Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reinventing the Past

A recent article at The Wall Street Journal online ( caught my eye.  

Like many of it's brethren these days, the article addresses how we are - and aren't - in the same situation as our antecedents were in 1929.  In other words, why things are similar, but not the same as the Great Depression.  

Seeing as there have been roughly a bazillion articles that addressed the same thing since late September, why did this one catch my attention?

Because of how well it started, how interesting it was, and then how incredibly thoroughly it lost me.  The article starts well enough - the author comparing the stock market stats between then and now, and the human interest of how his Grandfather and Father survived was good enough, but the purported purpose of the article was 'what we can learn' and on that topic, it failed.  

Why?  Because there's little I can take from the lessons of someone who earned their way through the depression by buying horses for $1, breaking them with the aid of their sons, and then selling them for $10.  Not because I can't learn creativity, or thinking outside of the box lessons, but because there's little practical application to be gotten from a family that had a hand pump for their water and who's youngest son had to get up at 5 to lug water to the horses.
Okay, so that the whole family helped out, okay.  But does it teach anyone how to survive where we are, and what's coming?  Not really.  Few of us are farmers these days - too few, really, but that's another blog post.  Most of us get our food from the good old grocery store, perhaps supplemented by a garden in summer.  I don't have any kids old enough to perform farm chores.  And so on.  

And it's not just the one article.  A recent issue of Money magazine suggests upping your emergency fund to a year.  I'm all for that, but let's face it - that's a slow process for most of us.  If you have 3 months in your e-fund now, and it took you a year to amass, you may not have another 3 years before the hard times hit your doorstep.  

All of the articles are great for perspective - things are nowhere near where they were in the 1930s, at the height of the Depression, when the Dust Bowl and the market collapse converged to create a country with 25% unemployment, starvation, and little hope.  

But that's not much consolation to those who are unemployed or facing layoffs with a crummy job market and mortgages to pay, families to feed, and the persistent, nagging thought that things just aren't going to get better real soon.  
So what can we do?  Really?  

Adjust expectations.  Expect to do, have and spend less.    Pick and choose the things that are really, really important, such as a particular family holiday tradition, and do those things.  No fair calling them all important either.  And look for low cost traditions you can start.  Pack some hot apple cider and cookies, and go listen to a free concert. Get involved in your community.  Volunteer. Go to the library.  Whatever floats it for you, do it.

Start a garden.  Now is the time all the seed catalogs arrive.  Order a few things and start some seedlings in a sunny window later this month.  You don't have to plant everything, but maybe a salad garden for midsummer.  There's something peaceful about gardening - and something very rewarding about making a salad from things you grew yourself.  

Network.  Go to and start sending invitations to coworkers.  Update your resume and send it out to recruiters.  If you are still employed, volunteer for some extra work - even if you feel overworked already.  Try to find tasks and projects that are considered 'mission critical' to your organization.  Another good way to network is to volunteer your time for a cause you feel passionate about.  And it doesn't hurt your resume either.

Learn to cook things you normally buy.  Friday nights are often pizza night in the MoneyPenny household, but we rarely order it.  It's simple to make from scratch, and tastes great.  Miss chinese take out?  Learn to make potstickers, satay or another favorite.  It will save you money, and - here's a little secret - cooking can be great fun.  

How can you make a little money?

Sell some stuff on Craigslist and Ebay.  We all have way too much stuff anyway, so go through your closets, your cabinets, and sell.  If it's not online sale-worthy, consider a yard sale this spring.  

Babysit for friends with kids.  Become a 'mother's helper' after school if you are out of work. Apply to substitute teach.  If you have a skill, turn it into a business. is a great place to see if you have something other people want.

The people who win in this economy are going to have one common thread amongst them - adaptability.  The ones who refuse to take worth that is not in their field or below their education level will pay the price for that pride.  The ones willing to cobble together a living using their creativity, networks and flexibility will be the ones who make it through.  

I can't learn a lot on how to survive in this new economy from the job tactics of someone from 1932.  What I can do is look for opportunities that others may not be filling now, and fill them.

So maybe I did get something from that article after all.

The article that inspired this post is here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Preparing for Baby Part the Last

This past Saturday was my baby shower.  At 37 weeks along, it was a little late, but felt like a good time.  I was happy to have it right before baby makes an appearance, rather than having everything sit around and collect dust for a couple months.  

Everyone was extraordinarily generous with us.  And it was so fun to have our family and friends gathered around us.

The next day, Sander and I went shopping.  We still needed a bureau for the baby's room and there was some additional items we needed just in case baby made his or her appearance a little early - diapers, wipes, waterproof crib protectors, a caddy to put all the changing supplies, baby wash, that sort of thing.  We spent a total of about $773.00 on a bureau (including delivery) and all the gear.   We spent more than we had planned to on baby gear and furniture overall, but we're happy with the purchases, and the bureau we bought should take our child all the way through their first apartment if all goes well.

That pretty much sums up our purchases for the baby.  We still have a few items we plan to get, but all of them can wait.  Baby MoneyPenny can arrive any time now - although it's likely to be a scheduled arrival, as the baby is breech, not indicating any plans to turn, and with that and a few other complications, currently planned to arrive via the surgical suite the last week of this month.  

I've taken advantage of being home over the last week and a half to stock up on groceries and do some freezer cooking.  My goal is to prepare us 2-3 weeks worth of meals so that we're not living on take out when the baby first comes home.

We're about to hit our maternity leave savings for the first time.  While planned, it's always painful to see savings go down instead of up.

Overall, we're prepared for our new lives as parents.  The nursery is looking wonderful, with just a few last finishing touches needed.  We're planning a few more outings to movies and to see friends before the baby comes.  We're ready.

What have I learned through this preparation process?  A few things.  I am glad we're becoming parents at a point where spending $142.00 at Babies R' Us this past Sunday on diapers, wipes, bottles and various and assorted other accoutrements doesn't 'hurt'.   Same goes for the baby furniture.  We could have gone to craigslist or some friends, but decided we would like to order what we liked instead.  The crib becomes a toddler bed, so will see years of use, and the bureau, as I mentioned, should last a lot longer than that.  As for the glider, that will stay in our home long after our child is too big to be rocked to sleep.  

On the flip side, for the short-time baby gear, such as a swing, etc - we're happily taking every hand-me-down offered.  We've bought minimal clothing, as we were inundated with beautiful stuff this past weekend, and more seems to arrive every few days.  And with 4 nephews and 4 nieces, I expect we'll have some clothing to pick from without having to invest in a lot.  Also, I'm a fan of used baby clothes, and fully intend to hit yard sales and second hand stores as soon as Baby MoneyPenny - and Baby MoneyPenny's gender - make an appearance.

A perk of not knowing the baby's sex is that it has restrained us on the shopping front, and forced us to stay gender-neutral in nursery decor, which will serve us well if we eventually decide to provide a sibling.  In that sense, it was a frugal decision.  But we didn't make it for that reason - there are so few true surprises in life, and this one is exciting.

So how did we do?  Well, we went over the original baby budget, but we probably under-planned for it.  We came within $400.00 of our very aggressive savings target for maternity leave.  And we managed to refrain from a lot of extraneous purchases.  Even the nursery was more sweat equity than cost, totaling less than $200.00 for paint, supplies, the chair rail, and wood for shelving in the closet.  And every room we 'finish' adds to our home's value, so it is an investment in and of itself.

What advice can I give to potential new parents?  Pad your budget.   Take hand-me-downs when offered.  And when you are ready, you'll know.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Honey, I'm Home....

It's the first Monday in February.  Cold, in the mid-20s as this is being written.  The kind of Monday most of us hate to get out of bed for.  

This morning I didn't have to get out of bed.  Every morning will be like this for a while - I've joined the ranks of the unemployed.

At 9 months pregnant, this is not exactly traumatic for me.  A little nerve-wracking, as I've basically been employed since I was 15, and the economy is in tough condition, but otherwise, it's good.  I have a few weeks of time to get ready for the baby.  I no longer have to fight the weekend crowds at the grocery store.  I can cook to fill our freezer with meals to eat post-baby, spend time with family and friends, and have dinner on the table at night when my husband comes home.  In short, it's a really good time for me.

I never imagined I'd be happy to be out of work.  And yet I long as I go back when my maternity leave is over.   That's the goal and the plan.  

I'll be updating over the next few weeks on how it's going.