We’ve all been taught that spending less and saving more will increase our wealth over time. No one disputes that.
When we want to cut household spending, most of us prefer to do it gradually, rather than all at once. For example, we may decide to go to Starbucks three times a week, rather than five.
As we get used to three times a week, we may go down to two, then one, then none. Then, we see a Starbucks run as a real treat, and do it once in a while. After all, the coffee you bring in your Thermos may not be Starbucks, and you may long for a treat once in a while as a reward for your good behavior. It’s OK to splurge, but not as a habit.
The point is, we feel cuts in household spending directly. They are a real sacrifice, as we see them, but we do it for a better, long-term outcome.
Then, there is government spending. It can best be called a real illusion. Yes, real illusion is an oxymoron, but it applies here. First, the money is REAL, even though the government can print it at will. It’s yours, mine and ours. The illusion comes in the concept that we would not really feel cuts in government spending, since so much of it is waste, so it should be relatively easy to cut.
We can prove that by watching people who advocate government spending cuts in the aggregate, but when it cuts things close to where they live, they complain bitterly.
We can debate whether government should be so intertwined with the economy, but the fact is, it is. It is tough to reduce its importance to the overall economic well-being.
Many private industries, defense contractors, for example, have, as their largest customer, the government. Cuts in defense could affect lots of private sector jobs. And just watch the almost annual debate over cutting superfluous military bases. The communities, and states, in which those bases are located would be hurt badly, even though closing such bases makes perfect economic sense from afar. Perhaps those bases are outdated. Perhaps they are just not needed for the country’s defense. But the shopkeepers, restaurants and other businesses whose clientele lives or works at these bases often go out of business when their base closes.
Many see certain government departments as unnecessary. Certainly, the usefulness of some agencies is debatable, but cutting such agencies in their entirety, all at once, would puts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more people out of work in a job market that can’t find work for those currently idle.
Proponents of such spending cuts would simply accuse those laid-off government workers as having too easy a life for too long. The fact is, they were working before the cuts, and now they are not. What do you think would be the bigger problem as you see it?

Our personal spending, multiplied out over time and people, affects the economy. The local Starbucks wouldn’t likely go out of business if we cut back our spending there, but if EVERYONE did, it might be a different story. The point is that spending cuts are most palatable if done gradually, over time. If Starbucks anticipates that people would be cutting back their coffee runs over time, they could plan for it – perhaps by lowering prices and providing better benefits to keep people from doing it. If you are a Starbucks fan, and the prices were lowered, you’d be less likely to cut back because Starbucks is reducing the spending for you.
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As with personal spending, government spending cuts should be incremental and gradual over time to make them more palatable. It’s been said that anyone can cut taxes. Anyone can raise taxes. Cutting spending, in a way that won’t have too many people screaming, is the real challenge. More people get re-elected because of spending, and securing aid for the home district, than by cutting taxes – or spending. Despite the criticism of earmark spending – look at how much of it was in the fiscal cliff deal – politicians rely on it.
The lesson here is to worry about spending in your own household. Saving more and spending less, as consumer adviser Clark Howard preaches on radio, television and in newspapers, is the key to building wealth. We should watch how our tax dollars are spent, certainly. But we should be aware that cutting spending in large amounts quickly is perilous. It’s no surprise that politicians fear taking on that chore.