Everyone always mentions flat screen TVs as an example of our decadence but I think it is more than just relatively small purchases like a TV. It is far more lifestyle related. Driving gas-guzzling cars, financing them, credit cards, feeling entitled to nice clothes, feeling our kids are entitled to nice clothes and expensive portraits, and spendy preschools, having a lot of pride when it comes to the way we live and wanting more house than we could afford, believing it was an investment that couldn't go wrong. I honestly look at people I know and wonder how on earth they can live the way they do because they have nice homes, nice cars, nice clothes, eat out at restaurants, pay $$$ for recreation, and the only possible way they are doing that on their wages is a) their parents helped/are helping them and/or b) they are in debt up to their ears.
When we bought our house I wanted to put 30% down which was all of our money but the mortgage lender was pushing for us to put down 10%. I refused. I knew we wouldn't have the cash leftover for fancy furniture, upgraded car, vacations, toys, plasma TV and built-in bar in the basement, but I knew it would give me way more peace of mind than any of those things. Unfortunately, savers are getting the shaft in this economy. Those who got homes with nothing down simply walk away while we may not be able to sell our home even though we need to, and if we do, it may cost us a good portion of our savings we used to buy the house. I see people who heloc'd houses, bought nice cars and then walked away! Meanwhile, we have always shared a 14 year old car and eating out means going to Pizza Hut once in a blue moon. It just irks me. That's another topic altogether though!
But the bottom line is that us Americans developed a sense of entitlement and the creditors certainly helped us along with that dillusion. Yeah, growing up in the 80s I don't remember ever having even close to what many of my Gen X friends have in their 30s already. We ate out only on special occasions, not because mom was too tired to cook or dad craved a steak from Outback. We had an old car that kids made fun of, but heck, my parents both had good jobs, better jobs than a lot of the ones today's younger people have. It's very clear many Americans completely lost the concept of living within your means.
I remember when we got cable and it was like, "hallelujah!" and all my friends wanted to come over to watch. Now it is as though not having satellite seems to be the exception. We also had a garden and not because we were freaking out about food shortages but because it was a tradition that our parents' parents did and you just had one. My mom's dream was to send me to a private school in junior high. She never could afford it. Nowadays, parents find a way to finance Junior's every need and desire, or so it often seems. Lessons and extra-curricular activities were also out of the question. Again, my parents had good jobs! My dh, bless his heart, tried to tell me that home values always went up. In the 80s we had a house for 7 years that we could not sell for what we paid for. The hard times are here, but they only seem hard because of the 5-year long party we've been having. Things are actually normalizing, with the exception of oil prices. It must be hard for younger kids who came to think this was how life was and had cell phones, Ipods, and anything else they wanted gifted to them by parents. I waited 3 months to get a Rubix cube when I was 13 because it still costed, and every expenditure had to be well thought out. How do people do it? I shudder to think of the debt. The days of big everything and having the latest technology are coming to a very precipitous end. The long emergency, I believe, is going to be looonnggg. We had the perfect storm to create this mess and I don't see that ever happening again, at least not for another 25 years when everyone will have conveniently forgotten everything. That's if we are even still an economy of any consequence.