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Scenes from a Recession: Three families, three classes, one economic crisis.

The economic meltdown is affecting us all. In order to demonstrate the universal nature of its impact, we sought out three families around the country – one working class, one middle class, and one well-off – to see how they’re responding. The reality is, everyone is cutting back, no matter how much they make, or how comfortable they seem. These are iffy times, and everyone is sort of “What If-ing.” Click ahead to take a photo tour through the lives of our three sample households – one in Nebraska, one in Georgia, and one in Connecticut – and read about the adjustments they’re making. Maybe you’ll even get some fresh cost-cutting ideas.

The Sumsion family, Lincoln, NE

Sabrina Sumsion lives with her husband John and their three kids – Spencer, six; Scott, three; and Jasmine, ten months – in Lincoln, Nebraska. At least she had been living in Lincoln, until recently, when concerns about the economy pushed her and her police-officer spouse to pack up their house, put it on the market, and move in with her parents. “I don’t know if it’s from watching too much news, but I feel like we need to get to a place where we’re much more comfortable financially, and that means selling the house we’re in and finding something more affordable.” In the rural area by her folks, her money can go further. “We can get the same size house out here for $50,000 less, and we can use that extra money each month to pay down John’s student loans and our car loan, and save for the future.” Other recent money-saving projects include buying groceries in bulk at Sam’s Club, implementing a chores-and-allowance program for her eldest son, and replacing their second car with a motorcycle, on which her husband commutes to work: “It gets sixty-five miles to the gallon, and costs seven bucks to fill up.”

She’s also cut costs shopping at kids’ consignment stores, planting a big garden with her mom, and nearly giving up going out to eat or to the movies. “My husband and I haven’t even bought clothing for ourselves in a very long time. But I’m going to need to go out and get a new wardrobe soon,” she said. “Since I stopped buying snack foods, and I’m walking more, I’m losing weight.”

The Givens family, Atlanta, GA

Latoicha Givens nearly signed a contract on a house this spring, a bigger place to accommodate her growing family – she and her husband Shawn just had a baby daughter, Sydney, in addition to their four-year-old son, Shawn Jr. “But my husband and I both noticed a dip in business, so we had to say, This is not the time, and just make do.” Making do also involved Latoicha giving up the office space she rented for her work as an intellectual property attorney. She now practices law from home, where she also cares for her newborn. “We’d planned on enrolling her in our son’s Montessori school, but we couldn’t justify depleting our savings to pay the tuition.”

They’ve also scaled back on their plans to turn a pair of weekend work conferences into a weeklong San Francisco vacation, and their hope to replace one of their small sedans with a minivan or SUV. They’ve even cut costs by “retiring” their son from his drumming and swimming classes. But one of the biggest changes for Latoicha has been in how she shops for food. “I used to be a regular Whole Foods shopper. Now, I’m a strategic Whole Foods shopper. I just get my meat there-it’s hormone-free, and that’s my big thing. I save $100 a week shopping elsewhere.”

Yet for all the change, Latoicha remains positive. Her smaller car is better on gas than a minivan. She gets to spend more time with her daughter. She’s learned to be a patient shopper instead of an impulse shopper. “You have to be creative in terms of where you spend your money. We got rid of the extras, but the basics, we’re okay with.”

The W. family, Connecticut

A few years back, CT resident Jen W. thought she and her family might have to move in with her parents. Her husband had been fired from his advertising job, and she’d paused her career to stay home with the boys – Matthew, eight and Jason, five. “We had our house on the market. I didn’t see another way out.” She and Jeff are both gainfully employed now, but they’re still feeling the pinch. “We thought we’d be in a more stable situation. But things feel even more tense than before.”

As one means of economizing, they’ve cut back on leisure, particularly eating out, and taking vacations. “We were considering going skiing, or to somewhere warm in December. Instead, my husband’s parents will visit from Pittsburgh. And we’ve already decided we’ll stay local this spring. Broadway matinees with the boys? Sure. Airfares for four? Not any time soon.” They’re also looking at ways to save fuel: they’re considering leasing a hybrid car, and they’ve invested in an efficient boiler and programmable thermostat, forcing them to forego plans to renovate their kitchen. (“Though it’d be nice to have a stove where all four burners work.”) They’ve also cut back on their housekeeper: “She comes twice a month instead of weekly now. My husband scrubs on her weeks off.”

Speaking of cleaning, one of Jen’s big savings has come in this department. “I’ve learned to hand-wash everything, including cashmere. It’s better for your clothes, it saves us $200 a week on dry-cleaning, and I don’t have to walk around feeling like I’ve been dipped in toxic chemicals. You should see my laundry room,” she said proudly. “I’ve become an expert laundress.”

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