The American dream is that we all have the right to the pursuit of happiness. We dream we can keep growing and that we will do better than our parents and our children better than us, and their children better than them. It’s about upward mobility and rags to respectability.
A lot of personal finance writers remind new college grads that they shouldn’t spend based on what their parents had when the kids left for college. Remember, the writers say, your parents worked decades to get that house, those cars, the home entertainment systems and so on.
We couldn’t afford much when we were in graduate school– tiny stipends in a high cost of living city. But once we finished school, my income alone is twice what my mom makes now. My sister makes even more, and she’s years younger and only has a BS. When she got out of school she was making almost 2x what my parents make, these days it’s even more. My car is about the same as what my parents have. My partner’s car is nicer (in that it’s a Civic instead of a compact.)
Our house, the first one, is nicer than any my parents ever owned. Than what my partner’s parents owned. Heck, when my partner’s parents were at our stage of life, they were all living in a trailer. When they visited us the first time, they took pictures and showed them to everybody in town as a sign that their kid had made it. My family lived in apartments and duplexes and houses, depending on cost of living and income at the time. We moved a lot.
My parents sacrificed so that my sister and I would be advantaged and do better than they did. There may not have been money for VCRs or microwaves or air conditioning or dishwashers or school trips to DC but there was always money for education– for summer classes for us, books, after school lessons, private high school for my sister, and full college tuition to the schools of our choice.
Partly because of these sacrifices, we grew up wanting to make enough money not to have to worry about it. To be able to have the air conditioning and the dishwasher and to be able to eat out once a week. I think we both surpassed our wildest earnings dreams. Of course, dreams have a tendency to grow once they’ve been surpassed. I don’t know if our child(ren), who have never known want, will have quite the same drive. And maybe that’s for the best. The next generation can look at all careers instead of the more lucrative ones. Maybe ze’ll be engineers anyway.
So it’s good advice for most folks to remember that your parents had decades to buy the mcmansion, the nice cars, the fancy electronics… but it’s even nicer to be grateful for them not having those things because all the resources were poured into making your generation a recipient of the American dream. I hope it’s nicer for the generation after that, having both nice things (but not too nice) and educational opportunities. But we’ll have to wait and see.
#2: I am renting a nicer house and make more money than my mom, but I have a PhD and she has a BA. She does good work that should be paid better. My dad is a PhD retired from a lucrative career and teaching as a vocation in his later years, so he doesn’t make tons of money right now but he has money from the past (and from his current wife). I think my sister makes more money than me but her job is one I could never do, and she lives somewhere medium-expensive, so that’s ok.
I mostly don’t care at all. I grew up with upper-middle-class privilege and believe me, I know it and am grateful for it. But money isn’t a race for me. Nobody goes into academia for the money, that’s for damn sure. On the flip side, I’m not here to get screwed over, either.
Are you doing better than your parents? In what way? Did you make the mistake of trying to live like your parents when you got out of school?