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But let’s take a little reality check and think for a minute about how our society has changed over the last twenty-five or so years in terms of how we think about money and possessions, about what we need and what we want. Before Melissa and I got married we took a pre-marital course with our pastor. Pastor Beyer taught us money management 101: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it—even if you think you might need it. Back then most Americans believed we should be able to have most—but not all—of what we need plus some of what we want. We clearly knew the difference between a want and a need, and the governor regulating our buying was simply what we could afford—that is, what we could pay for. Starting in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s there was a subtle shift: We began to believe that we were somewhat entitled to all that we need plus more of what we wanted governed by what we were able to finance and pay back over time. We saw the explosion of purchase plans that told us we could make purchases and have not just 30 days same as cash, or 60 days same as cash, or 90 days same as cash, but 12 month’s same as cash. As well as, of course, 0% financing on cars. And the whole point was to encourage us and enable us to buy more of what we could not otherwise afford. And when that happened we began to lose our ability to distinguish between what we needed and what we wanted.

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