Since it is political season and most of my articles tend to focus on the money side of politics, I thought I would give you some food for thought about the way it is now and the way it was when most of you were growing up as a child. It’s imperative being in the money business that I stress to people every day the importance of savings and how money can secure their future, but in some ways it worries me on how people may be accumulating money and the negative impact the pressure of having to earn more money is having on families across America.
Can you remember when life seemed a lot simpler than it is today? Is it that you have more responsibilities? Is it that technology has made you more accessible? Is it that now you have had a taste of the ‘good life’ that you don’t want to go back to just the status quo? Is it that you could never, ever leave the beautiful mansion you have built with all of the amenities right there in front of you?
Growing up in New Jersey in the first planned townhome communities called Twin Rivers, life was very simple. The entire development was basically in the middle of a big farm right of off exit 8 (because that is the way you talk in New Jersey) in central Jersey in the 1970’s. The average home went for about $30,000. In those days, we left our doors unlocked, had block parties with our neighbors (we actually knew our neighbors), and all of the local business owners knew our parents and vice versa. Grocery shopping was once a week, brand name clothing didn’t get better than Sears Toughskins and my mother was driving a Chevy Vega.
Juxtapose that against the world we live in today and you will realize that we aren’t in Kansas anymore. But you have to ask yourself this question, “Now that you have “made it” and have a few bucks in your pocket, are you truly happy? Is life truly better than it was when you were a kid?” There are lots of ways to analyze this, but I’ll share a few observations on why I think life is more complicated today and we may never get back to the world most of us grew up in during yesteryear. The world where you rode your Big Wheel or Banana Seat Bike, the world where your mom would call out for you at dinnertime and the world where you certainly didn’t worry about your child taking a stray bullet at the local pizza shop.
- Uniformity – This was the great equalizer. Growing up in a planned townhome community, nobody really had a better home than anyone else. It wasn’t even a thought in our minds. We didn’t get envious because our friends had a better movie theater, a better pool in their backyard, or a better kitchen with the latest technology. Today, this isn’t likely to return because everyone wants a bigger house, with better stuff, and get as close to their minds eye of what they saw on HGTV last night. I promise you, new subway tile in your kitchen won’t make you happier.
- Social Media – Visibility. Even if our friends took great trips growing up or got front row seats to see the Mets or Yankees, we didn’t see it right in our face 24/7 on display. There isn’t a day your children won’t login to Instagram or Snapchat without seeing at least one person that did something better than they did this summer. For you, if you login to Facebook all you will be hit with are people who appear to be taking fancier vacations, buying nicer cars and their kids doing better than yours. The problem is that you are seeing the 1% of the good stuff and not the 99% of the bad stuff, but our brains aren’t trained to think that way. These images are so powerful that they make us believe we will be happier if we have all of the cool stuff that others have.
- Technology – Game changer. At least that is what most people believed. Did you ever think there would be a day that you couldn’t remember your Mother’s own cell phone number? Or legitimately that the only way you could get from one side of town to the other is by your phone telling you where to go because you don’t even know the street names anymore? Most importantly, the flaw people didn’t see about technology was accessibility. No more is there a separation of church and state between work and play. You can tell yourself you will put the phone away for a while, but the integration of technology and its seamlessness in our lives only stands to get larger.
- There Is Never A Number – When most of our parents were working, you hardly ever heard about how much money they needed to ‘retire’. My own mother was a 5th grade teacher and she knew if she worked long enough that her pension and social security would be just fine for retirement. If I told you 20 years ago that you would be a millionaire, it’s all you would have dreamed of as a kid. Now, you may be wondering, is 2 million really enough money? 3 million? Will there ever really be a number that will allow you to walk away from your job?
- The Proliferation Of Luxury – Down the street from my house growing up there was a restaurant called the Coach and Four. In the 1970’s this was considered ‘fine dining’ even though I think this restaurant was attached to a motel. In the 1970’s going to the Coach and Four might have been a once in a year opportunity. Today, for most families, each new vacation has got to supersede the last one. The next car, watch, or purse you buy needs to be better than prior purchases. Luxury used have luster, but today it is duller than a butter knife.
What I wonder most about during this election is whether all of the candidates have missed the mark. This isn’t about making America great more than I think we’ve lost our way with good old American values. The values of friends and family, the values of apple pie, and the values we had when you could leave your door unlocked. This could be the key to our future!
Ted Jenkin is a frequent guest columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Headline News Weekend Express. He is the co-CEO of oXYGen Financial. You can follow him on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/in/theceoadvisor or on Twitter @tedjenkin.
Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS. oXYGen Financial is not affiliated with Kestra IS or Kestra AS. Kestra IS and Kestra AS do not provide tax or legal advice.