Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Portraits of an Economy

I hesitated to blog about this, but in the interest of making this a true and honest online journal, full disclosure is the way to go.

It's a scary time in the economy and doesn't look to be improving any time soon. Student families can often be a bit insulated from rough patches such as this - money in & out is pretty well fixed, but the slightest change can also throw those budgets into a tailspin. The price of everything seems to be on the rise, forcing cutbacks in areas that were once sacred. From date night to cell phones to name brand diapers, belts are being tightened from coast to coast.

Portraits of an Economy showcases reader stories of how the unstable economy is affecting them. The tales are both depressing and inspiring. When I read them, I feel a mixture of gratitude for our current place in the economy (knowing that student loan money is coming in August and January), and sadness that so many are struggling to hang on to what they have left. If nothing else, a time like this certainly can level the playing field - there's no more 'Keeping Up With The Joneses'. Now we're sharing resume tips, recipes, coupons, and baby clothes with them.

I've mentioned before that I work part-time. I still do, but recently I've begun mentally preparing myself to be laid off. No, there's been no real writing on the wall. But my company is approaching the beginning of a new fiscal year, and historically this is when layoffs have occurred. My part-time, home office status doesn't help my case. I also have health benefits, and although we pay an enormous amount out of pocket (and even more now that we switched health plans), I know that having the company pay any portion of our policy is a black mark against me.

I've spent the last few weeks trying to plan for any potential change in my employment. I've been looking into housing in Michigan, trying to determine the most cost-effective option without forcing Big Daddy to commute too far (we all know gas prices are not going to hold for long). I've scoured the internet to find information about Section 8, WIC, food stamps, and unemployment benefits. I NEVER thought I'd be in a position where I'd even consider government assistance, but if it can help feed & shelter my family, I will cheerfully swallow my reservations and apply with a smile on my face.

I pray every night that my fears are unfounded. I do what I can to show that I continue to be a dedicated employee - trying to remain available at all times, scheduling after hours calls as needed, and responding to emails and calls long after my day should be done.

There's still a little fluff in our expenses, but with work in question and the move approaching, I hesitate to make any major changes until I have a full grasp on the situation. I should have a better idea of what's happening at the end of the month. In the meantime, does anyone have money-saving or budgeting tips to share? Have you changed cell phone plans, found cheaper internet service, or figured out how to cut way back on your grocery bill? Do you know a great resale clothing shop or have a secret source for coupons? Any words of advice are appreciated.

I'm a very private person, and type the above with a mixture of embarrassment and relief. I know there's nothing wrong in looking for help when help is needed. I have always considered myself an independent person, and swallowing my pride and admitting that things are scary and uncertain, and just might turn really bad is hard for me to admit. I know we're not the only ones out there who are feeling this way or close to scraping by - but sometimes it feels like it.


sarita said...

We dropped our cell phone and went with a land line. I thought it would be horrible but I honestly haven't missed it.

For the record, we do have a "pay by the minute" cell phone that I keep in my purse in case I'm alone with the kids and the car breaks down or something. It cost us $100 for 1000 minutes.

As far as food goes, we eat more beans and less meat. Not that we don't eat meat, we just don't eat it every night. I also try to do "breakfast for dinner" at least a couple of times a month. Breakfast burritos are cheap, but everyone likes them and they fill us up--plus, we can add spinach and tomatoes and other veggies and so it still feels like I'm giving my family a healthy meal.

Hope this helps. I'm excited to see what suggestions others give you---we could always use them, too.

I know I tell you this all the time, but I heart your blog. I love your honesty.

Robyn said...

Amy, I really appreciate this post. If I were able to articulate things as well as you do, I would be making a similar post. I fight feelings of anxiety and fear about the economy and my childrens' future every day.

I don't know that I have any new advice or great tips to share. I just feel that I need to do the best at the things I do have control over (smart budgeting, controlling impulses to by 'wants', plan menus, and when possible work on food storage). The better I do at those things, the more peaceful I am.

There is a lot that I don't have control over, and as far as that goes, I just put my trust in the Lord.

I echo Sarita. I heart your blog and appreciate your talent and honesty.