Friday, March 13, 2015

Can I live on a $40,000/year salary? Thoughts and Resources

I'll never know for sure why we never had this discussion in our Home Economics class in high school.  How much does a person have to make a year in order to be comfortable?  Perhaps it was an obvious question?  My assumption is that most people have a good idea how much their parents were making growing up.  Based on that, they think they have an idea of how much they will need to make in order to be comfortable.  Is that a good approach?

I think the answer depends on several things:
  1. Where do you live?  While $40k/year can seem like a lot of money, if you live in a big metropolitan centre with a hot real estate market/economy it can actually be a fairly paltry sum. Back in 1998 I was making approximately $40k/year.  I owned a small condo, had 1 car, supported my wife, and lived in a medium sized city.  There were times when we had less than $100 left over for food but still 10 days to our next payday after paying our bills.  That was nearly 15 years ago!
    You might get further with a salary like that living in the country, or in a city that has a depressed real estate market/economy.  Either way, I think you'd be hard pressed to say you are living comfortably if you are making $40k/year and having to provide for all your living needs on your own.
  2. What kind of an investment did you have to make to start earning money in your chosen profession?  Paying down your student debts can take a fair chunk of change out of your pay cheque.  Check out this link on 5 Student Loan Pitfalls.  Be responsible with the money you spend on school.  Get informed about student loans, forgiveness options, payback options, etc.  It does NOT pay to be in the dark about your finances.
  3. How do you define comfortable?  Many people would say that being married AND living with one's parents is not comfortable.  Many young people today choose to stay single and live with their parents because it IS comfortable.  In that scenario, $40,000 a year can definitely be manageable.  Is that how you want to live the rest of you life, though?
    For some, comfortable might mean living independently (your own car and living quarters) and being able to take a reasonable vacation (2 weeks, out of town) once a year.  If you're single, you might need a $60,000/year or more to manage that lifestyle.  

Here's what I see living in Calgary, Canada in 2015, assuming you are 'starting from scratch.'
  • An independent single person with a car would need to make at least $50-$55k per year to be comfortable.  You will not be maxing out your RRSP's with this kind of wage.  Or you might be able to save up for a payment on a condo or townhouse, although that might take you several years.
  • If you want to own a house and not be penny pinching, you'll need to have 2 people in the household bringing in $60,000 annually - not counting bonuses.  That's based on an average house price of $450k.  
Believe it or not, the Consumer Measures Committee of Canada has some informative and well written resources that can help you understand your finances.  Specifically, they have published several pamphlets for young people that would be worth investigating.  I've linked to them below:

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