Image: Worried couple © Digital Vision, Getty Images

It's a question that quickly turns into a political weapon: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

But forget for a moment that the Romney-Ryan campaign has gone all-in on this phrase, printing it on banners, audience signs and podium fronts at rallies across the country in a bet that the answer can unseat President Barack Obama.

We wanted to hear from MSN Money readers, to get a sense of how you would answer the question when it came to your own financial outlook.

So we posted this question on our Facebook page: "How are you better or worse off than you were 4 years ago?" We also invited people to contact us directly to elaborate on their answers. While we claim no scientific representation of our readership, let alone public opinion, we did nonetheless turn up some interesting responses.

Of the 50 posts that directly addressed the question -- meaning people spoke to their own situation and not just their sentiments about the country as a whole -- 30 fell into the "better" category, 16 into the "worse" category and four seemed a blend of both. Ann C., for example, wrote that she is without a job and that it's harder to find one now, but that the situation has motivated her to get a master's degree and that she's "now hoping to find something new and exciting."

"So it's a toss-up" whether "I'm worse or better off . . . depends on how you look at this picture," she wrote.

Or Michele F., who wrote, simply, "about the same."

The "better" and "worse" answers, meanwhile, considered a wealth of factors, a reminder of just how differently people evaluate their individual situations.

Checking the bottom line

A couple of people went straight to their investment portfolios. (As MSN Money's Anthony Mirhaydari points out in "Are we better off under Obama?" the Standard & Poor's 500 Index has gained nearly 69% since January 2009, when Obama took office.)

Reader Dawn D. apparently noticed, offering this short response: "The 401k has recovered, and then some. Better off."

But jobs, stagnating pay and the price of necessities underpinned the bulk of responses.

For those who joined the ranks of the unemployed in the past four years, times were almost certainly worse.

"I've been unemployed since 4/2011 -- with no clear prospects in the near future," wrote Chris I. "I held my last position for just about 20 years."

The unemployment rate for August was 8.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate has held fairly steady, between 8.1% and 8.3%, throughout 2012. (In August, the unemployment rate was 7.6% for adult men, 7.3% for adult women and 24.6% for teenagers.) The government reports there are currently 12.5 million people unemployed.

Some readers, though, appeared to be among those across the country experiencing job gains in the past four years. While many people struggle and remain out of work, the economy has added jobs. As Mirhaydari points out, the economy was losing 820,000 jobs a month four years ago; since December 2009, 4.1 million jobs have been added.

"My situation is better! I'm making 25% more income (through job promotion and hard work)," wrote Nicole R. "My brother who lost his job in 2008 was able to get in on a new company start-up in 2009 and he's doing fantastic!"

It may come as a surprise that despite the current politicization of the "Are you better off?" question, for many readers the answer was highly personal. Many alluded to changes they'd made to adapt to a changing economic landscape, in many ways crediting themselves as much as, if not more than, the burgeoning recovery.

Joseph G. wrote: "Doing much better, my income has increased but I had to move to a different area to do so. Overall doing 100% better. Remember recovery is not all on the President shoulders."

But it's not as easy to adapt to rising prices of necessities, particularly when employers have become stingy with pay raises.

Middle-class wages in America have stagnated, due to labor and economic forces that can't be blamed on any single president, and many employers froze wages during the 2007-to-2009 recession.

"In nearly 3 years, I've had a 1-and-a-half-% raise. Wow, trying to spend that extra $20 per pay check (before taxes!) wisely! Shame on my employer," wrote Carol W.

And, of course, it's extremely difficult for those who have jobs to take the time to get retrained for new, potentially higher-paying careers.

"12.5% pay cut since 2007," wrote Lisa A. "Constant layoff threats, higher cost of living in all things: gas, power, food, insurance, etc."

In an interesting example of how, for some who are able to pay the bills, a good attitude can triumph in tough times, many readers seemed to say that they were better off despite having had to scale back.

"Better off. This bad economy forced me to save money and pay off my car loan and credit cards," wrote Louise M.

Reader George B. may have summed it up best, writing: "The thread is obvious . . . . We are recovering nicely . . . But not for everyone . . . Sad how it skips many."

More from this series: