It has fallen upon the consumer to make our economy strong. All the politicians, economists and talking heads on TV are telling him (that's you and me) to get out there and spend your money. Buy that new car, build a new house and fly off to some remote place for an expensive vacation.
Where did the idea that consumer borrowing is a recipe for prosperity? As I recall when I was a kid my Dad told me to work hard, save my money and invest wisely. That still seems like a good idea. Where have I gone wrong to want to live within my means and save some of what I earn?
Corporations have also taken on huge amounts of debt. Many businesses were happy with a net, net profit of 5% to 10% yet today the real cost of company debt is running about 10% which doesn't leave much for the bottom line. Fewer and fewer companies are paying dividends because they don't have enough money left over for their investors. Now many have such poor cash flow that they do not have the cash for new equipment and the banks are not in a lending mood. Profit margins are at their lowest in the past 50 years. The talking heads on CNBC-TV mention capital appreciation as the way to make your profit. Pick a good stock and watch it go up.
We have had an 18-year bull market that ended in 2000. All you needed was a dartboard to be able to choose a stock that was going up. Everyone was weaned away from dividends. As long as it was going up who cares if you get a little check at the end of the year? Here is an interesting statistic that may shock you as it did me. From 1871 to 1997, 126 years, common stocks went up about 7% per year, BUT only 1.6% of the increase was due to price appreciation. The balance of 5.4% came from dividends. And today, for all practical purposes, there aren't any.
No one, including Mr. Greenspan, is encouraging you to save money. Why? Because for every one percent increase in the national savings rate it stops the spending of $75 billion (yes, that's a B). That would slow the economic recovery and our Washington politicians don't want that. Debt has become the "in" thing. People brag about how much they owe.
If you want prosperity now and when you retire you must create it for yourself. Don't figure that Uncle Sam is going to maintain your current life style after you quit working.
Saving money, paying your bills and smart investing have not gone out of style.