I read an article today discussing whether or not the “American Dream” is dead. I think not.
The article doesn’t actually define the “American Dream,” acknowledging that there isn’t one set definition. But it asserts that a key component is the idea that your children will have a better life than you do.
And I think that’s where a lot of us went wrong.
Our parents worked hard, and if yours were like mine, they gave you a pretty comfortable life.
I have to admit that when I graduated from college and had to take care of myself for the first time, I had a hard time downgrading my lifestyle. No one had actually told me it would happen, so it didn’t seem obvious at first that I could no longer have what I wanted, when I wanted it. It’s not that I thought I should be able to afford a fancy apartment or car right off the bat, but I did want money to go out with my friends all the time.
It wasn’t until after I’d graduated from law school that I learned that my situation was normal: Our standard of living is supposed to go down when we leave home.
Fortunately, I’d been taught fairly well. Except for student loans and a car loan, I didn’t have any debt. Specifically, I didn’t have any credit card debt. I was level-headed enough not to borrow money to go on vacation with my friends and to not spend crazy amounts of money at night clubs. And my car loan was manageable.
Looking back, I wish I’d known then what I know now. I could have graduated with just two-thirds of my student loan debt if I’d actually lived frugally instead of just barely within my means.
But because I didn’t have credit card debt and because I had a good job after law school, it didn’t take me that long to build up to a comfortable lifestyle – with Marc, of course, since we’ve been partners since then.
Part of the current economic crisis is the result of people my age, give or take ten years, who felt they were entitled to a certain lifestyle regardless of their income. They didn’t realize, or weren’t willing to accept, that their standard of living ought to be commensurate with the amount of money they brought in.
It’s hard to lay blame on any one group, but it’s easy to start with parents. It’s our job to make sure our children understand responsibility of all kinds. And it’s never too early to start teaching financial responsibility.