"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Although I have never been one to worry about the economy, mostly because I understand that the ups and downs of it all are perpetually cyclical, there is something about the current fiscal crisis that makes me quite concerned. And in trying to connect the dots and trace the pattern to its genesis, I keep coming to the same place -- the average American citizen. We Americans have become so accustomed to living high on the hog, as my southern family members would say, that we have forgotten how quickly the tides of good fortune can turn. As a result, most of us fail to distinguish between a want and a need, don't save for the proverbial rainy day, spend more than we can afford, use credit cards instead of cash, and seek scapegoats for our own gluttony and greed.

Ali and I have operated on a "cash and carry" system, both in our personal and business lives, for nearly three decades. Our rule of thumb is that if we can't pay for something when we want it, we can continue to get by without it until we can pay for it. In our early married life, this often meant eating macaroni for days on end while we saved for whatever it was that was ready to go out (like the refrigerator) or that we felt we really needed to have (like a new computer), but we got through none the worse for wear. In fact, I'd say that it made me appreciate the things that I do have all the more as a result.

I see credit card merchants on our campus all the time, plying their cards to the college kids. Most of the students are too inexperienced to realize the trap that they are getting themselves into and before they know it, they find themselves trapped in the never-ending web of credit debt. More often than not, credit and credit cards enable and even encourage people to live beyond their means. Sadly, when the economy takes a downturn, the people entrapped in the credit web feel the pinch first. And even more sad, it is these people who are most likely to join the ranks of the unemployed when companies begin laying off workers. It creates a seemingly never-ending downward spiral of misery.

I've often wondered how people in my generation and those that came after would manage if the country ever experienced another Great Depression. Ali and I would fare better than just about everyone we know simply because we've made it a point not to get ourselves caught in the credit web. With the exception of another 4 years on our mortgage, we owe nothing. We have two warehouses of products that were paid for long before they arrived from Egypt. Our customers know that they get no products unless they come with cash in hand to pay for them. We don't use credit and we don't extend it.

With all the recent economic doom and gloom, I can't help but feel sorry for anyone who has been trapped and lost their job. I can only imagine how frightening and frustrating it must be; however, I have to say that this is definitely one time when I can honestly say that I am grateful not to have to truly understand that kind of misery.

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