How to Survive a Recession: Notes from the Broken Dog Days of Summer
This year was particularly trying for my family and I'm sure a good many families of Wise Bread readers. This summer was particularly relentless for this homeowner. I don't even think we should use that term. I own a mortgage and it really owns me, more or less. But when the pipes cracked and the septic tank simmered at the brim under a rotted lid threatening the peace and tranquility of homeownership this summer, I started reassessing just how lack of employment, the high cost of student loans, living, offspring, the car that decided it needed a thousand dollars dumped into it, and homeowning were going to factor into my attempts at frugality.
I felt like a fraud writing for Wise Bread. Yeah. Who am I to dispense any advice when I can't even use my own toilet? So I took a little break in an effort to not feel like a fraud and reassess if there was some turn I could have made in the last year to better the situation. The process of sitting in the comfy chair in the living room staring into the abyss of the cool sage green wall with a legal pad and pen actually did help.
There were a few things I could have planned for better and a few things I could have anticipated, but in the end I don't think my choices yielded more than a couple of hundred dollars extra with better planning. But I didn't get poor me, whiny about it. My mortgage is still getting paid. My kids still have food to eat, and we are doing a hell of a lot better than many neighbors. I am grateful.
A big difference in this summer is there was no vacation. OK — technically we went away for a three-day weekend, but that was it. This gave me time to really see my community for what it is. These are predictions and solutions for surviving the national recession and individual malaise that comes with it.
Get over that American uber alles mentality
Nationalism is not productive and there's nothing joyful about watching Rome burn when you're a Roman. By this I mean we'll fare much better if we put more energy into the health and well-being of our local communities — with an eye and heart to how the global community is doing — than if we were continue perpetuating the mantra that America must be No. 1. I think we get bogged down in thinking we should all be millionaires by now. We get that look in our eye best expressed by Prince's song "Pop Life": "they put your million dollar check in someone else's box..."
We aren't as badly off as we think we are
Is a fifth of our nation underwater? Was our capital destroyed by an earthquake? My kids and I just viewed the 1992 film Baraka the other day and as the segment of dire poverty begins midway through the film, it was good to remember what real poverty looks like. We are not living on the streets and we aren't picking through a landfill for food scraps. I'm not working as a prostitute and they aren't begging in the streets. We have health insurance from my husband/their father's job.
Get over the myth of the nuclear family
If we can keep in mind that the whole reason we live nuclear is that suburban developers sold us on the idea to sell houses, we'd be better off. Cultures around the globe know that you need to be tied to your family and society. I need my neighbors and community, and my neighbors and community need me. The smartest thing I've done in the last decade was moving three miles from my mothers.
Kids need access to grandparents — biological , adopted, or faux. So many struggling families I know are too far away from their extended families. Women spend nearly as much money on daycare as what they make. Moving back to an extended family and community model of living could change that. Co-op day care and family watching children both have great merits, and it's not a one-way street. My mothers watch the kids every Saturday and then I'm available to them for errands they cannot do.
And it' s more than childcare. We can share vehicles. (Between the two households, there's a car with great mileage, a car for snowy days, and a truck for hauling.) We share groceries. We share baking and cooking. (My mom and I tend to bake or cook trays of things and we always give the other a tray of something we've made.)
I consider my friends in this family equation too. The only way we had any vacation this summer is when one friend got a hold of free passes to the aquarium, and another let us stay in her house while she was gone, and still another bought us breakfast and shuttled us to and from the aquarium so we didn't have to pay for parking. We have let people stay with us for short bits and done as much reciprocity as we can think of.
I am over the myth. I need my mommy and my friends. They need me, too.
Sustainable is a good word, not a bad word
It means more than just growing organic crops so you don't kill the soil. It means research. Everything I do now makes me think of this word. How many extra-curricular activities can my kids reasonably sustain? How much square footage of a house can be heated economically so I don't run out of cash? How sustainable are my habits and hobbies? Where I live in the mountains, it's common for neighbors to announce they are going 'off the mountain' and take orders for things that anyone needed from the civilization of boxed stores 90 minutes away. It's always gratifying not to be able to think of anything.
Live only up to your own expectations
What if we all got off our collective butts and did what we said we wanted to do instead of what we think we must? What if we didn't care about that look our parents give us that says "Why didn't you become an accountant or a corporate lawyer?" That would look amazing. I bet it would feel amazing, too. What if we stopped blaming others for our predicaments? What if we stopped waiting for someone else to fix it?