I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the days of blindly buying things for ourselves are over. Forever. And ever.
That’s what the national media says: that Americans’ general lack of wealth is contributing to more sustainable personal spending, that today we’re spending disposable income while for the past 20 or 30 years, we’ve been spending everything we had plus a lot we didn’t.
It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, that the economic crisis has permanently changed our lives, that we’ll never again live beyond our means and that in the future, we’ll always do what’s “right” economically, and we’ll always use our heads before spending money instead of just buying whatever we see advertised on TV as long as we still have some plastic in our pocket.
The national media experts say we’re volunteering more, attending more cultural events with family and friends, spending more time together talking and, even though we’re still going to the malls, we’re not spending as much money there because we’re just using malls as places to hang out.
It’s good to know that facing down economic Armegeddon has done so many good things for our lives.
What intrigues me is that a lot of us don’t know which way the wind is blowing, even if there’s a flag right in front of us. We depend on the cues of others to determine our direction, and we feel intimidated if we make a decision that goes against the grain, even when we’re right. It’s not so much herd mentality as it is fear of being wrong alone. Being wrong together is OK, but being wrong alone is flat-out scary.
The suburbs are full of people who think like this, who fled Dallas — the place we call home — back when the smart money was on anywhere but here. The schools are better out there, so the thought process went, the buildings newer, the houses bigger and the streets smoother.
But now that so many of us supposedly can’t afford to live too far from work, and we don’t want to be too far from schools, and we want to make sure our kids experience all that life has to offer, living here where we live is starting to look better to a lot of suburbanites. Dallas is a city that, despite its well-known problems, has never been more vibrant. Many of our neighborhoods are on the upswing. Our public schools, while not perfect, have improved. Our public transportation, while still limited, is expanding. For better or worse, we’ve invested a lot of our tax dollars Downtown, and the place is starting to look good even if there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
The experts may be right: Maybe Americans are starting to appreciate the little plot of dirt we call home more now that we can’t afford to jet off somewhere else at the drop of a hat.
Come to think of it: Isn’t that what most of us around here have always been doing?