Tag Archives: economy

Embracing the Inner Cheapskate

I’ve been writing a “statement of need” for an adoption grant application and been trying to explain how poor we are. Not poor enough that we can’t handle the adoption of course, but poor enough that we need help. Which raises the question of what’s “poor enough”? After all, who doesn’t need help, especially these days?

It’s been an interesting exercise. At any rate, I found myself trying to describe our family as financially responsible and frugal and trying to give realistic examples to back it up. I kept wondering what other people do to be cheap. After all, one person’s frugal is another person’s extravagance. One person’s necessity is another person’s luxury.

I want to share a few areas where I think my family is being cheap—not to brag, but to share some thrifty ideas. I hope you’ll share your thrifty ideas in the comments. It’s kind of a touchy subject because everyone has different values (cable TV may seem like an extravagance, but if it’s your only entertainment expense and you never go to the movies or buy DVDs that might be pretty economical), but I hope maybe we can learn something from how others have done it. Saving money is always good, but especially in this economy.

Continue reading Embracing the Inner Cheapskate

What’s a Necessity?

Interesting article exploring a Pew Research Center study about what Americans consider necessary. A car is at the top of this year’s list, followed by a clothes dryer (not a washing machine? Survey FAIL?), air conditioning, TV and a computer. It’s kind of an interesting study, especially since things have become a little less necessary since 2006.

I found a few things surprising:

  • People consider cable or satellite TV more necessary than a dishwasher. Seriously? Without a dishwasher how do you have time to watch all that TV?
  • Older people are much more likely to think a TV is necessary than younger people. So TV isn’t rotting our brains—in your face, old people! Of course younger people are much more likely to think cell phones are a necessity.
  • The richer you are the less likely you are to think TV is a necessity—until you hit the low end of the poverty scale where TV becomes less necessary. The same is true for a veggie garden. The very rich and the very poor don’t have time for TV or planting produce.
  • The survey also shows that 27% say someone in their household has been laid off or lost a job and 21% say someone in their household has had trouble paying the rent or mortgage.

Generalizations, of course, but ouch.

It’s interesting to consider what is necessary in your life. Some things are pretty easy decisions, like cutting the cable or Netflix. But other choices are harder—that car payment may be pricey, but if you ever find a job how are you supposed to get there without a car?

These discussions become a little more real in the light of comments like this one.

Networking Works: Sitting Around in PJs & Applying Online Doesn’t

CNN has a great story of a guy who found a job through his church. Michel Butler was an unemployed husband and father of 3. His industry tanked and he had to find a new job. He joined a career workshop at a local church, brushed up on his skills and then plugged back into his network of college friends and former employers. He eventually ended up with two job offers and took a six-figure marketing position.

It rarely works that well for everybody, but networking is how you find a job. The money quote is in bold below:

[Butler] was also smart to dig into his networks, said Ford Myers author of the upcoming book, Get the Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring.

“The wrong thing to do is sit at home in your pajamas and apply to jobs online,” he said, “it’s isolating and depressing.”

Reconnecting with college friends, former coworkers and even other unemployed workers in the community can pay off big time. “That’s called networking and that’s the single most important activity anyone can do when they are in transition,” Myers said.

For Butler, those connections led to not one, but two job offers.

I love hearing these kinds of stories. The job market sucks right now, and it’s hard, but this is how you find a job. And this is exactly the kind of thing the church needs to be doing right now.

Jim Collins: Get Used to Economic Turmoil

Jim Collins, the renowned business author of Good to Great and Built to Last talked with Fortune magazine last month about the current economic crisis. He claimed that 1952-2000 was an aberation of stability that brought unprecedented economic prosperity. He said that’s rare in human history and doesn’t think it’s likely that we’ll see it again in our lifetime.

He concludes: “What we’re experiencing now, get used to it! It’s life, and it’s the normal life.”

That kind of economic pessimism seems commonplace. It reminds me of something I posted on Twitter last week, a quote that “Americans’ standard of living is undergoing a ‘permanent change’.”

I don’t know if any of that is true. Nobody can predict the economic future with absolute certainty. Though I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing if we have to realign our standard of living and get used to getting by on less (another tweet about the average American consuming as much as 520 Ethiopians comes to mind).

Of course Collins goes on to talk about how great companies can survive these times, so it’s not all gloom and doom. And he points to making this a defining moment, not just a state of panic: “You have to ask the question, What can we do not just to survive but to turn this into a defining point in history?” Sometimes a bad situation can be a blessing because it forces you to do what you really needed to do.

Economic Hardship Is Real, Not Perceived

It always cracks me up where I hear people talking about the current economic woes as if it’s all a matter of perception. They assume people aren’t spending money because they perceive a crisis that really isn’t there. They blame the media or whoever for giving us this negative perception.

It always makes me laugh.

Do they have any sense of reality? Do they know anyone who has lost a job? It seems like every week I add another person to my growing list of unemployed friends and family (thankfully I do see people coming off that list, but it’s still growing).

People aren’t spending money because they don’t have any to spend. Maybe that didn’t used to stop us Americans before, but it is now.

I’ll admit that perception may be a part of it, but for a lot of people I know, the reality is they don’t have the same income right now as they did a year ago. And they’re adjusting accordingly.

I came across an article today about some financial expert who said the worst is yet to come and that our standard of living is undergoing a “permanent change.” I don’t know if that’s true or not (the financial experts seem to have less expertise these days), but it doesn’t seem like a bad thing. It’s not going to be pretty and it’s going to hurt, but a lower standard of living might be what we need. Now more than ever the financial advice to live beneath your means (not just within them) makes a lot of sense. This economic downturn wouldn’t be so difficult if we did that.

And that difficulty isn’t perceived, it’s real. Just ask a contractor.

Work is Slow but I’m Upbeat

I don’t talk about it much publicly, but work has been slow lately. Terribly slow. Income dropped in 2008, for the first time since I started working on my own (though honestly, the drop wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be). And 2009 looks to be worse.

But against all that, I’m upbeat about it. Certainly I have my moments of doubt when things get kind of scary, but I also know that God provides. He’s done it before and I know he’ll do it again. I’m not sitting back and waiting for cash to fall from heaven, but part of my faith involves relying on God. In reality I’m always reliant on God, but it’s times like this when it becomes so much more obvious. In the mean time I’ll tighten my belt, perhaps wean myself from Cherry Pepsi, and struggle through.

Maybe I’m a bit naive, but I think times like this can be an opportunity. A time of unemployment launched me on this freelance journey in the first place. And while work has been slow I’ve been working on other projects, such as the Billy Graham blog, Start Seeing Art, and my 2006 novel Turn Left at the Blacktop, among others (By the way, I printed off a 158-page copy of the novel today so my wife could read it and give me her assessment).

I’m confident that hard times like this can refocus us, can present new opportunities, can be good for us. Sometimes, frankly, it does suck. But recession or economic depression are not the end of the world.

Bono on the Financial Crisis

Bono talks about the $700 billion bailout package:

“I am not qualified to comment on the interventions that have been put forth. I can assume these people know what they’re doing. But is is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion to save 25,000 child who die every day of preventable treatable diseases and hunger. That is mad. Bankruptcy  is a serious business. And we all know people who have lost their jobs this week,  I do anyway. But this is moral bankruptcy.”

I agree with Bono on both counts: I’m not qualified to comment on the bailout yeah or nay, but I do think it’s amazing that we can shell out a ton of money for all these bailouts but we can’t spend a much smaller sum of money to save lives.

It’s much more complicated than this, but saving lives seems more important than saving the economy.

Ten Dollar Reagan

Ronald Reagan supporters are pushing to have his likeness on some cash, among other places. Current discussion includes putting Reagan on the $10 or $20 bill, though both proposals would require an act of Congress. Another option is to put Reagan on the dime, or possibly on half the dimes produced (leaving FDR on the other half of all dimes produced), something the Treasury can do without approval from Congress.

All of which causes me further speculation about what made Ronald Reagan so great. Speculation that, by the way, is thoroughly honest, innocent, and not malicious, as some seem to think.

It seems especially ironic to consider putting Reagan on our money considering the divided feelings over Reaganomics. According to that CNN/Money article, the idea behind Reagan’s economic policies were to lower taxes, decrease government regulations, and increase military spending. The result was 20 million jobs, a huge drop in interest rates, and a $3 trillion debt by the end of the decade. The opposite approach seems to be Bill Clinton, who balanced the budget and didn’t cut taxes. I’m no economist and I don’t really know how to compare the two, but I do know that the mid-to-late 1990s had quite an economic boom as well. An NPR commentator pointed out that the economic growth in the 1990s was more evenly spread throughout society.

Interesting points to ponder.

At any rate, I find it especially peculiar that there’s a Ronald Reagan Legacy Project with a goal of “seeing a Reagan commemoration in every American county” (Star Trib). Furthermore, they’d like to add Reagan to Mt. Rushmore (though they might have to settle for the road that leads to Rushmore). Apparently there are only some 54 memorials to Reagan across the country, compared to more than 600 for John F. Kennedy and more than 800 for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Apparently it’s a race.

But seriously, it makes me wonder about who we honor and why we honor them. Why are there 600 memorials for JFK? Was his shortened presidency that great? Was averting a nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis that much of an accomplishment? Or was he just a popular guy and we feel bad he was shot?

I understand that it’s important to remember the past and honor national heroes, but all the rangling over who’s a better hero or a more worthy hero is really odd. And at one point is one hero better than another? When can Reagan, hero of the Cold War, replace Alexander Hamilton, hero of the Revolutionary War? Because there’s only so much space for memorial. I can imagine a park absolutely cluttered with bronze statues to hundreds of years of American presidents. You’d be walking on the George H.W. Bush Memorial Sidewalk reading your Official Gerald Ford Map and sucking away on your large Bill Clinton Sodapop.

All the while no one can remember what any of them did.

Spending Money We Don’t Have

It’s only the second day of the semester and I already have homework. What do these teachers think they’re doing to me!? I actually had to buy a newspaper and read it. I did come across some interesting stuff though, like Bill Clinton’s new 2000 budget plan for example. At first his plan seems all well and good. Using this surplus to take care of Social Security and Medicare, pay off some debt, and take care of some other concerns. It sounds just peachy, until I read the last half of the article that talked about where all this surplus comes from. It turns out Bill is just taking a stab in the dark at how much money we’ll have in the next fifteen years. Assuming of course that the economy stays just as it is right now. No recessions or anything like that. No change for 15 years!? Yeah Bill, that’s gonna happen. Already the economy is setting records for how long it’s been stable. And he expects it to go 15 more years? The paper was talking about other such predictions of surplus and a six month prediction forecast some 73 million. It turned out to be 166 million. And that was only six months worth. What about 15 years!? Why are we trying to spend money that we might have after 15 years? Why not just wait 15 years and when we have the money sitting in our pockets, spend it then. Then if Bill’s predictions are wrong, we don’t get screwed. Politics is stupid.

Oh yeah, Happy Groundhog Day. I guess the silly ground hog didn’t see his shadow so spring is coming early. Sounds like your average weatherman if you ask me.