- Get rid of all of your credit cards. Cancel them and cut them up as Dave Ramsey recommends. You can still survive nicely with your ATM/Debit card and you will never again have to pay over limit fees, late fees, or interest.
- Insist that your kids get a college education. It's the American way to just let your kids do whatever they want to do. If you have ever seen a Japanese mother make their kid's education their sole goal in life or seen an Indian father lay down the law daily about getting an education, you will see why we as Americans are losing the education race. If you don't believe me, check out the neurosurgery team/cardiovascular surgery team at your nearest large hospital. It's a good bet that more than half of the names on the list will be foreign. That doesn't bode well for Americans when we can't even staff our own hospitals.
- Have one car per family. Yes cars are American status symbols and for many adults it would be unthinkable if they didn't have their own personal vehicle but the reality of the situation is that we spend lots of our income supporting this method of conveyance (plus gas, plus insurance, plus upkeep, plus decorations like fuzzy dice for the mirror...) when it may not be absolutely necessary. With a little flexibility and tweaking of our schedules we could get rid of the extraneous cars and save/invest the proceeds.
- Have one parent who stays home with the kids. This system has worked for millenia because, well, it works. When you calculate how much extra money you spend to have two parents working, many people find that one of the parents often ends up making less than minimum wage what with the extra spent on meals out because mom is too tired to cook or the cost of the gardener because dad doesn't want to spend his few free hours working in the yard. Besides being able to more efficiently use the family income, having a full time parent on duty is beneficial for the kids and the community as well.
- Don't keep up with the Joneses. I know a handful of families that would be considered "weird". They don't have TVs, they don't wear the latest clothes or have the newest tech gadgets, they shop at thrift stores, they cook all of their own (very healthy) food at home, and a few even home school their kids. While they may be considered odd by American standards, all of them are amazing families. Polite, interesting, respectful kids with well read, well educated parents...basically families that work, play and travel together who don't care what the Jonese are doing because the Jonese are broke, stressed, and dysfunctional.
- Save money. Only a year or so ago, American savings rates were in the negative (meaning that many people were over extended on credit cards and didn't have a penny of savings to their names). This trend is starting to turn around a bit what with tightening credit markets and debt repayment starting to take center stage, but Americans still don't save anywhere near what people in many other industrialized countries do. If you have savings, good for you, if you don't, start today socking away a little money from each check to cover yourself in case of disaster.
- Think for yourself. Americans have been thoroughly and utterly brainwashed by the media. Our kids watch a million and one advertisements during their childhood and we wonder why they won't eat anything but McDonalds and will only wear certain brands. Adults are pretty much the same. Just because a particular food is shown on a commercial or featured on an end cap at the store doesn't mean it is good for you. Often times you shouldn't even eat these items because they are basically a high calories serving of chemicals. Yuck. Ditto for every other item that the manufacturers spend big bucks to make you want to buy--your cat doesn't give a rip about what kind of cat litter you use, your car can have its oil changed anywhere and you will get the same basic outcome, and your house/laundry will smell fine no matter if you use simple things like baking soda and lemon juice or spring for pricey detergents and cleaners.
Of course Americans have plenty of traits that have made our country successful--hard work, innovative and creative approaches in many areas of commerce and industry, a desire for the best no matter what that may be--but we need to change some of the areas mentioned above if we want to be truly competitive with ourselves and the world. I can imagine many of our ancestors spinning in their graves over what people these days do as a matter of course which totally flies in the face of common sense and reality.