But it was not [buying small luxury items] that were the cause of many of our money woes. In the view of researcher Jeff Lundy, who wrote a paper on the phenomenon, the spending, while a problem in that it caused a decrease in one’s financial reserves, wasn’t causing the financial ill winds themselves: “Spending $2 for a latte may, over the long-term, add up. But it is not the direct cause. It has to be in combination with high medical expenses or losing your job or something like that.” As Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Tyagi, revealed in their book The Two-Income Trap, the problem was much more complicated than many personal finance gurus would have it. It wasn’t that an entire generation had suddenly decided to purchase lattes and other frivolities at the expense of their financial futures. In fact, the cost of everything from packaged food to furniture was significantly lower than it was in the 1970s.

Warren and Tyagi demonstrated that buying common luxury items wasn’t the issue for most Americans. The problem was the fixed costs, the things that are difficult to cut back on. Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75 percent of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50 percent. Indeed, studies demonstrate that the quickest way to land in bankruptcy court was not by buying the latest Apple computer but through medical expenses, job loss, foreclosure, and divorce.

From Helaine Olen’s criticism of the personal finance industry.