Summary: Whether poor or rich or in the middle, all of us have to determine our standard of living. So who or what is determining your standard of living? Who or what is influencing your financial decisions and the life you’re living?
Determining a Standard of Living
There was a story which appeared in the news about a woman who had won the lottery. Before winning, she worked long, hard hours but earned just enough money to cover each month’s bills. The years of toil and worry had taken a toll on her face but then she won several million dollars in the lottery. She paid off all her bills, bought a nice home, and had several firs and luxury automobiles. With a guaranteed income of more than a million dollars a year, she found herself in court a few years later declaring bankruptcy. Her bills and debt had exceeded more than she could pay. When the judge decided to grant her bankruptcy status, he gave her a strict budget of $10,000 a month to adhere to. When she heard the amount, she reportedly exclaimed, “But judge, I can’t dare get by on less than $50,000 a month!”
Whether poor or rich or in the middle, all of us have to determine our standard of living. So who or what is determining your standard of living? Who or what is influencing your financial decisions and the life you’re living? The average American is outspending what they earn, meaning they’re reaching beyond their means to attain a lifestyle? What lifestyle are you trying to attain? Most people have never consciously thought about their standard of living, their financial expectations and their lifestyle. But what we find is that there are three influences in determining our lifestyle. First is our parents. One of the problems college graduates face today is the expectation that they will assume the same lifestyle they had growing up. Some may even think they should be doing better than their parents. Yet, economists say that if you are over 50, you are enjoying a higher standard of living than any previous generation in the history of our nation. If you are under 50, then you will be the first generation to fail to meet or exceed your parent’s standard of living. Many people today make the assumption that the things, the experiences and the opportunities you had as a child became a birthright for their lives today. That’s dangerous because times change, incomes change, interest rates change, inflation changes and the economy changes. After World War II, one wage earner was enough to support a family of four. Today, it takes two wage earners to have the same standard of living. Too often people set unrealistic expectations by trying to emulate or even exceed their parent’s lifestyle.
Second is your peers. Often as your peers upgrade their standard of living, we’re drawn to do so as well. It’s the keeping up with the Joneses mentality and what makes that so insidious is that it’s rarely a conscious and competitive endeavor. When your neighbors are outspending their earning, it can often wear down your discipline over time. And many times, they’re living beyond their means. Bill Hybels tells the story being 7 years old and riding with his dad in his pickup truck. They passed a farmhouse with a beautiful new Cadillac in the driveway. It literally glistened in the sun! “Bill said, “Look Dad, that farmer must be really rich!” He smiled and said, “Billy, that man is nearly busted. He owes money to everyone in this county, including me. Bill says he remembers thinking: “that man is really goofed up. Why would he buy a car he can’t afford?” Because he’s keeping up with the Joneses. That mentality goes something like this: If all my friends are enjoying these pleasures, then why am I sticking to a budget? I read about one former Saints player who said that when he got on the team, everyone was driving regular cars. But when the first player bought a Porche, suddenly more and more Porches began arriving in the car lot each week. No one talked about it but there was a competition to stay caught up with the other players and the same can happen to us.
A third and perhaps more subtle and manipulative influence is the media and advertising. Studies have linked violence with TV viewing but what about linking our spending habits and subsequent indebtedness with TV viewing? Last year 180 billion dollars was spent to get you to spend your money. Companies use the best creative minds, actors, directors and technology to make it happen. They’re not just selling a product but a lifestyle and in their words, ‘happiness.’ There’s constant pressure to have the latest and newest products on the market to justify and soothe our sense of self worth. This was exemplified in the commercial which opened with the words: “Feeling like you always need to have the latest thing?” The camera pans a house moving from room to room filled with every useless gadget ever sold on TV from the Ronco potato peeler to the football phone. Finally the camera gets to the bathroom where the owner of the house is sitting on the toilet with the Shopping Channel on TV and he’s talking on his toilet dispenser phone trying to buy the latest product. Many times, that’s an image of us. The new iPhone comes out or the Fall’s latest fashions and even though our closets are full and our current phone is working fine, we have to have it. All of this adds up as we try to maintain the lifestyle we have growing up while keeping up with the Joneses and the pressure of 3000+ advertising messages we’re exposed to each week telling us to buy our way to happiness. Mix in a little covetousness and greed, add in a little low self esteem bolstered by shopping and then add living in a self indulgent society and you have an enormous encouragement to live beyond your means.