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Wrapping Up a Decade: Better Off in 1999 or 2009?

This article was written by in Personal Finance. 21 comments.


This decade flew by. Ten years ago, I had recently graduated college and had been working for a non-profit arts organization. At this point in my life, I didn’t know it, but I was setting myself up for financial problems. Despite working 80 or more hours a week during the summer and fall, despite living an hour and a half away from the office, despite major personality and philosophical conflicts among the ten employees in the tiny office space, and despite a salary which didn’t cover modest living expense when added to commuting expenses, I enjoyed the work I was doing.

Looking back, it’s probably a good thing the only money I had in the stock market was a few thousand dollars remaining in what had once been a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) account. Although airplanes didn’t mysteriously crash, falling from the sky when the clock struck midnight ushering in the year 2000, the stock market soon plummeted. At this time I was only marginally aware of my finances, but I quickly became a fan of The Motley Fool‘s discussion boards, ING Direct, and taking control of my financial future.

The start of the decade was turbulent personally and professionally, but for me, everything that has transpired since the turn of the century has allowed me to grow in all aspects of my life. There is no question that I am in a better spot financially now than I was in December 1999, with a net worth somewhere below zero but not explicitly defined because I remained blissfully ignorant of my negative cash flow. Professionally, most of my income now comes from what I do outside my day job, and barring signs that my future plans will not be profitable, I plan on leaving that day job within the next few months.

For those who were just graduating college ten years ago or so, as I was, chances are life is better now than it was in 1999. I have to wonder if any other age groups feel the same way, however. Someone close to retirement today might have seen barely any financial growth overall over the past ten years, and some might even have a loss. The unemployment rate is still high, so there are likely many people who have been out of work for over a year or who have accepted jobs paying a fraction of the salary they once commanded.

How has this decade been for you? Are you better off at the end of 2009 than you were at the end of 1999?

Updated June 16, 2011 and originally published December 23, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar thisisbeth

I’ll flip a coin about whether I’m better off now or then. There are some habits I had then that I wish I still had now, but there was no focus or goals, so they fell by the wayside. Whereas there’s knowledge now that could’ve focused me to keep those habits going.

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avatar Terry D

I’m not better off. I no longer receive spousal support or child support-divorce is a financial nightmare. I provide room and board and transportation for my college-age daughter. Her dad helps with tuition and she’s taking out loans and my mom helps with books, but it still costs. My house is worth less now and I paid an arm and a leg for a new sewer line. Ouch! Not to mention paying for my own health insurance.

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avatar JoeTaxpayer

I track our savings as a multiple of our annual income. Makes it easy to think about how we are progressing towards retirement.
The naughts didn’t bring much in the way of raises, 22% total for the decade.
Ending 2009 with right about 10X our current income vs 6X at the end of 1999.
Not quite what I planned. Even at 7%/yr growth, I’d expect a double during that time. Plus a decade of our saving 20% of our income.
I know there are many who never recovered from the Tech bubble, and those in a world of hurt from the recent crisis, so not complaining here. The decade itself was a financial disappointment.

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avatar David @ MBA briefs

In some ways yes, in many ways no. I’m making twice as much money as I did in ’99 but I also have a lot more debt and two more kids added to the brood. I have more education and experience than I did then but job security and opportunities are vaporizing. I made money selling one home and rolled it into another house and subsequently lost money on that house when I moved again. I guess I can’t really say one or the other, it depends on how you look at the situation. Let’s hope we won’t be asking this question in 10 years.

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avatar T

I’m better off now. 10 yrs ago I was in 2nd year university, living with my parents, working part-time for $8/hr, and driving a clunker that didn’t like to start when it was too cold or too wet out. (I didn’t have any debt though.) I managed to graduate and get a 2nd degree. Even though the tech bubble burst a year or two before I graduated (I’m in IT), I managed to get a full-time job before I officially graduated in the field I studied in. That allowed me to upgrade to a brand new car (nothing fancy), own my own house (nothing fancy), and have been with my boyfriend for the past 7 yrs. We are consumer debt-free as of a couple of months ago. We just need to get our mortgage paid off and save up for some renos. Now I just need to figure out how to make the next 10 yrs a little more exciting because things are a little mundane.

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avatar ctreit

I am much better off, since I found a very special woman to marry in this past decade.

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avatar Tyler Karasewski

I am 28 now and was 18 then, so the times are almost incomparable. Today I have a house (it’s rented, but still, my parents don’t pay for it), a two-year-old car instead of a 13-year-old car, an engineering job with a six-figure salary instead of a cafe job with a $6/hr salary, a wife instead of a girlfriend, a 401k, a passport.

I’m an adult now and I wasn’t then, so things differ in a lot more ways than just financially — but yes, I’m better off now in every way except that now I’m looking forward towards my 30s and ten years of far less drastic increases in every aspect of my life, instead of my 20s where everything was changing in new and exciting ways for me.

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avatar Len Penzo

So far so good, Flexo. I’ve got my health and my family is healthy too. That is the primary measuring stick, if you ask me. That being said, I got the feeling you were referring to our financial situation…

Financially, my salary more than doubled over that period and my 401(k) balance quintupled over that same span despite the two bubbles. I’ve got about $100,000 to go on my mortgage and I will be officially debt free. I am not burdened by debt and am free to do what I want, when I want (within reason, of course) on a middle class salary.

It’s been a good decade.

None of this happened in a vacuum. I had financial goals that I set twenty years ago, made a plan to reach those goals and I stuck to the plan. The key, as you know, is live within your means.

In my opinion, only a fortunate few can get away with letting their finances run on autopilot and expect things to improve markedly in that regard.

Best,

Len
Len Penzo dot Com

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avatar marissa

I am much better off than I was in 1999. I had just finished my first semester of college at that point, and was enjoying the fruits of a special splurge of my summer earnings… a .8 megapixel digital camera! I lived very frugally during college, never drained my savings account, and I’ve been saving for retirement since age 21. Along the way, I’ve made some bad decisions (buying a condo in 2005, har har, silly me) but I’ve learned so much and stayed on track toward living within my means. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy steady employment and increased income since my first post-college job. Right now I’m looking forward to maximizing my liquid reserves, and hope to add “start my own business” to my goals in the next decade.

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avatar Nicole @ RainyDaySaver

2009 is better — financially, physically and mentally. Went from a $9/hr job to carving out my own piece of the American Dream with a husband, a home, and minimal debt other than our mortgage. We’re not rich by any means, but have a happy, solidly middle-class life.

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avatar BobBobBob

Way better now!

In 1999 I was a senior in high school. (No job, no debt, no capital, no clue)

Now I’m very happily married, got two kids, a BS and a decent job. Of course I’ve also got a mortgage, car and student loans, but it’s been worth it so far.

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avatar Revanche

Ten years ago, I hadn’t even begun to earn a living wage yet, but also hadn’t taken on my Crusade of Debt, either. Still, after working/schooling/working the past ten years, my financial position is much stronger. I couldn’t say the same for my family or their health, so on balance, I think it’s a wash.

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avatar LeanLifeCoach

In 1999 we had recently taken nearly a 50% cut in total household income and were quickly diving into the depths of debt. Today we are debt free except a mortgage. We’ve had the house 3 years on a 30 year fixed loan and are planning to pay it off in a total of 12 years. The kids college funds though started late are fully funded each year and we are saving toward our retirement. Looking back, if life were any better now they would make a law against it! I shouldn’t speak too quickly, sounds like they are making laws against prosperity this very week. Obamacare here we come!

Flexo, I think the bigger question is how we make sure we are better off in 2020 than we are today. Do you have any suggestions on how to prepare for the unknown of Obamacare and the impending inflationary period?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,505 (Platinum)

LLC: Earlier this year, I wrote about preparing for inflation. As far as health insurance reform or health care reform, the best advice is to keep yourself healthy and fit, expect high prices to continue, and when you need care, find the best care you can afford.

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avatar Sarah @ EkingOut

In 1999, I was in 10th grade. I hadn’t learned ANYTHING about finances. Sure, I worked part-time, but I gave a good chunk of it to my parents, and used the rest to buy clothes and gas, or whatever else teenagers bought back then.

I can barely say I’m better off financially now, though, because in high school, I didn’t have student loans to worry about!

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avatar Kyle

I was better off in 1999. I was in high school, so housing and food were free. On the downside, I had to chug cheap beer in a field.

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avatar Rick@Rickety

Yes I am much better off, thanks for asking. Ten years ago my wife was at home raising our children. They are grown now and we have increased our income, paid off the house, and have savings. We stayed in the same home, resisting the temptation to buy a bigger home, which was for the best as we didn’t get caught in the housing bubble. We recently had my wife switch to part-time work to avoid AMT.

Best of all we have two grandchildren and another on the way.

Now if the Democrats would stop messing with health care and quit the silly cap and trade nonsense I could really say I am better off.

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avatar pharmboy

Great Question!

Well, like many previous commentors, I was in my first year of college 10 years ago.

In the past decade, I have borrowed money only 4 times, my wife’s engagement ring: paid off, a new Civic: paid off, our home: paid off, and 25K of student loans: still working them (but we did pay off my wife’s 65K worth).

I was making $6/hr in 1999 and now I make about 10 times that.

But most importantly, my wife and I ended the decade with our first son being born two weeks ago.

and I have no doubt that things will only continue get better.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,505 (Platinum)

Sounds like a great decade for you!

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avatar Tim Moon

Very mixed. I’ve done some cool stuff – student government president in college, earned my AA and BA degrees, served in the Army and now have a solid government day job. But I’m stuck as part-time due to the economy and my degrees haven’t helped with employment. Luckily, I have a solid retirement account growing and good heath care.

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avatar Jim

Financially I’m far better off in 2009 than 1999. My wages have doubled. My net worth has gone up more than 10 fold. Personally I’m now happily married. Yes I’m better off.

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