Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Americans Start to Pay as They Go"

Here's a front page story from today's New York Times:

Economy Fitful, Americans Start to Pay as They Go

For more than half a century, Americans have proved staggeringly resourceful at finding new ways to spend money.

In the 1950s and ’60s, as credit cards grew in popularity, many began dining out when the mood struck or buying new television sets on the installment plan rather than waiting for payday. By the 1980s, millions of Americans were entrusting their savings to the booming stock market, using the winnings to spend in excess of their income. Millions more exuberantly borrowed against the value of their homes.

But now the freewheeling days of credit and risk may have run their course — at least for a while and perhaps much longer — as a period of involuntary thrift unfolds in many households. With the number of jobs shrinking, housing prices falling and debt levels swelling, the same nation that pioneered the no-money-down mortgage suddenly confronts an unfamiliar imperative: more Americans must live within their means.

“We don’t use our credit cards anymore,” said Lisa Merhaut, a professional at a telecommunications company who lives in Leesburg, Va., and whose family last year ran up credit card debt it could not handle.

Today, Ms. Merhaut, 44, manages her money the way her father did. Despite a household income reaching six figures, she uses cash for every purchase. “What we have is what we have,” Ms. Merhaut said. “We have to rely on the money that we’re bringing in.”

The shift under way feels to some analysts like a cultural inflection point, one with huge implications for an economy driven overwhelmingly by consumer spending.

I do think sometimes that we've really painted ourselves into a corner. To get our economy back on track, we need people to spend money. But we also need them to save money. What's the answer?


mamacita said...

Economist Tyler Cowen suggested that the best way for Americans to help the economy with their tax rebates is to invest them in equities (link). That's a plan you can get behind, I imagine.

Anonymous said...

Madame X says ..."To get our economy back on track, we need people to spend money. But we also need them to save money. What's the answer?"
Do the exact opposite of what we are doing ... spend a few more dollars when the economy nears recession and save when the the economic times are good. If the government is going to give you a check, then be patriotic and buy and American product or service. If every citizen would do this we'd recover. (then slow it down and save a few more bucks) Make this pledge to yourself and encourage your friends to do the same. Let make it a grassroots patriotic effort. Spending a few bucks shouldn't be that hard ... especially if Uncle Sam gives you the tax rebate check.

Anonymous said...

What have we come to? Our President doesn't want us to feed the poor, or promote the arts -- no, the most patriotic thing we can do is SHOP!

Myself, if the government gives me a check, I'm saving it or paying down debt. I worked for that money, dammit, and I can do what I want with it. Not that there isn't plenty I'd like to buy, but I know I'm not going to get enough to buy anything important, like a new bathroom! I wasn't expecting the money, and it isn't in my budget, so I don't plan to spend it. I intend to put it in my retirement account, where it can do me good by collecting compound interest. That way, I save the government money in the future, because they won't have to support me in my old age.

Now THAT'S patriotic!

Anonymous said...

To get our economy back on track, we need people to spend money. But we also need them to save money. What's the answer?

How can spending more, the act that got us in this situation, save us? It’s high time we took our lumps for our mistakes and solved this problem. Postponing the hardship will only make it worse when it comes around again. Do we want a recession or a depression? Do we want a completely stagnate economy like Japan has had for the last 15 years? If you look at the measures we (U.S.) are taking, they are exactly the same as the ones Japan took in the early 90’s. That market hasn’t moved in years. We need to get the national savings rate at least above 10% and start working on fixing the 800 lb guerillas (cost of Iraq war, social security and Medicare).

It is completely un-patriotic to spend the upcoming tax rebate. Capitalism has markets for a reason; let them do their job these excesses will get blown off with less pain. Government interference will only make it worse.

Anonymous said...

In order to save the economy everyone needs to borrow money and the banks need to loosen their credit standards again. Credit is money, money is credit. If people don't borrow more there won't be enough money to pay back the banks with interest. The genius that invented this system made it so that it was destined to fail. Buy gold, get away from money.