I read CNN.com everyday, and everyday I get suckered into reading iReport, which is an interesting cross-section look at American discussions on nationwide events like; the bailout, the economic plan, and the latest debate. Recently iReport asked Americans to tell them what they have had to give up since the economy (slumped, failed, took a down-turn) slipped. I gave it some thought and yes, I have had to make some changes since money has gotten tighter, but life hasn't gotten any worse…in fact in some ways I think it's gotten better.
1. Food – O.k., so I have been unable to go out to eat as much anymore, with the cost of food going up restaurants have had to raise prices which have in turn caused people to eat at home more. I work part time in a restaurant for what used to be recreational spending money, but has now turned into grocery money. I have noticed my tip averages going down as well as the amount of customers coming into our little pizza joint. When I go out to dinner now it is usually for some occasion (birthday, date, reunion with a friend) and no longer because "I just don't feel like cooking tonight". Though I still have my days when I'm too tired or have too much studying to do to cook, and in this aspect I am lucky, I work for a pizzeria, I get an employee discount, and my boss is liberal with free pizza slices towards the end of shift, which means if I'm really desperate I have a place to grab some good, hot, comfort food on the days I can't bear to turn on the oven.
Why I'm lucky: aside from the above-mentioned cheap hand-outs from work I'm also a great cook, I taught myself and I do very little half-assed. I also have friends who are in the same boat I am, so what do I do? Dinner parties! It costs very little to make a huge pot of chicken soup, rice and beans, curry, roast chicken, spaghetti and sauce or any of a thousand other recipes. My friends always ask what they can contribute, whether it be a bottle of wine, vegetables or meat for the pot we always have a good hearty meal, some alcohol and great conversation, and these fun times occur more than just once a month. I feel extremely lucky to have friends and that I can break bread with them frequently, keeps me grounded, keeps our belly's full and our minds sharp
2. Gas – Finally prices have started to drop around here, at the beginning of last month gas was hovering near the $4 mark, this morning I saw gas for $3.31 down the road from the office, I know where I'll be stopping on my way home tonight! 2 1/2 years ago my "high performance" car (VW Jetta) rolled over and died, with only 60k on the speedometer and more than a few thousand dollars left on the car I was left with no choice to buy a newer, cheaper car and roll what was due on the Jetta into the new car, I was terrified, but it had to be done, so i got the new car, drove off the lot and hoped it was a good decision.
Why I'm lucky: The car I got was a new 2006 Honda Civic, and at least once a week i am asked the question "so, how do you like your car" to which I reply "I couldn't be happier. She's great on gas mileage (even on a bad tank, i.e. local driving, she gets 36 mpg) I have only had to replace the front brakes, once, in the entire time I've had her (with the Jetta I always had to replace BOTH sets of brakes every 2 years at least), tires are in excellent condition and my kayak (my outdoor, zero bio-footprint, warm weather sport) fits INSIDE the car, so no wind resistance which means my gas mileage doesn't change.
3. Housing – I made a move this year, I am officially paying more for rent than I ever have before in my life. From paying $555/ mo. last year at this time I am now paying $1300/ mo., that's almost 3 x's the amount…ouch! As housing prices slump, and homes are being foreclosed on rents have gone up (law of supply and demand), and though I actually got a great deal in my area (most decent 1 bedrooms in nice towns in Westchester start around $1500/ mo.) a lot of folks in this country are finding it hard just to pay rent or meet their mortgage payments if they have been laid off, rates have increased, or life has just "happened".
Why I'm lucky: Yeah, I pay more in rent than a good portion in this country makes in a month, I'm lucky. I am by all accounts middle class (except where I live, where I am considered near poverty level, if you look at mean incomes) , sure I pay as much as many homeowners pay on a mortgage in the Midwestern states, but I am comfortable. I pay less than an entire bi-weekly paycheck, I am in a safe, small, quiet little town on the river. I have a patio, ground level, which means no stairs, AND I can grown herbs, vegetables, plants, grill my food and eat outdoors. PLUS I have outdoor space to store the kayak. Heat and hot water are included in my rent, laundry, though not in the same building is in the same complex in the building across the parking lot, and I'm allowed to have my cats.
4. Jobs – Cutbacks, layoffs, banks closing, everywhere you look it seems another 1,000 or so people are joining the growing ranks of the unemployed. Career outlooks are bleak, people are being forced to take on 2nd, sometimes 3rd jobs, if they can find them, just to help with raising commodity prices because they don't make enough at their regular jobs.
Why I'm lucky: I have a job, and for as far as we can see our jobs here at my company aren't going away anytime soon, that's a relief, I think…I also work my 2nd job, as I said above, which helps when the checking account runs dry I know that I will have at least a few extra bucks coming my way on Friday. I also just had an interview, I wasn't even looking, so that gives me hope that maybe not everyone is doing so badly, and maybe a few companies out there are turning a profit, instead of rolling over.
5. Pets – They seem insignificant, but my heart breaks every time I hear another story of a family forced out of their home and another pet has been left behind. I could yell and scream and carry-on saying "why have a pet when you can't afford one?", "why would you just abandon an animal that loves you?", but it would be like throwing stones into a bottomless pit, for all the effort I'm not going to accomplish a thing. These people are Bush's legacy, they are the working middle-class poor who tried to keep up with the Joneses. Have a nice car or two, a cute house with a white-picket fence, 2.5 kids, the American dream. But one day dad comes home and his company has laid him and 999 of his friends and co-workers off, mom is now the main bread winner and the family tries to hold onto their house on one salary, a car is repossessed, Sally and Bobby can't go to sleep away camp this summer, dad cooks dinner every night, Fido and Fluffy get generic food instead of the healthy stuff because there just isn't enough left over. Then one day, mom comes home, the bank she worked for is closing 500 branches, and hers is one of them, but they offer her and few other of her co-workers a job in another city, where the company will find a two bedroom apartment for the family to rent, only stipulation…no pets. So mom, dad, Sally and Bobby pack up the house one day and leave, hopefully they had enough love in their hearts to find homes for Fluffy and Fido, even if it was just at the shelter. But sometimes even the nicest families make bad decisions and they instead leave the door to their old dream home open when they leave and hope for the best. Most people don't intend to abandon their pets, it's not something they imagine the day they bring that new puppy or kitten home, but life and the economy and landlords can be cruel. Sometimes people get so low that just holding their own heads up is next to impossible and the quietest ones are forgotten about. My only solace in these tragedies is that organizations like the ASPCA find and help these lost and abandoned animals and find homes for them or at the very least give them shelter and food and comfort when they have lost their humans.
Why I am lucky: all of my friends are animal lovers, and though it would take me own death for me to abandon my animals, I know that if something tragic were to happen that they will be well cared for. I extremely lucky to have and love my fur-babies and hope that all of those out there who were abandoned or forgotten may they find their forever homes.