Over the weekend I caught up on some blog reading and found an old post from The Simple Dollar where Trent discussed the differences in today’s budgets from those of our parents. It was an interesting post, and the comments provided more food for thought. I began inventorying our own monthly bills and compared them to the bills I knew about growing up.
These are the types of bills I remember my mom paying:
- Car payment
- Power/Gas bill
- Home telephone
- Cable television
- Car Insurance
Admittedly, our situation was somewhat simplified because my mom rented, but it seems everyone’s situation was much simpler back then. Compare her monthly bills to the list I came up with:
- Mortgage (including property taxes and homeowners insurance)
- Power bill
- Home telephone
- Cable television
- Car insurance
- Internet service
- Gym membership
- Cell phone
In addition to those recurring bills, you could expand the list of modern conveniences (that cost additional dollars) even further. Divorced Dad did just that in his post listing what he calls, The New “Necessities” of Modern Life. From his list, I’m reminded that things like bottled water, cell phone texting, gourmet coffee, and $200 iPods were not around when I grew up, and certainly not around when my mom was young.
A number of these modern “necessities” do add value to our lives, but they do not come without costs. Because of this larger monthly outflow, most families have to work more, and more members of the family have to work more, to cover these expenses. And that phenomenon has brought about even more “situational” expenses such as the need to for two vehicles, two professional wardrobes, additional childcare expenses, increased commuting costs, etc. Makes you yearn for a simple time, doesn’t it?
So who’s to blame for this lifestyle inflation that led to higher expenses and less time with family? Marketers could certainly share some of the blame, as their artificial hype leads many to products they wouldn’t normally buy. I’m not immune. Those Onstar crash commercials replay in my head every time I consider canceling the service. What if my wife is in a crash and can’t call for help and the kids are with her and…panic sets in. I instantly rationalize the monthly fee.
If marketers are to blame for a portion of the lifestyle inflation we’ve experienced, then we need only to look at ourselves for the remainder of the blame. Let’s face it; we’re a spoiled people in many ways. We strive for the bigger and better, never content with good enough. Over the last few decades, the size of our homes has doubled from 1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,330 square feet in 2004 (National Association of Home Builders). We build bigger homes just because we can, not because we necessarily need to. Or maybe we do need to. After all, where would we put all our toys in a small home?
These bigger homes come with bigger mortgages, and more expensive furniture, and the need to fill a two-car garage with, well, two cars. You see where this is headed.
In an era where people are beginning to share concerns over inflation (or maybe more accurately, currency deflation), thanks to exorbitant government spending, perhaps we should first consider our own lifestyle inflation. Perhaps we should start voluntarily moving towards simplicity, before we are forced to.
In my own life, I’ve decided to draw a line in the sand. I have nice things, and am perfectly content with them. My desire to have the latest thing will not override the contentment I have with my current thing, and the fact these “things” are paid-for is even better. We plan to stay in this home, keep driving our current vehicles, look at the same television, use the same cell phones, and keep the same basic expenses regardless of what others do, or try to convince us to do.
If you are like me, and have been “unfrugal” at times in your life, you don’t have to sell all your possessions and live the life of a pauper. Simply be happy with what you have now, and let that mantra guide future spending decisions.