An interesting set of opinions on this topic in the New York Times. More interesting to me than the opinions of various experts was the following comment from an American who has lived in Europe.
Americans don't save, because there is so much great stuff to buy in the U.S. and because buying it is so easy! I'm American and have lived in western Europe for 3 years. When I go back to the U.S., I go on a shopping frenzy because:
-Shops are open past 6 pm and on Sundays
-Sales are not held just twice a year but nearly all year round
-Most goods are cheaper in the US due to the weak dollar or overseas production - that's why Europeans come to NYC to shop like crazy
-There are GREAT stores in the US - so good that we export them everywhere else
-Almost every store offers its own credit card or loyalty card, giving incentives to spend (and not just cash)
-Stores that offer multiple categories of goods under one roof (i.e. Target, Wal-Mart): when you don't have to visit 5 different shops to find gloves, a greeting card, duct tape, and groceries you tend to buy more
-Ubiquity of online shopping; it is not as common outside the US
-Ease of shopping: friendly sales people, sensible return policies, spacious stores, parking
-Easy credit for car leases and credit cards
-Overall consumer-friendly culture that emphasizes advertising and newness
-Large homes and cars that make it possible to transport and store purchases (compared to lugging them home on the subway to a tiny apartment)
A great example: when I lived in [small Western European country], I saved so much money simply because there was nothing particularly good or different to buy, and even then it was only convenient and POSSIBLE to "shop" on Saturdays when the stores were so packed that doing so was uncomfortable. Further, I had no car and so little space in my apartment that I had to think carefully about whether I had capacity for what I bought.
Do you think life in America is set up for over consumption?