Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reinventing the Past

A recent article at The Wall Street Journal online (www.wsjonline.com) 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 Linkedin.com 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.  Etsy.com 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.

4 comments:

Carrie said...

I've noticed that too, that the comparison articles that are everywhere now are hard to relate to today.

Speaking of gardening, where is a good place/good brand to buy if you plan to start your seeds from scratch?

Anonymous said...

Now that I finally have a yard, I am planning a small garden this summer, but I have no idea where to start. Is there a good book or website you could recommend for new gardeners like me?
~Erin

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