Monday, January 12, 2009

The Economy Hits Home

We've been one of the fortunate families, able to watch the economy come crashing down all around us with some sense of security, as Hubby's job is one of the more protected types. Not that the recession (are we calling it a depression yet?) hasn't affected us. Food prices, gas prices, less stock on the store shelves, friends struggling and losing jobs, our kids having to work harder to stay afloat, businesses we frequent closing their doors at an alarming rate. It's been a lot and yet I still know I say this from a somewhat privileged perch.

Some of you, if you've been paying attention, know that I've been swimming towards a simpler life style for some time and so tightening our own belt hasn't been necessarily all bad. In some ways it's helped me to do things I've wanted to do for a long while but struggled with because, well, habits aren't always easy to change. So we eat out less - that means we spend less and we probably eat healthier. I think twice before buying something I don't really need - it means less STUFF at home, it means I read a book already sitting on my shelf before buying a new one.

Now it looks like Hubby will be taking a pay cut. OUCH. It feels almost whiny to say that the fun of cutting back is starting to wear thin. It's one thing to make sacrifices and have something to show for it. It's another thing to make sacrifices just to stay afloat. And before anyone accuses me of being spoiled (which I have been for a number of years now), let me point out that this hasn't been the case most of my life.

I can remember the humble need for Food Stamps when my mom was a single parent. I remember digging for coins in the sofa cushions to see if we could find enough loose change to buy milk for our cereal. I remember doing without, getting necessary things like socks or my only coat for a gift. I remember one Christmas where our gifts came in the form of boxes with I.O.U.'s in them until my mom could pay them off in layaway.

When I was the age my kids are now, we had far less toys and options and gadgets than my kids do now. And when hubby and I got together and struggled to raise a whole passel of yours, mine, and ours kids, he worked two jobs and I grew our own food and made everything from scratch and shopped at thrift shops out of necessity not choice and I am thankful every day for the little but important extra that WIC put on our family's table for many years.

I remind my kids of these differences often and that probably annoys them, but I only bring it up over and over because I so often think my kids don't "get it" - that when I was a young adult we didn't have extra income for a second car or a new cell phone or... hell, we didn't even HAVE cell phones. I didn't buy a television set until I was in my late thirties or early forties. We couldn't afford to eat out except on rare occasion. We couldn't afford vacations except for camping (which were fun, but, I'm just saying). The occasional ability to splurge on a new record or book was a huge treat, not just a fun impulsive moment. My kids are better with their money than a lot of young adults. They work hard and they appreciate things. Still, they have so much more than I did at their age. I think the bottom line is, the world is simply a different place for them and for many of their generation.

Back to the present, we should be fine even with the pay cut. If we don't have any unexpected health issues. We have what's considered "good" health insurance these days and yet, even minor health care is now taking huge, scary, unplanned chunks out of our budget. Something big, like Jeff's cancer - it would break us now. (we had a different, amazing health coverage when that happened). Knock on wood. And hellooooooo, Obamaaaaa, please make universal health care one of your top prioritieeeeees!

What the pay cut means is we won't be upgrading or even fixing up the house. Except for the plumbing because we don't really have any choice on that one. We won't be traveling as much which is fine except for the not being able to see the kids as much as I want part. We'll be paying monthly bills instead of paying off the mortage and moving towards being more secure for retirement. We might be moving retirement off for longer while. We might put off moving when we retire. And like I mentioned on yesterday's post, I'll be thinking twice before putting a new DVD or other non-necessity item in my shopping cart.

Again, NOT complaining. Okay, maybe grumbling a wee bit. But simultaneously knowing how fortunate we are to be keeping our heads well above water. So many people aren't. So many people's lives these days are so overwhelming or stressful that they don't have the luxury, like I do, of putting a positive spin on their situations. And let's not even discuss the many people in the world who are surrounded by such abject poverty, fear, or despair that it's hard to even call it a life. No. Let's not go there right now mentally. Let's do what we can, each of us, but in a useful way, and not waste time being overwhelmed.

As people have pointed out to me in the past, and I have in my turn pointed out to others, there's always someone worse off than yourself. Always someone better off too. But it doesn't negate your own experience. I have a tendency to over think things and then feel guilty about my own concerns - how can I complain about losing a finger when someone else has lost a hand or an arm!? But if you forget about everyone else and just let yourself experience life from your own center - uhm, a finger. OUCH.

And speaking of universal health care, I totally get why wealthy people are so often against it, but I find it mind boggling that so many of my Christian friends, who label it "socialized health care" and react to the topic with so much fear and, I respectfully suggest, misinformation, are against it. Here's a much better response to them than I've ever been able to manage.


Anonymous Barbara S. said...

Great post today! I think you are so right about a lot of this stuff--my thoughts have been traveling in some of these same directions as well. I'm feeling pretty lucky about still having a job these days--just waiting to see what the Gov. is gonna do next!

4:50 PM  
Blogger JulieZS said...

Feeling lucky and yet squeezed just like you seem to be. I've been coming to the conclusion that buying stuff just to have new stuff isn't feeding my soul anymore. (if it ever was). As we wait to see whether the economic roller coaster dives down or slowly goes back up, it seems pretty smart to pull back from spending on stuff. So I'm not buying new until something breaks that I can't fix it.

12:05 PM  

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