Category Archives: money

Think – don’t feel – before you buy

Image credit: Roger Dodger: Everett Collection

(Sorry I couldn’t find this on video anywhere.  Instead, you get to read the transcript of a scene between awkward and innocent teenager Nick and his womanizing, clueless — but here, very insightful — uncle Roger, from the movie “Roger Dodger.”)

NICK: What do you do all day?

ROGER: What do I do all day?  What do I do all day?  I sit here and think of ways to make people feel bad.

NICK: I thought you wrote for commercials.

ROGER: I do, but you can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.

NICK: Why not?

ROGER: Because it’s a substitution game.  You have to remind them that they’re missing something from their lives.  Everyone’s missing something, right?

NICK: Well, yeah.  I guess.

ROGER: Trust me.  And when they’re feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.  So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they run out and buy a stupid-looking pair of cargo pants.

Nick looks down and shifts his hands inside the pockets of the pair of cargo pants he’s wearing.

NICK: So … is it fun?

ROGER: It can be.

—————————————

In the ultra-good bargain days between November 28, 2008, and January 31, 2009, I behaved badly.  I spent $283.62 on stuff I’m now sure I didn’t need.

A total of $156.34 went to stores in my neighborhood that were going out of business.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty for the $81.90 I spent on gospel CDs and bible study guides at a Christian bookstore that was closing, and I’ve made excellent use of the hand mixer and bed skirts that Linens n Things was practically giving away.  The DVDs from Circuit City have kept me entertained on my many nights spent inside, and they have assisted me in the film dissection and script analysis I’m supposed to use to improve my own screenplays, so I guess about 90 percent of the going out of business sale purchases were worth the money.  (The curtains from Linens n Things haven’t worked out so well.)

I spent the remaining $127.28 on a DVD from a store still doing great business, especially now that Circuit City is gone, a pair of sexy green suede boots, a related green purse, a comfy pair of loafers perfect for ushering, the biggest, warmest, most comfortable fleece sweatshirt in the world, a pair of yoga pants, and about $31 on some other clothing items I couldn’t point out in my closet today.

I can’t even recollect those items now, and yet they and the rest of the items in my shopping season shopping spree seemed so important at the time.  I think about them now because, while I don’t long to be among the throngs of shoppers in Black Friday lines or among those clicking a Cyber Monday mouse, I wish I could do more than what I currently can.  I wish my 20-dollar moisturizer hadn’t run out the same day my mom gave me $20 to do something enjoyable.  I wish I weren’t dipping into my savings account to cover the expense of overdue repairs on my car.  I wish I were finished paying Sallie Mae, or that I had the guts to default on my student loans like most people do.  I wish premiums for health insurance plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions cost the same amount that they’re worth.

I don’t know why I had extra cash this time last year, and even if I hadn’t spent any of it, life probably would have happened and I would have spent the money in a different way.  Another “why” is more important: Why did I feel the need to purchase anything?

As I said, I can justify almost all of it.  But the sexy green boots and related purse bother me to this day.  (I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the boots were the most expensive single item that I bought this time last year, or perhaps even for the entire year – other than furniture.)  I remember waking up one morning obsessed with green boots.  I instinctively knew what store would have them.  I instinctively knew that they would be on sale.  But what makes a woman who doesn’t go out that often think that her life is incomplete without a pair of sexy green boots?

Now, I have nothing against enjoying material things or against supporting the people who have to endure this great season as retail employees.  It’s just that I think Time writer Barbara Kiviat made a good point in her recent critique of big bargains.  She “realizes that part of what got us [into recession] was overspending, and that that overspending was fostered by a shopping culture that uses cheap goods to hook people on feeling like they’re winning at something.”

Maybe if I had spent more time in the books and study guides I bought, I wouldn’t have felt the need for anything else that came after it.  Perhaps if everyone “took steps to deal with their lives” or “worked to root out the real reason for their misery,” fewer of us would (still) be living life laid off.

——————————————–

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money

Would you RATHER be living life laid off?

By Mariam Williams

I’ve had jobs I loathed so much that I would cry when my weekday alarm clock signaled the time had come to get up and get dressed to go to the office of misery.  Is unemployment better than that?  Definitely, even with all the hassles of sitting for hours at a time at the local unemployment office, all the glitches in the system, an automated system that only understands hourly work, never being able to earn extra income, and knowing I’m one out of something like 10 million people.  But it’s only better because I can still afford all the food I need and like, and I can still pay rent and most of my monthly bills without familial or charitable assistance.  If that weren’t the case, I would probably be waking up and crying just as hard as I once did over a depressing, unfulfilling job.

Since October 2008, I’ve tried to avoid going back to that situation by not applying for jobs that I know would leave me depressed.  (I’m presently wondering if that’s the reason there are supposedly millions of job openings out there that the unemployed aren’t filling.)  I have focused instead on jobs that match my interests, experience and skills, and even ones that I think would be fun.  For me, that’s the ideal: fun employment.

Not quite the same as funemployment, a new term I learned from an article in Sunday’s Courier-Journal.  The funemployed have learned to enjoy their employment hiatus by spending time with their children, on their hobbies or at various, mostly free attractions.  From what I gather, all of the funemployed featured in the article share my mindset: they’re still paying their bills on time and taking care of the essentials first.  And one has the enviable position of having a gainfully employed and supportive spouse who’s bringing home enough for the family.

Understand, I’m not saying housewifery—or house husbandry—or lollygagging along on government assistance is the ideal setup for every American household.  I am, however, suggesting that the ideal isn’t just to have a job that’s fun to go to every day; it’s to have a steady source of income and the time and ability to enjoy your passions each day, even if you don’t go to any job anywhere.

Puzzled as to how to be funemployed?  It’s really just a combination of a positive attitude and knowing how to fill your free time now that you’re living life laid off.  Here are some suggestions.  I’ve obviously done number 13.  Numbers 37, 41 and 84 are quite useful.  And I strongly recommend AVOIDING number 46, but clearly it’s all up to you.

—————————————–

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mental & Emotional Health, money, Unemployment

My love-hate relationship with living life like a housewife

I’ve begun to do something I thought I would never do: let my exercise routine slip.  I haven’t devoted myself to five or six days a week of rigorous 30-minute to one-hour cardio sessions combined with weight training for a little over one month.  As a result, I think my breasts are bigger (they are just hyper-sexualized fat deposits, after all) and my butt looks rounder (always wanted that), but my stomach has forcefully, purposefully, and unapologetically reappeared, much the way I had hoped a job would by now.

I blame my recent apathy on two factors.  The first is my favorite Zumba instructor’s departure to another state.  I’ve raved about Zumba on this very blog, but since my favorite instructor’s final class on May 19th, I have only been to one Zumba class, and I found that one less than thrilling.  Trying to perform my former teacher’s choreography on the carpet in my apartment has proven treacherous to my knees, and I guess I could get certified to teach Zumba myself and do the choreography I remember him doing in front of my own class, but I don’t know that I have the patience to just let people have fun without correcting their movements.  I went back to cardio machines and free weights for about two days before being bored out of my mind, and about as soon as I added jumping rope to semi-daily walks around the neighborhood and park, it got too hot outside to blink without sweating profusely.  I miss Zumba, but I’ve taken the class with all the other instructors at my gym, and no one else has the music or the moves that my former instructor did.

The second factor is living life laid off.  See, my gym membership is attached to my mom’s, and she pays for it.  If I were employed, I would look for another place to work out because I hate my gym, or at least the branch of it that I’m closest to now that I’m at home most of the time.  I had an appointment near my favorite branch of the gym earlier this week, so I packed my gym clothes and stopped in for old times’ sake.  I was suddenly surrounded by professional people running in on their lunch hour for a 45-minute workout and a 30-second shower before running back to their desk responsibilities, and it felt great! As I told another member who remains a part of the downtown lunch-hour workout crew, I come to my favorite branch of the gym, and even though I’m unemployed, I relate to the professionals downtown.  The housewives near my home, not so much.

And yet, I live like a house-wife in training, and there are some elements of my life I actually enjoy.  When I worked out steadily, I liked being able to stay at the gym—even that gym—for two hours at a time, hours that were outside of the normal 9-to-5er’s pre- or post-work rush hours.  I like avoiding those same time constraints at the grocery store or in the park.  I like being able to go to the bank and the post office any time I feel like it, instead of at lunch time or on Saturday.  I like having enough time every morning to make a spinach and mushroom omelet if I want, to have a meaningful private praise and worship session, to fully dissect a bible verse I’ve been studying or thoroughly research something for this blog.  If the unemployment compensation checks were in an amount that allowed me to have as much fun as I want to, or if I had a husband who made about five times that amount, maybe I would be content with my life.

On a local news station the other night, the anchor welcomed the meteorologist back from her four weeks of maternity leave.  Four weeks? I thought.  What kind of maternity leave is that? Isn’t it just a little barbaric to take a one-month-old away from its mother’s breast and leave it at least 10 hours a day with strangers you just assume will take care of it? If I ever have children, I’m not sure I could do that. Eight months ago, I never would’ve considered any of that, not having children, not the hardship of being apart from them, not the savagery of leaving them with strangers.

I must take the time to remind myself here that housewife isn’t my only option.  I also like being able to jump on the rare freelance assignment that comes along and to take a day to go shadow an attorney, or mold my own schedule to a busy professional’s schedule to get the story.  I like having access to a venerable Who’s Who of the city, meeting people I would otherwise never come in contact with as an educated, intelligent, unemployed young woman.  I like when an editor says I’ve done a good job.

Hmmm.  A good job.  If I could just make this freelance writing thing steady …

And stay away from housewives.

—————————————

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

1 Comment

Filed under Health, Lifestyles, money, Unemployment

The end of consumerism? Part 4 – Let us cease the devaluation of humanity

by Mariam Williams

This morning, Good Morning America featured a piece about trends in teen sexuality as depicted in the documentary, Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss. Pre-teen and teenage girls are engaging in everything from oral sex to prostitution.  Of the clips shown this morning, the footage of two particular girls has stayed in my mind: The girl who said she figured if she was going to have sex anyway, she “might as well get paid for it,” and the one who described offers of $20 for taking off her shirt or $100 for dancing on a table.

True, I can figure out how to make just about anything apply to this blog, the economy, and unemployment, but really, this topic fits.  At least, it goes well with my previous harps on consumerism and my over-reaching predictions about its end.  These young prostitutes apply to this blog because filmmaker Sharlene Azam said “the prettiest girls from the most successful families” are most at risk for this behavior.  Their parents aren’t those living life laid off; they’re just the people—or friends of the people—whose greed helped put our country in crisis.  (More on this after the definitions.)

After my dad read my post about the lure of an easy life through a sugar daddy relationship, he expressed interest in hearing my thoughts on what he calls “the psychologically programmed consumerist commercialism at the root of the whole phenom and the possible social consequence of its relentless, vapid, amoral, vampirish soul rape of bling-blinded youth.” (Does that sentence make so much about me make sense or what?)

About a month and a half ago, I read his comment again and focused on the word “consumerist.”  I looked up its root, “consume” (emphasis not mine):

transitive verb

1: to do away with completely : DESTROY

2 a: to spend wastefully : SQUANDER b: USE UP

3 a: to eat or drink especially in great quantity  b: to enjoy avidly : DEVOUR

4: to engage fully : ENGROSS

5: to utilize as a customer

intransitive verb

1: to waste or burn away : PERISH

2: to utilize economic goods”

I looked up “consumer”:

“: one that consumes: as

a: one that utilizes economic goods

b: an organism requiring complex organic compounds for food which it obtains by preying on other organisms or by eating particles of organic matter”

The cultural attitudes are manifesting themselves in 11-year-old prostitutes, but the bling blinded most of us.  Here’s what I think happened: a few brilliant people—owners of retail and real estate corporations for the most part—paid a few other brilliant people to convince us that we had to have it.  Our lives were incomplete without the car, house, pool, clothes, jewelry, handbags, gadgets, weave, beauty treatments, and gourmet food those few brilliant people were selling.  Things could fill voids in our lives.  Things could make us happy.  Not having enough money to get the things didn’t matter to most of us; happiness was attainable, even if it was only via loans and credit.  More brilliant people profited off our mismanagement and became people whose lives were incomplete without the money to get the things, and more money on top of that.  To those same people, the people using credit also became things.  They weren’t even customers anymore, just 9 or 16-digit numbers whose rates needed to be raised.  Ways to consume more.  Means to an end.  Prey to be devoured.  Pre-teen girls to use.  Teen boys and men to get cash from.  We might as well.

Many who opposed our President’s economic stimulus plan claimed they were horrified by the burden of debt and taxes that government spending would leave to future generations.  Seeing girls of any economic status or social class approach the removal of their clothes for $20 with nonchalance horrifies me, and not just because I hate to see women objectified.  It horrifies me because the STDs these girls may spread won’t help a healthcare system that’s already insufficient for a civilized nation.  It horrifies me because these girls won’t even notice that particular social consequence because they’ll probably marry affluent men who can afford the best healthcare.  It horrifies me because seeing people as a means to an end prevents you from seeing people’s needs.  It blinds you to the compassion needed to address the health and wealth disparities in our society and to radically change the consumerist economy that we have proven will crumble when any one element—wages, jobs, credit, responsible repayment of debt, or an insatiable craving for frivolity (consumer confidence)—is removed from the equation.

Equation.  That word indicates a call for balance.  Most viewers’ comments on the story faulted lackadaisical parenting, abstinence teaching, and generational immorality.  A few saw it as a cry for attention to parents who have been too busy working to watch their kids.  Others saw no difference between this and previous generations.  If girls whose parents already have money feel they might as well dance on tables for $100, I think it goes deeper than moral deficiency, and that it’s worse than lonely kids who just want love.  It’s a devaluation of humanity that will continue to perpetuate and is perpetuated by the idea that enough is always just a little bit more.

CONSUME

————————————

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

1 Comment

Filed under Dating and Relationships, Economy, Lifestyles, money, Sex

The end of consumerism? Part 3 – If you only knew, you wouldn’t do it

By Mariam Williams

I watched the President’s town hall meeting about credit card regulation the day after I read this Time Magazine article as I took a break from revising my upcoming feature story on bankruptcy attorneys (read it in the July 10th issue of Business First, in the special section, The Business of Law).  President Obama and the Senate seem to think that if the dangers of credit cards—the freedom of the card companies to change interest rates at will for no reason at all; the length of time it would take to pay off a balance if you only paid the minimum payment each month; the fees and tricks that set you back just when you’re making a dent in your debt—were spelled out to consumers in plain English and large fonts, or abolished all together, people would use the powerful pieces of plastic more wisely, or not at all, and not have so much debt.

When I worked in retail, I accepted an extra discount as motivation to encourage irresponsible spending (especially on college students; it was ridiculously easy to get them approved for credit).  I often used this line when trying to push store credit cards on the wiser, more unwilling customers: “You don’t have to wait to pay it off.  You can open the card to get the savings and immediately pay off the whole balance with cash or check, while you’re still here at the register.  Why not save the 15% today?”  Some saw that the glittering “Get 15% off your purchase and double rewards points when you open a Store Card today!” signs strategically placed on fitting room doors and at the register weren’t gold.  Others “saved” 15% on that purchase and then paid almost double that amount in interest when something kept them from paying the balance off in full later in the month (just like people with adjustable rate mortgages couldn’t refinance because—oops—there was suddenly no credit available).

My own credit has NOT been damaged by my employment hiatus.  Around this time last year, I was blessed to encounter a good sales woman hocking a credit protection plan that would pay a nice of chunk of my credit card balance over a set period of time in the event of major life changes or unforeseen emergencies.  Due to my present misfortune, the card that still carried remnants from days when I had California dreams now shows such a healthier balance that I sometimes log into my account just to see the number and smile.  I chose to close the card that had a manageable but less attractive balance and that didn’t have the insurance after getting word from Bank of America that the interest rate on that card would be going up by 5% this month, because they felt like it.

And yet, as much I enjoy lifting my middle finger to Bank of America through my credit boycott—and even though lack of disposable income has forced me to sever my ties with retail anyway—I find myself tempted to use the plastic again, to treat myself to something pretty, to enjoy a break from Kentucky, to see a show I can’t manage to get free tickets to, to have a carefree weave again, to get some work done on my car, to get a massage, to eat a lavish dinner, to buy some new computer software, to enjoy Memorial Day sales, to do any number of things I don’t need to do to survive and probably shouldn’t do even when I have the cash to do them.

The sad part is, I know what credit companies are capable of.  I know the trappings of the minimum monthly payment.  I know shit happens that you don’t plan for and happens so quickly that your balance has gone from $100 to $10,000 (actually, I’ve never seen a credit card balance that high, but you get the idea) before you can even make a minimum payment.  I don’t need the fine print reworded, and I’m still tempted.

I fully support eliminating credit card issuers’ unfair practices.  People paying off their debts in full or repaying them steadily each month shouldn’t be punished so that banks can cover the difference left by those who are defaulting, nor should those faltering due to unemployment or other unforeseen circumstances be punished.  To suddenly have your interest rate doubled could easily make a manageable situation impossible.  To have your credit limit dramatically cut could damage your credit score, which is something potential employers check, which could make you end up in the unemployment line longer, which could lead you to default on your payments, which gives card issuers incentive to increase everyone’s rates …

Obviously, I see the need for regulation.  Our insatiable craving for stuff, however, and our economy’s dependence on it, needs to be reigned in as well, or at least rethought so that it doesn’t stand on the shaky ground of massive debt.

I’m tempted, but I haven’t done it, partly because I know better.  What percentage of the American population would resist the temptation if everyone knew?

——————————————————-

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money, Unemployment

Good news, wishes, and snafus

I auditioned for several local theater companies at the Theatre Alliance of Louisville Unified Auditions on Saturday.  (That’s what all the tweets were about.)  Good news: I faced my fear of singing a solo in public.  Wish list: I wish that during all this time off, I had had money to fill the time with acting and voice lessons.  That doesn’t mean things went badly, just that everything gets better with practice.

It was good to be around theater people again, to escape for a moment into a character who has problems that I don’t, and to be in the company of people who haven’t given up on making a career out of the talents that bring them the most joy.  I’m hoping that the inspiration sticks and that the brief exposure to a different form of creativity translates well into productive writing sessions for me.

On Sunday, before heading out to my mother’s house to celebrate Mothers Day, I logged on to the state unemployment website to request my weekly benefit check.  I got an error message stating I couldn’t make a request because my account has a zero balance, which is odd, considering that 1) I had just visited the unemployment office in person on Wednesday and an agent there who knew about the snafu that I will address later had instructed me to request my check as usual on Sunday and then file for an extension of benefits on Monday; and 2) the agent had given me those instructions because my account balance was in the low hundreds, an amount less than the usual benefit amount but far greater than zero.

Of course, my purpose in going to the unemployment office in person was to take them a letter from the unemployment commission appeals branch stating that they had indeed made a snafu when I first applied for benefits in October 2008.  That’s the good news.  They were finally agreeing that I really did receive severance pay that does not count against my unemployment benefits (as my former employer and I told them), and that I did not receive wages in lieu of notice, which do count against my unemployment benefits.  That meant the state owed me more money than the amount remaining in my regular benefit account, so I can only guess that they processed the new information and cut a check faster than anticipated, and that this caused another snafu: a zero balance in the regular benefit account before I got the chance to file for an extension.

While I’m grateful to the agents who have been kind and understanding, who have given good leads or advice, or who have fixed my own snafus over the phone without forcing me to come into the office and wait for several hours, and while I understand the stress that a state with an unemployment rate of 9.8% can put on even a fully-staffed office, I’m frustrated that the system is not set up for first-time filers who might make snafus—or even for professionals’ errors—and that it takes massive professional intervention by people with some sort of top-secret, classified access to correct the snafus.  It can also take an entire day of sitting in the crowded office, waiting for your number to be called, or over six months for a letter acknowledging the snafu to arrive.  (Also note that the letter had no instructions or information on how the money owed to me was to be dispersed.  I had to call the appeals branch myself.  They then instructed me to take the letter to a local office and ask them to release the payment.  I don’t know how I was supposed to know that without asking the appeals branch.)

With the latest snafu, I’m also pulling out a calculator, trying to figure out exactly what the balance in the extended benefit account would have been as of Sunday if the decision on severance had been made in October.  I think the easiest thing to do would be to cut one check that covers the entire amount that the state agrees that I am owed, take that amount from both the regular and extended benefit balances, and have me just file for extended benefits at the same time, as if the owed check were never even cut.  It’s already been explained to me that the owed checks will come in bi-monthly parts, just as the regular checks would.  So I should believe that a state that is running low on funds and that took over six months to make a decision in my favor is really going to pay me all that they agree that I’m owed without some other sort of interference?

Lord, I thought Sunday, I am so tired of the snafus. I’m tired of the inefficiency, but more than that, I’m tired of it being a concern at all, of worrying about checks, of counting down the days until they run out, of job seeking (now with a new crop of college grads alongside me), of leads not panning out, of new ideas fizzling, of not knowing what to do, of wondering where to take my skills and who might need them and how I might actually be of some use in this society, and of even more burdens that I rambled about in prayer but don’t remember at the moment.  I shouldn’t be so perturbed.  God has blessed me financially this whole time, and I have no reason to believe that I suddenly won’t be taken care of.  I’m just tired.

You know, the amount in question would have mattered even when I was employed, but I’m longing for the day when said amount feels like pennies that won’t even be missed instead of like something I have to fight for.

And on another snafu note, if you subscribe to Living Life Laid Off via email and received a random feed from January, I have no explanation for what happened, and neither does Feedburner. :-/

——————————————-

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts and Culture, money, Unemployment

The end of consumerism? Part 2 – Frugality ends when living life laid off does. Pity

by Mariam Williams

“You see, when this recession began, many families sat around their kitchen table and tried to figure out where they could cut back. So do many businesses. That is a completely responsible and understandable reaction. But if every family in America cuts back, then no one is spending any money, which means there are more layoffs, and the economy gets even worse.” – President Obama, Speech on the economy at Georgetown University, April 14, 2009, about 10 minutes in.

Is frugality bad for the economy?

That’s the question author Amy Dacyzyn poses on page 61 of The Tightwad Gazette II. Here’s what’s crazy: The book was published in 1995 and references a 1992 book by Ross Perot entitled, United We Stand, for further reading on how rethinking spending can lead to a more stable economy.

The question remains relevant because we keep getting ourselves into recessions, and counting on spending to get ourselves out and to sustain our economy.  I attended a business webinar today in which speaker economic futurist Jeff Thredgold stressed that the tide has begun to turn in the economy.  He and other experts are now predicting that we will move out of the current recession, which officially began in December 2007, before the end of 2009.  Although this recession has lasted longer than those of 1980 and the early 1990s and unemployment may still increase to over 10%, the severity has begun to level off.  The stock market shows signs that consumer confidence is starting to build again, and that’s critical to our economy; seventy percent of our national income is determined by consumer spending.

Here’s the thing that’s really hitting us with a national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent: not all of that spending is from hard-earned money.  In 2008, 65% of our spending was dictated by wages and salaries, down from 80% from 1980 to 2007.  That means we rely on credit for 35% of our spending.  Those whose credit cards remain open during unemployment-because if a bank suspects you won’t be able to make your payments, they can cut you off at any time, or raise your interest rates, for any reason really, without notice-will likely continue to use them, but not on the vacations, appliances, clothing, and entertainment they did before.

If it lasts long enough, the forced frugality of the current recession could change American society as a whole from greedy, credit-burdened consumerists who work to get more stuff they can’t enjoy because they’re working too much to pay off the debt they borrowed to get the stuff, to a society that values the bare necessities, the earth, and interpersonal experiences.  As Marian Salzman, the chief marketing officer of Porter Novelli, a public-relations company, said in a story published last month in U.S. News & World Report, “[T]here is an anti-bling thing going on.”

I heard much of the same on the radio show State of Affairs last month.  People have shifted their dollars to maintenance, “do it yourself” projects, anything that will help them save money at a time when they fear they might not have a job forever, or when they know that a home equity loan is impossible on an upside down house.  The savings rate has gone from -1% to 5%.  People are tracking their spending, learning how to prioritize, and learning how to define what’s really important.  We’re learning lessons that can bring down a capitalist economy.

Greed has employed me.  I don’t understand why auto makers roll out a new version of every model of every make every year, or why most drivers get bored with their car after three years and feel the need to swap one vehicle they don’t own yet for another one they never will, but I made more money per month selling cars than I have per month at any other job.  I hated wrapping overpriced presents for ungrateful, rich snobs in Seven jeans and Juicy Couture jogging suits who routinely spent over $1000 a week in a southern California Bloomingdale’s and who threw tantrums over restrictions on the 20 percent savings cards that cost them a $5 charitable donation once a year, but without their obsession over obtaining the latest styles before everyone else and at regular price, I would not have been able to eat as I nurtured my showbiz habit.  I can’t tell you how many commercials I wrote as a radio copywriter advertising clothing sales, furniture with easy financing and guaranteed credit approval, or specials on custom wheels, sound systems, and rims.  Those same marketers’ holding back their ad dollars led to my current state and is presently sending newspapers and other publications into bankruptcy.  One of the comments in the pile Oprah’s website collected after Suze Orman’s last financial show was from an irate spa owner, appalled at Orman’s advice to cut your spending to the “bare bones,” or as the commenter saw it, put small business owners out of business.

Our country is at a crossroads right now.  The greed that unregulated free enterprise bred has screwed us, but a radically new system is still too hard for people not yet suffering to imagine.  I’m not even sure that the government should take charge of or be heavily involved in the overseeing of corporations, and I don’t know why I’m not sure.  Perhaps because I know and admire several smart, honest women who own their own businesses and feel like they deserve to revel in their success.  Perhaps because I know that money is a motivator and that it’s employed me.  Perhaps because I like paying low prices more than I care about the exploitation of workers.  (Of course, if I were earning enough money to only support local small businesses, I would.)  Perhaps because I think our government officials are just as fallible as everyone else, and if they don’t mess up a new system with their own disagreements or errors in judgment, a person with greater ingenuity will buy them out.

The Obama Administration could be on the right track anyway.  Keynesian economic theory suggests that we spent our way out of the Great Depression with federal stimulus packages that increased disposable income.  History also shows us that we tend to revert back to our old ways once the tough times are over.  Most of us were spending beyond our means, but at least we had some means, and once those means are restored to their previous levels-and for many industries, or people willing to learn new skills, they will be (even before the end of the year!)-most us will revert back to credit and debt.  Of course, massive debt isn’t entirely the consumer’s fault; when credit card companies and banks can change your interest rates on a whim, manageable debt becomes unbearable.  If corporate greed is somewhat regulated when the hard times are over this time, we might have even more confidence in our plastic cards.

Amy Dacyzyn believes that if we as a society were able to save more money, we would be a better society in three ways: 1) we would have more venture capital to start businesses; 2) we would have less federal debt and lower taxes because we wouldn’t be paying off our own bad decisions; and 3) we would be able to focus on real causes of economic problems, like the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries.

I’m hoping that the story from U.S. News & World Report is true and that our frugality may actually become so ingrained that we question every purchase and use more cash. I’m concerned about just how our economy will restructure itself if we’re not dependent on the sale and marketing of unnecessary stuff, but if the trend continues, or if we fall quickly into another recession after this one is over, we’ll have to find a new way.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

What are YOUR plans for your money after you bounce back?

See a transcript of the president’s speech from last week here.

—————————————————-

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

2 Comments

Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money, Recession, stimulus bill, Unemployment