What's the cost of the life we're supposed to be living? That's the question
Kira of Penny Foolish raises as she checks in this week as the Friday Spotlight guest columnist at the Frugal Weekend Spa.
With a crisp, but engaging style Penny Foolish writes a great blog about personal finance and frugal living. Her first-person essays track her thoughts about taking a tax course at H&R Block and her search for a new job. There's a wealth of information on Penny Foolish.
The Cost of the Life You're Supposed to be Living
by Kira of Penny Foolish
When I had just turned sixteen, my father took me into the DMV to take
the permit test, so I could begin learning to drive. Several of the
boys at the DMV were all pretty excited because Kordell Stewart, at
the time playing for the Steelers, was also there waiting, so they
were all chatting about football.
I wish that were the only memorable thing that happened that day. But unfortunately, I also flunked the permit test. I would not actually get my driver's license until six months ago at the ripe old age of 22.
It's truly ridiculous the number of people who have been completely
shocked by the fact that I didn't have a driver's license - but people
were mostly shocked that I never owned a car. "You don't have a car?" seemed to be a question on par with "You were born with a tail?"
People just don't know how to respond to somebody who hasn't completed
this seemingly basic ritual of adulthood. Having a car, even at
sixteen, has become the new standard in America - and if you don't get
one, there must be something wrong with your life.
But the truth is that I never really needed to drive. I couldn't have
afforded a car in high school or college, and I had close friends who
drove. Now, if having my own car was a necessity for me as much as it
is for a lot of other people, I wouldn't be in particularly good
financial shape, between the insurance, the repairs, and all the other
costs of an older car. My parents would also have had to shell out
thousands of dollars in insurance premiums between 16 and 21 (when I
graduated college), and might still be paying it now.
Much has been written about the cost of the "hedonic treadmill" - that
you become accustomed to greater and greater luxuries at greater and
greater costs, never being satisfied with only what you need. Those of
us trying to live a more frugal lifestyle are always fighting this
compulsion - the mantra of the frugal seems to be, "Do I really need
this?" There are many areas of our lives that could be examined in the
same way, because the rapidly rising standard of living in our country
has made many things "standard" that people got along without years
Such as, kids of sixteen having their own car. Or having a car at
college. Or having all-new clothes, household items, or furniture.
Engagement rings must cost two months' salary. Leasing cars is cheap
and easy. Interest-only payments are affordable. Restaurant meals are
for when you don't feel like cooking. You deserve a cruise every year.
Installing fancy appliances is an investment. You know where this
Living the expensive life that has become the new standard leaves you
poor and feeling unfulfilled, because when you try to keep up with
some expectations you will always fall behind in others. I think that
we are doing others a service, to alter their notions of what you
"should" be doing, by taking the bus. By using coupons and cooking at
home. By living a life that is within our financial bounds and lives
by its own rules - not the life we're supposed to be out buying.