The Consequences of Believing in the Entitlement Fairy Tale

fairiesIt seems like every day I hear someone talking about what they “deserve.” Some examples:

“I work hard, so I deserve a nice vacation.”

“The kids are only young once, they deserve the best of everything.”

“I’ve worked all my life, so I deserve to retire in comfort.”

“I’ve paid my dues so I deserve a promotion/raise.”

“I’ve never had a nice car, so this time I deserve a convertible sports car.”

The problem is, almost all of these statements end with some variation of, “But I can’t afford it so I’ll have to go into debt to have it.” What these people don’t seem to understand is that none of us “deserve” anything. Nothing irritates me more than hearing someone talk about how they can barely afford food, are making only the minimum payments on large debt balances, and have no savings, yet they are planning a very expensive vacation because, “I work so hard, I deserve a break.” It’s like a kid who feels like he “deserves” to have the same toy as the neighbor’s kid, simply because the other kid has it.

Everything that falls into the, “I deserve it” list is a want. How often do you hear someone say, “I deserve to have food and heat?” Rarely, if ever. The necessities are assumed. You will have heat and food, even if you have to turn to a government program or family assistance to get them. But there are no programs for sports cars or nice vacations. Even retirement is rapidly coming off the list of things that will be provided for you. Those “want” items are on the individual to provide and many people cannot afford them. However, they see others having them and they think, “I have a job similar to his or a wage similar to hers, so I deserve that vacation, too.”

It’s understandable. When we’re kids, most of us are taught to bring enough treats for the whole class and to make sure that no one is left out of the fun. If one child can’t afford something, the other children (or their parents) must pick up the slack to avoid leaving anyone out. We’re taught that everyone deserves to participate, no matter their ability or merit. We’re fed the notion that everyone is equal and is entitled to the same things, even if others have to pick up the slack to make that possible. That teaching carries with us into adulthood and, when we see others enjoying things like vacations, cars, etc., we want them, too. We feel like we deserve them because, hey, we’re just as good as that other person. We work hard, we’re good people, so we should be allowed in on the fun. But entitlement is a fairy tale that we need to outgrow.

The problem is that once we become adults, there isn’t a teacher or parent there to enforce the fairness rule. It’s a tough lesson to learn that just being present isn’t enough any more. (And the more you were indulged as a kid, the more painful this lesson is.) In adulthood, we have to earn what we get. We have to save and sacrifice for our needs and, especially, wants. As an adult, you no longer deserve anything simply because you are a good person who works hard. There isn’t anyone who’s going to make certain that you get to participate in the fun, just because you’re part of the class. You have to make and earn your own fun. If you fail to save and act responsibly, what you “deserve” might be nothing.

We need to learn this lesson in a hurry because continuing to believe in the entitlement fairy tale is getting many people in trouble. They buy expensive toys, clothes, and vacations to keep up with their peers and it creates a cycle of debt that’s hard to get out of. But this isn’t the worst consequence of this fairy tale. Ultimately the entitlement fairy tale has greater consequences than large quantities of consumer debt. That would be bad enough, but if you believe in the fairy tale long enough it endangers the greatest “I deserve” and “I want” of them all: Retirement.

I hear too many people say that they “deserve” to retire at sixty-five (or earlier with good karma). They believe that they will magically be taken care of, even if they retire without any savings. But the problem is, they “deserved” everything else along the way, too, and now there is no money for retirement. No one deserves retirement. Unlike when you were a kid, it isn’t all going to work out regardless of what you do. Chances are your employer won’t help you and the government probably won’t be able to help you either. No one is going to come along and make sure that you’re on equal footing with everyone else, just because you showed up for work every day. That means the burden is on you to earn the retirement you want, not deserve. No matter how hard you work, or how much time you put in, or how good you are, you don’t deserve to retire. You have to earn it. The truth of the matter is, the retirement you “deserve,” based on your savings habits, might be one of eating dog food, working at a low wage job, and living in low income housing.

If you want to retire, you’re going to have to do a lot of saving to get there. That means letting go of the idea that you deserve a lot of toys throughout your life. It’s definitely a trade off, and one that isn’t always fun. It’s not fun to pass up the elaborate cruise that you “deserve” (because you worked so hard) in favor of an IRA contribution. But look at it this way: You’re still doing something positive and rewarding with the money that you worked so hard for. Rather than taking the cruise, which is an immediate gratification, you’re investing in your retirement, which is a long term goal. You’re still getting something you deserve in return for your hard work, it’s just not the instant gratification that you seek. Do this often enough throughout your life and you’ll have a tidy nest egg by age sixty-five. That’s not to say that you have to give up all the fun in your life, only that you have to choose wisely and remember that you don’t “deserve” anything, particularly if you can’t afford it. Quit believing in the entitlement fairy tale and start believing in saving and spending wisely. Otherwise, you aren’t going to like the things you “deserve.”

Image courtesy of Robin Hutton

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9 Responses to The Consequences of Believing in the Entitlement Fairy Tale

  1. chris says:

    Thanks for the article. I was feeling a sense of entitlement when I ordered a pair of shoes that are not a necessity. As a result, I am returning those shoes tomorrow.

    Your article is true and I am certain many folks have big debts as a result of the “I deserve it attitude”. This article was the kick the ass that I needed :)

  2. Pingback: Monroe on a Budget » Saving Advice: the entitlement fairy tale

  3. Steve says:

    You are so right. I always used to think that the goverment would take care of me when I got older. I even
    went thought the patriotic phase by
    wearing the uniform and servign overseas which means didly shit in the real world. I should went into
    politics. They vote themselves raises and have the best medical care in world at the expensive of the working class hero. Just look at the Kennedy clan. At the age of
    52 I have finally found the truth:
    Every man for himself.

  4. hbemis says:

    Excellent. Excellent commentary. Sad to say, but our country has this entitlement motto written on our sleeves. My wife is from a foreign country and always says, “You aren’t entitled to something unless you work to bring it into reality.” She and you are so right. The entitlement reality is hard to let go of. But, you are soo sooo right. Sometimes I feel it creeping up on me and then I think of what she says, and laughs. Best opinion piece I’ve read in a long time. Try and get it published in a op-ed section of a national paper. We could all use a jolt to our systems – we’re “entitled” to it. :)

  5. rob says:

    Every day I see people in my age group (30s) living luxury lifestyles. I don’t know if they are ALL truly wealthy or just blowing out credit or getting gifts from the parents. If this is a result from nto savings, these people are going to be in big trouble. With fewer invividuals getting pensions and payment of health care benefits during retirement, people who dont save are going to be working until they are 85.
    I save 15% of my salary into my 401K and this limits my money to buy a house, but I will just save more for a down payment, because I can’t afford to blow money now and worry about retirement savings later.

    If the savings rate in the US is as low as statistics say, in about 25 years there is going to be a catastrophe as far as people’s retirement goes.

  6. Susan says:

    Thanks for a very insightful post, I’m sending this to my daughters ages, 24 and 30; all 3 of us can use this excellent reminder.

  7. fern says:

    Good post, but the title made me think i was going to read a story on SS/Medicare and Medicaid.

  8. Oasdg says:

    I completely agree!
    In my line of work I run across a lot of people who are just barely keeping their finances together, and yet I frequently hear how they “deserve” new this, and that. It frustrates me to no end. One couple I was helping with their financial delimas continually told me how they didn’t have money to even afford toilet paper, and that they had been stealing it from public restrooms. I worked with them for a few months, when they suddenly called to tell me they were paying everything off! I was so excited for them, but a little suprised. They informed me the only reason they were paying everything off is because they were trying to qualify for brand new 4 wheelers (theirs were over 2 years old) and the bank declined them, but told them what to pay off to get approved. Their excuse was that they were working so hard to get out of debt, that they deserved new 4wheelers.
    I just don’t understand people at all. “DESERVE??” Since when does anything in life ever come for free? I occasionally tell myself, well, I deserve…but it’s usually a cookie, or a glass of wine after a day like that. You only deserve what you work for-period.

  9. Gail says:

    Reminds me of a girl I knew in college at least 100#+ overweight (and about 5′ tall) going through the lunch or dinner line at the cafeteria she would take not one but two pieces of bread to eat with her meal because “bread was good for her”. Her way of saying I deserve to eat bread plus a meal.

    I see the double whammy or “I deserve it” and “it isn’t my responsibility” all the time. So few want to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job, few wants to take responsibility for their failures and they want to push it on to someone else, few wants to work for their goals, few ant to learn new ways of doing things. It is a sad commentary on our country.

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