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Escalating expectations keep us broke

Published May 24. 2014 09:00AM

Everyone knows change is a sure-fired constant. It is virtually impossible for everything to remain the same.

People change. Circumstances change. Times change. Most of all, lifestyles change.

Much of the time this change comes so slowly that we don't realize the relentless winds of change have completely changed our landscape. It is only by looking backward that we see how much change has come about.

My husband and I came to this conclusion while we were reminiscing about our parents' lifestyles, contrasting it with today.

Looking back on his parents' lives, David says what most comes to mind is that they lived simple lifestyles compared to today. "Most people did back in their day," he says.

The more we compared "then and now," the more we realized the winds of change have dramatically changed lifestyles over a few generations.

Like many others in their generation, our parents never bit off a lot of debt. They carried cash, not credit cards, and only bought something new when they could afford it. The idea of paying interest today on something they bought months or even years before would appall them.

Life revolved around home and family and that's where people found comfort.

"I sit here trying to remember hobbies they had or things my parents were involved in outside our home. Aside from my dad serving as the Elks Exalted Ruler, they didn't have the active lifestyles we have today," David commented.

When they did travel, it wasn't to exotic places around the world. Instead, they visited family they didn't see all that often.

My family was the same. During my teen years I used to joke that our family "trips" consisted of driving 20 miles each Thursday night to spend time with my mother's sisters.

If the thrifty World War II generation spent lavishly for vacations or luxuries, I didn't see it.

I contrast that with the retired lifestyles I see all around me. Retirees have their own grown-up version of toys.

Here in Florida with its wonderful waterways, most of our friends own at least one boat and plenty of water toys. One close friend is in the process of buying his own small airplane.

Others hop off to exotic destinations on a routine basis. They no sooner come back from one trip than they start planning where they will go next.

It's a far cry from Thursday night family get-togethers at my Aunt Marg's.

Once we got caught up comparing generations, David and I tried to see how many dramatic differences we could name.

He thinks the major difference between our parents' generation and today is that lifestyles were simpler "back then."

I think the major difference is in expectations.

We expect one heck of a lot more out of life than our parents or grandparents did. And mostly, we get it.

Take bathrooms, for instance.

Growing up, I lived in a home where the five of us shared one bathroom. We thought it was the life of luxury. I remember how pleased we were when the pink-tiled bathroom with its modern fixtures was added to our house.

My grandparents raised six children in a house with one small bathroom. Back then, that was common.

Today, many would think it's a hardship to have only one bathroom. At card club, I listened to one woman say she didn't want to stay with her favorite sister for a family wedding because there was only one bathroom in her sister's house.

"Everyone sharing a bathroom? How gross!" commented another woman.

It was the "gross" comment that startled me. I just sat there thinking about how far we have come with our lifestyle expectations.

Time and time again I hear people say it's impossible to make ends meet. I say it myself every time I see huge increases in taxes, health care and insurances.

I keep thinking how my late husband's teaching salary in 1963 put us just slightly above the poverty level.

With a baby and only one salary, we had to stretch every dollar. Yet, I remember every time my father came to visit I could pull shrimp or lobster from the refrigerator. And we managed to entertain friends in our home at least once a week.

There were plenty of hamburger helper meals, too, but we got by well on one salary.

Today, that's difficult to do.

After David and I talked about the lifestyle changes over the decades, I realized it's what I call "escalating lifestyle expectations" that keep us broke.

I talked earlier about the weekly entertaining we did in our home. Some still do that today but most look to outside entertainment and eating out in restaurants.

Going to shows, movies or concerts at $10, $20 and even $50 a ticket adds up. Our church is having a dinner dance and I would love to go. But at $100 a ticket, I'm not going.

For the same $200, I can buy groceries for a week or two. I do those old-fashioned calculations for all financial decisions. It's something I learned from my mother.

How many cars do you have in your home? Probably you have as many cars as you have drivers. How many TVs?

My parent's generation had one car, one TV and no cellphone bills.

Life was simpler. And cheaper.

We have a whole lot now and much of that is good. But we do pay the price.

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