The American Dream?

Roger Staiger, author of Foundations of Real Estate Financial Modelling, questions whether the ability to live as a Walmart greeter and sustain a desired lifestyle can be a possible success.

Several months ago I had dinner with a former student, who is now a peer, and her husband. They had invited me over to their home to meet the newest addition to their burgeoning family. As I pulled up I was incredibly impressed, not by the size of the home or the curb appeal, but by the modest size. I remember thinking, “Wow, great home. I bet it is paid off!” Both individuals are highly successful, enjoying lucrative careers and could take their pick of neighborhoods, but instead remain in a modest dwelling, living substantially below their means. I was impressed.

On the way home, I stopped by my 24-hour Walmart for life’s necessities and was greeted, as always, by a senior citizen saying, “Welcome to Walmart.” I smiled and remembered the number of times people in the workplace, when consoling an unhappy co-worker, had said, “Well, at least you’re not saying, ‘Welcome to Walmart.’” The contrarian in me started to consider this possibility: Could it be that the position as a Walmart greeter was the ultimate status of success rather than failure?! The ability to live as a Walmart greeter and sustain a desired lifestyle – that would be success!

Next I started to do the maths to see if I could be a Walmart greeter. There are certain requirements, of course, as I am unwilling to lower my standard of living and my lifestyle. The basic assumptions are as follows: (1) Minimum wage is $7.25/hour and Walmart would hire me full-time for 40 hours a week; and (2) 100 percent of health care costs are covered by Walmart (aggressive, I know, but base assumptions must be made). Therefore, assuming 22 eight-hour working days per month, a gross monthly salary is $1,276. If taxes and payroll expenses are all-in 30% (aggressive, yes) then net pay per month is $893.20. A sample monthly budget for me as a Walmart greeter is at left. The budget assumes that homeownership is absolute and only payments for maintenance, taxes, utilities and HOA recur monthly. Further, it assumes a modest diet, not likely given my current weight but this is theory, and no major capital expenses, such as the need to purchase a new vehicle.