Wednesday, July 9, 2008
My Secret Love of the Recession
I have a confession to make.
It's one I make here, because to voice aloud to my friends and family such an incredibly unpopular opinion would surely leave me in the social doghouse for several days at the very least.
I love the recession. I absolutely love everything about it, and for so many reasons.
Before the economy turned arounmd, before gas was $4.00 a gallon and people had to legitimately worry about whether or not they'd be able to afford the commute to work, we as a people spent wantonly with no thought to the fact that we didn't have the money. We drove massive, petrol-hogging SUVs that left local environments in a shambles, and we were all too willing to look the other way as the Bush Administration waged a war of aggression and occupation to fund our bloated lifestyle.
In my personal life, I found that I lacked any direction whatsoever in the two years or so before the stock market peaked and then began its very dramatic decline at the beginning of 2008.
My parents' income had been consistently rising since my early childhood, and beginning in 2004 or so this increase became exponential. By 2006, at the height of their earning power, my mother and father were bringing home a combined revenue of $250,000.00 a year, enough money to live in a $500,000.00 house, pay my college tuition, furnish my brother and I with a car, and essentially get us as a family anything we wanted.
From straddling the poverty line in the early 1990's in Native City and then in Dirty Town, we had entered the top percentile for household income in the United States.
Powell, Thomas, Pie, and I, had become rich kids.
Don't get me wrong, having nearly limitless money (so far as we were concerned, because we never really needed much) was great. Last Christmas, en lieu of actual presents, my parents simply presented Powell and I each with $200.00-gift cards.
We had a hot tub installed; bought a trampoline; built a deck, shed, and fence; and, at our family's monetary height, were looking into the purchase of a $30,000.00 inground pool.
Those things were very nice.
But even then, with no indication that the empire they'd built would soon seriously stumble, my mother was often wistful for our more modest past.
"I feel like we did more as a family in Dirty Town, when we didn't have a lot of money, than we do now," she would often say. "And I was happier then."
As for me, a combination of severe personal problems and the knowledge that my financial support was assured no matter what I did produced an acute lack of direction.
Last school year, all things told, I failed three separate classes. I waited to register for the Spring Semester of 2008 until the night before students returned from Christmas Break, and my consistent failure to meet article deadlines very nearly got me fired from the school newspaper where I worked.
I would wait until the last minute to even begin school assignments, berating myself the whole time for doing it and as a result creating a state of constant anxiety over late papers, missed homeworks, and passed due dates that I easily could have met had I simply resolved to do my work.
I'm not an unintelligent person. If I truly put my mind to it, there's no reason that I couldn't get straight As.
The only thing that kept me from completely destroying my GPA this semester was the fact that I dropped one class and took and incomplete in another, for I would have failed both had I remained enrolled.
My attitude changed, though, this January.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost four hundred points in a single day, and then the economists began talking about the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Some went a step further, predicting an actual depression by 2009. Much of that speculation is still going around in certain quarters, and I'm inclined to believe it's possible.
My grandmother Weird Family will turn eighty-one this October, and she remembers the first Great Depression very vividly, which, given that it threw her family headlong into wretched poverty, is to be expected.
"It was like this before," she told me cryptically one day as we spoke on the phone. "This is what happened the last time."
She was referring to the unsustainable amount of spending, the ostentatious lifestyles, the grossly irresponsible reliance on credit, and then, once the market turned, the widespread foreclosures and bankruptcies as a result of that credit not being repaid.
I became very aware this winter that my position in the world had suddenly gotten much more tenuous, a realization heightened by the collapse of Solar Explosion Construction Company in May, which ended my father's job and more than halved our household income.
He's in Decaying State, by the way, training for a new position as a salesman with a bath-fitting company. This is about the third job he's had since Solar Explosion caved in.
My mother has taken to selling Avon on the side and teaching a spin class at our local gym. We need the extra money more than ever; she learned this week that she may be laid off in September as Pharmaceutical Company eliminates jobs to cut costs.
Another thing that we've done is planted our own garden, which I've taken to calling the Victory Garden.
To lighten the load of our grocery bill, we're now growing our own tomatoes, squash, corn, peppers, green beans, and other vegetables.
We went yesterday to pick our some beans and squash for an evening meal. My mother made steamed squash seasoned with different spices. Before, I wouldn't have touched it, but now it tastes delectable.
It's funny how your standards adjust when you have no choice in the matter, when everything is scarce. It was so good, though, and the type of thing I never would have experienced a few years ago because I just would've eaten something else.
Now, for the first time in years, we have to budget. The entire world is not at our fingertips, we cannot have whatever we want, and we cannot indulge our every whim.
Yet I feel better than I've felt in a long time. I feel more productive, more powerful, and more in control of my own life than ever before. I have a reason now, a reason to live, and something to build towards, that I didn't have before.
I work nearly forty hours a week at a movie theater making $5.85 an hour, almost all of which goes straight into a checking account that I withdraw money from exclusively to pay for gas and food (my Flickr account deposit notwithstanding).
Yesterday while in the mall, I saw a Harry Potter-themed hoodie in Hot Topic that I really wanted to buy. It was marked down from over $40.00 to $10.98, and it was the last one in the store.
I could feel the debit card in my wallet, its plastic sheen willing to dispense with the paltry funds I needed and get me the desired, the wonderful object.
I was picturing myself later this Fall or winter wearing the coat. I could see in my mind how the black would look contrasted with my bright golden hair, which is long enough to reach my shoulders and so would actually touch the fabric. I imagined how the red Gryffindor logo on the left breast would warm my pale white skin and bring attention to my glowing green eyes, and in that instant I wanted the piece of clothing so badly that I really was tempted to whip out the card and spend the money.
Then, though, my imagination took another turn.
I thought of how I'd feel following the purchase, the guilt that would take hold of me after the truly unnecessary expenditure of $11.00, the way that the garment my eyes had so greedily coveted would have to sit for months in my closet before I could wear it.
"No," I told myself. "I don't need it now."
It was the last one in the store. And I walked out.
After I get my next paycheck (which should be for something in the area of $300.00), I may go back and look for something, but not until then.
I need to save, particularly now after making a major decision: I will be commuting to Major University next year.
The campus is about an hour and a half away from my house, but by making the drive I will cut my education costs approximately in half, bringing the amount I have to spend from roughly $7,000.00 or $8,000.00 per semester to roughly $4,000.00.
Between Grand Ma Normal Family's help (for my parents cannot afford to give me anything) and some strategic savings accounts, I should be able to continue attending school without going into debt.
The money that I make this summer is being funneled into a checking account that will serve as my gas fund for the 2008-2009 year.
So far, it's at just over $670.00 and climbing.
Next school year I will be taking eighteen credit hours, the maximum that my school allows. I've realized that my parents will not be able to help me forever, and furthermore am well aware that the financial world I am entering is much more volatile than the one that existed just a year ago.
I will need all the money I can get.
During my recent trip to Movie State, someone gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received.
He was a man in about his thirties or forties on vacation with his retired father, who upon learning that I was in college asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated.
"I don't know," I answered honestly. "I really have no idea."
"Well," the son interjected. "Let me tell you something: when you get out, pick a career and stick with it, even if you're not sure it's what you want to do for the rest of your life. Just find something and give it your all. If you don't, you'll be his age--" he gestured to his father "--and won't have accomplished anything. You never know where a job will take you."
His words helped to strengthen my conviction that I ought to probably seek work as a reporter following the conclusion of my university studies, and from here on out I will direct my energies in that direction. When I return to Major University in the Fall I will see first thing to a meeting with a career adviser to help me dtermine how best to enter this field.
I know I can do it if only I focus and concentrate all of my resolve toward that goal. I must'nt waver, though, not in the least. That was my problem before: I could think of no field to settle on and was well on my way to nowehere.
Having an aspiration again, having something to aim for, has envigorated me.
I don't expect to be a reporter forever, and would like eventually to go to law school. But for right now, I have to do what I have to do. And having to do something is wonderful.
My saving mania (it is common knowledge in our family that I am even more tight-fisted than my parents) was given a boost yesterday when I discovered a savings account I'd completely forgotten I had with $315.51 in it.
I'd established it as a minor in 2004 and neglected to pay it any mind in several years, so when the statement came Wednesday it got my attention and moved me to call the bank.
Today I drove out to Western City, passed right by where I work, closed the account, and deposited all of the money into my checking with a separate bank, nearly doubling that fund's contents.
As a country, this crisis has given us perspective and sanity once more. People's innate sense of responsibility is being restored, because the credit they once relied on has vanished and in any case is now seen as so poisonous that's it not to be touched.
I believe that as the current bear market deepends, and as it possibly sinks into a depression within the coming year, Americans will have regained some of what once made us the greatest people on the planet.