It was nice being high income while it lasted

For a little while, DH and I were making joint more than what Obama/Biden’s campaigns considered “middle class” (we never did make it above what Biden/Harris consider their cutoff for tax increases, but that’s an insane number).  It was really nice.  Like… money just did not matter at all.

I was just about to start living like someone who makes a lot of money– sending DC1 to a fancy summer camp, going on a vacation that wasn’t family or wedding or work-related (what can I say, I dream small), and then the pandemic happened.  So we went back to spending like we were upper-middle-class meaning buying whatever we wanted at the grocery store and maybe a bit less comparison shopping.  And we’d hit that point a long long income ago.  Other than deferred maintenance and replacements we didn’t actually DO anything with the money, but boy did I dream.  Kids need more Spanish?  Maybe we should spend a month in a Spanish-speaking country one of these years.  Or the kids could go to Interlochen, which my cousin went to but my family could never come close to affording growing up.  (Are my dreams too small?) But.. pandemic.

So I don’t really know what it like to spend as if one is making more than 250K/year– we never got there with spending.  The money just kind of piled up and I put it in IRAs and donated some and finally got nice countertops for the kitchen, replaced our grad school and first-year-with-a-real-job cars, and did a bunch of home maintenance stuff that suddenly came up because we’ve been living in this house for well over a decade now.

And then the money ran out at DH’s company.  So they got furloughed.  And then it turns out there was less money than expected, so the layoff that was supposed to happen in December is happening in November and the grant that was supposed to happen in January got rejected on a paperwork issue and the other grant that could have happened in January wouldn’t actually happen until April if it gets accepted.  And the company owner is getting closer to 80 and really wanting to wind down and retire for real.  So… this might be the end of this job that DH really enjoyed.

Now, with just my income, after two hard-fought raises to get me closer to market value, we are still upper-middle-class.  We can still buy whatever we want at the grocery store.  With the money I’ve kept in cash once it became clear that DH’s company was having problems we probably don’t need to make any major changes to our lifestyle or purchases.  If DC1 goes to a fancy college with a big endowment, we may be eligible for some financial aid, whereas with DH working we would not be.  (And we might have to take out loans depending on where zie goes instead of cash flowing what the 529 doesn’t cover.)

DH probably doesn’t ever have to work again so long as I keep employed.  He can be FIRE, but without the money-making blog, just living as a house-husband.

He’ll probably want to work again eventually, and I admit, I do like it when he brings in money.  That paycheck was awfully nice while it lasted.  Being high income is really really nice and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  But it’s also nice having someone completely trustworthy and intelligent around to just take care of things with the house and family, so long as he doesn’t spend all his time pulling weeds.  (We’re keeping the lawn service this time so he will not have an excuse to mow.)

So, I don’t know what will happen.  This job is probably done– most of the other members of his company can’t wait until April for uncertain income.  They’re likely to find work elsewhere.  And then there will be nobody in the company.  The company owner has paid salaries out of pocket before and taken out loans etc. but seems disinclined to do so this time around.  And DH really doesn’t want to do another systems architecture project to tide things over like last time.  We don’t really live where DH can do things based on his PhD (other than being an adjunct or post-doc which are low-paid and he doesn’t want to do if we don’t need the money).  His best option is probably to do contract work from people in his network.  We’ll see if that is forthcoming, though he wants to take a longish break before sending out feelers.  Most of his friends at the big companies on the coasts have left said companies and gone to work for less money at start-ups.

I don’t have a moral– this is just an update.  I’m about to get a house-husband which is very nice in many ways.  And our family will now just be bringing in lots of money rather than unfathomable amounts, and we’ll no longer be saving up insane amounts.  This won’t become a travel blog since we tried to go to Portland for our 20th anniversary and ended up with a Pandemic instead.  Obviously we were not meant to go anywhere.  The possibilities are no longer endless.  I won’t have obnoxious posts about what to do with all this extra money.

Money goes to:

My 403(b)
My 457b
My backdoor roth IRA
DH’s spousal IRA (starting in 2021)
DC2’s 529 plan
General expenses (which will be going up since I’ll have to add DH to all my insurances).

I don’t yet know if we will be taking out of savings or if we’ll just be living off my salary (I haven’t gotten paid yet for the year, but preliminary estimates suggest I take-home a little more than we spend in most years so long as we don’t buy two new cars and remodel the kitchen again).  I don’t get paid in the summer unless I have a grant, and I don’t have plans for submissions any time soon, so I will have to draw down from savings in the summer.  But we’ve got enough in there that we’ll be fine and will probably still have next summer’s emergency fund left by the time I get paid in October.

So… a bittersweet update.  But far better to have been temporarily insanely high income and to have saved it than to have never gotten those savings at all.

Again don’t let anyone tell you that money doesn’t buy happiness.  Boy is it nice to have more income than you could ever need.  It is lovely even if you put that money away to buy future security and future happiness.  I bet it’s even lovelier to be confident enough in that income stream to bump up spending.  (And we still can’t afford to buy a house in Paradise…)  I wonder if it’s good that we didn’t get used to that high income since we won’t really have to be cutting, or if I regret not having had those experiences we could have had (could still have if we spend down savings…)  And I feel a little sad that we weren’t able to give our kids the benefits of expensive summer camps and fancy travel and so on.  But they’ve still gotten a lot of benefits from growing up upper-middle-class (and occasionally traveling with me to conferences), and they have a lot of life left to live.  We have a lot of life left to live.

48 Responses to “It was nice being high income while it lasted”

  1. omdg Says:

    Interested in picking your brain re: DC1’s 529. When did you stop funding it? What was the rationale?

    I’m sorry about DH’s job. Still no idea what he actually does, but maybe a small chance that I could help in some way if needed or desired? I am grateful that even if something happens to my husband, the research doesn’t work out, and we start getting paid like CRNAs (which is likely), that CRNAs still make a ton for what they do and I could do per diem work and still have a nice QOL. Hanging on by my teeth and hoping nothing really bad happens to any of that until we no longer need to pay for childcare.

    Fancy camps… one of the senior GI endoscopists was talking about having sent his teenage children to science camps when they were in high school where they did publication worthy science, and it seems to have been tremendously beneficial to them (i.e. one just finished MD-PhD, one did VMD-PhD, and the other is “just” a lawyer, and the first two got their foot in the door with science through doing these camps… and being the offspring of a scientist). When I heard about this my heart sank because… do you know how much those camps cost??? Over $1000 per week. One day I’d love to send my daughter to a sleepaway horse riding camp, which are comparably priced, but I suspect she will survive even if she never gets to do that.

    • xykademiqz Says:

      My eldest kid did a science cohort thingy in 7th grade, where he was pulled out of class once every few weeks to go spend a whole day at the university in a cell biology lab. It was free, he was recommended by his teacher. He’s double majoring in music and cell bio now in college. I didn’t think it was a big deal at a time, but it definitely made an impact. I guess there are no small things.
      Speaking of stuff with impact that costs money, Eldest got so much more serious about his music after I bought him his own instrument (low brass, so not cheap). The instrument was beautiful and new, not banged up like his school rental, and all of a sudden he wasn’t skipping practice, became really into it, eventually won competitions, and is doing it in college now, considers a career in music education.

      • Lisa Says:

        Wow – somehow this is really striking a chord with me, I’ve never really considered how much of a difference these kinds of experiences can make. I grew up solidly upper middle class and participated in local summer activities, but never any major academic camps. Since I ended up successful enough, I hadn’t really pushed to get my kids these kinds of experiences. But you’re right, my rich friends do go out of their way to encourage their kids to do things like this.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        This sounds like an interesting topic for a blog post. Since #2 and I (and our DHs) all went to a fancy public boarding school for high school our experiences for getting into a top college aren’t really the same as what my kid will be facing, even ignoring the 3 decades having passed.

        My colleague’s son is ranked #2 in his class and has been taking advantage of these kinds of camps and programs (last summer a fancy chemistry camp in Philadelphia, this summer a premed program at Stanford, remote though). He also does a sport, has overloaded his schedule with AP sciences, has run out of math to take as a sophomore, is doing research this year and is taking time to volunteer at the food pantry while doing remote schooling. I think he’ll have a shot into these top colleges if he wants.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I will definitely let you know after he decides what he wants to do next– he’s multi-talented because he had a double-major in two engineering fields/almost CS minor in undergrad and then did a multi-disciplinary phd and then has worked for a small company where he was called upon to use all those skills and gain new ones (though he does not want to do systems architecture again if he can help it). His work is medical engineering. One of his labmates actually worked in Ann Arbor while his wife was doing her post-doc at Michigan and DH did some contracting for them when he was a professor here. It’s a small world…

      • omdg Says:

        Thank you! Not sure how I missed this. This may be a decent solution for what we should do with some of cash from selling the Philly house. Will have to think on this further.

  2. Steph Says:

    I’m sorry to hear about DH’s job. Hopefully there’s a silver lining in not having to deal with the uncertainty anymore (in addition to having a house spouse).

    I’ve been under the impression that he works in tech. Could he work remotely? I think tech in particular was moving towards more remote work for freelancers and employees, even pre-covid – my colleague’s spouse is full-time remote for a tech company, and has been for many years.

  3. Leigh Says:

    I’m sorry DH is likely losing his job he really liked.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Me too! Also I really liked his paycheck!

      If we were living in silicon valley he’d likely be making much more, but for a 100% virtual job with huge flexibility and interesting projects, it was a great paycheck.

  4. Foscavista Says:

    Obviously this is not a ha-ha moment, but if I could make a snarky comment: Well, DH has no excuse now to learn Spanish!

  5. anonymous in the midwest Says:

    I miss having a house-husband. We are squarely middle (not upper-middle) class, and financially having my husband working is more or less a wash (for now. Because daycare is $$$ and entry-level pay is not great). My husband’s new full-time job has been a big mental health boost for him and a big mental health downgrade for me. IBTP.

    Enjoy the positives of having an adult at home to do household-y things!

    • omdg Says:

      I suppose this is why many men have historically objected to having their wives in the workforce as well. :-(

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I mean, it’s really nice to have a housekeeper who is intelligent and just takes care of stuff. (I’ve been reading the Miss Marples and a common thread is how much more difficult it becomes to find good help with all the hoi poloi getting education and learning to type instead of being trained to serve their “betters.”)

      • anonymous in the midwest Says:

        Yes – American society is definitely set up for single-earner households with a homemaker wife. I’m not trying to complain and I don’t begrudge my husband wanting to work, especially given the negative messages that the patriarchy has drummed into him about men who aren’t the “provider” for their families. It’s good to have some diversification in our family income streams. It’s also obvious to both of us that daycare is GREAT for our kids. We both wish we were wealthy enough for him to adjunct part-time and still send the kids to daycare, but that’s not our situation.

      • omdg Says:

        My comment comes across as more negative than I really meant. I think it’s quite important to acknowledge that the working partner may really suffer if the non-working one returns to the workforce! Even if you split housework and childcare 50/50 with your spouse, that is still very different than 100/0, and coordinating who does what can be it’s own source of conflict.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I dunno, I was going even darker! F the Patriarchy.

  6. middle_class Says:

    Since I am not upper middle class, it is depressing to hear about the advantages that money can buy. It is strange to me that some (most?) wealthy conservatives who benefit from $$$ don’t acknowledge they had all these advantages. Success is not only based on intelligence and hard work.

  7. CG Says:

    Ah, sorry about the job. I hope when the time is right he can find another one that he likes. In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the benefits of his ability to spend time on household/kid management.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Me too! We’re not quite there yet though… he’s still finishing out a grant (though furlough does mean Fridays off, which has meant me doing fewer chores on the weekend and DH doing more activism stuff).

  8. Anne Says:

    I have a part time house husband and it really is the best of both worlds! DH is an RN and as his hourly rate has increased over the years, he’s kept his annual salary about the same and decreased hours worked (2-3 day/wk now). So we have that income and he takes care of all the stupid stuff like grocery shopping, house/car maintenance, etc. Plus he feels fulfilled by still seeing coworkers and helping patients.

    May your DH find a position/situation that is a good fit for him.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m hopeful! He says he wants to do a “gardening vacation” or whatever they call it when you take a break between jobs in England. But he’ll probably end up either working at a company where one of his professional friends is (like last time) or he will do a series of consulting jobs for professional contacts. He is incredibly good at everything he does– like he will take days to do programming projects that take other people weeks. (When I get stuck on Stata he can unstick me in minutes… it’s a little embarrassing.)

  9. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    What a shame that it’s a job that he really enjoyed, and an equally enjoyable paycheck, that had to go away. I always wish for that to happen with the bad jobs.

    But I’m glad you had it for a while, at least, and could put it away. Even though we don’t necessarily make (after adjusting for COL) the same kind of money, I am treating our current income levels as over and above our needs and aggressively saving in case it goes away even while allowing myself to relax some about day to day money and buying the smaller comforts without fussing like I used to. It’s really nice to just buy the small appliances without spending weeks and weeks agonizing over affording it. We definitely can’t get into summer camps and the like at our level now but we’ll see how things go.

    It’s really interesting and a little intimidating to see how many ways you can spend your money to put your kids into extracurriculars though. If we’d stayed a one kid family, maybe some of that stuff might have become a consideration.

  10. Cloud Says:

    Ugh, that’s too bad about DH’s job. Having been through layoffs several times I know that even when you’re OK, it still sucks to have a job you liked go away.

    We live in a high cost area, but even so we could get by OK on just one of our incomes. But we both keep working, partly because as you say – it is nice to be high income. Luckily, we both like our jobs well enough that it hasn’t come down to a “be unhappy at work but stay high income” vs “go back to middle income but lose the job stress” decision. I am not sure what we would do there. When faced with a similar decision in the past, I quit my job – but I tried to keep my income roughly the same as an independent contractor, and my inability to do that with enough predictability was part of why I ended up back as a full time employee!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m not entirely convinced that higher paying jobs are more stressful than lower paying ones, even within the same field.

      Right now I’m trying to think of what kind of pay would be worth it to me for him to take another f/t job. (He says he doesn’t want to think about the question for a while yet.) It’s hard because a lot of it depends on telecommuting, how much he enjoys the job, and flexibility. And none of that is predictable.

      It’s also harder– a lot of his contacts at big companies that do what he does have quit those big companies and moved to small start-ups so there’s no longer that safety net and I’m not sure a start-up is what he’s looking for either in terms of hours or income (though maybe contracting for a start-up would be). In any case, he wants to take a vacation from work before he starts tapping his networks. I just like to figure out options and paths even though he really does have the freedom to never work again if he doesn’t want to.

      • Cloud Says:

        The lower stress option for me would be to go back to being an independent contractor/running my own company. If I could do that without having to worry about meeting a specific income goal, that would be less stress than my current job (or any job I could realistically get) – but we either needed to downsize our lifestyle or have me meet a specific income goal and since I don’t *hate* the work I am highly paid to do, that seemed like the best plan, at least until we get the kids through college! To be honest, part of why I’m keeping the income is to save money for lots of travel in the future. If we didn’t love to travel so much, we could probably consider other work arrangements. But we love to travel and so that’s a priority.

        I think lower paying jobs can often be more stressful than ones like I have, because the lower pay often correlates with less autonomy.

        I think your DH is smart to take some time to decompress and figure out what he wants to do next.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s one of those things a phd does– gets you used to autonomy.

        But there’s also the fact that start-ups often pay less and require more hours. Maybe there will be stock options, but those don’t usually amount to a ton (except when they do, which is why many of the people we know from high school are crazy rich).

  11. SP Says:

    Sorry to hear that the job he liked is no more, even if the income side of the equation means that it was just a “nice to have”. Glad to hear you still can grocery shop with free will!

    We could in theory live off one of our incomes now, maybe indefinitely, but it would not be without some impacts. And we definitely couldn’t afford childcare on one income. It is something that keeps me calm if I get job security nerves, but both of us working is by far the most optimal situation. A vacation not tied to a conference or family reasons sounds very extravagant!

    I hope DH gets a nice break!

  12. Matthew D Healy Says:

    In many fields that used to think people had to physically be in big coastal cities, the pandemic has changed how companies think: they are much more open to remote hires than they used to be. And many people with highly specialized training are realizing the advantages of cheaper housing, less congestion, etc.

    So maybe your DH will find something suitable that he can do remotely.

    I must say, I very much enjoyed being a househusband for a while when between jobs, but was VERY glad to resume working full-time. I am grateful DW kept her job while I was between jobs in Summer and early Fall of 2019, so I didn’t have to get any job ASAP to pay the bills.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      He is currently working remotely. The major firms that do what he does are located in two cities. It’s a matter of getting connections, especially now that his former lab mates have moved on to startups.

  13. bogart Says:

    I’m sorry to hear that DH’s job he enjoys and that pays decently, is wrapping up.

    More generally, moving forward I am interested to see how experiences like yours and many others (job loss, etc.) affect the economy moving forward. It seems to me that what’s going on is going to have huge and long-lasting ripple effects that are not good ones, though I would be delighted to be wrong.

  14. Natka Says:

    About uber-expensive stuff (camps etc) for kids and future success… I would argue that it is more about the family (stability, values, encouragement, priorities) than about the money and what it can buy. Maybe I am deluding myself, but I think those “extras” may be nice, but are not deciding factors for future success (how do you choose to define success, anyway???).

    I think what you are doing for your kids already – providing environment that encourages them to grow and pursue knowledge (and OMG, all the awesome math stuff – that’s how I found your blog to begin with) is enough. There are probably ways you can further provide enrichment that does not require much money. One of my friend’s kids helped out in a microbiology lab (learning routine techniques and getting a feel for what life in the lab was like… + establishing potential connections for potential future career). There is probably a way to match kids interest with someone in academia (for example, one of my kids would go through the roof if he could attend a talk on black holes – at the moment, he is still too young and doesn’t have enough math/physics background, but maybe when he gets to highschool… if he is still into black holes…).

    For the record – I have a PhD in Neurobiology. My family is very big on education but we were barely scraping by during the times when I was in high school and college (we came to US as refugees back in the 90’s). My husband also got a Neurobio PhD – he is from a low-middle-class background (no expensive camps or internships there, either). We are total failures from the academic viewpoint (ie, left academia) but OK with overall success (opportunities for career growth, salary growth, decent work/life balance). Would science camps have helped? No. We were able to do as well as we did only because of the amazing support (emotional more than financial) from our families.

    Our kids are still youngish (6, 10, 12) – we haven’t done any super-expensive enrichment programs. If there was a perfect match between a kid’s passion and a super-duper camp extravaganza a few years down the road – I may consider it… I would also look into scholarships and less expensive options. Parenting is hard… I just want my kids to be healthy… and happy… and make choices that improve the world … I hope I am doing enough (I am probably not doing enough) … Would spending a chunk of money on kids activities help in the long-term???

    What do you think?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I will definitely do a post on this in the future– I don’t have real answers.

      Though I will say, the camp we were going to send DC1 to this past summer was a magic camp that costs around 2K plus travel for a week of camp. Absolutely no benefit to careers at all (not even Neil Patrick Harris does magic for a living). But they did it virtually this summer for free and it was pretty awesome. Not the same experience as in person, but a great deal given the cost difference (and they just sent a t-shirt, so basically they paid DC1 to attend…).

  15. First Gen American Says:

    Bummer, but the best part of all this is all the saving for the last 25 years Is that you both bought yourself time.

    DH doesn’t have to say yes to the first job offer that comes across his desk and I can tell you that was huge for us when we were in the same situation. First job offer came 1 day after being unemployed but required 70% travel. I can’t even tell you how nice it is to have at least one person home everyday by 5.

    Those 2 months off were very happy times. Since my spouse is 7 years older than me, there will probably come a point where I am still working but he is retired so starting to think about what that will look like.

    Also I agree 100% about having a high household income. We both had layoffs at our companies and this is the first time in 25 years I wasn’t panicking about it because we had a big cash buffer on hand (it was money we saved to replace our 13 year old car). Thank you, 21 year old self for all your sacrifices. And people who have even higher incomes than us have hired daytime babysitters to get them through Covid while they work undisturbed. It’s a world away between the haves and have nots here.


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