Monday, February 1, 2010

The Art of Entitlement

One of my favorite pastimes is watching HGTV.  What is not to love about shows where I get to see the insides of homes across the world without ever having to get off the couch?  (Better yet, I don't have to pay a single mortgage.)

I have been watching these shows for quite a while now and I have to say I am a bit stunned at the number of entitled people showcased.  Words like "I deserve it" and "it's not big enough" are all over these shows.

The entitlement issues really became obvious when a young couple buying their first home with low/no paying jobs and low budget kept saying things like "I need a bigger walk in closet for all my shoes."  That was followed by, "I don't want a kitchen without granite counter tops" and "why isn't the yard bigger..."  Oh my.  They were looking in an older neighborhood, they were stretching as it was to get a house at all and they were upset it didn't look like their parent's know that house they were living in rent free at the moment.

I would like to say this couple was an exception, but it wasn't.  Many of the people showcased whine about how small and plain the homes are they can afford. (This includes multimillion dollar homes.) They almost never have any money to buy the house and walk away with mortgages way above their ability to pay and eat.

Now I know I am not telling you anything you don't know.  The housing crisis was built on the backs of people who got loans too big from lenders who lent too much.  We are all reaping the "rewards" right now.

What intrigued me was the entitlement I saw in these couples.  They really felt they deserved now what their parents worked for over 20-30 years.  Most of them had not saved enough money to cover any purchase costs and they felt it was their right to own a home larger than they could afford.  It seemed so odd to me.

When I look around our culture right now I see a lot of that entitlement.  It appears everywhere and at every level.  I see people without jobs for long periods of time who won't take an offered job because it is less money.  I see people out of work buying expensive luxury items because they "deserve" something nice.  I see families taking trips they can't afford because they "deserve" time with their kids.  This doesn't even cover the teenagers who feel entitled to cars, clothes and entertainment.

You may have guessed I am on a little rant right now.  What I can't figure out is how we became so entitled.  Growing up I felt entitled to food and a place to sleep.  Even then I knew there were people who didn't have that.  How did we make the cultural leap from "earn it" to "deserve it?"

Dave Ramsey has a billboard in Phoenix that says "Act your Wage."  I love that sign.  It doesn't mean you can't dream, it just means you have to live with what you have right now.

I think many people confuse their self worth with a list of their possessions.  They feel that if they are "worthy" people they are worthy of possessions. At what point do we decide we are worthy of financial security?  When do we decide freedom isn't the ability to buy anything we want but the ability to decide how to spend our money.

People who "can't resist" spending money are slaves to it.  Those who look at a purchase and walk away have mastered it.  While I may want to buy many things I realize I would rather control my money than have it control me.

The sad truth is we are learning a lot about entitlement as a society right now.  We can either feel bad about it or we can take the lessons and come out better on the other side.  When it comes down to it, none of us is entitled to much.  The more money we have the more is available to spend.  There is no reflection of self worth in that statement.

So here is a little exercise.  Spend the next week looking at how you spend your money.  Take notice of what you are thinking when you whip out your wallet.  Note thoughts of "I deserve it" and other similar ideas.  Determine if the thing you are buying was in your budget or if it is an impulse purchase.  You can learn a lot from identifying how you spend money. 

Okay, I think the rant has subsided a bit.  I feel better.  I think I am going to go buy a designer cup of hot chocolate...I deserve it!

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