HAGELIN: Families, feds — Don’t have it, don’t spend it

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Culture challenge of the week: Money troubles

“Mom, can I borrow some money?”

Every parent has heard this question from a son or daughter — perhaps many times.

How do you answer it?

Typically, a child or teen who wants to borrow money follows up on the request with an immediate list of reasons why he or she needs the money now, and why it makes sense for you to hand it over.

An adult son or daughter may take a more mature approach, following up with sophisticated explanations of need, reassurances about repayment, and logical points about why it makes sense for him or her to borrow money from you instead of from the bank. (They avoid the obvious point, however, that it’s usually better to avoid debt entirely.)

As voters, we’re dealing with the same thing on the national level — except no one asks us whether the federal government should continue to borrow money. Nor does the government promise to repay us for the higher taxes that inevitably result from servicing the debt, let alone repaying it.

America has a money problem. It begins at home and plays out on the national stage. The solution is the same, for your family as well as for our government.

How to save your family: Choose well

During last week’s presidential debate on the economy, President Obama got one thing right. He said money and budgets are about “choices.” Indeed they are. Both governments and families have limited resources and virtually limitless possibilities to spend money.

The Obama administration chose to reward political cronies with billions of dollars for fruitless “green” energy projects (such as the now-bankrupt solar-panel firm Solyndra). Those same dollars might have fed hungry Americans, bought military defense software to detect hidden IEDs, or provided extra protection for our diplomats in the Middle East. Instead, the Solyndra building sits shuttered, a monument to corruption and reprehensible financial choices, while American families mourn the deaths of soldiers and at least one diplomat.

Financial choices have consequences. So how can we choose wisely? Live by these rules:

• Distinguish between wants and needs.

• Don’t spend what you don’t have.

• Pay back what you owe.

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