Ask the Readers: Would People Be Shocked By What You Earn?

********The winners of the $10 Amazon Gift Card are:

  • Comment #14: Surprised Submitted by Miranda 

    "We do live fairly modestly for our income. Our mortgage payment is about 1/6 of our monthly income, and we live well within our means. But I think people would be shocked to know our income because they don't realize how much I make as a freelance writer. We don't spread the information around, and just try to live mostly incognito."

  • Tweet from @InMyOwnWorld   " Nothing shocking about this salary! But I think most people assume I make more than I do"


It happens all the time.  People are amazed that my husband and I can live on such a very limited income.  (In fact, my friends from urban areas are usually amazed that the majority of people in my rural community live well under the poverty line -- and some do very well with it!)  Other times, I witness families just barely struggling to get by -- who also make an hefty income and are unsure where it all goes.

You don't have to live on either end of the earning spectrum to challenge the stigmas attached with your annual salary.  Sometimes, we can fool others into thinking our lifestyle matches our paycheck by the choices we make publicly and privately.  Would your friends and family be surprised to know how much (or how little) you make?  Or is it pretty obvious that you're either rolling in the dough... or rolling in bed over agony of how you'll pay your bills?

We want to know if people would be shocked to hear how much you make.  You don't have to divulge details (or even which way you are perceived.)  Just give us a sign that "Yes! My lifestyle is in no way a reflection of my paycheck.  And that's a good/bad thing."  Are you happy with how you are perceived?  Would you change it if you could?

Share your thoughts here in our comment thread or on Twitter, and you'll be entered to win one of two $10 Amazon giveaways. It won't fool anyone into thinking you're rich if you're not... but it's a great way slash your bill the next time you're buying supplies online.  Dozens of readers have already won.  You could be next!

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Guest's picture
E Rick

I know some of our friends feel we are very frugal and live well below our means. I disagree with that. I feel we doing OK but still have to watch every penny. My mom thinks we live too conservatively with a 15 year mortgage and she feels we should be rolling in money. Of course, we make less than our friends and substantially more (7 times) more than my mom. Maybe it's all about perspective.

Guest's picture

My husband is a pastor and we live in a parsonage. He works crazy hours and loves his job and people. His salary is negotiated every November and is a matter of record for anyone in the congregation. The down side of being public people is that our actions are scrutinzed. So we've encountered some really off-the-wall suggestions for our spending. What people don't realize is how our taxes are calculated, how his long, sometimes irregular, hours impact my work options and availability, or what area colleagues make. When people understand what we actually clear and think through how it's portioned out they're surprised. We've had to be creative in how we manage, and can encourage others in the same boat with some measure of credibility when those opportunities arise. Those are good things. The down side is dealing with oblivious people's expectations.

Guest's picture

They'd be more surprised, I think, at how little we make. For almost a year, we were on this side of having to ask for food stamps. Since I started working again (it took 9 months to find a job two years ago), our combined income has just about doubled--to the amount an entry-level engineer makes straight out of college (I know this because my brother is an engineer).

We shop for bargains, and are very very patient when it comes to finding things like furniture and clothes. Our motto, for shopping for things like that, has become, "You should only have to buy it once." Obviously clothes wear out, but with proper care they can last for quite a long time.

Guest's picture

I'm a grad student, which in and of itself says "HEY, I'M POOR", but I also own a house and have a pretty decent lifestyle. I think if someone met me and didn't know where I worked, they would assume I make more than I do.

Guest's picture

I make $10 an hour but must work two jobs to make it. I live in a small town in Maine and it is not unusual for people to have at least two jobs. Many people work two jobs during the summer in this tourist town to supplement their incomes and to pay for heat for the coming winter.

I live very frugally, but very comfortably. I put anything extra in my savings account so that I have a buffer of 6 months if anything should happen to me. My main concerns are oil for winter heat and paying off my mortgage. I pay extra every month and have reduced my mortgage by 7 years already. I have no debt (except the mortgage), but do use my credit cards to earn extra points, etc. I pay them off the day after I use them. I like to travel, and people are surprised that I can vacation in Europe. But, I research like crazy to make sure I get the cheapest flights (going to Europe from the East Coast is often less expensive then traveling in the States) and the best hotel deals. I guess I would rather spend the money on travel then putting in pools and buying new furniture.

I would like to make a comment about farmers markets. There is a lot of talk out there about purchasing from local producers. I dont know about elsewhere, but the cost of purchasing food at these markets in Maine on my income is prohibitive. I wish I could, but I must always follow the sales in "regular" grocery stores.

Guest's picture

When people find out I am an engineer (just 3 years out of school...not licensed yet) working for a consulting firm, they assume that we must be bringing in a ton of money, and can't figure out why we live like we do.

When people don't know what I do for a living and see that we live in an extremely affordable house, have not replaced the 96 dodge I drove in high school, and that my husband is in school again they assume that we are broke!

In reality, we are doing quite a bit better than many people in our area. The median income for our area is around 43,000, and on one income we are quite a bit higher than that.

Guest's picture

I think people would be surprised at how little I make- but I stretch it as far as I can while I'm getting my masters and hope to jump a salary bracket soon thereafter!

Guest's picture

Friends in similar professions (engineering) but different (i.e., higher paying) industries would probably expect me to make more.

Most of my family would probably be surprised by the hard figures, only because I live in a much cost of living area (Chicago metro) than any of them.

More people would probably be surprised by how much I save and give away, particularly because I don't appear to be more than moderately frugal.

Guest's picture

I was one of the unfortunate causilties with the down economy but also very fortunate since I found a new job within a month and a half. The only problem was I was making 30% less. Oddly enough by only changing a few things my wife and I live pretty much the same life style. We eat out, once a month (used to be two or three) go to a movie about every weekend (It's the dollar theater but still fun and enjoyable.), and we watch our grocery budget (coupouns and sales, I picked up 5 pounds of chicken breasts and 10 pounds of leg quarters for $8 the other day). After 10% into a 401k we are still able to save $300 a month.

Guest's picture

Living in what many consider an affluent part of New Jersey, plus working in the field of medicine (but not a physician) causes most people I meet to assume I'm making far more than my actual salary. The fact I did both my undergraduate and graduate studies at an Ivy also seems to "up" people's estimations on my current salary. I gift friends generously, and people notice I dress well, wear designer suits, and drive a decent car. What people don't always see is my frugal lifestyle- I buy clothing at thrift stores and do alterations myself (or have my mom help) so they are well-fitted; my home is clean but sparsely furnished without the expensive kithchen gadgetry and electronics (I always tell myself I have my whole life to acquire those things); and unlike most 20-30 year olds, I am very much the homebody who stays away from the clubs, bars and expensive costs associated with those places. I save aggressively and still live comfortably on about $2000/mon (that is with mortgage payments). Everyone assumes I have a 6-figure salary and am living it up but in reality I am allocating my budget to cover necessary expenses and then saving up the rest.

Guest's picture

I think that others think my family is more well off than we are.

I am only making the national average for registered nurses ($54K) despite being a nurse for over 23 years. We opt for my having more flexible hours, no weekends, holidays and such to be more conducive to family time. Given our large family size (4 kids) and my partner's stay at home status (cheaper than daycare and afterschool programming costs), our school age kids qualify for reduced cost school lunch. Others see having a stay at home as status, but the math spoke for itself.

Guest's picture

My co-worker and I do fundraising for non-profit organizations, employed by a non-profit. We're expected to present a professional appearance as we move among executives in our county, and we manage to do so - but it's an illusion. We shop at resale shops, deep discount stores and garage sales, barely making our monthly family expenses while helping relatives who are in more difficult straits that even we are. Most people we deal with would not believe it, but we qualify for many of the government and charitable services for which we are raising money, including free medical care (we have no benefit package on our job). We usually end each pay period with just a dollar or two in our pockets (sometimes from returning bottles to the grocery store or cashing in our saved loose change). Fortunately, we are dedicated to the work we do and would not change it for a bigger paycheck. We deal with people daily who are far worse off than we are, and it helps keep everything in perspective.

Guest's picture

I am kind of embarrassed at the amount of debt and our living arrangement, considering how much my husband and I make. I can't figure out where it all goes, or how other people live as well as they do making as much as we do. People would be surprised to know how much we make.

Guest's picture

We live in a very exclusive township which used to be primarily an agricultural (read: "farmers") area. We bought our property (where my husband grew up) from my husband's mother for very little and proceeded to upgrade the two bedroom rancher to a 4 bedroom cape cod with a mother-in-law apartment with the money we realized from the sale of our former house. The house now fits the area as it is today. The only clue to our "lower than the neighbors" income that may be apparent is that we have not yet been able to install a great deal of landscaping. We drive reasonable vehicles which we keep in top condition. Our furniture is almost completely second-hand and I decorate with thrift shop finds. We maintain an extensive vegetable garden and I can almost everything we grow. I am an avid coupon user and buy meats almost exclusively from the reduced bin. We entertain at home mostly, but do eat out about once a month using coupons. I'm fairly sure our neighbors would be surprised to find out how much lower our income is than the average for the area.

Guest's picture

I got RIFed in March & we moved back home (to Vermont). We are trying to sell our home in NY state (been under contract twice & will probably take another 6 months to sell). Now we live in a tiny furnished apt but after months of spreadsheets finally woke up & realized we could get a mortgage on a condo in a small town for less than half of our rent in the city. I'm retirement age (62) next year so will start SS ... we have become very frugal out of necessity. We've gone from a very comfortable 6 figure living where I was the main breadwinner to 30k a year and my severance pay which is ending this month (25 years w/ company). It's been such a huge change for both of us as far as roles within our relationship and our budget ... but we have always been frugal as far as carrying no debt (except for a mortgage). Once we do get the NY house sold we'll pay off the condo mortgage too and be really debt free ... then we'll really be able to say we live on next to nothing and surprise even ourselves. And with the new law in Vermont my spouse & I can finally get married after 20 years together. Nobody has any idea how much we made and how far we've dropped, from the outside our lifestyle wouldn't appear to have changed that much. But it did.

Guest's picture
Emily Manuola

I would always talk about the "bargain" I got and compare couponing stories with my sister and mom and one day we were talking about a friend that was having serious money troubles. Then my sister said something that got me laughing. she told me that her friend's husband makes the same as me, approx. $60K ayear. I set the record straight that I make under $40K per year. Imagine her surprise that I make that amount and still pay my bills, get groceries, save money and add a little to my mortgage every month and payed my husband's medical bills!! I love shocking people with the news that you can live a "lifestyle" no matter how much or how little you make.

Guest's picture

I probably earn more than others think I do. I consider my income to be private and won't disclose it unless absolutely necessary, but I tend to go super frugal in most of the things I do. My roommate once asked me if I was running out of money during a point in time when my savings rate was about as high as it has ever been.

Guest's picture
Mariel Martinez

I think that people in general should be outraged by the difference in the income of their profession as well as others...

If you think about it, you can be BROKE and still be rich (like Donald Trumph) and you can have a huge income and still be BROKE (when you are living your lifestyle based on debt)...

So, the real question is not how much you make (which incidentally should be a social issue as to the gap between CEOS and polititians vs. regular hard working people) but, how much you need to support your lifestyle.

And to answer the specific question, YES, people are always surprised when I tell them that I have NO job and therefore NO steady income even though I have 3 bachellors degrees, one masters degree and two graduate certificates... However, I have NO debts, and I have a house and a car... I can manage...

Guest's picture

I just quit my well-paying corporate job to stay home with my kids. People I know were extremely surprised we had the money to do this, "in this economy". What they do not know is that my self employed husband makes a nice six-figure income, because honestly, you wouldn't know it to look at him. We save half of what he makes and live on the rest, drive used cars and just basically aren't fancy people. I use one purse till it wears out and own a few pairs of shoes. I have never really gotten in to having expensive stuff and I like having money in the bank much better!

Guest's picture

My friends would definitely be suprised at what I earn. Most of them would think that I earn alot more than I do and at the same time I suspect that they are the ones that are always complaining of 'Bad Luck'.
You may know the type I am referring to. I regard them as the 'Glass is Half Full' friends.

Guest's picture

My friends would definitely be suprised at what I earn. Most of them would think that I earn alot more than I do and at the same time I suspect that they are the ones that are always complaining of 'Bad Luck'.
You may know the type I am referring to. I regard them as the 'Glass is Half Full' friends.

Guest's picture

I live frugally, so some people might think I make less than I do. On the other hand, I know for sure some people think I make much more than I do, mainly because I'm good at saving and investing...

Guest's picture

I am a single mom and 46 years old. If I get to the point in a relationship where I tell a guy how much I make, then, by far, most of them are shocked.

They don't expect me to be making in excess of $112K per year, let alone have no debt (but the mortgage) and what I call a "big cushion" in my savings account.

Most men run for the hills when I tell them, in fact, all but one have run for the hills.

I live frugally. I have always lived frugally. I came from a very poor family and it is habit for me.

I find that most men don't want to date or marry a successful, smart, frugal, interesting woman. Most men want trophies that are dumb and skinny!

Yes, most men are shocked at my salary!

Guest's picture

I think people are confused by me. I'm a social worker who pulls in approx $43G per year working at a non-profit. I'm 31 & I paid off $47G in debt in the last 5 years (car/student loan). I fund my Roth each year and have $13G in liquid savings. However, from the outside it would look like I'm swimming in debt [if you didn't know me, because my friends all know what a crazy person I am about financial planning]. I go out almost every night (i'm creative, there are always free events like movies and bar openings with free food). I see polo matches on weekends ($5), I go to concerts about once amonth (free from radio winnings), I travel all over the world (use my Starwood cc and stay with friends/get great deals on hotels- love, love travelzoo). I dress in designers (marshalls) and buy knockoff accessories like glasses and purses. My jewelry is all real (thanks, exes!). All my food is free (work) and at home it's organic (garden). Life is good.

Guest's picture

I'm a teacher at a private school, and I think that my students (or their parents, some of whom are quite wealthy but definitely not all) might be surprised that my income level qualifies me for programs such as WIC (that was already while I was full-time, I am now part-time), and my son qualifies for free DSHS Medical benefits. I myself am without health insurance. Hopefully this is all temporary, though, I hope that soon my husband's business will pick up!

Guest's picture

People assume my husband and I make a lot of money because he is an engineer with a master's degree, and I also have a full-time job. And we do make more than most people we know. It gets really annoying how people call us cheap, but it's not like we get them crappy gifts or won't do anything fun with them. And we usually buy dinner when we go out with friends or family. Most of our friends are struggling, but it's because of their own choices and priorities, and I get tired of them making comments about us being "rich."

Guest's picture

@ comment 122:
smart, frugal, go-getters will always have a decent partner that will help them. When a man knows you don't need him to survive, they feel less of a man. However, the smart ones know that it's always smarter to marry someone smarter than you. Beauty fades but intelligence increases, and when we are too old to care for looks, it's our conversations that carry us through.

@ comment 126:
sounds to me like you need new friends. Only three of my friends know I will never have to work to pay bills even though they do. I'm retired, they still have ages to go. We all still go out and have fun with each others company. Even though they are in debt, they would never make comments about me being "rich". They know I earned it on my own, it's not like someone gave it to me, they are even proud of me.

Also, it doesn't matter how little or a lot you make, if you don't know how to handle your finances, you will still be poor. I had friends that have been making 300-500k a year only to be burried in debt while others below the poverty level have even managed to fund their IRAs. It's all about how you handle YOUR MONEY an how you choose to allocate it.

Guest's picture

I am 27 and have 2 kids, a laid off husband, and we're both in grad school (husband's recession strategy). We saved 150K during the time my husband worked at a 145K salary for 2 years, while paying for VERY EXPENSIVE child care while I was still a student, also. We sold our car after lay-off, no cell phones, no cable, no toilet paper (apparently this shocks people), no paper products, nothing bought that we will use once and throw away, no entertainment, rented out our condo and moved into a studio. we receive WIC, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and eat at all university free-food events when possible. I think people know we're poor, but they'd be shocked to know how little we live on--and the relatively low amount of federal student loans we've taken out to cover childcare. Since we sold the car, our spending has decreased by over 300% and we've lost weight. Obviously we live in an urban area....very high rents, but in university housing, which covers utilities and maintenence.

Guest's picture

Yes, I think people think my husband makes a lot more than he actually does because we live in a nice neighborhood. However, they don't see all my student loan debt and the frustration that I'm unemployed and currently unable to make payments toward the debt as a result.

Guest's picture
Julie S

I think that no one would be shocked by the family's income, since my husband is in the military, and salaries are published. I think they would be shocked to know how much we had in savings, however.

After having to quit my job because my husband was reassigned to another base halfway across the country, and then shortly afterward giving birth to our first child, I was surprised to find that we are still saving a significant amount of money despite living on a single income.

Guest's picture

Most people I know are surprised at how "cheap" I live because most of them know around what I make (because they know what I do for a living, and a couple of big investments I made, etc). I earn in the mid-six figures and live on less than 20% of it. I have a very simple apartment in a nice but not flashy building. I live in NY so I don't have a car, that is no biggie, most people here don't regardless of how much money they have. I have nice suits and business wear but my casual clothes are really cheap, mostly Old Navy and that type. My gf and I eat out at nice restaurants once in a while but both of us like cheaper casual places as well. Mostly though I just don't buy things, outside of furniture I can fit almost everything I own into a couple of suitcases. To me money is about piece of mind, that is the biggest luxury I enjoy. I could lose my job and not have to worry about a paycheck for over a decade. Maybe a couple decades.

Guest's picture

My husband and I live a comfortable life on the East Coast. Including our mortgage, we spend about $5K a month.

I drive a 6 year old compact car with over 150K miles on it and my husband drives a 3 year old 2-door car that is paid off.

I think most people we know would be shocked that we both make 6 figure salaries, but not that we are decently well off. We live on about 55% of our take-home income and save the other 45%. We put the max you are allowed to in our 401K's but that is taken out before we get our take home pay. Most people in my neighborhood are living well on one income so I like to think we are still living well below our means (call it self-delusion if you will). We did not purchase the nicest newest house in town, but we are happy with our 3000 sq. ft 4 bedroom 3.5 bath home with a 2 car garage.

There is quite a bit of fat in our budget, but I balance frugality with convenience. I used to be an avid couponer, but since I joined a CSA ($15 a week for 20 weeks of produce), I pretty much stopped shopping at the grocery store. I purchased a 25 lb. bag of flour from Costco and make my own bread, playdoh, pie crust, etc. I have an addiction to shopping for my kid(s). I do buy on sale and do shop for the lowest price, but I so love European strollers. We do eat out on occasion, especially when the pregnancy is draining me of energy, but we temper it with cooking and bringing our lunches.

I have a 1 year old and am expecting again in 2010. I plan to take some unpaid months off which is shocking many of my coworkers who keep asking how I'll be able to afford it. I also just purchased a brand new top of the line minivan in cash because my mom is coming to live with us and 3 adults and 2 babies do not fit into either compact car. We have decided to sell my husband's impractical sportscar privately for the price we want for it and buy him a used car that he likes. We need 3 vehicles because my mom will be home alone with baby #2 until I can get a daycare spot for him/her (a premium in our area) even with me taking extra months off past the 12 week mark.

Guest's picture

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