that a SAHP is in reserve to get a job and support the family when needed if the sole breadwinner's income is lost (lay-off, death, etc). It is basically a safety net, a "SAHP safety net."

There was much discussion in this thread about how a parent in reserve would not have current job skills ready and available to secure a job that could support the family. The idea of career and resume obsolescence was discussed, but that it might be able to be overcome depending on fortitude, luck, and keeping skills up to date, but that at the very least it would be a very challenging thing to do while raising a family.

I hope that helps frame the discussion a little better
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#2 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 11:04 AM
 
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I think there are two different ways to view it.

There are many people out there, working hard, making little pay who are not able to live more frugally or get by on less, because they already are and still can't make ends meet for their family on one income. They are honestly doing what they can to work for the best pay they can, but ultimately, it is not enough for a family to live on.

I also see, in my very affluent city, that many people choose the big expensive 2 car garage home, choose to have 2 cars, choose to have all new furniture, choose to have vacations...then when they get pregnant, they feel they are trapped because they can't keep affording all those luxuries on one income alone.
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#3 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 11:41 AM
 
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I have seen that a lot of 2 income earning families tie up both incomes into all the finances. Meaning, they qualified for their mortgage on both incomes, not just one income. Also they both need to have an income to pay off other debt such as student loans, car payments, debt or just paying to live. Sometimes, thats the only way to have a roof over their head.
Yes, if one looses a job, there is going to be huge issues that a one income family might not have if they are used to living not like any of the above mentioned.

IRL, I know several couples where the breadwinner is out of work and has been 4 plus months now. Some as long as a year. The one income couples have managed to save and live frugally so they are managing and the sah parent has picked up some part time work so its not as a huge issue as the other couples.
One couple where both worked are on the brink of divorce. ITs not a pretty sight. Both were good income earners and the kids do all sort of activities, nice cars, boat, private school etc. But both their incomes are needed to live high on the hog. Well he is out of work and its not happening anytime soon. They need to pay their huge mortgage on her salary, plus in order to keep face, they have all the other activities as well.
OTH,
My neighbor/friends both work. She makes more than he does and they have a wonderful nanny they share with another family down the street. But she made a point- she will spend more money for whatever it is or have this or that service because she says- you think to yourself, I am working real hard, I make the money so why not treat yourself? They also order out more than we do, but love to come to our house for dinner because-"Amy can cook!!" as she says.

So yes there is a trap for some families with 2 incomes but I dont think its as big as a deal as the writer would like you to believe. but like any of these type of books, studies, surveys, latest and greatest professional who knows this= you have to take it with a grain of salt and understand someone will come out with something equally dramatic or earth shattering a few months later and get their attention.

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#4 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 12:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think there are two different ways to view it.

There are many people out there, working hard, making little pay who are not able to live more frugally or get by on less, because they already are and still can't make ends meet for their family on one income. They are honestly doing what they can to work for the best pay they can, but ultimately, it is not enough for a family to live on.

I also see, in my very affluent city, that many people choose the big expensive 2 car garage home, choose to have 2 cars, choose to have all new furniture, choose to have vacations...then when they get pregnant, they feel they are trapped because they can't keep affording all those luxuries on one income alone.
:

I agree. I see those two scenarios, as well. I also see variations of them, and also a third, which is two income families that live within their means and save.

I do think that the issue you brought up in your second paragraph is a very real thing. I just think that is more an issue of limited planning when it comes to consumer choices and life milestones (pregnancy, etc), and also living outside of one's means, and not so much an issue of a trap. It's only a trap if there is no choice.
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#5 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 12:17 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I have seen that a lot of 2 income earning families tie up both incomes into all the finances. Meaning, they qualified for their mortgage on both incomes, not just one income. Also they both need to have an income to pay off other debt such as student loans, car payments, debt or just paying to live. Sometimes, thats the only way to have a roof over their head.
Yes, if one looses a job, there is going to be huge issues that a one income family might not have if they are used to living not like any of the above mentioned.

IRL, I know several couples where the breadwinner is out of work and has been 4 plus months now. Some as long as a year. The one income couples have managed to save and live frugally so they are managing and the sah parent has picked up some part time work so its not as a huge issue as the other couples.
One couple where both worked are on the brink of divorce. ITs not a pretty sight. Both were good income earners and the kids do all sort of activities, nice cars, boat, private school etc. But both their incomes are needed to live high on the hog. Well he is out of work and its not happening anytime soon. They need to pay their huge mortgage on her salary, plus in order to keep face, they have all the other activities as well.
OTH,
My neighbor/friends both work. She makes more than he does and they have a wonderful nanny they share with another family down the street. But she made a point- she will spend more money for whatever it is or have this or that service because she says- you think to yourself, I am working real hard, I make the money so why not treat yourself? They also order out more than we do, but love to come to our house for dinner because-"Amy can cook!!" as she says.

So yes there is a trap for some families with 2 incomes but I dont think its as big as a deal as the writer would like you to believe. but like any of these type of books, studies, surveys, latest and greatest professional who knows this= you have to take it with a grain of salt and understand someone will come out with something equally dramatic or earth shattering a few months later and get their attention.
:

I agree.
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#6 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 06:24 PM
 
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"the more I think there is no "trap" that we can avoid falling into by simply learning to live on one income instead of two."


Well, you said yourself that your family cannot live on one income alone. That it requires a bit more than 1. So what happens if someone loses a job? What will have to "give" in order for one person to pay for everything?

When hubby and I met we were both working at the same place. He was making about a dollar an hour more than me, b/c he was hired a quarter before I was, and b/c he was a lead while I was just a regular employee. We spent a TON.

When I finally had enough and quit, then coudln't hold my temp jobs b/c they were harming me mentally (and physically b/c one place allowed everyone to smoke despite it being against the law), we buckled down and I became a SAHFiancee. Then a wife, then a parent, all staying at home. Not only are we happier like this, but we have more money this way. Hubby has been able to work when he needs to, take time off of his housework if he is exhausted, and has focused on learning so he can get better and better jobs. He's earning twice as much as he used to, so the same that was coming in for both of us before, and we live SO much better than we did when we both worked!

Meanwhile, all of our friends with two incomes automatically get bigger apartments or houses (we rent a lovely condo right now), they go out to dinner all the time, they get new cars, they spend right up the limits of their non-saved incomes, rather than saving all of that second income. I think it's human nature. Hubby manages to absorb raises he gets unless I work hard for that to not happen. The more he makes the more he wants to spend, and I have to reign him in.

I'm not sure the book says it's the *income* that is the trap; rather it's human nature that causes the trap. Some people can go beyond human nature; I think my brother and SIL (blissfully childfree with incredible careers) have solved it. I think they have a house (lovely and big) that they could afford if one of them lost their job. They have savings and retirement accounts nicely funded, they use bonuses for bonus things and more savings. If only of them lost a job they wouldn't be devastated financially.

But they are absolutely NOT the norm for the people I know, and it seems it isn't how you are living now, from the info in your post.

It is a worthwhile goal, though, if both people absolutely WANT to work. But for us, it's worked out beautifully, even better than when we both worked, to just have me not working for money. (and I'm not even that good of a housekeeper!!!)
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#7 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 06:29 PM - Thread Starter
 
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"the more I think there is no "trap" that we can avoid falling into by simply learning to live on one income instead of two."


Well, you said yourself that your family cannot live on one income alone. That it requires a bit more than 1. So what happens if someone loses a job? What will have to "give" in order for one person to pay for everything?
Well, that is exactly my point. It isn't contingent on one income or two. It's the economics. It's inflation. It's the rising cost of everything. And the stagnation of wages.

There is no two-income trap.

Now, that said, here's our personal reaction if someone loses a job. We have 6 months of living expenses in savings...actually in reserve. We've had this for years. We used to have more, but we've used savings during my maternity leave and SAHP stint.

Here's what we do: cut back on ALL extraneous expenses. We have done this before when we were building our savings and working two jobs.

We draw unemployment.

We start evaluating our budget for ways to reduce and cut.

And we work our butts off to find new jobs.

I'm not naive though. More than a job loss could happen. Job less is probably the easiest trouble to reverse. If someone is sick, etc, that is worse.
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#8 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 09:52 PM
 
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I haven't read the book, but I've read summaries and interviews with the authors.

It doesn't apply to people who need two incomes for subsistence. People like this have always had both parents working. It also doesn't apply to couples where both parents truly want to be working, where both parents have professional identities that are priorities to them. What I understand the author's point to be is that apparent prosperity based on the combined incomes of two working parents is not real prosperity. Much of the book (I believe, not having read it) is about how people have gotten locked into working for money to pay inflated house prices to get into good school districts. They get chained to enormous mortgages that they cannot pay without two incomes. It could have been entitled "The School District Treadmill" just as easily but presumably that is less marketable.

So I agree with you that there are more general issues than merely women working and that learning to live on one income is not a magic fix. However I think the authors identified something real - that people fail to see serious, intractable social problems because, with two adults working, they are making so much money - even if the money is disappearing eveyr month.
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#9 of 147 Old 10-03-2008, 10:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I haven't read the book, but I've read summaries and interviews with the authors.

It doesn't apply to people who need two incomes for subsistence. People like this have always had both parents working. It also doesn't apply to couples where both parents truly want to be working, where both parents have professional identities that are priorities to them. What I understand the author's point to be is that apparent prosperity based on the combined incomes of two working parents is not real prosperity. Much of the book (I believe, not having read it) is about how people have gotten locked into working for money to pay inflated house prices to get into good school districts. They get chained to enormous mortgages that they cannot pay without two incomes. It could have been entitled "The School District Treadmill" just as easily but presumably that is less marketable.

So I agree with you that there are more general issues than merely women working and that learning to live on one income is not a magic fix. However I think the authors identified something real - that people fail to see serious, intractable social problems because, with two adults working, they are making so much money - even if the money is disappearing eveyr month.
I totally agree with everything you said.

But, I have fundamental issues with the premise in the book that living on one income is attainable for many couples, or that you can learn to live on one income.

And my second problem is that I do not think having a SAHP in reserve helps a household. I think it actually does the opposite. A SAHP who has been out of the workforce for some time, in reserve, will not have very good employment prospects when the reserve needs to be tapped.
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#10 of 147 Old 10-04-2008, 11:23 AM
 
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And my second problem is that I do not think having a SAHP in reserve helps a household. I think it actually does the opposite. A SAHP who has been out of the workforce for some time, in reserve, will not have very good employment prospects when the reserve needs to be tapped.
Well it has helped out household. I have been out of the workforce for 7 years this spring. DH makes a few dollars more or less than when we both worked. If I was not at home with our 2 girls, he would not be able to do all the things he does for his business. It would be impossible. He would have to help with all that goes on with raising our girls. He would not have been able to do all his professional work outside of his regular job or put in what he does for his job.
If I had not left the workforce, I would be well over 6 figures in salary. But I would have missed so much and this wasnt a hard decision. I know I can get a job rather quickly and be making a decent salary within months with my background. But I have so many contacts and I have kept myself in the loop with what I used to do all these years. I have always done this just in case I had to go back to work. Now, I am ready in a few years to do just that!!

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#11 of 147 Old 10-04-2008, 11:36 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Well it has helped out household. I have been out of the workforce for 7 years this spring. DH makes a few dollars more or less than when we both worked. If I was not at home with our 2 girls, he would not be able to do all the things he does for his business. It would be impossible. He would have to help with all that goes on with raising our girls. He would not have been able to do all his professional work outside of his regular job or put in what he does for his job.
If I had not left the workforce, I would be well over 6 figures in salary. But I would have missed so much and this wasnt a hard decision. I know I can get a job rather quickly and be making a decent salary within months with my background. But I have so many contacts and I have kept myself in the loop with what I used to do all these years. I have always done this just in case I had to go back to work. Now, I am ready in a few years to do just that!!
I think this might be the best possible scenario, and I wonder if it's very common? I don't know.

You might be right.

But most husband's probably, I'm guessing based on what I've seen, wouldn't double their salaries, or make in one income what the couple previously made together.

Only certain fields can do that, and only certain types of people in certain fields can do that, and it's about hard work but also luck, too.

My DH is in a highly technical field. He uses a lot of high level math and science, for which he went to school for a long time. Most people could not do his job, but his field has a mean low, mean, and mean high, and there's not usually people who make double what he makes in the same field.

And DH will never be able to earn at a level that equals his and my salary combined. It's simply not possible for his field. It's not really possible for most attorneys and doctors either, now that I think of it. Well, maybe doctors could, but they'd have to be specialists with some years experience.
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#12 of 147 Old 10-04-2008, 06:24 PM
 
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I think that it's a little of both...with each one fueling the other.

Two income families most commonly are the result of separate people meeting while enmeshed in the workforce (hence each having a significant amount of "luxury" money, marrying (having double the "luxury money") and then deciding to start a family at which point it becomes a matter of "who will stay home on mat/pat-ernity leave". During this time period finances are crunched and budgets are made often at the expense of previous living expenses/comfort of living allowances. So then it becomes a feeling of deprivation, as well as one parent feeling like they're "stuck at home" with no way out and no money to do things.

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I think that it's a little of both...with each one fueling the other.

Two income families most commonly are the result of separate people meeting while enmeshed in the workforce (hence each having a significant amount of "luxury" money, marrying (having double the "luxury money") and then deciding to start a family at which point it becomes a matter of "who will stay home on mat/pat-ernity leave". During this time period finances are crunched and budgets are made often at the expense of previous living expenses/comfort of living allowances. So then it becomes a feeling of deprivation, as well as one parent feeling like they're "stuck at home" with no way out and no money to do things.
I think this is at most only applicable to upper middle class, usually white couples. Granted, that is MDC's base, so that point of view would be more prevalent here.

(Also, I wanted to point out that there is currently a great thread about the Two-Income Track over in the Working Mamas forum for those of you interested in the subject.)
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#14 of 147 Old 10-04-2008, 08:19 PM
 
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I don't know about a two-income trap. But I think there is a consumerism trap that anyone, across the board, can fall into and find themselves in bad financial shape.

In the demographics I've been around, there is a lot of "I *have* to work, we'd starve otherwise". This is in a primarily white suburban area, then a primarily white "hick town" area, and then a primarily black urban area. However, when talking about finances I've noticed people complaining about their own income (not combined with their spouses) and the income is double ours. Simultaneously (sometimes in the same breath) they will talk about their latest trip to the mall, the drapes they had to buy, and the new cell-phone, and the gear their teenagers require. The last conversation like that I didn't participate. I was too busy prying my jaw off the floor at the bizarness of switching back and forth between wailing about the economy and how hard life is, and bragging about the latest brand-new purposes. And I have noticed that the two-income lifestyle does make it difficult for families to eat at home, or to get away with the kind of thrift-store clothing we do.

Anybody who is not very careful can fall into this trap. My parents are doctors and quite a few of their collegues are making really, really great incomes and financially struggling more than we are, even though our income is a tiny fraction of what a surgeon makes.
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#15 of 147 Old 10-04-2008, 08:44 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't know about a two-income trap. But I think there is a consumerism trap that anyone, across the board, can fall into and find themselves in bad financial shape.

In the demographics I've been around, there is a lot of "I *have* to work, we'd starve otherwise". This is in a primarily white suburban area, then a primarily white "hick town" area, and then a primarily black urban area. However, when talking about finances I've noticed people complaining about their own income (not combined with their spouses) and the income is double ours. Simultaneously (sometimes in the same breath) they will talk about their latest trip to the mall, the drapes they had to buy, and the new cell-phone, and the gear their teenagers require. The last conversation like that I didn't participate. I was too busy prying my jaw off the floor at the bizarness of switching back and forth between wailing about the economy and how hard life is, and bragging about the latest brand-new purposes. And I have noticed that the two-income lifestyle does make it difficult for families to eat at home, or to get away with the kind of thrift-store clothing we do.

Anybody who is not very careful can fall into this trap. My parents are doctors and quite a few of their collegues are making really, really great incomes and financially struggling more than we are, even though our income is a tiny fraction of what a surgeon makes.
I agree. I think there is a consumerism trap, as well. I think that is the trap more people fall into.

And, your are right. I have heard of higher income occupations also falling into it. You would think if you are making really good money, that you could easily pay your bills, but I think often people live out of their means, no matter what their income.

It really is about consumer choices, and also cost of living.
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#16 of 147 Old 10-05-2008, 08:24 PM
 
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I think this might be the best possible scenario, and I wonder if it's very common? I don't know.

You might be right.

But most husband's probably, I'm guessing based on what I've seen, wouldn't double their salaries, or make in one income what the couple previously made together.

Only certain fields can do that, and only certain types of people in certain fields can do that, and it's about hard work but also luck, too.

My DH is in a highly technical field. He uses a lot of high level math and science, for which he went to school for a long time. Most people could not do his job, but his field has a mean low, mean, and mean high, and there's not usually people who make double what he makes in the same field.

And DH will never be able to earn at a level that equals his and my salary combined. It's simply not possible for his field. It's not really possible for most attorneys and doctors either, now that I think of it. Well, maybe doctors could, but they'd have to be specialists with some years experience.
It can also depend on several things- Maybe the breadwinner or the income earner realizes the need to be sole supporter. They take on more responsibility at work, get promoted or grow in their career. Also over years as mentioned- almost 10 in our case. As you grow in your job, so does your earning power. Thus the reason I would be earning in the 6 figures because of where my job would have taken me.

I know several attorneys and depending on what you practice, there is a huge range for salary. One of my neighbors is an attorney for a judge. He has great hours to spend with his small children and his wife works as well. If he took a position w a firm, he would double his time away and double his salary but its not a decision he is willing to do. Another is a divorce attorney and he is gone a lot. He also makes double, maybe more what the first lawyer does. And my 3rd lawyer neighbor/friend works part time because she is a mom. She works 35 hours a week but does pretty good.

My BIL makes 5 times what he did 5 years ago and he is not even 35 yet. But there is a price. He worked/works 90 hours a week. He also travels all over the world. He worked his way up. So there is a way, but its a long road traveled.

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#17 of 147 Old 10-06-2008, 01:42 AM
 
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Interesting thread.

DH & I talk about this all the time. He makes about as much or slightly less then all of our friends. I am currently not working. We comfortably live on his salary only but pretty much all of our friends are double-income & just make ends meet. It is 100% about choices & I'm sure many of them think we make too many sacrifices but we feel they are making sacrifices we wouldn't.

The difference is we live in a smaller & older house. We don't have new vehicles. We actually live in a small town outside of the city so our taxes & such are lower. We made conscious decisions so we could live comfortably on one salary (or two low ones if need be) but we still have a lot of hobbies we spend money on & go out to dinner when we feel like it.

I find the part about people being able to do it a generation ago interesting because I think one of the biggest things that has changed is our expectations. It seems everyone now expects to be able to buy a large, brand new house as their first house. Look at the homes of our parents & grandparents - for the most part they were MUCH more modest. Perhaps our generations standards need to be re-evaluated?

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#18 of 147 Old 10-06-2008, 08:32 AM
 
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I find the part about people being able to do it a generation ago interesting because I think one of the biggest things that has changed is our expectations. It seems everyone now expects to be able to buy a large, brand new house as their first house. Look at the homes of our parents & grandparents - for the most part they were MUCH more modest. Perhaps our generations standards need to be re-evaluated?
I agree.
I worked with a woman once who said "Oh, I'd *love* to stay home with my baby but we want to buy a house and we could only afford a shack on my husband's salary". There were no shacks in that town, and plenty of nice, well-cared-for homes that were easily affordable to even local factory workers, *if* they were smart with their money.
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#19 of 147 Old 10-06-2008, 09:54 AM
 
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my husband's coworkers are always talking about $$. They are all teachers, most of them are two-income households. One guy even delivers pizzas at night and on weekends, in addition to his wife's salary. They are about to lose their home.

my husband does after school tutoring for $100 extra dollars per week. One week close to the end of my pregnancy he decided he was gonna come right home instead of tutoring. his co-workers looked at him like he was a lunatic. they couldn't imagine him giving up $100.

neither of us could imagine needing $100 that badly.

i think the points about expectations made by pp are especially pertinent.

and i wonder how all of this plays out in the arena of COL. I mean, his co-workers all live in the same area we do. most of them are older and make more money than dh because of the time they have spent there. so it has to come down to decision-making about finances.

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#20 of 147 Old 10-06-2008, 04:24 PM
 
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A very interesting discussion. Something I have thought about quite a bit myself. I agree with a lot of the previous posters, but think there are also a few additional factors.

Taxes - I am in Canada, so things might be a little different in the USA, but taxes are definitely a whole lot higher than they were a generation or two ago. By the time you pay income tax, provincial sales tax, federal sales tax, property tax, gas tax, etc. etc. you have to have a much higher gross income just to bring home the same amount (in inflation adjusted dollars) than you did previously.

Post Secondary Education - Over the last generation we have decided that post secondary education is mandatory for almost everyone. In the 50s a young man (just because it always seemed to be a man) could graduate high school, start with a firm, and easily work his way into management as long as he was capable and work hard. Now we require the same person to have a BA. Is that necessary? In a lot of instances I would say no. Now don't get me wrong, I think education is great... but unless you are taking something specialized like engineering, or medicine, or law, very little of what you actually learn in school is going to be applied to a job. So people are starting out in the work force with a large student debt just to get the same job that only required a high school diploma fifty years ago. Plus they didn't work during the time in school, so they are four years behind in experience, and earning potential.

I have a degree, and am very proud of my achievement. I love knowledge for knowledge's sake, but now that I am a SAHM and am still paying for student loans, I wonder if it was the best choice to make.

The "Lost Art" of Homemaking - this ties into the idea of a consumer trap. My grandmother cooked absolutely everything from scratch, kept a huge garden, canned all sorts of things, made her own pickles and relishes, cleaned with homemade cleaners, and made most of her family's clothing and linens. My grandfather was also very active in the garden, fixed things around the house rather than buying new, and did home and car maintenance himself. This is drastically different than a modern family, and we pay a lot for the convenience of having someone else do these things for us.

So even though we are committed to having me stay home for the long term, it is going to take a lot of adjustment to get there. I am currently on government paid maternity leave, but will be opening a day home once my leave runs out. Once we get my student loans paid, and our vehicles paid for things will be a lot easier. We live in a town outside of the major city in a 30 year old home, but still take most of DF's salary just to make the mortgage payments.

I think the major change is that a one-income household used to be the norm, and now that two incomes are the norm it takes more deliberate living to be different.

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#21 of 147 Old 10-06-2008, 09:12 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I agree.
I worked with a woman once who said "Oh, I'd *love* to stay home with my baby but we want to buy a house and we could only afford a shack on my husband's salary". There were no shacks in that town, and plenty of nice, well-cared-for homes that were easily affordable to even local factory workers, *if* they were smart with their money.
I think expectation and change in lifestyle is a big part of today's culture. But where I live there are no small houses built in the 1950s that are affordable. In fact, those homes that my grandparents could have easily afforded are way out of our reach. They are at least $400,000. Taxes are about $7k on that.

It's depressing. My grandparents had zero college education and one income. We have college educations and for most of our marriage two incomes. Everything is so expensive.

The only houses that are less than $200,000 where I live are in terrible shape, in terrible neighborhoods. They probably are not even up to code, and would require $50k in investments to fix problems before they would be ok to live in.

Cost of living is a huge factor in major metro areas.
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#22 of 147 Old 10-07-2008, 12:23 AM
 
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Just_lily - what a great point about the homemaking (for both traditionally women's & men's roles). Most people do a lot less for themselves now then ever before. It is something we have been trying to make a concerted effort to change in our house - but we are having to learn a lot of the stuff from books & trial & error.

That is Nice - I guess the decision to live or not to live in a major metro area is part of each families priority. We purposely live just outside of the city because of this situation. It means more driving but even with gas costs it still means we need a lot less to live on.

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#23 of 147 Old 10-07-2008, 05:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Just_lily - what a great point about the homemaking (for both traditionally women's & men's roles). Most people do a lot less for themselves now then ever before. It is something we have been trying to make a concerted effort to change in our house - but we are having to learn a lot of the stuff from books & trial & error.

That is Nice - I guess the decision to live or not to live in a major metro area is part of each families priority. We purposely live just outside of the city because of this situation. It means more driving but even with gas costs it still means we need a lot less to live on.
I don't know if I agree with this.

On the first point, when I compare myself to say, my grandmother and great grandmother, the difference I see is that they owned land (purchased on one salary, their husbands'). Both owned over 10 acres their whole lives. They had room for a garden large enough to feed the family and livestock.

I do not have that room. I can't have a garden where I live, and you can't feed the family easily with contain gardening in a small space. And I certainly do not have any space for livestock.

Granted I have job skills that bring in more money than homemaking could ever save, but even if I wanted to be a homemaker like my grandmother, it is not logistically possible.

On the second point, it's not simply each families' priority where they live. Much of that decision is at the mercy of the job market and dependent on what career you are in. Certain careers are confirmed to certain geographic areas, a lot of times.

Wher I live, the price of houses and land just outside the metro area (or with an hour communte) are exorbitantly expensive. Just in the metro area, one could expect to pay $400k for a 1950s fixer upper. For any amount of land outside the metro area it would be $500k on up.

Also, coming from the background I came from, and paying for college all on my own, the amount of student loans I had necessitated getting a job right away and jobs were in a metro area with a high cost of living. Without a degree, though, I'd have been SOL.
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#24 of 147 Old 10-07-2008, 08:46 AM
 
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On the second point, it's not simply each families' priority where they live. Much of that decision is at the mercy of the job market and dependent on what career you are in. Certain careers are confirmed to certain geographic areas, a lot of times.

Wher I live, the price of houses and land just outside the metro area (or with an hour communte) are exorbitantly expensive. Just in the metro area, one could expect to pay $400k for a 1950s fixer upper. For any amount of land outside the metro area it would be $500k on up.
This is our experience. My husband is a design engineer, it's pretty specialized to a few specific regions. We live outside Boston in a non-hoity-toity suburb in a 2 bedroom 1950 Cape that we got for a steal at $375,000.
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#25 of 147 Old 10-27-2008, 12:10 AM
 
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I can't help but make comments in this one.

Disclaimers: didn't read the entire thread; haven't read the book; I do work from home.

All of the above being said, before I started working at home I was spending $900 per month on gas and child care. Add to it that we didn't have to eat out as much as we were. We were paying on two other loans that we worked hard to pay off.

Yes. We were trapped. We felt that we absolutely NEEDED my income to live. We are so much better off now that I am at home and I believe that if I am no longer able to work at home, we may still be better off. We are prepared this time with the other two loans being paid off. There are not benefits either to my current job or being a SAHM mom (as in retirement and health insurance; being with the kids is a priceless benefit!) but over all it is making life easier with out all of the stress and early mornings.
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#26 of 147 Old 10-27-2008, 01:07 AM
 
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I find the part about people being able to do it a generation ago interesting because I think one of the biggest things that has changed is our expectations. It seems everyone now expects to be able to buy a large, brand new house as their first house. Look at the homes of our parents & grandparents - for the most part they were MUCH more modest. Perhaps our generations standards need to be re-evaluated?
We certainly seem to 'need' to buy more stuff that those in past generations.

What I recall from reading the book is that the two-income trap was when the family got used to living a lifestyle that required two incomes, and discovered they were 'trapped' if anything happened to disrupt the dual income. The safety net provided when a family could subsist on one income wasn't just financial (in that someone was available to go to work and bring in additional income if needed for an emergency situation), but also provided a person available to run the family, including caretaking for elderly or ill family members, and other unexpected crises.

I know a two-income family who for years has barely been hanging on as far as paying their bills each month, yet they continue to buy new cars, move into bigger homes on AR mortgages, and take expensive vacations. I also know a single mother who has lived with breast cancer for 10 years. She works part time yet has paid off hundreds of thousands in debt, owns her own modest home, and still makes ends meet for herself and her teen son. I am fascinated that the two-income family is no better off financially than the single mother working part time while living with cancer. Their standards of living aren't drastically different (in fact the single mother is better off in some categories such as nutrition and leisure time) and they are both lacking a safety net should anything go wrong in their financial situations, which to me meets the book's definition of being trapped.

As for the cost of homes, yes, homes in metropolitan areas can be expensive. Often people move further away from the metro area to find homes they think they can afford, so I have trouble seeing two income living as mandatory even in metropolitan areas.

A friend of mine lives 45 minutes away from me and her brand new garage townhome is larger than my home, and cost less than half the value of my home (well, the land my home sits on, really). Her husband has a longer commute than before when they rented an apartment, but it is under an hour and she is able to stay home with their young children.

We live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, yet young families can still make choices such as this. I think what has changed is people's perception of what they can afford, and how many lifestyle sacrifices they are willing to make in exchange for material consumption. I think people can get by quite comfortably on much less than they think they can.
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#27 of 147 Old 01-24-2009, 09:56 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Along the lines of this thread I posted a while back, I wanted to share a really good book title that I am reading.

It's called, "Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home" by Pamela Stone, published in 2007.

I'm about a quarter of the way through and it's fascinating. The title is a bit misleading...the subject is very similar to the content in the book, "The Price of Motherhood" by Ann Crittenden.

It's really interesting to me because I've been a stay-at-home parent, I've been a working parent. It's interesting to see in sociological terms how other women are grappling with and balancing these choices...it makes me feel encouraged about my own balancing act.
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#28 of 147 Old 01-24-2009, 05:54 PM
 
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DH and I both read this book, and it had a profound impact on us. It spurred us to move to our current location, and shaped many of our choices after that.

Basically, we wanted to be able to live on one income- for all sorts of reasons, financial security high among them. So we moved to area with a low COL and bought a fixer upper. We paid $31,000 for our 1700 sq ft house in 2005. The minimum wage here is $7.50, so we figured, worst case scenario, we could work opposite shifts to avoid child care expenses, and still make our mortgage payments. This was intentional on our parts.

Luckily, DH has a good job, that provides much security and very good health care. The pay is not great, but it is enough to live on, at least here.

I think there are areas of the country where the two income trap is very real. Luckily, we dodged that bullet.

Trying to turn hearts and minds toward universal healthcare, one post at a time.
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#29 of 147 Old 01-24-2009, 05:57 PM - Thread Starter
 
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DH and I both read this book, and it had a profound impact on us. It spurred us to move to our current location, and shaped many of our choices after that.


Which book did you read? The "Opting Out" book or the "Two Income Trap" book?

I really liked the former, but not so much the latter.

I should read them aloud to DH. He'd never read them on his own, but he'd really benefit from hearing the discussion.
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#30 of 147 Old 01-24-2009, 06:07 PM
 
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The Two Income Trap. I haven't read Opting Out.

I can't say I liked the Two Income Trap, but they made their point, IMHO.

Trying to turn hearts and minds toward universal healthcare, one post at a time.
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