What I Have Learned in these Economic Times
We hit an economic recession, a near depression was in view in September of last year, we have had government bailouts, a burst of the real estate bubble, a stock market crash, devaluation of the dollar and over 10% unemployment, these are the headlines of the last year. Hardly a day goes by when these headlines are not hitting us in the face, and while all of those are very real, the question is what really hits home for the average person? There is the old saying that when your neighbor loses his job you are in a recession, when you lose your job it is a depression, and I believe that. When someone has lost their job any economic advice is easy, cut back on everything you can and try like hell to get a job. It’s easy advice, and not always so easy to do. But the question is for those of us who still have jobs but are dealing with some very real consequences of this economic slide, how do we deal with it? I am not her to give economic advice, lets leave that up to the professionals, if you can even find one anymore. I am just here to share my thoughts on the issues, how I have dealt with some of the things I have been faced with.
The first thing that i have done is cut back, and that is the obvious place to start. Last fall and winter, during the economic melt down I was petrified, I had seen my retirement accounts fall by north of forty percent with no end in sight, I didn’t know if my job was safe or anyone’s job for that matter. So I would say from October through January I spent on nothing except my children and even that was kept to a minimal. But around February I realized living scared was no way to live at all, so we began to do things again. My wife and I went out to dinner, even to some of our favorite restaurants, but we scaled back, our dinners were less expensive and less frequent. For spring break we decided to take our kids away, but we went somewhere that was driving distance, and found incredible deals on the internet. This year the lease on my car was up, so I go a less expensive car to save more. My wife’s lease is up this year and we will do the same thing. I am very concsious of saving more money than i have in the past, I think for the first time in my life I was scared into believing that things will not always be good, and while I have always been a saver, I probably was not as careful as I should have been.
One of the big issues we have faced is our home, we our one of the one’s that is “underwater” in our house. The truth is the financing was so cheap and interests were so low we may have like many others bought more home than we could afford. Now, we didn’t do any 100% financing but I did only put down 10% on my home, the truth is we should have bought less and put down more. Also, we bought in 2006 near the top of the real estat market, and we did a seven year interest only loan. The good news is we have four more years of these payments before our loan becomes an adjustable mortgage. it was a big mistake, we should have bought with a 30 year mortgage at a payment we knew we could afford forever, but we fell into the trap of finding our dream home and over extended ourselves. Hopefully home values will go back up, and we our trying to save so that we can put more down if we need too, or that the banks will work with us. I don’t want to lose my home for several reasons. First, I believe most people want to make good on their debt, I gave a commitment to pay for something and if I can I will honor it. Second, although I was stupid in the way I financed the home my intention is to live here until my kids are grown and we retire, so we had a long term plan of twenty years or longer. Third, we love our house, it is our home, and I believe most people feel this way, they did not buy it as an investment first and a home second, quite the contrary, most people did it the other way. This is our home and we intend to keep it.
These are some of the issues that we have faced. Fortunately, although we lost a lot in our retirement plan it has come back quite away. We will be more prudent with it in the future, probably less stocks and more fixed income investments. We like many others hoped maybe our retirement fund would grow and maybe make us rich, we saw great returns for a while. Now, our goal is what it always should have been, to keep it safe and let us retire with it. Again, we our concentrating on saving more money, to get us through those so called “rainy days.” And finally, we are dealing with the issue of our home, that is our main concern but I believe that we can work our way through it. I have learned a lot the last two years, nothing lasts forever, when things are too good to be true they probably our. And most important, live within your means, not what is inflated, not by what you think you will be able to afford, but by what you know you will be able to afford.