An analyst in the same article said, “I think it’s a good indicator that we’re moving in the right direction.”  That’s exactly the type of ridiculous comment that keeps us playing along as the great Oz of our consumer culture pulls the levers.

On the heels of that article came news that Citigroup just mailed nearly 350 million credit card offers – more than one for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.  Do you think the company senses some pent up desire to spend?

How to Reset Your Economy

The pull of our consumer culture is as strong as a riptide.  But all is not lost.  There’s hope, if we do the right thing at home, and if we demand that others who have influence over us do the right thing as well.  Here are two steps that would make a huge difference:

Plan to succeed. In workshops I lead around the country, I’m noticing a little more willingness to use a budget, although it’s still a tough sell.  Use my recently revised Budget Quick Start Guide, along with my Recommended Spending Guidelines (found at the same link), to put together a Cash Flow Plan.  There’s no better tool for helping you live within your means while being generous, building savings, and ditching debt.

Also, review the habits of money-smart people I described in a post entitled, The Case Against Frugality.

Stop sipping the Kool-Aid. We are not consumers, and we are not puppets on a string, so let’s lobby our politicians and the companies we do business with to stop referring to us that way.

“Consumer” is a demeaning label.  It literally means to use up, squander, and spend wastefully.  To be a consumer is to be a pawn.  Politicians sit around talking about what they can do to prop up consumer sentiment and prompt more consumer spending.  Businesses strategize on how they can best reach certain consumer segments.

It’s as if they’re playing a game of pinball, trying to time the flippers to keep us bouncing from store to store.

Let’s demand that politicians go back to what they used to call us before the Industrial Revolution: citizens.  And let’s demand that the companies we do business with refer to us as customers.

This may seem like a little thing, but I believe a wholesale shift in our identity would do much to change the expectations of how we manage money, and that would foster better actual behavior.

It might put an end to short-sighted thinking in Washington that leads to short-term economic “fixes” designed to get us to spend money we shouldn’t spend.  And it might get us to read the contract before signing on for a mortgage that eats up half of our monthly income.

Who knows?  It might even lead to a day when a healthy savings rate is applauded on the front page of the newspaper just as often as it is in the personal finance section.

What steps are you taking to use this recession for good?

Matt Bell is the author of three personal finance books published by NavPress, including the brand new "Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples."  He teaches a wide variety of workshops at churches, conferences, universities, and other venues throughout the country.  To learn more about his work and subscribe to his blog, go to: www.mattaboutmoney.com.