The economy sucks.  It’s not a newsflash, but why it has gotten to this point might be if you’re not paying attention.  I love my country.  My father was in the military for 26 years and I grew up a died-in-the-wool patriot.  That being said, America is nowhere near perfect.  We have some growing up to do as a nation and while we’re ahead in some areas, we’re tragically young in others.

Take for instance the “air of entitlement” most of us have.  Yes, I said us, because I’m as guilty as the next of spending recklessly because God forbid I deny myself something or have to wait for it.  I’m an American, by God, the wealthiest country in the world (really?!) with milk and honey flowing over every valley, couture clothing for all and a free latte from Starbucks for anyone who completed high school.

Well, OK – maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s the behavior of a nation in trouble.  The United States of America, a country built on the premise that you could have anything, be anything, go anywhere if you were willing to work for it.  We are quite proud of this heritage, but in the past few decades we’ve tried to drop an important piece – the “willing to work for it” part.

Work for it?  Isn’t that part of my “pursuit of happiness” clause?  I get a decent job, decent paycheck, house, friends, family, pets, health care and Prada, too?  If I can’t keep up with the Jones’ then how can I be happy?  It’s fairly disgusting in practice.  For instance, I’m going to quote my own spending habits here:  Wants vs. Need

You know when you go into a store (doesn’t matter what kind of store) and you kind of know you want or need something there, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that you want?

In the grocery store, it’s that vague suspicion that just that morning you ran out of something vital (milk, cheese, bread, anti-depressant, whatever) and if you go home and walk in the door (which is always the ‘AHA’ moment you remember what you needed to get) you will be one pissed off person. At the Target-type playgrounds, it’s even worse because you have so many choices. Was is a food, pharmaceutical, clothing, household, or recreational item?

This is when you end up with a basket of crap you didn’t set out to buy and possibly don’t need. Well, need is such a relative term – what is a want but an unsubstantiated need at a later date? Exactly, you may not need that new cd right now, but when you’re on that long drive and realize you’ve listened to all your other stuff – you’ll be glad you have it. That want suddenly became a need, didn’t it? Don’t argue with my shopping rationalization – Logic has no place in shopping.

The worst, however, is when you walk into a specialty store (Best Buy or Victoria’s Secret) and can’t quite remember why. I went into PetSmart and wandered for 20 minutes before remembering what the puppy needed. I also purchased another 10 things she may not actually “need” but well, you know my argument there…

Here’s the problem – at these specialty stores, you’re not exactly getting a bargain. You don’t have coupons (usually) with you or discounts beyond the store card (sure, 10% the FIRST time, what about the three years of purchases afterwards – where’s my discount then? Huh? HUH?!) So, you’re random purchasing is less defensible and infinitely more expensive. (Note: Keep your receipt! You may want to go back and get some of that cash back. See: Returns and Impulse Buying in an upcoming post.)

I’m standing in Victoria’s Secret staring at perfume and lovely frilly things. I swear to you, the second before I walked in that store I knew exactly what I wanted, in which line and color. I had spent time perusing the catalogue to make my choices. But the minute I entered the store, the sweet perfume smell (which might contain some sort of drug to cause this state of confusion) and pretty frilly things made me forget.

Do I need new bras? Well, I can always use a new bra, but I think I just bought 5 – so I’m probably good. What about panties and thongs? Well, I bought some new ones before the trip to France but I don’t like some of them. Maybe I should get more, but my panties drawer is full. I would have to throw some out. I hate doing that because then when you really need to do laundry, you don’t have any backups. Well, OK – did you come for pajamas? Currently, I’m single but often the men who want me naked are not concerned with my cute sexy garments. Why are you here? Good question.

And that’s when I walked out of the store with nothing.

I hate that.

Followed by:  Impulse Buying

I’m not sure if everyone has this mentality – probably not – but nonetheless when I shop I always keep the receipts. This is why I buy random things I’m not entirely certain I want. It doesn’t matter, I can return it. What’s better – that money becomes free shopping dollars. I know – it’s not really, it’s still the same money coming out of my account, only it doesn’t seem like it. Now it’s free money not tied to my budget. YAY, let’s go buy frivolous crap.

Which brings me to impulse buying. These crafty people are very smart with the items they put in creative spots (like right by the line as you’re leaving). You can’t get out of line and you don’t have enough time to really analyze if you NEED that item. Though, need is a relative term… you may have heard my reasoning with this before.

Then “Tada”, you come home with some new and creative tool, gadget, whatever. Sometimes, this turns out to be something really awesome. You congratulate yourself on your amazing find and brilliance.

Other times, it turns into a return item.

Now, I may be an anomaly, but I doubt it.  I have female friends – lots of them.  I’ve shopped with most if not all of them numerous times.  We range in age from 25 to 43.  I can tell you that with rare exception, this method of thinking is common.  Which, considering the world today, is pretty sad.  The funny thing is we come from a range of backgrounds.  Rural, urban, wealthy, poor, middle class, minority and majority alike, in our own special flavor we exhibit the same trends.  We treat money like it’s an easily renewable resource.  While every month more and more people find themselves without jobs, PhDs are homeless, and the cost of living creeps steadily higher while wages stay the same.  This does not make sense, yet – therein lies the problem.

This tells me the problem isn’t what we’re spending it on, but the fact that despite all indicators that we should be saving more, investing wisely and indulging less, no one is.  I may not run a country, but I have a household budget.  The basic premise of spending within your means runs true regardless of the scope.  Note, I didn’t say stop spending altogether.  It takes money to make money, but knowing where to spend it is key.  So while we’re waiting on the government to bail out our economy, we might try approaching our smaller economies differently as well.

I’m willing to give it a go, are you?