Guest post from Abigail who blogs over at I Pick Up Pennies. She and her husband are in debt from health-related expenses, and she talks about getting out of debt on relatively low income.
I’ve seen several articles lately that indicate spending is up. We could take this to mean that the recession is receding, and certainly that is what the media seem to believe. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the real cause. I think we’re in a round of frugal burnout. People have been frugal too long (or so they believe), and they simply can’t take it anymore. They start to indulge here and there. The purchases are small, of course, but they will grow exponentially. And the spending is indicative of a big problem: entitlement.
Americans got into this mess by believing that we are owed certain things. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen commercials use the word “deserve.” It’s patently untrue that we deserve any material goods all, beyond the basics needed for survival ““ and even those aren’t assured. Still, the public is smitten with the idea that people are due a certain amount of possessions and luxuries. It’s understandably alluring. It’s just not true.
In the wake of massive layoffs, rampant foreclosures and the economy teetering on the brink of destruction, people finally seemed to wake up from the dream of entitlement.
The problem is that Americans have very short attention spans. And we’re even worse at delayed gratification.
Anyone who has paid off a lot of debt (or is in the process of doing so) knows that frugal burnout is a natural part of the cycle. It’s natural to get sick of doing without. You have a small relapse: a fit of spending or one too many meals out. Then you get over it. It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the process. The trouble is that you have to work hard and be responsible ““ and dedicated ““ in order to get over frugal burnout. Because, let’s face it: The old ways were a lot more fun, at least until you go the bill. I think that the average American just isn’t dedicated and disciplined enough to pull out of a spending tailspin.
Whether the spending comes from frugal fatigue or new-found, steady employment, the result is the same. Once frugality isn’t strictly necessary for survival, I’m betting that these new habits start dropping off. And why will this happen? Because we don’t want to believe in Newton’s law (financially speaking) that what goes up must come down. We’re all for the boom, but we’re still perpetually flabbergasted by the bust.
I’m afraid that, by and large, we just don’t have the stamina for true frugal conversion. As frugal burnout hits, especially if the recession is easing up, more and more Americans will gladly resume spending. We’re simply too immersed in a culture of instant gratification (and far too many cool tech toys) to do anything else. I think it’s noteworthy that, during the recession, plenty of technological innovations ““ Blue Ray, the new iPhone, etc ““ were successful. If we were truly bent on changing, don’t you think those lines to the Apple store would have been a lot shorter?
Please don’t mistake me: I don’t doubt that there are reformed souls out there. Nor do I doubt the sincerity with which the rest of the country claimed to have seen the light. I’m sure they truly meant it at the time. I just believe that Americans, like Oscar Wilde, can resist anything but temptation.
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