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German culture prefers to pay in cash

By David Rising

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 27 2012 9:08 p.m. MDT

Bailouts? Fine, but only if countries agree to strict austerity measures to get their financial houses in order. Print money? Not a chance, Germans say, still haunted by the memory of the hyperinflation of the early 20th century that helped create the conditions for Hitler's rise.

Germany's attitude to credit and debt largely stem from the financial trauma of the years that preceded the Nazi era. In the wake of massive reparation payments after the loss of World War I, the German mark went from its wartime level of about 4-5 per dollar to several trillion to the dollar.

Germany only agreed to eventually give up the mark in favor of the euro because the European Central Bank was designed just like the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, as an anti-inflation watchdog whose mandate does not include political considerations — such as stimulating job growth like the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The experience of hyperinflation is one that has been passed from generation to generation, said DZ Bank research economist Michael Stappel.

"My grandmother always talked about how every day prices were going up, how a bread roll that cost 10 pfennings then cost 5 million marks, and that could never be permitted to happen again," he said. "And my grandmother never spent — she always saved, maybe 80 percent she saved."

Germans today don't save quite that much — 11 percent on average — but that's still much higher than less than 6 percent in the United States or 6.5 percent in Japan, for example.

And even the approach to saving is conservative, with 40 percent going into bank accounts, 30 percent into life insurance — and only 6 percent into stocks, Stappel said. Another 3 percent goes into bonds.

So when Merkel holds Greeks and Spaniards to strict standards in return for European Union bailout funds — to which Germany is the largest contributor — and regularly shoots down ideas on quick fixes to the euro crisis, it should come as no surprise, Stappel said: "It's a part of the German culture."

Attitudes toward debt are starting to change, albeit slowly.

Credit cards, for example, are often needed for online purchases and are starting to become accepted in more places — albeit often only with a roll of the eyes.

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