Does Your Income Make You Upper Class, Middle Class, or Lower Class?
By: Christy Bieber |
– First published on Sept. 5, 2023
Incomes vary widely across the United States, with some people making many times the amount that others earn. If you’ve ever wondered how your personal finances stack up, and what “class” your income officially puts you in, here’s what you need to know.What income do you need to be upper, middle, or lower class?Based on 2021 data, here’s what you would need to earn in order to be in each class:Lower class: This is defined as the bottom 20% of earners. Those in the lower class have an income at or below $28,007.Lower middle class: This is defined as individuals in the 20th to 40th percentile of household income. Earnings among this group are between $28,008 and $55,000Middle class: The middle class is officially those whose earnings put them in the 40th to 60th percentile of household income. The income range is $55,001 to $89,744.Upper middle class: Anyone with earnings in the 60th to 80th percentile would be considered upper middle class. Those in the upper middle class have incomes between $89,745 and $149,131.Upper class: Finally, the upper class is the top 20% of earners and they have incomes of $149,132 or higher.Take a look at these numbers and see where you fall based on your own earnings. And remember, this is a snapshot in time — your earnings can change throughout your life, and so can your class designation.Will your success be determined by your income and class?It’s probably not a surprise that those in the upper classes or in the upper middle class do have a higher net worth than those in the lower class or the lower middle class. But the disparity is greater than you might think. While the median net worth of those with incomes of $149,132 or higher is $805,400, the median net worth of those in the lower class is just $12,000.Your income impacts how easy it is for you to build wealth. If you make more money, it is easier to save it and invest it in a brokerage account where it can work for you. If you make less money, then you may struggle even to cover the necessities out of your checking account, much less to buy valuable assets that help you grow richer over time.But that doesn’t mean people who don’t make a lot of money can’t be a financial success. A lot depends on what you do with the money you actually have, including how much you spend and how much you save.There are plenty of people who make over $100,000 a year who live paycheck to paycheck, and plenty of people with incomes that put them squarely in the lower or lower middle class who have diligently saved and grown quite wealthy over many years.Here’s how you can improve your standingDon’t be discouraged if you aren’t in the class you hope to be. For one thing, you have opportunities to increase your income by taking the following steps:Learning new job skills: You could obtain a certification, take part in a management training program at work, or take some classes to develop skills that may help you get promoted (such as computer training courses or public speaking classes), depending on your industry.Take on a side hustle: The average side hustle brings in $483 per month, which is a good amount of extra money that could make a meaningful difference in your income.Work some extra hours: If your company allows you to work overtime, take advantage of it, as many people are paid time and a half for overtime hours.Negotiate your salary: According to Pew Research, when workers negotiated for higher pay, 28% said they received the extra money they asked for and 38% indicated they were given more than originally offered but less than their ask. Whether you are getting a new job or staying at your current job but feel you’re underpaid, it doesn’t hurt to make a request for more money — especially if you can find salary data to back up the fact that others in your industry are paid more.And even if your earnings never put you in the top 20% of earners, you can still have a rich life and end up with the financial security you deserve — especially if you prioritize saving as much as you can for as long as you can.
My Brother Won a Car on The Price Is Right. Here’s What It Cost Him
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Dec. 6, 2023
When my brother got tickets to be in the audience of The Price Is Right, he figured it would simply be an entertaining way to spend a day off. He didn’t imagine his name would actually be called during the show’s opening round.But lo and behold, my brother was one of the first four contestants asked to come on down and participate in the iconic show that has you guessing at prices of various consumer goods. And as luck would have it, my brother was able to out-bid his competitors and move on for a chance at a new car — a car he won through savvy guessing, but also, a nice amount of luck.My brother was ecstatic to have won such an awesome and valuable prize. But that prize wound up being a bit of a mixed bag.Taking the money and runningMy brother won a Hyundai Elantra with an estimated value of $25,415. He was happy to have won the car, but there was a problem — he already had a vehicle and didn’t need a second one. And he certainly didn’t want to have to bear the cost of auto insurance for a vehicle to largely just sit in his driveway.Thankfully, my brother was able to work something out with the dealership. Instead of keeping the Elantra, he was able to use the roughly $25,000 credit he got to buy a used car from them and then sell it back for $21,000, which he took as cash. This route was worth it for him because sales tax and registration for a new Elantra would’ve been about $4,000. And now, my brother has a pile of cash he can add to his savings account instead of a car he doesn’t actually need.Gearing up for a giant tax billMy brother won two prizes on The Price Is Right — a grill package worth about $1,400 and the Hyundai Elantra. All told, it’s more than $26,000 in winnings.But now, my brother is going to be looking at a pretty hefty tax bill on his prizes. And it doesn’t matter that he took cash for the car. He’s looking at paying that tax either way.The exact amount will hinge on his total tax situation. What’ll probably happen is that my brother will receive a tax form from the game show summarizing the value of his winnings, and he’ll need to work with his accountant to figure out what it will cost him.As a very basic example, let’s say you win $20,000 on a game show and fall into the 24% tax bracket based on your income. You might, in that case, end up having to pay as much as $4,800 on your winnings. If that $20,000 is a cash prize, you could simply reserve some of it for your tax bill. But what if you win a $20,000 vacation package, or $20,000 in furniture? It’s not like you can send the IRS a dining room chair or a loveseat and call things even.So be very careful when you’re looking at taking home any sort of game show prize. You may even want to meet with an accountant before applying to be on a game show to get some advice.The good news is that my brother stands to gain something financially either way. But imagine you were to receive a $26,000 bonus from work. That’s a great thing. But you’ll likely end up losing a large chunk of that $26,000 when you account for the portion you owe the IRS.All told, my brother is grateful for his experience and now has a really fun story to tell. But if you’re planning to audition for a game show in the hopes of walking away with a huge amount of cash or a set of prizes, do know that winnings like that are considered taxable income. And it might take the input of a very seasoned accountant to help you reconcile your tax bill after coming away with that sort of haul.
3 Reasons Not to Shop at Aldi Despite the Low Prices
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Jan. 8, 2024
At the start of 2023, one of the financial resolutions I made was to spend less money on groceries. As someone who was already in the habit of buying staples in bulk (thanks, Costco), that was a pretty challenging thing. But then a friend of mine introduced me to Aldi, and suddenly, I found myself in a position of being able to save money on food at a time when grocery prices were still pretty high across the board (kudos, inflation).I did a fair amount of shopping at Aldi during the first half of 2023. But I’ll admit that as the year wore on, I found myself visiting the store less frequently.It’s true that shopping at Aldi has the potential to result in a fair amount of savings. But here’s why you may not want to shop there despite the low prices.1. You have picky eaters at homeSome people have pickier children than others. But my kids are pretty choosy about the food they’re willing to eat. So when I brought home cheap granola bars from Aldi at one point last year, my kids downright refused to touch them because they weren’t familiar with the brand. As such, instead of saving a few dollars on granola bars, I wasted a few dollars.Aldi says itself that more than 90% of its products are exclusive brands, which means they’re not the brands you see advertised all over the place. If you’re not picky about brands, then by all means, stock up at Aldi. But if you have a household of picky eaters, you might unfortunately end up throwing your money away to some degree.2. You have limited time to shop for groceriesAnother hiccup I ran into last year during my Aldi shopping was not being able to find staple items consistently. Some weeks, for example, there would be no white bread. Other weeks, the store was out of cucumbers or strawberries.If you have a busy schedule and limited time to shop, you may find Aldi to be a frustrating experience. You might have to make multiple trips in the same week to get everything you need. And if that’s something you just don’t have time for, then it could pay to do your grocery shopping elsewhere.3. Your closest Aldi is far awayI happen to have an Aldi within 15 minutes of where I live. And as a bonus, it’s right near Costco. So I don’t have to spend extra on gas to get there if I want to pop in, since I typically go to Costco once a week.But if the nearest Aldi to your home is a 30-minute drive or more, you may want to do your shopping at a store that’s closer. Driving that long on a regular basis may not be feasible. What you save on groceries, you might end up spending on gas.There are personal finance benefits to shopping at Aldi, and I haven’t given up on the store completely. I’ll still stop in on occasion if I’m doing a Costco run to see what produce is in stock, because believe it or not, in my experience, Aldi’s prices are often more competitive than Costco’s in that category. But if the above factors apply to you, you may not want to make Aldi your go-to store anytime soon.
5 Reasons Costco Could Terminate a Membership
By: Lyle Daly |
– First published on Jan. 11, 2024
If you like Costco, the last thing you’d want is to lose your membership. While this is uncommon, there are ways that shoppers get their memberships revoked.Like many membership clubs, Costco reserves the right to terminate memberships at any time, including without cause. Now, it’s not something you need to worry about too much. Costco is known for having excellent customer service, and it’s not going to blacklist a member for no reason.But to make sure you don’t run into any issues, it helps to know why Costco would terminate a membership. Based on online reports from Costco employees, here are the most common reasons.1. Ignoring the receipt checkerNot everybody likes it, but the receipt check is part of shopping at Costco. There are a few reasons Costco checks your receipt when you leave, including to verify that you weren’t undercharged or overcharged.Some members who bypassed the receipt checkers have had their memberships revoked. Even if you’re in a hurry, the receipt check doesn’t take long, and it’s one of the terms of membership.2. Being rude or abusive to employeesAs one would expect and hope, any type of hostility toward employees could lead to a loss of membership. That includes insulting, cursing out, and physically attacking employees. And according to reports by employees, those types of incidents have sadly all happened at Costco warehouses before.3. Theft or fraudHere’s another one that doesn’t need much explanation. If a Costco member is caught shoplifting or committing any type of fraud there, they’ll likely have their membership canceled. Most retailers have loss prevention and fraud detection systems in place to catch criminals. Costco also has an advantage in tracking down thieves, since it can look up their membership information.4. Abusing the return policyCostco is known for having an extremely flexible and generous return policy. It offers a risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee. That means you can return most items at any time, no matter how long has passed since you made the purchase, and get a refund to your credit card or bank account. There are some exceptions, most notably electronics, which have a 90-day return period.It’s fine to make the occasional return, including on items you’ve had for a long time. But shoppers who take it to an extreme may lose their memberships. Here are a few examples of what a Costco manager could frown on:Shoppers who make a habit of buying, using, and returning the same products. One employee mentioned a member who was banned after returning eight TVs in a row, each of them right before the end of the 90-day return window.Shoppers who buy seasonal or holiday products and return them when they’re no longer needed. Some treat Costco as the place to get free rentals of holiday decorations or summer patio furniture.Shoppers who return partially used items. Some customers have returned a small remainder of food and beverage products.Costco almost always gives a warning to those it suspects of abusing its return policy. If the member continues making those types of returns, they may not be a member much longer.5. The revolving door membershipWondering what a revolving door membership is? Well, Costco’s satisfaction guarantee also applies to memberships. If you’re not satisfied, it will cancel and refund your membership at any time.A select few have seen this as a personal finance hack to get an infinite Costco membership for the price of a single year. Here’s what they do:Sign up for Costco and pay the $60 membership fee.Cancel within 12 months and get a fee refund.Use the money from the refund to buy a new membership.It’s OK to cancel a Costco membership and decide to come back later. But if a shopper seems to keep getting dissatisfied after 10 or 11 months of using their Costco membership, a manager could add a note to not let them sign up anymore.It’s easy to keep your Costco membershipAll the reasons that Costco would terminate a membership are blatant examples of bad (and sometimes illegal) behavior. If you’re a normal Costco shopper, you’ll be able to go there as long as you pay your membership fee every year.
Should You Cancel Your Costco Membership in 2024?
By: Dana George |
– First published on Jan. 12, 2024
Millions of Americans have a Costco membership. For some, making regular trips to their nearest warehouse store saves money. But what about those who aren’t getting their money’s worth? If you see yourself in any of the following four situations, it may be time to consider whether a Costco membership is working for you and your finances.When you can no longer justify bulk buyingMy boys are close in age, and both left for college within 2 years of each other. I was accustomed to making meals for our boys and a regular crowd of their friends. Warehouse shopping made sense, given the number of people I fed.When it was just my husband and me, I no longer needed to buy huge quantities of anything. Honestly, it took me quite a while to get used to the change. I overbought more often than I’d like to admit, telling myself I wanted plenty in the freezer when the boys came home to visit.After letting a shameful amount of food expire and go to waste, I finally started shopping for two. To this day, as I walk through Costco, I have to remind myself how bad I feel when I throw food away when I don’t get around to using it.According to Feeding America, Americans toss over $444 billion worth of food each year. That equals 149 billion meals that could have been served to those in need. I don’t tell you this to make you feel bad. I’ve been as guilty (or more) of food waste as just about anyone I know. I’m not sure how much of that waste I’m responsible for, but it makes me slightly ill to think of the extra money that could have gone into a savings account rather than tossed into a dumpster.However, if you’re buying in bulk when you don’t need to, it’s an easy fix. You can always skip aisles selling bulk items. Or you can consider whether your Costco membership is still working for you.When a trip to Costco feels like a cross-country trekWith 600 Costco warehouses spread out across 47 states, it’s fair to say that millions of shoppers have easy access. However, if you live an hour or more away from your nearest Costco, it may be time to reassess whether you’re saving enough money to justify the annual expense.Determine how much you estimate you’re saving each year by visiting your nearest Costco. Is it much more than you would save by shopping sales at local grocery and department stores? If you’re not sure what those savings may look like, free shopping apps can give you an idea.You’ll also want to determine how much you’re spending on gas before making a final determination.When you count on sharing your membershipIf you’ve been sharing your Costco membership with extended family members, you’ve likely noticed that the retailer is clamping down on the practice. The Costco website states, “The Costco membership card is non-transferable, but there are several ways to share the experience with family and friends.”Here’s what that means: Members are allowed to bring up to two guests with them when they visit the warehouse. However, those guests are not allowed to make purchases. All purchases must be made by the Costco member.The guest policy has not changed. What’s different is that Costco has recently turned its attention to ensuring that all purchases are made by Costco members. To that end, some store employees use spot-checks to ask shoppers for photo IDs. And, according to an email from Costco to the Dallas Morning News, stores are now asking to see membership cards with photos at self-service checkout registers.Gone are the days of sharing a single membership with extended family members and friends. If the ability to share the membership is one of the reasons you’ve held on to it, now is the time to reassess.When you’re overspendingWho among us has not strolled through a Costco store, stopped to look at an item they absolutely could have lived without, and carried it to the checkout line? One thing that makes Costco so much fun is looking through the new merchandise. However, if you’re hoping to stick with a budget, buying unnecessary things is sure to put a dent in your checking account.You know those samples Costco is famous for offering, the ones that make you want to circle around more than once? There’s a good reason they’re offered. A study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research found that 35% of customers who try a sample will buy the sampled product on the same shopping trip. Sampling removes the risk of making a purchase they may not end up liking.Sampling is a great marketing tool, but it may not be good for your bottom line.When it’s time to cancelCostco makes several things easy: paying for a membership, making returns, and canceling your membership. Costco is not one of those companies that makes customers jump through hoops to cancel their membership. If you decide that your Costco membership is no longer working out for you, you have two easy options.Visit the membership counter at any Costco warehouse and receive an immediate refund.Call the Costco Member Services Center at 800-774-2678.One thing we know for sure about life is that circumstances change. If a Costco membership once made sense for you but no longer provides the value you desire, it’s okay to cancel. You can always renew your membership if the situation changes again.