I’m getting tired of seeing certain Internet memes like this one making the rounds. Golly, life is so hard and unfair these days. A 40-hour-a-week job just doesn’t support us anymore. You know what? Life IS unfair, but this is not why. This is something you can actually fix, if you want to. Yes, there was a time that if you worked 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, your wife did not need to work and you retired with a pension. That was the same time that your wife was EXPECTED not to work. Her place was in the home with the children. Your wife was, in every sense, YOUR DEPENDENT.
That was the same time that there typically was ONE family car. Yes, families still had multiple places to go. They had to figure out who took the car and who would get around some other way. Inconvenient? Yep.
That was the time that there was typically ONE TV in the house, if the house had one at all.
That was the same time that credit cards were nearly unheard of.
That was the same time that people owned far fewer clothing items, but spent much more of their income on those items they did have.
That was the same time that we had much smaller houses… and much smaller closets.
That was the same time that we just had a lot less STUFF.
Compare all of the foregoing to today:
Your wife is allowed to be your dependent, or not. You and she have choices that your grandparents did not have.
How many cars do we have in our families today? Two? One for every person of driving age? Throw in the SUV that you bought just to tow your boat? Whatever this answer is, it’s not “ONE.” The working-class family that used to live across the street from us had NINE cars.
How many TVs are in your family? One for every family member? More? How about computers, iPads, iPods, smartphones, video game consoles? How often do you buy new, updated versions of these expensive things? How much of that stuff is actually no-kidding, life-or-death NECESSARY?
How many credit cards are in your wallet? How much credit card debt do you carry? What is the interest rate on that debt? What did you buy with those cards… the updated smartphones, computers and video game consoles, perhaps?
How many clothes are in your closets and dressers? How much STUFF do you have? How much is really NECESSARY?
The fact is, WE LIVE SOME EXPENSIVE LIVES today, and a lot of today’s expenses are not outright essentials. We eat out more than our counterparts did 50 years ago. We are entertained more: more frequent visits to the movies, more TVs in the home (and cable packages!), more entertainment devices that our forebears did not even imagine. We buy more clothes, wear them less, and throw them away sooner. We carry credit-card debt on multiple cards, whereas many of our predecessors did not have any credit cards at all. We have larger homes which cost more to build and are more expensive to heat, cool, and maintain; many of our predecessors did not even have air-conditioning. At the grocery store, we buy a LOT more pre-prepared and processed foods; our predecessors bought raw ingredients and cooked at home with relatively simple kitchen tools. We have a separate electrical appliance for just about every possible task in kitchens that we hardly use. Many of us insist on the convenience of a car for every driver in the family.
I said at the beginning of this article that this is something you can fix, if you want to. Yes, it would mean sacrificing some of your fun or gadgets, cooking at home instead of eating out, or living in a smaller house or a neighborhood that isn’t your first preference. Too inconvenient? No problem. You have choices that your great-grandparents did not have. Just don’t complain when you choose to spend your money on conveniences and luxuries.
In the end, there is no comparison between the simpler lives and lower consumption of the so-called good ol’ days and the fast-paced, highly mobile, technology-ridden and highly consumerist lives we lead today. That is the flaw in the thinking behind this meme: it’s not the government, or some shadowy cabal that has done this to us. We have done it to ourselves.