"Men are only too clever at shifting blame from their own shoulders to those of others." -- Titus Livius

"It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry." -- Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol

I myself am guilty of pointing the finger. Did I leave those scissors outside, where they rusted? Well, technically, yes. But I was going to bring them in -- you just distracted me. Is it my fault that my lawn is brown and crunchy? Well, I would have watered it, but those darn meteorologists kept predicting rain, and it never rained. See? It's not my fault.

Poor fast food
Meteorologists are not the only ones who get fingers pointed at them. Fast-food establishments (or, as they prefer to be called, "quick-serve restaurants") are often held responsible for fattening America. (Or, as Homer Simpson might say, "embiggening" America.)

I see the argument for that. A Los Angeles Times article reports, "The number of Americans who are considered obese has doubled in the last 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and now accounts for more than 30% of the population. [That's tens of millions of people.] The number of morbidly obese people (generally defined as 100 pounds or more overweight) has grown to 9 million." During this period, the number of fast-food outlets, such as those belonging to McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM), and Wendy's (NYSE:WEN), have soared. Portions at such restaurants have also soared, with bigger and bigger servings available.

Many have drawn a connection there. Fast-food businesses have been sued by overweight people who blamed them for their weight. Then there's Morgan Spurlock, a filmmaker who made a documentary about eating only at McDonald's for a month. Spurlock's body fat went from 11% to 18%, and he gained 24.5 pounds. Bad, bad McDonald's, right?

Well, maybe not. Maybe the fault lies mainly with those who order and eat the fattening fare, instead of those who make and sell it.

The McDonald's diet
The other day on our Living Below Your Means discussion board, I ran across a link to an interesting Associated Press article. It profiled Merab Morgan, a woman who, inspired by Spurlock, ate only at McDonald's for three months. and lost weight. A whopping 37 pounds, in fact. Another woman, Soso Whaley of New Hampshire, did the same, and made a movie about it, too.

The world is full of things that can be bad or good for us, depending on how we use them. Knives can wound people or cut our dinner into bite-size chunks. A Filet-o-Fish sandwich can be a tasty treat -- we just shouldn't enjoy one every day, with super-sized fries and a chocolate shake. Many people enjoy a beer now and then. Some people enjoy a beer every 10 minutes in a single evening. A little can be good; a lot can be not so good.

Plastic responsibility
Another part of America where we'd do well to shift our blame a bit is the land of credit card debt. Like Whoppers, credit cards can be good things. That's why we now offer our own spiffy, consumer-friendly Fool credit cards. But they are too often abused, with people charging things they can't afford. They then find themselves mired in debt that spirals out of control, as card issuers such as J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), American Express (NYSE:AXP), Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF), and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) hike their rates.

Yes, some people who are normally financially responsible do end up in credit card debt as the result of unexpected disasters, such as job losses or health emergencies (and maybe even hurricanes). A heck of a lot of people fall into these categories, in fact. (They might have avoided the outcome by having sufficient short-term savings in an emergency fund, though.)

But still, many millions of Americans are simply financially irresponsible. They charge when they shouldn't. They buy fancy cars and go on cruises when they can't afford them. They buy houses by taking on a lot of risk. We would probably shake our heads at our children if they borrowed a lot of money to buy some expensive sneakers and jeans they don't need at the mall. Yet too many of us essentially do the very same thing.

Are you responsible?
So, are you a financially responsible sort? Here are some questions for you:

  • Do you regularly save some of your income and invest it?
  • Do you have a long-range financial plan designed to get you to a comfortable retirement?
  • Are you making use of of tax-advantaged vehicles such as IRAs and 401(k) plans?
  • Have you been saving money for Junior's college education?
  • Are you saddled with credit card debt? (If so, let us help you dig out.)
  • Do you monitor your credit report regularly? (Learn how and why to do so.)

If you have to admit to yourself that you're not as responsible as you should be, don't feel too bad. You're in good company. And better still, you don't have to stay irresponsible. It's not too late to begin tending to your big retirement picture. Start planning now. We can help you reach your dreams, with our Rule Your Retirement newsletter. It's issued each month, is readable in a single sitting, and contains lots of valuable tips as well as inspiration and motivation. (You've got little to lose and a lot to gain by trying it for free.)

Check out these articles on retirement, too:

Selena Maranjian can be blamed for lots of things, but she had nothing to do with the influenza epidemic of 1918. She owns shares of no companies mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile . You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.