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Waste not, spend not or spend a lot
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Of course, maybe our "needs" haven't changed. Maybe manufacturers and their advertising agencies have convinced us -- quite successfully -- that we need these products. Besides convincing us that we can't possibly be hip, cool, powerful or happy without these products, there is a peculiar sort of built-in obsolescence.

"It's a neat concept," Dighe says of built-in obsolescence, "but I doubt there's very much of it in American manufacturing, and here's why. So much of our manufactured goods come from China and Taiwan and other places in the world. Unless producers all around the world believe in planned obsolescence, it just isn't going to pay for American producers to make products that just break down and have to be replaced, because consumers will just stop buying them and start buying more-reliable things produced elsewhere.

"I think you probably do have considerable obsolescence, not in a literal sense, but in a marketing sense, with people replacing old but serviceable products with new and trendy substitutes."

Financial attitudes and how they affect you
Ultimately, our attitudes about money affect the quality of our lives. How we spend, whether we perceive buying things as gauges of our self-worth and whether we're going to save enough money to retire may depend largely on how we were raised and how we react to how we were raised.

"Some things I think are generational," says Carl Brookins, 73, of Minneapolis. "I think a lot of it has to do with attitudes and how you grew up and what your parents are like and the people around you. There are a whole lot of influences. In general I think our society has become much more of a throwaway culture, and we tend to replace rather than repair. Of course, it's so expensive to repair a lot of things now that it makes more sense to go and buy a new one."

Francis says, "I see the problem with spending among all different ages, and that's definitely a bridge that bridges all different generations. A lot of it doesn't have to do with what generation you're from, it's more about how they were raised and what they were taught about money. Did their parents spend frivolously? Was there a competition with the Joneses next door? How were they taught about money? And how they formed their attitudes and beliefs and values about money is what stays with them the rest of their lives. It's much more about that than it is necessarily about age."

When working with clients to get their finances under control, Francis says she attempts to help them determine what's important to them.

"If it's security, we take that one step further and ask what will help them feel secure. Maybe it's purchasing a home. It may be having a certain dollar amount in their emergency fund. It may be putting a certain amount away for retirement. And we make sure we do that first, and then whatever's left over, you can have a ball with. Then there's less of this constant tug of war between their spending and their values."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Oct. 12, 2005
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