I recently did our family budget for 2013. We’re middle class. We have a very good life and want for nothing. We’ve got braces, we take vacations, we drive good automobiles, we eat out occasionally, we have a 401K, and we have a roof. Well, it’s leaking in spots, but you know what I’m saying. Anyway, after doing the budget, I’ve concluded that the idea of a middle class family saving any kind of money today, without serious sacrifice, is pure folly.

The American Dream has changed. Somewhere between ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Audacity of Hope’ – we’ve been conditioned to sell out to the point where we don’t have time with our family as we try to earn as much money as possible and hope that one spouse can make enough so that the other takes care of the family. Or, we can simply live as well as we can and try to survive – and hope that things work out in the end. We chose the latter strategy. This, my friends, is the machine. And for people who don’t come from money, there’s very little hope of ever escaping.

I can hear you now, “But Americans are just too gluttonous.” And you’re right. We are. The temptation to go into debt for that $800 90″ LED TV from Walmart, because Walmart buys its goods from nations that pay its people four dollars a day, is just too good to pass up. But here’s the deal – my family lives fairly modestly. We’ve carry little debt. We have a two-bedroom home in an urban area. We’ve got one television. Our kids attend public school. You get the picture. Both me and my wife have great jobs and are respected professionals. But we’re not 80-hour a week people anymore. We tried that track, and determined that the sacrifice is too great. Nonetheless, we do ok. And yet, if at the end of the year we manage to save enough money for a single semester at an overpriced university for just one of our daughters – we’ll be fortunate. Sure, we could choose to live simpler. We could sell our house and move into a trailer down by the river and eat pork-and-beans every night and eventually save enough money for the kids to attend college, and for use to retire. Maybe. But this idea is just as ridiculous as gluttony.

Yes, the American Dream has changed. It now demands blood.

Some people buy lottery tickets. Some people rob banks. The rest of us just don blinders and set the alarm. Grateful for little moments of joy, a steady paycheck, and for the fact that we don’t live in Congo.



Jim Mitchem


The Last Day
Unrefined: A Night at the Opera

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.