Are you better off than your grandparents?

There are many ways to measure progress. Are you making more? Are you putting more cash in your pocket? Do you feel better about yourself?  Are you sleeping more?  Do your kids have better parties?

One measure is if we are better off than our parents or grandparents. I know that my folks certainly wanted a better life for me than they had. I also know that my grandparents wanted a better life for my parents than they had. I never knew my great grandparents. I do want a better life for my kids than I have…although I am not going to give that life to them, I want them to earn it!

So the question is do you feel you are better off than your parents or grandparents? If so, why?

I personally feel that we are cumulatively better off. I will try to break my reasoning down to a few major factors, in no particular order:

I remember using an outhouse as a kid and hauling water…that was pretty rare for my generation but I believe much more of a common place a few years back. The advances of the modern home are great- huge advantage for today.

I also remember sleeping in bunk beds and would not think of having your own room. Siblings and often entire families sharing sleeping space was relatively common back a generation or two. The huge homes did not seem to be the norm. Now, it seems that everyone who does not have a 2500 square foot house wants one. Even 2500 square feet seems to be small by certain circles.

I wonder if it is strange that in our 3 bedroom home that we make all 3 kids sleep in the same room…and even better, I wear it as a badge of honor when people ask about it.

Overall, I would say that our housing is better off. We have a choice on where to live both in terms of geography and plenty of sizes of homes. Make the smart decision though…don’t buy too much house- it can really hurt you in the end. And let your kids share a room- they will grow to love it!

Information & Technology
Can you imagine not having a computer now? How about having to use a phone book? What about only a house phone with a rotary dial instead of a smart phone…We have so much more information available to us now that our parents never dreamed of…in fact, I wish my parents in fact had dreamed about a of our technologies that we take for granted now. The technological advances that we have seen during our lives have been tremendous. We can do more with less. We are better informed. We get information as it happens.

Hands down…we are much better off.

We can travel by plane so much easier, quicker and cheaper than a generation ago. We can go too far off places…assuming one can afford it. Save up and go see a part of the state you have never seen before. I do remember those great camping trips in the rain and fishing with dad more than anything, so I still want to expose my family to that, but we have the ability to do and see so much more. My grandparents likely would not have dreamed of going to Washington DC to see our country’s capital as youngsters…now, many will fundraise and off they go with school. Great experiences. Advantage: today.

Oh boy…I am stressed. I am sure my parents felt stress too, but I have to imagine that as a whole, we are more stressed than our parents- for their sake, I hope we are more stressed. They say it to me at least, so I figure others are the same way. I wish it were not so…maybe it is just me. However, they did have other stresses that we don’t have, regardless, advantage: mom and dad.

Jobs & Education
This is a tough one…on one hand I feel like we have so many more educational opportunities available to us. We have made significant advances with learning disabilities. Private educations is advancing. Educators are highly trained. Availability of sports at the high school and lower level has likely declined- or at least are not free. Some feel a need to utilize private schooling due to perceived issues with the public schools- even some public school teachers are sending kids to private school. Trade schools are available. Unfortunately, the cost of higher education seems to be far exceeding any advancement in most people’s income.

Due to the vast educational opportunities, I feel like the ability to choose a profession is likely at a higher level today than yesteryear. Due to globalization and technology advances, a lot of good jobs no longer exist- at least here in the US. Wages in real terms don’t seem to be increasing much but they don’t seem to be decreasing much either- depending on what you are doing, this may or may not be true. The gap is widening for those at the very upper crest of the income scale compared to the rest of the US. There are still real opportunities to move up and “make it” financially. There are opportunities still to create and make things that others need and want- even if they have never seen it. The internet has brought a whole new industry that allows freelancing and tip-toeing into something much easier.

Our family is definitely better off financially and educationally than my parents and definitely grandparents. We can afford things that past generations, could not even fathom.

Overall, I call this one a push in general, but advantage “today” for me. My prayer is an advantage for others too.

Kids’ Birthday Parties
OK, this is a pet peeve and probably should not be on the list, except I am writing it so I can put in what I want. Does everyone have to have a full on party every year which involves more than a cake and a gathering of classmates? I mean seriously…kids parties are crazy expensive now. They can be elaborate. Parents are going into debt. They are spending on kids parties what could easily be saved in their education accounts or at least help pay down family debt. The kids are expecting it now and get disappointed when they don’t receive it. I am glad that I am fine in disappointing my kids occasionally…advantage: mom and dad.

Keeping Up…
Just because we see someone else with a big house, new car, or designer clothing does not mean that we have to have it. It seems like my folks and grandparents did not get caught up into the keeping up with the Joneses as much as many do today. I personally have no problem living in a smaller home, driving 10 year old cars with over 150K miles on them, and wearing the same clothing year after year. I don’t have to have the newest “thing” although they sure are nice when we get them and it helps us.

Although, maybe because we have seen such advances in technology and globalization that the price of goods has come down so much that a BMW may not mean what it used to. Plus, the free flowing debt cycle that is out there makes “buying” something a very long process…because you have to pay it off over such a long period of time. I feel like the elder generation did a much better job about saving for something and then buying it instead of seeing something and going into debt to get it.

We are also now exposed to so many more Joneses.  My grandparents knew the people in their community…they were very like minded.  They likely did not want to stick out.  Now, we are exposed to so many more type of people just driving on the freeway.  Somehow we developed a keep up with them mentality that I don’t think existed in the older generation…if anything, that may have been frowned upon.

This is a big problem in my opinion…Advantage: the past, although I am fighting this one daily.

When I first moved to CA, I remember my first trip into Simi Valley from the North. I asked the person I was riding the bus with, do you know if there is a fire? He looked at me and said, “Dude, that is smog”. Wow. I feel that some items are getting better while others do not. We have warmer temps. We have seemingly less clean water. By the way, your grass does not have to be green 12 months out of the year when you live in a drought area such as Orange County. Water waster is huge…turn your sprinklers off or at least down. Travel to other wet parts of the country such as Oregon and you will see plenty of brown lawns during the summer…it is OK. Advantage: oh man, tough one…not sure- probably better off than parents but maybe not as good as grandparents.

Advancing in medicine has been vast in the past 100 years. We can cure diseases that previously were death sentences. We can prevent others that are so rare now that we don’t even see them. Just as with education, it seems that the major issue is financial…can we continue to afford it? I for one am happy for all of the advances in medicine, although I am not a huge fan of prolonging life just to prolong life, I like the fact that we have the opportunity to do so. Advantage: today.

To me, it is not so much about your offense as it is your defense. Not so much about your income statement as it is your balance sheet. Our parents I don’t think had to concern themselves with that as much due to the retirement plans with a “defined benefit” (traditional pension) compared to now our “defined contribution” plans. I personally love the fact that I can control my future though. I love know what is going on with it. I love being able to make decisions and see the impact of those decisions. With the financial information available now versus then (remember stock price pages in the newspaper??), for someone like me, it is a huge plus. On line savings accounts, on line brokerages, etc…next to nothing to buy a stock now compared to virtually impossible for a regular Joe to do it years ago.

I know that I am not like everyone in this aspect though. Not everyone is geared up to think that way. I do wish that others would take a more proactive role in their financial future. For me, it happened in a finance class when we did compound interest calculations and I saw the difference of saving a little over a longer period of time compared to saving more over a shorter period of time- amazing! Slow and steady wins the race. Advantage: me, I wish it was “us” but I am not sure I can say that.

I definitely feel better off. I do long for some of the simpler life that my parents and grandparents enjoyed. I understand that I am extremely fortunate…I am thankful every day for that. I know that tomorrow may not be the same and as such am even more cautious about living like today is better than yesterday. I hope that you also feel better off today than yesterday…and again, let’s please tone down the kids’ parties already.

What do you think…let’s discuss with an open mind.