The Now Generation

The Now Generation

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column dealt with things I said in my post on Tuesday, and so I thought I’d rerun one that I really like from back in 2005, about how expectations for quality of life have changed so much in the last decade. I thought it fit in well with this week’s themes about healthy and intentional living with the Ultimate Bundle Sale–86 ebooks, just $29.97!

I recently came across an old 1950s knitting pattern book telling women how to copy the latest fashions. In those days, many women just didn’t have the money to buy ready-made clothes, so when they saw something they liked, they knit it or they sewed it. Today, we think all that work means we’re failures. So instead we charge it.

This was brought home to me when I came across an article bemoaning the fact that a new professional graduate, making $35,000 a year, can’t survive, what with $1,500 for rent, $800 for food, and all the other expenses. When I read that chart it seemed to me that the problem was not with the salary; it was with the expenditures. Thrift used to be a virtue, but now we expect to have everything at once. If a single person is spending $800 on food a month, then they’re eating out far too much. It may not be easy, but most of us can live within our means.

It’s not our means that are the problem. Too often it’s the expectations we have for what our lives should be like.

I’m not sure where these expectations came from. We can blame the media and advertising, but they had the media and advertising back in the 1950s, too, and it seems like people were far more willing to live with garage sale items and hand-me-downs a few decades ago than we are now. Perhaps it’s the explosion in credit which makes things possible today that weren’t possible before. Or perhaps it’s always been like this and I’m just a fuddy-duddy. Increasingly I think the latter is probably true on most issues, but let me explore this one a little bit more anyway.

I have lived with a lot, and I have lived with very little, and there are pros and cons to both.

When we lived in a small rental apartment when the kids were young I had no pressure to make things coordinate. I didn’t need matching furniture, or pretty drapes, or dishes to entertain. As long as it was functional and could withstand two toddlers, I was happy.

I think that’s a great period every person should go through. It’s a lot less stress on a marriage when you don’t actually own very much, and you can concentrate on just yourselves. Besides, when you’re not aiming to do things big, little things can make you happy. Remember the joy you once felt at finding some old milk crates at the flea market? Hey, they’re amazing things! They can hold cleaning products under a sink, or they can be used as dressers, or they can hold up some boards and be an improptu bookshelf! And that amazing garage sale kitchen table and chairs we found for $25 served us well for seven years.

Now that we have a house I have become much more conscious about what it looks like because I own it. I have to buy matching furniture, I have to paint, and I have to decorate in ways I didn’t before. In many ways this is satisfying, but in others it adds more pressure. There’s always more I could be doing. Besides, now, when stuff breaks, it’s my problem. I can’t just call the superintendent. I still like owning my own home, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy before I had all of these outside trappings in my life.

We make a mistake when we believe we need stuff to make us happy.

Stuff breaks. Stuff can be stolen. Stuff needs to be cleaned. And stuff costs money, especially if you have to buy it on credit. Then, if anything bad happens, you could lose all that stuff you came to treasure.

Besides, on surveys of happiness, stuff plays a very small role. Satisfaction with one’s relationships, one’s jobs, even oneself is much more important. So living within one’s means when everyone else is charging it may not seem fair and it may not seem fun, but ultimately our lives will be a lot easier. Besides, we’re not saying no forever. We’re just saying not now. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.


  1. I totally agree. We have always had second-hand furniture, and once we didn’t have a couch for 6 months. When someone finally gave us an old one, I was just happy to have a soft seat to sit on. I didn’t care how it looked. When some friends helped us move, I was surprised to hear a woman say: “I think it’s time you bought a new couch!” What?!? We couldn’t afford a new couch and weren’t gonna get one on credit! Needless to say, we kept sitting on that couch another 5 years, and then bought another used one. :)
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  2. I agree entirely. My husband and I have no credit cards right now, our car is financed but that is the only debt we have. We will have to get one because we want to buy our own house and every loan officer has told us we need that revolving credit. But I really really don’t want them. I love decorating, our house isn’t the best but with the right decorating it’s super cute, and I have to get creative because we can’t spend $200 on that awesome picture. Everything in my livingroom we either already owned and painted or we got a flea markets and thrift stores and made it match, it’s more work but in my opinion it’s better. 1) No one else owns the stuff we have, since we made them our own by painting, making, ect no one else will have it, it is completely ours. 2) We save a ton of money 3) The possibilities are endless, if you look for things to just go and buy your limited by what is available, if your up for making it or making something different your possibilities are literally endless!
    I love it. The only thing that we generally spend a good portion of money on is the furniture only because we had such a problem with the cheaper stuff breaking after just a few months. But even with that our entertainment center is a redone buffet that my mom gave us and she had it since I was little, so we only spend money when we have to, and we save for it we don’t go into debt for it.

    • My husband and I got a credit card to build credit to prepare for buying a house. What we did was to use it for all purchases and then pay it off every month. We keep each other accountable to always pay it off and to only use it for things we would buy anyway. This allowed us to build credit without falling prey to the lure of credit and ending up in debt. We don’t see it as something to pay later. We see it as just like using a debit card. We have to pay it off this month so we have to be careful and only spend what we have. We also get cash back for our purchases, so we actually make money this way too.
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  3. I feel like people of my generation (I’m 25) and the one below me really have this feeling of entitlement. They want what their parents have but they want it now. They forget that their parents have worked their whole lives to get where they are at right now. We must do the same thing- work for those things!
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  4. Whoa, $800 a month for food for one person?! My family of 6 doesn’t spend that! Kijiji has become a great friend of mine and I, shamelessly, will buy my kids presents off there. If they are in great shape, who cares if they are used? I refuse to put on credit the newest or fanciest things for my kids so they can keep up with their friends.

  5. At 29, I know that most of my husband and my financial struggles come from the need to have it now, nice, and new. We’ve really worked hard to change that mindset, and I really think it is a social mindset. I remember moving into our duplex, which hasn’t been updated since it was built in 1968. My mother kept telling me how ugly everything was. As a child I wanted to go to Goodwill and my racist, snobby mother said, “We don’t buy things other people wear. We’re not Mexicans.” When I first had my own place I would feel ashamed that I didn’t have the standard of living my mother thought was good for those of us who were, as she used to put it “Above all that”. . .what the that was, I was never sure of. I wish I’d been taught better…I never even had a personal finance class in high school.

  6. Now that’s a lesson my hubby and I learned the hard way! But we’ve discovered something – the high of having extra money in the bank beats the high of buying new stuff any darn day of the week. Took us a while to learn that, but we’re doing our best to make up for lost time now. :-)

    And 800 dollars a month for a single person to buy food??? Huh??? I know people who have spent the last week of the month eating nothing but instant noodles because they spent their money on other important things like rent and utilities and they want to stay out of debt. They can’t afford debt. Single moms and laid-off fathers who are putting their noses to the grindstone and sacrificing their “wants” so they can keep a roof over their kids’ heads and the electricity on. A young couple fresh out of college who lived in a crappy apartment and drove crappy cars so they could pay off their student loans and be free of that debt before they bought a house and started a family. It’s all about choices. Ya got choices – make good ones.
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