Sort of on the fly here, based on a whole afternoon of pondering this, I've made a list of what I think a decent living wage salary should buy. It's a bit above where I and most of my friends' experience, I think. Some of my friends are close to this, but most do it with two salaries. It's what I would expect a family of 4 to have, buy, and do when the parent(s) is/are in their 30s and 40s and at least one has a college degree.
- Own a home in at least the 2nd quartile of the local market. (This means it's not a motor home and probably a townhome instead of a condo, if not a single family home.) This home is insured.
- This home has a kitchen with refrigerator, freezer, sink, microwave, oven, range, dishwasher, toaster, blender, and coffee/tea maker.
- This home also has a washer/dryer, vacuum cleaner, and small selection of power tools.
- Finding money to pay for water, electricity, landline phone and heat is not a concern.
- Household has 2 reliable cars, ages new through 8 years and can afford insurance on both.
- Can afford daycare for 2 kids (although the cars might be in the 5-8 year age for this period.)
- Able to put aside 10% pre-tax for retirement, and 5-15% post-tax for mid and long term savings like college funds, a new deck, updating furniture every 10 years, renovating outdated rooms, etc... (Although perhaps not while funding daycare for two.)
- Has health insurance such that routine out of pocket medical expenses are unlikely to run more than $3K a year and are generally tax free due to the medical spending account.
- Can afford 5 new outfits per person every new school year, and another 3 or so at the midwinter holiday, and a new swimsuit in the summer.
- Eats decently from groceries without always buying expired produce, cheese ends and 40 pounds of frozen meat at a time, and can afford to eat out once a week, even if it's just pizza.
- Can afford one big outing a month - renting a boat at the lake, heading to Disneyland, tickets to the local ball game, heading out of town for a ren-fair or to visit relatives, or inviting the extended family over for a BBQ. This might be by way of a yearly membership to a theater or science museum or zoo.
- Can afford to take two weeks off a year to travel - to visit relatives or ski or go to the beach, or stay home and work on a hobby - but doesn't need to use all the vacation from the primary job to work at the second job.
- Can afford time and money to have a hobby or two- reading, puttering on cars, building furniture, singing, dancing, soft/base/volley-ball, soccer, glassblowing, painting, scuba diving, scrapbooking, room-mother, coach assistant, band booster, etc...
- Can afford a TV, a stereo, a computer and an internet connection. Has at least one cell phone, might have a family plan. Probably gets basic cable.
- Can afford a med-lg toy every year (new TV, bicycles, X-box with games)
- Everyone can get in enough exercise to stay healthy.
- Everyone can get at least 7 hours of sleep every night, on average.
- All of this can be afforded without going into debt.
What I'm interested in is if I've forgotten something that others would consider essential for a comfortable life that won't get the kids embarrassed in school when compared to the neighbors. Everyone has different ideas of what is and isn't negotiable. Since I don't have kids, I probably missed some huge kid related expense. But I'm thinking that in order to live this "ordinary" life, I'm going to have to budget hard for a while and figure out how to make more money. Especially if I want someone else to clean the place. Let me know what you think of my list. Fantasy? Or achievable goal?