In December 2010 The Washington Post engaged BDO USA to see how far a quarter million dollars pre-tax would go for a family of four living in selected affluent suburbs across the country. Keep in mind that while $250,000 does not put you in the Top 1 Percent it puts one solidly in The Next 9 Percent. Representing New York City was Huntington (where $250,000 puts one in the Top 7 Percent of earning households), Naperville (Top 4 Percent) was selected for Chicago, Pinecrest (Top 3 Percent) for Miami, Glendale (Top 4 Percent) for Los Angeles, Plano (Top4 Percent) for Dallas, and Bethesda, The District and Alexandria (Top 7 Percent) for the $250,000 earners working in Washington D.C.
The study was a follow-up to a blog post by University of Chicago Professor Todd Henderson who chronicled his own household’s battle to get by on $250,000 a year before taxes.
While both Henderson and The Washington Post study were motivated by proposed tax increases targeting households with $250,000 or more income, the spending overviews provide important data for marketers of luxury goods and services.
Simply put, with a Household Income of $250,000 the folks in Plano would have had $1,963 extra at the end of the year. However, every other household would have needed to make more than $250,000 to just break even. In fact, in Glendale to break even would take $269,833 while in Huntington break even is $277,380.
But where did the money go?
The study took into account Health Care ($13,282) including Medical at 30 percent of total cost, out-of-pocket co-pays and Dental Costs; Child Care ($19,000) including day care, babysitting, camp and after school activities; Utilities ($8,292) including gas and electricity, phone, cable, internet and water; Food and Staples calculated at $13,659 for food and household supplies, $25 per week for take-out meals and $10 per week for lunches at work. Student loans were calculated at $6,000 per year, a reasonable about when there is $1.2 trillion in student loan debt floating out there. Housing expenses varied by city, included mortgage, insurance, maintenance and cleaning, plus property taxes and other city, state and federal taxes were accounted for as well as retirement and college savings.
So what’s left for luxury goods and services?
– One family trip for $4,000
– Eating out for the year at $2,400
– All gifts for holidays and celebrations at $3,000
– Tickets for movies, sports, theatre, events at $2,693
– Entertaining at home at $1,500
– Dog at $1,571
– Car payments for two cars at approximately $7,500, or $312 per month per car
While one might want to forgo having friends over to save $1,500 that can then be used for a vacation, or instead of taking a vacation, one could buy their spouse a watch or piece of jewelry not exceeding $4,000, it is hard not to conclude that for households in The Next 9 Percent, any taste of luxury they want comes at the expense of something else.
Moreover, it is clear that at very best, when the stars align (the deck doesn’t need to be repaired), these households are sporadic purchasers of luxury, and not Heavy Users.