American Financial Life – What Others Think

The US is a geographically vast, high-population country. So, it can be hard to remember that the things that are normal for us are shockingly different for people who live elsewhere in the world. On Quora, several people from countries all over the world recently discussed the things that surprised them about America most. What came up the most? Money, credit and real estate. “The American Financial Life”

Credit Scores Are Everything

You need credit to get a loan… but, your ability to get loans is based on your credit. A couple of Russian respondents said that it was surprising to them to see how much Americans rely on credit in day to day life. Until recently, consumer debt was not a part of life in that part of the world.

The Way We Shop is Different

People from some countries expressed surprise that cashiers would greet them as they entered buildings. But, people from other countries like India said that we have a less personal shopping experience. And, pretty much no one from outside likes that tips need to be figured out by the customer and that prices are almost always set in stone.

We’re Nearly Cashless

Respondents from places like Bangladesh and India expressed surprise that so few Americans carry cash, preferring to use credit or debit cards for almost everything from meals to the grocery store to even admission to events. One Indian respondent said, “Coming from India, where we just need cash because cards are not accepted at most places.”

But, We Still Use Paper Checks

Most of the time, if you want to pay a large bill like your rent, you write a check drawn on your bank account. Your landlord then deposits the check into his account. This can take several days, even if you both go to the same bank. Sometimes, when you attempt to pay a debt online, your bank will still send a paper check through the mail to the recipient.

In Europe and many other parts of the world, the entire transaction is digital and fairly instantaneous. Many US banks are starting to offer person to person electronic payments, but, we’re pretty far behind in the game.

We Have Huge Houses

Many people from other countries were shocked at how much house we in the US tend to buy. Facts and figures back up the observation: according to the BBC, Americans take up more space, with an average home occupying 2200 square feet, than people from any other country. Even stranger to many people from Asia and Eastern Europe: even with all that room, when relatives visit, they stay in a nearby hotel.

For all of the ways that Americans are different from one another, we have even less in common with our neighbors abroad. These differences help us appreciate our culture and can make us more mindful of how we spend and what we enjoy.

Impulse Spending – How to cut it down to size

Impulse spending is one of the most common snags when it comes to people’s budgets. Over 90% of folks admitted to impulse spending in a recent survey. It adds 20% to the average grocery bill. If your spending is average, you will spend over $100,000 on impulse buys.

The worst part is that we rarely get the satisfaction we crave out of these impulse purchases. Electronics break or become obsolete. Clothes bought on impulse hang in our closets unworn.

So, how do you keep impulse spending from undoing all of your financial progress? Make yourself play a waiting game. Decide that, before you buy, you need to wait a set period of time. For small purchases, make your craving time a couple of days. Medium ones, in the $40 to $50 range, a few weeks. Anything over $100, make yourself wait a month or more. A few benefits of the waiting game:

  • The pleasure of anticipation. Often, we enjoy looking forward to a purchase as much as we enjoy the new toy.
  • A chance to comparison shop. If you spend a month scouting out a new sewing machine or power tool, you’ll get a better idea of what options are available and what price point is a good deal.
  • Lower spending. In a lot of cases, you’ll simply forget about your desire before you ever get around to buying.