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This graph explains why you always feel broke

Written by
Guy Parsons

Do you somehow feel like you never have quite enough money?

Do you remember getting a pay rise you were convinced was going to solve all your financial problems... only to feel exactly as broke as before?

Well, it's not just you. It's everybody!

Let's start with the big picture. From our survey of 10,000 Time Out London readers, the median person earned £29,500. When we asked you how much it would take to live 'comfortably' in London, the middle guess was £38,500. Already, that's a £9,000 pay gap, or 30 percent of your actual salaries. Ouch.

It seems like the solution would be to earn £38,500 and finally discover financial independence. But the problem is, the sense of how much you want to make keeps increasing the more money you actually make. The two figures move in lockstep, in fact, to an almost comical extent.

As people's earnings move up and up the blue line, the red line of 'what I'd need to be comfortable' hovers infuriatingly out of reach, like a consumerist carrot on a stick.

Earning £18k a year? You think you'll be comfortable once you earn £29k.
But once you are earning £29k, it feels like true stability will require £36k.
And when you get to £36k, gadzooks! Suddenly £44k is the point at which you can just relax.

This phenomena holds true from £20k to £65k, where increases in income result in almost no perceived increase in financial comfort. We call this the Persistently And Infuriatingly Nasty Financial Un-Loveliness Zone, or the PAINFUL region. Even more maddeningly, we convince ourselves that true comfort is always just around the corner.

It's only at £70k – nearly double the average guess, and 2.4 times the median salary – where the majority of people start to consider that they earn more than 'enough'. Even then, it's far from certain you'll feel fiscally fulfilled – 20 percent of people on six-figure salaries thought they needed more money to be comfortable. Greedy bastards.

Abolish Money

© Max Gor

And it's not because Londoners are especially greedy – for city-dwellers, at least. In Chicago, the 'comfort crossover' was 2.5 times average earnings. In Australia, it was 2.7 times. And in Hong Kong, it was 3.3 times!

This is why, in our survey, income was only loosely related to overall happiness and wellbeing. Yes, our very happiest survey-takers did tend to earn about ten grand more than the most miserable, but in general, things like short commutes, exercise, calling your mum and not compulsively checking social media were more likely to boost your mood than even a substantial payrise.

Take a look at London's most extreme postcodes or find out what makes us happier than sex.

Read more about things we learned from our City Living Survey.

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