Americans Struggle With The Concept Of Spending Less Than They Earn

Perhaps it’s just the stereotypical Midwesterner in us rearing its pragmatic head, but articles such as this one in the New York Times, full of quotes from repentant former debt junkies, always make us shake our heads in disbelief.

“We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.

Now, she and her husband — a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month — are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said.

And then there’s this lady:

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.”

Or this one:

Fran Barbaro has an M.B.A. and a résumé of computer industry jobs with salaries reaching $150,000 a year. She used to have a stock portfolio worth about $1 million. She hung original art on the walls of her three-bedroom house in Boston.

But divorce, illness and motherhood drained her savings. Her home is worth less than she owes, and she owes another $200,000 to credit card companies, banks and tax collectors.

Ms. Barbaro, 50, said she knew she was living beyond her means. But her house demanded work. Her two boys needed after-school programs running $25,000 a year. Medical bills multiplied.

“These were simple day-to-day expenses,” she said. “The money was always there.”

Until it wasn’t. Her take-home pay is $5,200 a month, but her debt payments reach $4,400.

Argh! $200,000? We hope it was mostly owed to the banks and tax collectors. Just imagine having to dust $200,000 worth of junk you bought on credit.

Economy Fitful, Americans Start to Pay as They Go [NYT]
(Photo:morganschneider)