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“We make $325,000 a year and feel like we live paycheck to paycheck”

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What does it mean to be middle class? Depends who you ask. As I wrote recently, Americans of all stripes think of themselves as middle class. Though being middle class has been defined as a household gross income anywhere from $37,000 to $147,000, it may be more accurately described as a state of mind–a feeling of financial insecurity. Even families whose salaries put them in the upper middle class feel like they simply don’t have enough to live comfortably, without worrying about money. After all, as salaries expand, so too do mortgage payments, childcare costs, and travel expenses. A family of four with a household income well into the six figures may not save much more than a young couple that earns half as much but has fewer expenses.

We asked three couples from different income levels that put them squarely in the middle or upper middle class range to share a snapshot of their yearly earnings and expenses, as well as how much they save and invest toward the future.

Annual income:

Annual expenses:

Leftover: between $210-$4,675

“I think we opt to live more frugally than we have to in order to save more, so in that sense it’s an empowered choice, not something forced on us,” says Steven*, an entrepreneur who lives with his boyfriend, Martin*, a nurse. The couple saves anywhere between $11,000 and $15,000 a year and invests about 70% of that; the remaining 30% makes up their emergency fund (or their “fuck-it fund,” as Steven describes it). Their apartment is especially modest and “relatively small,” according to Steven, because housing in Toronto is no small expense. “We could afford more, but that would make rent another $1,000 a month,” he adds.

Though the couple prioritizes saving and investing, Steven says they still manage to do things like travel by finding ways to trim costs. “We try to get the same outcome for less money,” he says. That may mean vacationing in a city where they can stay with a friend rather than spending on a hotel, or avoiding travel at peak times to snag cheaper flights. “As with anyone, I imagine, we’d love to save more,” Steven says,........

© Fast Company