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Old 02-18-2007, 11:33 AM   #1
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What do you consider a reasonable standard of living?

There have been some threads which have touched on poverty and fair trade. So this got me to thinking about standards of living and how it has evolved over the past few decades.

What is an acceptable standard of living for people in western society?

1 car vs 2 cars vs no car

1 20' tv vs 1 32' tv vs 2-4 tvs vs 50' plasma in every room

basic stove and fridge vs stainless steel everything in the kitchen

1 computer vs a smart house

1 cup of instant coffee at home vs 3 visits to Starbucks each day

basic 3 bedroom bungalow vs 15000 sq foot mansion

My point is that what do we need to be comfortable in society? I am 37 and find myself remembering the "when I was your age" stories compared to today. It freaks me out. Comfort has gone from the basics to luxuries in my view although some may argue they are necessities. Wealth used to be displayed by having some nice things but now it seems wealth is displayed in an obscene condescending manner. As a kid, a comfort for me was knowing that when I got home, my mom was there. That is a luxury item in today's world, I think some children grow up today spending less time with their parents than other adults. I see commercials every day encouraging me to purchase a $2000 television, WTF? Or when did a 3-$400 product like an IPOD or cell phone start being considered disposable by many? For that matter, how did children start playing with toys valued in the hundreds of dollars?

As parts of the Third World gain ground on industrialized nations, it appears that we continue to strive keep the gap whether intentionally or not. How did we go from a society where one person could comfortably support a family on one salary to one where two working parents can just get by, have no savings for the future and have huge debt. Have our expectations of an acceptable comfort level changed for the better or for the worse? Is this sustainable? What are the possible consequences? Keeping up the with the Joneses is definitely a mantra alive and well in the 21st Century.

Hmmm, moment over.
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Old 02-18-2007, 11:51 AM   #2
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Your argument seems to be based on the assumption that salaries and costs have risen comparatively equally, and that any disparity nowadays is caused by overspending.

While that's the case with some people, that's not the case with most people, I think. College education is a great example. I talked with someone who could work over the summer in the 1970s and earn enough money to pay for an entire year of a private university. Good luck doing that today. And cars? My parents paid cash for their cars in the 1970s, whereas even loan payments for new cars are out of reach for a lot of people today. And homes? My grandparents were able to pay cash for their home, and you can see the ridiculousness of the home market today in many parts of the country.

That, I believe, is the real difference. Salaries have not risen proportionately to the cost of living, and I blame a lot of that on the decision to treat salary hikes as "inflation," but not consumer costs. And now "credit" is effectively skewing the ideal supply/demand curve to make it appear as though we are making a hell of a lot more money than we actually are making.

But every time the U.S. economy improves to allow for the average wage to rise across the country, the Fed steps in, raises interest rates, and effectively kills it every time. Eventually, this nonsense will put an end to supply-side/monetarism, just as stagflation killed Keynesian-based capitalism in the late 1970s. I guess it's just a matter of time before even the most liberal of credit lending practices eventually reaches an end, and we realize that, to maintain consumer spending growth, you actually have to pay people.
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Old 02-18-2007, 12:08 PM   #3
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You are correct in the disparity of wage increases with inflation. It is a huge aspect of the inability of some families to survive economically. That was only one issue of the changes to which I refer. Regardless how much money we earn or how much credit we have, our spending habits have also changed along with our social settings regarding child care, homes, neighbourhoods, and so on.
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Old 02-18-2007, 02:02 PM   #4
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I would rather have next to nothing and be able to own a little house and maybe one crappy old car with a mortgage that is reasonable, than have any of the luxuries.

I see families these days who give their pre-teens their own computers, cable TV, video game systems, and have three cars b/c their teens have them convinced they can't live without figuring out their own transportation. Many of these families are living lies b/c just like the rest of us they are drowning in debt and one paycheck away from bankruptcy.

When my mom was a kid she grew up in a tiny house with a gazillion siblings. The family had one old car that my gramps drove to work everyday, so everyone else walked or paid their friends. They never had TVs or air conditioning, but they were happy because they owned the house and could put food on the table while saving even the tiniest amount towards retirement.

Even my parents have done pretty well keeping their debt at bay. They do not own their house, but are able to make the mortgage payment. They own one used car. We've never had cable TV or air conditioning. They only have Internet b/c my dad works for a company in another state so he works from home and they paid for his Internet. Their biggest stress as far as money is dental and health care, but we've been lucky in that our dentists and doctors are family friends that give us breaks b/c of no insurance and give us extra time to pay off bills. As kids, my sibs and I never had these expectations that my parents would take us on exotic vacations, or they'd let us use a car in high school, or we were entitled to Christmas presents like computers and Playstations. Both of my parents have always worked full time since they were kids (well now my mom works part time and volunteers), so if we wanted something, we got a job and figured it out for ourselves. As far as I know, my parents do have something saved for retirement. There were two major money crises in our family: 1) my brother broke his arm and we had to cash out the life insurance and my mom's savings to get it fixed and 2) after Sept. 11 my mom lost a lot of money in her savings funds. But other than that, I think my parents did well avoiding unnecessary debt and teaching us to fend for ourselves. They do not pay for our college educations because they can't.

Like Ormus said, education is what's really hitting home with me. My mom went to the same very good, expensive private college I went to. But when she was there, she got a full ride academic scholarship for four years with only a 3.4 GPA. She lived at home and rode to class with a professor. When I went there, you had to have like a 4.5 to be considered for full ride scholarships and we were required to live on-campus for two years (which is an extra $5000 a year). She went for free; I am $100K in debt and that's just for an undergrad degree.

So, those are my experiences and I maintain that the "American Dream" needs to focus more on the issue of personal debt and less on just getting more stuff.
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Old 02-18-2007, 05:27 PM   #5
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I'm willing to admit that "reasonable" is subjective to one's own particular circumstances, but any couple or single person who works a full-time job and isn't wasteful with their money ought to have the expectation of being able to own a home, having some form of dependable transportation (be it private or public) and access to health care that won't bankrupt them.

I know my parents grew up that way and that's what I expected out of my adult life - work hard, earn a living. Mr. Blu & I have made some bad financial decisions in our life, and true, we do have luxuries that we could live without: satellite TV, a personal computer & DSL service. We each bought new cars several years ago, so we have 2 car payments but I still don't think we're living an opulent life.

That being said, I'm really concerned about how we'll cope with what's going to happen to our mortgage payment in the next few months after the county's new tax evaluations go into effect. We've been notified that our property's value has increased 100% - some people in our area will see a larger increase. We live on the bubble right now because of unforeseen medical bills - and we have health insurance!!

We've even both gone back to working a second job in the evening for extra income to pay the hospital and doctors that we still owe. The problem with that, is if we earn too much from the 2nd jobs, we'll just be penalized next year by the IRS. I don't know what the answer is... but I can definately agree with the veracity of statements like 'the disappearing middle class'.
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Old 02-18-2007, 05:43 PM   #6
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About €4,000 net per month (say $5,000 or so) gives me a reasonable standard of living.

I think if we rid ourselves of our society's obsession with driving around in boxes of tin, we'd all be a lot happier - and have more disposable income.
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by financeguy
About €4,000 net per month (say $5,000 or so) gives me a reasonable standard of living.

I think if we rid ourselves of our society's obsession with driving around in boxes of tin, we'd all be a lot happier - and have more disposable income.
What is current median household income in Ireland? In the United States it was $44,000 a year as of 2004.
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:06 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by STING2


What is current median household income in Ireland? In the United States it was $44,000 a year as of 2004.
In the region of €32,000 (before tax) or so - slightly over $40,000 at current exchange rates.
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:10 PM   #9
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Any electronics that I have, my iPod, Playstation before that, and most anything that isn't essential for living, is paid for by me, not my parents. When I go off to college next year, I'll be the one paying for my laptop, and tuition + room and board. My parents can't afford to help pay for me, though I will get a very nice financial aid package because my dad owns his own business and doesn't make much money on paper. I have great health insurance (thank goodness) because my mom is a public school teacher. My dad did buy a car that is essentially mine because no one else in the family needs it. I payed for the title and license fees. The car cost $400. A friend of mine bought a prom dress last year that cost more than that.

My parents never bought me things just because, and I'm a better person for it. I take much better care of things that I've bought and they're not disposable by any means.

People don't realize that having more toys doesn't equal happiness, and it puts you into serious debt if it goes too far.
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:11 PM   #10
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:32 PM   #11
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Re: What do you consider a reasonable standard of living?

Quote:
Originally posted by trevster2k


As a kid, a comfort for me was knowing that when I got home, my mom was there. That is a luxury item in today's world, I think some children grow up today spending less time with their parents than other adults.

Exactly. I remember it was a big deal that I got a little thirteen inch color tv in my bedroom when I turned ten. Did I need one? No. At that point I was just happy that I had a decent environment to grow up in. (Ok, being able to watch "Growing Pains" in the comfort of my own room was pretty cool, but still... )

Nowadays, kids are SO spoiled. You read articles about kids who rag on their parents if they don't get the same video iPod Joey or Susie has, or a new car on their 16th birthday. Sadly, I see this spiraling even more out of control in the future, even with the fact that this country is far worse off economically thatn it has been in years.

Why aren't kids just happy coming home and having a talk with their mom and then going outside to play with their dog anymore? It saddens me.
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Old 02-18-2007, 06:50 PM   #12
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very cool thread! my perspective on a reasonable standard of living completely changed when this one time i lived an entire year on just $100/month (well, rent was free and we were given a monthly food stipend). it was eyeopening. i was with other people in a house, we had a tv that was broken, no computer, a car that was scary so we rode the bus...we really just had each other.
it was really so liberating to be free of all that stuff! we ate every dinner together, we went out on walks together, met other volunteers who also lived in the area, and just hung out. it was the best year of my life thus far. it was all about people, and community.
its frustrating that i am where i am now. this university actually REQUIRES students to have laptops (yet they don't provide any assistance for it!) it took me awhile to get used to checking e-mails on the hour, driving around, all that stuff. i miss that former lifestyle actually.
but when i think about it, it really was the people that sustained me. i'm honestly not sure if i could return to that lifestyle living alone...i might feel isolated...i don't know.
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Old 02-18-2007, 07:12 PM   #13
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Thanks for that RHS! I wonder what do we really NEED and what do we WANT? People live off the grid or with a small number of possessions yet live happy and some might think more satisfactory and stress-free lives. I am not referring to third world citizens but people in industrialized nations.

In a time of climate change, massive poverty and possible future water shortages/food shortages as a result of climate change and population growth, rexamining our lifestyle may become an important social issue. Environmentalists are asking people to examine their ecological footprint of which lifestyle choices has a huge impact. If we spend less, would we have more as a society to ensure equitable treatment around the globe?

I make no judgements about what people feel is comfortable but things like $3000 suits, $1000 handbags, $10000 watches and the like make me uncomfortable. I like nice things as much as the next guy but c'mon, are such things necessary in a world filled with so much inequity. It's all relative I suppose.
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Old 02-18-2007, 07:58 PM   #14
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I think about this quite a lot. I grew up in a small village in Indonesia where my parents worked as missionaries. We lived very simple lives and looking back, I guess we were actually pretty poor. It didn't feel that way at the time though. We had a place to live and food to eat. We grew some of our food in a garden, traded with people for rice, bought some goods once every two months from the closest city, and pretty much made everything from scratch. We didn't have electricity, but we did have solar panels hooked up to some batteries which meant some limited light at night. I remember reading together every night. If my grandparents sent my brother and I a set of Legos for Christmas (for example) we could spend countless hours using our imaginations to build cities and entire worlds. Come to think of it, most of our play was built around very limited physical items and a lot of imagination. With a stick in hand, we could go forth and pretend to be pioneers on the prairie, or pirates on a ship or what have you. Not to say we wouldn't have enjoyed having expensive and high tech toys, but I don't think we were harmed or deprived as a result of not having them.

I've since lived in the U.S. off and on for a total of about 10 years. Recently, I spent two years in Africa as a volunteer, making about $100 a month. Even that small salary was enough for me to live comfortably. I had an apartment, rode public transport, bargained for food in my local market, and could afford to catch the occasional film or live music event. Life in a country like Mali, which is one of the 5 poorest in the world, would seem to be an unending stretch of doom and gloom. And for many it is full of backbreaking work and heartbreaking losses of children due to preventable illness or loss of income due to uncontrollable forces of nature (global warming actually affects those who contribute the least to it in the harshest ways). And yet, for all of that, I was always surprised at how Malian people were some of the most generous and open people I've met. They'll share their last bowl of rice with a complete stranger and would put you up in their home for a month simply because you are a friend of a friend. I don't want to sound like one of those patronizing Westerners going on about how "good" those poor people have it, but I will say that there is something to the idea that when you have little, sometimes it is easier to share. And sometimes you would be surprised at how far a little can go.

I've said this before, but I'll repeat it here...one of the reasons I so dislike living in the States is that I don't like the person I become when I stay there too long. It is insidious, the commercialism and consumerism, and it is everywhere. I always come back here ready to live simply and continue the habits I've picked up while living abroad, but it is so much harder to do here. The constant bombardment of messages from so many outlets can really make you start to think that your "wants" are actually "needs". It is scary to me to sit down and really look at my spending habits and name them for what they are - wasteful and indulgent. I know that I'm doing better this time than when I lived in college, but I'm still nowhere near my goal. I drive a small fuel-efficient car; it's fully paid for so I'm not in debt for that. I'm working on paying my student loans off. I try to cook for myself as much as possible. I actively use my local library as a source of entertainment (books, CDs, movies, as available). But I don't give of my time as I could. There are probably lots of local opportunities to volunteer, but I haven't pursued them. I don't buy local produce as much as I ought to...preferring the "convenience" of the shiny supermarket near me over the just-on-the-edge-of-town farmers market. And the list could go on.

I guess in the end, it is a process and not one that I will ever master. I'm hopeful that I'll continue to learn good spending habits and at the very least will practice making thoughtful decisions about what I do with my time and money. But if I have the choice, when my boyfriend and I finish our degrees, I would be happier to pack up and move back to Africa. I have nothing against the "developed" world, but overall I have found more peace and contentment in the underdeveloped one.
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Old 02-19-2007, 12:48 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by trevster2k
Thanks for that RHS! I wonder what do we really NEED and what do we WANT? People live off the grid or with a small number of possessions yet live happy and some might think more satisfactory and stress-free lives. I am not referring to third world citizens but people in industrialized nations.

In a time of climate change, massive poverty and possible future water shortages/food shortages as a result of climate change and population growth, rexamining our lifestyle may become an important social issue. Environmentalists are asking people to examine their ecological footprint of which lifestyle choices has a huge impact. If we spend less, would we have more as a society to ensure equitable treatment around the globe?

I make no judgements about what people feel is comfortable but things like $3000 suits, $1000 handbags, $10000 watches and the like make me uncomfortable. I like nice things as much as the next guy but c'mon, are such things necessary in a world filled with so much inequity. It's all relative I suppose.
I think it will be very hard for people to find ways to change that lifestyle.As long as MTV is around young people will be sucked into asking for or spending their own money on unnecessary shit!
Parents often give in to kids because they want them to be happy ,probably from guilt of not being home enough for the kid.

The standard of living that I would like would be A house with kids and someone home to raise them,A job with healthcare that covers the whole family,A pension to retire with.Everything else is secondary.
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