Thursday, July 20, 2006

Media Madness and Lavish Lavidity

There's a story on the front page of the Sacramento Bee today (and probably similar stories in newspapers all across the country), "Families Feel Bite of Inflation".

Yeah, inflation is up. Prices are rising on things a little bit. We all know this, and it's not really news, except for the new monthly number being released by the Fed. What irks me is the coverage and the emphasis given the story by the local reporter.
Meet the Chances. A typical American family with 3 teenagers at home, and a son in college. The story says they've got "a two story house to cool, a pair of good sized vehicles to keep rolling, and a growing sense that no matter how hard they work, the bills just keep getting bigger."
The story goes on to lament how salaries have not kept pace with inflation, the cost of the family's equity line of credit is going up because of rising interest rates (ya think?), and how daddy works 80 hours a week during the summer to make ends meet. Oh, and mom runs a non-profit group that serves disabled people.
Saints, every one of them.
Please, spare me. We're a soft, spoiled people, Americans.
The story, to it's credit, goes on to note that more and more families are adding "essentials" to their discretionary spending, such as big screen TV's, $15-a-pound wild salmon, IPods, MP3 players, cel-phones for the entire family, internet and cable tv services, multiple computers in the home, big over-powered cars that gobble up 15mpg for the grueling 15-minute commute across town to work, or the essential SUV to cart Jimmy and Sally and all their soccer gear over the treacherous mountains and through raging streams to get them down the street to the park for practice.
Huh? When I was a kid, I rode my bike to the park for baseball practice with my hat on my head, my baseball mitt and a pair of cleats dangling from either end of the handlebars. Later, my parents did buy me a decent baseball bag, but it also wound up dangling over the end of my handlebars as I peddled to the park. Sometimes I had to heft my bike up the levee and over the railroad tracks by hand (the levee was too steep to actually ride up) to get to the park.
Anyway, I digress. The point is, America is starting to lament the rising prices brought on by a 4.3% inflation rate. If you're employed, have a home, and are enjoying some of the pleasures that a good income can bring, but a small rise in the interest rates comes close to pushing you over the financial edge, then you are living too close to the edge and need to change some things.
Not gripe about the inhumanity of it all in the newspaper. Sheesh.
The choice to avail ourselves to all the utility and flexibility offered by the American economy is a priviledge I am thankful for, and wouldn't want to see it go away.
Don't misunderstand me: I love my cel-phone, computers, high-speed internet, and my Dodge Magnum (which is not a high-powered hemi, but a more modest 6-cylinder - I just don't get the need to go 145mph up a hill when 80mph will usually do just fine).
But when so many Americans are chasing that dream, of not only home-ownership and security, but lavish prosperity, as if it were a birthright and doing it by living right to the edge of their financial abilities, buying every comfort and extra they afford and leaving no financial cushion or wiggle room, it becomes sobering, sad, and scary.
To see a family stretching their finances to the limit to buy a new home with a no money down, interest only, adjustable rate loan, and thinking it's a GOOD IDEA, then (actually, now), crying when the interest rate goes up a notch (like EVERYBODY knew it would) because they can't make their payment, makes me both sad and angry. Then, when the house gets foreclosed on because they can't sell it on the now NORMAL housing market (what, 17% annual increases in equity aren't normal?), they cry "why us?".
And the newspapers make it look like it's not their own fault, but a horrible turn of circumstances and the terrible American economy, and George Bush's oil buddies, that conspired unjustly to make things difficult for the "average American" to make ends meet.
Freakin' hogwash. Plain horse-pucky folks.
Americans, by and large, have and do live well above our means. Just about everyone I've talked to that feels pinched by inflation, or by rising fuel prices, or the housing market, or whatever, are overstretched financially by high car-payments, house payments, and credit-card debt. Although I don't wish this set of circumstances on anyone, I also have very little sympathy for them either. It's a hole most people dig for themselves, and most worked very hard to dig it. Some even worked a lot of overtime.
We here in America generally live better than EVERY other nation on earth. The opportunities for lavish living are unparalleled by any place or any time in history. My fear is that we will be so consumed with trying to keep up with each other, spending so much unnecessary capital, that we trip over ourselves and drive ourselves into depression and debt even worse than we already are.
All with the giddy help of the media, which does not seem to offer explanations or advice on how to avoid excessive debt, but seems to revel in the existence of it, because, as we all know, bad news sells.


sage said...

good rant there--the only real inflation that hurts is gas--as I drive a truck, but I do often walk or ride a bike to work.

Gidget said...

whew! All good points, but I admit I chuckled a I haven't heard that phrase in a long time!

Anyhow, I agree with you. Last fall, I decided to do an overhaul on my debt and financing. I'm at the tail end of seeing how the changes are effecting my discretionary income but it's been vastly improved. I also stopped driving so much and limited my visits to friends and relatives. That kinda hurt but gas prices & increasing costs overall are forcing changes in habit. ;)