This was originally published in October 2008 but I’m bumping it up for today. There is an interesting discussion in the comments. It’s fascinating to look at this article and the linked article eleven years later. I’ve been doing some extensive reading and research in anticipation of going on a writing spree for my retirement website. I actually think the bottom half of the middle class is much worse off eleven years later.
I know that I run the risk of scaring some of you off if I write too often about the economic situation in the world. I promise that this isn’t becoming an economic blog for chicks.
Commonplace Unnecessary Luxuries
But I thought this section about the explosion of commonplace unnecessary luxuries from How Long Will the Coming Depression Last? fit so well with the things we think about around here when it comes to living more simply and quietly.
Just off the top of your head: what do we have little need for more of? How about furniture, mattresses, light fixtures and loans, just to name a few?
How about what we could easily do without? How about exotic foreign travel, shopping excursions to N.Y., L.A. or S.F., ice cream, frappacinos, “fine dining” of the sort where main courses for $35 are considered “reasonable,” hundreds of specialty wineries producing $40-$50 bottles of wine, artsy programs paid for by tax dollars, non-profits doing nice things with donations, gew-gaws for pets, spa treatments, lawsuits with unknown odds of success involving plaintiffs with no money, cosmetic surgery, “financial services,” having your nails done, costly haircuts (cut your kids’ hair yourself), house cleaning services, dog walkers, travel consultants, kitchen remodels, Mercedes vehicles, or indeed, any new vehicles, now that any decent vehicle lasts 10 years with minimal maintenance, 6-foot long BBQs, “entertainment centers,” more iPods, kids’ toys, or clothing of any sort or type or style, given that you can buy heaps of clothing for a few dollars at garage sales or thrift stores?
This is a tiny selection of literally thousands of goods and services we can easily do without, and indeed, did do without a mere generation ago, when now-commonplace luxuries like $100 per person dinners and hip surgeries for pets would have been reserved for flamboyant millionaires.
David and I have diligently tried to avoid getting sucked into the “extras.” I think our biggest failure is a fondness for coffee drinks and inexpensive dining out (as in we all eat at Qdoba for $12 or we carry out a pizza for $4.99). But we’ve resisted getting sucked into many things, not because we think they are evil but because as we observe others we see that so many people become either owned by them or become addicted to the next upgrade.
That isn’t to say that we haven’t done some nice things or purchased some special extras. But when we do those things, they are extras and special, not a way of life. I can look at that list above and say that almost all of it is a non-factor in my life (except for ice cream which Caroline has discovered and loves).
Middle Class Trading Up for Luxury
I read an interesting book a few years ago called Trading Up: The New American Luxury. It was about the middle class being willing to pay more for “premium” items from “premium” companies such as Callaway Golf, Panera Bread, Williams-Sonoma, and Victoria’s Secret.
I think the next book to come out will probably be more along the lines of Treading Water: The New American Frugality.