Bankruptcies and foreclosures are the stuff of headlines nowadays, and, as a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana, I find it hard to go anywhere without lots of people airing their opinions to me about how other people get into financial trouble by overspending on luxuries. And, just about every time, there’s mention of the ”old days”, when supposedly the former generation was so much more responsible and so less wasteful in handling money.
Not so fast! Several experts warn against rushing to the conclusion that we are less responsible than our parents. Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren claims consumers today spend a greater portion of their income on the basics and less on discretionary items than past generations did. According to Warren, families today are spending three quarters of their income on basics, including housing and healthcare, as compared with 50% a generation ago.
As evidence of our wastefulness, critics of our generation’s ways point to government statistics showing that nearly half our food dollars are spent eating out. But a further look at the government’s numbers reveals that Americans spend only 10% of income on food each year, compared to 20% in the 1970’s. Yes, we like designer brands, but on average, Americans spend 4% of income on clothing, about half what our parents did.
With Americans needing to spend so much less on household goods, food, clothing, and entertainment, what’s our problem? An MSNBC program back in October of last year brought out that our generation’s financial anxieties are focused on housing, health, and education. Looked at with the enormous rise in costs for those three items, life truly is harder now.
While I personally was not interviewed by MSNBC, I could have easily verified that statement about life getting harder, just from working with thousands of people each year in my bankruptcy law offices around the state of Indiana. Very often the problems and pressures that bring debtors fo my office have little to do with overspending on designer handbags or on lattes at the corner coffee shop. Keeping the mortgage paid so the family can be housed in a safe neighborhood with good schools, paying the doctor bills and the costs of schooling, all in an era of job insecurity – it isn’t easy! In fact, that’s the reason we have Indiana bankruptcy laws – they’re meant to provide a safety net and the possibility for a fresh start. The message in all this: Don’t be so quick to judge others – or to judge yourself!