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October 13, 2008

I've always come in economy size

J0433131_4 My husband and I are savers, living beneath our means since before we got married. We did everything "right," socking away a substantial portion of my salary in a 401k and buying the house we could afford instead of the house mortgage lenders told us we could swing. I shopped around for a low rate on an "old-fashioned" 30-year fixed mortgage and put 20% down when no-money down and creative mortgages were all the rage. We've payed for home improvements with cash and paid off our credit card bills every month.

Perhaps Bush and his cronies could take a lesson or two from us, because last time I checked our nation's economy was in shambles.

And John McCain's proposal to reward delinquent homeowners is a slap in the face to responsible citizens like us. Why not penalize the predatory lenders, slick mortgage brokers, corrupt home assessors and pyramid-scheming financial institutions who bundled and sold each other packs of bad loans?

So what does the fiscally responsible person to do in a recession? Well for starters, I'm not pulling my money out of the stock market. It's painful to look at a nest egg that's lost close to half its value, but I'm not going to lock in those losses by selling now.

We won't be moving or purchasing a new car, but that wasn't on the table anyway. Smaller big purchases, like a trip to Mexico or the Caribbean this spring is something we'll almost certainly forgo, and I asked my mother to buy our plane tickets East to visit family in lieu of Chanukah gifts. We'd been shopping around for a new dining room table and chairs, but I've decided that too can wait until the economy rebounds.

I'm economizing in other, smaller, ways too. I'm going to the gym instead of eating out at lunch. I'm following the advice of super shoppers like Money Saving Mom and Wags to Riches, stacking manufacturers coupons with store coupons and scoring free (or nearly) health and beauty items. I'm buying kids' birthday gifts from the Borders bargains section and paying for them with 30% off coupons. I've asked my husband, who does most of the grocery shopping, to shop more at Caputo's and Trader Joe's and less at Whole Paycheck. And right now our basement freezer is so stocked I'd just assume he "shop" from our stores before buying any more meat.

But there are some things I refuse to cut out altogether. Getting a babysitter and going out for a nice adult meal every couple of weeks isn't cheap, but it is worth every penny. I consider it an investment in my marriage--and my sanity. I'm not going to give up salon haircuts either; although I will make an interim visit for a free bang trim. Someone once told me "you wear your hair every day" and $60 every few months is well worth it for something so key to my appearance. I'm also not giving up on new clothes. Two winters ago I was pregnant and the handful of items I purchased last year to flatter my flabby post-baby body and big ole nursing boobs no longer fit very well. So Loehmann's, thank you for enabling me with your convenient location, low prices and weekly coupon mailers to my house.

Compared to many Americans, we've got it pretty good. We're nowhere near retirement; I'm gainfully employed and Josh is still getting assignments even though publications are cutting way back. But we're feeling a need to be cautious. I don't know that much about economics, but I feel like an economy based solely on rampant consumer spending and rising home prices is a house of cards that can't stay up forever. Whether or not the stock market has hit bottomed (and I'm not sure it has), we haven't seen all of the repercussions of a down economy. There are going to be a lot more empty homes and vacant storefronts, and there will be more alcohol abuse, crime and domestic violence than our society has seen in quite a while.

As the primary breadwinner for her family of four, Alma works her tail off for a large advertising agency (and hopes her job remains secure). She blogs at Marketing Mommy.

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