On Sunday Henry, my son, called for his weekly series of complaints, and he surprised me.
“I went out to the pool the other day, and laid out there for an hour. It was quite enjoyable, and I realized I don’t do that enough,” he said. “I’m surrounded by beaches which attract millions of visitors a year (Florida), and I don’t take advantage of them.”
From now on, he said, as he searches for a cheaper apartment in which to live, he’s also going to check out the local parks which make natural amenities available to local people. This pronouncement thrills me. It only took 36 years for Henry to develop this new mind-set.
I’ve always seen the humor in this Monty Python scene from The Life of Bryan, but Henry has not:
He’s a numbers guy (“Numbers don’t lie.”), and he is always looking for things to deny himself to save his way to financial security. He has lots of money in the bank, which is all the more remarkable since he has managed to accumulate assets earning close to the median income of most Americans. I am extremely proud of him, but it has required a level of Spartan discipline that is beyond me. He has a near-perfect credit score. He’s the only person I know who has managed to pay off a student debt load that’s more than most people spend for a house (and never pay off).
So this “enjoyment” thing is a very big development in his thinking. If he goes through with it, he will certainly live a happier life as a result.
As Henry and I were talking, it occurred to me that the average person is being priced out of the market for almost all essentials. Henry told me that the typical person spends 15% more than he/she earns. This deficit is financed by debt.
That may work occasionally in the short-term, but it is not sustainable in the long-term. Henry told me that most student debt today (the biggest debt balloon out there—$1.23 trillion, or an average of $37,172 per person) involves “rebates” that finance college living expenses as well as luxury purchases.
To make it today on a middle-class income, the only people who can make it are those who can think outside the box. I am able to live on Social Security only because I have moved off-the-grid to one of the cheapest places in America to survive. Henry is thriving because he has adopted an equally-alternative lifestyle in an urban setting—but as I said before, it involves a level of discipline that most people don’t have and have no opportunity to learn. I don’t envy him the almost-daily choices he has had to make.
Maybe his future choices will involve less self-denial. It is heartening that Henry is beginning to consider more lifestyle choices that are free.
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