We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Wednesday, April 22. 2009
I had lunch yesterday with a friend who runs a fund at Fidelity in Boston. She mentioned how many friends and acquaintances she has who had been - or had felt - wealthy but are now in desperate straits.
They had overpaid for grand houses in Cambridge and Chestnut Hill, and then did million-dollar renovations and extensions. They overpaid and leveraged themselves further by buying weekend houses in Maine, Nantucket, Westport or Marion. They bought expensive cars, and paid $300,000 on interior decorating. Wherever they travelled, they stayed at the Four Seasons unless they were golfing in Ireland or Scotland. They had had the sort of blind optimism that led them to believe that $1.5 million bonuses would continue forever. They saved next to nothing. And these are not stupid people: these are bright folks, Ivy League MBAs who know math - but unwise.
She told me about somebody like that in their late 30s whose family has had to move into her parents' house in Natick, and who has their two homes on the market.
We spoke of the time-honored and traditionally-admired Yankee virtue of not living within your means, but below your means. We spoke about the Yankee virtues of "making do," "going without," and giving to others. We spoke about ostentatiousness and conspicuous consumption. We pontificated about whether getting and spending represented an emotional or spiritual emptiness, or a hollowness in a part of American culture. We reflected on whether the childish "I want..." had replaced more durable and mature motives and life guidelines. We touched on what God wants from us, as we always do when we are together. We remembered the old-time Yankee pride in driving old, beat-up station wagons to the tattered old WASPy yacht club in Marblehead. We remembered the old-time Yankee pride in owing nothing, and the pride and freedom that confers: owning your life.
Then, after an excellent no-carb lunch and with a couple of chardonnays under our belts, we went shopping.
Photo: Simple but charming living quarters from Sipp's snarky piece on homes: I'm going to say somethng rude now.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
I am still hoping that Dr. Joy will find the time to do a piece on the philosophy of phenomenology, and how combined with psychology, the new regime is influenced by this relatively new philosophy/strategy.
"...these are bright folks, Ivy League MBAs who know math..."
I wonder. If they weren't "Ivy League" MBAs would they have been saved from themselves?
Ivy League does not mean a damn thing if you ain't got common sense. There are a lot of smart folks who do not have nor will they ever have common sense and many of them go to state schools and community colleges too. I think they coined the phrase "emotional quotient" for the normal folks who know "here today gone tomorrow" just ask any middle to upper class Cuban from 1959 how quickly financial means can dissipate. The New Rich Class of whom our newly elected President Hopey Changey belongs are such people ......private schools, interior decorators and second homes alas America is a great country and this too shall come again in another generation or two.
Ahhh, but without spending all that money and living ostentaciously, would they have had their jobs? There is a lot of pressure to appear to be in the correct class -- or caste, I'd say. Would you get that promotion if you didn't go to the golf course or vacation in Fiji?
The US is a grand place for allowing people to change their "status"... but people still do look at class or caste an awful lot. I mean, that's reason number 87 why I homeschool -- schools are the training grounds for that thinking.
And it happens in business a lot. Especially at the "top".
I think the best thing that ever happened to my money abilities was the year after I was married. We had nothing. :D I was in grad school, he had an okay job, but we had practically no furniture or anything. We had a bed. We had a few kitchen items and small appliance gifts for our wedding (like an iron!). My aunt gave us some old things -- porch furniture which served as a couch for a few months, an ironing board, some glasses, etc.. By the time it was my birthday, I begged my parents for a vacuum cleaner for a gift. :D
My most memorable week was a month into it all, when we were at the store and considered whether we should buy a broom or have meat to eat that week. Broom or meat! I can't remember which we even chose.
How can you manage money if you don't know what a budget is? And how can you know what a budget is unless you've lived on that edge, with no forgiveness? Unless you've had your own "broom or meat" week?
I'm right there with you. We certainly live at least within our means but I sure do miss the city life. I had big dreams of living the simple life out on a farm. Come to find out, I love convenience and red wine!
My wife and I are a couple of cheap old Yankees.
When my kids were in daycare, I used to pick them up in my Civic with 200k miles. Other folks were picking up their kids in giant German made SUV's. I always wondered if they really were rich or living beyond their means.
"...There is a lot of pressure to appear to be in the correct class .."
I don't believe that applies every where. I live in horse country in Virginia, and there is none of that foolishness about 'appearing' any way for the sake of anyone. People here are so rich and wear barn clothes and drive trucks - you can't tell. It's good that way, too. It's a world with no phonies, no sanctimonious attitudes, and a world where the playing field is level. Behavior counts, and that behavior means being polite. Ponder spiritual or emotional emptiness? I doubt it. People around here consider effeteness and Ivy League name-dropping the worst manners.
I'm not sure how to regard that last line "and then we went shopping"
But about brightness, MBAs, etc. Those are nice traits and things to possess. But experience really guides us more.
One of the surest bets in life is that tomorrow will be much like today. We don't age overnight, except in literature. We have roughly the same expectations and wealth for years on end.
Few have sudden life changing events such as winning a lottery or paralysis from a skiing fall.
Your friends and their friends had every reason to believe that "It can't happen here" and "We are different."
Now they don't. I have friends in the same difficulties. We all probably do.
I don't know, Dr. Bliss. This, "... the old-time Yankee pride in driving old, beat-up station wagons to the yacht club.", to me, seems to undercut your observation. It speaks of appearances being so important to those you discuss... but isn't that just what the beat-up car is. Pretentiousness of appearance? At root the core issue of what you speak of no matter the form it takes.
"and then we went shopping"
ironic, enigmatic, etc, it would seem.
I remember what Dr Joy Bliss talks about so well from my youth growing up near Boston in the mid-late '50's. I remember especially well an elderly, white haired dowager, a Mrs. Emerson, who lived down the street from us. She drove a 1938 Black Packard Sedan, in mint condition, and always clean as a whistle. That auto would just purr when it passed by.... with the MA number plate 58.
And I can remember my parents reciting the Yankee virtues in this familiar ditty: "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without." Or summers in Vermont, watching the farmer nearby fixing equipment at haying time with the "the old baling wire approach", as he would call it. A respect and caring for one's tool and equipment was a necessity in the frugal, upcountry Vermont of the 1950's.
Those Yankee virtues were drilled into me from early on and never forgotten. It's still part of the New England heritage in this harsh and unforgiving climate, difficult growing conditions, and just generally coping with the environment. I'm sure those who went onto the Western frontier experienced the same things in life.
I just can't relate to those Fidelity folks living way over their heads- no wonder the country is in trouble, these are the people who are supposed to be increasing our wealth, not leveraging it to live beyond one's means. I sense that the Obamas have been fooled big time by such wannabes- I just don't want to pay for cleaning up any more of their mess than I already am.
I personally have always found the 5000 square foot McMansion on the eighth-acre lot out in the middle of a prairie, to be aesthetically most pleasing in that old gotterdamerung way.
Fie upon you, Buddy!
Or should that be, Fire upon you, Buddy!
If the above were pronounced in certain New England accents, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
yuk yuk --reminds of that WaPo neologism contest, someone proposed;
sarchasm: the gap between sarcasm attempted and sarcasm failed.
They probably are not stupid people. They are however very shallow. I would be very uncomfortable to be around them. They have a different definition of success than I do.
Life is sobering, hopefully they can learn from their mistakes.
Humility is a hard pill for them to swallow.
I love that little shack. I could see myself living in something like that, maybe a little bigger. Reminds me of Thoreau. That shack has moxie!!
I commented to a friend a few years ago (while I still had a job) that there were people who I thought made about the same amount of money as I did but who were driving much nicer cars (new BMW vs used 10-yr-old Corolla), living in bigger houses, wearing the newest fashions (vs my consignment-store and eBay chic) and going out to supper a lot more. How did they afford it? I wondered.
"They are living paycheck to paycheck," she said. "Just on a different scale."
Oh. Not debt free and not paying an extra $600 a month toward the mortgage.
I like my way better.
Got three vehicles in this family. The newest is a 1992! The oldest is a 1984.
what is that old Calvinist quatrain, about use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without?
Well said. I am always amused by people who see rural life through rose colored glasses. Making do and doing without gets old when you do it for years on end. And city girls seem especially vulnerable to cabin fever.
My father-in-law used to work for the Pentagon. He had an old Packard, and one day on one of the long avenues leading to work, he was first at the stoplight. Before and just as the light turned green, a car load of seedy but thuggish black guys started hammering on their horn. My father-in-law never looked back, just put the Packard in reverse and slowly backed that car load of jerks back down the avenue a whole block.
I went to Durango, CO, to visit my son who went there to college and to ride bikes, and I was floored by the hilarious sight of ten-thousand dollar bikes on three-thousand dollar racks atop one-thousand dollar cars. It was clear what these cyclists spent their money on, and there was no doubt that had one of those gas-using heaps kicked the bucket on the side of a mountain, its driver would get home without having to hitch a ride.
When I was a boy, as we drove along my mother took pride in pointing out the president and owner of one of the local banks in his old Rambler. "He is probably one of the wealthiest men in this city," my mother would say, "and yet he still knows the meaning of thrift."
Damn, all good and sensible stuff. But I so dislike being preached to. No matter the goal. Color me an a**hole, I guess. Just leave me alone to dig my own hole, or not.
Nice to see the old yacht club mentioned - I belonged there as a kid because I was a little too rowdy for the Boston where my parents belonged. :>)
I remember it well - kept my pram there instead of State Street Wharf - had a 18 foot center well lobster boat with a 50 horse Johnson moored 100 yards off the Causeway.
Good times - good times.
Luther, no one likes to be preached to, and for sure, there are those who cannot write in such a way as to sound as if they're not preaching. But I know what really has your goat: Your yacht is covered with tumbleweeds and a family of scorpions has set up squatters' rights in it. Keep digging. You might strike it rich with some nice Arizona water.
One bedroom, one bath rancher, established neighborhood, large yard for pets which are negotiable, extra mother-in-law apartment or for your own live in housekeeper, off street parking, no sewer/water charges to tenant, solar heat, Idaho air conditioning, $1,200/ month, year lease required.
"The Landlord Never Dies, They Say"
From the market peak to the bottom, we lost about 80% of our retirement savings, however . . .
We bought our house in a comfortable neighborhood, remodeled and stayed there. We put down over one-third of the price of the house. It may not be much by other's standards, but I don't care what they think. It's home. It's comfortable. We don't owe anyone. We resisted, actually did not need/want, a second mortage. The money would not provide anything we could not live without.
I am also one of the richest people you will ever hear about. I have had the same spouse for almost 40 years and love her dearly. Now that is being rich.
I'm with you Ol' Dave. I value my only wife above all earthly things, and most celestial things too.
Dr. Joy- do you remember the character Micawber in Dickens' novel David Copperfield?
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
My parents gave me the best gift of parenting they possibly could: they always lived beneath their means. That way you just grow up knowing it works. So though times are scary, we have zero debt, not even a house mortgage or a car note. It helps. "Make it happen for yourself or do without" is a good motto.