Consumer Debt and the Economy

Everyone has had that one credit card bill that they’ve opened up and cringed at the amount due. But how can such small purchases add up so quickly in only a month? Most people don’t realize just how much money they are spending when they use a credit card to buy their purchases. However, most of the debt in our country comes from consumer spending: buying more than you can afford at the moment with the presumption that you will be able to pay it off later. Since consumer spending drives the economy and fuels nearly 70% of U.S. GDP, consumers must be in a sound financial position. If consumers become overburdened with debt, they will not be able to drive economic growth. The table below shows the total amount of household debt, total nominal GDP, total nominal disposable personal income, and the ratio of household debt to both GDP and disposable personal income; all the numbers are in billions of dollars:


As you can see, over the past 30 years, U.S. consumers have increased both total household debt and the percentage of that debt relative to overall GDP and disposable income. At some level, the total amount of debt can become so large that it can force consumers to slow their spending and thus begin to negatively affect the health of the economy. This is why in times of a recession, governments try to encourage consumer spending by lowering taxes and lowering interest rates. When consumers slow down their purchases, business’ profits are lowered which eventually leads to lay-offs; worsening the downward spiral. The more debt that is held, the less money is available to be put away in savings and reinvested in the economy.

So can this notion that “Americans are spending way too much” be curbed? Financial advisers offer several tips on how to stop spending so much money and get back on track financially. Two of these tips include tracking your cash flow and tapping into your feelings to restrain your urge to spend. There is a difference between needing something and wanting something, and budgeting helps you to see areas where you may be overspending. Therapist Nancy Irwin says that overspending tends to be a coping mechanism. “You need to find the underlining issue that is trying to be fixed by overspending and learn how to deal with it in a healthy manner. There is nothing wrong with keeping up with the latest trends or being indulgent from time to time, as long as the intent is in the right place. It’s OK to keep up with the latest technology if you are into that or you enjoy giving your kids the biggest pool on the block as long as it comes from a creative place and serves your high consciousness and not just your ego.” There is a fine line between spurring growth and digging the nation deeper into an economic sinkhole if too many houses are burdened with debt. Before you hand over your credit card, you need to think twice. You should ask yourself what need you are trying to fulfill and if you are going to be able to pay it off when the bill comes in the mail.

One thought on “Consumer Debt and the Economy

  1. Corbett

    Interesting article. I’d be curious to see how this debt compares to other developed economies. I wonder if there is something about the USA that encourages more debt than most nations, or if this overconsumption is simply a side effect of a well developed economy?

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