This Downtrodden Economy - The Best Thing to Happen in America Since....

This post marks our One Year Blogiversary. If you missed our '08 round-up, then you can catch it here. Rather than a lot of celebrating and hollerin', we offer the following missive. A rant, if you will. And if you want some celebratin', then check out our new favicon (that green thing next to our web address). Woo-hoo! Look at us!!

I can recall our corporation's President saying, "The best thing about 2007, is that it's over." This, after reporting out the financials from the year prior at the beginning of 2008. I'm expecting similar comments at this year's report. It's no secret, this has been a very difficult two years on American's and American companies. Many companies have collapsed. Some flirted with disaster, and are still hanging on. Others have held on, but made significant cuts. Millions of jobs have been lost, and for those folks, it's difficult to explain how these economic troubles have been a good thing.

Through all the struggles of the past two years, few compare to the magnitude of the mortgage meltdown and the subsequent freezing of our credit markets. With lines of credit unavailable and open lines tightening, spending came not quite to a halt, but it's definitely driving in the slow lane. The journey began years ago.

With the optimism of the economic recovery post-2001, America became drunk on debt - and everybody was an enabler.

The real debt dependence began decades prior, but from 2002 to 2006, our country went on an All. Out. Binge. Housing markets exploded and developers couldn't build subdivisions fast enough. During which, lenders used every method imaginable to get YOU into a house. Demand rose, prices skyrocketed, and we saw the advent of the 50-year mortgage. How else could you afford that $850,000 3/2 in Compton? Fed rates repeatedly fell and ultra-low rate ARMs teased more and more folks in to believing that they really could afford the house of their dreams on their modest income. House flipping became the hot action and the subject of numerous TV shows. Most of which showed just how clueless many of the folks were who were doing it - but undaunted, none the less.

Also in this time, it seemed that not only was every retail outlet accepting credit, but offering it as well. At some point in 2004, I can recall financing a Big Mac and fries on a 90-day ARM @ 2.3%. During that 90 days, I lent that $5.95 to a farmer in Kenya on a 75-day note @ 6.4%. It's mostly a blur now, but I can tell you that I totally killed on that deal.

Then, like a wall of empty beer cans, it all came crashing down.

Things fell apart, slowly at first. Mortgages, then car loans, followed by credit card defaults. Then the tidal wave hit as spending slowed and corporations felt the same sting as individuals. Jobs were cut, businesses shuttered, and banks stopped lending. That's when people really freaked out. This was our wake-up call - this was our intervention.

Suddenly, thrift is the hot action. Oprah, known more for her extravagance, is talking frugal (Custom-made blue jeans breath...). Then nightly news is promoting financial responsibility. And personal finance blogs (like ours) sprung up out of the woodwork. People changed - habits, outlook, values - despite the government telling us that what we really needed was more debt. Some of that change was forced by the crazy oil and food prices we saw this year. But that shouldn't diminish the strides that some made to financial responsibility. Good things happened, many just didn't realize it.

Will 2009 be the year? Is this the year that our country climbs out of this mess? Is this the year that you climb out of your mess? Maybe you've already started. Will you go back to your old ways? Will you go back into debt as soon as you can wrap your hands around it again?

If these last few years have taught us anything, it's that this dependence on debt is not sustainable. It's not a long-term plan and certainly not a substitute for real financial responsibility. This financial implosion is the best thing to happen to America since.... I don't know what. We likely have not fully realized it yet.

The real key to it all is that we go through the full rehab - we make the changes in our behavior necessary to succeed, and never go back to the habits that brought us here. Never again can we let mortgage brokers tell us what we can afford. Never again can we let the offer of credit nor the potential reward for it's use drive how we shop or what we buy. Never again can we shop first and ask questions later.

The party is over.


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