Coolness. We “new millenium-ers” have got it down, all strapped into our iPods and cell phones… even our kids are techno-cool. Pottery Barn has become our standard. New cars, our aspiration. Hiring-it-out, our first instinct. We are a generation of super-cool… or are we?

Once upon a time, coolness was all about independent thinking, refusing to blindly follow the crowd, doing our own thing. Our hippie predecessors raised coolness to new heights. But sometime during the yuppie generation, “cool” discarded the VW Bus, re-embraced authority, and transformed itself into instant gratification and luxury spending.

Our brand of luxury-cool is beyond the naked attempts of the 50s to keep up with the Jones’. Oh, no. We’re actually living out the fantasy of a heightened lifestyle that has been feeding on itself for years. Perhaps it started when, on the whole, we began making more money than our parents did. Soon, we began feeling more financially free and less obliged to keep a firm hold on our budgets.

Somewhere along the way, we developed a sense of entitlement. Everyone else seemed to be able to afford it, so we figured we could as well. But, we failed to tally the impact of skyrocketing housing, medical and college costs. We turned a blind eye to our budget deficits. And, easy credit seemed to make all our dreams come true.

Our debt made us look and feel rich. We cozied up to it without understanding the havoc it wreaked on our chances for building real wealth. Now, we get back from our more-than-our-parents-would-have-spent vacations with a stack of credit card bills and then wonder why we just can’t seem to get that college fund started. To keep up with the new millennium cool, we may be sacrificing what’s important to us.

Authentic “cool” takes courage. Doing our own thing means standing up against the pressures of a living standard we can’t afford. It means deferring our own gratification. The financial choices we feel good about may be vastly unpopular. Our payoff is a more secure financial life, though perhaps never a luxurious one.

Take heart. A little more do-it-yourself, make-it-yourself, cook-it-yourself can be more than just financially grounding. Putting ourselves back into our lives this way leads us back to the food we eat, the homes we live in, and the path to discovering a secret of the universe the hippies never fully visualized. Happiness does not lie in material possessions but in the comfort of self-satisfaction and integrity.

Wasting our hard-earned dough on stuff we can’t afford and simply don’t need just ain’t cool. So, like our longhaired, bell-bottomed predecessors, let’s sit proudly behind the wheel of our clunkers and, with shoulders back, sport a bumper sticker that reads: “My New Car is a Retirement Account.” And, let’s enjoy our peace… man.