Is the American Dream Gone or Just Different Now?

Hiker Looking in Distance

As the father of four children faced with the realities of post-college life, I have dealt first-hand with their disappointment, disbelief and even shock. Even though my children had an ongoing education in finances, life away from home, and the importance of making good choices, once they moved out and rented their first apartment, there was quite a rude awakening.

As they shared details on their selected career path, each child expressed amazement at their “starting salaries,” benefits packages, and potential for financial freedom. These feelings were short-lived. As the reality of “take-home pay” set in and spreadsheets were created to allocate those hard-earned salaries, it was soon apparent that there was too much month at the end of their money!

All of them had the major advantage of no college loan debt and some hard-core education on financial basics to at least give them a leg up in the “real world.” But they each still felt a certain disappointment with their financial lot in life. There were many phone calls and weekend visits to the homestead as they each wrestled with what they should and could expect out of life, at least from a financial perspective. The most beneficial exercise they each undertook was to attempt to align their expectations with the realities.

I’m happy to say that several years into post-college life, each has a much better perspective on their future, particularly their financial path. Answering those questions honestly and attempting to modify behaviors accordingly has paid handsome dividends. Expectations have been modified and goals set more realistically, based upon the realities of their individual circumstances. Nothing is taken for granted based on how “mom and dad did it.” Two of the four have recently purchased their first homes—five and four years out of college, respectively. The monthly budgets have been very useful tools and the idea of having a longer-term perspective on the many wants and needs has made life more pleasant and their financial situations feel more rewarding.

  • Would they own their own homes in the foreseeable future?
  • Could they expect to take a vacation or two each year as they did when they were children?
  • What kind of car would they be able to afford?
  • Did they need to take on a roommate to give themselves some financial breathing room?
  • Looking at the spreadsheet allocating that take-home pay, were there expenses that clearly needed to be modified or eliminated?
  • Were things as bad as they seemed?

I think they would all agree that this is an American Dream worth pursuing!

Article written by Patrick Catania