There’s nothing like a March snowstorm — and the biggest one of the season, to boot — to remind us to expect the unexpected. Just when I was starting to eye the winter storage boxes and thinking about clearing the sleds out of the garage, the frigid blast did away with my best laid plans to do a little spring cleaning.
But life is like that, isn’t it? I can’t help but think of this latest winter storm as a metaphor for the financial storm that continues to rage around us. The depressing news continues to assault us on all fronts: unemployment up, stock market down, housing prices in the basement, and no real relief in sight. And like so many Americans, I am angry at the forces that got us here, and frustrated that there’s no one person to blame. Time magazine took a good stab at the blame game in a recent issue, naming the top 25 people who got us into this mess, including the last two presidents, Clinton and Bush. There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around.
None of the recent bailout plans helps me in any way, and in fact, we are probably going to end up paying more taxes to support them. “We should have racked up our credit cards and fallen behind on our mortgage and then maybe we’d be getting a bailout right about now,” I grumbled recently to my husband. ""Why should we pay the price for being responsible when others have not?"" I suspect I am not alone in this resentment. In fact, after I gave voice to my evil thoughts, my friend told me she had groused the very same words to her husband.
I am also intrigued by this phrase I have heard bandied about a lot recently: “the paradigm of thrift” — that to be thrifty, you have to buy less, save more, and build up the bank account. But one suburban mom’s savings is another suburban mom’s earnings. And if the first mom cuts back on spending, another mom brings home less money, and has to cut back on her spending, and so on and so on.
It would appear that much of our nation’s wealth is built on the idea of buying more to support the producers who make and peddle the goods, so saving only triggers another vicious downward cycle. However, it is precisely this issue of spending beyond our means that has gotten us into trouble. Help! It is all so confusing! I should have paid closer attention in Economics class. Where are the titans of finance like John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith when we need them most?
So here’s the nut of the problem: how does the president think we can crawl out of this financial mess by throwing millions and millions of dollars at it? Hoping the monster will go away by throwing good money after the bad, I believe, is doomed, and in the process, we are mortgaging our children’s future. Spending on credit brought us to this point — so how is it logical that repeating this destructive behavior on an even larger scale will solve the problem?
What are suburban moms doing to survive these hard economic times? A lot of my friends tell me they are scaling back summer plans. Instead of booking that fancy trip, they’re choosing to stay closer to home.
Those expensive summer outdoor adventure programs and educational exchanges for the kids? Not this year. The summer camps offered by our local recreation departments are very reasonable, and that explains why, on the first day of registration this week, the line snaked almost out the door at the Plainsboro Municipal Center, and I was standing right there too.
The kids have been told to get paying jobs, or least something that will occupy their time, expand their minds, and give them less time to fight with their siblings. Want to buy those nice designer jeans or a new computer? Start saving up, honey.
I believe every cloud does come with a silver lining, and there is one even in these difficult times. For children who have little experience with the concepts of want, thrift, going without, or saving up, now is a great time for them to learn. Make saving a fun thing. Kids who thrive on competition may enjoy the idea of pitting themselves against their brothers and sisters to save the most money.
At the same time, remind your children that there are others who are less fortunate. Emphasize the importance of donating and helping others. In the face of the winter storm, do some inside cleaning, clear your closets of unwanted clothes and support local clothing drives (including the one coming up by the post-prom committee at High School North). In the face of the financial storm, buck up, spend less, and find joy in less material ways. Do more family bonding.
At the Brossman house, we have rediscovered the Monopoly board, dusted off Pictionary, and bought Risk, the game of world domination, right up Will’s alley. He also stands undefeated-for now-at the game of Clue.
Americans have a great history of overcoming difficult times with good old-fashioned hard work, optimism, and generosity of spirit. Why not now?