It’s no secret that, like many of the families across the country, my wife and I are struggling. We made some poor real-estate related decisions at the height of the housing bubble that have continued to haunt us until this day, and neither of us are making the money that we used to — Joanna because full-time nursing jobs are in short supply due to the explosion of nursing programs in the Lowcountry, and me because I am still not licensed to practice law here in South Carolina and still work as a legal assistant making one-third of what I made up in Philadelphia.
One of the ways that we have made things work, even as our family expands with the addition of our insomniac seven-month-old, is to cut back on spending as we look at ways to scare up more revenue. On the revenue side, Joanna has been interviewing at hospitals and medical practices across the area, and I am working to finally get sworn in by the Court. On the spending side, to say that our budget is bare bones would be understatement of the year — we don’t eat dinner out, we don’t take on any unfunded mandates, and we have worked to cut every monthly expense, fixed and variable, back as far as possible.
We cut it close every month, but we get by. And despite any trouble, we are blessed in the ways that matter.
As much as it’s not very fun to say “no” to some of the various events and activities here in the Lowcountry that require cash for attendance, we know that our situation is temporary, and that we have learned the lessons to thrive in the future. For us, it really has become a “new normal,” and from sea to shining sea I know that we are not alone.
This afternoon, Joanna and I met a woman who is adapting to this “new normal.” We came across her after answering a baby-things advertisement on Craigslist — we needed one of those shopping cart covers, as our youngest will no longer be in the car seat on our shopping trips, and she was selling a gently-used one for a whopping six dollars. New, the very same cover retailed for $19.99.
When we walked into the living room of our modest three- or four-bedroom home on the outskirts of Summerville, South Carolina, we saw a veritable wardrobe of children’s clothing spread out in an organized fashion on the living room floor. Everything was immaculate, organized by gender, size and item. Some of the items had been recently pressed.
Her name was Maris. A middle-aged black woman with a couple of phenomenally polite and well-mannered kids, including an eleven-month-old who was happily bouncing up and down on a nearby sofa, Maris explained how she had taken to selling her own hand-me-down clothing and similar wares she received from family and friends on Web sites like Craigslist and Amazon.
“I’ve only been doing it for about a week,” she said, staring down at the collection of children’s shoes paired off and organized by color and style on the floor to my right. “In that week, though, I made more than $200.”
She was excited. From the looks of her very nice home, it did not seem as though the makeshift retail operation was needed to make ends meet, but rather to buttress whatever financial security she and her husband already enjoyed. We discussed her work; the entire operation was admirable.
Maris, Joanna and I did not talk politics, other than to comment in passing about how we no longer pay retail for many items–Joanna and I went to a very nice children’s consignment shop last weekend, for example, and found our seven-month-old’s Halloween costume (a cow) for $4.50–because of the new realities made necessary due to the economic downturn. Without getting into anything political, we spoke about how cutting back on expenses is an essential part of effective budgeting.
As Americans, we are adaptable. For adaptability to lead to success, however, it must be rooted in personal responsibility. This nice woman we met was finding a way to augment her income in an attempt to provide a bit of a financial buffer that she and her family may not otherwise have done. Our own frugal ways are allowing us to get by until opportunity knocks.
We must expect the same from our government. If revenues are lacking, our government must take steps to expand the tax base and cut back on spending. If programs aren’t working, or are inherently non-essential, the need for fiscal responsibility demands that they be cut back or cut altogether.
What’s good for the family must be good for the government. For too long, it’s been the other way around.