Banman – The American dream comes with a price tag
April 8, 2010
I should do a better job of tracking my finances, but I really don’t. Throughout the year, I have a general idea of my financial health throughout the year but the only time I really get a good picture of my economic situation is when I do my taxes each year.
Deadlines are what motivate me and April 15 is the deadline imposed by the government to reveal what I have been up to for the past year. While sorting through all of the invoices, receipts and forms that are required to support the figures placed on Form 1040 I, like most of you, get to see the amount of money spent on items like mortgages, rent, utilities, auto expenses, charitable giving and insurance. It is always interesting to see my income, subtract my expenses and compare that figure with what I actually have in the bank. The amount that isn’t there is, I can only presume, what must be called discretionary expenses. If I could control that line item, I’m quite sure I would already be retired.
I could go into a diatribe about being part of the 53 percent of Americans that actually has to write a check to the IRS this tax season. I could whine about how recent legislation signed by our president will only increase the size of the slice of the pie for which I will now be responsible. I could wring my hands about the fact that we have handed my grandson Silas a debt that he will be saddled with long after my bones have turned to dust. But I won’t.
For the most part, I am okay with rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. For the most part, I believe that what I get in return for my taxes is fair. I, like most of you, want a lot of things in life. When I drive, I want to be on good roads. I want law enforcement personnel to protect me on that road, and I want them to be protecting my home, my friends and family.
When people are bad, I want them to be punished appropriately. If they need to be in prison, I want them to be held securely. If I am ill and need an ambulance, I want to be able to dial three numbers and have medical attention at my door within minutes. I want there to be a general set of rules that govern how we behave as individuals and as businesses.
If I require medical attention, I want competent people to be making rational decisions about my health. I want people to have an equal opportunity to be educated and to improve themselves because I know that I will likely benefit from their steps of improvement.
I want to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I will very likely wake up in a country that is a safe. And, when I wake up, I want to be able to have the option of traveling anywhere I want within the borders of that country. None of those things, and many more, come without a price.
For the past several decades, most of us have lived in a country in which hard work and wise decisions generally led to the fulfillment of the American dream. I think that we have equated that dream with the accumulation of wealth. That may be part of the equation, but to limit it to that is to diminish its value. I think the dream is more about having the freedom to make choices and pursue those choices with a reasonable expectation of a favorable outcome. I don’t think we realize how much we have taken that for granted. I don’t believe we have a true appreciation for how most of the people in this world live.
Likely the reason I have become so philosophical about this issue is that my net worth has decreased about 25 percent in the past two years. That is basically the decrease in real estate equity. Like many of you, that is equity I was banking on for my retirement years. Like many of you, I am hoping for a bit of a rebound, but it is unlikely that the economy and real estate values will return to their former level, let alone make up for what equity has been lost. The realist in me is okay with that because I think the former level was artificially high and, apparently, unsustainable.
I don’t know that I had visions of a grand retirement. I just wanted to be able to have a little freedom to travel and leave my wife and kids with assets and not liabilities. Basically, I wanted to do for my family what my father did for my mom and his children. I still believe that is achievable, I will just have to refine and redefine what I do with that mysterious discretionary income.
I remain optimistic. I still believe in the indomitable power of the human spirit. I believe that happiness and joy are found in those things we can control. I will proceed along that path of optimism, even if my net assets aren’t as impressive as they were two years ago.