Getting the Goalpost to Stop Moving

There aren’t many iron laws of money. But here’s one, and perhaps the most important: If expectations grow faster than income you’ll never be happy with your money. One of the most important financial skills is getting the goalpost to stop moving. It’s also one of the hardest.

First, a little story about the 1950s.

“The present and immediate future seem astonishingly good,” LIFE magazine’s January, 1953 cover story begins.

“The country has just lived through what was economically the greatest year in its history” it wrote. It had done this with “10 straight years of full employment, through new management attitudes which include an increasing realization that the well-paid worker, who does his job under healthy and agreeable conditions, is a valuable worker.”

Wealth came so fast to so many it was jarring. “In the 1930s I worried about how I could eat,” LIFE quotes one taxi driver. “Now I’m worrying about where to park.”

If these quotes don’t surprise you it’s because the 1950s are so often remembered as the golden age of middle-class prosperity. Ask Americans when the country was at its greatest and the 1950s is usually near the top. Compared to today? Different worlds, no comparison. The overwhelming feeling is: It was better then.

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