Wants exceed needs, readers agree

Your Money

May 06, 2007|By Humberto Cruz | Humberto Cruz,Tribune Media Services

The outpouring of reader mail over the hassles of mail-in rebates had barely subsided when a new flood gushed forth on why it takes middle-class America two incomes "just to get by."

To clarify, I don't believe it does. That claim belongs to CNN commentator Lou Dobbs, who regularly lashes out at U.S. immigration policy, corporate downsizing, job outsourcing and skyrocketing health-care costs.

While acknowledging these are legitimate issues, I dared to suggest that many Americans struggling on two incomes should blame their own profligate and careless ways.

To my surprise - and delight - reader response has run close to 10-to-1 in my favor, although obviously not everybody agreed.

"Please do not paint two-income families with such a broad brush," one reader wrote. "In many areas of the country, current housing prices are completely out of whack with incomes even for the so-called middle class, as are many essential items. Many people do without a lot of extras and still struggle even with two incomes."

This same reader added, "It is the people who think they need instant gratification and can't seem to figure out that credit card purchases are not free to whom this article should be addressed."

OK, let's do it.

Instant gratification. Abuse of credit cards. An urge to consume, falsely believing that consumption leads to happiness. "Having to have" the latest cool gadget, no matter how much it costs. A basic lack of understanding of saving principles and risk factors. All these explain why many two-income families struggle.

But you said it best. Here are some of your comments, starting with an e-mail from a certified public accountant:

"The families with two incomes want a lifestyle beyond their means and this never would have happened before credit cards and purchases that do not have to be paid for three years. ... Today, there are more financial avenues to buy the big-ticket items." (But of course, I add, they eventually do have to be paid for.)

From a city worker: "If people complain they cannot save, they should look at all the `things they cannot live without' and stop whining. I work for a city agency and the welfare/food stamp offices are in my building. You will never see a wider array of expensive cell phones or iPods than among the people who come for public assistance." (I wouldn't go that far, but I, too, have seen my share of expensive electronic toys among people who claim they can barely survive financially.)

From a South Florida family who gave in to temptation to participate in the real estate boom:

"In 1992, we bought a very nice and modest house for under $100,000. In 2001, when it was almost paid off, we refinanced and took out a cash-out loan and enlarged our home. Then, in 2003, our equity grew some more and we refinanced again. Now our house is worth approximately $400,000, but the mortgage payment with the windstorm insurance is almost more than we can afford. ... If only we didn't keep refinancing."

From parents who understand that their duty to their children is to raise them to be responsible adults:

"Some people want what it took their parents 40 years to get. Plus, they give their kids much too much of everything. I am so happy that my parents taught me the value of a dollar and I tried to pass this along to my children. There is nothing wrong with telling your children you can't afford something. This does not make you a bad person."

Humberto Cruz writes for Tribune Media Services.

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