A Fearful Outlook on the Economy

I have no doubt that our economy is in big trouble. But if one twenty-something writer's views are correct, the economy may be in even bigger trouble than I thought.

CNBC columnist Cliff Mason recently suggested that this economic crisis has taught young adults that personal finance habits don't matter, claiming that "there's just not that much you can do to protect yourself from the systemic risk in the system." He also asserts that the recession won't teach anyone to live within their means and that "credit cards are a great way to get through tough times."

As part of Mason's twenty-something target audience myself, I was left speechless as I perused the commentary. Admittedly, there's rarely a day that passes by when I'm not outraged by some ludicrous economic comment I see. But honestly, I have never heard anything so preposterous in my life. Quite frankly, I think it's downright embarrassing to my generation. Is this how my fellow millennials really think?

All-around irresponsibility
The blame game from the global economic crisis has been played into overtime. And we know there are plenty of players within our economic system who are at fault for what happened. But irresponsibility was the all-around major culprit. Above all, we should learn from the reckless activities we engaged in over the past several years so that we can become a more efficient and productive economy in the long run.

Mason disagrees. He says that because the people who have saved and invested have lost a tremendous amount in the market, they will be dissuaded from saving and investing in the future and lack the incentive to become more fiscally responsible. While I may think Mason needs to hike back up to Harvard for some further financial education, can I really blame him for thinking like this?

A $7 trillion donation
After all, the government's charity ball over the past few months has only egged on the out-of-control spending habits of many Americans. Sending out $600 checks and instructing debt-laden citizens to spend away frivolously to stimulate the economy doesn't exactly send the right signal to a younger generation still trying to learn how to budget and make ends meet.

Continuously lowering interest rates to inspire consumers to borrow even more simply encourages bad spending habits -- and is ironic, since the leverage in our economy is what caused so many of the current problems in the first place. And bailing out homebuyers who reached well beyond their savings to purchase McMansions from the likes of Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL  ) and Ryland Homes home blatantly encourages spending without regard to your income.

The actions that our leaders have taken to try to save the day are not only failing to achieve their short-term objectives. They're also sending the wrong messages to young people. A recession should be a wake-up call to consumers, and economic downturns are natural and necessary to bring people back down to reality. If the government wants to help with handouts, perhaps it should send a free pair of scissors to credit-card holders. MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) , American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) , and Visa (NYSE: V  ) might not like it, but it'll teach a valuable lesson to cardholders who are knee-high in debt.

The severity of this credit crisis should scare us to death. Our irresponsible actions deserve a tough reprimand, yet because the government is trying to protect the economy from reality, young adults won't learn a very important lesson of frugality and responsibility.

Generation Y'ld spending spree
I admit it: My generation has had it easier than any before us. Thanks to plastic cards and minimum payments, our parents have been able to give, give, and give to their children. Many don't know what it's like to buckle down and save.

It saddens me that a fellow generation-Yer has given up on the thought of fiscal responsibility. Granted, this is a major crisis, but I have never been more scared for the future of my financial situation. After witnessing the consequences of borrowing through the roof, I have little incentive ever to resort to borrowing capital. And I have never been more motivated to save.

Facing financial hardship may be a new concept for the majority of my generation. Excessive use of credit has disguised difficult times in the past, but it's time that young Americans learn the benefits of going without it.

Specifically, it's time we learn that we might have to save for a few months to purchase a new Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPod rather than having it now. It's time we start putting away some of that year-end bonus in savings rather than rushing out to a Ford (NYSE: F  ) or General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) dealership for a seven-year loan to buy the hottest new sports car. And it's time we learn that 401(k) plans and our long-term financial goals deserve our attention right now, even if market values fall in the short term.

The overprotective guardian
Like a parent who fails to teach their child responsibility by giving them absolutely everything and bailing them out of all their troubles, our government is trying to shield its economy from learning a hard lesson. If the rest of my generation jumps on Mason's bandwagon of fiscal ignorance, and if our government continues trying to "protect" its public, I fear what will come in the future.

One thing's for sure, though -- without restoring some responsibility in our finances, we'll be in a much larger crisis than the one we face now.

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American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Apple is a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of American Express. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Kristin Graham owns shares of Apple. She is a contributing analyst on the Global Gains team and learned the word frugal at an early age from her father. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2008, at 11:50 PM, redneckdemon wrote:

    Well, I'm only 26, and I'll admit I don't know much about investing. But I know enough to be wishing I had more money to through into my TSP (like a 401k) right now. It's down nearly 40%, but I know that it will grow again, so I want to buy more shares while they are cheap. A whole generation of American's that just want to spend spend spend dosen't bother me too much. There is nothing I can do to stop them, but I can gladly take their money!

    I agree with you, and I would love to see my generation make a name for itself as the "financialy savy" generation. Unfortunatly, there is just too much ignorance, laziness, and just plain dumb being instilled in us. Too many parents afraid to discipline their children. Too many parents in the habit of living on their credit cards. I don't have much faith in our future, but I'll be damned if I'll let them drag me down with them.

  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2008, at 1:05 PM, Azcherrie wrote:

    Hi, I agree with you redneckdemon! I'm yumared in Arizona. Join Sharebuilder on the net if you can. I joined after 9-11, I was scared to.....but Ive learned a lot over the years about trading stocks and way before Jim Cramers show, on top of it!!!!

    Also, its very affordable. Check it out. I just bought a 1000 shares of SSLR there, yesterday. For, 0.38cents. I did the research on it. Like the website, like the news on it. Hey, and for thirty-some cents and the Obama factor coming into play, I believe this little old stock might have the potential to climb the future solar rallies! Good Luck, you write very well!-Cher


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