Four Men: Four Different Incomes

Four Men, Four Incomes

If you’re looking for some weekend reading, Johnny and I loved looking over this article that’s been going around the web the last couple of weeks: 4 Men with 4 Very Different Incomes Open Up About the Lives They Can Afford. We thought the article was super interesting and eye-opening to read such different perspectives on money. So we wanted to share some of our takeaways from the article and hear what you thought, too!

Lifestyle Inflation

Everyone in the article needs more money to have the life they want. While it’s great to aspire to make more money and be successful, it’s surprising that none of them (mostly the top two earners) are satisfied where they’re at. It’s a never-ending mirage, an unquenchable thirst that we all have — which manifests through lifestyle inflation. It’s part of humanity to always want more than we have, and while it’s great to have goals, we can all do a better job of finding satisfaction where we are right now.


For the most part, their happiness on any given day wasn’t that different. The guy making $1 million a year put himself at an 8 or 9 for overall happiness (on a scale from 1 to 10). The guy living on the poverty line said his happiness was at a 7 or 8. This goes along with the old saying Money can’t buy happiness. It can buy peace of mind, security, hope for the future, and it can open doors that would otherwise be shut. But happiness? It’s got nothin’ on that.

Hard Work is Hard Work

As much as society likes to tear down the wealthy for being greedy and selfish, it’s hard to dislike the millionaire shown in this article. He watches every penny, his number one goal is to pay off his parents’ debt, and he’s set up a trust fund for his children so their futures can be bright. Some of what he says obviously sounds pretty out of touch with the average American, but he doesn’t sounds like a bad guy. And as a first generation American from an immigrant family, he’s worked very hard to get to where he is. We think it’s worth celebrating successes such as his, rather than demonizing it all the time like our country tends to do. Of course, the wealth distribution in this country is clearly out of whack, but the solution shouldn’t be to discourage people like the millionaire from budgeting and succeeding.

The Hustle

We also found it interesting that the two wealthiest men in the article don’t want to retire. They don’t see retirement as the end goal. Certain personality types live and breathe for working and creating and hustling, and it’s clear both of them feel that way.

Budgeting in Poverty

We found it very eye-opening to look at someone’s budget who lives below the poverty line. Budgeting would be almost impossible because there are food stamps and subsidized rent and then the actual money you’re making can’t cover your day-to-day costs. Budgeting would feel like a frustrating, fruitless effort. And that’s not to say budgeting shouldn’t happen, but it would be hard to feel like it would make any difference.


Time still might be the most valuable commodity. The wealthiest guy is having to work more hours than he’d like, and the impoverished guy is having to work more hours than he’d like, too. Regardless of what their time means to their employer, they still realize that time is their most valuable commodity. It, more than anything else, affects their ability to accomplish what they’d like.

It’s easy to make assumptions from this one article, but it’d be foolish of us to extrapolate any conclusions from a sample size of one from each of these income levels. But it is a good conversation starter, and we’d love to hear what your thoughts were! How do they agree or differ with ours?

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  • Reply Raia May 6, 2016 at 11:26 am

    I found this Esquire article fascinating, too! The things that jumped out at me were the relative equal levels of happiness at any income level and the redefinition of “retirement” for the high-earners. It’s worth reexamining how we define retirement, what does it look like? What’s really important? I think that most humans search for a feeling of fulfillment, of contribution to the community or greater good, which a paying job can provide. Which makes the retire and golf all day/ life of leisure scenario seem a ring a little hollow. While I still think it’s smart to save for retirement, I prefer to shift my definition of retirement to mean having the ability to be discerning about the work I do, or working for causes I believe in. Provided I am still healthy and capable!

  • Reply Jessica May 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article! Such an interesting read– and I totally agree with you about the tendency to demonize the wealthy (*guilty*) when in reality, most of the wealthy individuals have worked hard to get where they are. Really enjoyed this post!

  • Reply Rachel May 9, 2016 at 6:21 am

    I’m another one who found this fascinating. I also find it really sad that none of these men are happy and satisfied with what they have. We have a skewed understanding of the line between needs and wants and I also find it sad that someone in a rich country can work hard and still not be able to meet their families genuine needs. In the UK just now there is a definite rhetoric that poor people aren’t trying hard enough and are wasteful with their money whereas the middle classes work hard and have better money management skills. In reality, as you point out, budgeting when you don’the have a stable income, when you can’t meet essential costs is almost impossible. I am lucky not to be in that bracket but I am also guilty of having all my needs met and wanting more. I’m going to have a good think about what is enough? It’s good to be ambitious but as a couple/future family I don’t want making money to become more important than enjoying life.

    Anyway, very interesting and lots to think about.

  • Reply Jenna May 9, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    The Esquire article was very fascinating! All 4 men seemed equally happy in their life, which is good. They all have families (and probably friends) that fulfill them in that way, regardless of financial worries.
    I found it very interesting that the “top 2” earners were not worried so much about taxes. They accepted that they strive to make a certain amount of income, and that taxes are just part of it. It was the “bottom 2” that felt they paid too much. I had always thought that “rich” people complained about taxes. But this leads me to believe that its mostly the middle and lower class that feel the rates are unfair.
    I especially found it interesting that the man who earned about $50,000 seemed to be the least worried about money. Even though he had to work and save up to provide certain things for his family, and his children’s future are by no means set, but he seemed to be the most at ease.
    I could definitely feel empathy (although I’m not in his same situation) towards the man living at poverty level. His income just barely covers basic necessities, but doesn’t account for the unexpected expenses such as parking tickets or hospital bills. I can definitely relate to stress and sleepless nights over those things. Thanks to my new love of budgeting, every dollar has a purpose. But our debt situation leaves very little left over for the unexpected. Anytime I get a chunk saved up, a big expense rears its ugly head and depletes that fund. I’m thankful that the cash was there, but its discouraging to have to start back at square one on the emergency fund every few months. So I can only imagine how hard it would be not to have much of one at all.

  • Reply Catherine Alford May 9, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I agree! I looked at some of those same things when I was finished with the article too. I guess the grass isn’t always greener at the next income level. 🙂

  • Reply Elsie London May 10, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    The Esquire article was fascinating, and I appreciated the general principles you gleaned from it. I think the fact that “everyone in the article needs more money to have the life they want” is so important to pay attention to. It seems that as human beings, we have a hard time with contentment. We have a hard time being thankful for what we have and calling it enough. This constant drive for more is something that I want to be careful of in my own life, because happiness does not come from reaching a certain dollar amount, as the article also proved. I think happiness has a lot more to do with loving and being loved, and living a life that you believe matters.

  • Reply Tawcan May 12, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Very interesting article. Grass is definitely not greener on the other side. 🙂

  • Reply Jordan May 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

    What a fascinating piece. It really does show how that feeling of not having enough stays no matter how much you’re earning. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  • Reply Asma May 17, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    i agree with all of the above comments- very fascinating indeed. The one thing I didn’t understand at all was that the guy at the poverty level was unhappy with his amount of taxes. Hopefully one of you can clear this up for me.

    All I could think was, one should be able to get “earned income” credit if one is working 40h a week and get a refund of more money than one paid in in that year, so why is he you upset about his taxes?

    Maybe he didn’t know about it? Maybe he doesn’t work a full 40h week? Maybe his boss pays him under the table so he doesn’t have to pay taxes? Did anyone else notice that? I feel like such a right-wing conservative pointing this out, but I genuinely don’t understand how he is paying any taxes.

    • Reply HC June 21, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      I wondered about that too, and I am not at all a right-wing conservative. However between parking tickets and other things I noticed that he has a lot of government debt, so if he was due a refund, the govt probably took it to apply to those. Kind of a drag when you’re hoping for a boost and it turns out to be mandatory debt repayment, maybe he was grumpy about that. Also I’ve encountered people who include sales tax in their thoughts of the taxes they pay.

  • Reply Melanie May 31, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    I loved reading the male version of this article, and then seeing the link for the female version too. The one that stick out to me most was the young man at poverty level. It really made me think how hard that must be to provide for two children in his situation, and how hard it must be to get ahead. Made me thankful for my socioeconomic status.

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