The New Normal: Hanging in There

Reaching for ladder

Wasn’t it supposed to be easier by now?

I’m 45 years old, my husband is 42. We have college degrees, professional careers, and years of work behind us. And we’re struggling.

Whereas our parents struggled to attain their spot on the middle-class ladder, then remained there, we’re hanging on to our rung with both hands, white-knuckled. And we’re not alone. Millions of families like us feel pinched as living costs rise, and our earning power stalls.

My problems aren’t the sort that make the news. Our mortgage isn’t underwater; we don’t have blockbuster debt. But the bigger things we desire, and thought we’d qualify for by now—an updated kitchen, a newer car, a robust retirement portfolio, bona fide sleep-through-the-night sense of security—seem to hang just out of reach, on the next rung of the ladder.

Maybe what we’re dealing with here is the new normal. I know there’s no Job for Life with a pension and a gold watch at the end. So maybe what I need is an attitude adjustment: refocusing not on what’s gone wrong for us that’s out of our control, but what we’ve done right about the things that are in our control.

Take our house, for example, a humble 1950 home that cost a good $100K less than our bank was willing to lend us. What if we’d taken the hefty loan that the cheery, red-faced mortgage guy had offered back in 2003? I shudder to think.

Then there’s our natural frugality. Our savings cushion is on the thin side, but it’s there. And we’re diligent about saving a bit for the kids’ college, a bit for our future.

It’s not sexy. It’s not splashy. It’s not even fun, being boringly, middle class-ly responsible. But if this is new normal, maybe we need a new kind of muscle to hang on to our rung of the ladder, or maybe I can flex my grip a little bit. After all, it looks like we’ll be here for a while.

What’s normal? How is the definition of “normal” shifting for you?

Denise Schipani blogs at Confessions of a Mean Mommy. Her new book, Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks, 2012) is available for pre-order now.

Photo Source: Lauren Withrow’s photostream on Flicker

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