ERE indicator

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Re: ERE indicator

Post by jacob » Tue Oct 18, 2016 4:40 pm

For the consumer side of the equation, I propose the following.

Divide the expenses into three buckets according to whether they close the loop (2), kill the loop (1), or contribute very little to the web-of-goals (3), yet are priced very differently depending on where one lives (compare rent in NYC to rent in Podunk, or RE taxes west of the Mississippi to rents east thereof); and also don't really affect any loops over a period of decades.

1) Consumer stuff you buy new / total expenses. This is food, event tickets, tools, gadgets, magazine subscriptions, club membership, airplane tickets, gasoline, utilities, ...

2) Consumer stuff you buy used / total expenses. E.g. craigslist, eBay, flea markets, yard sales, ... (You don't get to subtract what you sell, instead any such effort goes on the income side. This term also prevents anyone from gaming the index by buying used only to turn around and sell it w/o profit (i.e. "churning") for a higher score.)

3) Services you're practically forced to pay for just because you're alive / expenses, e.g. "head tax", or own stuff that must be insured to operate. This includes all insurances, which are here considered part of being a responsible citizen i.e. health and driving (in some countries this is covered by taxes or culture). It also includes RE taxes and rent.

For me:
1) 0.39 (all food and utilities)
2) 0.02 (the few things I buy used, usually tools)
3) 0.59 (RE taxes and insurance)

Now, comes the tricky part. Calculate (2)-(1) and add it to the income score. Ignore (3). Yes, adding signs implies that I'm now weighing, but there's no constant parameters to remember.

Result: 0.02-0.39+0 = -0.37 which I add to my 2.85 of the income side and arrive at +2.48

To drive this towards +1, I would need to grow more of my own food, shop less, and reduce my utilities bill with either consumption reduction or renewables. All good/ERE-compatible stuff. More self-reliance. More anti-fragile. Close the loops.

What's the idea here? Basically, your home isn't counted except for heat+water+electricity which is definitely lost value since it's literally burned into the air. If you're an owner, then you get punished because you're benefiting less on the income side due to less investment income. If you're a renter, then you get punished because your expenses are higher. This also works if NAV values are such that renting beats owning because in that case, your investment returns would be higher than your rent=expense penalty. IOW, the index rewards deliberate financial choices whether to own or rent.

You also get punished directly for not being self-reliant in the food department or for adding more pollution due to direct consumerism. OTOH, you get rewarded for taking things out of people's garages or preventing them from getting into landfills. Yet you can't go overboard [trying to game] because buying is still reflected in your expenses; and insofar you get stuff for free, it's not reflected unless you sell it on (thus preventing hoarding).

IOW, I think this arrangement is hard to game and I also think it results in more ERE like behavior although like with any tool, you can obviously abuse it in stupid/self-destructive ways.

Comments as to whether this is wrong for large/significant groups of the population would be much more useful than comments about gaming or the few cases where this doesn't apply very well. I note that the average job-working BLS consumer would score around 0 as would the average SS-receiving retiree or gazillion dollars early-retired beach-sitter.

jacob
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by jacob » Tue Oct 18, 2016 5:22 pm

I think feelings of happiness are too subjective/soft/iffy to incorporate. Given that we tend to become what we measure, I also fear that such as subjective measure would encourage a kind of "just pursue your passion"-thinking which by now is known to occasionally come back to bite hard. It would also encourage an "I'm fine as long as I feel happy"- or worse "I need to convince myself that I'm happy to keep scoring high"-framework. In short, I don't see much of any upside to such a measure neither to oneself, nor to the surrounding world?!

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Wed Oct 19, 2016 2:57 am

@7wannabe5: I agree with you on the positive effects of encouraging the development of activities to a level of competence and value generation that produces income. This is something that seems to be lacking in the larger E-FIRE community, perhaps because we became what we measured (SWR).

It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the game is won when SWR < 3%, or savings rate > 75% for accumulators. Those metrics just push people towards more money and lower expenses, which isn’t what ERE is (entirely) about. And it doesn’t provide any clue as how to continue growing after reaching FI.

Using SWR as a primary metric results in confusion as to the actual goals/purpose of ERE. Things like @black_son_of_gray’s proposal to coast to FI seem incredibly suboptimal from a conventional PF perspective, but are compatible with the increasing skills aspect of ERE. Compared to savings rate, Jacob’s new metric doesn’t penalize this as much because it doesn’t move for additional income in excess of spending. What I like is how (investment income >= spending) is recognized as just one of many goals. That’s how it should be.

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Wed Oct 19, 2016 2:58 am

@Jacob: You have a good thing going with the FIRE income index, don’t pollute it with the consumer component which will be of very limited interest outside of these forums. Make them separate indices.

What I propose for the consumer index is to make it a rough measure of ecological footprint, by comparing category (1) spending vs. the standard consumer. The main reason for also ignoring category (2) spending is for simplicity. In most cases it’s going to be negligible and the efficiency calculation already benefits from its exclusion. Those tracking this metric will be encouraged to close the loop because it doesn’t count against them.

Using the data in this BLS table and assuming 2/3 of this spending breaks the loop ecologically, we end up with the following cat(1) expenses by household size: $22k for one person, $40k for 2 people, and +$5k per additional member. Divide these values by your actuals to get your relative ecological efficiency. Values greater than 1 are desired.

Plugging in Jacob’s numbers as an example, category (1) in absolute terms is about $4,680 (~$6k annual expenses x 0.39 x 2 people). Then ($40k/$4.68k) gives a relative ecological efficiency of 8.55.

Note that the REE calculation is only a measure of ecological footprint to the extent that consumption is reflected in expenses. For example, eating for free at the tech company’s cafeteria has the same effect as growing food or dumpster diving. I don’t see this as a huge problem. The purpose of REE is to indicate areas of direct personal responsibility where we have full control of spending and still choose to break the loop. It explains the extent to which we use our money to trash the environment.

JamesR
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by JamesR » Wed Oct 19, 2016 6:49 am

My thought is that whatever indicator/index that is come up with, people won't use them at all, unless it becomes part of the main ERE formulas for calculating time to ERE, calculating SWR, etc.

For early retirement, things like pensions won't even exist. Most early retirees will only have one stream of income - their stock/bonds investments. What then?

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Re: ERE indicator

Post by jacob » Wed Oct 19, 2016 8:19 am

@JamesR - The number so far is more indicative of resilience or "financial" fragility. The higher the better. E.g. ERE=+1.9 is much safer than ERE=+0.1 in terms of stock market crashes, job loss, natural disasters, ...

Pensions are handled with the same flexibility as they are in SWR calculations. In SWR, one can accept a higher SWR for now because there will be a pension later. With the indicator, one can accept a lower value for now because a pension will be added later.

Jean
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Jean » Wed Oct 19, 2016 11:45 am

I would like such an index to reflect how free we are, and how much it would cost to insure this freedom. Iow, summ for every possible event combo (likelyhood of the event*nescessary work to remain ere despite the event).

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Wed Oct 19, 2016 2:24 pm

@Jean (and everyone else suggesting a measure of happiness and/or freedom):

The purpose of defining an indicator is to inspire a particular action. At level 0/1 where the desired outcome is FIRE, we already have the appropriate indicators: savings rate and SWR. If you equate freedom/happiness with FIRE, there's your measure.

If you have a different definition, constructing an indicator has these problems: 1) the desired outcome is subjective; 2) it's a lagging indicator (freedom needs to be obtained before it shows up in the measurement); and 3) it doesn't yield any special actionable insight that's not intuitive. If you don't like your present circumstances, change them! This is not to say that happiness/freedom are not relevant to ERE but that using these as the measure of ERE is fundamentally flawed and not particularly actionable. Because we're going for actions here.

To answer "how secure is my financial situation" we have Jacob's FIRE income index which tells us that the standard FIRE plan of work (1.0) to work+FI (2.0) to FIRE (1.0) is not robust. Basically all the "do I have enough?" anguish by those about to quit their jobs is explained by the indicator, that going from 2.0 to 1.0 is a big decrease in robustness, and less than 1.0 is unsustainable. The indicator tells us exactly what actions need to be taken to create a more secure retirement. Incidentally these are also somewhat obvious but no one seems to like the answer (like health and fitness). So we use the indicator to spur action.

Now for the ~5 people in the world that have an interest in both the finance and ecological aspects of ERE, we can create an indicator that separates ecologically "bad spending" (breaking the loop) from good spending (closing the loop), while ignoring neutral spending (no direct personal accountability). This is something very worthwhile because those tracking SWR to the exclusion of everything else will view ALL spending as bad and to be minimized. As we become more systems-minded we need to "unlearn" this instinct and stop beating ourselves up over good spending; we want to encourage more of that. This will shift our actions toward more sustainable behaviors. The indicator helps us do this by making us conscious of the difference. And like frugality, these behaviors can be internalized over time into habits.

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Re: ERE indicator

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Fri Oct 21, 2016 8:52 am

I made or altered some spreadsheets to track Jacob's FIRE Income Index and Consumer Index Adjustment and the Fish Consumer Index. One observation I would make is that once you subdivide your income into a number of flows, it is fairly easy to track the Jacob Consumer Index for expenses related to each little "business" generating income, as well as personal expenses, so you can evaluate your production as well as your consumption on the basis of "loop closing." OTOH, if you track your personal expenses on a daily basis, and keep a running total vs. the running total of the average consumer provided by the Fish Index, it is rather amusingly motivating. For instance, I spent $2 on black tea and pasta yesterday, and the average consumer spent $60.27 on what?

Some difficulties using this system for me would be that a great many of my expenses are currently in some confusing mish-mash of "eating for free at the tech company's cafeteria." I currently divide my time between my off-grid camper, my apartment where I pay lump-sum for rent/utility to my sister, the house of a friend of my boyfriend (post-divorce crash site), and hotels my boyfriend stays in for free due to employment and hotel points. IOW, instead of being the member of one household, I am a semi-member or guest of several semi-households. It occurred to me a number of years ago that the best way to conserve energy in the form of utilities is to share space that is currently under-occupied. For example, if you are not routinely sharing a bed with somebody else then you are probably wasting energy, and if you start sharing a bed that was previously under-occupied,then it is just like you pulled your share of utility usage out of a dumpster or cut your share of energy wastage in half. Of course, all your solo utility use, like cell phone charging and hot shower taking, would still count against you. I used to shower with my ex that I lived with, and I usually just share an entree when I go out to restaurants with my current boyfriend. So, that is why I am less expensive to keep than a Sri Lankan concubine.

J_
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by J_ » Sat Oct 22, 2016 9:24 am

@Jacob: Great system, thanks.
But ehhh, after many frugal years I have very recently bought a little twoseater for fun, ehh, new. So very un-ere. What to do with it in the new system? It is clear that I will get punished on my scale, but how? Depreciation per year in bucket nr 1, or is diminishing of capital the automatic corrector?

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Sun Oct 23, 2016 4:05 am

Instead of thinking of ecology in an environmental sense, I think the relevant angle is whether a person adds or subtracts value through his interaction with stuff. Remember the cash flow diagrams from the ERE book? This is perhaps a more tangible way to think about Jacob’s 3 types of spending if "closing the loop" and "killing the loop" aren’t vivid enough.

(1) Negative value (consumer) process:
Stuff -> You -> Waste

(3) Neutral value:
Stuff -> You -> Stuff (-> Other Person)
Waste -> You -> Waste

(2) Positive value generation:
Waste -> You -> Stuff (-> Other Person)

In all cases, you get value from interaction with stuff. To you, it’s consumption. But how much residual value remains when you’re done? This is something that money measures well, and it’s intuitive. If you add value (2), then you’re likely making money. If you subtract value (1), you spend money. If there’s no value change (3), then the net flow of money is negligible.

Now the next thing to consider is whether an absolute (Fish-method) or relative (Jacob-method) accounting is proper. Ultimately, I think both are important. The beginner should first focus on reducing type (1) activities to achieve an absolute ecological footprint below the consumer average. Once the footprint is small, then move towards a relatively "good footprint" by redirecting consumption to type (3) and (2) activities.

Here is one of my favorite diagrams from the ERE blog (Ecological capitalism and consumer capitalism).

Image

With this thread, we are finally able to express all of these concepts mathematically!

Low expenses = Savings Rate
Investments = SWR
Passive income = FIRE Income Index
Small footprint = Consumer Index

Savings rate and SWR are selfish measures in the sense that doing well confers no direct benefit to others. There is no real relationship between one stranger’s finances and another stranger’s well-being. But value generation (measured by income) and consumption are things that do matter, especially in aggregate where they have a meaningful impact on the world. I find this makes the new measures more interesting and exciting than savings rate/SWR, and I hope they catch on.

7Wannabe5
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Oct 23, 2016 7:04 am

I would note that the Fire Income Index measures both passive and active income sources. One other model I consider is the suggestion that a human equilibrium ideal might be 2 days of work for money, 1 day of work for community service, 2 days of creative work, and 2 days of relaxation each week. Once you are down to Jacob level expenses, 2 days of work at any minimum wage endeavor will be more than adequate, and wouldn't even preclude large blocks of time devoted to travel or other projects, since it could be 104 days of work in one clump each year, or 2 years of work every 7 years, or 2 hours of work/day. One reason I sometimes suggest that people are going into overkill zone with SWR is that they very well may discover that 7 days of relaxation is not ideal, and that even work that is meant to be community service or creative will eventually generate either money or other practical resource flows towards further reduction of expenses and/or higher quality of life.

So, if your current modus operandi is 5 days at salaryman position and 1 hour working on investment portfolio, you could temporarily bump yourself up to adding a part-time job at the cool old hardware store, volunteering at the humane society, and finally getting started on your painting. Otherwise, it's like you are training yourself to be a diligent persistent worker with the goal of becoming the exact opposite, rather than gradually developing the practices in alignment with the lifestyle you truly desire.

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:06 pm

@7wannabe5: I think what you're getting at is that there is a sustainable range of SWR for converting human capital into useful labor. Someone who maximizes rate of extraction and then abruptly retires to nonproductive endeavors is slamming the brakes on the WR of human capital. Is zero WR desirable and sustainable? Personality will likely determine whether someone experiences boredom or goes stir-crazy. The idea of single-mindedly pursuing FIRE without even validating the end goal seems insane to me too.

I'm still not completely satisfied with the new indicators. Something is lost when we only take (measurable) expenses into account, instead of starting from the equivalent standard of living and identifying how different forms of capital are used to construct the lifestyle. To me it would seem reasonable to include SWR of other forms of human capital in the income and consumer indices. For example, someone exchanging social capital for free hot showers should have their consumer index reflect the transformation of that capital into valueless waste. Not because of ecology, but because social capital has economic potential while used bathwater does not. We want to encourage good spending across all types of capital. This would also improve the accounting for cases where technical capital is used to create value that is not immediately remunerated, like cmonkey has done with DIY skills to remodel his home.

7Wannabe5
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Oct 25, 2016 12:17 pm

@Fish: I should likely not even be offering an opinion on the matter of when to pull the trigger on retirement, because the likelihood that I would ever stick with a full-time corporate-type job that I did not like if I had maybe one year's expenses saved, and half of a hare-brained idea for future self-employment worked out would be close to nil, unless I was perhaps forced to ingest medication to treat my tendency towards low risk-aversion.
For example, someone exchanging social capital for free hot showers should have their consumer index reflect the transformation of that capital into valueless waste. Not because of ecology, but because social capital has economic potential while used bathwater does not.
So, I need to strictly account for every time a man with too much money gifts me with some new flannel pajamas with monkeys on them? Or does the fact that they are insulating make up for the fact that they were purchased new? Does the fact that I in no way, shape or form indicated that I would appreciate a gift of flannel monkey pajamas count in my favor in the calculation? Does the level of my stock of social capital go up or down if I graciously accept a gift of flannel monkey pajamas from a man with too much money? What services might be required of me in the future in exchange for an unsolicited gift of flannel monkey pajamas? How many potatoes worth of energy will I burn providing any such services? How many square feet of solar energy will be required to grow that many potatoes? Etc. etc. etc.

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Sun Oct 30, 2016 6:40 pm

@7wannabe5: After considering your example and reviewing Jacob’s definition of ERE, I am dropping the suggestion to include alternative forms of capital in the income and consumer indices. If stuff is entering our lives effortlessly through non-financial means, does it matter (from a financial perspective) whether this stuff is being consumed or not?

Also, I’m losing the initial enthusiasm I had for the consumer index. If ERE is about reducing "pollution" (waste) to reduce "work" (effort) then anything that includes expenses (SWR, income index) already incentivizes good behavior. For someone who is near the expense floor I could see how the consumer index could provide a means of continued growth by encouraging self-sufficiency in food, transportation, energy, and water. However, maybe it would be more practical to first develop a clear vision of Levels 7-8 on the Wheaton Scale, agree on the desired actions we want the indicator to inspire, and finally decide on how to construct the appropriate indicator.

For those of us who are not yet focused on closing the loops, a consumer index could still be helpful for facilitating comparisons between households at different expense levels, or across locations with considerably different tax levels, real estate markets, and insurance costs.

7Wannabe5
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Nov 02, 2016 8:05 am

@Fish: Since financial spending on consumer goods is only a rough approximation of energy usage, the correlation is almost bound to break down the further you venture from normal. The observation I have made, which I often joke about on this forum, is that my entire spending budget can almost be encompassed by just the dating/mating portion of the budgets of even my rationally frugal male cohorts (in ecological terms, this is the rough equivalent of the amount of energy the average male bower bird expends to build a bower-lol) It's like if their minimum standard is to date somebody they aren't totally embarrassed to be seen with shopping at Whole Foods, their choice is either chip in 50% to vacation in Cancun with a pilates-toned female hospital administrator who makes/spends $100k/year, or buy me a better used bicycle, an ice cream cone and help me dig some fence posts and scavenge some cardboard. Another observation I have made due to my experience as a used book dealer, which Ego's "Something from Nothing" thread also speaks to, is that once your entire financial spending gets down to approximately Jacob level, you can pretty much support yourself through engaging in further recycling of the waste of your affluent neighbors. The purpose of my permaculture project is something like determining if it is possible to financially support myself on the amount of solar energy most of my cohorts "waste" on growing a lawn. Also, once you are down to Jacob level spending and you have freed up most off your time, it is quite possible that you may find that it is possible to financially support yourself through means I will call "osmotic employment due to availability." For instance, if I am working in my garden, I can also help my neighbor out by babysitting her 6 year old and put him to work picking beans, or I could walk a dog for my daily exercise and make enough money to pay for my health insurance.

Once you start thinking more systemically, or holistically, your ability to equate time to money or money to energy degrades in other ways. This is because little clouds of mystery that used to shroud such matters as "what actually happens to all the plastic milk jugs I put in the recycle bin?" and "what rights and resources are attached to this property deed?" commence to dissipate. We all learned in high school physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, right? We all know that the supply of petroleum on the earth is finite (or only very slowly renewed) and the party is going to be over pretty soon, right? What do libraries and gardens have in common? Information. What is the most concentrated form of energy? Information. How can we best stockpile energy for future generations? Information. Where do we find advanced human civilization? At every intersection of a library and a garden (broadly defined : ) ) That's why humans who write essays on the topic of gardening are the most advanced and civilized. That's why if you prefer to focus on the perspective of financial conservation, it would probably be best if you either created a trust that would put all your money to use for the endowment of libraries and the creation or preservation of gardens (obviously inclusive of wilderness preservation) or you spent some of your current funds on the purchase of bicycle trailer for another human who has stated intention of writing gardening essays once she has piled up some more information :lol: IOW, maybe we can agree that mostly we don't want to contribute to the possibility of a future-scape in which our nearest human descendant will be found huddled under a rusty dumpster, subsisting on nothing but chicory root, and burning the last extant copy of "Man's Search for Meaning" in order to stay warm, although we may endlessly dicker about the details.

Fish
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by Fish » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:45 am

It seems the earlier discussion got stuck at Wheaton level 6-7 and never gained much interest. As an alternative to tracking total expenses, I propose measuring Jacob's "big three" expenses. This is relevant at all levels and has the added bonus of guiding beginners to focus on items of highest impact.
  • Housing: Running costs of shelter, including: rent or mortgage(*), property taxes, homeowner's/renter's insurance, utilities, HOA dues, maintenance, landscaping, etc.
  • Transportation: Include expenses such as: car payment(*), gas, insurance, vehicle registration, maintenance, parking, bus passes, train tickets, cab fares, etc.
  • Food: Total all spending at grocery stores and restaurants.
To be more correct, travel-related expenditures such as hotel stays, airfare, rental cars, should be added to the appropriate categories. The decision is left to the discretion of the reader. Do you want to focus on reducing everyday expenses or develop more frugal vacation habits?

(*)For purposes of fair comparison among owners and non-owners, those who own a house or car in full could also add a fictitious expense for depreciation or opportunity cost of capital. For example, using the IRS useful life for residential real estate, depreciation on a house would be figured as (purchase price/27.5 years). Or you could also take (purchase price * 3% SWR) and get a very similar result. Per the IRS guidance in Publication 946, automobiles are depreciated over 5 years, though I'm sure everyone here gets much more useful life than that.

From BLS consumer expenditures survey, 2015:
https://www.bls.gov/cex/2015/combined/cusize.pdf

Code: Select all

CATEGORY              SIZE OF CONSUMER UNIT
                 1       2       3       4      5+
Food         3,989   7,085   8,526   9,771  10,015
Housing(**) 10,417  14,965  16,606  18,641  17,848
Transport    4,960   9,669  12,216  13,687  12,951
--------------------------------------------------
Big3 Total: 19,366  31,719  36,348  42,099  40,814
(**)Includes only the BLS "shelter" and "utilities" categories to be consistent with the housing category as defined above. If you use the BLS statistics as a reference point, keep in mind that the housing and transport totals include travel-related expenses.

As a reference point for FIRE, the MMM household (3 consumers) spent $16,147 on these categories in 2016 (Food=6,807, Housing=6,306, Transport=3,034). http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2017/05/ ... -spending/

slowtraveler
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by slowtraveler » Thu Aug 10, 2017 12:40 pm

@Fish

I get it's not your data but that post doesn't make sense. How do total expenses decrease when going from 4 to 5+ consumer unit households?

George the original one
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Re: ERE indicator

Post by George the original one » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:24 pm

Looking at the (rather small) breakdown, food goes up, but housing & transport go down. I can envisage this happening inside families as the 3 kids don't get as much individual spending/attention/personalization as the 2 kids would. The kids would be made to share bedrooms instead of each having their own, there would be better travel coordination because parents don't have the time, etc.

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