Why Do We Think We Can Own More Stuff than Our Parents?

When I sorted out today’s mail, I found a flyer for what looked like living room furniture. It looked pretty and comfortable with thick padded cushions. It was pricey: a club chair for $699, a loveseat for $1499. A closer glance surprised me: it was furniture for outdoors, not indoors. And it made me think back to the stuff my parents could afford to own.

Flashback to the Past

When I was growing up we also liked to eat picnics and bbq’d meals outdoors. We sat at a triangular-ish redwood stained cedar picnic table. My Dad had made it himself. It was more comfortable than our friends’ tables because the benches were detached and you could move them in or out. No one had to sit where the table struts were either. Luxury!
We also had an assortment of aluminum deck chairs that you could fold up. They had nylon webbing to form the seat and back. Things fell easily through the gaps in the webbing and it could stick on humid days. Not great, but we still used them.

For lounging, we had cotton canvas recliners. They also had an aluminum frame and the canvas was attached with little ties along the sides. They, too, could be folded and put away or put into the station wagon to go to the beach or a party.

I doubt that if you added up the cost of all of this outdoor “furniture” you would have paid $699 even allowing for all the inflation during the interim.

What I remember most about those times spent outdoors was the fun: playing lawn darts and badminton; chasing fireflies; playing hide–n–go-seek in the dark with flashlights; eating slightly singed smoky marshmallows; laughing till our faces hurt.

But of course that was then, this is now!
I can hear what someone must be thinking (or else none of this furniture would be selling.) Someone must be thinking: But now things are different. We can afford/want/need nicer things. That old stuff was ugly, uncomfortable and tacky.

The trick is: can we afford it?

My parents were both professionals. Their combined income was quite reasonable. They weren’t as well to do as the doctors and lawyers but we were comfortable. Now, in retirement, they are mildly affluent. They certainly were not blue collar or working class or just getting by or whatever label you use to describe the majority of the work force.

I keep reading snippets in the news that tell me that, adjusted for inflation, average families are now earning less than they were ten years ago.

So why do some people who are earning less think they can afford more than their parents?

That’s not even including all of the disposable technology costs that burden this newer generation. My parents’ generation didn’t have monthly cell phone bills, internet bills, or the costs to upgrade cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets, and gaming consoles every 3-5 years.

So if the pundits are correct, and the average income is down and the average costs (for new technology) are up, where is the money supposed to come from to pay for all this luxury outdoor furniture?

I wish I could say it’s all being sold to the doctors, lawyers and CEOs. But I have a bad feeling there are a lot of teachers, mechanics, shift workers, retail support workers and other “real” people who are trying to afford this stuff.

I hope against hope that the word “credit” is not crossing any of their minds and that the phrase “saving for the future” is. I don’t think I’d want to be facing retirement on an average CPP and OAS pension and nothing else. Not even for the most comfortable backyard bbq furniture in the world. Especially since it’s not the furniture I remember from our gatherings, it’s the people and what we did.

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Do you think we’re being offered too many ways to spend our money on things that won’t last and that we don’t really need to enjoy life? Or do you think we can have it all, maybe by just skipping our lattes on Tuesdays? Please share your views with a comment.

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