Unless you've had your head in a hole for the past few months, you know we're collectively in a bit of financial trouble. To sum it up: a lot (A LOT!) of people (Americans) have been spending way, way, way, wayyyyyy more money than we actually, you know, have. And they let us. They even encouraged us! I mean, I guess it's OK to have that 50" plasma HDTV, but when a ton of people who otherwise couldn't afford it put their name down to borrow two-, three-, five-, or nine-HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS to buy homes that were way overpriced? Well, that just spells trouble, doesn't it?
Let's just preface this with the fact that I am a renter. Unless housing prices in the Bay Area start around 3x my salary - which I doubt, even with the crash and all - I will probably always be a renter. I've read many finance books (note: I did not buy the books!) and after reading every single one, I always walk away and think briefly - just for a quick moment - I SHOULD BUY A HOUSE! IT'S SUCH A GREAT INVESTMENT! For many, it could be. Unfortunately, the value of your house can diminish in an instant. Neighborhood goes bad? Earthquake? Fire? Yeah, no matter impossibly well-prepared you are, your home is still a six- or sometimes seven-figure thing that can be lost in an instant. That's more money than I've seen in my 26 years of life.
I'm not writing this to be a jerk. I really feel for people who are trapped in a totally shitty predicament. Trust me - I'm very sympathetic. I know that you and I were both heavily bombarded with the idea that homeownership is the way - the only way - to go toward building equity and consequently wealth. I guess I lucked out because my personality (move-happy and hate big debts) and income (not that high) have made it impossible for me to afford anything within 500 miles of where I'm sitting right now.
I don't think a lot of us were prepared for this at all and we placed too much trust in the system. Whatever the system is. It's failed us and I just recommend that you get informed so you can best take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Some interesting reading and viewing and listening for you.