Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making It On A Congressman's Salary

According to Talking Points Memo (TPM), Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin says he's still struggling to meet his bills despite a $174,000 salary. Yet he still says he'll take a pay cut. Newser is reporting it too, for those of you who wouldn't be caught dead reading some "lib-rul" blog, as is KMSP in the Twin Cities.

As TPM quoted him:
I can guarantee you, or most of you, I guarantee that I have more debt than all of you. With 6 kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage. I drive a used minivan. If you think I'm living high on the hog, I've got one paycheck. So I struggle to meet my bills right now. Would it be easier for me if I get more paychecks? Maybe, but at this point I'm not living high on the hog.
I'm going to sidestep the controversy over a video clip that appeared in the TPM article and instead focus on Duffy's cash-flow analysis. First, TPM doesn't point out that your congresspeople have to maintain two homes: the one in their district and the place in Washington where they're bedding down while Congress is in session. That also comes with travel expenses and incidentals associated with the back and forth. I gather those student loans include law school, which is never a bargain. This is before we even get around to the expenses of a family of six. If you're wondering about staff expenses, your lawmakers get an allowance for those. Rep. Duffy's wife works as a teacher, bringing in a little bit more, but she stands to take a pay cut in as Wisconsin's new budget goes through.

I can only delve so deep into Duffy's books without breaking a few privacy laws, but let's suppose Duffy's household income is closer to $200,000. That's still at least double what a lot of us make. I can only hope he's paying down his mortgage and education expenses as quickly as possible and not putting himself deeper into hock on credit like his employer.

But what troubles me is that many people don't know the difference between the cost of living and the cost of living it up. Bravo to Duffy for driving a used vehicle. The depreciation on a new car has me vowing never to buy a new ride ever again. A lot of people confuse a want with a need. They have to have those clothes, that house, that car, that furniture, that iPad. All right, I admit I just splurged for an iPad 2, but I'd been saving up for that out of overtime pay.

Maybe instead of giving Rep. Duffy flack about his stated money struggles, we should be encouraging him to budget better. I've become a big fan of Dave Ramsey's cash-only financial system. I know single-income families who make 25 percent of Duffy's pay who live comfortably and happily. These folks clip coupons. They shop at the second-hand stores. And they tithe. Yes, 10 percent off the top is going to GOD, and GOD is blessing their lives.

Duffy agreed to cut his pay. Granted, he hedged a bit, but he still agreed to do it. Would he agree to one of Dave Ramsey's money makeovers?

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