Welcome to the lower-middle class.

So, apparently in order to help their employees learn to survive financially, McDonald's partnered with Visa to come up with a sample monthly budget based on a yearly after-tax income of $24,720; I (per the usual) read an article about it recently and found it interesting how some in the media find so many people's financial situations absurd. Here is what I mean:

The amount allotted for rent/mortgage is $600. The Washington Post article states, "When I lived in St. Louis, my roommate and I each paid $425 per month for our comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in one of the city’s nicer neighborhoods. My then-girlfriend was paying less than $500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment." Um, this is exactly true for me! (It helps that I live in St. Louis) My roommate and I currently pay exactly $425 for exactly such an apartment in exactly such a location. And my last apartment, which was one-bedroom, never reached $500 in rent even with increases every year for five years.

Now, for someone living in New York, L.A./San Francisco, Dallas, Phoenix, etc., no, you will not find great apartments on the cheap - but a McDonald's worker likely has quite a different living situation figured out that has nothing to do with renting a great condo overlooking Lake Michigan, or even living alone at all. The article says quite nicely, "Gawker’s Neil Casey calls $600 per month for rent a “laughably small” figure, but Casey should spend more time outside the Northeast Corridor."

Other items in the budget are: $100 for savings, $150 for car payment, $90 for electric, and $100 for "other." The daily spending goal is $27. Matthew Yglesias, in a Slate article, says, "your $27 dollars a day needs to cover your gasoline, and minor details like food and clothing along with entertainment."

Here's the deal: once my bills are paid, I can live on $27 a day. This doesn't mean that I won't go over or that there are never emergencies; but it's the goal. I didn't spend a dime today! Didn't need to. There's gas in my tank and food in my cupboards. I didn't need anything so I didn't buy anything. And in a few days when I see something I want, I'll feel comfortable buying it because I know I've been frugal.

And what's wrong with living within one's means? We all know that in the largest cities, the cost of living is much higher, and generally, wages reflect that. But why are clothing and entertainment and dining out always considered so important? Aren't there other ways to spend one's time? Sure there are. Read a book; watch a DVD you already own and really like; go jogging; become addicted to Pinterest; start a blog; visit your elders; tutor schoolkids; volunteer at the food pantry. And on, and on, and on. None of those things cost a cent beyond the cost of gas.

There was a time when people only ate the food they had grown, wore the clothes they had sewn, and relied on each other for conversation and diversion. None of us has ever lived such a life and so we don't realize that it's possible to be fulfilled - and make ends meet - without a really nice salary and material goods.

There is one small catch, however: this sample budget assumes that the fast food employee has another job. Because you know they're not making $13 and $14 flipping burgers. Which opens up a whole other conversation: if McDonald's knows that they don't pay livable wages, why even put on the pretense? Why insult your workers by saying, 'Here's how to live well financially - but work another full-time job.' Perhaps they're presuming their workers live in a two-income household??

Anyway, I found the sample budget (minus the second job assumption) to be quite realistic and normal, and also something that those above lower-middle class obviously find hard to comprehend. This is the reality, folks. This is the majority now. The middle class is disappearing; the depth of greed to which businesses and corporations have sunk since 2008 is absolutely mind-boggling, and affects every one of us even if not directly. It's time to simply start living within our means and learning to find fulfillment beyond the dollar, because the country's situation isn't going to change any time soon.

Editor's note (hee hee): obviously the above scenario is not ideal for those with children or those with more than their share of credit card debt. Or both. There are plenty of situations, in fact, in which the sample budget falls short, but the point of the blog post is living within one's means.

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