Land of Plenty

Not where money growsNot only are we not keeping up with the Joneses these days, it seems we’re not even keeping up with ourselves!

Looking back, I marvel at the abundant privileges available to us as kids and yet  seemingly unattainable for our own children.  Somehow–during the same stage of life that DH and I are in now, as members of the same middle class–our collective parents were able to raise us in affluent, suburban communities, provide prep school educations, belong to country clubs, moor luxury yachts, own second homes, take international vacations and send us to a variety of private lessons, and they were not the super rich.

So if we’re in the Modern Gilded Age, I fear we’ve missed the yacht.

No matter how successful or accomplished we’ve been in our lives thus far, for some reason it feels like we’re always just getting by. So it came as a small comfort, while listening to an NPR report about current perceptions of wealth, to realize we’re not alone in our sense of shortcomings; while so many have so much, there are still far more with less. Of course, we don’t fall in to the $250,000 income bracket the report defined for today’s wealthy but based on wealth distribution world-wide, we have no room to complain. Don’t get me wrong here, I am deeply grateful for the blessings we have, it’s just that so much of what we grew up with ourselves still feels remarkably out of reach.

Unsurprisingly, today’s (American) rich don’t consider themselves wealthy because there’s always someone ahead of them and access to that information is just a mouse click away. As the report went on to disclose, beginning in the late 1980’s, the current generation of wealth began an era of conspicuous consumption. In the past 25 years, houses and mansions have grown twice as large and yachts are now three times their average size.

Which brings me to the impetus for today’s ramble. While attending a recent playdate with my four-year-old at the home of a new friend, the other mom was simultaneously busy preparing a full turkey dinner for a family of five. I assumed it was a charitable contribution for a mother in need but when I asked, she reported dryly that it was for a family the next (extremely wealthy) suburb over whom she used to nanny for. This new friend is busy managing the household for her own family of four, which includes homeschooling two young boys, ages three and six. The mother of the other family also manages her household and homeschooled her four children, all of whom have now integrated into the school system, yet she affords the choice not to cook. Instead, the family continues to hire my friend to prepare and deliver dinner to them five nights a week.

OK, so I’m not doing as well as our parents were 35 years ago and perhaps we’re not doing as well as some of our peers in surrounding towns either but hey, at least I am proud about cooking my own meals for my family, even if the fanciest we get is baked (rather than boxed) mac & cheese.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. slightlywonky
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 08:38:00

    My mother and I just had a similar conversaton! She remarked how it was the norm in her generation to be a one income household, with a nice home, two cars, nice vacations, etc. Now, the norm is a two income household, with none of those extras as “a given”. I think that the disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us has become grotesque. I think that executives who earn millions/billions are not sharing the wealth with all of those below, whom they are dependent on to make it all work. I also think that life may have been slightly simpler. Kids were happy to play stickball. Now, it’s the norm to provide cell phones, laptops, x-boxes, etc. These expensive items are now indispensible! All in all, we also need to ask ourselves if we are happier, right? Focus on family and happiness first, and hope that the rest falls into place…

    Reply

  2. elizabeth
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 09:14:11

    I would outsource cooking in a heartbeat, so long as it was homemade, nutritious and tasty. But, yeah – that income gap keeps widening… wish the electorate would wake up and realize it.

    Reply

  3. Deborah
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 10:35:21

    I have the same conversation in my mind about cleaning my house. Many of my friends have a monthly cleaning service and they are horrified to find out that I clean my own house! And, don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some very hectic times in our lives when having someone clean would have saved us a lot of time and energy, and maybe during those times we should have hired someone. But, in my mind, if we can’t even do something as simple as clean up after ourselves, what does that say about our priorities?

    Reply

  4. Dolly
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 12:51:34

    Oy…you hit the nail right on the head with this one. Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this.

    Reply

  5. growingmuses
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 14:24:28

    Wow, this is EXACTLY why I started a blog, to generate thought, garner feedback and solicit opinions from others. Do I really live only in my own head? Surely some of the things I’m experiencing or thinking, others are too, right? This post has struck a chord for several and urged you to expand on the topic through your comments. Thank you Deb, Elizabeths and Dolly for opening my eyes to the fact that what some take for granted may seem extreme to others. This begs for a poll in an upcoming post; now if only I can figure out how to create a poll…hmmm

    Reply

  6. EP
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 15:33:30

    When is “enough”, enough?

    Nowadays, it seems like U.S. residents are resigned to think/believe that spending naturally increases when income does… OH REALLY? Tell that to the people where I grew-up, who back then were the truly “wealthy” ones content driving their Grand Wagoneer (wood paneling and all) or 240DL Volvo wagon until the car shit the bed – meaning they’re probably still on the roads today… I bet those same types of people are more likely to have 2nd homes, vacation to faraway places, pay for private school, and have some change left over to pay others to cook their meals…

    We are a disposable society…and I BET there are stats to prove it. It’s programmed into us by products companies & retailers – and EVERYONE thinks the Joneses are already on-board and ahead of them. It’s hard to avoid, and I am no saint. (My house has no fewer than 4 PCs for 2 adults, 2 cell phones that work, and 5 old/dead cell phones for my kids to “play with”; however, I do intend to drive my car(s) into the ground.)

    $250K should MORE than enough to provide for a family of 4, or more….in theory.

    That said, $30 million should “in theory” be enough to buy/build a dream home.

    Take a read of the following….this is disturbing!
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB30001424052702303341904575576782381948758.html?mod=djkeyword

    Reply

  7. Rachel
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 21:14:04

    Enjoyed reading your blog entry, Kyla. Always good reading 🙂

    Reply

  8. Trackback: Serving Others « Growing Muses

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