Financial Planning

‘We no longer know how to live within our means’

Pig We've received some great feedback on the blog recently, and I thought I'd share a recent comment that focuses on personal finance.

It came from Matthew Murtaugh in response to a post titled "Who's to blame for the financial crisis? Look in the mirror." The post implies that irresponsible consumers share some of the blame for the financial crisis, and Murtaugh agreed. His comment reads:

"This is exactly the kind of introspection that should be happening en masse. Unfortunately, our leadership is unlikely to raise the issue, as it is an unpopular message that people do not want to hear. It is a lot easier to insulate the masses from any complicity and sell the notion that accountability for the current situation resides solely with greedy investment advisors, inept bank executives and unscrupulous mortgage brokers.

"Clearly, greed and a lack of professional ethics were major contributors to our current economic woes, but we need to face the possibility that this is not just an acute malady triggered by the actions of a few, but rather a chronic illness rooted in our consumer culture. What we are seeing may not be a historical blip, but a necessary correction that has been a decade or more in the making.

"While only time will provide the necessary historical context and distance to fully understand the situation in which we now find ourselves, we cannot ignore the role of financial illiteracy and our cultural proclivities toward mass consumption and deficit spending. Unlike the French, who frown upon indebtedness and who have thus far been relatively insulated from this global financial crisis, we no longer know how to live within our means.

"The good news is that this presents an enormous leadership opportunity for the CPA profession to build on programs like Feed the Pig and become champions of financial literacy and economic sustainability."

I think a lot of people have looked at Feed the Pig and other financial literacy efforts in the same way they look at the "eat right and exercise" health care mantra: They know it's important and they fully intend to get to it ... someday.

Well, someday has arrived. If we don't get our finances under control now -- if we don't learn something as a result of this mess -- we'll be (to paraphrase George Santayana) condemned to repeat it.

Thanks for your thoughts, Matthew. I couldn't agree more.

What do you think consumers should be doing to help the economy recover?


Bill Sheridan