Did We Learn Anything from the Recession?

by Shawanda Greene

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Last Tuesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession is “very likely over.” Many radio talk show hosts, television personalities, and others who are utterly clueless on matters of the economy weighed in to assess the validity of the Chairman’s statement. I’m not going to argue with the man. If he says the recession is “very likely over,” then I believe him. After all, I’m not an economist.

To me, the more pressing question isn’t whether we, i.e., U.S. Americans, believe the recession is over, but whether we learned anything from it. It’d be fine with me if frugality and thrift maintained their sex appeal once we regained confidence an economic recovery was underway. Oh how glorious this nation would be if we continued to live within our means. Unfortunately, my cynical side prevents me from envisioning an America that’s financially prudent.

In late 2008, when it seemed everything was falling apart, the media promised an economic downturn that rivaled that of the Great Depression. If you know any Depression era survivors, then you’ve likely witnessed frugality at its finest. But this recession, wasn’t long or deep enough (that’s what she said) to get us to turn away from our frivolous ways.

If we become a nation of savers again, it won’t be because the most recent downturn instilled in us a burning internal desire to get our ish together. It’ll be because we don’t have a choice. Seems financial institutions finally got the good sense to deny credit to broke people.

Perhaps you experienced the discomfort that results when your income is disrupted while liquid savings are nonexistent. It’s possible the nonstop calls from collectors drove you over the edge. Maybe you learned your lesson. But I can’t help but think of other life altering events that convince us we’ll change our ways….and then we don’t.

For instance, do you know anyone who’s ever had a heart attack, been incarcerated, or gotten hair extensions? It’s easy to say what you’ll do once you’re delivered from the pain. I’m no exception. Almost without fail, I forget the habits and desires that led to my suffering, and revert to what is comfortable. Even if it leads to my downfall.

It’s possible my fellow Americans will hold tight to their new found spending habits. I’m pretty sure they won’t. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

What’s your take on it?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Carla September 22, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Though I think people will let go of their wallets a little, I think they will be more mindful when it comes to larger purchases, especially home loans. People will read and reread the fine print, question and go though everything with a fine tooth comb.


Tia September 22, 2009 at 3:12 PM

Great Article. I am definitely embracing the frugal side…thanks to the recession and YOU. I work in banking and life was good until I realized that I almost had no job, hella bills, and no savings. The reality check of almost being laid off was good enough for me. Save Save Save!!!


Shawanda Greene September 22, 2009 at 9:11 PM

Thank ya. :) By this time next recession (and there will be a next one), you’ll be debt free with a 6 to 9 month emergency fund and maxed out retirement accounts.


FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com September 27, 2009 at 10:30 AM

Just found your blog and I love it!!!!

Honestly, I’ve realized that everyone just doesn’t think the same. Period.

Some see their overdraft as extra money.
Some think a new credit card is like winning the lottery.

I’ve been chronicling someone I call The Idiot for a while now, and he’s been through 2 or 3 major credit card balance run-ups, gotten himself into a lot of debt, got lucky and got out of it twice, and is still doing some pretty STUPID things with his money.

Has he learned anything? No. No he hasn’t.

He is currently on credit card run-up #3, to the tune of $40,000 because he quit his job on purpose because he didn’t want to travel, although his job description had said: FULL TIME TRAVEL REQUIRED.

Has he learned anything? Like how to save and keep an emergency fund?

No. Still nothing. Some people are either in denial, ignorant or just unable to see what seems to be common sense.

The best we can do is just help and offer help. But that’s basically it. No coaxing, no hand holding, no babying, no coddling. And they just have to learn the hard way, the way most of us have.


Shawanda Greene September 27, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Thanks for dropping in! I have to check out your site to read more about The Idiot. I have several sources of inspiration for this blog. I refer to anyone I personally interact with who does dumb stuff with money as Larissa.

I actually just read in the October 2009 issue of Money that the personal savings rate dropped in June after rising for six consecutive months. Hmm.


Torrey September 29, 2009 at 10:54 AM

I learned that more people who once laughed and made fun of our thrifty nature as asking us for tips for saving and budgeting. It does sometimes take a real jolt of reality to take charge of your financial future. But better late than never. Great thoughts here.


Broke MBA October 4, 2009 at 3:13 PM

While I think there will be some lingering effects from the recent recession, most will soon forget. Just as the masses thought we were headed for the next Great Depression, the next bull market will have most justifying their poor financial or highly leveraged financial habits with thoughts that this time the market is different and it can only go up.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong!


@Annienygma December 5, 2011 at 12:13 AM

I don't think we as a nation learned much; all we have to do is look at what happened on Black Friday for evidence of that – I'm betting it was the ones who HAVE learned a thing or two that stayed home!


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