The online personal finance community, and especially the financial independence subset, seems to be filled with people who make some seriously above average incomes. While I will begrudge no one for earning that high salary, it can be more than a bit discouraging when you realize the timelines many of them talk about could never work for your life because the income needed to do so is significantly more than you make.

Combined, my husband and I make what could be considered a “decent” salary for many individual tech or engineering jobs, but we come at that number with two incomes. Like I’ve gone into depth about in the past, neither of us make the median salary for our area alone, but we do together when you calculate for our family of three. For so many people, we have a really solid income that can be used to reach a heck of a lot of great goals, and we do make enough to be reaching for what will hopefully be a fifty percent savings rate this year.

My biggest money mistakes are really small ones, and we’ve done a heck of a lot right. The only thing we’ve done really “wrong” financially is to not chase the really big salaries. I’ve even cut my hours (and pay) to 80% time, which obviously means we’re going backward when it comes to wealth building. To top it off, we live in what’s become one of the most expensive areas of the county, but we are still doing a heck of a lot better than most.

We lucked out and bought our home at just twenty three thanks to a lucky combination of the bottom of the real estate market, historically low interest rates, and our access to a VA loan that meant we didn’t need a large downpayment to boot. My husband didn’t need to take out any student loans thanks to that same military service plus a significant chunk of money saved by his parents. I was able to minimize mine by graduating in three years and then singlemindedly focusing to have the $24,000 (at an 8.5% interest rate) paid off in three and a half years.

High cost of living – but beautiful parks right out our back door

We live in a high cost of living area, but that area also means we are close to both sides of our family, and they watch our son three days a week, saving us significant amounts of money on reduced childcare expenses, along with the non-financial benefits of a close relationship with them. Plus, we never have to pay a babysitter for date night.

And yet. When I compare myself to so many bloggers online, it feels like we make pennies. There’s no way we could “turn things around” and retire in a handful of years. We have no big house to downsize from, no fancy car to trade in, no fancy furniture and toys to turn around for cash. While we’ve always lived within our means, our salaries would have capped what was open to us in the first place.

So when I read about a seventy, eighty, ninety percent savings rate, about maxing out all retirement accounts and still having more space for investing in taxable accounts, all while making room in their budget for a few splurges, I can get a bit frustrated. Because of the way we’ve chosen to live our lives, that avenue isn’t open to us.

And when a few of those bloggers and big names make it sound like anything short of those big incomes and big savings rates aren’t reasonable for an expectation of financial independence? When an “average” family in a high income area should expect to spend six figures even when considering themselves frugal? It makes me realize that there is real value in those of us who are pursuing financial independence even with the handicap of incomes that are lower than average for the online community.

We still do have money for plenty of fun stuff too

While I absolutely get value from bloggers with high incomes (some of my favorite bloggers have or have previously held highly compensated positions), there is something missing when those are the voices we hear most of the time. I realize that “Family Reaches Financial Independence And Retires Early In Fifteen (or Twenty) Years” isn’t a very exciting clickbait title, but for many of us, the short timeline just isn’t possible, no matter how much we cut our budgets to the bone.

Even so, twenty years puts financial independence and the option to retire significantly earlier than the average expectation. But that age is forties or fifties, not twenties or thirties.

The Money Middletons

When I first heard about the Money Middletons concept, I knew that it was exactly the piece our community has been missing; a place to bring together those of us living and breathing personal finance and the pursuit of financial freedom while also dealing with the struggles that come from getting there on a more moderate income.

The Middletons launches today, a curation site for “the very best personal finance content for mild to moderate incomes.” The site will feature one to three pieces of content Monday through Thursday, along with a themed Friday roundup of an additional three to five pieces of content. In a community where we see posts extolling the six figure middle class budget and arguments about how high an income can be and still be considered middle class, I hope The Middletons will be real, relatable place for those of us who fall in a different category. And for those who do land solidly in the mid to high income, I hope you’ll also follow along and broaden your perspectives about what is possible on that smaller salary.

Financial independence – and any level of financial freedom – is absolutely doable on a Middleton salary. It just takes longer and has perhaps different sacrifices. And for our family at least, we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I am not affiliated with The Middletons in any way, but I am very excited to follow along with what they are attempting to do. When I found out they were launching today, I wanted to share a bit about what being a Middleton means to me, and why I think this site will be a great edition to the curation sites already in existence.

The Middleton Community – Beyond The Site

If The Middletons concept sounds intriguing and like something you’d love to be a part of, they have also started a Middletons Facebook group and are also active on Twitter and are on Instagram as well. I’ll be following along, and I hope you will too!

Do you consider yourself to be a Money Middleton? What’s the hardest part?

47 thoughts on “Being A Money Middleton In The High Income Financial Independence Community

  1. Great idea and so true! My income wasn’t all that much when I started my career as a geologist; you don’t make a lot of money, in general, as a geologist starting off. I did realize how important it was to make more money and save. I started with Traditional IRAs, which lowered my taxes. The money saved on taxes was used to pay debt and offset what I needed to contribute to the IRA.

    Next, I purchased a rental property in my late 20s using my credit card and a small loan from family (a few thousand). Paid that off quickly by cutting expenses way before the FIRE movement was born. It was more of the right thing to do then anything else.

    Next, I quite a good job in my early 30s and became an entrepreneur; starving entrepreneur LOL. At first, didn’t make much money but kept contributing to IRAs, etc. It adds up over time even for us in the middle.

    Fast forward a few decades and my income is significantly more – started new businesses, purchased more real estate but didn’t join the “Jones” – kept living modestly and saving more and more. Now in my 50s, my wife and I are well within the “10 Percent Club” with our net worth. A major contributor was recurring revenue; business income, rental real estate, and investment returns.

    You don’t need an outrageous salary to get rich, but you do need to look for opportunities to make more money with the money you earn. Thanks for starting the new blog – looks like a great idea to me!

    1. The environmental sciences sure don’t seem to pay as well! It’s like we don’t value the earth in the same way or something 😉

      And The Middletons isn’t mine – I just think it’s a great idea!

  2. We chose to drop our income from above-Middleton to below it (very near the poverty line now) when our baby was born, to be able to trade that money for time. Boy is it eye opening and quite honestly, defeating sometimes! We know we can’t get this time back, though, so it’s worth it for us personally. The Middletons sounds like a missing part of the community for sure- can’t wait to check it out!

    1. Yeah, the kiddo significantly changed our income and work lives as well! Absolutely worth it though, but it is hard sometimes not to think about just how much we’ve given up financially (and will give up in the future). But like you said, we have definitely traded money for time. One of those is a scarcer resource 😉

  3. I definitely identify with the Money Middletons, and am so happy to see it launched today! While I aspire to be a high-income earner, I know that’s very unlikely as long as I work in local and state government positions. But it’s also possible to become more valuable through education, training and experience, which I’ve done to increase my income by 50% in the past 4.5 years. $64.5k still isn’t a lot, but it’s a lot more than $43k a handful of years ago, and makes it that much easier to hit a 50% or more savings rate as a single guy with some pretty cheap costs of living.

    1. Oh yeah, our incomes may not be huge, but they still have grown a ton in the intervening years! And I absolutely wouldn’t trade my job for a higher earning one.

    1. Thank you! We shall see what things look like when we reach that point, but I am always for more options 🙂

  4. So true! Thank you for putting a spotlight on the gap. It’s not possible to retire in 5 years if you only make a $30k salary, unless you (a) want to live like a broke college student into perpetuity, because saving 80% of your salary means spending $6k/year so basically shared room and ramen, or you (b) start a side hustle to replace the income, like getting into real estate, which is great, except you generally need some start-up capital and won’t necessarily qualify for a place with extra space you could rent out based on income being lower, so that would take time as well to build up, unless you know the right people who can help fund your ventures, which just goes back to privilege. Not everyone runs in or has access to wealthier circles. MMM himself lives on $24k/year, but has no mortgage or insurance on his house, so that alone means his lifestyle would likely be $40k for someone just starting out and actually is out of reach for someone only making $30k before taxes. The “I did it so you can too” is often arrogance and ignorance of privilege. Yes, hard work got you there, and smarts got you there, too, but stop ignoring the elephant in the room.

    1. Very well said. I left out directly mentioning the privilege part of this discussion because that would be another whole post length, but that’s a huge part of it. Living on $24k with no mortgage post retirement is significantly different than trying to put away the savings needed to get there in the first place.

  5. I’ve noticed the same dynamic on many FIRE bloggers who’ve retired early. They did so with the benefit of very high incomes from jobs in engineering, tech, or high finance. Salaries in those fields definitely make it easier to retire in your 30s assuming you’ve maintained a considerable savings rate.

    Some folks could use some perspective when making recommendations about what’s considered reasonable. You shouldn’t feel bad about your life situation. You sound content with life and still find yourselves on a sustainable path to FIRE. That’s admirable and better than most.

    I consider my wife and I in your middle income bracket. Despite her being a medical resident and soon an attending physician, she won’t be working full-time because she wants to spend more of her time raising our kids when we’re ready to start. We will make a decent amount of income, certainly, but not in the stratosphere of a two-income engineer household in a high cost of living area.

    I’ll be on the lookout for these posts.

    1. Oh, for the most part 68743 absolutely right. I’m not interested in chasing a different career for a higher dollar. You’ve hit on a very crucial point I missed though – your wife and I are both making the choice to significantly reduce our incomes to have more time in our weeks, but someone who has a lower income (or no family support, etc) may not be able to make that same choice, no matter how much they’d like it.

  6. now you’ve caused me to look back at our ss statements, which i keep at the ready. i suspected we didn’t make much until the past 15 years. i was right. mrs. me averaged 6k/year in her 20’s (13 inflation adjusted). i made 17k on average in my 20’s (30 adjusted). there wasn’t a helluva lot of saving/investing at those levels, partly due to lack of awareness and partly because we had to live on something. that’s a good decade of compounding down the drain, so your family is well ahead of the game, even at 1.8 incomes. i’m glad y’all figured it out young. we got around the median income in our 30’s but didn’t know one another until 16 years ago. once we got organized it only took 15 years and a good market to really gain steam where we could probably quit today if we gave up a few luxuries. buying an inexpensive house was our biggest asset in being able to save a ton.

    1. That’s another really BIG point – Reaching that median income at 40 is significantly different than hitting it straight out of college at 22, but median income stats don’t normalize for age.

  7. That’s a good concept. Lots of people don’t make high income. I think you’re doing pretty well. You guys are young and you have a lot of time to grow your income. Anyway, it’s better to enjoy your job and work longer than to retire early. Most people only retire early because they don’t like their job.

    1. Exactly my feelings – I want to actually enjoy my job, not just enjoy the income and status that goes with it 😉 But no matter what, I want that security of financial independence.

  8. The only thing we’ve done really “wrong” financially is to not chase the really big salaries.

    I don’t think that’s “wrong” at all. It seems to me the jobs with the high incomes also bring the most misery, stress, and unhealthy lifestyles. Not all of course, but it seems more often than not from anecdotal evidence. There’s a trade-off for sure, and you’ve said many times that you really like your job. So you have something that they don’t. That’s probably not “wrong” 😉

    I was a money middleton for the first 12 years of my professional career. I definitely earned below or right at the median income in America during that time. Only when I was in my mid/late-30’s did my salary start to really go above it. But I still saved tons of money and really built the foundation of my “FI stash” in those middleton years, since that money has had the most time to compound.

    Great stuff, I love the idea of the site!

    1. Ha, you got me there – I don’t think that we made the wrong choice at all there. But if you’re solely talking straight money, then it was the “wrong” choice 😉 And the key to that big savings rate is to continue living like a Middleton even once you’ve left that salary behind!

  9. Yes! I sometimes can get discouraged when comparing myself to people who can retire within 5 years! I had to pay off quite a considerable amount of loans after college and many years occurred when I made next to nothing as a teacher. It hasn’t been until the last 3 years where I’ve earned a hefty salary raise after changing careers and sometimes it feels like I am still playing catch up. However I remind myself that I can do things one small day at a time and that is enough to retire early. Many people still can’t afford to retire so retiring within 15 years actually is quite radical I. Some crowds although it’s not as sexy! 🤓

    1. Exactly! Being financially independent in fifteen or twenty years still IS completely radical! It just doesn’t feel like it when you read about the people who can do it in a quarter of the time 😉

      1. It’s kind of an uncomfortable thought, but being on the path to retire and be financially independent at any age is a privilege. Growin up, well below middle class, the people around me worked until their health failed to a point they couldn’t and then survived as best they could on their social security.

        I am 32 and probably earn too much to be considered a Middleton, but lower than many of the high earners you’ve discussed. I get frustrated at times trying to compare my progress, but I always remind myself of the privilege I have.

      2. Absolutely. Very well said. Too often we focus solely on the people who “could” do better, but don’t, probably because that has an easier solution that those who aren’t set up to do more than just get by.

  10. I love this! Hopefully this will be the perfect site and will help people who are all in similar situations, similar to the way the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram does for those who are following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps.

    While I do have an above average income, I try to write about and focus more on what I’m doing on the expense side of things as I think that is more relatable than making a lot of money for most people.

    1. The #debtfreecommunity on Instagram is great! I forget that with all those awesome raises lately your income has grown quite a bit 😉

  11. This was great! It’s frustrating to see those headlines and then when you read it, one salary is over 100k a year and they don’t have kids. Broken foot here, x-ray when the broken foot’s cast collides with the newborn’s head there, and throw in a tonsillectomy for good measure–it gets tough to save and pay off debt! After reviewing my insurance EOB this morning, I realized I can never leave my job because my benefits are too good! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing more strategies for the majority of us!

    1. You guys have had a heck of a time these past few months!! My work benefits are great as well, and I’d be lying if that wasn’t a part of why I’m working 32 hours a week and not 25 😉

  12. This is great! Living in a HCOL area myself here in the SF Bay Area, I can relate to this. Combining my wife’s and my income, we are right smack in the middle income class and goes for a lot of residents in the Bay Area since middle income level is so wide($65K to $190K). Going to check out the Middletons blog, heard Stephonee on the Stacking Benjamins podcast last week do a plug on it. Thanks for spreading the awareness of middle incomers in the PF community.

    1. The high income areas seriously skew what is a “normal” salary, but along with that salary comes more expensive, well, everything else.

  13. You are echoing some of my recent thoughts again! I remember being asked what I’d do with a £1 million windfall – and I really just can’t imagine such a huge sum of money realistically being in our possession. We are far from a six figure household, and yet we’re wealthier and happier than we have been before. I suppose a higher salary would be nice, but I don’t think I’d have the will or the personality to chase those jobs anyhow! I’d much rather patter about in my garden and write goofy posts. 🙂

    1. Yeah, that sort of windfall is hard to wrap my head around, to be sure. The good news is, even with more than that, I don’t see my life changing drastically. And I like that.

      1. Yeah, same with us. We would donate some, and save most until we fall upon that elusive rural place we want. 🙂

        Probably save/invest it for a good long while for fear of doing something crazy with it, and then start carefully managing it when it has sunk in that it was not just a prank!

  14. Hey, Angela. Love the concept of the Middletons. I think it will be a tremendous resource for our community. I often wonder if my experience fit the middleton criteria. Mrs. Groovy and I never made big salaries. In our last year of gainful employment, I was making $63K and she was making $60K. That put our household income at twice the national median. Did that make us non-middleton? I like to think we were middleton, but now I’m not so sure. Damn, this FI stuff is hard. Thanks for making me think, Angela. Cheers.

    1. I’d say you two were probably Middletons, depending on your local area. Check out Stephonee’s post from yesterday and use the area calculator to be sure! 😉

  15. Hi Angela,
    I will make sure to check it out, love the concept.
    I don’t think saving rates should be shared, there are too many variables, not just income.
    I personally have difficulties to ,sometimes, relate to other PF bloggers, not because of income, but because I am an only parent with three kids. There is no way I could have been FI in my 30’s.

    1. I think savings rates CAN be useful, same with showing how much you spend, but only in relation to how you’re doing month to month. But maybe I’m biased because I share mine 😂

      1. They CAN be useful as long as they are used wisely and all other variables are shared: income, location, number of family members…

  16. I think looking at all aspects of spending, saving and lifestyle is bet for creating a well rounded perception of the society in which we live. From adoring Rowdy Kittens, savouring my friendship and learning with Cait Flanders, digging deep into ERE’s website to of course being a mustachian I think it ultimately comes down to doing the absolute best we can living simply, sustainably and mindfully. If we follow those three key pillars than finances won’t be a problem and comparison toxicity won’t plaque us.
    You are a joy to read and are honest with your approach to life, it must be our PNW air 🙂

    1. “Comparison toxicity.” I think we need to start using that phrase more often! Those three pillars sound like the way I strive to live my life for sure! Though the simple part sometimes evades me based on how full I pack my schedule… whoops.

  17. Don’t get discouraged about other people making higher salaries giving them an easier path to FIRE. Everyone’s path is going to be different and just enjoy your path and control what you can control.

    My wife is a high income earner and our income could have been even higher if I didn’t walk away from my decent salary to be a stay at home dad.

    I actually just started a FIRE blog today and will be blogging about our experiences on our path to FIRE. I will be following your path and look forward to your updates!

    1. I don’t generally get discouraged, but I am absolutely excited about the Middletons 🙂 And like you, we did partially choose the lower income path when I cut my hours at work, but I haven’t regretted that choice once.

  18. This is very intriguing to me. I make a median salary for where I live, but I’m working off a single income because I’m not married or in a relationship. Which isn’t an excuse to not do well financially (and I am set up fairly well), but I’ve come to realize the big goals are much easier to achieve when you’re working as a team. I can still do it on my own, but it takes longer because I’m not sharing day to day expenses.

    1. Absolutely! Partnering up (as long as said partner is on board with your goals) can make a huge difference. There are quite a few single ladies writing about personal finance and crushing it though, so perhaps you’d find them inspiring.

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