Recession has Americans spending less

As he shows his homes to potential buyers in Lee's Summit, Kevin Enyeart can sense the internal calculators working in their heads.

"There are the utilities. College for the kids and weddings for their daughters," said Enyeart, the general manager of Gale Home Builders.

"I'm seeing a huge shift toward financial responsibility and budgeting."

We're at the dawn of a downsized era. U.S. households have begun spending less than they earn. To most, the Hummer is an ugly anachronism, while Hyundai sales are climbing. It's less chic to be chic, we're nervous about our savings, and our credit is running out.

Status is losing ground to solvency.

"The collapse of consumerism," as columnist Ellen Goodman wrote, is "the one upside to the economic downside."

What's not clear, say those who study the American consumer, is whether our inner spendthrift will make a comeback when banks finally start lending again and stocks stay up and workers ease their heads off chopping blocks.

Along with the bursting of the dot-com bubble that kicked off this century and the collapse of the real estate bubble that followed, many analysts saw an inevitable bust in debt-driven consumerism.

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