First Person: The ‘American Dream’ May Have to Be Retooled

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I don't think our family is living the "American Dream". I don't feel like we are at least. Or maybe it's just that we are living the American Dream, it's just that the idea of this dream might have to be retooled a little bit.

An NBC article "The state of the American dream is uncertain" noted that the idea of the American Dream, "…that anyone who works hard enough can climb the ladder and achieve success: The big home in the suburbs, the luxury cars in the garage, the kids off to a good college and the retirement in a sunny locale." may be more complicated now. The article goes on to say that "The incredibly weak job market of the past five years, especially, may mean that more people feel like they are doing everything right - working hard, going to college, following the rules - and still aren't getting ahead."

I'd say that this is how our family feels. We've tried to do everything right and play by the rules, but we're still not getting ahead. But we're not giving up either.

How a home has affected our finances

Our first home was a huge learning experience. Not only did we lose a ton of money when we sold (after the housing market collapse), but we learned much about the additional costs of maintaining a home. High property taxes and poor schools in a faltering suburban neighborhood, the high costs of maintaining a larger home and lawn, and high utility bills were some of major elements that caught us somewhat off guard when we purchased.

We therefore retooled our idea of home ownership. We downsized significantly, focusing on location and cost reduction instead of size of property. And we began to realize that building a family and experiences together was more important than dumping untold thousands of dollars into a structure.

A stable job and steady income

The rise of the part-time job seems to be the new norm. I even watched a video on CNBC the other day which noted that something like only 47 percent of working Americans are engaged in full-time employment now. And a stable job with steady, full-time work seems to be harder to come by lately.

Recognizing this, as a self-employed individual, I've been working harder lately at becoming more self-sufficient. Not only does this provide me with other income earning opportunities, but it allows me to cut our costs in the process. Being able to tackle home repair projects rather than hiring someone to do them for us, growing our own food rather than buying it at the grocery store, owning our home outright rather than paying interest on a mortgage, and similar moves may not necessarily be considered part of the typical American dream, but they certainly are a part of mine. In so doing, our out-of-pocket repair costs have been less than $100 in total materials since we've moved into our condo over a year ago, our food and entertainment budget for a family of four is $300 a month (less per person than the average food stamp recipient), and I can stay self-employed while caring for our kids at home during the day.

Leaving a legacy

Our "American Dream" is now focused more upon our children. Sure, we want a decent life for ourselves as well; however, being able to leave some sort of legacy behind for them is now more of a focus than building the dream lives we once envisioned. Of course, being able to combine the two in some way would be our best case scenario.

This plan looks to create a situation in which we not only have something to support ourselves, but to allow our kids have some sort of basis for starting their lives off as well. We're looking at land and land management as a possibility for doing this. Good jobs are great, but they typically aren't guaranteed. Having land that is tillable, has resources like timber, water, wildlife, maybe even oil or natural gas deposits, and has the potential for raising livestock creates a sustainable situation that is largely or even wholly independent from an outside employer or the government. In this way, the kids have a decision as to whether to make a go of it with this sort of work or would prefer taking on something else altogether, and we have something to keep us busy and possibly generate income in our retirement years.

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The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any kind. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader's discretion.

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