It's not what you make (earn.)...

Chemocurl zn5b/6a IndianaSeptember 18, 2007

It's what you save.

I've seen folks who have decent income, but not very much to show for it. A mortgage, (used) car payments, credit card bills, and little or no security (savings). They have lived their whole lives from paycheck to paycheck.

My thoughts are that it is not about what you make particularly, but instead what you save along with how you 'spend'.

I do know there are folks who IMHO are so strapped that just making it from week to week might be the only option.

I haven't always saved on a regular basis, but have always been frugal, lived well within my means, never carried credit card debt, and savings sometimes just happened...checking account keeps growing until I either move the excess or spend it and pay cash for a major (to me) vehicle, driveway paved, etc...other big wants/needs.

When I was working, 401K and the company stock option purchase was a 'regular' savings.

Your thoughts...

And btw...where's joyfulguy been lately? Have not seen him lately at the KT.


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I think you are right on. When I first started going with hubby, we both worked at the same place. I was a single mom with two teenagers (no child support). He was divorced with no kids.

I was putting the max into my 401K (at the time it was 16%)and he was telling me he couldn't afford to contribute any more than the 6% that it took to get matching contributions from the company.

I convinced hubby (then boyfriend) to up his contribution by 2% for a few months. He discovered that he didn't even notice it. Then a little more. Eventually, he too, was putting in the max.

I was on a very tight budget; I sewed everything we wore (including the boys' jeans and jackets) and bought the material when fabric was on sale. If I needed something (furniture or appliances) I shopped the want ads for used items. Vacations were spent camping with used camping gear. We didn't feel deprived (well, the boys complained that their friends had their own TVs and phones). So I guess I should say that *I* didn't feel deprived.
That 401K was my future security and I knew it.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 11:07AM
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We're spenders. Always have been. Buying a house was simultaneously the worst and best thing we ever did.

Worst, because as is common with Asian families, we lent money to an in-law to help them out during a difficult time. To repay us, they wanted to buy a house and "flip" it with us as partners. It was the previous real estate craze in the 1988-89 era when people were sure mortgage rates would never drop below 8% "ever again!" (sound familiar?).

Unfortunately their finances went from bad to worse, the Loma Prieta earthquake started a decline in RE prices that reached 25% after one year, and our partners had to file for bankruptcy, leaving us on the hook for the entire mortgage (not planned) and the total gut-to-the-shell remodel (about $100K worth in addition to the now-overvalued house).

Needless to say, we went from having perfect credit to having to file bankruptcy ourselves, a year after our partner did.

Even so we were lucky: we at least kept the house and although it was a real struggle for the next five years to even make the mortgage/taxes/insurance, eventually (after two prop tax reassessments DOWNWARDS) the house showed a profit for us after nine years. Now, even with a slight decline in value, it has indeed proven to be a good "savings account" for us, even after all we have spent on maintenance and upgrades. And we certainly enjoy living here more than in our previous apartment.

We were lucky because the entire family was involved in our partner's bankruptcy. My husband's father lost his house entirely. Being Asian, they immediately went to live with their relatives. Actually it all worked out for them since the house was large and the father being disabled, it was safer for them to live with someone who was younger, could drive them around, etc.

When we finally got back on our feet financially, we caught up with some deferred maintenance on the house, finished some of the remodeling we hadn't had the money for the first time around, and started saving a bit more money. Wasn't easy - we struggled for years just to get the savings account up to a measly $10K.

In the meantime, however, my DH's union job had such great retirement benefits it was worth him hanging on, however reluctantly. He will retire in a year or two (depending on whether he gets a new job he's angling for) with a pension 80% of his last two years' pay, full medical/dental benefits for $75/month for both of us, and a retirement savings account as well (his county employer withdrew from Social Security 20 yrs ago and has a 457/401 plan instead).

I've bopped around from job to job so have never been able to accumulate a lot of retirement savings. I do enjoy investing money, however, and have tripled the base contributions to my DH's 457/401 accounts in the last six years into a portfolio of about $400K. This, on top of his monthly pension, adds up to slightly more than what he makes now. His pension is assignable, so once he starts collecting, if he dies I get the same amount for my lifetime.

On my part, assuming I live long enough to collect, LOL, in ten years I'll have my Social Security plus three annuities from companies where I did stay long enough to get vested, which will add another $2000/mo to the mix. That will help ease the inflation bite, although my DH's pension is COLA-indexed. But it's only indexed at 2%, so although it helps offset inflation we'll still be losing some buying power over time.

Our frugality? We don't take vacations. We don't enjoy traveling all that much, and spend our free time together relaxing in our (finally completed) gorgeous backyard, reading books. That's our real hobby - we're both avid bookbuyers, and probably always will be. We're currently rearranging our master bedroom because we want to get more of our 5,000 books out of boxes and back up on shelves!

And no, we don't go to the library. They don't carry the kind of books we prefer, so we just allot for the money to buy them.

My MIL is paying off our mortgage at the end of this year, which is extremely nice of her. Our mortgage isn't that high, but of course, since my DH wants to take his retirement soon every little bit will help. So we're grateful for the extra "lift."

There's also the remote chance my DH (an only child) will eventually inherit money from his mother. But since she's healthier than we are, we're not counting on it! With elder care costs these days, she may need all her money just to get her through the next twenty years. She's already fallen once and broken her elbow joint since she has osteoporosis. Medicare and her Medigap insurance (she was also a union worker) took care of the bills, but we could really see how much more fragile she's gotten in the last ten years.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 11:53AM
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The helpmeet and I are definitely not "high rollers".

But we have learned to discern between "need" and "want". We've addressed "need" immediately and learned how to do it in a frugal manner. We've made some very tough choices over the years, and have emerged in better shape than we started.

We indulge "want", too, but in a sensible manner. How badly to we "want" the item in question? what are we willing to forego to have the desired item? how long are we willing to SAVE to obtain the item?

Once we learned the lessons of "need" and "want" we were "home free". It's really pretty easy, but it's like trying to lose weight... it's about CHOICES and keeping your eyes on the long range goal. "Cheating" only delays arrival at the goal.

We routinely get a razzin' about the cars we drive and the fact that our home still doesn't have finished floors. We simply say those things aren't important to us. The fact is, if they were important to us we could buy them!

Need and want... doesn't get any more basic than that.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 5:12PM
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Couldn't agree more. We have always been decent savers/investors and minimal debt but we also do like to enjoy life experiences while we're physically and mentally able to do so. This whole concept of getting by on less really hit home though when DH was laid off after 15 years with his company. At first I couldn't imagine how we'd get by on one income but you quickly come to realize just how much you spend on things you don't really need and just how much more frugal you can be. The great thing about that whole experience was that we adjusted to living on one income so when he did go back to work we pretty much just started saving/investing the equivalent of his income.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 12:22AM
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We do both. We save by having the monies deducted from paychecks before hand (401,savings bonds,mutual funds,etc.). That way we can't spend what should be going towards our retirement, kids college, etc. Been doing that forever. We keep very little in an actual savings account. But we do travel frequently, go out to dinner and movies. We plan for our future but don't deprive ourselves when we are young enough to enjoy it. Living frugally is not a life we would enjoy. We pay our bills, save for the future, and enjoy life now also. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 10:50AM
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Agree. I am a savings fanatic and seeing people with good incomes fall into debt makes me want to scream. Why the heck must they lease cars and buy houses they can't afford? How can they screw up their futures so throroughly when they don't seem stupid? Arrrgh.

That said, I know it also helped A LOT to have two incomes that combined to be more than enough. Roughly 1/3 taxes, 1/3 savings, 1/3 expenses. (Before we paid off the mortgage it was more like 30/25/45. Definitely able to save more now without the mortgage.) Probably helped also to be raised without affluence, so my expectations weren't so high or grandiose. I can "make do" with pretty much anything and be content. So with double income, it was easy enough to save. Just discipline is all. Resist those expectations saying drive newer cars and live in a fancy house and buy a lot of 'stuff'. Defend against all that spend-spend-spend culture and you will likely do fine.

But I think it is much harder to find places to make cuts at lower income, especially with spiraling taxes, health costs, gas and food prices. While I have no sympathy for folks in debt over flat screen TV(s), I think others are genuinely frugal and still quite strapped. Anybody else think it might be harder starting out now vs. 20-30 years ago?

The book Nickled and Dimed in America describes vividly how hard it can be to get a financial toe hold these days. As a project, a (totally frugal) woman tried in I think 4 different cities to 'make it' on entry level wages, even a second job. It didn't go so well.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 3:51PM
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Celtic. raises a point I think is very important and that's the one about making cuts at a lower income.

The less you earn, the more you have to struggle... lower wage jobs rarely provide LUXURIES... like health insurance! or employer backed/funded retirement programs. Those things are rapidly going the way of the dinosaur (witness the labor negotiations in Detroit).

I work in a skilled trade. I certainly don't make the sort of money those in "high tech." earn, and I work for a small business and "benefits" are marginal, at best. But I like my work, I'm good at it, and am able to avail myself of the benies I'm offered.

We've received 2 "ten fingers" over the years.
1.) Neither of us ever wanted children, and we have none.
2.) We built our home on an inherited lot. We never had to buy land and suffer the usual bank regulations that effectively require borrowers with lower incomes to strap themselves meeting "bank requirements" on the dwelling.

We had enough collateral to move into a home that met the most basic requirements for an occupancy permit. We were able to do the "finish" work ourselves, at our own pace, and in keeping with our own budget.

Still, though... it required a great deal of commitment to patiently plug away on the "to do" list and keep our noses to the grindstone. But we've done it.

I think the home ownership thing has become too complicated for hard-working people of limited means. It's heavily stacked in favor of "corpies"... people who work for big companies... while those who work for themselves or very small businesses struggle to "qualify" for loans. And are required to shoulder crippling payments because the bank requires "finished floors", fully applianced kitchens, etc... , all the "luxuries" that aren't necessary for living, but ARE necessary for the bank should the borrower default on the note. And it's my concern that too many borrowers default because they're required to "stretch" too much initially.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 4:46PM
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What we have found difficult is that wages in many fields are backsliding. My husband has gone thru 3 plant closings in the last 25 years. After the last plant closing (he was the last man to leave the plant --18 monthes after its closing) he had a major health crisis.

We never lived paycheck to paycheck. We always had several weeks paychecks in the checkbook and several monthes of savings. Now its a whole new story.

Even with health insurance, our yearly out-of-pocket expenses hit 10% of our paycheck. Which is what he made ..... in 1996. I would love to see my heat bill and my utility bill at 1996 levels to go with it.

The Democrats are debating health insurance and financial security tomorrow night. I hope I hear something new.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 9:36PM
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This is so true. There are many people in the U.S. who really struggle just to survive. I cannot imagine trying to support a family on a minimum wage income. They can't save by buying in bulk, because they don't have the disposable cash. If they have to have a car to get to work, they get stuck paying an exorbitant price and outrageous financing terms. If they want the luxury of owning a washing machine, they have to finance it. It seems that they are exploited at every turn. Don't get me started on payday loans.

I've heard people in line at the grocery store make snide remarks about someone using food stamps to purchase convenience foods (i.e. frozen waffles). It would be less expensive to make them from scratch, but maybe they're working two jobs and don't have an abundance of spare time. I've also heard remarks that they shouldn't have had so many children. For the love of God -- if people put a pencil to it before they had kids, our species would be in jeopardy of extinction!

It's true that many people live paycheck to paycheck on six-figure incomes. They're sometimes the most critical of others who struggle with so much less.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 9:56PM
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"The less you earn, the more you have to struggle... lower wage jobs rarely provide LUXURIES... like health insurance! or employer backed/funded retirement programs"

And it just isn't the unskilled in that mess. In my younger years as a teacher, I couldn't keep my utilities on. Had to work a second job in a nursing home in the evenings. No health insurance even offered. Retirement was taken directly from my pay with no matching funds and no option not to participate. Yet to get vested in that state I would have had to work there forever.

We speak a great deal of 401K programs on this board, but really, they aren't an option for many people.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 2:57PM
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Glo., you're absolutely right about luxuries like 401Ks!! Never, in my 30+ yrs. of work, have I EVER had access to one.

My options have been my IRA and now, a company retirement fund to which my employer contributes a whopping 3%. This is the norm for the much vaunted "small business" that is spoken of in such glowing terms as "providing jobs"... but rarely do they say that most small businesses fail within a yar/two of their inception...

When my boss bought out the other partner 5 years ago the first question I was asked was: "What do you want?". I immediately replied that I wanted a retirement plan. And within a month it was in place; until the "buyout" my boss never really had full control of the checkbook and was unable to stop the partner from spending on "equipment". As soon as the retirement plan was in place I began contributing like mad. I haven't hit the "limit", but I manage to sock away a lot of dough... BEFORE TAXES and I've continued to max. out my Roth IRA.

There is NO WAY I could ever have put away that kind of dough if I was saddled with a big mortgage payment or had to clothe and outfit children. I honestly don't know how some of our friends manage to do it and clearly many of them AREN'T. We called a couple a few weeks ago and asked if they'd like to go out for dinner. They declined and we asked if "leftover pot luck" was a possibility... they jumped at the opportunity! No babysitter, no travel, no expense. But a lot of LAUGHS. But last year they'd have been all over "going out"... .

Healthcare is our number one worry, too. We struggle to keep a policy that will provide "home insurance" yet meet our needs in a crisis. In the years we've had the policy neither of us has come close to meeting the deductible... but the out of pocket expense for necessary exams is not inconsequential.

This is "reality" for most of the working populace in our country.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 3:16PM
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There is an extremely sobering story in the current US News & World report on people who have insurance benefits that are capped (which the report says is increasingly being done by insurers) for certain illnesses like cancer. One woman who is employed at $27K/yr and has health insurance is now on the hook for $98K in medical bills for her breast cancer treatments. She'll have no choice but to file for bankruptcy after treatment is completed.

Don't know if you can get it on the website or not, but the issue is dated Sep 24th and the title is "Insured but not covered."

I ran across a recent statistic on the web that claimed over 50% of the bankruptcies in CA last year were filed due to medical bills.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 3:32PM
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I often say, we probably have more spending money than people who make 3 times more than we do, because I kept us out of debt. I am a saver, but when I was younger every time we saved a few bucks the car or home would need repaired. When the kids left home I would tell my husband to save more, more, more. His company paid 50 cents on the dollar up to 8% of his pay. When he got up to the 8% I was still saying more. LOL Also every extra dollar that came in was applied to the mortgage or car payment. Those were the only payments we had. I was not a big spender back then, but I have changed modes now. LOL

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 5:18PM
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You can't take it with you. I wouldn't want to live all my "good" years like a pauper just to die with a bunch of money left in the bank. Life's too short.

If you want free healthcare, just don't take a shower for a week, wear some clothes you left out with the dog for the same week, and tell the county hospital admissions clerk you're homeless.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 5:44PM
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muddbelly (love the name!)

What do you call your "good" years? I'm going to be 63 soon. I'm retired, comfortable (if not rich) and healthy. The reason I'm able to enjoy retirement is I saved (and have a pension). Had I not saved back when I was 30, 40, 50, I'd still be working now, because I HAD to not because I chose to.

I consider these my "good" years....

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 6:16PM
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If you don't mind me answering grandma, we are still in our "good years",50+ years old and still in good health. I'm slightly older then my husband-a fact he NEVER lets me forget! We both still work, me part time now. When we started having children I stopped working full time to take care of them as a sahm. We planned for that also before we got married. We worked as much as we could (overtime) when we were in our 20's to save,save,save. Delayed having children until we could comfortably afford to do so. Continued to save and plan for retirement and college for the kids but didn't deprive ourselves of vacations, fairs, movies, etc. Good years to me are when you are still young enough to enjoy life before old age starts to wear on your body and mind and not be able to enjoy things as you once did. We have been talking about my husband's retiring once our youngest is in college. She is in the 10th grade in high school. Other daughter is a freshman in college. We are getting excited about the possibilities. You are right, if we had not saved and planned when we were younger we would probably not have the options we do now. But I also agree with muddbelly, you can't take it with you. So get some enjoyment out of life while you can still enjoy life. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 9:55AM
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So get some enjoyment out of life while you can still enjoy life

I don't think I ever promoted not enjoying life. After my kids were grown and gone, I learned to scuba dive (I was in my mid 40's). I went on diving trips to the Carribean, Hawaii, the Red Sea and in 2000 (I had remarried by then) we went to Fiji.

Absolutely enjoy life at all ages - it can be done without sacrificing quality of life in the later years.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 11:14AM
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I am surprised that Nancylouise equates living frugally with deprivation. I certainly do not.

I was raised in a very frugal household; my parents grew up in the Depression and they had vivid memories of the soup lines. I was imbued, at the tenderest of ages, to ALWAYS regard the impoverised with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings. I was also taught that it only requires one event to put me a soup line, too. I've never forgotten that.

I can't help it, I instinctively turn off the lights when I leave a room. All our "solid state" appliances are either unplugged after use or are on "strips" that are turned off when we've finished using the stereo, television, or the computers (the $ electric bill is a reward). We automatically turn the thermostats down when we leave for work in the morning. It's nice to be able to fire up the woodstove to keep the house cozy without increasing the oil bill. We don't buy heavily processed foods, we COOK, and we eat leftovers. I routinely mend our clothing. We work "grubby" jobs... jeans at the thrift are a couple of bucks... no brainer, to me!

I think living frugally is SMART. It means I'm able to save more and take time off whenever I want to. Frugality is NOT the same thing as deprivation. Trust me on this!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 12:18PM
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You said it better than I could, Chelone. Even when I was raising my sons on one salary, we enjoyed camping in the summer. We also went skiing in the winter. (This was before skiing became outrageously expensive). Local ski areas had "Family Days" where kids could ski free. I purchased their gear used from other skiing families. We packed a lunch and hot cocoa and ate in an area for that purpose.

When they were teenagers, one Christmas I told them we could have a regular Christmas with dinner and gifts, OR we could spend three days at Crystal Mountain. Their choice. They chose Crystal where I purchased a three day package including lodging, meals and unlimited skiing. We had a great time and made memories.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 12:31PM
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Frugality is NOT the same thing as deprivation. Well said, Chelone!

Frugality teaches you flexibility and gains you security and freedom. Consciousness and awareness about spending choices really, really pays off.

Mudbelly, I see your other thread asking about car loans. There's a perfect example of a clear choice: vehicles. I could afford to buy anything, but I'm happy with my 10 year old Toyota RAV and will drive it into the ground. When DH's sixteen year old car died, we researched the heck out of options and paid cash for a 5 year old meticulously maintained Subaru. Great car. For kicks DH keeps a sports car - couple years ago he traded the 80's Corvette for a 96 convertible Z28 Camaro, both easily as much fun as newer ones 5 times the cost. And unlike many biker buddies, he's kept and babied his 95 Road King rather than trade up every few years. Boy's gotta have his toys.

So on the one hand, 4 vehicles is surely indulgent. Absolutely. On the other hand, they are paid for and the worth of all 4 is less than one new luxury car or SUV. High deductible and no collision makes the insurance reasonable. And they add quality to life. 50,000 in motorcycle road trips all over the country, stopping to stay at Mom and Pop places rather than resorts, has been a total blast, albeit frugal. I've become an ace at cobbling great breakfasts and lunches, even dinners, out of grocery stores on the fly, LOL.

Ditto housing. We could afford a much more expensive place, but our 2 bedroom + study is perfect for us. And with no mortgage now, heck, we just put in a hot tub. Again, indulgent? Absolutely. But in the big picture, it is the frugal choices day in and day out - from big things like vehicles and housing to small things like lunches and clothing - that make indulgences possible. At any age. And if things got tight, I'd just cut out those indulgences and forge on seamlessly and effortlessly with my core frugal lifestyle. I like shopping Goodwill and the farmers' markets and making do from there. Seriously. Starbucks and the malls could disappear and I wouldn't even notice.

Frugality is NOT the same thing as deprivation. Indeed!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 1:48PM
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Today is a perfect example of what a "frugal" lifestyle can mean. It's GLORIOUS outdoors! picture perfect day in New England.

Work in the shop is nicely under control, and I asked if might leave early today. NO PROBLEM. I was able to avail myself of the early departure BECAUSE I live frugally, know my budget, and know I have everything well enough "in hand" to steal a few hours from the work week to savor a lovely day.

What have I done with my "stolen" hours? I've worked in the yard (building equity!), done the dishes, communed with the pets, and chatted with similarly interested people via the internet.

Deprived? I don't think so, but you are free to disagree with me, if your idea of "stolen hours" is greatly different.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2007 at 2:55PM
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I think many people either never learned or have forgotten how to enjoy simple pleasures in life without having to have alot of "things". The older I get the less I care about stuff and the more I enjoy simple things that money can't buy. Our culture just bombards people constantly about all the stuff they should have - it's nuts.

Quandary - I do think it probably is wise to "put a pencil to it" in deciding how many children one can afford to care for and I actually think there are probably quite a few people for whom that is a factor in deciding how large a family they will have.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 12:07AM
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Living frugally to me means a having a level of financial security that provides me with peace of mind and the ability to indulge in things that are important to me without going into debt to do it.

There are inevitably going to be financial bumps in the road. The less debt you carry and the bigger the financial cushion you have, the better off you are in weathering the storms.

I work part time at a start up company and I understand the risk involved. The upside to this is that DH and I don't count on any of the money I make. It's all gravy. I'm going to make hay while the sun shines, but know that a rainy day might be around the corner.

I agree Chelone, it was a gorgeous day here!

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 11:46AM
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I suppose that most in THIS forum keep a pretty good perspective on money. When I was in college, I saw an episode of Donahue and he was interviewing the authors of "Your Money or Your Life".
From the show and reading the book, I decided that I would not let myself become a slave (or an indentured servant) to stuff. I didn't have a job, but I did not want to be one of those people who, once they land a job, go right out and buy a brand new car.
As for those who DO seem to be in a chronic cycle of buying stuff, it is very rare to see them actually *enjoying* the stuff... it just seems to accumulate.
Making matters worse, these folks end up beholden to their employer because they can't afford to quit or be fired. For me, that's the worst plight of all.
There is NO luxury item that makes up for the debt and total servitude to one's employer that results.
Freedom is the best luxury. Without it, one's stuff just looks, to me, like a ball and chain.

Frankly, I sometimes get saddened or even a bit nervous (actually) when I think of the precarious position some people have found themselves.

You hear about the problems on the news, and friends confide various tidbits about their (self induced) financial woes.

About kids: People have kids in the same way that they have Jet Ski's... very little thought goes into it at any level. They just "want one!".

There is no shortage of humans, so it's not a worry if people decide to do a bit of ciphering before adding a baby to their collection of stuff they can't afford.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 9:48PM
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Thought of you, Chelone, while on a wonderful bike (pedal variety) ride with DH in this glorious Sunday weather today, warm but with the leaves just starting to turn.

Hardly deprived. More like "Priceless".

    Bookmark   September 23, 2007 at 11:00PM
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I enjoy the simple pleasures in life. A walk in one of our nature parks, spotting deer or wild turkeys. Watching a pair of Flickers doing their courting ritual behind my house in the trees. Being the first to walk in the fresh snow in the same trees. But I also enjoy the luxuries in life, I would be a fool not to. Seeing Africa and The Amazon Rain Forest was more than pleasure, it was a learning experience about other cultures and to be very grateful for what we have in this great country.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 12:36PM
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