Summer Reading Issue

Family Finances

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By Emmet Rosenfeld
Sunday, July 19, 2009

On a weekend trip to visit my twin brother in New York City a year or so ago, we found time to take a run along the Hudson River. As a couple of midcareer dads each with two young sons, our lives had taken parallel paths. Except in one way.

"My bills are killing me this month," said Jim, as we skirted the driving range at Chelsea Piers.

What gee-whiz expense was it this time, I wondered -- $700 a month for off-street parking?

"I wrote 65,000 bucks worth of checks the other night."

"Huh?" I said, assuming I'd misheard.

"I couldn't believe it myself. But I'm floating two mortgages right now until we sell our place; then there's the construction loan on the brownstone, and I had to pay my quarterly taxes. That was about 30 grand right there."

I don't think I broke stride. But emotionally, at that moment, I buckled. I've come to accept over the years our disparity in income: He's a partner in a law firm, and I'm an educator. But right then it struck me just how far apart, financially, we really were.

My brother's monthly nut was almost the same as my entire year's pay.

As we ran, my eyes turned to the swirling currents of the Hudson.

"Ouch," I managed.

***

Before the financial meltdown turned the world upside down, rich wasn't that hard to figure out. Pulling down north of $350,000 a year put you in the top 1 percent of households in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a lawyer married to a psychiatrist, my twin and his wife are comfortably in that category. My spouse and I, both career educators, are happy to have finally cracked six figures combined after 15 years in our field.


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