I normally try to be respectful of other people’s point of view, but I have to admit this article “Can’t Save? Here’s Why” at the NYTimes really got under my skin. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you go have a read. I’ll wait.
It took me a while to understand what was driving me nuts about the article, but I finally worked it out. While I agree that wage stagnation and increased costs like housing isn’t helping people save more, there is more to the story than that. The simple fact of the matter is the writer is comparing apples to oranges when comparing housing over the decades. Ideal average house size in the 1950’s was only 983 square feet in the US, meanwhile in 2010 that value is 2100 sq feet (see here). So yes obviously the house prices would exceed inflation since they are double the size!
Our issue is our expectations have increased around our lives. It’s normal to live in a bigger home, it’s normal to have multiple TV and computers in every home. It’s normal to own a smart phone or tablet or both. It’s normal that a lot of people live alone (which of course costs more).
Yet what brothers me most about this article is the tone that people can’t save for all these reasons and then basically it isn’t your fault. The defeatist and blame the system attitude isn’t helping people save. Take some responsibility for your own lives and you make the choices to get the life you want. Yes the world might tilt your options one way or another, but you are still in charge of where you want to go in life. You can save, you just have to want to do it.
The first way to save: stop living like everyone else. Get rid of normal. Live in a way that makes sense for you, perhaps you don’t need a car since you live close to everything you need. Or perhaps you get a roommate for a while to pay off that credit card debt. Or perhaps you start a new trend with your friends where you rotate hosting dinner parties rather than eating out every Friday. Yes keep what matters most to you on your little luxury spending on life, but don’t pour money down the drain on crap you don’t care about.
So yes, perhaps you keep spending on your lattes and keep part of your cable package. Or perhaps you toss your TV in the trash and drink tea instead. Find your own path to savings, yes it means some work, but don’t blame the world. You are not saving because it is your own fault.