What I Eat as a 46-Year-Old Lunch Lady Living on $317K/Year in Big Sky, Montana

Um …


I only made it through Wednesday. I got stuck early on by the amount of savings she says they have vs salary and expenses.


This is when I should’ve stopped reading the article. Monday.

“We then take advantage of being in “town” to do a quick grocery shop at Safeway as well. The house is pretty well stocked right now, with plenty in the freezer and pantry, so I just get some essentials. Milk, bread, fruits and veggies, sparkling water, and a few things for dinner tonight. Total cost is $151.96.”


I assume it was a heck of a dinner and a ton of fresh produce?


Thank you for this link.

You just helped me waste 2 minutes of my life that I will never get back. Save me a bit of time that I had devoted to watching the grass grow today.


She seems to distinguish between her money and her husband’s money so maybe the 10K is just hers?

I read through Monday and then got sucked into a rabbit hole looking for California State Fair tacos. I spent the first 25 years of my life in CA and we went to the State and multiple county fairs every year. How come I never heard of this before?


Could be. I probably should have just ignored that part of the story (especially since I have a pet peeve about people who like to tell other people how to spend their money). :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

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Is there a reason I should care what this person eats?

I have lived close enough to the State Fair in Sacramento for more than 30 years, and for years thought I 'd go, but always end up thinking "it’s too hot!


Probably the best part of the whole report.

I stopped after Monday - I don’t need to know that much detail. Hope some of the other contributors to the series are a little more interesting.

Utility bills look high to me and there’s no listing for gasoline expenses for those trips to Bozeman.

Having to drive an hour for ‘decent’ grocery shopping is a deal killer for me.


What stood out for me was how good that school food sounded! Lucky kids.

Ann Cooper would be proud.


“Milk, bread, fruits and veggies, sparkling water, and a few things for dinner tonight. Total cost is $151.96.”

I have to wonder if she included a few lottery tickets. I can’t get much over $50 for that shopping list, unless she chose lobsters for dinner.


Well it is Big Sky. We have a long held family place in Park City which is a former mining town that became a ski bum destination transformed into a b/millionaire playground. Just got back from spending some time there. Every time I went to the local grocery store in town to pick up a few things including milk, bread, eggs, fruit, veg and such it cost me $80-90. That’s for 2 people. I can easily see spending $150 if you were buying for 4. The cost of fresh fruit and veg in the middle of winter in a ski town is frankly gobsmacking. If it weren’t for the fact that my parents were able to buy a place long before its became such a destination I doubt I would be going there.


Understood. We have a place in the Sierra foothills. We suitcase in most groceries since shelf prices at the general store 8 miles from us are very high, and worse 25 miles away at a country supermarket near a golf community. This is not billionaire country and I often wonder how average country joes manage.

Just a reminder. The median household income in Montana is $56,500, not $317,000.
Not a lot of sparkling water on a limited budget.

She takes home $100 a month. I thought it was fairly obvious from the article that the main reason she took the job was to pay school district insurance rates for her family. Summertime months off. In a town of 3K people and a husband who makes $300K. Not a bad gig if you can get it.


Reminds me of how much (intentional?) outrage Sam Dogen creates when he writes posts like this and they get picked up by CNBC and the like.

As for The Big Sky Lunch Lady, I’m baffled by why they only have $10K in savings. She reports their monthly costs at around $4300/mo, yet their income is over $26K a month.

Or maybe that’s only her personal savings, not their combined savings acct? I dunno.


I don’t think that your linked story is meant to create outrage. Its a basic explanation of why a couple jointly making a half million a year isn’t living large when you’re talking about a family in NYC. No they aren’t struggling. Its a gilded cage no doubt. But they’re still running furiously on the hamster wheel.

@CCE If I recall from your posts I think you are a lawyer that had done international work. I’m sure you then know of associates of big law firms who are making pay in that range. Frankly living in NYC and the circle of people I know, the lifestyle in the story describes a large number of people I know. None of them are looking for sympathy. Its a good life. You just work really hard to maintain it.

As to the family in Big Sky, that $4,300 a month (~52k a year) is only part of their costs. This is their supposed fix costs but its missing a lot. They make $317k gross. Take out income, social security, medicare and state taxes, the net is considerably lower. After tax is probably 2/3 so call it $200k. They own a home but no amount for property tax is given. There’s a lot of other expenses that are not given. The wife only nets a $100 a month as her pay goes to health insurance. They ski so you need 4 season passes at $4k. Then you need ski equipment, clothes for the kids, gas in the car, family vacations, home maintenance and on and on. My guess is that the 401k is getting pretty substantial contributions too. So if the family in NYC that makes $500k can only put away $7300 at the end of the year, it doesn’t surprise me that the Big Sky family have only $10k liquid in the bank. A bon appetit story wouldn’t be a reliable source of financial information.

I for one am very intrigued by the lifestyle. I adore the skiing life and if my firm were more accepting of remote work I would consider doing something similar.


Got a chuckle from this part; agreed.

As for outrage, Sam’s admitted in comments (I used to comment/ask questions on his threads before I retired) from time to time, and in interviews, that at least in part he uses such essays to drive traffic to his `site. So while perhaps he’s not striving for outrage, he knows it’ll happen anyway - people sure like to “bitch about the rich” - and doesn’t mind it happening.

Yeah on the highly paid white shoe associates. Skadden and CSM and some others are now about $240K (incl. bonus) for 1st years, and 3rd years (just really becoming autonomously useful) are over $300k. But I can hardly complain about the pay wars driving this, as I benefitted personally from a couple of the bigger ones. In particular the one in the late `90s caused an ~ 80% jump in 1st year pay in just a few years. OTOH, as in-house counsel using a lot of large firms, forecasting budgets on outside spend became less predictable. Not my problem anymore. :slight_smile: