Saturday, March 5, 2011

"And The Envelope Please"

In these fifinancially difficult times I hear and read dozens of stories about how difficult it is for families just to get by.  The economy remains flat as families attempt to dig out of debt, restore their personal credit ratings, and find a job that pays a "living wage".  The government, reluctant to label it a "Depression", call these times "The Great Recession". 

As difficult as these times are, I hardly think one can even compare the present to the decade-long Great Depression of the 1930's.  Back then millions of folks were frequenting curb side soup stops and had nothing.  Further, most Americans suffered, not from their own misguided financial decisions, but from the effects of a world-wide recession.  Contrast that with today:  Millions of folks who are willing to look in a mirror will find much of the fault lies with their own actions.  I speak of those who bought more home than they could afford and made spending decisions on the false hope that home values would continue to explode.  Far too many took out second mortgages to finance new furniture and swimming pools and assessed their job security as totally assured.

Those in "poverty" today somehow seem to be able to own large screen televisions, IPODs and IPADs and cell phones and late model cars.  Bolstered by government handouts and the most generous extended unemployment payments in our history, many folks are able to get by, surely not in as much comfort as desired but getting by none the less.

When I was a child our family's "great recession" began when my father walked out the door in the mid 1950's.    My unskilled mother took waitress jobs for a dollar per hour, paid the babysitter .50 cents per hour and still managed to keep us together.  Our financial situation at times were so tenuous that, at one time, all we had left in house was a bag of flour.  We always called that time our "water biscuit and water gravy" period.  We finally pulled out of the worst of it but our finances were always tenuous.  We were always one small pay check away from being broke and homeless.

I think what got us through was my mom's steely determination to never owe a debt to anyone.  I can still remember her sitting at the kitchen table with a list of bills and a  box of envelopes.  As she got paid she would sit down and count out dollars and halves and quarters and deposit money in each envelope, one for rent, one for electricity, one for the gas bill, etc. 

I believe alot of good folk, too proud to hitch up to the government tit,  are right now doing what my mom did.  They are scared of being homeless, scared of losing even their low-paying job and fearful of the future.  As bad as this is, I believe these experiences will prove to be valuable in the future.  As it becomes increasingly clear that both state and federal government are on the brink of bankruptcy, and can no longer afford all of these generous social programs, it will be good if folks can learn to stand on their own.

My mom never made more than minimum wage and she never won a lottery prize and she had no sugar daddy or even a generous "Uncle Sam"...but she never owed a dime to anyone and, when the rent came due, she always had that envelope ready.

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