Poor vs Rich on the Lake

by Sandy L on July 1, 2011

After a very long winter followed by a very very wet spring, we’ve finally had some nice weather over the last couple of days. It’s really been glorious.   My oldest is finishing up kindergarten this week and his teacher gave him a shovel and pail as his goodbye present.  Well, when I picked him up, that meant only one thing, that we’d spontaneously head off to our little beach on the lake after work.   It was already 5:30, so we didn’t have time to pack real bathing suits or a picnic or anything, so we just went on a whim.  We had nothing with us but some sand toys, a towel and a couple of juice boxes.

The best lakefront property is not on the lake

I spent a lot of time at this beach the last two summers.   To this day, I continue to marvel at the gorgeous scenery that is just a stone’s throw away from my home.  Yes, lakefront property is crazy expensive, but living near a lake is not.  There are homes that are less than 1/4 mile from my home that sell for 10x more than mine because they are on the lake. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Easy access and low cost.

Poor and Rich don’t Mix on the Lake

Anyway, whenever I go, I always wonder why there aren’t more people enjoying the lake midweek and even on the weekends.   Most of the time, the only people I see there are carrying in their obligatory bag  $0.99 Value Time Chips and soda pop. Clearly, these aren’t the same folks that pack their wicker picnic baskets with wine and cheese and listen to the Boston Pops on the lawn of Tanglewood. It made me wonder: Where are all the rich people and why is beach going not an acceptable form of entertainment for them?  I’m positive there is no sign on the lake that says no one over a certain income limit is allowed here.  However, it sure seems like the poor people go to the beach to play and the rich people ride their boats around on the lake and there is an invisible force field that keeps the two groups from mixing with each other.

Yeah, the beach sand always seems to have the token dead fish in it that the kids pick up and throw at each other, but it’s still pretty darn nice.  We even have a family of 5 bald eagles nesting across from our boat launch.

Do the Poor Have More Time?

Last summer, when I was at the beach often, I would see the same young families there all the time.  It really seemed like a few families lived there on the weekends.  It made me think “wow, I wish I had that much time.”  Then I thought about what ate up my free time: Caring and maintaining our home.   If you’re a renter, you don’t have to mow a lawn, do house maintenance, renovate or weed.  You pay your rent and that’s it.

Although I love my house, it was then that I realized that home ownership isn’t just a big money suck, but it’s a big time suck as well.  I love tinkering so I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m not sure I realized just how much time it really took out of my week until then.  I had to think back to when I still lived with Babci and I could just pick up and go somewhere without having to worry about what chores I was leaving behind.  Ah, those were the days. Thanks babci.  Back then, it was more like involuntary simplicity vs the voluntary kind that’s so chic these days.  I think many of my beach going neighbors also were of the involuntary ilk but they seemed to be making the most of it.

Then I thought about those boaters that most of the people on the beach would probably love to trade places with.  How much play time are they losing by having to hook up the boat, pack the boat, put the boat in the water, take the boat out of the water, unhook the boat, unpack the boat, etc… You probably lose 1/2 your fun time just dealing with boat stuff.  This doesn’t even include the time it takes working to pay for your boat and gas. It’s such a hassle that you hardly see any boats on the water midweek.  Why not just forget the boat and drive over to the beach instead?  There is plenty of daylight and since we have such a short summer, after work excursions midweek are a must in our book.

Self Segregation

When my friend’s wife turned her nose up at our local lake, I asked her where she takes her kids swimming. She said that most people she knows go to the other lake 20 minutes away (in a much more expensive town). “The beach is much nicer there.”  It’s been at least 5 years since she told me this and I still haven’t gone there.  I’m sure I’ll go to that other beach someday for a change of scenery, but if I’m going to drive somewhere, I might as well keep going another 2 hours and get to the ocean.

In her defense, sometimes our town’s beach gets closed because some rotten kids decide it’s fun to throw trash cans full of garbage in the lake and contaminate the water. That only happens once or twice a year and knock on wood it hasn’t happened yet this year.  “What? You’re taking your kids to the e-coli lake? I would never do that.”   As an aside, I hate vandals. They stink. My friend just finished building a playground at his kid’s school and it got vandalized the very next day.  Stuff like that breaks my heart. What the heck is wrong with these kids?

I feel that I’m very fortunate because I have experienced life at a wide variety of income levels and I definitely think that there is a point where having too much stuff takes away what little free time we have.

Do you see this same kind of segregation? I’m really perplexed why more people of all classes don’t go to our gorgeous little town lake.  Does fun have to be in the form of a weekend cottage on Martha’s Vineyard or a second home on a lake somewhere?  I scratch my head and wonder where all the middle class families are and what they do come summer time.   If nothing else, I think I walked away noticing that for a lot of folks, the more money your have, the more time you waste gearing up for fun vs just maximizing your time relaxing and enjoying life. (ie. traveling to a vacation spot, preparing your expensive stuff so you can use it, driving hours to six flags instead of going to the carnival, etc.)  Does that theory hold water or was it just a goofy observation?

I know when I was going through my year of no spending, I took my kids to the lake, playground or to the Y swimming and it didn’t make a lick of difference to them. They had a blast.  Sure, we like going to zoos and stuff, but they often prefer the instant gratification of just doing something “right now” vs packing up the car for an all day adventure.  I love all day adventures, so I think it was much harder for me than it was for them.   If you’re looking to save a little money this year on summer fun, first look to see what’s right in your backyard. I was amazed when I took the time to explore my local options more thoroughly. I don’t think I would be enjoying my local lake as much as I do if it weren’t for that experience.

On that note, to all you US folks, have a great 4th of July  holiday.  Hurray to some time off.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki July 1, 2011 at 7:47 AM

It is a shame that something as simple as a lake can be considered low class, especially when it is surrounded by expensive homes. I would think that would be the perk.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend too.


Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Niki – thanks you too.


Nicole July 1, 2011 at 8:39 AM

In our town, the segregation isn’t by income so much as by race and ethnicity. Our preschool is one of the few places where I see mixed race families and children of all sorts of different races, ethnicities, and income classes. (It’s a high quality full-day preschool, so it is popular with both professors and working-class families… AFAIK we don’t have any of the Christian SAHM sending their kids there, so it is missing that large component of the town– they tend to go to the half-day preschools.)


Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 5:08 PM

Nicole – If I think about it, we have the same kind of split. White SAHM’s vs everyone else. I’ve been fortunate that all my home day care and preschool experiences for my kids have all been pretty ethnically diverse. This actually surprised me because the minority population in my town is not that big.


OneCentsibleGuy July 1, 2011 at 11:14 AM

I find it incredible that this sort of class segregation still exists. Really, in 2011? I guess it will always be that way. I’m a big fan of inexpensive entertainment, and free is even better. I grew up on those types of little adventures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is too short and weeks are too busy to only enjoy yourself on Saturday. There are a lot of “time sucks” in our lives, but recognizing them is the first half of the battle. I don’t plan on retiring to a ritzy home on a lake because that’s just never been my brand of fun either 🙂


Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 8:23 PM

OCG – For the longest time, we only used to do sports that were free once you had bought the gear. Ie, not golfing, not skiing, not anything that requires an entry fee. Yes, classism does exist and I felt weird to even write about it.


Kellen July 5, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Apparently class segregation among younger generations is getting to be a bigger issue than racial segregation. Makes sense with people of different economic classes tending to live in the same neighborhoods. Also exacerbated if they then choose to frequent different amentities, like the two different lakes in this post.


retirebyforty July 1, 2011 at 12:04 PM

A house is a big time suck. That’s why we moved to a condo. These precious summer days are rare in the Northwest and I don’t want to spend them doing yard work. I haven’t notice much segregation by income. Our riverfront parks are full of people and there are probably some rich people mixed in there. Or maybe they are on their boats, I don’t really know.
Have a great weekend!


Kellen July 5, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Portland also tends to attract people who are interested in the outdoors – I’d say that the folks who only enjoy the outdoors in the comfort of a motorboat are probably a little different than the type of folks who choose to enjoy Portland’s parks and scenery. I live in the south and see a lot of what Sandy sees – people who only go out to the lake if they are fully equipped with motorboat and jet skis. But I also find that these people wouldn’t really be interested in a quiet evening at the lake anyway.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:00 AM

Kellen – good point. Around here, the people who have mountain bikes don’t own dirt bikes or ATV’s. In fact, we hate them for tearing up our single tracks and try to hide trails from them otherwise it just quickly turns into a big highway in the forest. It’s similar with lakes. The people who have canoes and skulls prefer the quiet of no motorized vehicles on the water, so you’ll often see them way early in the morning.


Mutant Supermodel July 1, 2011 at 1:08 PM

I continue to see more and more discrimination by class than anything else. I think race and ethnicity are symptoms of class discrimination. I see it everywhere all of the time– in major cities and small towns. Racial and ethnic discrimination is easier to identify and gets more attention, but the problems run much deeper.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:08 AM

Mutant – I wrote about this because I struggle with it too. I distinctly remember some snobby right out of college pharmaceutical rep snubbing her nose up at me when I tried talking to her. I was a banquet waitress and she was at a training seminar ( I was putting myself through chemical engineering school at the time, so this was an actual potential career path for me, and she was about my age). Anyway, she very distinctly treated me like “the help” and wanted nothing to do with me. How dare I try to engage in a conversation with her. All my regular customers knew me by name and vice versa at the other restaurant I worked at so it was odd to be treated that way. I vowed never to treat a person in the service industry like that no matter how successful I became.

I’m trying my best to ditch the bad stuff about being poor (not trusting people, only looking out for yourself, the theft and reckless vandalism) and keeping the rest, ie. how simple life can be without a lot of things complicating your life, enjoying people’s company, nature, free services like the library, etc.


Money Reasons July 1, 2011 at 3:54 PM

As a lake beach goer in my area, I think a lot of it is culture.

We go with our friends and family to the beach so that we can ride on our waverunner and boats.

We don’t enjoy it as much though because of all the smokers and polution. It’s a nice beach but it sucks having cigarette buds embedded in the beach sand.

We still go there, but our friends with the boat just put the boat in and goes, not stopping at the beach anymore. Kind of sad really.

As a teenager, I remember going to a beach that was in a gated community a few time. No poor kids there, but they kids sure was rowdy… I felt so out of place that I passed on the most of the future opportunies…

Sorry, I didn’t really add much to your post, but I thought I’d share my background and experience on the beach.

I do think that if you are rich enough, you hire people to do your lawnwork and take care of your house (must be nice)…

Thanks for a great read! I think your observation is very keen on the differences on the beachers and the boaters…


Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 8:18 PM

MR – that’s an interesting observation. I guess it’s kind of natural to want to hang out with one’s own kind. I’ve never been to any gated private beaches. Not unless you include plymouth which you have to be a resident to be able to use one of the beaches. That is pretty awesome but mainly because it’s always pretty deserted (because they limit how many people can go out there). Thank you endangered sea birds.


101 Centavos July 1, 2011 at 6:47 PM

Good observations, FGA. I coached for years at a sandlot soccer league, one that the other competitive leagues sniffed and turned their noses up to. The composition of my team came from all walks of life, but mostly from the lower rungs. Come to think of it, the parents that gave the most trouble on the field seemed to come from the more affluent reaches of life, at least by appearance.
By the way, I have a boat, but it’s little ratty looking. A 1969 tri-hull with a 1976 70 hp Evinrude. Not exactly top of the line, but the price was right. We use it to go fishing, an activity which is still egalitarian enough.


Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 8:14 PM

101- we bought a canoe off craigslist a couple of years ago. We love it. No motor, just arm powered and it takes like 3 minutes to put on top of the car. Fishing was the primary motivation for us as well.


Molly On Money July 2, 2011 at 10:07 AM

There is this community outside of town for the very rich. They have huge golf courses and small lakes. It’s in the middle of the desert. It’s like the city of Phoenix on crack (it’s totally bizarre to drive through). I go there occasionally for work and am always wondering were all the people are. There is typically one or two guys out playing golf. They build themselves this oasis, fought to keep it (surprise! When the drought came the city wanted them to cut back on watering their several hundred acres of grassy nulle), and you never see anyone using it.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Molly – I think they’re too busy working because they need to pay for all that stuff. I live in a touristy area, so our golf courses are used a lot. Not all of them are private though.


Molly On Money July 6, 2011 at 8:37 AM



Linda July 2, 2011 at 12:13 PM

This is a nice follow up to your last post since it also mentions carving out time for something enjoyable.

In Chicago, we only have the one lake, but since it is so big there are several beaches and this is where you see the class segregation in action. Certain beaches have a more snooty reputation, especially the ones along and close to the Gold Coast (a neighborhood with high cost real estate and shopping). The South Side beaches are less prestigious, as living on the South Side typically means you’re more poor. Hyde Park (where the University of Chicago and Obama’s residence are located) is the exception to this South Side rule. As you move up the coast of Lake Michigan from the Gold Coast, the beaches get a bit more egalitarian. I think the Montrose and Foster beaches are pretty mixed as both are often filled with people of all ethnicities grilling, playing games, and frolicking in the water. The paleterias cruise up and down the sidewalks, selling yummy treats like tamarindo paletas, and smoking is now banned on the beaches.

Actually, I rarely make it to the beach. I live only about 4 miles from a beach “as the crow flies” but it’s more like a 40 minute bus, bike or car ride through lots of traffic. The upside of taking the bus or a bike is that at least you don’t have to cruise for an open parking space. I do hope to make it to the one of the public pools a few times this summer, though. There are two within a mile of my house, so it should be easy enough to get to.

The class issue is one that I’ve talked about before with my roommates. Both of them are of a different race and much younger than me, but grew up in similar circumstances to me. I think we get along so well because of the fact that we are of a similar class background.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:14 AM

Linda – Some of these beaches sound really nice. Come to think of it, we have the same around here with the oceans. Some of the ocean front areas are more trashy than others with their shops selling t-shirts, tattoos and little animals made out of shells, but others are more snooty. I think it’s also dictated by real estate prices in the area as well.


Everyday Tips July 2, 2011 at 2:48 PM

I have often been perplexed by how few people take their kids to the beach. However, in Michigan, quite a few of our local lakes get closed for E Coli, so there are some areas that I will not go. Not because I am snooty, but because I don’t want the family getting sick. Lake St. Clair is a gorgeous lake, but I won’t set foot in it in certain areas.

I quite often pack up the kids and a lunch and head to Lake Huron. There is a beautiful park there with grills, great sand, and beautiful water. However, I am always shocked by how few people are there. Good for me in that I don’t want people throwing footballs at my head all day, but yet I feel sad that people don’t take advantage of such fun, inexpensive entertainment. (Although with the price of gas, it probably costs me about $13 dollars round trip to go, but it is so worth it.)

Where I live, I think people have simply gotten away from outdoor entertainment. When I was growing up, people went to the beach, played in the park, and had great barbecues. I don’t see that nearly as often. Although now that I think about it, I was driving through an area recently that was probably considered low income, and those kids were all out on their bikes and the people were mingling on their porches. When I got home, I didn’t see a soul outside except for the occasional person walking their dog or going for a run.

Sorry for the rambling, you just got me thinking.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:20 AM

Kris – that is a very keen observation. Maybe everyone is indoors on their computers and playing video games or watching TV. Although even the poorest neighborhoods around here, the kids have cable, gameboys and Wii’s. I think another reason is probably because the places they live are small, cramped and dumpy and being outside is a welcome improvement in the scenery. I know one of my mom’s tenants (who raised 5 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment) lived on her back porch in the summer. It was nice looking at my mom’s garden and it was SPACE.


Jacq July 2, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Sometimes when I go RVing I also notice a strange phenomenon. It’s the people with the huge $200k buses that don’t seem to do much outdoors where the ones in tents and tent trailers are out and about all the time. Maybe that’s an age thing. I’m kind of in the middle, since my rig was fairly expensive but we spend almost no time inside of it.
Maybe at the lake, the wealthier parents are older and they just don’t have the patience to play in sand anymore? Or they have their own beachfront – that’s commonly the case here.


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:21 AM

Jacq – age certainly plays a factor I think. Many of the families I see there are much younger than I am. Interesting how you see the same thing with the RVs.


Financial Samurai July 3, 2011 at 9:28 PM

Enjoying nature and the simple free things are the best. We’ve got a lot of water surrounding us here in SF and I always go whenever the temperature breaches 75 like today.

Happy weekend!


Sandy L July 6, 2011 at 3:22 AM

FS – there’s a reason San Fran is the most expensive place in the US to live….because it’s so awesome there.


frugalscholar July 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM

Well, as of yesterday, I am at a house on a lake near Tanglewood (and you!). Our little humble home (bought in the 1930s by my great uncle) is surrounded by other humble homes–but some bought by fancy people and rebuilt on the footprint.

I would like things to turn back to how they were when I was a little girl. A house I used to visit with my great-aunt–built by the owners–has been vacant for several years and now is about to be torn down.

Can’t wait till humble abodes are back in style and lakes are just lakes…


Sandy L July 19, 2011 at 5:34 PM

frugal scholar – have a wonderful time in the Berkshires. Weather is finally getting nice so I hope it stays that way for you. Oh the joy of a nice relaxing lake vacation..with wifi no less.


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