Financial Illiteracy: An Epidemic With A Simple Cure

How do we learn about money? 80% of parents surveyed believe that schools provide classes for their children on money management and budgeting.

Sorry to break the bad news, Mom and Dad — your kiddos probably aren’t learning personal finance in school. Our school system requires English, math and science, but not a practical life-skills class like financial literacy. Ridiculous, isn’t it? I am all in favor of a well-rounded education, but what good is it if students learn where Shakespeare was born, but not what a tax-deferred retirement plan is? Or that n2x, but not that if you use Payday loans, you could pay an outrageous 1560% in annual interest!

Once we graduate from high school, the vast majority of us are responsible for earning an income, establishing and maintaining a respectable credit score, balancing our bank account, and saving for our future. We deal with money decisions almost daily — yet we are taught nothing about personal finance in school.

Braun Mincher (Braun Media, LLC) is currently producing a feature-length documentary film which exposes the financial illiteracy epidemic in order to bring awareness to this important topic. Braun’s goal is to show viewers why taking personal responsibility for their own financial wellbeing is so important. He wants to expose how little parents and the school system are doing to prepare the next generation for this growingly complex and relevant topic.

Braun conducted over 100 interviews with a wide variety of people: students, parents, educators, consumers, government officials, celebrities and personal finance experts. I was honored to be one of his interviewees. Here’s a short video teaser clip of my own money-life story and response to his million dollar question: “If financial literacy education is so important, then why are we not requiring schools to teach the subject, especially considering the current economic situation?”

(Email subscribers, click here to view the video posted on my blog.)

Incidentally, I think it’s supposed to look like I’m sitting at my desk but the office I was interviewed in is not mine — naturally, my office is wallpapered with family photos, colorful Treasure Maps (aka vision boards) and cute puppies!

I’ve served as a volunteer Junior Achievement instructor and have taught students basic economic, personal finance and small business management concepts. The kids and their teacher loved the program. So did the parents — in fact, several of the student’s parents had their kids ask me pressing, personal finance questions for them. Yet the only administrators in my area interested in offering the course were those managing private schools. There is a pathetic 2.3% percent national market penetration at the high school level — and Junior Achievement classes are offered for free!

What about you: Did your parents pass along their financial literacy skills to you? Were you taught personal finance in school? Do you think schools should be required to teach money management skills? And finally, if the cure for financial illiteracy is so simple, then why aren’t we doing it?

Read my tips on how parents can teach kid’s about money management.

Parenting With Purpose: This I Believe…

Happy Mother’s Day!

While eagerly waiting for our adoption referral from China, we gave much thought to parenting. How would we raise our daughter to be strong and independent; sensitive and thoughtful; curious and happy?

Obviously, I don’t believe money is the biggest determination of a meaningful and joyful life. Success and happiness come from within, and more importantly, they take practice. How might we help her learn that life’s obstacles are not concrete barriers?

I wrote the following piece over four years ago; before we brought our daughter home. Like a business plan, it helps steer my actions in ways that I feel will result in success – for me as a parent, and for my daughter as a healthy, happy and contributing member of society. I think of it as my parental mission statement.

Our daughter turned four last week. I am pleased to report that she is blossoming into an affectionate, assertive, confident, and insightful little gal.  She makes this momma very, very proud.

Parenting With Purpose: This I Believe…

It isn’t about expecting or demanding obedience and conformity. It is about encouraging discipline, personal autonomy and individuality.

It isn’t about respecting authority. It is about respecting one another.

It isn’t about rules. It is about principles.

It isn’t about being quiet, not crying, and stuffing feelings. It’s about recognizing and appreciating the full range of human experience.

It isn’t about making my child do what’s good for her. It is about working with my child to help her learn to make the best choices.

It isn’t about teaching her how to live life to the fullest. It is about living life to the fullest while learning happens naturally.

It isn’t about blindly following directions. It is about following dreams, interests, and passions mapped out by child and parents together in a loving relationship built on mutual respect.

It isn’t about giving my child everything she wants, risking a false sense of entitlement. It is about helping her get what she wants through her own efforts.

It isn’t about spanking. It is about teaching her that aggression is never an appropriate way to resolve conflicts.

It isn’t about parents being martyrs. It is about parents modeling healthy personal boundaries.

It isn’t about “because I said so”. It is about open communication and the art of compromise.

And finally,
It is all about love.

Why Downsizing To A Smaller Home Can Make You Happier

As the current lease on our rented condo rolls towards the end of the contracted dates, some of our friends are asking us, once again, when we plan to stop renting and buy our next home. When I share my findings that renting is still cheaper than owning in our town, some suggest we “should” move into a larger home. When I ask, “Why should we move to a larger home?”, responses usually include a quick shrug of the shoulders, a time-stalling “uhhhh,” then perhaps something like “your daughter will need more space as she gets older,” or “don’t you want to grow a larger garden?”

I’ve learned that everything you own owns you. Several years ago, we chose to free ourselves from the handcuffs of STUFF. We downsized our lifestyle almost 50% by moving from a 2450 square foot home into a condo with about half as much floor space. In doing so, our housing and utility bills dropped dramatically. We sold half of our belongings and made over $13,000 in cash. Decreasing our monthly expenses caused our net worth to grow exponentially.

More importantly, our minds are more at peace, and we live a more culturally rich life. We have more time and energy to consume experiences rather than things. We play more with our child, talk more with each other, and enjoy more of life.

Less space gives us more of everything we value most.

According to David Wann, bestselling author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, many of today’s three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, which is about the average size an entire home was during the 1950’s. Today, most people use the extra garage space to store things they own but seldom use.

The number of “very happy” people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less! 86% of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result.

This recession is putting the squeeze on many families. Perhaps it’s time to consider downsizing your biggest budget buster– your housing expense.

Renting is NOT throwing your money away

Whether you pay mortgage payments to the bank or rent payments to your landlord, you are paying for SHELTER. Contrary to what most people used to believe (but now we know better, right?), homes do NOT always go up in value. Your home is your shelter — not an investment. Often it is less expensive to rent a home than to buy one. Consider renting and investing your down payment savings and your monthly savings into income-producing real estate, businesses, stocks and bonds, or your education instead. You will often come out ahead financially in the long run.

And you might find yourself happier for it, too.

Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?

Emma Johnson from MSN Money pitched me the link to her recent article, Will you end up supporting your parents?, and I have to confess, her article brought up very uncomfortable memories for me.

15 years ago, my mom and I started having conversations about how she planned to handle her retirement. She’d admittedly not been very savvy about her personal finances. I was often concerned about her financial misbehavior. Deep down, I knew she was counting on someone to rescue her: either a man or me.

My mom and I would often brush the tension away with good-natured ribbing. We used to joke about how when she was broke and too old to work,  my husband and I would build her an apartment in the hay loft above our horse barn, and when she became too old to climb the stairs, we’d haul her up with a hoist and pulley system. That was good for a few laughs — until she turned 59 and was diagnosed with a debilitating disease that forced her into early retirement.

She lost her business, her ability to work, her minimal home equity. With no savings set aside, she quickly became dependent on others. The stress of her illness and the burden of her financial needs ravaged the relationships between her and her boyfriend, and me and my siblings.

In her article, Emma Johnson asks difficult questions:

Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?

Is it ever too early to meddle in your parents’ financial affairs? Is it your responsibility to plan to care for people who are still working and able to save and invest on their own behalf? What if their financial needs compromise your lifestyle or your security? And what if your folks should have known better than to leave retirement to chance — and yet have?

Ultimately, my mom’s poor financial behavior became our burden, and while I was glad that I was able to help her, the situation caused undue stress.

Many of my coaching clients are parents raising young children, are deeply in debt, and have little or no money set aside for retirement. Yet most of these parents contribute regularly to their children’s education fund(s). While I appreciate the desire to provide their kids with a college education, I worry about their family’s future in the long run.

Take it from me — the financial burden of caring for your elderly parent(s) — ones who failed to save for their own retirement — is much more daunting than paying for your own college tuition.

So parents, please take care of YOUR financial future first. Then — and only then — contribute towards improving your children’s future. This is not selfish behavior; this is one of the most loving things you can do for your entire family.

From Minimum Wage to Millionaire (Part 5: My Early 40′s)

Note: This post is part of a series about how I became a millionaire. The series starts here. The most recent installment (my 30’s) is here.

Happiness Is A Choice

After exiting the growing real estate bubble by selling our home, our intention was to take a year-long travel adventure across America in a recreational vehicle. We would submit our adoption paperwork before leaving and keep our eyes peeled during our road trip for the perfect place to call our next home. Then we’d decide whether it was better to buy another home or rent. We were ecstatic about the prospect of living as vagabonds for awhile before welcoming a child into our lives.

But then, two months later, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia.

Whoa. Not only did our trip preparation come to a screeching halt, but so did my carefree and positive outlook. My mom wasn’t just family — she was one of my dearest friends. She was only 59, she’d always been extremely active and up until this point, she’d been the model of perfect health. I was completely thrown for a loop.

My mom came to live with my husband and me for much of her two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer. I watched helplessly as her once strong body weakened, withered and starved. I’ve never before felt such intense and prolonged pain.

I realized I had to do something to avoid going completely out of my mind with fear, grief and overwhelm. I tried all the usual things: support groups, therapy, sleep. While these things certainly helped, I discovered something even better. And it was so ridiculously simple.

During this intensely difficult time, I realized that I could be happy anyway.

How? I made it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile grow. I wrote a list of five happy moments everyday. I actively searched for things to add to my list. My focus changed and in turn, so did my mood. I learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I developed a habit of feeling happy.

At first I felt like a traitor. How could I think about happy things while my mom suffered? Was I being unfair, insensitive? Fortunately, I realized that I couldn’t be a good caregiver for my mom when I felt bad. Fortunately, I chose happiness over guilt.

My Takeaway: It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether you live a happy life; it is a matter of choice.

Bonus: Happy people make more money!

Millionaire Milestone

The morning I calculated our net worth to be north of one million dollars, we were living in a rented apartment, driving a six-year-old car, and wearing used consignment store clothes. At age 40, we were “closet” millionaires.

I’ll never forget the walk we took that beautiful, sunny day. We lived in a nicely landscaped, well-appointed apartment complex half a block from a neighborhood park. Directly to the west of our community stood hundreds of $500,000 McMansions.

During our entire 20 minute walk, we saw no one else out and about. Where were our neighbors?

I suppose the kids were at school and the adults were at work.

I felt like a bird who had just been set free from the confines of its cage. My husband and I, completely unhindered by debt and financial obligations, had found freedom. Unlike our neighbors, we didn’t need to go to work!

Contrary to popular belief, most millionaire households do not live the extravagant lifestyles that many assume. In fact, a millionaire or two may be living inconspicuously next door to you. The authors of the bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy found the top reason for why some people manage to accumulate wealth is that they live below their means. Many millionaires have found that living in a status neighborhood is not only a poor value, but it makes one feel the need to keep buying status objects to keep up with the Joneses.

My Takeaway: Live life your way, not like the Joneses.

Two Becomes Three

This dream of mine took ten years to come to fruition, but we had stuck to it and we reached our goal: to be financially-free before starting our family.

We submitted our adoption paperwork and eight months later, while vacationing in Hawaii, we received our daughter’s referral picture.

Since bringing our daughter home from China, we’ve scaled way back on our construction business and work only when we want to. We can afford to be selective in the projects we accept. I hired a bookkeeper to replace me so that I could focus my time, energy and attention on parenting and pursuing my hobbies. Additionally, I’ve learned how to effectively manage our investment portfolio in such a way that this task requires just one or two hours per month of my time.

Our family hasn’t set an alarm clock in years. Whether it be work, parenting or play, we wake with the sun, eager to spend each new day doing whatever we choose. For us, this is financial freedom.

My Takeaway: Hold fast to your dreams and they will come true.

…  to be continued!

The beginning of this series started here: How I Became A Millionaire: Childhood

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What You’ve Been Missing If You Aren’t Following Me On Twitter

I view Twitter, one of the Web’s fastest-growing social networks, as mini-blogging. It is revolutionizing communication and changing how some entrepreneurs do business.

On this blog, I tend to write long posts, but on Twitter, I’m limited to using just 140 characters or less. When I started “tweeting” two months ago, I had no clue how I’d use this tool. 84 tweets later, I find I appreciate the opportunity to share bits and pieces without formatting a new blog post. I also like catching juicy tidbits of information and breaking news from the other twitter users I follow.

Signing up with Twitter is easy. Following me is easy. Come join the fun!

Here’s what you’ve been missing:

Recommended Reading / Interesting Links:

~10% of life is random; the remaining is defined by how we think.

Was the problem on Wall Street subprime mortgages or elevated testosterone?

For Sale: The $100 House…

Which Americans can qualify for housing help?

Often in the middle of something momentous, we can’t see its significance.

Cool mashup of CraigsList and Google Maps provides an interface to view housing listings visually by location:

So long, McMansions Welcome, just-the-right-size homes!

The disappearing vacation: Fewer trips may mean better bargains in 2009 I’m looking for them!

Because things change, buy and hold investing doesn’t make sense to me, ie:

Happiness Myth No. 6: Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Read: This Is Not a Test.

Popular kids make more money when they grow up.

Analogy of the economy through the eyes of a third grader huckster

Reading: Carnival of Personal Finance selections at

Timely Announcements:

Suze Orman is on Oprah this afternoon re: her 2009 money plan.

Download Suze Orman’s new book for free. See:

Opening mail – free stuff: $10 off purchase of $10 at OfficeMax (in-store, exp 2/21/09). Wow, anything to get you in the door these days.

IRS is cutting some slack:

Banks weeding out customers in neighborhoods hardest hit by economic downturn!

The (financial) “misery index” by state:

Another housing price & rent spiral:

A day in the life of a homeless family on Oprah now. No emergency fund? This could be you…

Useful Tips:

Debt reduction: Create a wall chart and update it weekly. Keep an eye on your goal and focus on driving the line on your graph consistently downward.

Eat organic foods: View the extra expense as preventative medicine — as investing in your future.

Buy local, at co-ops, farmer’s markets, in bulk. Grow your own – turn lawns into food.

Need to cut back? Housing, cars and taxes dominate most budgets. Make dramatic cuts to these budget busters first.

Decadence is so passe. Frugality is the new cool. Finally, I’m part of the cool crowd! A frugal tip: shop clothing consignment stores.

Has stock market bottomed? I don’t think so. Too much debt, too much unleveraging, too much fear, too few jobs. Capitulation 1st.


“A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity. Obama

“It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis.” –Margaret Bonnano

“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” Mary Engelbreit

Glimpses into my personal life:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars. My 2009 moon is to travel for 5 months. What’s yours?

Working on my never-ending to-do list. My mom said, “The only time you’ll be caught up is when you’re 6′ under”. Puts it all in perspective!

DD: My skin is yellow, yours is pink. Can we be presidents, too? ME: Yes, no matter the color of our skin, we are all the same color inside.

I started a creative non-fiction writing class today. I haven’t had assigned homework in years! Oh, my brain hurts…

Me: What do you want her to paint on your face? DD: A horny horse. Face-painter: Say what!? Me: You mean a unicorn? DD: That’s what I said…

My genetic happiness set-point is low. I’ve learned that happiness is a CHOICE and it takes diligent PRACTICE!

Marveling that as of yesterday, I’ve been married half my life!

Stewing over writing part 3 of my “How did I” series (my 20’s) because of some difficult memories. But writing about them is therapeutic…

I was recently interviewed by Retire Early Lifestyle. Read it here:

Sending collection letters to past due customer accounts. Despise this task! Will be contracting for prepaid deposits more now w/ recession.

I’m formulating a new biz idea. So excited about the possibilities that I can barely sleep! This one will be simple to implement, $$$, fun!

One thing I wish I could save more money on? Health insurance. High deductible HSA = ~$1000/mo. for our healthy family of 3.

How much do we spend monthly on TV? $0. Surprisingly content with HOA-provided free basic satellite programming.

New blog posts:

Will I ever buy a home again? What am I invested in? Q&A at:

Posted: How did I become a millionaire? It started early:

Part 2 of my life story has been posted:

How I became a millionaire (Part 3: My twenties):

Part 4 of my series, How I Became A Millionaire:

Having trouble selling your home?

Need cheap date ideas? A Valentines plan? Here are 52 ideas:

Why blogging should be on YOUR to-do list, especially during tough economic times

Simple Prosperity: Finding the Sweet Spot Great interview with Dave Wann, bestselling author, filmmaker


If you find my “micro-blogging” tweets interesting or useful, follow me at:

Simple Prosperity: Finding the Sweet Spot

David Wann author speaker filmmakerDavid Wann is a writer, filmmaker, and speaker on the topic of sustainable lifestyles. He’s coauthor of the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, a best seller that’s now in nine languages. Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle is Wann’s vision of a lifestyle that’s immune to Affluenza, and his book in progress, Beyond Simple Choices, evaluates 100 high-yield decisions at both the personal and public scale.

Twice, I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing Dave speak.  His message resonates with me, deep down in my soul.  Generously, Dave offered to share his thoughts with my readers here, about how to find the sweet spot with REAL wealth. His message is timely: As both our physical and economic climates reach crisis levels, Dave offers us a chance to reflect, plenty of hope, and specific pathways for healthy, joyful change. Thank you, Dave!

1) Dave, how do you define “simple prosperity”?

I think of simple prosperity as a social movement, a non-violent revolution similar to the civil rights movement, to replace our excessive lifestyle with a more moderate, sensible, grounded way of life. It’s not about guilt, shame, judgment, or sacrifice, but a strategic, mutually agreeable reduction in our level of consumption and a corresponding increase in our level of contentment. My message in Simple Prosperity is two-fold: it’s not ecologically, geologically, or socially possible to pump so much stuff, so quickly, through the global economy; however, a mindful lifestyle rich in experience, information, efficiency, connection, culture, and human energy can significantly reduce much of our hyperactive production and consumption. We can have twice the satisfaction for half the resources – a bargain!

When we directly meet basic needs like security; connection with nature and with people we respect, self-expression and creativity; meaningful leisure activities, it becomes clear that money and possessions are really an indirect way of meeting needs. For example, how can a money-distracted culture create trust, authenticity, loyalty, inspiration, calmness, tradition, and passion? Frankly, the evidence indicates that the quest for “more” at both the personal and commercial scale often strips these essential qualities away, leaving us borrowing, buying and selling rather than being.

Simple prosperity re-values the ecstasy of time spent in a garden or having a stimulating conversation; the relief and renewal of ideas put to practical use, as when we work to improve our neighborhoods and communities. To “save the planet” as well as ourselves, we’ll need to change far more than light bulbs and grocery sacks; we’ll need to change our value system, creating policies and technologies based on long-term success rather than just short-term gratification. If the cultural direction – the everyday ethic – changes, individuals will follow, en masse.

2) How is simple prosperity different than a lifestyle of frugal deprivation?

Simple prosperity is not about what we give up, but what we get back when we let all the junk go: the distraction, dysfunction, depression, corruption, pollution, doubt, debt, shame, stress, guilt, cruelty, and all the rest. If we actively re-prioritize our personal lives and also participate in getting our culture back on track, we’ll re-locate what I call the “sweet spot” of enough. Enough is perfect, too much results in diminishing returns. For example, when we drink a cup or two of coffee, we have useful energy. But ten cups is way beyond “enough,” and we pay for it in craziness, just as we are paying dearly for “too much” in this year’s economic train wreck.

The lifestyle presented in Simple Prosperity could easily avoid the need to earn and spend half a million dollars over a lifetime, including reduced medical bills, utility bills, legal fees, interest payments, counseling, lawn care, day care, appliance maintenance, and other forms of hired “care” that we can provide ourselves if we make time, and liberate ourselves from a consumer script that’s driving us nuts.

3) What does simple prosperity look like on a day-to-day basis?

In our current way of life, the typical American will spend six months of his life sitting at red lights, eight months opening junk mail, one year searching for misplaced items, two years trying to return calls to people who aren’t there, four years cleaning house, and five years waiting in line – all activities that relate at least in part to our lives as consumers.


When we choose real wealth, we change the way we spend both time and money. We begin choosing things like healthy, great-tasting food; work that challenges and stimulates us; and spiritual connection with a universe that’s infinitely larger than our stock portfolio. Instead of more stuff in our already-stuffed lives, we can have fewer things but better things of higher quality; fewer visits to the doctor and more visits to museums and friends’ houses. More joyful intimacy, more restful sleep, and more brilliantly sunny mornings in campsites on the beach – bacon & eggs sizzling in the skillet and coffee brewing in the pot. Greater use of our hands and minds in creative activities like building a table, knitting a sweater, or harvesting the season’s first juicy, heirloom tomato. These are the things that matter, and we can choose them, if we spend less time, money, and energy being such obedient consumers.

A great example of the social and personal benefits of a new lifestyle already occurred in Michigan from 1930 to 1985, when the Kellogg Company operated with a six-hour day. With two hours more discretionary time, Kellogg employees transformed the lifestyle of Kalamazoo, where many of them lived. Families and neighborhoods benefited from the extra time; schools included curricula about the “arts of living” and parental involvement in schools – such as “room mothers” in the classrooms – increased. Parks, community centers, skating rinks, churches, libraries, and YMCAs became centers of activity. Kellogg workers recall that the balance of their lives shifted from working to living. What to do with their time became more important than what to buy with their money.

4) How can adopting a lifestyle of simple prosperity help us individually and collectively?

We are an extremely socially oriented species, which accounts for our stunning success. Our ever-expanding brains enabled speech and language, and the complex social relationships that made cooperation and group decisions possible. Because of our genetic make-up, it’s hard for individuals to change unless the whole group’s ethic changes. I propose that a joyfully moderate lifestyle become, by consensus, the new norm for “the good life,” as it already has in moderate countries like Holland, Denmark, Costa Rica, and New Zealand.

Historian Arnold Toynbee observed that among thirty or more empire- civilizations, those that survived and thrived followed a Law of Progressive Simplification. The Roman Empire became Italy, where the Renaissance was born. The British Empire is now the far more moderate and exemplary United Kingdom, a world leader in dealing with global warming. The American Empire, too, will mature, in effect, outgrowing the gospel of growth.

I like the analogy of a backpacker when I think about the emerging American lifestyle. The backpacker doesn’t want a lot of junk in her backpack. She wants only items that are ingeniously designed, like a Whisper Lite cookstove, a warm fleece sweater, a good pair of boots that can go the extra miles, and food that’s full of slow-release energy. The backpacker brings along skills she has learned, the stories she can tell, a well-designed tent, maybe a flute or a great book. On her journey, the world is a splash of light and shadow, with mountain peaks in the distance and bighorn sheep standing guard. If we’re smart, the awakening American lifestyle will deliver clarity, a sense of wonder, and great health, as if life itself was an energizing, mind-opening backpacking trip.

5) I’ve heard you encourage your audiences to become “historical super-heroes.” As I recall, you suggested that we curb our consumption so that our grandkids will read about our generation in their history books with reverence. Can you elaborate?

In recent experiments with MRI technology, altruism, generosity, and cooperation register as strongly in the brain’s “pleasure center” as gambling, drugs, shopping, chocolate, or attractive faces. It would feel great to act unselfishly, in the best interests of our grandkids, but our society is focused elsewhere, distracted by situation comedies and constantly morphing car styles.

If we score high in the history books and become super-heroes, it will be because we finally let go of all the junk images, junk food, and junk information, and went after the real wealth. It’s so important that we each do our part to nudge our lifestyle in a more meaningful direction. We need fulfillment rather than just “fun,” engagement with passions rather than just passing the time. We should each ask ourselves this question: If it’s true that our whole life flashes before us when we die, will it hold our interest?

6) Despite the pain this financial crisis has caused, I can’t help but think that it serves as the wake-up call many seemed to need. My hope is that we become a nation of savers and conservationists, not spenders and takers; that we learn to value relationships over material possessions. What are your thoughts about the effect this crisis might have on society?

A culture shift like the one I propose – from an emphasis on material wealth to an abundance of time, relationships, and experiences – has already occurred in cultures such as Japan in the 18th century. Land was in short supply, forest resources were being depleted, and minerals such as gold, silver, and copper were suddenly scarce as well. Japan went from being resource-rich to resource-poor, but its culture adapted by developing a national ethic that centered on moderation and efficiency. An attachment to the material things in life was seen as demeaning, while the advancement of crafts and human knowledge were seen as lofty goals.

In this “culture of contraction,” an emphasis on quality became ingrained in a culture that eventually produced world-class solar cells and Toyota Priuses. Japanese shoguns established strict policies for reforesting. Training and education in aesthetics and ritualistic arts fluorished, resulting in disciplines like fencing, martial arts, the tea ceremony, flower arranging, literature, art, and skillful use of the abacus. The three largest cities in Japan had 1500 bookstores among them, and most people had access to basic education, health care, and the necessities of life, further enriching a culture that required very few resources per unit of happiness.

One of the main purposes of culture is to moderate and restrain individual excess, but our collective identity in 2009 is itself excessive. We’re like a family whose parents do not set clear, healthy guidelines for their children. Anything goes – drugs, unprotected sex, weapons, junk food by the barrel. Our global family desperately needs to set sensible guidelines. For example, we need to retrieve traditional diets that prevent illness and generate wellness. When the basic food groups and recipes of a particular culture are lost in the shuffle, we can’t figure out what we should be eating, with disastrous and financially costly results.

7) How would you describe a sensible economy?

A sweeping culture shift is happening right now, right in our generation. We’re at the tail end of the Industrial Era, moving into an age of restoration, biospirituality, and preservation. The entire industrial civilization is ramping down, just in time to prevent ecological catastrophe. If we’re lucky, we’ll find authentic abundance we can count on, rather than manufactured, prefabricated wealth that literally counts on us.

It’s not the Joneses we strive to keep up with; it’s an all-encompassing system of production and consumption – a way of life that takes away our ability to feed ourselves, entertain ourselves, or even have original thoughts. We’re looking for value in the wrong places. Is it really large houses we crave, or large lives, rich in discretionary time and generosity that we can share with those we love? Is it really expensive, programmed vacations we want, or simply the respect and admiration of our peers, and a sense that life is exciting? When our daily lives are energized with creativity and playfulness, we discover that life is an adventure no matter where we are.

It’s time for a cultural revolution – for consumer disobedience that demands quality over quantity; localization rather than globalization; time affluence rather than the poverty of constant, stressful deadlines; less aggression, more empathy; more respect for public places, including the environment, and less obsession with individual accumulation.

A sensible economy does not take more than it gives. On our watch, the world’s solar income and renewable yield is being consumed at a faster pace every year. This year, ecologists calculate that we’ll consume nature’s “interest” (from fisheries, forests, and farmland, etc.) by the middle of September, then, we’ll continue to draw down nature’s principle, in the process undermining the ecosystems that support us.

8 ) If we continue to reduce our levels of consumption, what do you think will happen to our economy?

We will simply create a different kind of economy, as the Japanese did centuries ago, including a rebirth of craft, amateur art and self-expression, and basic skills of self-reliance. Let’s face it, right now, we are at the mercy of a lifestyle support system that commands our obedience because we don’t even know how to re-light the pilot on our furnaces or spend a solitary hour in the park without being entertained.

Our economy’s primary measurement of “progress” is the Gross Domestic Product, which is very much a toxic loaf of bread. All economic activities are folded into it, whether beneficial or destructive. Crime, family breakdown, loss of leisure time, oil spills, hurricane damage, car accidents, loss of wetlands, legal fees for corruption – all are included in the GDP, and even though the bread is toxic, the superficial fact that it rises is good enough for mainstream economists. We need a new economic yardstick that tells us how we’re really doing, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator developed by the non-profit Redefining Progress, which subtracts the “bads.”

The U.S. GDP might possibly be smaller in the future, but that’s okay, because it could contain greater real wealth overall if all the negatives decrease while positive values like social relationships, renewable energy, bike trails, small farms, preventive health care, and compact communities with town centers increase.

Here are a few more shifts in the way we meet needs that will make our lifestyle more affordable:

* If our collective demand for products falls, so will prices, as we’ve seen recently with gasoline. With cooperation and synergies among social and technical systems, we’ll make better use of finite resources.

* When we design communities to fit human needs rather than corporate or automobile needs, our lifestyle becomes more affordable. Public transit will be far less expensive per capita than America’s current fleet of 250 million cars.

* Getting rid of packaging, glossy green lawns, and food waste also takes a huge chunk out of the collective cost of our lifestyle. We currently spend $900 per capita on advertising, which of course is embedded in the cost of products and services. Less consumption means less advertising as well as less debt. And less debt of course means less interest on the debt.

* Reasonable reductions in meat consumption, air travel, and energy-intensive materials like cement, aluminum, paper, and synthetic chemicals make it seem like we’re all making more money. War must finally be seen as the epitome of waste. Green chemistry, which shortens the steps and softens the environmental cost of making chemicals, in turn lowers the cost of everything manufactured.

* Preventive health approaches and more empathetic, service-oriented doctors and nurses lower the cost of maintaining our health, and better industrial design generates much less costly pollution.

* Eliminating subsidies that result in the destruction of ecosystems would save the world about $700 billion annually, about a third of that in the U.S. Rather than drawing down aquifers, letting soil erode, clear-cutting forests, and over-fishing the world’s fish species, we would learn how to be efficient, and how to harvest only a sustainable yield.

* In the new economy, recycling becomes a religion so less costly extraction is required; In a world with different values and priorities, there is less need for crime control, lawsuits, and security systems, because with a higher ratio of social input as well as greater equality, we nurture a population that is less fearful and has less “status anxiety,” a direct stimulant of crime.

These savings arise not because we are “doing without,” but because we’re tuning up our value system, getting rid of waste, and creating a more sustainable way of being in the world. Rather than requiring a hundred thousand hours of work per lifetime, this lifestyle enables each citizen to work less, avoiding the need for half a million dollars of earnings per capita — yielding a better quality of life in which nature is on the rebound, and trust is, too.

The future is waiting. I believe it’s time for us to stop seeing the world as it is, and begin to see it as it should be.

simple-prosperity-bookDavid Wann is a writer, filmmaker, and speaker on the topic of sustainable lifestyles. He’s coauthor of the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, a best seller that’s now in nine languages. Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle is Wann’s vision of a lifestyle that’s immune to Affluenza, and his book in progress, Beyond Simple Choices, evaluates 100 high-yield decisions at both the personal and public scale.