Editorial: Financial modesty is essential

Editorial Board

With graduation and a job (hopefully) fast approaching for many students and a summer full of work (again, hopefully) fast approaching for many others, the temptation to go out and splurge on new things, whether they be new TVs, new computers or other gadgets, cars, books, etc., might be high.

Many students, we hope, actually deserve such treats. The financial prudence of such purchases, however, is dubious.

It is indeed true that college graduates have better financial prospects than their peers with fewer years of education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of the end of January workers over the age of 25 who hold at least a bachelor’s degree earn $1,066 per week at median. Further, unemployment for people over the age of 25 who have earned a bachelor’s degree sits, as of March, at 3.8 percent, which is half the nationwide unemployment rate of 7.6 percent.

Most recent graduates, however, have a few years before they fall into that higher age cohort, and before they join it, they will have to begin dealing with very high student debt. Iowa residents graduating from Iowa State owe, on average, nearly $29,000, according to an Iowa Board of Regents report.

The classic American dream — a well-paying job, a house in Suburbia, two new cars, a couple kids, and nice new things — belongs to a brief period a long time ago in the 1950s and 1960s. 

That’s not to say that nobody can realize that dream anymore, but the times and circumstances have changed.

So many people were able to live so well for a variety of historical reasons. After the Second World War, the United States stood alone at the top of the world. 

The rest of the industrialized world had been bombed flat by almost six years of war, and the parts of the world that had escaped such harm were undeveloped countries in South America and colonial possessions in Africa and Asia. 

Great Britain and the Soviet Union had survived largely because the United States bent over backwards to provide them and their militaries with aid to defeat Nazi Germany.

After the war, since it did not have to rebuild itself, the United States was one of the only countries that could produce lots of goods and services. Aside from fits and starts in the late 1940s, economic times were good, generally speaking. 

Benefits to former soldiers enabled more Americans than ever before to pursue higher education and home ownership, which only helped the economy.

None of those circumstances exist now. Accordingly, we all have to live within our times, not just within our means. Pursuing a non-viable, unrealistic dream forces us to live on the margins, which is a dangerous place to be. 

There is no wand we can wave, no magic phrase we can say, to make all our financial woes disappear.

Instead of indulging in purchases that aren’t really necessary, for the sake of our fiscal sanity and security we probably should adhere to the Greatest Generation’s Depression-era saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”