The Restless Project: Can’t Get By on $60K, $80K, Even $100K?

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Hundreds of readers have shared how they live well while spending less than $5,000 a month. Now it's time to hear from those who feel they're falling behind despite having a much larger income.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series by Bob Sullivan called The Restless Project. 

Do you struggle to live on $60,000 per year? Or $80,000? Or even $100,000? Well, I know a lot of people who can’t understand how that’s possible.

As part of my Restless Project, I’ve been talking about what it costs to live a “normal” life in America today. Last week, I asked folks who spend less than $60,000 per year, $5,000 per month, how they do it. Many of them had already written to me about my initial $100,000 budget, saying I was off my rocker.

Generous with both their time, their personal financial snapshots, and their opinions, I’ve heard from nearly 1,000 people so far. Hundreds of them broke down for me how they live well by spending less than $5,000 per month. While many of them are lucky enough to live in our nation’s less-expensive haunts, like Texas, or live without the expenses of raising children, I heard from some families in expensive places, too.

I will share their stories in the near future.

But now, I want to hear from the other half of this equation. Roughly half of American households live on more than $60,000 per year, and I know that many of them feel like they are falling behind, that they can barely keep up with student loan payments, private school tuition, property taxes, football equipment, braces … and a host of other expenses that seem to add up faster than possible.

It sounds absurd to people in some parts of the country, but for many Americans, a $100,000 budget for spending per year, $8,333 per month, just isn’t enough.

How can this be? Plenty of folks have reminded me that the reality of mixed families often means child support or alimony payments, which take a big bite out of budgets. Kids with special needs, by any measure a phenomenon that’s on the rise, are an enormous drain on financial resources. Property taxes in New Jersey often exceed $1,000 per month. Life in a long-distance suburb can save money but lead to $500 monthly gas bills. If I’ve learned one thing from this exercise so far, it’s how quickly the little things add up.

If you spend more than $5,000 … $6,000 … even $8,000 per month, this is your chance to explain to the incredulous why living costs so much. Send me your monthly budget via email: Bob at

To help you get started, here’s one budget provided to me by a mom who lives near Sacramento, Calif. The debt in the line she mentions at the bottom is a payment plan for an attorney associated with costs incurred during a difficult child custody battle. The six-member family has no credit cards and spends a  bit more than $100,000 each year.   

kates budget smaller

Here’s another example of an exasperated reader who feels like she’s falling behind even while her household pulls in six figures. She doesn’t live in a big East or West Coast city. She lives in Central Louisiana. 

My husband and I are in such debt just trying to keep up with inflation … neither one of us has had a raise in seven years!! We have NO savings … none for college for our kids; none for retirement. We don’t eat out. We have to buy reliable vehicles since my husband uses his for work and we can’t afford car repairs on unreliable vehicles. Been there – done that.

Mortgage — $1,200 (house hopefully will be paid off in nine years).
Electricity — $500 (this is the South and it’s hot).
Phones — $400 (for a family of four with a house phone – my husband needs his cell for business and we all need ours to stay in touch with two college daughters. We cannot terminate the house phone due to spotty service.).
Auto insurance — $500 (family of four – full coverage with minimum state limits – NO accidents, NO tickets).
Health insurance — $400 (family of four under Obamacare … otherwise it was up to $1,200 – no priors!).
Home insurance — $200.
Truck payment — $400 (husband’s work vehicle).
Motorcycle payment — $215 (husband’s toy).
Car payment — $415 (mine).
Car payment — $286 (Girl No. 2 … Girl No. 1 has been paid off).
Groceries — $1,200.
Toiletries/cleaning supplies — $300.
Internet — $100 (needed for business).
DirecTV — $100 (needed for weather channel and business).
Second mortgage — $150.
Credit card payment — $500.
Clothes — $100 (we hardly ever buy clothes – this $100 this month just went to sign my husband up for continuing education credits for his job).
Water — $50.
Medical payment — $65 monthly payment for deductible on gallbladder surgery for daughter No. 1 from three years ago.
Eating out — $0.
Beer — $120 (we need to drink – it’s our only outlet).
Gas — $1,000 (my husband travels for his job – our gas bill is high).
Tax savings — $1,000 (payments made quarterly since husband is a 1099 worker).
Total monthly payments: $9,201, Or $110,412 per year …

Used to be … $100K a year was a GOOD salary. We don’t eat out. We can’t help our kids pay for college. We could afford to pay off our credit cards if we didn’t have to pay for taxes or insurance. The “middle class” is being killed. I cannot work any harder. I will try for OT to help pay down some things, but then I get sick from working so much so I have doctor visits to pay. Vicious cycle.

Are you stuck in a vicious cycle and, despite making a reasonable salary, do you feel like you are slipping behind, like roughly three-fifths of Americans? If so, please let me know. Send me your budget at Bob at And look for plenty more interesting family budgets in the coming weeks.

More from Bob Sullivan:

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Read Next: The Restless Project: Do You Live on Less Than $60K a Year? How?

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