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Column: Fiddling while the country burned

Is the word "Bailout" making you sea sick? I have gone from they should to they shouldn't so many times, my boat is really rocking. Now that they've done it, experts are left to ponder why the Dow is still plummeting. I'll admit I'm no financial expert. Heck, I can't even balance the checkbook. Where were the people in charge -- Ben Bernancke, Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson -- who should have averted this disaster before it cost us $700 billion? I remember seeing a bright red convertible on the freeway years ago. Behind the wheel was a woman my age. She had a big grin on her face and a bumper sticker that read, "I'm spending my children's inheritance." Now, the government is doing it for us. Our grandchildren's, too.

I've read the papers, watched the shows, heard the experts' explanations and sadly, I understand how we got in this mess. It's simple: easy credit, buying homes we really couldn't afford, wanting everything now. Lenders are to blame, too. They approved mortgages buyers weren't qualified for because they had no intention of holding onto the loan. By the time the house went into foreclosure, the original lender was long off the hook. All the while, our mailboxes were jam-packed with credit card offers with rates too good to be true.

When I was at the dentist's office for a root canal two weeks ago, he asked if I was keeping an eye on the financial crisis. All I could do was nod my head up and down. My nod made us kindred spirits cruising on the same sinking ship. He said it's a sad state of affairs. We work so hard to have money for retirement and now, we're watching it trickle away as Wall Street falters. (A friend of mine said her money isn't trickling out of her accounts, it's gushing like a nosebleed.)

Recently, I've noticed television ads touting one-year certificates of deposit (Remember them?) with good yields. Should we? I asked my husband. He said we should just hang tight. I was heartened to see the smiling face of our financial planner in an ad in the Minneapolis paper recently. He said the same thing and is presenting seminars to help people make sense of this mess.

Financial expert Suze Orman has been on Oprah twice in the last weeks and will make regular visits to the talk show to counsel viewers. Orman doesn't mince words. She confronts people forced to use their credit cards to buy groceries and make car and house payments because they were living above their means. Often, an unexpected job loss or illness became their day of reckoning and their house of cards came tumbling down. Orman says credit card companies are going to cut back credit limits even for those who have paid on time, have low balances and good credit. When that happens, she says, it automatically lowers your credit rating. What's a person to do?

It's like global warming: looming over us but we look the other way. No longer. Along with big business and government, we the people have to accept responsibility for our part and take little steps to turn ourselves around. Right now, anyone who knows me must be wondering what kind of advice I could possibly give. I'm the queen of eating out. "Put it on my credit card" should have been my middle name. Sadly, "Cutting back" will be my new moniker. Where to start? I'll do some head scratching and get back to you.