Hedonic substitution in economics is buying ground beef instead of steak, or the Pinto instead of the Lambourghini. People also engage in hedonic substitution. It’s a hallmark of the conservative worldview.
Living in low quality housing, with one car in a car-centric society, eating a meatless or low protein diet, and yet all the while asserting that you’re middle class. Homeschooling is often another hedonic substitution. One hour once a week “co-op” is suddenly equivalent to 15k/kid/year private classical school and will definitely give you the same results.
It’s about telling people who have to substitute cheaper versions that they aren’t substituting at all but instead getting something for nothing because they’re just so smart and middle class. And also not distinguishing between the people who can choose something else and thus aren’t operating on such tight margins. The oft-cited (and mostly historical rather than current) statistics of children homeschooled by mere high school graduate mothers leave out how many of their fathers were engineers and STEM types.
While the median household income for married couples with under-18 kids is about six figures and has been even adjusted for inflation for decades, it’s still a median and a bunch of married folks with kids will end up on the low half of that median. And instead of them being respectably poor or working class, they’re instead endlessly encouraged to engage in elaborate substitutes that cannot give the same result or benefit, but which would be superior if they weren’t being used as substitutes for something more expensive in time and/or money.
This approach also lets the higher-earning households avoid awkward social obligations and relationship building that used to be present even in individualist America out of a combination of ingrained habit and necessity.