A few months back, I was listening to a lot of financial independence podcasts and then hopping on Twitter to “subtweet” about things I’ve heard. (“Subtweeting” is when you talk about someone on Twitter without tagging them, usually to throw some shade at something they’ve said or done.) Perhaps not the most mature thing, but I was incredulous at some of the tone-deaf things I was hearing:
Another recent gem I meant to subtweet about: a podcast about "how not to be poor" and the advice was "buy a house with at least 20% down."
Yup, that's it. You nailed it. That's how a person breaks out of the cycle of poverty.
— Stephonee | PoorerThanYou (@stephonee) March 13, 2018
The more I elbowed my way into the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) community, the more I noticed that I felt… poorer than everyone again. Now, I know that it’s far from everyone in the FIRE community doing this, it’s really just a few loud squeaky wheels that stick out in my mind. But while I know that I make decent money (more on that later), I was starting to feel like it wasn’t enough, like I was falling behind again. And I wasn’t the only one:
If PF bloggers could stop preaching about investing in property, that would be great..WE GET IT, but we middle folks can’t even afford to buy a house to live in pic.twitter.com/ODngwNgwAR
— Abbie Bauer (@abbiesbauer) March 17, 2018
yo yo yo, if you're writing a blog post that's like 'how i make it work on 15k a month!' maybe just nah
— Bravely (@bravelygo) March 17, 2018
Y'all, I am frugal. I am FRUgal. But let's tell the whole truth, mkay?
"Frugality let me do all these amazing things."
Sure. But so did your solidly middle-class income.
— Penny (@picksuppennies) March 9, 2018
The Personal Finance Community Is Growing, But In What Direction?
It was starting to feel to me, and I suspect to others, like the online personal finance community was growing away from me. I knew that wasn’t really true, that there were still plenty of people writing (and podcasting and vlogging) great content for people with more modest incomes. In fact, though it may feel to me like 10 years ago there were more people writing at my level, I’d wager that with the explosive growth of our niche, there are way more people blogging for middle incomes now than ever before.
I know that great personal finance content for middle incomes is out there. I consume a lot of it, and I see people sharing even more that I can’t consume (because there’s more than any one person can read/listen to/watch!). But it can be hard to wade through the deluge of content and find things that are applicable to an average income. Especially when a lot of higher income folks have been becoming media darlings (the press loves a good headline like “How I Scrimped and Saved My Way To Retirement At 32” and often skips the “while making 4x the national median income” part).
This is not to say that higher income earners are bad (goodness no, get that money!), or that they should shut up and not give personal finance advice to anyone. We need more voices of all stripes, higher income folk included. Tanja of Our Next Life (a high income earner herself) wrote up a Blogging Manifesto, urging all of us in this space to be transparent and acknowledge if you have a high income. Because again, it’s not that a high income is bad or means you can’t write about money for the rest of us—it’s just that we all need to be clear and realistic about what personal finance looks like on a middle income.
And so, I got an idea in my head. It took me several months to pull it together (I have a full-time job, this blog, a toddler, no child care, and I am allergic to caffeine and have to sleep, after all!), but I had two things I wanted to accomplish:
- To make it incredibly easy for people with middle incomes to find the great personal finance content for them that I know is out there.
- To incentivize content creators (bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, etc.) to keep middle incomes in mind and to work hard on making more of that great content for them.
Seven months later, the Money Middletons are here.
But What Is a “Middle Income?”
This is perhaps the #1 question and I’ll be honest… I’m still working on a good answer here. It’s… complicated. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I explained a lot of my thoughts during my appearance on the His and Her FI podcast about The Middletons.
If we try to use the official definitions of the “middle class” we quickly run into issues, like the fact that the Brookings Institute found 12 different ways to define the middle class. But if we want to keep it simple, the Pew Research Center (and kinda sorta officially/unofficially the US Census) uses a definition of “2/3rds – 2x the national median income for your household size.” They also have this handy dandy calculator that takes your metropolitan area into account (perfect for those of us who cry foul because we live in high cost of living areas, myself included):
Some higher income folks may need the reality check of a calculator to tell them whether or not they really have a middle income. (Hint: the $180k from my original tweet doesn’t pass as “middle” even where I live, in the highest median income county in America.) But most of us know. We don’t need the calculator to tell us. The feeling of personal finance information being aimed above our heads is what tells us where we stand.
What we need is information tailored to our level. A community of other Middletons. So, I went ahead and built one.
Launching a New Community for Middle Incomes
Today, I was up until 4am putting the final touches on MoneyMiddletons.com, scheduling the email alert and social media posts, and making sure that the very first pieces of content we featured were ready to shine.
Needless to say, a part of my launch plan was to have this very blog post done by this morning as well, and obviously that didn’t happen. But I’m not even sad about it, because writing this a bit later gave me a chance to see everyone else’s reaction to the site launch before I sat down to write this. And a wizard is never late, we arrive precisely when we mean to, Frodo!
People Talking About The Middletons Launch
Congratulations and best of luck! Been looking forward to this
— Chief Mom Officer (@LizOfficer) October 22, 2018
— Champagne & Capital Gains (@champgains) October 22, 2018
We ran out of space in the tweet, but @stephonee , we want to make sure you know how much we appreciate the efforts you and others are investing in making personal finance information more accessible, and financial independence achievable, for the average person!
— The Money Mix (@themoneymix) October 22, 2018
Emilie at Wise Mind Money has become one of my main “partners in crime” for The Middletons, and she used the launch to start a new series on her own blog and talk about what it feels like to be a Middleton.
Reaching for FI’s Erin lives near me and shares my pain of being a Middleton in this ridiculous high cost of living area. But she also shares my tendency to blank when people ask for resources for low or middle incomes, and so she’s really happy to have The Middletons to point to now! (Me too, Erin. Me too.)
Financial Pilgrim wants to know how you define the middle class? And how do you connect with the middle class, whether you’re a part of it or not? (Duh, spoiler: the answer is The Middletons website and community, but you knew that.)
Sarah at Smile & Conquer asks “Where My Middletons At?” and puts out the call for us to unite in the Middletons community. Yaaaaassss sister!
Tread Lightly, Retire Early’s post was mentioned in one of the tweets I called out above, but it bears repeating because she hit the nail right on the head about what it’s like being a money Middleton in the high income financial independence community.
Steph the Blogger shares how she started out as a Middleton. And though her income has grown, she still feels like she’s back where she started, and hopes she can find a way forward in her own financial life with content from The Middletons.