And A Hard Place…
By Dwight Hobbes
“You gotta do what you gotta do” is Angela Morris’ pragmatic approach to coping with the collapsed economy. Toward that end, hers is a frugal two-income household.
Morris works for the City of Minneapolis as a traffic control agent — that’s the uniformed individual you see chalking the tires of illegally parked cars, emptying parking meters, and helping cops direct at downtown intersections when big events hit town. She has been there 23 years. Her significant other, Kevin Terry, is a shipping specialist at St. Jude Medical, Inc.
The couple has three children, she has a nephew, and there’s a dog and a cat. They don’t live nearly large as they’d like to, but with a methodical reliance on the ability to be flexible and resilient, the challenge of living comfortably day to day gets met.
“We basically have to go back to old school, things we learned from our moms and from our grandmothers,” Morris says. “And that’s, like, making the bigger meals.” Which supplies, for example, leftovers for the next day’s lunch, snacks, what have you.
“[It also means] things like going back to sitting around singing and the cheaper entertainment at the house: home movies, playing cards. Just hanging around, enjoying each other’s company rather than going out and spending a hundred dollars at a movie theater or a hundred dollars to go bowling. It’s almost a hundred dollars everywhere you want to go now.”
When cooking is not in the cards, Morris puts on her thinking cap as the family opts to eat out. “Thank goodness there’s a lot of places who understand. As you look at the economy that’s out there, all the fast-food businesses are now coming up with value meals, because they understand that if they want to survive they have to make it so we can [eat there] every now and then.”
The mainstay for meal thrift, though, is of course smart grocery shopping. “I think I’m doing a lot more coupon clipping,” Morris says. “Actually, I don’t get the Sunday paper, but I have a telephone conference with a friend who does get the paper. We discussed [prior to Thanksgiving] where the deals for the ham and the turkeys were. I just go where the best values are.”
That includes shopping for dog and cat food. “I go to [a major chain] for our weekly outing, and it hurt more than it normally does, but, like I said, at most of these places everything I bought was on sale.”
In holding down the mortgage, not to mention attendant costs such as electricity and water, Morris and Terry sometimes find themselves doing a fast dance in financial circumstance. Ordinarily they put aside a set amount of money out of their salaries for regular living expenses, but sometimes they unexpectedly wind up shortchanging Peter to pay Paul.
As a example, she relates, “It’s tough. I had a real big scare. The mortgage got messed up for one month because I had assumed I was going to get that rent rebate check, and something different [had to be done] with that mortgage payment amount. And then the check was taken for a medical bill that I forgot about. It’s really a juggle.”
She also has to be more hard-nosed on occasion than she would like. She recalls having had to put bill collectors in check. “I’ve had to deal with a couple of creditors, and they’re getting a lot more aggressive in their phone dialogue. So, we have to step up and be just as aggressive.
I read this book called Debt Cures, and they’ve taught me some techniques on how to deal it.”
One thing she notes is that collectors will, in fact, call up and get snotty. “I mean, like, ‘That’s not satisfactory. Not going to be a satisfactory resolution for us.’ And I’m, like, ‘Well, if I already told you I don’t have [the money] and you keep trying to talk to me like I can produce it for you, then you’re getting paid but you’re wasting my time. So, this conversation is over.”
The recession officially ended last year, but you can’t prove it by Angela Morris’ finances. She cites “the fallout effect and the people who are displaced [in the job market]. And the tension — these are long felt after the ending of a recession. In the recovery period, you’re still going to feel the ripple.”
Her assessment of President Barack Obama’s job performance so far as the economy goes? “Well, I think he was correct when he was running for office and was trying to explain, ‘I know I’m going to inherit a mess. And it’s not going to go away in a minute.’ Anybody who knows what’s going on knew it was going to get worse and take a while to recover.
“But, I don’t think he’s been clear enough since then to say, ‘Hey, do not panic.’”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.