Social Security

In a few years, I’ll be dependent on Social Security (if it still exists) and will have to live on a little over $900 a month. That’s not much money, given the current cost of living (and the fact that I worked and paid into the system for 40 long and mostly miserable years). The average monthly benefit was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012 – which I could probably get if I were willing to wait a few more years – so lots of us will be in the same boat. There are plenty of people out there who live on less.

But consider this: according to the American Housing Survey, the median monthly rental housing cost in 2011 was $845, including utilities and trash collection. That doesn’t include internet, cable, Medicare Part B, prescription drugs, clothing, or any type of transportation or entertainment.

Oh, or food.

This figure is not broken down by apartment size, so it’s higher than the median rental cost of a studio or one-bedroom apartment. But after spending a lot of time living in the real world, I have to assume that the median monthly rent on even the tiniest of apartments is going to eat through most of my monthly Social Security check.

Continue reading Social Security

A “Small” Ray of Hope

I spent the better part of my childhood with my mom, dad, and two younger sisters in a 3-bedroom, 1-bath, 1,040 sq. ft. rambler on a quarter-acre lot in a great neighborhood of similar houses. My parents paid about $11,000 for it in 1963. The mortgage payment was a little over $80 a month – so affordable that my mother never had to work outside the home even though my dad was just an enlisted aviation electrician in the Coast Guard.

As I recall, we were quite happy in that little house.

But over the years, the demand for houses that small dropped so low that builders stopped building them altogether. From an average of 983 square feet in the 1950s to over 2,500 square feet in the 2000s, houses got increasingly bigger despite the fact that families, on average, got smaller.

So what caused this McMansion craze? (Check all that apply.)

Americans have always stubbornly clung to the mantra “Bigger Is Better” – and a big house, along with being a desirable status symbol, was also touted as the safest and most lucrative investment we could make.
A bigger house enables everyone living in it to avoid excessive face-time with all the other pesky family members.
Banks force-fed us hefty mortgage loans even when our credit was “sub-prime” because they were able to palm off the high-risk mortgages in the securities market with the best credit ratings money could (and did) buy.
Housecleaning was officially recognized as an Olympic sport and women everywhere needed bigger houses with lots of stairs to get the most effective training workouts.
Shopping was our major source of entertainment before we had facebook and pinterest, and we accumulated so much stuff that a “normal”-sized house couldn’t hold it all.
When every member of the household was compelled to join the work force, getting all of them ready to leave the house in the morning became impossible with just one bathroom.
Reducing our carbon footprint was … what’s a carbon footprint?
Movies and television shows commonly give characters unrealistically large living quarters (think Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, Kramer in Seinfeld, and all 6 friends on Friends).

But the trend is finally reversing! The real estate meltdown of 2008 seems to have come with a silver lining: people have realized that smaller houses are cheaper to buy, more efficient to heat and cool, easier to maintain, better for the environment, and more conducive to family intimacy. (And – BONUS! – they will be easier to maneuver around in as we get older!)


According to the above infographic, the average house size is expected to fall to around 2,152 sq. ft. in 2015. That’s still twice as big as the house I grew up in, but the trend is going in the right direction. The small house movement gains in popularity every day.

And now that we can entertain ourselves by surfing the web rather than cruising the mall, the proliferation of cr@p in our homes should begin to diminish as well! So take heart, fellow simplicity and minimalism advocates …

There’s a “small” ray of hope coming over the horizon at last!