A few years ago at the peak of what I guess we will all refer to as the good years, I was buying a TV at what used to be Circuit City. Now, I just wanted a normal (every boomer deserves one) flat-screened TV. I wasn't being extravagant I was looking for thirty-three inches. My salesman was appalled.
I don't know if it was merely a successful sales technique or if he was sharing a bit of himself with me, but he explained in HD detail how he used to have a fifty-two incher, then moved up to sixty and now there was no way he could live without those eight extra inches. "Once you've had those eight extra inches you can never go back." The comedy writer in me found it an amusing anecdote, the person who only watches CNN, Jon Stewart and CNBC thought the money for the extra inches was not worth it.
But I remember getting in my car and thinking how silly I thought he was. Why did he really need those eight extra inches? Why couldn't he be happy with thirty-three like me and maybe save some money? I'll bet he could use it. But I was judging him unfairly. We are a generation of eight extra inches, the only variation is where they are and what if any sacrifices we have to make to get them. Some people's eight inches come in the form of a bigger car, summer camp for their kids, a country club membership, some are few extra Netflix or some things we really don't need at Costco, some are in the form of golf clubs or memberships to a gym or dinners out. Some are an all night binge on ebay.
Yes, people bought houses they could not afford and Frannie and Freddie collapsed. But most people did not. Most people do not fly first class, have chauffeurs and limos, or drink champagne out of the bottle and live the lives TV and media have led us to believe they do or should.
Most people live their lives somewhere within their means and reward themselves with their eight extra inches.
My extra eight inches come in the form of designer handbags and exotic travel, which to my friend in Circuit City probably sounded as frivolous as his room size screen did to me. I imagine he spends more time in his house than I do, and no doubt he got a discount, those eight extra inches didn't really change his financial future yet made a big difference in his day-to-day life. Why shouldn't he have them?
Now, we wake up to a new world. Those eight extra inches can mean the difference in your sending your kids to school, paying for medicine or your mortgage payment. For a long time that was not the case. Sure, some people, states and companies crawled so far out on the credit limb they need the tax payers, you, me, my friend at Circuit City to bail them out. They turned those eight inches into eight hundred and fifty miles and now the rest of us are paying the price.
The truth is my bags and trips were things I could afford while I went on with my life, worked hard, stashed money away in my 401K, life insurance and kids' college funds. I gave money to charity, paid my taxes and had enough left over to indulge in my eight extra inches. Did I need them? No. Did I feel I deserved them? Sure. Was my future being affected? I did not think so at all.
But now thanks to the credit crisis, the government bailouts and the Wall Street carryings on, my eight extra inches have disappeared.
Like many Americans I wake up in the middle of the night mid panic attack about my future and the future of my children. I have a college-bound daughter; I get no help from my family and have an ex-husband who does not contribute. Though I thought I socked away enough to pay for a good portion of her tuition, as of last week that was down thirty-four percent. Bye-Bye eight inches.
My present husband and I have religiously put money away for our retirement. If we are to have any hope of keeping a semblance of the lifestyle we have: Bye-bye eight inches.
I have an eight-year old I need to get through another sixteen years of school. Bye-bye eight inches.
At the moment I am not one of the four million Americans out of a job and I count my blessings. But that could change any second and few people wake up these days who do not feel that way. Bye- Bye eight inches.
There are many who say we were the spenders -- not the savers our parents and grandparents were. There is truth to that. But we were also earners and innovators and for the most part good citizens. We do our jobs, raise our families, and we thought we were safer than we were. We figured in light of that: What was eight inches?
Now, despite the fact that my Circuit City friend said he could never live without his eight inches, he will have to: With the closing of Circuit City he may not have a job. With the uncertainty of so many futures staring us in the face, most of us will have to live without our eight inches. We will do it and we will survive.