For better or for worse

Since the economy began its downward spiral last September with the folding of Lehman Brothers (it seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?), it seems that all we’ve heard are stories of doom-and-gloom. If the news anchors weren’t telling us how much value the market lost one day, they were discussing how many more layoffs would happen on the next.

But this month, for first time in what seems like ages, there were some hopeful nuggets of news mixed in with the bad. In general, the stock market rose in March. Sales of new houses went up. And last month, consumer confidence was higher as well, prompting spending to take an upward turn. When people feel better, they start buying. I think it’s a good sign that the notoriously negative media is acknowledging something positive. It gives so many Americans hope that, yes, the economy will get better and that this recession will eventually come to an end. But on the other hand, I think it’s important to take the good news with a grain of salt.

It’s not so much that I’m a pessimist – I’m actually one of those people hoping the recession will be over by the end of the year. But I don’t want us to get our hopes up prematurely. Most of all, I hope the country won’t unlearn all of the valuable stuff it’s discovered over this (hopefully) brief dark period. While a lot of the damage was out of our hands (thanks a lot, Wall Street) we have to take some responsibility. As a whole, we bought houses we couldn’t afford, put everyday purchases onto our credit cards and basically lived beyond our means.

Since the economy took its tumble, consumers have made great strides. We’re driving by Starbucks and our favorite café without stopping, because we know it’s cheaper to make our own coffee and brown bag our lunch. We’re buying our groceries with cash – not credit – because we want to pay off our debt, not add to it. We’re staying in with our families on Friday night to play Monopoly, because it’s more affordable—and interactive—than going to a movie. We’re driving our five-year-old car (or riding our bike) because it works just fine, thank you, and we don’t really care what the Joneses are doing these days.

It’s been a difficult ride, but the even harder part might be still to come. Will the lessons we learned stick, even when the economy is looking bright and sunny? It’s possible, but keep in mind that it will take work. Next time you feel like you can afford to put a TV—or even the groceries—on the credit card, think it through. Remember what it’s like to fear your next mortgage bill or to watch most of your money go towards covering the 30% interest on a credit card, rather than the principal. Then think of what it’s like to be free of those things (or what it would be like to be free, if you’re still dealing with them).

Here’s another thing to think about. At Debtstoppers, our tips on saving money, relieving debt and planning for the future will be here even when the recession is not. If you ever have questions, check out one of our free community workshops in Chicago or Atlanta (see our website), browse the information on our blog and website, or order our free Financial Toolkit. Looking for more personalized help? When you sign up for a free debt analysis, we’ll schedule a one-on-one meeting with one of our finance pros to get you on the path to financial fitness. Just like eating healthy and exercising is the only way to maintain your weight once the diet is done, watching your spending is the only way to keep your finances trim once the economic squeeze has come to an end. The economy might go up or down, but we’re always here to help.

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