If one good thing came out of the long recession we are still recovering from, it is the fact so many Americans have found ways to cut their spending and even save some money.
In pre-recession days, if credit cards were maxed out and vacation was coming up, many families solved the problem by simply getting another credit card or two.
After more than two years of recession, many of those former big spenders have learned to spend less, often because they had no choice. During the tough times, they found that their worlds don't come to an end if they have to put off that new car purchase, or if Christmas and birthday celebrations are less elaborate.
Two trends prove that Americans have learned their lesson when it comes to carrying too much debt: records show that a huge percentage of Americans have slashed their credit card debt and the amount families put aside in savings accounts has grown.
If only our federal leaders were showing such wisdom.
The federal budget is $3.5 TRILLION a year.
The federal debt is more than $13 TRILLION and grows by $4 billion a day.
But, despite the urgency to at least slow the increase, there are few signs of progress in Washington.
One of the most maddening things to me is, about 9 of every 10 budget cuts suggested are rejected, because they aren't big enough.
"Let's stop or at least slash foreign aid for a few years," is one frequent suggestion. "Let's concentrate on our problems here at home before we help other countries."
"Total foreign aid is "only" $44.9 billion a year," is the reply. "With our deficit so large, cutting $44 billion dollars won't help reduce the deficit."
"How about imposing a 10 precent federal pay cut?" is another suggestion. "Many state employees are losing their jobs, federal workers can, at least, help by taking a cut in pay."
"A ten percent federal pay cut would only save $25 billion," is the reply. "That's not worth enacting."
The President proposed cutting the amount spent on domestic programs. Spending less for things like heat subsidies for the poor, college summer school tuition and water treatment plants.
"Are you kidding," was the reply. "People and governments need those programs, and the amount saved wouldn't be enough to make a difference in the deficit."
$1.1 trillion in programs cuts won't make a difference?
The late Senator Everett Dirksen had the right idea when he said, "A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you're talking real money."
In other words, a trillion here and a few billion there could add up to a big difference when it comes to cutting the deficit.
North central Arkansas is, of course, a long way from Washington and New York and the other power centers where decisions are made.
But I have seen examples here of how hard it is to cut federal spending, because spending cuts affect real people and communities.
Last year, some members of Congress became alarmed at the number of school systems forced to fire teachers because of budget deficits.
They and many others pointed out, recession or not, fewer teachers and larger classroom sizes are the not the best way to educate our future leaders.
They filed a bill to create an emergency fund to distribute federal money to help school systems in crisis retain teachers they have or even hire back teachers that were terminated.
The bill was well received until school systems lucky enough to have avoided layoffs and program cuts began weighing in.
"Why should schools with money problems get rewarded?" lobbyists began asking. "Why should solvent school systems be penalized?"
In the end, the bill to help schools in crisis turned into a bill to give "free" money to almost all schools.
Salem Schools, which are fortunate to be on solid financial ground, received $142,000 in Education Job Funds.
Part was used to give all school employees a bonus and part was put aside for emergencies.
Washington's "if one gets help, everyone gets help" mentality turned a small program for troubled schools (which the government really couldn't afford) into a big giveaway for most schools (that the government REALLY, REALLY could not afford).
As long as every proposed tax cut is dismissed as too small to matter and as long as citizen groups and the elected officials who represent them cry foul every time a cut is proposed, talk is going to continue but spending is not going to be reduced.
Our budget deficit is only going to grow, until our economy collapses from the weight of our debt, or China walks in and demands payment for all of that money it has been loaning us, so we can keep spending.
While the Chinese bill collectors are here, they might take a minute to protest those reports they've been hearing that we're talking about stopping our foreign aid dole to China.
That's right. We still consider China a third world country, so it's still on the foreign aid list.
Another sign federal spending is seriously out of whack and it is past time to back up all the talk with some tough action.