Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making ends meet

While reading Charles Hugh Smith's excellent blog Of Two Minds today, a phrase jumped out at me. A simple phrase- "make ends meet". The guest poster was lamenting the differences between now and then. Then being the age of the single income household. I grew up in those days. The stay at home Mom days. Believe me, I have thought about this issue a great many times over the years, and I don't mean just recently but for most of my working (when I did) life.

My Dad worked and my Mom stayed home with the kids, not unlike millions of other families in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s. Before you say it, yes I am well aware that she worked very hard too, likely harder. I am currently home with two grandchildren and know how tough it is to raise kids and keep a house clean. Believe me! That's not my point.

My point is how did my parents do it? I have read much about this over the years. I've seen tons of charts and graphs and wonky economic explanations. Very informative but missing what I believe is the basic issue- consumption. I know wages have been stagnant for a long time and purchasing power has diminished but there is, a least in my mind, a more obvious explanation.

My Dad had a good job. Not great but good. Solidly middle white collar. We always had two cars, television, an occasional meal out, and a vacation each summer. My Mom generally got a "new" two year old car about every five years or so and my Dad drove a clunker that required  frequent repair or replacement. We had a "big" RCA color TV (content via antenna) in the living room, ate out maybe once a month, and during the summer we would take a car trip. Life was pretty OK.

During what were in retrospect my AND my wife's prime wage earning years, there was and still is a TV in every room receiving hundreds of cable channels, several computers with the requisite high speed connection, cell phones for one and all, at least two new or almost new cars, frequent meals out due to lack of time and/or energy, activities outside the home for us and the kids, and all kinds of crap purchased to entertain the kids when they weren't playing baseball or whatever. We weren't a big vacation taking family because we really couldn't afford it. Some of my friends take ski trips and annual vacations in Europe or Mexico. Good for them! The thing is we are all two income families. No way could we have all this junk and go all these places on just one income- unless our names are Steve or Bill or Warren.

We all wanted to give our kids a "better" life. Give them "more" than we had. Looking back, there wasn't a damn thing lacking in my childhood. All we have managed to do in many cases is create unreal expectations for our kids, especially given our current, ongoing economic woes. Was it worth it? Hell no!

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