Everyone hopes to have a little more than they have now. It is human nature. Having reasonable expectations for your stage of life, for your retirement and your children's education can have a big influence on how content you feel with what you have.

Consider the following examples:

Your home

If your parents live in a 6,000 square foot home on a half-acre lot in a gated community and you think that you should be able to start out with the same thing, you are likely to be disappointed and frustrated. Find out where your parents had their first home. Go see it if you can. Adjust your expectations for what a first home should be. If your parents were both MDs and you're a school teacher married to an artist just launching a career, you may need further adjustment to your expectations. Take time to really understand what lifestyle you can afford and work to align your expectations with what's real.

Your car

Cars are crazy. Some people would rather own a nice car and live in a tent than drive an old clunker and have a home with a garage to park (or hide) it in. That means that you can find some unusual reference points, like the kid delivering pizzas in a BMW. You need to set your expectations for your car in the context of your personal priorities. If you want to own a home and that's a stretch, you'll probably be driving a modest car for the next several years. Own your choices and don't be ashamed to drive an affordable car.

Your kids' college

You may want to send your kids to college at Cornell, but Ivy League tuition isn't cheap. Even if you have an above average household income, tuition, books, room and board at an Ivy League school may be out of reach - at least without piling on the debt. On the other hand, attending a state school near home may provide a much more affordable education and one that still opens doors of opportunity. Many people have figured out that an undergraduate degree from a good state school can still qualify students for elite graduate school programs.

Your retirement

You may want to retire at 50 and live between the beach and the golf course in Hawaii, but unless you have extraordinary good fortune, retirement will come closer to 70 and you'll find it wise to move to a smaller home or condominium when you do. If you plan and prepare well for the reasonable retirement plan, you'll be more likely to enjoy it when it comes. If you have dreams of extraordinary luxury and an early retirement, you might coax yourself into taking investment risks that not only don't achieve the goal of providing for an early retirement, they could instead leave you without the resources to have the reasonable retirement you deserve.

As you look at your circumstances, it is healthy to aspire to have a little more, to work and save and plan for the future. You may doom yourself to a perpetual state of disappointment if you expect things to be much better than you can reasonably expect. If fortune smiles on you, it will be easy to adjust to having more money; plan and prepare for less and you'll enjoy life more.

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