We were driving around town between errands on that Saturday morning when Duane opened up another can of worms, figuratively speaking, of course.
“I’ll tell you what, guys,” said Duane. “It’s getting so a guy can hardly make a decent living these days. It’s not easy living the American dream. Diane’s got some big plans for remodeling the basement, but it puts a pinch on the old wallet. Know what I mean?”
“Is this something you have to do?” Survival Sam asked.
“It’s something we’d like to do,” Duane said. “Fortunately, we were able to get a second mortgage before things got really tight. It’s tough to make ends meet these days, and you guys know we don’t live like millionaires.”
“I wonder,” began Sam, “if either of you heard the business program I heard on the radio a little while back. The so-called expert they interviewed had some insightful comments.”
We both shook our heads.
“They featured a short interview with some Ivy League economics professor who has made a career of studying consumer debt and spending habits. It was a revelation to me. According to this prof, it’s not lavish consumerism that’s dragging down many Americans. It’s the big stuff, like mortgages, health insurance, daycare, and having to keep up with owning two cars.
“I can relate to that,” Duane said.
“How much do you suppose families could save if they didn’t send their kids to daycare, cut out that second job, and didn’t have that second car to pay for, with all the car insurance to boot,” pondered Sam. “It’s time to reconsider priorities and learn to live on less.”
“Who’s going to seriously change their priorities like that?? Asked Duane. “it takes a lot just to get by these days.”
“I’ve heard of people paying for groceries and gas on their credit cards,” I said, “because they don’t have enough to go around.”
“Besides,” Duane said, “what about the problem of paying for heavy hitters like health insurance? A guy’s got to take care of his family somehow. People need that second job to pay for that. I mean, I’ve known several people who’ve had to make major changes to their health insurance because the premiums are going through the roof. Some don’t have any at all. Then there are those who have insurance and still get buried by medical bills. How many families have you heard of where medical bills forced them into bankruptcy?”
“Sure, these things do indeed happen,” Sam said. “We don’t live in a friendly world. It boils down to a question we all should be asking ourselves. What’s really necessary? I mean really necessary. When it comes to the bare necessities, what do we really need for survival?”
“I think Duane’s right,” I said. “Food, shelter, and just keeping the house warm or cool these days all cost so much.”
“I hear what you’re both saying. The economics professor is concerned that people are being priced out of living the American dream. We may see a major shift in how our society functions, whether we like it or not.”
Sam paused to negotiate traffic. “You know, this reminds me of a story I heard told many years ago. There’s a lesson in it for all of us.”
“Do tell,” Duane said.”
“Well, a young man goes to the banker for financial counseling. The banker says, ‘you need to see the old man who lives on the hill at the edge of town. He’ll teach you how to be conservative with your finances.’ It’s dusk when the young man arrives at the old man’s small, plain house, but he doesn’t see any lights on. He knocks hesitantly on the door. When the old man lets him in, he sees a lone candle burning on the kitchen table. He tells the old man why he’s there. The old man thinks a minute, then says, ‘All right. But this is going to take a while,’ and he blows out the candle.”