Pick up any newspaper today and there will be a story about Americans spending less and saving more. It might be phrased in terms of "recession" or "depression." After years of prosperous living, America is discovering that they should have saved a little more to cushion themselves. After all, you can't live on tax cuts forever.
Here in the Hutchinson household, the pinch has been quite dramatic. Last year's job loss ate into my personal savings, and I'm in school, and not really earning any income. I do get a small sum from my internship, but it's quite limited. We've become a one-income household, and I was recently served up the portion of my surgery in October not covered by insurance: $4,000.
Like most Americans, caught in the Paradox of Thrift, we are cutting back and trying to save or pay down debt. Suze Orman, in her latest book Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan, says that the best way to "earn money" is by not spending it. (Benjamin Franklin said it too, but his version was catchier.) In some ways, this is true, but in my own case, I just don't have enough money coming it to save it.
For Christmas, Nate and I received a copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and while the book has many suggestions we shuddered at (mostly involving preparations for food that's gone over), it did have a few helpful hints. The best so far has been the "damaged packing" tip. We went to Target last week to do our grocery shopping, and the box of cans of catfood we wanted to purchase was broken, but all the cans were there. When we showed the damage to the cashier, we discovered Target has a policy of giving you 10% off any item with damaged packaging.
As much as I poked fun at Dick Cheney's remark that eBay revenue was keeping our economy strong, I have to admit, I earn a quarter of my "income" from the online marketplace. (I don't think that's a good sign for the economy, however.) I've been slowly selling off my CD collection and books I won't read again on Half.com. (I got $13 for the Tightwad Gazette.)
I think back to stories that my grandparents used to tell me of living through the Great Depression. My grandfather earned his money as a machinist, carpenter, and surveyor. The family farm was still a going concern, and they sold some vegetables and milk, and they had enough to eat. My great-grandfather had his Army pension from WWI. They got by. And hopefully, so will we.