How rich do you feel?

Can you live on €30,000 a year if your mortgage is €2,000 a month? Is €48,000 a good salary? How does an asylum seeker live on €19 a week? We explore attitudes to earnings and debt in Ireland


Irish people do not talk about what they earn. “My best friends don’t even know that,” says one interviewee. Finding people who are willing to discuss their incomes, expenditure and attitudes to money, even anonymously, is a difficult task.

Nonetheless, here 11 people talk about what they earn, how they survive on it and how rich or poor they feel. The subjects range from a refugee who has lived on €19.10 a week to an entrepreneur with more than €60 million in the bank. In 2012 the average Irish salary was €35,767.68.

The figures below aren’t necessarily indicative of what other people in these sectors earn, and for the most part we trust that the interviewees are telling the truth. We want to know about their attitudes to money, and their sense of financial security or vulnerability, as much as about salary, debt and investments.

The mature student
He is single and lives in Dublin. He gets between €70 and €200 a week from a part-time job and a college grant, and his parents pay his rent.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“I don’t feel poor. Not having money feels like a temporary thing.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I never went to college before because I never knew what I wanted to do. I worked as a waiter. I was a dog-groomer for a while. In the past I always seemed to have plenty of money. During the boom you could double your wages with tips.

“My income is different every week, depending on how much work I do. Some weeks it’s €70. Some weeks it’s up to €200. It’s difficult living a student lifestyle when none of your friends do. I have friends who pay for me a lot. Some people might feel too proud to do that. I don’t feel like that.

“I seem to just expect money will come because I grew up in a time when money did just come. I suppose if I wasn’t from such a middle-class background I wouldn’t have the option of living as I do. The people around me have money and buy me things. When I was working all my friends were in college, and I’d bring them out for lunch and buy them wine. Now that I’m in college the tables have turned. It’ll give you an idea of how bad I am with money that I never worked out what I earned then.

“I really don’t live within my means, and I am in debt as a result. Spending money and having money to spend always felt normal. Even when I was earning a lot I never had money at the end of the week, but I never ran out. I collected antique bits and pieces and still have a bit of a collection. I think I’ve always had a very irresponsible way with money – or maybe it’s just an optimistic view of money. I think it will just turn up. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills next week.”

The public-health nurse
She is a single mother with two children, living in Galway. She e arns €54,000 and h as a mortgage of €680 a month.

Are you rich or poor?
“Definitely not rich. I know I’m perceived by society as ‘It’s all right for her, she has a permanent job and drives a nice car and has a nice house,’ but I’m working constantly to pay for them. There’s nothing else left.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“My income has fallen from about €62,000 to about €54,000, and my lifestyle has changed dramatically. Before the last budget my take-home income had already fallen by €600 a month. Now that I know I could live without that extra €600 a month, I wonder what I did with it before.

“I think my gross income looks okay, but my net income is so small. My payslip has a whole line of deductions. It’s only a paper exercise talking about gross income. I know people who on a much smaller gross than me but there wouldn’t be that much difference in our net pay.

“Food has actually gone up by 15 or 20 per cent. I’ve changed electricity provider. I’m constantly watching all these things. I do my shopping in Lidl and Tesco, whereas before it was only in Tesco. Unnecessary trips are cut out. I haven’t had a holiday for three years. I don’t socialise. The bottle of wine has been dramatically cut out. The household charge? I don’t know where it’s going to come from.

“I feel the middle-income group are the working poor now. But I can’t say I’m badly off when I look at other people. In my job I go into homes where there’s food poverty.

“But I feel trapped. I feel like I’m working at a level that’s unsustainable. I feel burnt out. A few years ago I felt proud of my profession; I felt educated; I felt there were so many avenues I could go into and I had plenty of money.

“I never felt rich, because I knew there were people dealing with millions. But I felt well off. A falling income would be okay on its own, if you got a bit more time to do the simple things, like planting veg or reading novels or spending time with neighbours or simplifying your life. But what I find is happening is that for a lot of people the pressure of work is just shocking. It’s unsustainable.”

The millionaire
He made a substantial sum in business several years ago. He now has “€60 million to €70 million in liquid assets”. He has one property and several business and non profit interests (he is very active in his community) but doesn’t take a salary from any of tho se projects. He has children.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“For a lot of my life I lived beyond my means. Now I live within my means.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“It’s a privilege to fly privately occasionally or to book a holiday, but it’s the ordinary things I enjoy. If you’re going across to the local pub to have a pint it doesn’t matter whether you have a load of money or are on the dole.

“Before this I was on a fairly modest salary as a CEO; less than €100,000 a year. Like a lot of people, I lived on my credit card and ran up an overdraft. But I’ve always had respect for money, and I grew up in a family business where not having money to spare was a real problem. During the boom there was an appalling attitude to value generally.

“I don’t have any huge feelings of wealth. I just see money as fuel for a business and fuel to do things with. I don’t think I’m special or that I am an exalted species because I have money. A lot of people with money are total a***holes. They haven’t earned it. I go nuts when people introduce me as a millionaire. It’s a stupid tag. It just happens that I have some wealth.

“I don’t have a very high lifestyle. The cost of my lifestyle is probably €200,000 to €250,000 a year. Travel is a fair chunk of it. The vintage I am, you torture yourself about everything you spend because you came from the hungry grass. I’ll look at the price of tomatoes in Tesco because I don’t want to be ripped off. My car is four years old. I’d like to buy the new Range Rover, but it would be a bit of a stupid investment. I think rural Ireland is a place where you’re not going to lose the run of yourself.

“Money does remove worry. If a bomb goes under everything you’re still safe at the end of it, unlike a lot of other people. You have that element of protection. But I never worried about money even when I was up to my eyes in debt. The joy is living a healthy, normal life. That’s the most important thing.”

The supermarket sales assistant
She lives in Limerick, is married and has four children. She earns about €24,000 a year. Her husband receives €188 a week in social welfare. They pay a mortgage of €800 a month.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“I wouldn’t consider myself very badly off, because I know a lot of people worse than me. I’m okay. I’d say I’m just about managing.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“Over the past couple of years, bit by bit, my pay has been eroded by all the taxes and charges, so it’s definitely a lot harder now. You could sit down and say, sure you’ve loads of money, but where does it go? At the end of the week I’ve paid my bills, my mortgage, got what the kids need for school, but I’ve nothing left to live on

“I look at some of the people I work with and they seem to have more money, but then I have more kids than they do. And you still see people going on holidays. I often wonder how they can afford it. Is it that they manage money better than I do?

“But everyone is struggling. I have a fulltime job and you have people on part-time hours trying to survive on less money. I have four kids; two adults and two teenagers. They’re all at home. One moved out but had to move back because she couldn’t afford the rent. I’d rather you didn’t mention my name, because I wouldn’t want any of them put in a position of being called poor.

“In the past I had more disposable income. Now I’m watching everything. I bargain-hunt more. When you go shopping for food you look for offers, and when shopping for clothes you’re looking for sales in the likes of Penneys. A couple of years ago you’d have bought what you wanted, but now you’re looking for the cheaper option in everything.

“I wouldn’t take anything for granted any more. There were so many companies I would have thought were safe. Here in Limerick we had Dell, and everyone thought they had a comfortable job for the rest of their lives, but that got completely blown out of the water. My husband hasn’t worked for 12 years. We take it one day at a time. We don’t think too far into the future, because you could worry yourself sick.”

The entrepreneur
He lives in Dublin, is a married father of two children and earns about €30,000 a year. His wife, a recently qualified solicitor, earns €40,000. Five years ago he worked for a financial -services company. Their interest-only mortgage costs €2,000 a month .

Do you feel rich or poor?
“I’d see myself as pretty much bang smack in the middle. In the past I felt pretty wealthy.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I once worked in financial services and earned a basic of €90,000. Then on top I got a bonus. I found a P60 a while back in which I was paid a bonus that was about the same as what I earn in a whole year now.

“You frequently hear people talking about how people went wild and spent beyond their means during the Celtic Tiger, but we bought one house for €635,000. At the time I was earning more than €100,000 and my wife was about to qualify as a solicitor, expecting to start at €50,000. We put down a 10 per cent deposit. We paid around €45,000 in stamp duty and €100,000 renovating the house. It was all within our means, but suddenly everything changed.

“Now we’re in that situation – that horrible word – forbearance, with the bank. Essentially we’re renting our house, in an area in which you can probably rent for €1,500, for around €2,000 a month. So there’s zero incentive to grow that business. I grow it anyway out of pride. I like working and I like what I do, but if I doubled the income from my customers I’d be giving it all to the bank anyway.

“I’m much happier now even though I earn a lot less. I’m proud of what I do now. I hated what I used to do. The cash was compensation, but it wasn’t worth it.

“The biggest difference between our lifestyles now and before is that we don’t eat out any more. That’s what I spent all my money on. We just didn’t cook. I was never into cars or anything like that. I spent all my money on food and invested in a home, which I thought was the right thing to do at the time.

“I still consider myself quite lucky. I don’t feel too sorry for myself. I live in a nice house. I’ve a job I really like. We’re paying an interest-only mortgage, but we’re still managing to pay €2,000 a month. We can still afford health insurance; my wife’s company pay half of her health insurance. There are plenty of people out there who are struggling to a far greater degree than I am.

“Once, I probably earned more than any of my friends, but that’s completely reversed now. Was I paid too much then? Absolutely. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now I’m doing something tangible. I deliver something to someone which they can use.

“I don’t know why people in financial services are paid those sums of money. I place a better value on money now. I think we could live really comfortably on €70,000 a year if it wasn’t for the mortgage.”

The advertising executive
He is married, has four children and lives in Dublin. He e arns €140,000. His wife has her own business and earns between €20,000 and €25,000 . He has mortgage payments of €3,000 a month, three investment properties and no savings.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“Not rich; quite the opposite. I feel pretty privileged, but this level of salary isn’t unusual in my group of friends.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I took a pay cut when I had my own agency, and that halved my pay, but then it went back up when I joined a new company. My wife was once on around €60,000, but her business is very challenging at the moment.

“I know that compared to the general population I’m in the top 10 percent, but I certainly wouldn’t be near the top of my peer group. I have friends who make maybe a €250,000 and other friends who make €40,000 or €50,000 a year.

“We’re under huge financial pressure. We have a big mortgage [on a house] we bought in 2004, and we have four kids. I pay a pension. I’m a classic Celtic cub in that I have several investment properties. We had four and now I have three. One of our kids is in private school, and that’s about €6,000. I know that’s a choice. At the end of the month I have less than some of my colleagues who are on €30,000 a year because I have so many commitments.

“Our holidays are really modest, when we go on them, and I drive a banger. The house is still unfinished. We shop in Aldi and Lidl, whereas it was all Marks & Spencer five years ago. I’m not giving out. I’ve an incredibly good job. It’s really well paid. I just have no money at the end of the month. I suppose, when we’ve paid off those properties, we’ll be in gravy, but it’ll be another few years before we get to that.

“Ten years ago I had one kid and a much smaller mortgage. We used to go away all the time, we used to eat out all the time and I had fancy cars, but that’s changed a lot. No one is going to Vegas for the weekend any more. That kind of stuff used to happen.”

The carer
She lives in Dublin and is a single mother of five children, of whom two have special needs. She receives €307.20 a week lone-parent allowance, with a €309.50 domiciliary allowance every month for each of her two disabled children.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“We’re scratching the bottom of the barrel. I don’t think the Government realises how much taking a penny from someone on a tight budget affects them.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I’ve always budgeted and always done okay. But I can’t even take the children to the zoo at the moment. In the past I always managed to put money away to bring the kids somewhere. We definitely can’t afford holidays. My respite care grant was cut by €650 [for two children].

“I get a loan every Christmas. I never had to until they took away our Christmas bonus. It stresses me out when one of the children needs a haircut or a new jacket or something like that. The money isn’t there

“My children’s allowance pays my bills, and then I use the domiciliary allowance to fill my freezer once a month. My rent is €80 a week; my loan is €60. I have pay-as-you-go meters for gas and electricity, and I put €40 into each.

“Two weeks ago I gave my friend €100 to hold for me for my son’s birthday at the end of the month, but I had to get that back from her on Monday. Since January I’ve had to borrow from my friend nearly every other week and pay her back out of my domiciliary allowance.

“I applied to Dublin City Council for a downstairs bathroom for my 16-year-old; otherwise she will have to stay in nappies. We have a builder coming in June to build a downstairs toilet, and I think I’ll have to pay for it myself.

“I’ve never felt poor before. I’ve never had money worries. I never had a social life anyway – that wouldn’t fit into my life – but I’ve never felt this bad. Since January I’ve been nonstop stressing over where to get money to pay this bill or that bill. I’ve always had an emergency fund in my bank account in case one of the kids needed it. I don’t want my kids to suffer. But I don’t have that any more.”

The financial services manager

She lives alone in Dublin. She works for an international financial -services company and has a basic salary of €170,000 a year. She may receive a bonus which varies widely in scale but can amount to tens of thousands of euro. She has €60,000- €70,000 in savings and owes €40,000 on an old mortgage, on which she pays €250 a month . She owns one property abroad.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“I consider myself fortunate. I wouldn’t consider myself hugely wealthy, because I don’t have a very extravagant lifestyle.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I used to be a teacher. I was working a lot of hours and a lot of weekends. I was living at home and decided I needed to streamline my work-life balance, because it seemed to be all work and no life, and very little money at the time. So in the 1990s I went into [this industry] at the very basic rung of the ladder. I’ve been earning a large salary for the past seven years or so. I never expected to be earning this level of money.

“I don’t end up living from month to month, and I can afford to buy things when I want to buy them. I don’t need to wait. I have a small mortgage. I have an old car, which is paid off. Day to day, I don’t have huge expenditures. I probably would have three or four breaks a year, including a longer summer holiday. Probably some long weekends as well. But I often tie those in with travel for work.

“By the time the taxman gets hold of his share, what I take home is obviously whittled down quite a lot. I still come out with about €6,000 a month, which I know is a huge amount of money. And because I work for an international company I haven’t been affected by pay cuts.

“The people around me, my friends, don’t earn this type of money, although senior people in my industry do. I have a lot of interaction with people in other markets, and there is a lot more extravagance there.

“It’s a demanding job. Am I paid too much? It depends on how you stack it up. If you stack it up with someone doing an equivalent job internationally it would be very much at the same level. If you were to stack it up against certain demanding jobs in Irish companies, my pay would be a lot higher.”

The farmer and teacher
A married man with one child, he lives in the

west of Ireland and earns about €48,000 as a teacher. His wife earns €58,000 as a nurse. All the money from the farm goes back into the farm . They have three houses and a 55-hectare farm.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“I’d see us as comfortable.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
“The farm is in my mother’s name, but I farm it. I generally don’t take money from the farm. Two years ago I built a house, and took maybe €40,000 out, but this year I don’t plan to take anything off it. I use it as a savings plan.

“How I’d feel about money is relative to the company I’d be keeping. My community was heavily dependent on the building industry, and people who were wealthy five years ago are now in extreme negative equity, living hand to mouth. I’d consider myself wealthy compared to them now. But when comparing myself with friends from college, I’d consider myself in the mid range.

“My main outgoings are mortgages. In my 20s, like lots of people, I told loads of lies to the bank to get money to buy investment property. So I have two properties and my own house. They can be a drain, but they’re not at the moment because I have renters.

“My own mortgage is only about €500 a month. Diesel is the biggest bill for us, because we both drive about 40 miles to work.

“Like all civil servants, I’ve taken a 20 per cent decrease at this stage, and, agriculturally, the last budget was hard on us. But I have disposable income, and I’m not worried about next week. I contemplated packing in teaching in 2004, as I was offered double my wage in a construction-related business. I’m glad I didn’t do that.

“I consider myself good with money. My wife calls me frugal. I’d be the guy turning off the lights around the house. As I get older I’m starting to realise there’s more to wealth than property and investments. During the boom I had friends who seemed to have wealth in money terms, but I discovered afterwards they were living on credit cards.

“Wealth is being able to take a day off comfortably or to go on a holiday. Wealth is someone who can pay their bills and not panic when they have to get a new tyre for their car. Thankfully, I am in that category.”

The accountant
He lives with his girlfriend and earns €65,000 a year in his public-sector job . He has no property but has savings of €90,000 and investments worth €20,000- €30,000.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“Compared to society in general I know I’m doing very well. A lot of people have lost their jobs. I have family and friends who are struggling. So when I get pay cuts I don’t complain.

What’s your lifestyle like?
“I live with my girlfriend, who earns about €45,000. My biggest expense each month is rent.I also try and invest as much as possible. I did an investment course, and I’m starting to get into riskier assets. I’m mainly keeping that money there for the future. We’re hoping to buy a house, so I also have around €80,000 or €90,000 in savings.

“We will have more pay cuts in July, and everyone complains about it, but it really could be worse. I mean, I took 10 foreign trips last year. That’s outrageous when I think about it. But I wouldn’t be doing that if I had kids.

“There’s always someone doing better, but it’s about who you choose to compare yourself to. And you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life unless you know them really well.

“Back in the boom, I had friends buying bottles of champagne all the time. That seemed a bit surreal, and I didn’t get too caught up in it, but I didn’t see myself doing as well relatively as a result. I feel like I’m doing okay now.”

The refugee
He is single and lives in Dublin . He receives €188 a month i n social welfare; until February he was in the direct-provision system for asylum seekers. He shared a room with strangers and was given three meals a day and €19.10 a week.

Do you feel rich or poor?
“Very poor.”

What’s your lifestyle like?
I spent six years in the asylum system. For the past two years I was in Hatch Hall in Dublin. I had been in Limerick and Newbridge. I think prison might be better than the direct-provision system. You share a room with up to four people and are given meals at specific times. If you miss it you don’t get anything. The food is awful.

“When you get €19.10 a week, you have no control over your life and it is hell. Someone tells you where to be all the time. It’s mental torture. I moved out of the system on February 8th, and for the past two weeks I’ve been on social welfare. I now receive €188 a week, and I hope to find a job. It’s very hard to live on that, but it’s better than direct provision, because I have my freedom. I feel nobody controls me. People can come to my house. You can have people visit. At Hatch Hall I couldn’t even offer you a cup of tea or coffee.

“You are kept for six or seven years not able to work or study. People’s lives are destroyed in that system. When I was at home I was a civil servant. I was an elected councillor on my city council. I was the founder of a political party. Then I was physically tortured. But here I was psychologically tortured. I had no control over my life.

“Since leaving that system I have had to struggle back to even half of who I was. Now I’m confident I can be the same person I was before. Women and children are abused, neglected and ignored in this system. I don’t see how a democratic country such as Ireland, where human rights should prevail, is letting this go on. Recently, it was compared with the Magdalene laundries.

“How long before the Government has to apologise for this inhumane treatment of human beings?”