Is it any wonder why the average retirement age in the United States has crept up past the 60 year old mark (62 according to Gallup)? If the stats that were graciously put together all in one spot from Becoming Minimalist are any clue, then this retirement phenomenon, unfortunately, should come as no surprise.
Let’s take a look at a couple of my favorites from the article.
The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR).
Wow! Lifestyle inflation at the maximum. Complete with large foyers, huge entertainment / game rooms, over-sized kitchens and an expansive garage (aka “storage space”), these mega-homes are becoming more and more normal in the United States. Huge homes are nice to look at, but they also need to be maintained. Maintenance on large homes is not cheap. Speaking of garage space…
25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle. (U.S. Department of Energy).
Stuff. Americans are burying themselves with so much stuff that not only does their crap spill out into their garage – an area designed to keep their cars out of the elements – but New York Magazine reports that 10% of all Americans rent additional offsite storage. Materialistic, anyone? And speaking of materialism…
3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).
That’s nice. From a very young age, we seem to be surrounding our kids with stuff. Lots of stuff. Enough stuff to teach our youngsters that stuff makes us happy. What do the majority of parents do when the baby starts to cry? Some hold them. Others simply give them stuff to play with. The lesson: stuff = peace.
Nearly half of American households don’t save any money (Business Insider).
This is perhaps the most frightening of all the statistics. Seriously, no savings? As in, not a single dime saved for the future? It is interesting to view the bar graph on the BI page and observe how the savings rate among Americans has differed from year to year. Take note of 2001, where the savings rate was actually quite high. Why? Extra income! This chart helps to prove a point that I wrote about earlier, that a high level of savings, if you have the discipline to keep at it, is a much more consistent and dependable way to retire early than pure income generation.
And lastly, Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education (Psychology Today).
Materialism, materialism, materialism. I used to work with a guy who liked to collect watches. Expensive Rolex-type watches. Apparently, blowing through $6 grand to add another watch to his ridiculous collection of time-keepers was no big thing. Of course, this guy also drove around in an Audi and bought lunch almost every day. Retirement by 62? If he’s lucky.
My list of ridiculousness
Excellent list of American ridiculousness and hat tip to Becoming Minimalist for putting that together. Allow me to pile on here a bit and add a few additional numbers to our discussion.
24 million different consumer goods (read: products) available on Amazon.com (The New Consumer).
And holy shnikies. 24 million products? 24 million different choices for Americans to spend their hard-earned money on? No wonder so many of us are quick to click on that ‘Buy Now’ button – surely, out of 24 million choices, we can all find something that we like.
$51 billion worth of fast food was charged to credit cards in 2006 (Business Insider).
I am not sure what is more interesting here – that so many people continue to swallow the processed, bacteria-laden fast food, or the fact that we are so quick to put the cost of that shit onto our credit cards. I can respect the credit card rewards and badass hackers out there, but something tells me that credit card hacking is not the primary reason this stuff is charged to plastic.
Americans drive more than 13,400 miles every year (Love To Know, Cars).
That is a TON of miles to put on a car that depreciates the minute that it is driven off the lot. Add in the cost of gas, insurance and maintenance, and these are some ridiculously costly miles. A few other tidbits of note from the article – men drive considerably more than women. Americans drive the least during retirement (yay!) and the most between the ages of 35-54…coincidentally, during most people’s primary working years.
Americans spend almost as much on their morning coffee as they do on their commute (Consumerist).
On average, Americans shell out $20 every week on their coffee, the worst of us between the ages of 18 and 34. The numbers: Yearly, we spend almost $1,100 on coffee compared to nearly $1,500 spent on commuting into an office every day. Wow! Speaking of expensive coffee, did you know that the Starbucks “Trenta”-sized coffee is bigger than the average stomach, or that their grande coffee has more than four times the amount of caffeine in a Red Bull? Starbucks’ market value of nearly $78 billion means people spend a LOT of money on expensive coffee.
20% of us spend more on our cell phone plans than our groceries (Business Insider).
One of the easiest ways to save monthly costs for MOST Americans is to reduce both cell phone and television service plans. This article also cites that 59% of us pay more than $100 every month to maintain our cell phone service. And also, in 2011, we blew through more than $66 billion on lottery tickets and about 2/3rds of Americans pay for gym memberships that they do not use.
We spend an average of 162 minutes on our cell phones each and every day (Geek Wire).
Doing the math, that is almost three complete hours of staring into our cell phones and absorbing ourselves into our artificial digital lives. Sadly, gaming accounts for the largest percentage of cell phone use, followed up by keeping our social media profiles updated and pouring through Facebook and Twitter postings. In other words, we don’t use our phones “in case of emergency” or to carry on productive business. Instead, we use them as a way to distract ourselves from our own lives. Women’s Health Magazine reports a more obscene 10 hours of daily cell phone use number, but I frankly don’t understand how that is even possible.
Phew, the ridiculousness of our materialistic society of pure consumption is exhausting. We are all guilty of this to some degree. But, early retirement is the reward for mustering up the ability to escape this wrath of consumerism. Spending more money on cell phone plans than groceries is ridiculous. Wasting 3 hours a day on a cell phone is ridiculous. Drinking expensive coffee is ridiculous. Driving thousands of miles in an expensive car and paying gas prices is ridiculous.
And this ridiculousness is keeping Americans commuting into an office much longer than they should.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.