According to today’s latest bulletin, consumer confidence data measures at a 35 year low. That means when boomers were wearing hiphuggers and halter tops, listening to ZZ Top and the Eagles and lamenting the hedonistic value of vacuum cleaners–consumer confidence was as bad as it is now. So it’s the worse it’s ever been for at least two generations of consumers.
We may be in for a Marathon rather than a 50 yard dash when it comes to economic recession. Before you assume that this is a hopeless race for which you are ill prepared, let’s look on the upside of the downside of today’s news.
- The Stretch – When my husband and I married 20 years and five kids ago, I inherited $40,000 in consumer debt from his divorce. The upside was that I got two great stepdaughters out of the deal. But a total of seven kids to support and lots of debt was not fun for this broker-turned-bride. It was a stretch for me to give up my well paying career and take on the challenges of being a SAHM while trying to pay down debt on my husband’s military salary. But being stretched isn’t a bad thing, it gets us ready for the next phase.
- Flexibility — One of the ways this business backgrounded mom made ends meet was to become flexible in the way I managed money. I developed a sophisticated method of recognizing ways to save on everything from clothes to corn to cars–and it worked. Flexibility did not include miserly, cheapskate, wierd ways of saving money–like collecting tin foil balls or taking other people’s leftover pizza home at a restaurant (my parents generation did that kind of thing). No, I preferred the savvy savings approach that didn’t embarrass me or my family. I still wear Calvin Klein suits bought at the Nordstrom Rack for the same price as a Jacqueline Smith (disposible) suit other people would purchased at K-mart. (I don’t shop at K-Mart–ever!) But… I do have a Wal-mart brocaded jacket that gets more compliments than my designer suits! It’s all about savvy choices. In today’s economy, there’s a couple of generations of consumers who can step up to the starting line and learn this same kind of “saving money is cool” approach to life.
- Endurance — What did the easy-credit, low mortgage rates of the past few years do for consumers? Did it make couples stop arguing about money? Did it put their kids through college debt free? Did it improve their quality of life–especially NOW in light of today’s recession? No, it didn’t make life better, it only made it easier to get into debt by having a house that owns you (too much house) or escalating credit card bills that are cushioned with the idea that “my home equity can pay these bills if I get in a pinch.” BAD, real bad. Now that the equity has deteriorated, it’s time to learn the endurance part of running the great race. Learning how to cut back, curb impulse buys, be thoughtful and strategic in your spending and implementing a little-known thing called “self control” in money issues is a good possible outcome for a bad pronouncement. It depends on the choices consumers make at this point in time.
- Finishing Well — David Bach’s best selling book, “Smart Women Finish Rich” is a must read for all consumers (guys can get in touch with their feminine side and make a buncha money in the process–just look at Tyler Perry). Finishing well, means finishing rich but being rich may not mean having a multi-million dollar home or a self-propagating portfolio. We all know miserable misers who saved themselves into delusional denigration (ever heard of Howard Hughes? Being rich can drive you nuts!) The kind of wealth I think most Americans want is to have a nice home that will be paid for at retirement, put their kids through college debt free and have the ability to pay the bills without worrying about nastygrams from creditors. That’s rich, baby!
- The Winners Circle — OK, time for true confessions. My husband and I recently competed in the LA Marathon and finished. I didn’t end up in the winners circle, but they create a similar circle for EVERYONE WHO FINISHES. You get a rose, a medal, & a sports massage. So, with my swollen toes, wilting rose, cramping calves and smiling husband, I could say as a forty-something year old mama of many–I finished the Marathon. Just don’t ask me my time. There’s a lot to be said about the finishing the process. If consumers will embrace the economic challenge that a 35 year low in confidence presents, then it can be a good thing. New generations of consumers, who have never had to put on their big girl panties (or big boy underwear) will have to step up and learn a thing or two about managing money and avoiding credit. It can be done and it can be done well so that we have a whole new circle of winners.
Run well, finish well, then celebrate!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)