Personal Finances, Cultural Change & the Economy

It's no secret that society is changing at a dramatic pace.  But most of us, rather than stopping to reflect on the seriousness of these changes, simply accept them and go with the flow.  Swimming upstream is too hard and disengaging doesn't seem like a real option.

But take a minute to think about just how radical some of these changes are.

I'm 30, and have noticed some profound shifts in the financial and material "norms" of our society in just the past 2 decades.

  1. When I was a boy, we had a computer.  One, simple, inexpensive computer that lasted us probably 10 years and cost us very little to maintain.  There was none of this madness of having to keep up with the "next best thing" or with perpetual planned obsolescence.  There were not constant upgrades and myriads of mobile devices and their accessories.  As a result, obviously, we did not spend money on these things.
  2. We did not have cell phones.  So we did not have to pay outrageous phone and/or data bills every month.
  3. We did not have cable or dish TV, so our viewing experience was limited to network and public TV programming.  No real loss there.
  4. We never once owned a new car, never once had a car payment—not because we could afford to buy a fancy new one outright, but because we bought reliable vehicles with 80k+ miles.  We saved up for them and paid cash.  We also never carried full coverage on our vehicles.  We carried liability—that's it.  Because our cars weren't worth anything more!  We played probability to our advantage.  How much money do you think that saved us every month?
  5. We (a family of 7) took infrequent and modest vacations.  We never went skiing, never went to Disneyland (or world).  We took a road trip to the East coast once, and several sight-seeing, camping, and waterparking trips to nearby places.
  6. We did not own "recreational vehicles" to fuel, insure, and maintain.
  7. We did not have expensive hobbies.
  8. We owned probably 2 TVs in my K-12 career.
  9. We dined out about once a month (including fast food), and then it was the $20 Mazzio's Pizza family pack (3 med. pizzas, 2 orders of breadsticks & 2 pitchers of pop).
  10. My first personal TV, which I bought shortly after I married Melissa eight years ago, cost me $200 new (not on sale) and we still use it.  We recently bought a 50" LG plasma for our family room (man cave), which cost slightly more than that (ahem).
  11. My undergraduate tuition plus room-and-board cost about $14k/year.  Today, that cost has doubled across the board.
You're well aware of how "obsolete" the above norms are in today's society.  But have you considered that median incomes have not kept pace with the increasing financial/material norms?  College tuition has doubled in 10 years, but incomes are about the same.  I learned yesterday that some women spend $100 or more a month at beauty parlors!

Does any of this concern you?

How has this happened?

It's happened because our society has gotten used to living above their means... living off of credit... spending what we don't have.  As a result, we've created lavish cultural expectations of what's "normal" and even "necessary."  We stress out over the perceived need to keep pace with the changes.  We hoard finances while most of the world starves.  But we justify our lavish consumption patterns by comparing ourselves to "the norm" and to those who are "better off" than we are (you know, that 1% we're constantly hearing about in the news).

I'm not going to tell you what you need to do with this.  You know what you need to do.  Live beneath your means if possible.  Live simply.  Give generously.  Plan and save for the future.  Above all, trust God to supply your needs... your real needs.  And remember that there is a direct correlation between our generosity here on earth and our reward in heaven (cf. Luke 18:18-30, 1 Tim. 6:18-19). 

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