Monday, May 15, 2006

"We can't have any more kids..."

"...because we're upside down on the Jeep."

That's a remark I overheard this weekend, at a party with 4 young couples-- two already married and with kids, and two who are about to get married. I felt like I was a fly on the wall at some focus group on the state of the 30-something nation, listening to a lot of talk about family finances. This kind of thing is always kind of a reality check for me. I know my life in New York is not exactly a "typical American" life and most of my friends' aren't either. Like me, many of them live alone and don't intend to have kids. My few close friends that are married with children happen to be in higher-income professions and/or are extremely frugal, so I don't feel like they are very average examples either. But the people I was with at this party were all about 30, give or take a few years, seemed to have pretty middle-class jobs (a couple of engineers, a teacher, etc.), and were all living in the suburbs of Boston.
What I couldn't figure out was where everyone really stood financially-- ok, that is no surprise, as most people don't whip out their bank statements and hand them around at parties. But the conversation was such an interesting mix-- one minute talking about ski trips, iPods, gym memberships and elaborate home renovations, the next minute commiserating about the price of gas, debt on cars, mortgages, and how expensive preschools are. Couple #1, who made the comment about the Jeep, have 2 children, and originally wanted more, but they'd need a minivan to put all the carseats in. A minivan that they can't afford because they owe more on the Jeep than they could sell it for. I thought it was a little sad that this was the pivotal issue in their family planning. Couple #2 just sold their condo, luckily, but are having trouble buying a house, as several sellers have held out for unrealistic prices even on places that have been on the market for months. Couple #3 own two vehicles, an SUV and a motorcycle. They gave up their other car when the wife had their first child and became a stay at home mom. The husband is going to start commuting via motorcycle when the weather warms up, in order to save on gas.
As for couple #4, I didn't really talk to them enough to get any specific financial dirt, but their wedding sounded like it would probably be expensive. As I said, I don't really know where these couples stand, but I can guess that they are all a bit stretched trying to have the kind of family life they want.
So what is my point? Nothing, really. It was just interesting to step away from all the statistics about debt and consumption in America and see how it plays out for some real "average" people. (Tomorrow we will return to our regularly scheduled programming covering the lives of urban oddballs like me.)


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Dollar Bill said...

Weird. I hear those kinds of conversations all the time in and around Washington, DC.

My wife and I were recently discussing how it's so hard to get a true read on people's finances, especially when they talk about it fairly openly. You never know if they are fudging up or down to sound sympathetic to their peers. People seem to want so much to be rich, but want even more to sound poor.

I guess that's human nature these days.

Natalie said...

These kinds of overheard conversations about money always leave me wondering about the wisdom (and lack thereof) of people's spending habits.

And on the subject of kids...I always hear about how expensive it is to have kids these days. We have 2 kids. We plan to have more. We live on one income and my husband plans to retire at 40 (so far he is ahead of schedule). He isn't making 6 figures, but we plan and spend accordingly. I think we live pretty comfortably-- better than some people who have double our income.