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October 13, 2008

When being broke isn't news

J0422510_2 Wall Street has fallen into a tizzy, we've handed over unprecedented powers to the Treasury to Save Our Economy, small businesses can't get loans and everyone I know has got their retirement account reports on permanent refresh. But my husband and I? Well, frankly, the overwhelming sentiment being expressed in this household is gratitude and relief. The worry? We're already familiar with that.

Simply put, we didn't have much to lose in the first place.

We are a one income household. I stay home with our two sons (oh, but how I wish this job paid!) partly because I want to and partly because I wouldn't be able to make enough to pay for quality childcare and still take home any significant contribution to our cash flow. (I graduated from college when my first son was six months old so I have never had a full-time job.) My husband has a secure job in the public sector that doesn't pay very well, but manages to keep him more or less engaged and offers a good work/life balance. We live paycheck to paycheck. Against all prudent financial planning advice, we have very (very) little savings (emergency fund? ha!), we put the minimum amount into his retirement savings and our sons' college savings consists of a few hundred dollars stashed in a box somewhere.

Quite simply, there isn't any money leftover after we pay our bills - mortgage, car payments and insurance, groceries, utilities, etc., etc. Of course we could afford to cut some fat off our expenses - a new sweater for my husband, a sling to carry the baby,  organic strawberries - but I doubt any of that would help pay for my sons to go to college or ensure that we could retire comfortably. And, even if it could, would I make my husband still wear his old moth-ravaged sweater or forgo feeding my children healthy food? I think not.

So the fact that people are seeing their retirement savings and investments spiral into (near) oblivion? My concern for those that are being hit hard by the economic crisis - small business owners and employees, folks nearing retirement age, the burgeoning ranks of unemployed who will likely remain so for some time - can't be understated. But personally? The economic outlook is pretty much unchanged.

The downturn in the housing market is effecting us, at least tangentially. We bought our condo (with help from our parents) at or near the top of the market a year and a half ago. We don't regret it - on the contrary, we feel blessed to have this home - but we know that we're locked into this condo for probably longer than we were hoping for. We'll have to ride out the market as much as possible before we can sell and move on to a house, but that's probably just as well since we won't be able to afford a house in Los Angeles till...well, we just try not to think about that.

Mostly though, we're still two young parents with two young children just barely scraping by each month with some change to spare. We don't go on vacation. A take-out dinner brought home after work by my husband on days I'm too crazed or exhausted to cook feels like a luxury. My mom still stuffs wads of cash in my pocket when we visit and both our parents give our children so much clothes that our biggest recent clothing expense for them was new socks. We feel horrible about accepting their help, but we know that it allows us to get by without falling into credit card debt.

Economic crisis or no, I'm worried about pretty much the same things. Will we have enough money to pay all our bills this month? How can I tell my (single) girlfriends that I simply can't afford to have dinner with them at the new restaurant they all want to try? When will we have enough to put away a little? What should we sacrifice out of our expenses in order to pay for life insurance, car insurance, property taxes, Christmas gifts for the boys? We still worry about money just as much today as we did before.

If anything, the financial crisis has served to highlight our fortunes - we have a home to call our own, we aren't worried about my husband being laid off, his job provides good health insurance and enough money to care for our basic necessities and our parents are generous and insistent about helping us when they can.

We are blessed and we know it now more than ever.

This is an original Los Angeles Moms Blog post.

When Nina isn't raiding her son's piggy bank, she writes with her husband at Charlie and Nina.

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