Most of us would probably think a $200,000-a-year salary was more than enough to live a comfortable – if not downright luxurious – life, however this isn’t the case for high income earner’s.
But that’s not the case for scores of Australians on high incomes who still don’t consider themselves to be particularly wealthy, despite earning far more than their fellow countrymen and women.
According to the most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the average weekly earnings for Australian adults who work full time is $1634 – a figure that equates to $84,968 per year.
However, it turns out many of those who rake in more than double that still don’t think they’re doing all that well.
Every two years, news.com.au runs its Cost of Living Survey to find out our readers’ biggest household money worries. The results of the most recent survey are in, and news.com.au has now kicked off the Money Project in response, which will reveal the biggest money challenges facing Australian households and offer practical help on how to get your finances in shape for 2020.
The survey uncovered some fascinating insights about our money – and how we feel about it.
It found the number of female respondents with salaries of more than $100,000 has increased from 16 per cent in 2017 to 20 per cent in 2019 – although the number of male respondents with salaries above $100,000 has also increased from 37 per cent in 2017 to 41 per cent in 2019.
As part of the survey, respondents were asked if they felt they were on “Struggle Street”, “Barely Coping”, “Doing OK” or on “Easy Street” based on how they believed they were faring financially.
It revealed 29 per cent of respondents who identified themselves as living on “Easy Street” had a salary of between $100,001 and $150,000 while 15 per cent were on $150,001 to $200,000 and 16 per cent were earning more than $200,000.
Those on “Easy Street” are 58 per cent more likely to be debt free now – but more than two-thirds of people in that category believe they will need more than $1 million to retire.
A whopping 52 per cent of people earning between $150,000 and $200,000 reported feeling “frustrated” by Australia’s rising cost of living while 14 per cent were “angry” about the situation, compared with 49 per cent of respondents with incomes above $200,000 who said they were “frustrated” by rising costs and 12 per cent who were “angry”.
And even higher income earners indicated they need more money to be “comfortable”, with half of those earning more than $200,000 a year believing they need more than $400 extra per week to be “comfortable”.
More than one-fifth of those earning more than $200,000 think they need an extra $10,000 a week to be “well-off”, while another fifth believe they need $20,000 or more per week to achieve that.
Interestingly, the lower the salary, the less the respondent felt they needed in order to be well off, with 69 per cent of those earning under $45,000 per annum claiming they would need just $2000 more each week to be well-off.
It was a sentiment that was echoed by many respondents in their own words, when readers were asked to briefly explain why they had categorised themselves as “Struggle Street”, “Barely Coping”, “Doing OK” or on “Easy Street”.
One “Easy Street” respondent, who has a combined household income of more than $350,000 per year, said they felt similar money pressures to most other Australians.
“When I sit down and review my spending I’m shocked to see just how much I spend on what I would consider essentials to a good life (nice decent car, decent place to live, good food, the odd holiday, electricity, gas, etc),” the respondent revealed.
“Most people would think with a household income in the $350k range we would be rolling in cash, however that’s not really true – obviously I still have it easy, however, apart from a nice car and a nice property, we don’t spend on much else, even on an income like that.
“I don’t have the financial freedom to be able to help my family as much as I want to and you would think we should be saving $250k a year – however, that number is almost half that, where does it all go?”
And another in the same category said their household was doing “all right” – but that the “hardest aspect is trying to afford a house – this is very, very difficult”.
So why is there such a glaring discrepancy between people’s actual income and their perception of wealth?
According to clinical psychologist and director at Armchair Psychology, Associate Professor Amanda Gordon, it all comes down to expectations and comparisons.
“I think there is an element of people trying to keep up with others, which can be problematic as they might not know what the other person earns, and might just assume they should have what they have,” she said.
“There has been some interesting research on perceptions of poverty and wealth and how it affects people’s general happiness, and it’s not how rich or poor you are, but how you perceive yourself in relation to others – if you think you’re as wealthy as everyone else on your street, then you’ll be happy.”
She said there were a number of ways to change that negative mindset and modify your expectations, including giving away a percentage of your income to worthy causes, which will help you to view yourself as “lucky” in comparison, and to be “honest” about how you want to live your life and your values instead of focusing on what you don’t have.
Stefan Angelini from financial planning business Angel Advisory & Work told news.com.au it was a “common misconception” that wealth was linked to the amount of money you earn.
“Wealth is linked to the amount of time you have to do what you want,” he said.
“If you earn $300,000 per annum ($185,000 after tax) you’re typically buying nicer items and taking on more debt for bigger houses and nicer cars. Therefore, you need to continue to earn more and work harder to pay for these things.
“If you are able to keep debt low and replace your salary with income from investments (as opposed to work efforts), then you can set yourself free, to travel and spend times doing the things you enjoy, rather than working just to pay bills.”