I might be a simpleton . . . but when is enough, enough?
I know a guy who is contemplating making major changes in his living situation because of the lifestyle he is accustomed to. The problem is that he just isn’t making enough money to live the way that he and his wife are accustomed to. Economic times have cramped their lives and lifestyles. Basically the two of them have tumbled down into the middle ground of being middle class—basically where a lot of us are living our lives. Neither one of them likes living in the middle class and misses the days when money was everything.
From my perch they live a lot better than the wife and I do. They have a nicer house, bigger yard, drive more expensive cars, take monthly vacations, and live in a fancier and richer neighborhood than we do. They like to hob-nob with the rich and famous, drop names of important people they know, and see shopping at the local Wal-Mart as one of the penalties they must pay for being among the middle class. They don’t like it. They want more.
Financially the wife and I are in the best shape that we have ever been in our lives. We have what we both consider a nice life. We have a home that is our own for the first time ever. It is not extravagant, but comfortable and our home. We driver older vehicles which get us wherever we need to go—they ain’t pretty but they function. Our neighborhood is nothing to write home about—nothing fancy, but we have good neighbors who like us and we all would do anything to help each other out. We have the toys we want—we have a stereo, flat screen television, computers, and even iPads. We shop at Wal-Mart, clip coupons, and look for bargains. We feel blessed—as blessed as we have ever been. We are happy for the most part.
In fact, we are living better than a lot of the rest of the people in the world. In the eyes of a lot of folks around the world, the wife and I would be considered rich . . . really rich. But the truth of the matter, I guess, is that it is a matter of perspective. Some think that we are rich, others think that we are poor, and we see ourselves as happy and blessed. Whenever I am around this guy I feel uncomfortable . . . uncomfortable because I encounter people like him all of the time . . . people who always want more and never seem to have enough to make them happy. They are never happy.
As I said, maybe I am too simple. Maybe I do not understand economics . . . or business . . . or even money. I cannot understand how a product like a loaf of bread now costs more (much, much more) than it did nearly forty years ago. What used to cost fifty cents now costs close to five dollars. It is cheaper and quicker to make the bread today—less people are involved in the process than forty years ago, and the cost has gone way, way up. I have been told it is inflation . . . that it is the cost of running a business . . . but, the bottom line is greed.
When I was actively collecting sports cards with my children they would always ask me what a card was worth. Of course, we would look the price up in periodicals that published the market prices based on demand. The kids (and I, too) would get all excited when we would see that our little piece of cardboard was worth big bucks. The kids dreamed of new cars, I dreamed of retiring. The truth is that a sports card is only worth what someone will pay a person for it—typically, not much more than what the cardboard was worth . . . maybe a nickel. Of course, we wanted more. I now have my retirement plan sitting in boxes in the basement of our house. I was greedy.
So when is enough, enough? I want the oil manufacturers of gasoline to tell me. I want those who are in the entertainment business to tell me. I want those who push wealth on Wall Street to tell me. I want those who go around hawking get-rich schemes to tell me. When do we draw a line in the sand and say that we have enough . . . more than enough to live our lives comfortably. Is having the most the only way any of us can find value in ourselves?
It is a matter of perspective and maybe most of us have too small of a perspective. As I said earlier, in the eyes of the rest of the world ours is a very, very rich nation. Most of us would be seen as wealthy in other countries. I met another guy once who said that he grew up poor, but never realized he was poor until one day someone pointed it out to him. Suddenly the wonderful world and family he had grown up in was inadequate and embarrassing . . . he was told that he needed more. He stated that he had always thought of himself as being rich . . . rich in relationships, family, faith, friends, and especially laughter . . . he had always he had plenty to get him through life, but once it was pointed out that he didn’t have enough . . . well, he wanted more. Then he said to me, “I was the one who lost in the end . . . I lost my family, friends, relationships, faith, and laughter chasing after more. I was already rich.”
Oh well, this is a rambling piece that probably has no real answers. I will be told that accepting that enough is enough is not a good answer to all the ills of our economic woes and system of business. It is too simple. To the guy who doesn’t like his slide into the world of being middle class, there is not much I can say. I never really thought of myself as being middle class, poor, or rich when it came to my financial well-being. All I know is that—for now—I have more than enough of the material wealth and things to keep me more than happy. I don’t worry about them. This gives me more time to appreciate the greater riches that come from family and friends. Considering this I am rich. I think that we all are if we take the time to see it from a different perspective.