Sunday, January 04, 2009

Let us care for each other

I am having a really hard time writing this. I keep starting, and stopping. Page upon page written, and then I review it and think, Nooooooo…

It’s too dark, or too weird, or too preachy, or too pathetic, or too angry…none of which (well, with the possible exception of ‘weird’, because this is me we’re talking about here) is an accurate expression of what I’m trying to put out, here.

2008 was a rotten year. 2007 was also a rotten year. In a lot of ways, those two years were like going through a hurricane for us, complete with an eye passing over. There was a nice peaceful and prosperous lull in the storm right around the summer of 2008, when we had really good cash flow and said to ourselves, “Whew! Glad that’s over!”

Aaaaaand then the eye passed, and the second half of the storm hit, and because we had set some expensive things in motion during the eye (thinking, remember, that the storm was over and we had two decent incomes to work with again)…well, the second half took out whatever the first half had so graciously left us.

And then when I catalog what-all our challenges are, it seems even worse. Ten years of equity in Den, erased. Emergency savings whittled to a mere $426.27. With already burdensome medical costs now enhanced with a $905 monthly premium charge (Insult, meet Injury! Injury, this is Insult!), we then cheerfully went on to have no steady paycheck whatsoever, and then 95% of what little work I had evaporated along with the remainder of the hope and optimism of local business in San Joaquin. Yay us! We have among the highest foreclosure AND joblessness rates in the nation! GO TEAM!!!!

I took a $10,000 loan to pay off medical bills in July, and then took another $15,000 in November to pay, well, everything. These are the sorts of things you get into, when you go a month without income because your one steady paycheck evaporated…and in so doing saddled you with a sudden need to acquire general business liability insurance and professional negligence coverage (in case his coding brings down the entire Internet or something), PLUS you had to run around re-filing all your paperwork because now you are a partnership rather than a sole proprietor, AND BY THE WAY you have to pay us $905 in COBRA for the insurance that doesn’t cover diddly-squat and no, you can’t charge it. Check only, thank you!

See what I mean? Dark, pessimistic, angry, pathetic writing, right there.

But that’s not actually how I feel.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had some pretty dark days there. When I found myself taking out that loan to get the medical monkeys off my back and buy us enough time to get through yet another ten day hold, I was about ready to just…I don’t know. Crying wasn’t extreme enough, but getting good and drunk never really helps.

But when I looked around my trashed-out post-hurricane yard…I don’t feel as bad as you’d expect.

In fact, I find a lot to be grateful about.

I’m grateful that we had our own personal credit crisis way back in the mid-90s. It was only because of the lessons we learned then that we aren’t loading up the kids and whatever we can carry into Homer the Odyssey and heading forth on a sofa-surfing quest. We knew better than to refinance beyond our means to repay; we knew to say “this much we can do, and the rest will have to wait.”

When the situation changed, we didn’t have a lengthy period of mental readjustment to undergo. We had a good long run of prosperity, in which we indulged an awful lot of our wants…it’s over for now, and we don’t have a big problem with that.

We’re not mourning the vacations we won’t have, I’m not crying (much) about the yarn I won’t be buying or the steaks I won’t be eating.

Instead, we’re grateful we can still do the things we can still do. We’re enjoying the toys we already have, and thankful that we’re not still making payments on them.

LBYMs 2009 is definitely on. It’s a far more serious business than it was last year. We don’t have a reliable income anymore, I can’t budget around a paycheck and say that everything else is gravy…we’ll have good months and bad ones, we’ll have times when I’m able to pack away savings like there’s nothing but tomorrow, and times when I’m having to draw almost our entire month’s needs out of that same savings because the invoices are low or our clients are being slow to pay.

We’re going to have to be tighter than ever with those nickels and dimes.

But I know that we’re going to be OK. We’re doing what we have to do to make it so.

We’re not victims, unless we decide to be. (This is where I start wandering into being preachy.)

So! I’m putting together my list of things I want to accomplish in 2009, financially speaking. How about you guys? Needing or wanting to work on whittling things down, getting rid of some debts, building up some immediate cash to sleep easier on at night? I know this economy has got a lot of folks feeling downright anxious…are we ready to stop being victims of it, and start reclaiming our rights to everything we need, and maybe just a little bit extra?

I suspect it’s going to be a long, hard slog…but let me share the words of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s friend Andy, which she shared on her blog not too long ago:

"As we head off into a year of uncertainty, there is one thing I know is true. Things will be better if we all take care of each other than they will be if we don't take care of each other."

Brilliant man, huh?

Let’s take care of each other out there. Let’s hope for the best, plan for the worst, and pull together toward a better tomorrow. Let’s cry together, hope together, advise each other (but not get preachy, because nobody likes a bossy-betty), forgive each other and try to shine light into the world. Let’s laugh and love and take joy in all the good things we have – most of us have far more than we realize, especially when we’re in the middle of a crisis.

Speaking of which, my healthy, happy Denizens are demanding food. Which I have in the pantry to give them on plates which are clean because I have a dishwasher that does that for me, while I am off doing other things (like writing lengthy blog posts).

The blessings, they just never stop coming…


Anonymous said...

May your 2009 be everything you need it to be.

Galad said...

Not to dark, preachy or weird, just practical and thoughtful. Sounds like a good 2009 plan to me.

(formerly) no-blog-rachel said...

Well said. I'm not one to feel sorry for myself anyway, but there's nothing like looking at the hardships of others to confirm how lucky I really am.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. Off to make a plan for 2009...

Anonymous said...

It's at times like these that I find myself channelling my grandmother (who fed 7 kids on hardly anything in wartime) and coming up with daft sayings like 'Necessity is the mother of invention' (which she used to justify her whatever's-left-in-the-larder stews). But it's true, and we are sensible and creative women and this gives me hope. We are growing more vegetables and cutting back on luxuries and really shopping around for what we need.

I'm really enjoying (that might be the wrong word but I hope you know what I mean!) reading about how others small business owners are dealing with it all.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments. It is indeed a rotten time to have a small business. Unlike you, my children are grown and on their own, mostly, and we have a measure of security. We are, however, finding our own ways to follow in the footsteps of our Depression-era parents. Both of us were raised that way, so it's not much of a stretch for us.

I've also marked down Andy Maine's quote on Stephanie's blog. I need to be reminded often to be more sympathetic and helpful. When I get busy, I forget.

Rena said...

Beautiful writing. I'm saving this for the book.

And I'll remember what you said.

mama edge said...

Amazing. If you can see the benefits of your '90s credit crisis now, then you can believe that this new set of troubles will offer some blessings too. Or, as a friend of mine says whenever things get tough for her (often): "I can't wait to find out what this pile of sh!t is going to fertilize for me!"

Barb said...

Wonderful post. You never fail to inspire me. Thank you for that. And all the best to you and yours in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister! I am really, truly excited about cleaning out, slimming down (financially, figure-atively and schedule-wise) and just appreciating what I have. I hope my children can see this in me, too, and see the possibility of not wanting all the time (because it's exhausting to laugh at them constantly while they ask for yet another Thing).

Firegarnet said...

Wonderfully put. Dh and I have had a difficult few years too, and it can be hard to describe without sounding too whiny or dark. It is important to focus on the good parts, as you have. I'm also very glad my dishwasher is working. I've lost my clothes washer, and DH's car is temporarialy unavailable, but we have each other and our health.

cath said...

Great post. As someone who is self-employed in what is an arguably non-essential field, I'm anxious as well. I wish you nothing but good things for 09, and am really looking forward to more of your LBYM posts for inspiration and solidarity.

Science PhD Mom said...

Always onward, Tama! Great post, thanks for the encouragement.

Lydee said...

good post. good thoughts.