What Does It Mean When We Call Something "Affordable"?

What Does It Mean When We Call Something "Affordable"?

Tess Wilson
Sep 21, 2015

Q: I am a 28-year old who earns $65K a year and while I have $40K in student loans to pay back, I consider myself to be on the lower end of the middle class, if not solidly in the middle of it. Based on my own experiences, when I think of furniture that is affordable to a middle class family, I think IKEA. But on Apartment Therapy and many other home-oriented publications, "affordable" includes West Elm, Room & Board, and even CB2, all of which are simply out of reach for me. I can't fathom paying $1,000+ for a loveseat and don't understand how a middle class person can afford to pay full price in any of these stores...

Is it just me? What are people's standards and opinions on what stores and price ranges are affordable to them? And what standards are this site using when they say that a store is affordable? -Sent by Danny

Editor: Danny, thank you for the excellent question. I know when my partner and I started researching beds and sofas to buy, I was shocked by the prices! (It was my first time shopping for new furniture, at the ripe old age of 34.) I don't usually answer the Good Questions, but because this is exactly the sort of thing I like to write about, forgive me while I muse a bit.

First off, "affordable" might refer to the lower end of a range of generally available prices, even if that lower range seems shockingly high to many of us. I might consider something affordable if it's at the bottom 10% or 20% of that price range and seems reasonably well-made, even if I personally can't afford it. But to address your broader question, it would be fascinating to have some sort of a reference point. Like, is something affordable if someone working full-time at minimum wage can afford to buy it on one week's wages? Is something affordable if 75% of U.S. residents make enough money in a day/week/month to buy it? Readers and fellow Apartment Therapy contributors, what do you consider "affordable" and how much does that have to do with what you personally can afford? Thanks!

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