A Response to Atlantic Monthly’s “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans”

by Katy on April 28, 2016 · 63 comments

I do a lot of Five Frugal Thing blog posts here on The Non-Consumer Advocate. Partially because they’re easy to write, but mostly because a deeply frugal life is about all the small decisions that get made on a daily basis.

Yes, sometimes I save huge amounts of money with a single action, but mostly it’s multiple small decisions that get made on a daily basis. I drink tea instead of coffee, I wash clothes in cold instead of warm water, I hang dry my laundry when possible and I cook from scratch. I find contentment with what I already own and most of my home’s upgrades involve something that I gleaned for nothing. I find free or almost free solutions to life’s challenges and almost all of my hobbies make money.

I balance my extreme frugality with multiple income streams. Working part-time as a labor and delivery nurse, writing, cleaning my mother’s guest cottages, selling on eBay, Craigslist and in consignment shops. It adds up. It sounds busy, but really it isn’t. I choose my own schedule and have more than enough time to goof off. Probably too much time if truth be told.

It’s a good life.

A recent Atlantic Monthly article titled The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans outlined how “47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all.” The author, Neal Gabler explains how he and his wife are in the exact same situation, and is quite transparent about how they ended up in such poor financial shape. From the outside, his repeat financial errors are glaringly obvious, (poor real estate choices, private education, keeping up with The Joneses) but at the time the decisions made sense to a father trying to give his daughters the best start in life. However, those daily decisions completely robbed a successful writer from any possibility of financial stability. His daughters’ college educations were funded by his parents, as a pseudo advance against any inheritance he would have received. “It meant that we had depleted not only our own small savings, but my parents’ as well.” Also, he cashed out his retirement to pay for a wedding.

I finished this article with so many unanswered questions. Did the authors’ daughters work while in high school? What about during college? Did they realize the position they were putting their parents into? Gabler wrote that he tried to hide the seriousness of his  financial situation from his family, so it’s entirely possible that they all assumed that there was an infinite supply of money.

I was talking with a doctor at work a few weeks ago, and he started telling me how he’d saved enough money for his kids to attend university, but only if they’d chosen state schools. However, they wanted private colleges, and took out student loans. This guy had no idea he was speaking to a mild manner RN day day, personal finance writer by night, so it was a fairly random topic of conversation. It really stuck in my mind that this man who’s probably earning upwards of $200,000 per year had his children accumulate student loan debt, while I, a part-time nurse and writer, (and married to a paramedic) was paying cash for her kids’ college.

I don’t know this man personally, so I have no idea if he had extenuating circumstances or if he’s simply succumbed to lifestyle inflation that eats up his paychecks. Either way, he wasn’t able to afford to pay for the colleges that his children chose to attend. Setting his kids up for debt.

This discussion brought to mind another conversation with a different doctor, one who’d mentioned how his family was putting off large purchases until they could get their kids through college. He was driving an old enough car that his fellow doctors teased him about it, and instead of saving up for a BMW, he was putting money aside for a whole family vacation.

I started thinking about the extreme example of the billionaire Warren Buffett, who’s been living in the same $31,500 Nebraska house that he and his wife bought back in the 1958. Granted, $31,500 was a considerable amount for Nebraska real estate back then, but still, he and his wife have made a deliberate decision to not give into lifestyle inflation that must be prevalent within his tax bracket.

Living within one’s means is an issue for all income levels. Granted it’s a whole heck of a lot easier with a higher income, but we likely all know high earners who still are swimming in debt.

Gretchen Rubin writes that “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile,” and frugality is a strong example of this secret of adulthood. Every day I make countless small decisions that keep my family above water. Whether that decision is to cook dollar store pinto beans in a crock pot, or simply to not splurge on pick-me-up cute shoes or indulgent coffees.

Frugality is with me, seven days a week, and because it is, I’m able to spend my money where it counts. We have no debt beyond our mortgage, and we’ll hopefully gets our sons through college without the burden of student loan debt. I’m not 100% sure we can do it, but we sure as hell are going to try.

A deliberateness of finance. Every day.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Surviving and Thriving on Life April 28, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Totally with you on this. Every day its a tiny bit of savings here and there. Yes small savings. BUT these small savings add up.

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Marilyn April 28, 2016 at 4:10 pm

I, too, am also totally with you on this. I do not see the need to go deep into debt for college when there are excellent state universities which offer even more opportunities to students than many private colleges.

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Mary C. April 28, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I can understand the doctor’s situation. He probably makes way too much for his kids to qualify for any need-based aid but may not make enough to pay the entire costs of private college. We have also saved enough for our two kids to attend four years of in-state college, but if they choose to go out of state or to private schools, the tuition and room and board costs could go over $55,000 a year each. The federal formula estimates that people with incomes of about $130,000 a year, after taxes, can afford about $40,000 a year toward college costs. Depending on where you live and your other debts (including your own outstanding student loans), paying $40,000 a year just may not be possible without taking on some loans. I can only hope that my kids will appreciate the value of a debt-free degree from a public college over a degree with a more impressive name on the diploma and an albatross of debt.

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Karen April 28, 2016 at 4:04 pm

Oh my, we battled the whole college/financial aid thing when our two kids were in college; one graduated in 2007, and one in 2014. We made it clear up front that we would pay as much as possible for each one to go to our local state college, but that if they wanted something more expensive, they would have to figure out how to do that: work, Pell grants, other grants or even small loans. My husband and i are not well off, and we both paid for our own college degrees.

Due to different circumstances which affected each child, including our changing economic outlook, i.e. job change/worsening situation, we could pay for 3 years for my daughter. That fourth year, she knew we were struggling, so she rose to the challenge, increased her work hours, and proudly paid for her last year. My son approached things differently, and because of different factors we only paid for his first two years. He got several grants and took out a small loan to fund his tuition, and less than 2 years later, his loan is almost paid off. There are so many ways to approach financing college, but I have really grown to see that making the child part of the conversation is a very good thing. I think high our kids learned a lot about becoming adults by paying for part of college themselves.

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Karen April 28, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Both our kids, not “high”! Ugh, can’t type!

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Christine April 28, 2016 at 4:35 pm

This is an interesting dilemma for me… I went to university for 6 years. My husband & I were married very young, so we were on our own and worked/took out student loans/ got scholarships to pay for our own education. I saw so many classmates whose parents were footing the bill literally waste their education- not showing up for class, not writing exams, not putting in any effort whatsoever. I feel like I appreciated my education more, because I had to work hard to get it. This has made me think that I would like my kids to have the opportunity to work hard to also earn their education. I would like to help them by paying off all or as much as I can of their student loans when they graduate, but I am so hesitant to perhaps let them become complacent by paying for everything up front, because of what I saw in university. It certainly depends on the child and their motivation/situation, so maybe by the time we are in that spot, it won’t even be a concern… but I really believe that when you invest your own time and energy into achieving a goal, it is such a great accomplishment to reach it!

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John April 28, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Getting married is actually an excellent way to qualify for financial aid (including grants). Getting married means you have financial independence from your parents, most often drastically changing the FAFSA equation.

Outside of marriage, claiming financial independence is not easy for younger students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/us/06bcmarriage.html

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John April 28, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Getting married also makes it much easier to qualify for in-state tuition (i.e. establish residency).

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Megyn April 28, 2016 at 5:48 pm

I actually tell kids that getting a divorce is cheaper than paying for student loans. And now you can marry anyone, so you can just marry your BFF for a few years. I don’t want to take advantage of all the great rights the LG community has just won, but it is an option for those looking for a radical alternative to having to get student loans.

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Katy April 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Very true. My sons started working when they were 15 years old and are part of paying for their own college expenses.

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Theresa September 19, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Christine, I totally agree. The kids who partied the hardest were the ones whose parents were footing the bill. One guy even secretly got a student loan that he used to party even harder. His parents likely paid that loan off once he fessed up.

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Brittany May 11, 2016 at 2:09 pm

I never expected my parents to pay for my college or law school expenses, I worked and received scholarships. You and the above-mentioned doctor are extremely generous to offer in-state tuition to your children. Private schools, study abroad, etc. are privileges, not rights by any means.

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Diana April 28, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Yes! It reminds me of a book I listened to recently called “The Millionaire Next Door”, where the little things add up and to live below your means. (I borrowed it from the library of course 🙂

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Emily April 30, 2016 at 7:06 am

great book! Definitely a great read for everyone.

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tboyce@egyptian.net April 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm

I didn’t see where in the article Gabler explains how he got into such poor shape – did I get a contracted view of the actual article because I am not a suscriber? I would be curious to see what his poor choices were, especially the real estate mistakes. I am always trying to decide whether we made a ‘real estate mistake’ by buying a place in an area where property values don’t increase much because it is so rural. We have lived here 20 yrs and can hope to get out of our house about what we paid for it plus less than what we put in by way of repairs.

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Lee April 30, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Briefly, he and his wife bought a co-op in Brooklyn and then decided to move to the Hamptons so their daughters could go to public school and they wouldn’t have to pay for private school. His wife stopped working outside the home once they moved, but the co-op didn’t sell right away, so they were paying two mortgages. He didn’t plan ahead for a large tax bill on an advance for a book, so he didn’t pay all his taxes and is still paying penalties on the unpaid amount. And they emptied their 401K to pay for one daughter’s wedding. He also says his wife has been out of the workforce too long to get another job. In short: a lot of decisions he now acknowledges were not good.

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Elizabeth B April 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Great column, Katy. You set an inspiring example. I stray from strict NCA principles way more than I’d like to admit, but instead of beating myself up and shaming myself, I try to forgive myself for my failings and just work on doing better going forward.

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Kara April 28, 2016 at 2:19 pm

We saved enough to pay for in-state tuition. We pointed out to our children that choosing college that you can afford is the first in a long line of financial choices that they will make. There will always be things that are above what you can afford. A house. A car. We might like the mansion, and it’s available, but can we afford it? College is no different. The $50,000 a year colleges are available, and would be very happy to take your money, but can you afford it? I tell my kids that they will leave college debt -free, whereas others are leaving prestigious, competitive colleges with massive debt. Those high flyers don’t seems quite so smart any more. There are few occupations that require attendance at a big-name college. Some, but few.

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Jen@FrugalSteppingStones May 1, 2016 at 4:49 pm

I think that is an excellent way of putting it: “choosing college that you can afford is the first in a long line of financial choices that they will make”.

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hector April 28, 2016 at 2:32 pm

You’re paying cash for your kids’ college, but your kids selected obscure state schools in the state you live. So it’s hardly the same thing as the doctor’s kids. The education this doctor’s kids chose probably cost $30,000-40,000 per year more than your kids’ do/did. Whether or not that’s a good choice is up for discussion, but it’s hardly comparable.

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susan April 29, 2016 at 11:44 pm

That’s exactly Katy’s point… people need to make better financial decisions, regardless of what they do for a living, and many so-called ‘professionals’ do not have a clue as to how to manage their money wisely. One can live better on less money if $6 lattes and other frivolous purchases are not part of the equation. It’s all about choices.

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Emily April 30, 2016 at 7:10 am

It’s absolutely comparable. That’s the problem with student loans in this country. People choose expensive schools they can’t afford no matter the income of their parents, which is why student loans have now surpassed credit card debt. You are not required to go to college and furthermore, it is ENTIRELY your choice where you go.

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Heidi April 28, 2016 at 2:35 pm

My niece attends a private instate college that is paid for with wise investments, scholarships and a tuition break as her mother teaches at university. Her peers call her a spoiled little rich girl because her schooling is paid for. My niece’s response is to ignore them or to say “if only they could see our house, and the cars my parents drive they wouldn’t call me a spoiled little rich girl”. She understands that sacrifice brings greater opportunities than having the latest and greatest things.

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Krystal April 28, 2016 at 5:16 pm

That’s gotta be hard for her. That’s fantastic that her family is able to provide this opportunity! She sounds wise beyond her years, I wish I was in college 🙂

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hector April 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Also–the other thing is you enjoy being cheap. Despite what you say above, you’re rather clearly not tempted to splurge on cute shoes. You’re fine with wearing secondhand T shirts. So while the way you live is fine for you, and worthwhile enough for the rest of us to read your blog, you’re actually not tempted by many things other people are, so it’s hardly a “countless small decision” for you every day.

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Diane C April 30, 2016 at 5:50 am

Wow, Hector, you’re attempting to hector Katy on her own turf, and I take exception to your words. There’s a world of difference between cheap and frugal. And who made you the expert on what tempts Katy, or anyone for that matter? Your comments might just mirror your own lack of frugal strength. Making excuses for your own failings by throwing stones at others won’t take you far on the path to financial or personal success in life.

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Emily April 30, 2016 at 7:14 am

The point is you make small decisions for a greater pay off at the end? it’s not that they are easy? And when you do anything for an extended period of time they become habits, and thanks to our basal ganglia and motor memory, by default they become easier. Right?!

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Diane April 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Yes and it’s all good until an unknown disaster strikes. It’s that uncertain, random event that can throw anyone into a financial tailspin no matter how frugal they live day to day.

I am still recovering 11 years after a disaster.

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Stephanie April 30, 2016 at 8:02 am

I totally get that since we have had own Armageddon. At least you were making wise choices before and are able to do the best you can with what you have now.

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ellen April 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Loved the Gabler article; it was quite lengthy, and it seems to be popping up all over the blogosphere. A lot of his problems, (aside from wanting to give his kids everything), was the sporadic nature of his income. As a writer/author it appeared his income came in drips and drabs, so he appeared to have not bothered to plan ahead. Anyway, I can totally relate to his wanting to indulge his kids. We have 3 boys, my husband is a doc, and all 3 attended private colleges. For some careers, majors, etc. it probably is not as important where you go to school, as long as you do well. And especially if grad school is in the picture.
But I have to say, my oldest was very bright, attended Yale, and now works on Wall Street. Those large banks only tend to recruit at the more well known “name brand” colleges, so for us, it was a great investment, (actually for him it was a game changer, he earns way more than my husband at this point). So it is hard to compare apples to oranges, and I understand Gabler’s point of view. But, I don’t feel sorry for him; he was very unwise, and he still has the million dollar house!

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hector April 28, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Who says his house is worth a million dollars? I know people focused on the Hamptons part, but lots of houses in the Hamptons are worth much less than a million. Most, in fact.

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albertagurl April 28, 2016 at 3:18 pm

I love Five Frugal Things!! Thanks for keeping it real 🙂

From your #1 fan in Alberta

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Jess April 28, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Just from what I can discern from your post, I feel like maybe you’re being a little harsh/presumptive about the doctor. From a parental perspective, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with agreeing to pay a set amount of tuition – isn’t that teaching the kids a lesson that either they can graduate from a state school debt free, but if they choose to go to a more expensive private school, then Dad can pay x amount and they will be responsible for the rest? Isn’t this a judgment on the kids instead? Why does this make the doctor irresponsible?

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Amanda April 28, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I agree. Debt is not evil, and borrowing for college isn’t the end of the world. My husband borrowed every penny for his college. It’s a source of pride for us that we were able to pay it off in 18 months after we graduated. We’re diligently saving for college for our kids, but I don’t think we’ll be willing to pay $50k a year for private. But I wasn’t there for the conversation–maybe the doc was being a jerk.

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Renee April 28, 2016 at 3:45 pm

This was my thought as well.

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Kerrie April 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I agree, and clicked through from my reader to say the same thing. I think it is a far more useful lesson to a young adult to clarify the budget available for their education and expect that they take responsibility for anything beyond that budget.

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Katy April 29, 2016 at 9:16 pm

I wish I could have continued the conversation, but I needed to take care of my patient. I’ll try and pick it back up again when we work together next.

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Teri May 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm

I also agree with the doctor’s decision re: agreeing to pay for his kids education IF they went to a state school and having them pay it if they wanted private.My kids went to excellent state schools (my son is an Emmy award winning editor and my daughter runs a non for profit agency), I am a hospital social worker and many of my doctor friends have varying ideas about their children education. Several had their children go to expensive private schools, BU, Harvard, NYU and did they paid the full cost and despite being frugal are somewhat behind in retirement savings. The others did as your doctor friend did, gave the kids a choice. If the kid chose private they supplemented the cost with what they would have paid for state school and gave their kid a very upfront look at their options of going into student loan debt. So I can’t disagree with his decision. I have yet to meet someone who graduated from an Ivy League school who has a better job than say, someone from a state school, other than if they wanted to work in Wall Street.

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PaperCraneFarm April 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I agree that frugal comes from lots of small decisions every day. We save off the top (automatically saving into retirement plans) and then track to the penny our income and our spending. This allows us to figure how much extra we can save or put towards paying down debt. We’ve been tracking to the penny for years and can see the difference being frugal every day makes right there in the spreadsheet. As we hone our frugal muscle, we’re amazed that year in year out, we spend less money than the year before. Doing without, buying on sale, using up, using what we have, finding a coupon, not wasting, picking up side gigs, using reward credit cards to our advantage, seeking out free things/experiences, having hobbies that cost little – it all adds up.

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Maureen April 28, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I took a picture of the last 3 paragraphs and shared them with my husband and sons. I love the quote “what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” A ‘deliberateness of finance’, cannot protect us from every possibility in life, but it can sure make a huge difference. Thinking and acting on it daily in small ways gives it a naturalness and peace that is profound with all the other crap..I mean stuff that’s happening for most people. Keeping a simple eye, being content, is not automatic or ‘easy’ for anyone. It has to be cultivated and I appreciate your sharing the fruitage of your hard work.

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Kerrie April 28, 2016 at 4:24 pm

I read your blog regularly and often appreciate the insights to a different life that it offers. I also enjoy frugality and reaping the long-term benefits of small daily choices, and find it comforting knowing that despite our unimpressive lifestyle, our net worth is growing due to these choices. I struggle with some elements of your blog sometimes, however, because frugality at this level is almost an middle class luxury which, while benefiting your family financially, is also enjoyable because of the self-satisfaction it provides when compared to others. Frugality is not a choice for so many and while their choices aren’t those that I would make, I understand why they make the choices they are judged on. Sometimes I feel disillusioned because it feels like well-educated white people with established financial foundations as well as family and community connections which offer resources and opportunities can pat themselves on the back for their good decisions, without acknowledging that they started off so much further ahead than the average person. I don’t think it is the end of the world to expect an adult to pay for their own education, for instance, and feel like a lot of the self-congratulatory choices mentioned are between two genuinely good options, and neither are a real sacrifice in the bigger picture. I commend you for making them and think more people should analyse their day to day actions with a financial goal in mind, but often neither of the choices are a hardship from my perspective.
I appreciate that it is your life and am not suggesting you downgrade anything to have a more drastic experience but struggle with the lack of acknowledgement of this very important fact. I am trying to write this as thoughtfully as I can because it’s not my intention to be personally critical and I admire that you bravely share details of your life with so many strangers and recognise you’ve created a space for important conversations, but feel there is a rigidity in some posts which comes from a place that is unrealistic for many people.

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Megyn April 28, 2016 at 4:43 pm

I agree. I felt like this response to the Atlantic article was extremely judgmental. I read through the entire Atlantic article and understood how the author got to the place he did. Sh*t happens in life, and even the most frugal can run out of money for a myriad of likely reasons (such as the inability to sell a house quickly and for less than you owe, for example). I feel like a little grace and gratitude is needed here. It almost seems like, “Look how perfect I am being at financial stuff while this person sucks and is a failure!” In all actuality, we have no real clue how frugal the author really is…who knows, he may be pretty dang frugal, but still ended up in the same place.

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Katy April 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I did come from a middle class background, although there was never any money for any luxuries. I never had the cute stuff that my peers did, and babysat and worked part time to be able to have any spending money. We qualified for need based financial aid, which made college possible. My financial aid package required me to take out a $2500 student loan, although I was able to bypass this as I has enough in savings to cover it, which was all from $1.25/hour babysitting and $3.25 minimum wage jobs.

I appreciate how respectfully you worded your comment, thank you. I want to be able to discuss these issues, which can be difficult when people are quick to say that critical thinking is simply “judgmental.”

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Mary April 28, 2016 at 5:00 pm

I agree with some of the above commenters, I feel like this post had a very “better than thou” tone. Very much like the physician you mentioned above, we make very good money but would prefer to send my children to state schools…not only because my husband and I are products over great public education, but also because I also like to keep some of our hard-earned money for retirement, experiences, savings, investments, etc. In my opinion, there is NOTHING wrong with letting our young adults pay for some of their education as it teaches them the value of money and hard work.

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Krystal April 28, 2016 at 5:10 pm

In the case of children who want to go to a school that costs more than their parents have saved, a simple “no” can go a long way. Being 18, while an adult, doesn’t always mean you are able to make sound financial decisions–perhaps in this case, it means going to a school you cannot afford simply because it’s a want. I think this is a really hard discussion for many families (especially those who don’t discuss money). I’m thankful my parents vetoed my out-of-state desires and I graduated with no student loans. Eighteen year old “adults” don’t always make mature decisions–I remember just a few of mine–and parents still should have a say in preventing them from making expensive mistakes, even if they can’t legally stop it.

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Megg April 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm

I’m still paying my student loans from my 2 years at a private college (transferred to a state school because it didn’t have the program I wanted). I graduated 11 years ago and have no regrets. In fact, I’m glad my parents didn’t veto the private, out of state Christian school I chose because it was my first choice. I wouldn’t trade the experiences or friendships for anything.
I think student loans are good for adults. It helps them build credit and responsibility. I’d never limit my kid’s college choice just because of cost.

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Mand01 April 28, 2016 at 6:04 pm

I read this article and your post with interest. I have been what I like to call BOYAB (bones-of-your-arse-broke, excuse the Australian-ism), and I’ve been where I am now. Because I’ve been BOYAB, I refuse never to be in that circumstance again. That changes my mindset, whereby wasting money on foolish, short term things is not worth it to me. I think the author of the article thinks he’s broke. But it’s Hamptons academic broke. If he’d ever been BOYAB, he’d change his mindset, and not think that a wedding and a private school were necessities.

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Kim from Philadelphia April 28, 2016 at 6:08 pm

Playing devil’s advocate here; I don’t think I’d make sweeping assumptions about the physician who allocated money only for state schools.
Perhaps he chose to limit the amount given to each child intentionally. Perhaps he believes they can get a quality education at a state school. Perhaps he chose not to sacrifice his own retirement savings in lieu of first pumping up the kid’s accounts. Not all physicians are “wealthy” due to school loans, and/or many practice areas really don’t make as much as one might think.
Maybe he’s doing this so that they dont become entitled and need “pull some of the weight themselves”
Just something to think about.

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Katy April 29, 2016 at 9:17 pm

He was an anesthesiologist, which pays handsomely.

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Michelle H. May 4, 2016 at 3:54 am

My in-laws did this. They would pay tuition for a state school, and if their children chose to attend a more expensive college then the student was responsible for covering the difference. My husband went to trade school and 2 siblings went to a state university. Fourth kid attended state college for a year then decided he needed to transfer to a $50k a year university across the country. He wound up joining the military to help pay for school, but I have no idea if he had to take out loans as well.

I’ve been on my own since 17 and put myself through junior college and university with a combination of small scholarships and a full time job with tuition reimbursement (and lots of overtime). But it took me 15 years to finish my undergraduate degree, which I don’t even use. But I’m the first person in my family to graduate and no one can take that away from me!

We plan to help our kids with school costs when the time comes, but we have started indoctrinating them early to live at home and attend one of the nearby state universities. We talk about all the opportunities they will have if they aren’t saddled with debt when they graduate, and I’m hoping by making college plans a part of our everyday lives while they are still in elementary that they are able to make wise choices later.

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Jack April 28, 2016 at 6:27 pm

If I’m remembering correctly, didn’t your older son take a year off after college? Did he work and was he expected to put that money towards more than his own personal spending money at college?

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Katy April 28, 2016 at 6:29 pm

He did work and then ended up attending Portland State University throughout the year.

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Mandy Erasmus April 30, 2016 at 4:08 am

I LOVE reading you blog! Your words educate, lift and inspire me. Thank you for this post. Really spoke to my heart. I want this kind of living! I’m trying the NCA way but realize that I have a long way to go in adjusting my mindset. I love that you said frugality is with you seven days a week, and because of that you can spend your money where it counts. Such a great example of mindful living and financial deliberateness! Thanks Katy!

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Bee April 30, 2016 at 5:16 am

I originally heard about this article last week when Neal Gabler gave an interview on PRI’s Marketplace (probably available on podcast). I was flabbergasted by his story and read the article immediately.
By exposing his financial secrets, he may prevent others from making the same mistakes that he has. It was definitely a call for financial education and the importance of planning. It takes vigilance and fortitude to live below ones means. In this go-go, consumerist society, it can be difficult to live frugally, simply and thoughtfully, but Mr.Gabler just showed all of us why we should.

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janine April 30, 2016 at 5:41 am

Thank you for this post. I also read the Atlantic article. At the time I thought – there but for the grace of the Almighty- goes our family. What the author did quite effectively was link statistics to his own situation – and his mistaken lifestyle choices went further than using his inheritance to pay for his daughters’ educations.

Underlying the story was the assumption of rising expectations – which until recently were reasonable assumptions in American society. Remember, he linked his own struggles with statistics that showed substantial shrinking of the middle class. The initial point was that 47% of Americans could not meet a $500 emergency through cash on hand or savings and all appearances to the contrary, he (and many others) was part of that 47%. Popular culture until recently, lead us to believe that incomes were always going to rise at a faster rate than inflation, school loans could easily be paid off with higher salaries, and generous benefits would help us into a worry free retirement.

It is part of Katy’s genius to put a spoke in these assumptions and lead us in a direction towards satisfactory life experiences through thoughtful and frugal financial choices.

The author also showed us how difficult it is to manage when you have only one wage earner with an uneven income stream. This appeared to be coupled with a reluctance to share his financial challenges with other family members.

In our case , our children did not attend expensive schools (although we would have been willing to pay/borrow for them) , our real estate investments proved to be modestly successful, and I returned to work to supplement the family’s income. On the other hand, although we live in a good neighborhood in the city, our children both attended substandard schools. ( One son attended a private school for a while, and we were able to provide summer programs and tutoring for both children to supplement their educations. ) Perhaps a better choice would have been superior suburban public schools. To quote the old cliché- your vision looking backwards is 20/20! I think it would behoove many of us to take this article as a cautionary tale.

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Bee April 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm

The economic environment has change greatly since the beginning of the Great Recession. Medium household income is down by more than 10%. The average net worth of all but the top percentage of earners is also down. Meanwhile the cost of food, medical care and education have continued to increase dramatically. Mr. Gabler like many Americans was simply not prepared.

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janine April 30, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Bee – Agreed that many American were not prepared for the recent reversal of fortunes for those with mid-sized incomes, and as you state, costs for necessities such as food, education and medical care continue to rise.
New strategies are needed to address this new reality. It would be wonderful if our educational institutions would include financial literacy as a requirement for graduation.

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Bee May 1, 2016 at 6:31 am

I agree with that 100%! Education is the key.

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esther clark April 30, 2016 at 8:20 am

I cannot fault him for the Stanford tuition. Any child that works hard enough to get into an elite school like that deserves to attend.

What I do fault him and his wife for is not anticipating the need. Why did she elect to stay out of the work force knowing their daughters would be attending expensive private schools. I know many families where both parents work because of the need for college funding. Many couples that had children later and realize they cannot retire until the kids are out of college.

Many families are caught in a crunch because of job insecurity, illness, high cost of housing. This family is in a crunch because of poor choices.

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Mand01 April 30, 2016 at 7:32 pm

I’m sorry, but I just cannot agree with that statement. Millions of people work hard. That doesn’t mean they ‘deserve’ more than they can realistically afford.
I was a gifted student who attended a rural public school. Because of that, I missed out on many opportunities. I worked really hard, but I did not have the same quality education as a kid in a great city school (public or private). Do I feel that because I had to work harder, I deserved that my parents go into debt to send me to an elite school? No. It is what it is – they are not wealthy, but they did their best.
BTW, I did ok 😉

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diana May 1, 2016 at 11:51 am

u r wrong about the doctor.he was correct to only pay so much for his children’s college..if they want to go to an expensive they can pay for it..he saved and was willing to pay only what he wanted..his children should have gone to a state school but choose not to

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Jackie May 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm

I’m a post partum nuse and I was talking to a pregnant OB the other day. She said she could only financially afford to take off 4 weeks of maternity leave, maybe 6 if forced to have a csection. This made me so sad as I took off 12 weeks and my husband is also a nurse. Yes it was tight but worth every penny pinched to have that time at home.

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lulutoo May 2, 2016 at 12:53 pm

I always like your posts but this one is especially super. I just shared it on Facebook (a first for me). I also read his article and was baffled by it.

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