Can You Afford to Be a Politician?

As civic-minded people know, politics is a money game. Do you have what it takes to play?

As civic-minded people know, politics is a money game. Do you have what it takes to play?
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"In Tupelo, Mississippi, the part-time city council has a retired art teacher, a painter, a furniture salesman, an insurance salesman, grocery owner, a construction company owner and a history teacher. Since it is a part-time job and is local, they can all keep their day jobs and serve," he says.

Oxford says when it comes to running for office, "the best-positioned people financially are usually recent retirees or individuals who have investment wealth because they have less debt and expense, and have investment-producing income so their running would not impact their careers."

You need rich friends. "Generally, the higher the office and the greater the number of voters, the more money you need. If you are talking about a U.S. Senate race, the cost is likely to be in the millions, and a U.S. House race is likely to run into the hundreds of thousands and sometimes more," says Jack Holmes, professor of political science at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

Since you're hopefully smart enough not to sink your life savings into your campaign, you'll have to ask others to chip in. Friends, family and strangers will suddenly be potential campaign donors. That's why, once again, an attorney, physician or high-profile businessperson tends to do better in politics than an elementary school teacher, Wade says.

"Money begets money," Wade says. "Candidates who are wealthy and financially stable attract money. And they have broader networks, which makes it easier for them to raise much-needed campaign funds."

[See: 10 Signs American Families Are Falling Behind.]

You need to feel that if you lose, you'll be able to soldier on. It's easy to see the upside if you win an office, but what if you're the one delivering the concession speech?

"If you lose, how will that affect your ability to gain future employment and financial security?" Wade asks, pointing out that if you're in a competitive race, you could see your good name and reputation thrashed. After all, in this day and age of polarized politics, a good half of your community or state may not think very highly of you – which could hurt if you come out of the race with less power and prestige and a smaller bank account to boot.

That's why so many people under 40 don't risk running for office, Oxford says: "They have bills, debt, young families and cannot take the risk of losing an election and losing their careers or means of income at the same time."