Needs, Wants, Work, and the American Way

Without realizing exactly what I was signing up for, I volunteered to be a Junior Achievement Consultant for my daughter’s first grade classroom. I discovered I would be leading five different class sessions to show the role businesses play in our communities and to inspire future entrepreneurship. Last week, I ran the lesson of needs versus wants. What do we truly need in order to survive? The lesson was presented in a fairly black and white manner. Clothes, food, and shelter were labeled as needs. Luckily, I had a few critical thinkers in the group, in particular, a little boy who challenged the idea that shelter and clothing were “needs.” In truth, these needs may be defined by the weather and the culture of where one lives. Also, not all food, clothes, and shelter are necessities. You may need a home with a roof and heat, but you do not need one with a game room.

When my winter semester ended, I had the choice of whether or not to teach more classes, as I already fulfilled my yearly contract. If I were to work more, I would earn more money. And as my Junior Achievement Consultant Handbook explained, money is necessary to supply both one’s needs and wants. However, it did not explain the harm of pursuing more money to purchase more wants. If I were to work more, I would have less quality, stress-free time with my children; I would have less time to read and write for pleasure; I would not be able to exercise as much; I would not be able to cook as many healthy meals; I would spend more time sitting and less time outdoors, etc.

I make enough money for the necessities of life and some savings. If I work more, it would be for items I truly don’t need. I am fine driving an older model Equinox I found through Craigslist, even though I don’t really like the color. I could work harder and purchase a newer, more stylish vehicle, but for me, the cost of working overtime is not worth the benefits.

Yes, I realize I am lucky that I have the luxury to choose. But a number of people could work less and have less. I marvel at how the picture of middle-class life has changed since I grew up.

According to Bloomberg, “In the 1890s, Americans had an average of 400 square feet of residential space per person. But by the early twenty-first century, that figure had doubled to 800 square feet.” Not only do these large homes cost more to build, they cost more to heat and cool. My childhood home was a modest ranch modular home. It was cute and comfortable, but no more than what was necessary. We bought our current home, which is an older cape cod structure, because we liked the peaceful setting and school district. Yes, higher ceilings, a large master bathroom, and an open staircase would be nice. But I believe a mortgage payment of under $800 is nicer.

Another change I see is in the school parking lots. Instead of driving vans, families want to drive Suburbans, Yukons, and Expeditions. It is not surprising that people are complaining that they no longer can live on middle-class wages. You can’t if you want to have all these so-called “necessities.” What happened to living below one’s means? It seems we are all being expected to live at the ceiling.

The big takeaway in the Junior Achievement “needs versus wants” lesson was the idea that individuals need to budget and prioritize. This concept is applicable not only for money management, but for time management. We can get buried in busy without actually accomplishing the items that are most important for our well-being and personal success. Time, like money, is a finite resource. And sometimes, we need time more than money.

Right now, I am a bad cog in the capitalist machine, as I am choosing time over money. Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge at guilt when people ask, “Are you off for the summer?” And I am not really off. I run a department, which means meetings, scheduling, staff interviews, etc. I am also expected to professionally development and plan my fall classes. Still, I am not working as many hours as I can, which doesn’t does not seem like the American way.

In my composition classes, we analyze the following commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNzXze5Yza8.  The Cadillac commercial should be viewed as a satire. Instead, it is a realistic portrayal of American consumerism: “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of taking only two weeks off in August.”

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Bath Bombing the New Year

Even though my Christmas card declared this year the best year yet, featuring a collage of happy moments, 2016 was a tough one politically, professionally, and personally. On the whole, the world seems a bit crueler and more mismanaged. In my little social media filter bubble, the past year is being blamed for celebrity deaths and misfortunes. It has become the embodiment of the shock and horror many feel about the election of our next president. While I cannot control the rebel forces in Syria, prevent more beloved celebrities from dying of heart disease, or even make my five year old like school, I can control my own well-being, actions, and environment.

I always find that time in between Christmas and New Year’s to be emotionally hard. It is one of those in-between times, where you are suspended in limbo between events and life changes. As an early riser with two small children, I no longer look forward to the ball drop or use the night as an excuse to consume a bottle of champagne. Instead, I solidify my old fart status by remarking on the swift passage of time, “How can it be 2017? Wasn’t it just 1997? Where did the time go?” My feelings on New Years being such, I see no reason to wait to begin new projects, adventures, and musings.

One of my greatest joys is buying craft supplies and thrift store potential makeovers, organizing them, and imagining the possibilities. Rarely, though, do the possibilities become reality. This holiday break I finally forced myself to play. Instead of simply compiling Pinterest pins and reading reviews, I bought some essential oils and began creating my own diffuser sets and bath bombs. Over my nearly four decades of existence, I have discovered there are two ways I work: relentless research with prolonged indecision and flying by the seat of my pants. Honestly, the second is much more fun and yields much more memorable lessons.

Here is the bath bomb recipe I tried: https://brightnest.com/posts/little-luxuries-how-to-make-the-perfect-bath-bomb. What I learned: two teaspoons is an excessive amount of essential oil, you need pack your stainless steal balls hard, and wear gloves. In other words, I need to tweak a few things, but I still ended the night in a fizzy bath. I would have missed this scientific bathing wonder if I had simply sat on the couch scrolling through social media.

Lesson: make things in the New Year.

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