Why Your Terrible Retirement Is Don Draper's Fault

By Wes Moss

NEW YORK ( AdviceIQ) -- Why can't many Americans fund their retirement? Blame a fictional TV character -- or at least the spending mania he helped create -- and learn how to reclaim your budget and your future. Here's how.

Don Draper, adman guru of the series Mad Men, symbolizes my culprit of our widespread personal debt today: Relentless marketing creating a consumer culture founded on shopping, buying and spending.

Before World War II, most Americans saved prudently. Pent-up demand after the deprivation of the war years combined with America's emergence as an economic superpower to fuel new levels of affluence and a spending boom.

Between 1945 and 1949, Americans bought 200 million refrigerators, 21.4 million cars and 5.5 million stoves. In the 1950s, TVs flew off shelves 5 million a year as their prices dropped. An increasingly shrewd advertising industry drove much new spending.

The mad men ("mad" from the ad mecca Madison Avenue in New York) helped herd buyers to specific brands and seeded consumers' minds with messages of entitlement and promises of happiness, or both.

As Draper explains, "Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK."

Despite mounting pressure to buy and buy, consumers controlled their spending for decades. In 1975, for example, Americans saved a record 14.5% of their disposable income.