Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Money Monday: June 1, 2009

Welcome to Summer Vacation – where Monday, Tuesday, Friday, eh, whatever! is the new normal! (In other words…it's not Monday. I know it isn't Monday. But soon, well, I may not know what day it is because summer vacation around here is kind of like falling down a rabbit hole. Yesterday vanished into today so fast that just before it happened I was all, "Wha? How can it be 11:00? Why is that boy still running up and down the hall playing with trucks, if it's an hour until midnight? Did the kids eat dinner? Or, uh, lunch?!")

ANYWAY. I have kind of a peculiar sermon today. It comes out of a rather otherworldly encounter I had last week during the last day of school festivities. Our school is one of those 'heavy parental involvement' schools, where a ton of us will show up for an envelope opening – cameras blazing. So it was no surprise that a group of the regular offenders were having a kind of impromptu farewell party at the school, as we watched our children run and scream and be silly on this, the most glorious day of the Whole! School! Year!

Now, there is a couple in this group that I've gotten to know a little better this year – especially the father. Before last year, we never saw the dude because he was the typical working father. He came to games, events and shows occasionally and almost always only the evening affairs.

He was let go from his job between Christmas and New Years, 2007 – seventeen months ago now, and definitely counting. The situation has gone from bummer, dude to holy crap, dude! in fairly short order. At first, things went about the way they always go under the circumstances. He received a three month severance package and began looking for work. Didn't find anything he was willing to take. He didn't just want to replace his former income, he wanted more. Turned down the first few offers because they were "insultingly low bids" and then was surprised to find the first few were also the last few.

Welcome to the recession in San Joaquin, where the job market is so tight that over a thousand people lined up to interview for ten part-time waitstaff jobs at a new Olive Garden…

More time passed. Contacts began to distance themselves, stopped returning phone calls, started being too busy to have lunch. Even recruiting firms wouldn't call him back. Health insurance and unemployment benefits dried up. Retirement accounts were liquidated. Tax bills were received, totaling nearly half what they had taken out of tax-sheltered accounts. Ouch.

And then, because insult loves injury, within a week of their insurance lapsing, their daughter fell off the damned slide and broke her arm (again, by the way – she broke the same arm two years ago, on the same playground!). Couldn't do it just one week before, when they had coverage ooooooooh no. Without insurance, the cost for a trip to the ER, x-rays and a cast ran to nearly $20,000.

…and because they'd cashed out the retirement funds, their tax return showed solidly six figure income. Sorry, no hardship adjustment for YOU…

See what I mean? Holy crap, dude!!

So that's the background. Then, last week, he stood there and went on a rant that honestly…I didn't know whether to hug him, or smack the living daylights out of him.

It went something like this: He is not going to let this recession-thing ruin his family's lives. He is not going to allow even the slightest change to their lifestyle. They will have their two-three vacations this year, they will get new clothes, they will do all the extra-curricular activities they want, the children will get video games and ice cream and furthermore, they will continue hitting up Applebee's every Friday night and god!damn!it!, they will have everything they need to be happy because he is not going to fail his family…!!!!!

We all kind of stood there and took this in. His wife had the kind of pained, plastic smile that clearly said, Humor him, for my sake, please…just…humor him…with a hint of…ohmygah, Momclub, CALL ME LATER! I NEED HUGS!!...

So we dutifully made sympathetic noises and changed the subject as fast as we could.

Which brings me, at long last, to my sermon today, which is around CHANGE

Most human beings resist change. We like things to stay in pattern. We like to have golden, holy Truths we can rely upon in good times and bad. We like to have rules, and we like exceptions to those rules to stay in their neatly defined boxes.

Here are some of the rules that this economy, giggling maniacally, is tearing to shreds:

  • Housing prices never go down, only up.
  • Salaries never go down, only up.
  • The more experience I have, the more I'll be paid.
  • If I have a college degree, I will earn back what I paid for the education within three years (which makes it totally OK to graduate with any amount of student loan debt, for any degree)
  • I will never earn less, only more.
  • I will never have a problem getting health insurance, because I will never have a problem getting a job that provides them.
  • I will have more stuff, vacations and money than my parents had. My children will have even more than that.
  • Goods and services will all cost less and deliver more.

In some ways, resisting change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Resisting change is how we rebuild, for example. If we didn't resist change, we'd just walk away from charred buildings and flooded basements – but we don't. We grab shovels, hammers and saws and rebuild, resisting the change Fate just put on us. We try to build it smarter and better, so that next time it doesn't burn so fast, or hot, or flood so thoroughly.

But there also comes a point where you've got to cut and run. You've got to realize that change is here, cold, uncaring, inexorable change, and you are either going to adapt to the new conditions and survive, or you're going to die resisting it…and then you're going to miss out on What's Next, which might not be as bad as it seems while you're going through the searing pain of change.

When I listen to people raving on and on about how they can't find a job "at an acceptable pay rate," or how they "refuse to give up" their luxuries, I really feel as though I'm watching people stubbornly sitting on their couch as the house burns down around them. "It is not acceptable to me that this house is burning down. I will not let the fact that there is a fire cost me this house."

Uh…dude? Fire really doesn't care whether you find it "acceptable." It's there, it's burning, and it's going to take you with it if you don't get off your arse and get the hell out of there.

Come back and rebuild, don't burn to death refusing to acknowledge that it's happening.

This week, I want to take some time to think about where I might be resisting what is for no good reason. Am I buying stuff I think is a "need," when actually it's just sort of vaguely connected to my actual need? For example, I need to feel important and stable, so…I'm buying a new iPod? How does that actually make me important and/or stable?!

Am I holding on too tightly to the way things were, ignoring the new opportunities because they don't look as good as the old ones? Am I so busy refusing to accept the unpleasant parts that I'm missing bright new beautiful things Life is trying to offer me?

There is always opportunity out there. While we still breathe, there is always a way to grow through adversity and come out stronger and better than we were before. And frankly, I've always found that the worse I think a situation is, the more I think there just ain't nothin' good about it…the more I look back later and think, Wow…I'm so glad that happened…I learned so much, gained so much, because that happened…

I woke up on this side of the dirt this morning. That means things can still work out not merely OK, but awesome for me. Things are different, and some of those differences are not a whole lot of fun (having my hourly pay rate slashed back to 1994 levels definitely doesn't make me all tingly-happy inside)…but if I don't wrench my eyeballs off the regrets, I'm going to miss the hallelujahs.

And that would suck.

So! Chin up, eyes high, expect great things and don't be surprised when they come your way. They are there, waiting for us to realize what they are and grab them. New joys and triumphs await…let's get out there and make them our own!


Science PhD Mom said...

And don't get complacent if things are looking pretty good for you right now, either. I have to stop myself from feeling that way, because it seems like everything is "okay" around here for now. But you can fall through that rabbit hole so fast, it makes your head spin, and all of sudden it's not "okay" any more. Focus, focus, focus on improving your finances too! It's far easier in some ways to cut back now and shore up the financial house, because so many others are having to do it too. But you are so right--at the end of the day, not missing the simple pleasure of watching your kids eat an ice cream cone on a hot summer's day is really the best of life. Here's to not missing those moments in all the doom & gloom.

Steph B said...

Preach it, sistah!

KnitMusic said...


Kaviare said...

Here is Australia, we are jsut starting to feel the pinch. Everyone KNOWS we're in a recession, but people aren't being laid off in masses. But the ones who don't have jobs already are finding it hard to get one. People aren't losing their houses. But no one can afford to buy a new one.

I'm with science PhD Mom - It's starting to sink in that, actually, that credit card debt is not just a bad idea. It's a LIABILITY. That extra coffee a week isn't just a harmless treat. It's an EXTRAVAGANCE.

I think it's about reevaluting what's 'normal'. That guy thinks his previous life what what was 'normal'. But look at most of human experience. Does it look like your life? No. That life is not normal. It is, even, ABNORMAL!

If you're a student of history, you know the difference between revolution and evolution. The British Lords got to keep their heads because they changed. The French ones refused, and lost not only all their precious privelages, but their lives. Who got the better deal? Change and compromise are as valuable as persistance.

Bullwinkle said...

A pep talk from an expected place. Thanks. (I needed that.)

Elizabeth L in Apex, NC said...

Amen! We've been through the jobless-for-a-year thing, and it does suck. What we all need - every one of us - is a mandatory "holy crap" period in our lives. When your world is turned on its ear and you are forced to adapt. It needs to happen while you can still think creatively. But I think it must; we just can not really think outside the box until we are forced to. (So much for being highly evolved creatures.)

On a slightly different tangent... a broken arm costs $20,000?? Dear heaven, that's completely insane. Talked about a screwed up health system.

Michelle H said...


AWESOME post!!

VWPalmer said...

People who won't change and adapt to changing circumstances are just making a bad thing worse. I spent 3 months arguing with a young friend that it was far better to be working for $18 an hour than not working for $35. Last I heard, he'd been evicted from his rental. During this whole thing he WAS getting offers for enough work to survive if he had been willing to cut back hard on his expenses, take a roommate, etc. Instead, he burned through his savings, ran into debt and worse, spent money that was supposed to be for his quarterly taxes from before he lost his main source of work. And you know, if someone is that inflexible at 26, they're clearly headed the way of the dodo bird.
I've had my single person with mortgage income drop by 40% in a year due to a layoff and some health issues and while there was little fun and no steak during the downturn, I paid all of the absolutely essential bills - and once I got a permanent job again, I kept one of the temp jobs until I'd gotten caught up on some of the bills that were behind and got some savings built back up.

Anonymous said...

Well said,that girl.Here in Northern Ireland(part of the UK)we are feeling the credit crunch big time but we are just cutting back on all the things we think we need but are really luxuries.On the illness front we are very fortunate to have National Health Insurance(we pay according to means and it is deducted from our earnings & is mandatory)so we get ALL our medical treatment free, even though some people moan about how inadequate it is. Times like this teach us to appreciate the important things in life.

Yarnhog said...

I've been thinking a lot about "Gone With the Wind." I know it's a novel, and I know it's about the Civil War, and I know Scarlett isn't anyone's idea of a great moral example, but the similarities in the choices the characters face in dealing with a new reality do in fact relate to the new reality we are facing.