- Kyle, a 34-year-old tech worker earning $175,000, lived a HENRY life in the Bay Area pre-pandemic.
- He was high-earning and not rich yet, paying $2,500 in student loans and $4,300 in rent each month.
- He went from saving under $10,000 a year to putting away $80,000 after moving to Phoenix to work remotely.
Kyle used to be a HENRY, short for “high earner, not rich yet.”
Now, the 34-year-old tech worker, who didn’t want to publish his last name for privacy reasons, is well on his way to building wealth thanks to the world of remote work.
He spent the last five years hopping around the tech scene as a big data specialist in California after finishing his PhD. He was earning $120,000 at his first job in 2016, according to a pay stub reviewed by Insider, and increased his salary at his next company after moving to the Bay Area.
But Kyle barely saw any of his six-figure paycheck, finding himself trapped in the HENRY lifestyle. HENRYs are typically millennials in their early 30s earning over $100,000 and living in urban areas. They often feel like they’re living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to save, either because they fall victim to lifestyle creep and live above their means or because of today’s high cost of living in an economy where $100,000 is no longer what it used to be.
In some cases, like Kyle’s, it’s both.
“My personal anecdote is that some people are too ensconced in the patterns of their current lifestyles,” he said. “Sometimes, it has nothing to do with material cost.”
He said his money typically went to sky-high rent, $2,500 in student loans a month, and putting big-ticket items like furniture and kitchenware on his credit card. He was caught in a vicious debt cycle.
After spending a few years paying everything off, he said, the pandemic hit. It opened up a game-changing opportunity: He landed a new job with permanent remote work and a base salary of $175,000, per his pay stub. It enabled him to trade in the Bay Area for his hometown of Phoenix last September, shedding his HENRY lifestyle.
“I was able to more than halve my living costs,” he said. Whereas he typically saved of $5,000 to $10,000 a year while living in California, he added, he socked away $80,000 last year. “Work-from-home offers an unprecedented opportunity for young people to break out of the debt cycle.”
Confessions of a former HENRY
Kyle said he can’t imagine going back to work in the Bay Area after the pandemic.
“Looking back, I can’t believe how unreasonably expensive everything was,” he said. “The cost didn’t seem like much of an issue at the time since I was able to get by on a tech salary, but I was certainly priced out of upwardly mobile asset accumulation like homeownership.”
The Bay Area is known for its notoriously high-priced real estate market, which trades off with New York City as the most expensive in America. Kyle said a 1,200-square-foot craftsman house down the street from where he used to live sold for $2.1 million prior to the pandemic real-estate boom, and this kind of house inflation has only made the path to homeownership more difficult.
A friend of his, he added, has been struggling to a buy a home in the area for over a year, and recently lost a bid for a townhouse after putting in an offer at $60,000 over asking price.
Boxed out of the housing market, Kyle said he spent $4,300 a month renting a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the Bay Area. He finally became a homeowner after moving to Phoenix, one of the pandemic’s migration hot spots, where he pays $1,043 a month for his mortgage on a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house.
His other monthly costs have also dropped immensely since moving. Based on his bank statements, he estimated that he was spending $3,700 a month in addition to rent in the Bay Area, which now looks more like $1,500 a month in Phoenix.
Kyle said he still pines for California, missing the food and social activities, but doesn’t miss the cost of living and the traffic.
“For those with work flexibility, there is a huge financial opportunity to be had from migrating to lower-cost-of-living metros,” he said, adding that it’s still hard to convince people otherwise.
But Kyle points out that everyone views utility — an economics term referring to the degree of happiness that comes from consuming a product or service — differently.
“Measuring cost of living (or lack of savings) without measuring utility is telling only half the story,” he said. “I managed to increase both in the last year, but for others it is still a strict trade-off.”
Do you have a story about your HENRY life? Reach out Hillary Hoffower at firstname.lastname@example.org.