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Subject:  The New Luxuries Date:  10/11/2000  12:26 PM
Author:  hocus Number:  21405 of 832525

Many people associate saving money with sacrifice. My experience is that there is no connection between the two. In my case, each increase in saving led to greater enjoyment of life, not only in the long-term, but in the short-term as well. So I've tried to understand better the widespread perception that to save more means to enjoy life less.

I've come up with a theory. Just as generals have a tendency to develop battle plans based on what worked in previous wars, consumers have a tendency to form viewpoints about money based on the experiences of earlier generations.

It's not that long ago that the pleasures derived from material goods were hard to come by. Television is a recent invention, as are the airplanes that make exotic vacations feasible for the middle-class. It's only the large productivity gains enjoyed in recent decades that have allowed many of us to even consider the possibility of eating out several times a week.

So we define luxury as the possession of goods and services--electronics equipment, restaurant dining, vacations. But are these things really luxuries in today's world? A luxury to me is something rare and precious that brings an unusual feeling of comfort or pleasure. I question whether the things that can be bought with a credit card still fit the bill.

Television was a luxury when television first became available. But today a small-screen color television with the ability to play videos in your home can be purchased for $200. It's not hard enough to come by to be considered a luxury.

Manufacturers have tried to restore television to luxury status by increasing the size of the screen. I don't think this works, however. A big-screen experience is better than a small-screen experience. But the difference is not great enough to justify calling the large-screen television a luxury. The jump from no television to a small-screen was far more significant than the jump from small-screen to big-screen.

I don't think you can buy luxury with money anymore. Consumer goods have become too plentiful and too cheap to make ownership of them all that special. There have been efforts to add expensive attributes that increase the feeling of specialness for those who own them. But does a hamburger cooked on a $5,000 grill taste that much better? If not, I question whether the increased price delivers genuine luxury.

What are the true luxuries today, then? It's those things that are possessed only by a few, those things th