I recall having an 11 hour conversation with my favorite Madrileño one sunny July day on our way up the steepest mountain God ever created. We picked politics as our topic that afternoon, in the hopes of exasperating each other to the point that we'd forget about the pain we were inflicting on ourselves on our way up the cliff. Our conversation shifted from America's lenient firearm laws to how loans work. Their government helps grad students by providing grants and scholarships to those who continue to study after undergrad. My companion was appalled not only by the cost of my impending legal education and the amount of loans I was going to have to take out to finance the entire affair, but also by the ease of obtaining credit and loans in our country. He was in the process of purchasing a flat, and our conversation quickly turned to the stringent requirements that must be met across most of Europe when one decides to take out a mortgage. He was further scandalized to find that, not only do you not need a 50% down payment or well established guarantors to obtain a home loan, but our banks had been in the business of summarily handing out money at variable interest rates to people who barely had the cash on hand for closing costs. You can imagine the interesting conversations we've had over the course of the last week, one of which actually started with the statement that my country is responsible for tanking the entire global economy in a matter of days because we don't know how to manage money properly. I think he might be on to something.
Thanks to the sad state of our affairs, lots of previously "comfortable" people are having to worry about making their lives fit into the confines of a tight budget. For all the ridiculousness that we've seen in vice presidential politics as of late, the one thing Sarah Palin has said that I agree with was a statement on Americans having to bite the bullet, get over ourselves, and learn to live within our means. Sometimes, people have to go without. This is going to be an especially interesting lesson for a lot of American teenagers. The NY Times did an article this weekend about the effect that our economic crisis is having on the current generation of pampered teens, many whom have been raised in households unfamiliar with the word 'no'. I'm one of the cheapest people I know in all areas of my life except travel. I'm perfectly willing to buy my jeans off eBay to have extra money to spend on a plane ticket to a new and nifty place. I refuse to buy new furniture, and my new bicycle is one of the only things I've payed full price in many, many moons. I justified it because I sold my car out of sheer refusal to pay current gas prices, especially when I live across the street from campus. This mindset of mine makes it almost impossible for me to understand a teenager who wouldn't rather buy thrift store Sevens and have cash left over to play with. Or, God forbid, save.
I'm disheartened by the number of people whose livelihoods and retirements have been submarined by the abysmal economy. But maybe there's a silver lining to be seen here. As we come out of our own modern version of the Roaring '20s, maybe we'll get back to ideas of a less materialistic and greedy society. The Times article makes interesting observations regarding families that have previously used money and tangible gifts as a way to assuage their guilt for not spending enough time with their children. People are having to adjust and deal with the emotional baggage that often accompanies money issues of all kinds as they become accustomed to a new and more restrictive economic reality. But that's okay. There are worse things than the forced enjoyment of simple (and cheap) pleasures. After all, it builds character.