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.
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Jan 10, 2013
Jim — You are not alone. There is NO WAY for the average earner to pay for living expenses, retirement and college for one, let alone two kids. Keep an eye on obscure scholarships and shape your kids early to earn that “left-handed trombone player folk music” grant. Either that or get a job at a college offering free rides for employees’ children and hope their SAT scores are good enough for them to get accepted. Without extraordinary skill or dumb luck, our kids won’t be following in our footsteps.
Jan 11, 2013
I have left this up on my browser been meaning to comment. Once we gladly paid a premium for american made. Now nothing is made here. Only consumables and not all of them are. I guess what drives me bonkers if a nation built on greed, where 80% of the people average only $30k a year, how many people vte against their economic self interest over stupid stuff like war, gay marriage etc. Even abortion drives me nuts. There is no Right to Life. Just birth. Those people refuse to pay more in taxes to ensure ever child is housed, fed, taught, given healthcare in a safe environment. They cut funding for all child programs and schools. As Warren Buffet calls it the sperm lottery. You aren’t a real christian if you force birth only to sentence so many to a hell on earth. Or the fact you eat beef from a cow that has been horribly rendered or vote for going to war. I mean really that shit people vote to keep themselves down and so many do and I am clueless why. The American dream is usually Freedom or Greed or both. But I am in advertising I know that so many people are suckers and it is sad because it screws other good people like you and your family and me and mine.
Jan 11, 2013
“The rest of us just don blinders and set the alarm.”
Yes, yes, yes. It sucks to admit it but I’d be lying if I denied it.