Times are tough may get tougher still as federal, state, and local governments try to deal with balancing budgets and stimulating the economy and creating jobs. By August 1, 2011, Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling so that the U.S. does not default on its debts. The housing market, which needs to recover before the economy can truly progress, is still weakening, with no real near-term end in sight. Of course, until our debt and deficit problems are alleviated, it will be difficult for the housing market to recover, as no one wants to borrow money in spite of low rates. Globally, the picture is bleak, as well, as Europe is dealing with its own hot mess in Greece that threatens the entire health of the European Union.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable and scary; we like to know what’s coming around the bend before it hits us in the face, not after it has knocked us on our butts. In spite of this angst and fear, there is cause to be hopeful. I choose to look at what we’re going to do differently, how we will be smarter and more selective, and how our values will be what will guide us more and more. Am I just being a cockeyed-optimist? Perhaps, but here is what I see:
1. Uncertainty can be a motivator. Instead of wringing their hands, some people will do whatever they can to take some control. Instead of putting off dealing with their finances, they are determined to do something. That may mean drawing up a budget, paying off credit card debt, setting up an IRA, getting wills and life insurance in place, increasing the emergency fund, starting an investment plan for college costs, or reviewing spending habits. A stronger citizen bolsters the economy. In the world of politics, creative, problem-solvers who can work across party lines will shine. That is good for the country.
2. Consumers are more discriminating. Small business owners may reap the benefits of this shift in behavior. Consumers are tired of dealing with the big boys who somehow are sticking it to the consumer. They want to feel a connection with those they are doing business with. They want to associate with people they trust, who they see at the grocery store, at the local park, at religious services, or on the soccer field. This will help the health of our local communities, not to mention improve the quality of goods and services.
3. Planning is in vogue. Looking back, many people feel like they hit the buffet line one too many times. They are ready to look at their lifestyle choices and reassess where they should be investing their time and money in more productive ways that are beneficial to their families. This will spill into other areas of their life. Again, this will make people — and government — more creative and frugal.
4. The blinders are off. When times are good, it’s easy to not pay attention to your excesses, the government’s inefficiencies, and corporate corruption. It’s tempting to only get involved in your life and not educate yourself about local and country-wide issues and take a stand. We’re not in Kansas anymore, and clicking our heels won’t take us back to a kinder, gentler place. We’re poised to make sure everyone is accountable (ourselves, included). Accountability is a friend of goal setters as it motivates, creates urgency, and encourages measuring progress. Things cannot change unless goals are set.
Getting through this may take time, but by being aware, taking control, and reassessing and realigning our values with our behavior are how we will survive and ultimately thrive. The key to making the most of the down side will lie in our ability to focus on what changes we can make as consumers, professionals, taxpayers, voters, and as a nation rather than getting emotional about what “better times” we have left behind. View these times as a challenge that will test and strengthen us — that is where the up side will be found.