I’m an eternal optimist – always looking for a silver lining. I turn the other cheek with a firm belief that I won’t get slapped a second time, I believe that good triumphs over evil and I’m sure that a positive outlook is half the battle.
Take this current economic downturn. Could it possibly have a more optimistic label? What our grandparents called a Great Depression, our parents called a Recession. Leave it to the Baby Boomers to call it an economic downturn, just a little obstacle along The Road to Shambala.
Or perhaps, it’s a redirection from the detour that had us traveling the fast lane to play-now-pay-later, where the credit card companies set the pace in a pied piper’s parade.
Maybe as a midlifer unafraid to sieze opportunity, you were on the route to early retirement with a high yield, high stakes, quick return investment portfolio. That didn't exactly turn out the way we'd hoped.
If there is any good that can come from this financial crash, I am hopeful that it is the return of a couple of old concepts – cash and carry and slow and steady.
When my parents passed on a few years ago, they left a house full of furniture, appliances and electronics. I’m not talking faded flora sofas, an avocado refrigerator or the old Hi-Fi record player. In my mother’s life-long quest to remain young at heart, she refused to let her lifestyle, or her home, date her. At eighty-plus years old, Mother still took every chance available to redecorate, rearrange and restock.
I was often the recipient of this or that piece of furniture or some small appliance, which she told my father I needed. Usually, it was indeed something I could use. The fact that my mother then purchased the new and improved version (or maybe just a different color) certainly didn’t negate her generosity and resulted in a houseful of some pretty good loot at the end of my parent’s days.
When that day arrived, being firmly ensconced in middle age with all the accompanying accoutrements, my siblings and I wanted little more than a few keepsake pieces. With six adult-on-their-own-children among us, we opened the house up to free shopping. Three floors of inventory was reduced by a few glass end tables, a bed frame and some small kitchen appliances.
Then came the estate sale. We couldn’t give the stuff away. Two, almost new 27” televisions finally sold for $10 a piece – to go in a cabin on the lake (this was long before anybody knew about the digital change to come). We did manage to give a computer away, just to save us the disposal fee.
I’m not trying to imply the stuff was worth a fortune. I was just shocked that there weren’t young people anxious, dare I say grateful, to find a kitchen table with four matching chairs for $25. They spend that much to go to a movie or have a manicure.
And then I got it. They can’t shop estate sales with a credit card – that little, magic piece of plastic that allows them to purchase a new kitchen set at three times the price, for the promise of making a payment less than half of what we were asking.
Except now, too many people are realizing they’ll be making that payment for the rest of their natural life-time. Or that all of their pre-tax dollars invested for fast growth, fat retirement accounts, might have been better kept in a simple (FDIC insured) savings account – or maybe used to pay cash for all their stuff.
So where is my bright side? First, there’s the satisfaction, of course. As a parent who never stopped nagging her kids about the dangers of accumulating credit card debt, I have the time honored privilege of saying “I told you so.”
Second, these financial challenges we face are forcing all of us, across generations, to take a look at what’s important in life.
We have to ask ourselves, is that bigger house with granite countertops and quarried-tile floors, an SUV or the latest electronic, virtual experience game worth the price owed in the end? Do my children or grandchildren really have to go to Disney World?
How about the simple pleasures of life? How about having time to spend with family? How about a day at the State or County Park (there are plenty to choose from around the Twin Ports area).
Instead of granite and tile – a weather worn picnic table and sand will do just fine. Let’s actually throw a ball, jump rope or just play tag, instead of exercising a joy-stick. As for Disney World, we saved, we went, we saw. In my opinion it’s overcrowded, overpriced and overrated.
As Dorothy discovered, if you can’t find happiness in your own back yard, you won’t find it Oz, or for that matter, Disney World, Shambala or anywhere else. And as we are all discovering in the aftermath of easy payment plans, the more you own, the more you owe and off to work you go, and go and go.
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