I recently read an article explaining a few differences between Germans and Americans, as observed by a German living in America.
The biggest difference the German noted? Americans spend more. Germans go shopping for a specific item, but in America, recreational shopping is viewed as a legitimate pastime.
Germans do spend double what Americans do on eating out — this rings true; when I spent 3 weeks in Germany back in the ’90s, Germans hosting me did take me out to eat a lot. I remember that the lady I stayed with very typically had just what we’d call a “dorm size” refrigerator. Many Germans go to the grocery store each day out of necessity, as their small homes only hold so much. You don’t see many massive extreme couponing-style stockpiles in German homes.
Germans spend much less on gas than Americans do, despite gas being more expensive in Germany. Why? Germans (and most Europeans, in my experience) walk. Go to any European city, and you’ll see folks walking everywhere. Women trotting mile after mile in high heeled shoes (and often no deodorant, but that’s a post for another day).
The main point of the article was that German are saving all the extra money they’re not busy spending. The average German household saves 13% of its annual income, compared to Americans’ 6% rate. This is also despite higher tax rates in Germany.
The article tied in with another I read recently, about the fact that America’s “poor” actually consume quite similarly to the “non poor.” We often hear about hunger in America, yet on any given day, children are hungry in just .25% of US homes (that’s one home out of 400, for those of you who hated math).
40 million Americans are officially said to be living below the poverty line. Yet what does “poverty” really mean in America? Of America’s “poor,” 30% own two or more vehicles. 64% have a DVD player, 63% have cable or satellite TV, 53% have a video game system (we have none), and 23% use Tivo (they’re ahead of me there as well). My experience in viewing many of the “poor” is that they often have more materially than I do. True poverty, as experienced in third world countries, is pretty much unknown in America.
And yet, which direction is our nation headed? Are we pursuing policies that would encourage more saving, or are we finding ways to provide more and more benefits to the “poor,” paid for by the “non poor?” As our citizens get more and more through no effort of their own (and consequently come to expect more and more), and save less and less, who will take care of this growing entitled class? For now, it’s those who have worked and invested enough to have earned money. How long will this dwindling minority be able and/or willing to support the majority? That’s the big question.
As for me, this makes me want to say no to shopping more than ever. What do you think? Is our American obsession with shopping and acquiring a harmless pursuit, or is it indicative of problems to come for our nation?