Todd Christensen Profile Picture
Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

Hijacking the Class Pyramid Paradigm

Written by Todd Christensen Author of Everyday Money for Everyday People

I don’t know about you, but I hate just about any discussion that involves identifying different segments of our population as upper class (“rich”), middle class and lower class. These terms are not only loaded with lots of negative social baggage, but they tend-at least in my mind-to be unhelpful or even harmful to “upward mobility.”

In the minds of many, the upper class rules, the middle class is always trying to move into the upper class, and the lower class feels trapped and unappreciated.

Please allow me to propose a new paradigm for the way we think about the economic classes in America. I believe it’s more constructive and practical to allow households not to be identified by their income (which may be hard to influence or change for innumerable reasons) but by what I believe is our most important financial habit:

Savings

Are we wealth builders or not? Do we save for emergencies, short-term needs and long-term goals? Or do we live paycheck-to-paycheck, regardless of our income?

Here’s my proposed class paradigm (no, it’s no longer a pyramid either):

We are either Builders or Consumers

If we see ourselves in terms of being a Builder or a Consumer, then we’ll realize that our habits, behaviors and actions are what most impact our economic situation in life, not merely our place of birth, our income, or the community into which we are born.

Nor have I placed Builders at the center of the three “classes” since that would infer that we have to work through a progression from one to another. Some may not be in a situation to become Builders at the moment, but in many circumstances, we can move from either class of consumer to Builder immediately. All it takes is having more money (financial worth) to our name month after month. It might be as little as a dollar more each month, though significantly more would be preferable.

The point is, if we’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, our income is almost irrelevant. In the current class model, households with high income are placed de facto in the upper class. In reality, someone making $100,000 a year but spending $100,000 a year (yes, it happens very often) should not be considered to be among the enviable upper class. The household earning $45,000 a year but saving $5,000 a year is in a MUCH more stable financial situation. True, they don’t have the “trappings” of the $100K income household, but trappings is the appropriate term. Expensive lifestyles become money traps that are hard to get out of.

I’d love to know your take on this. Agree or disagree? Too simplistic? Does my own model also “miss the mark” or is it practical and helpful?

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