Someone get me Hank Paulson’s phone number — I need a bailout.
This morning, my wife’s six-year-old minivan started running funny as she traveled to work (she works as a nurse for disabled children). It sputtered, it shuddered, and it shook, enough that she knew it shouldn’t have been on the road. By the end of the day, the picture was clear and the verdict was in … we need six new ignition coils and six new spark plugs, not to mention the labor, diagnostics, and injection treatments that go along with it.
Plain and simple, it sure looks like I need a bailout. And, frankly, with all of the weight I’ve packed on during the Thanksgiving holiday, and not to mention the stress-filled days and weeks leading up to it, I figure that I’ve probably achieved “too big to fail” status.
Thankfully, my wife and I are surrounded by a wonderful and loving family who, together, have decided to help us out with about half of the $1200 bill. Without them, given that my wife and I only have between $450-600 left over each month after paying bills (being in the black at all is a blessing), things sure would have been different.
Still, even if faced with the entire invoice, we would have made it through by cutting back and working harder. We’ve perfected the art of stretching our dollars, conserving our resources, and living without. Even face-to-face with the holidays, we’ve begun to once again build–slowly–our emergency fund. The balance now, appropriately enough, is right around $600.
If necessary, we could even further change our habits. Somehow, by selling stuff or taking on more and more work or shaking my “too big to fail” physique at an all-male cabaret on the weekends, we’d make it work. Sure, ee’d be facing a financial setback and, sure, we’d take on a little more debt for the time being, but we’d change our habits accordingly in order to pay that debt off. That’s the difference between us and those in Detroit. We learn from our mistakes, and do everything in our power to make sure (a) that they never happen again, or (b) that we are better prepared in the case that they do.
Notwithstanding the spark plugs and ignition coils, we’ve recently seen some pretty difficult problems in our operating budget and have done our best to change our habits accordingly. We’ve taken on more work where available, cut down spending as much as possible. As I wrote a little while back when the $700 billion bailout was being discussed, we shop at the discount supermarkets, put the generic Wal-Mart diapers on our daughter, and do the Jimmy Carter thing and wear an extra thick sweater when necessary. For us, the next logical step toward getting leaner and meaner is getting out from underneath our house, freeing up a good deal of money each month for our now-depleted emergency fund and savings, but the market right now will not allow us to sensibly do so.
Our “Big Three” automakers, however, similarly see that they are hemorrhaging cash but decide to ask for more anyway, declining to specify how exactly their own habits, in terms of labor and production costs and more, would change for the better. Citigroup, furthermore, says that it needs a $20 billion capital injection and $306 billion more in guaranteed mortgage-backed securities, yet sees no problem in going ahead and spending $400 million on naming rights for the new Mets baseball stadium — that would be like my wife and I taking the $600 generously given to us for the purpose of getting our van fixed, and buying new shoes with it.
My wife and I are extremely fortunate to have wonderful family and friends. Extremely fortunate. Still, many folks just aren’t as lucky as we are, and while we’re busy teaching Wall Street and the Motor City that it’s just fine to have their cake and eat it too, a whole lot of Americans are finding themselves choosing between food on the table or heat in the house, and nonetheless are being forced to unwittingly pay for the excesses and the egocentric nature of our banking and automotive industries.