Friday, December 19, 2008
Civilizations throughout the ages had periods of feast and famine. People who survived did so by a combination of luck, planning, and saving their resources for the times there would be little.
"Waste not, want not," my grandmother used to say.
She endured losing her first husband during the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic which left her with an infant (my mother) and three young kids. This was during WWI. Ten years later, the Great Depression hit. By then she was remarried and had two more surviving children. That woman knew how to stretch a dollar.
Grandma may have been the first to pass along this lesson to me. Too bad I didn't take it to heart. I've done okay in life, but not nearly as well as I could have in stretching those dollars, which convert to resources.
Like many people born since WWII, our country has been blessed with an extraordinary long period of feasting. Collectively it harmed us - we have millions of folks, young adults in particular but also hoards of middle aged baby boomers, who lost the art of guarding and saving their resources.
Brace yourselves, for the days of feasting will soon be like the ghost of Christmas past. The world is about to enter very dark days that will last for years, as the jaws of a more malevolent Great Depression descends upon us.
Our incoming President, Barack Obama, can no more protect us from the first few years of this than he could stop a tsunami. I am convinced he will spend his first term doing damage control, and it won't be until his second term that we *might* get some relief.
I've been reflecting on my past half century of living and all the things I've wasted. Time. Youth. Money. Even love.
I am not alone, nor will I be alone as many of us will be living frugally and with regrets, the kind where you lay in bed at night and think of all the dumb shit you bought and didn't need.
Recently I did an inventory. It's amazing. I have three computers, two monitors, and a laptop. I called them upgrades, but only use one rather than getting the others repaired or buying larger hard drives.
I probably own 20 lamps. Ten are sitting in storage and must be older than my 9th grader. Got tired of looking at those and got newer ones. I should have bought new lampshades instead.
I think of that lifetime spa membership I bought - and never used after the first three months. It would cost me $129 to reactivate it, but I'll bet I won't go more than a few times and quit.
Friends are a resource too. I've squandered quite a few of those over the past 20 or so years by simply not keeping in touch. These include old love relationships that ended, but not so badly I couldn't pick up the phone once or twice a year and say, "How ya doing? Let's have lunch together."
And speaking of food... Hell, I've bought enough junk food and enjoyed feasting at restaurants in my entire adult life to buy a brand new mid-priced car. This includes those $5 to $8 cheap lunches while at the office, when instead I could have brought a sandwich and juice in a thermos.
I am thankfully not a shopaholic. I hate shopping as much as most of my girlfriends love it. However, I went through a fat phase and what did I do? Bought clothes way too small and have never nor will ever fit. Hell, my daughter can't even get into some of them. Now, I was a tiny thing at one time, but not that damn tiny.
My dog is, however. He has three jackets. Did I really need to buy him that many? Two would have been plenty, and he could have gotten by with one during these cold winters.
And back to my daughter - and son... I bought enough toys, board games, video games and Disney movies for them when they were younger to supply a small village. It was sinful.
The result is that my son is extremely materialistic and money burns a hole in his pocket. He takes it for granted - which is financially dangerous. I wised up in the nick of time to save my daughter, who is 7 years younger, from this toy orgy.
Speaking of Disney, I've been to Disney World and other vacation spots a bunch of times. Too many times... Shamu the Whale probably remembers all of us. I discovered the hard way that kids love this stuff the first two times, but after that they expect it and take it for granted. I should've skipped some of them and would've saved a bundle on those hotel and air fares.
Shoulda coulda woulda.
Sharing my wasteful habits are friends who bought time shares they only used once, two and three cars they don't need, and several have vacation homes but only use a few weeks each year but never rented out since they didn't want anyone messing up their stuff. One relative has two houses and lives in both. They're all kicking themselves for excess spending since they're worried to death about getting laid off and their credit is maxed out, their stocks plummeted or worthless, and their real estate devalued.
Virtually every single person I know has so much junk in their house, garage, and closets that they hardly ever use. Ice and roller skates, skis, camping gear, expensive tennis rackets, guns, etc. Kitchens are another place of excess.
One reason we have so much junk is sometimes we get gifts we don't need. This happened to me many times. Rather than return them to the store for cash or something I could actually use, I kept the gifts in case what I already had, broke. As a result, I have an extra TV and boombox, two coffee pots, two electric can openers, stupid crystal stuff for formal dining I've barely used, and I would own two microwaves but one actually did break.
Wait... is that Ebay I hear, calling my name?
And meanwhile, there's stuff I really need but don't have: new sheets, towels, dinner plates, a vacuum cleaner, and a new car since repairs on the old one cost me an unexpected chunk of money last month.
Junk rich, cash poor. Collectively we are on the verge of becoming Yardsale Nation. I think James Kunstler came up with great term. Like me, he's dead sure we're sliding down into a bottomless pit where life won't be the same again for a very long time, if ever.
In a spiritual sense, I wonder if this is a time meant for reflection. So many of us, even those of us who have been so-called working class, have wasted so much in our lives. The time of want is almost upon us, and the time to save is now, if you haven't already been doing this.
I don't recall which blogger I read in the past week or two who said a lot of the people running businesses are no different from us. They expanded when they shouldn't have and got in over their heads. They got greedy and wasted, just like us. We shouldn't be surprised; people are people.
Of course, there are the sharks who deliberately preyed on the public trust. They've been running ads for years to make us think we needed stuff we don't, and to give us credit cards and predatory loans we don't qualify for.
These bastards got theirs and are ready to close shop and move on, leaving tens or hundreds of thousands of workers without the $20K to $60K in pension money deducted from their paychecks. Retirees from this companies will be totally wiped out and become dependent only on a measly monthly social security check to survive. Hell, that will only pay for their food.
Here's a heads up, folks: the new face of homelessness will be an elderly person who worked all their lives and was working or middle class. Could be your parents, grandma, Uncle Mike or Aunt Jackie. You might enjoy their company for a two hour visit, but whatcha gonna do when they wipe their tears and swallow their pride and ask if they can sleep on your sofa or have that spare bedroom? You gonna turn them away and into an overcrowded shelter or the streets? Or are you gonna suck it up and take them in?
Kit's prediction for 2009: Dogs and cats will be living together.
This includes your brother who used to pee on your side of the bed or your sister who'd borrow your clothes without asking, and their kids who get your kids in trouble. Don't forget cousin Jamal who plays his music too loud and has an outstanding warrant but promises he won't smoke weed in your crib, or your fanatically religious half-sister who'll be trying to save you 24/7, or your best friend forever who sneaks in their boyfriend or girlfriend at night, whom you accidentally and unpleasantly discover in your shower - using your shampoo.
The newest highly visible group of all ages to get economically shocked and awed will be the soon-to-be former employees of the almost dead Big Three Auto Makers. They're just one of the early Titanic ships running into the tip of the iceberg. Many of these middle aged and older retirees had planned for their old age, and got or are gonna get screwed badly.
Thanks to the sweat shops the fat cat mega-corporations set up overseas along with deregulation and organized piracy since the 1970s, we benefited. We became Consumer Nation, but we're now in a free fall into becoming Broke Azz Nation.
I did a little modest Christmas shopping last evening. Most of the stores had 50% off sales. That is phenomenal. Even so, the mall was far from packed. Earlier I was in an Office Depot to pick up some office supplies. This one is scheduled to close. Good sales... but I was only one of four shoppers in there. I kept thinking this is what's coming... we'll see many more businesses go down, and with them jobs held by people who will be desperate for work, have families to feed, rent or mortgage and car notes and insurance, and maybe medical bills to pay.
How on earth will all of us make it?
If times get hard for me next year and the years after that, I know I don't want to spend that time wallowing in regret. I think it's somewhere in my Bible, or perhaps it was a Bible lesson that taught me the wisdom, "fear and regret are the twin thieves that rob us of today."
We can reflect on our past wastes, but that won't pay the rent or fill our stomachs in the future.
It's not quite here yet, not in full force anyway.
Most of us with the luxury of Internet and time to read blogs still have time to reflect and prepare, so in the very, very near future we won't be over-burdened with regret and fear.
It is a historical inevitability that unimaginable mass poverty is coming on a scale few of us have ever seen in America.
I can feel it. Can you?
Are you ready?
Posted by Kit (Keep It Trill) at 12:50 AM