A dollar Friday for a hamburger today

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January 22, 2008 by 8junebugs

I keep waiting for Fed chairman Bernanke to whisper “recession,” like the blonde chick’s mother in St. Elmo’s Fire. Until he does that, how do we know how scary it really is?

I am not afraid of your economic downturn, Mr. Chairman.

You know what a recession really means? It means people aren’t spending a lot of money. Maybe they’re saving it, maybe they’re burning it…but it’s not going into the country’s bottom line.

Bernanke’s solution, like that of his predecessors, is to cut interest rates. Again. We’ve been shaving off slivers of interest for years, but years of financial foolishness have caught up to us and we’re a little short.

Next, we’ll try an “economic stimulus package,” also known as tax rebates. Sounds awesome, right? Who doesn’t like getting money back after taxes? The idea is that you (or someone in your neighborhood, or your in-laws, or your mailman) will get an unexpected check from the government. A check that could, say, buy a small electronic device or a weekend getaway.

The question is, will you (or your neighbor, in-laws, or mailman) spend it? Or are you living paycheck to paycheck, trying to pay down school loans and save up for a house and make a car payment? What would you do with a windfall like that? If interest rates are low and continually dropping, the government is encouraging you not to save it.

I’ve gotten past splurging, I think. When I have spare cash that’s “supposed” to be spent on something frivolous and fun, I might get a massage or a facial. I might take a golf lesson. I might take Mike out for a nice dinner or pick up some good wine. But more often than not, paying down debt feels better than buying just about anything (except a massage…duh). That doesn’t help the economy out at all, though. No wonder Bernanke never sends me a Christmas card.

Doesn’t a stimulus package seem to complicate the issue? If the government can afford to send me money, shouldn’t the government go ahead and put that cash toward something useful? I don’t really need another iPod, but I’d sure love to see a universal health care system. And I certainly don’t need the government encouraging reckless spending habits I try so hard to curb.

We’re a nation built on credit. We’ve inherited a deficit, and we’ll leave one to our children and grandchildren. I grew up with parents using only American Express back in the days when you got 30 lashes if you didn’t pay it off every month, but here I am, with a modest credit card balance, a dwindling car loan, and a mountain of educational “good debt.” We’re not struggling, but I have difficulty foreseeing a debt-free future—hell, we don’t even have a mortgage yet. We will spend our lives owing while our nest egg grows a little with the market and drops a little with interest rates.

And our kids will grow up with Visa check card commercials that guilt them out of using real, tangible money because they’ll stop the flow of retail traffic and piss everyone off. Lord love a duck—those are the most irresponsible commercials I’ve seen in years.

Think you can’t simplify your life and live within your means? Check out Rachel and her family over at www.thesimplefamily.com. Check out the living-on-one-income stories at Dollar Stretcher. It ain’t easy…but you know what? In the long run, neither is the alternative.

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