So...how is everyone doing? Panicked? Apathetic? Unaffected? Stressed?
I have no monetarily-related brain space left to comprehend the scope of this bailout since our finances have been in a strained state of affairs since we took a hit selling our Portland house. That, combined with moving from a relatively affordable place to live to a very expensive place to live, has snowballed into a series of mini-crises that we've been working hard for the past two years to correct. It's shocking that two people who earn a very comfortable living who aren't extravagant or frivolous, who watch their pennies and try to put something away every month, aren't living a better life. And speaking of putting something away, I have buried my head in the sand about our 401ks. I can't look. I really do not want to know.
Most everyone I know has it really tough, but not very many people have been talking about it. Until now. Now everyone seems to be talking about ways they are cutting back, saving money, and trying to make ends meet.
I have spent the last week researching (again) places we can live that are cheaper. A move is in our future, probably next summer. I am crushed thinking about uprooting our girls (again) so that we can save money on housing costs and have a little more discretionary money for fun things. Could we suck it and stay here? Maybe, but I don't want to live this way anymore. We've had to accept our own "bailouts" at times over the past couple of years, which I am grateful for, but we can't rely on that. Our own little economy needs to right itself. And soon.
When bought our house in Portland, I was staggered to learn that you could rent decent houses in decent neighborhoods there for around $1000 a month. I know you mid-westerners are laughing right now, but when the average price of a small home here is $700K, you live in a different world. Triple that rent in the San Francisco Bay Area (at least) and you see what families like mine are facing. Our combined salaries in Portland was a very different reality and we are feeling the pain.
There is lots to keep us in this area: Bunny's school which is truly amazing, our equally amazing Unitarian Universalist church, my mom who is now living here part of the year, the incredibly sunny and mild weather (people pay to live here, we joke, but it isn't funny anymore), our friends which seemed to have quadrupled in the time we've moved here. It's a friendly place. I look at the map and think, "How far out could we go?" I'd prefer to move to Berkeley or (parts of) Oakland. I think we could make a life there for a long time, but some of the schools are a concern and it's far from J's work. If we moved even 15 minutes south, rents drop dramatically, schools are generally fine, and we'd be closer to J's work.
Next year Wallie will be in school (no more paying for preschool!) so that frees me up to take a full-time job, something I've been yearning to do. Since we love living where we live—could we stay and make it work if I went back to work? Yes, but then ultimately where would we be?
I think about the fact that at 38, we've bought and sold two houses and are back to square one. I wonder if we'll ever be able to buy a house again. We need to do something to avoid being taxed to death. I think about sacrifices I have been making so that my kids can have enriching experiences and I wonder when I will have time to take care of my own wants and needs. I think about how we spent money like water during the 90's. Life was delicious then, and having lots of money made it so much easier. I think about how I need to stop looking backwards. I take small comfort in knowing that if we had stayed in our Portland house we would have been screwed even further. We would probably have been mortgaged out of our house.
Combined with all of the above are the thoughts rolling around in my brain since hearing Al Gore speak. I am ready to pitch (recycle or give-away) everything in my house that isn't absolutely necessary. Why am I keeping 15 plastic bins and boxes full of books in my garage "for when I have space for bookshelves again?" Why do we need two cars when we did fine with just one for so long? Can I Craigslist our dryer? I laugh when I drive around my neighborhood—which is rife with tech-fueled construction—and see giant homes being built all touting their "green-ness." Who cares if your house is platinum LEED-certified when takes up an entire lot and you spent a month pumping ground water out of your property so you could build a media room in your basement?
There is so much conspicuous consumption in this area as well and I know it's going to be increasingly hard to shield my kids from it. (When I was a kid my mom used to buy all of my clothes at fancy department stores like I. Magnin and Saks, and I remember telling my friends we shopped at the equivalent of Target. I've never felt comfortable talking about "stuff.") I just can't wrap my head around spending so much (even if I had the money) on unnecessary crap, when the economy is going down the toilet. I'm not trying to poo-poo anyone's right to live well, but try not to be an asshole about it. If I we a kazillionaire I'd still live the way I live now.
So these are the things keeping me up at night. And they might be keeping you up at night, too. I'm not going to pretend to understand everything about this bailout package, but count me among the people who are angry that Wall St. seems to gets a pass while regular, hard-working people (and J and I are HARD-working, we work A LOT) are still struggling. I am disgusted by immoral golden parachutes, especially when I read that the CEO of WaMu is getting millions after only three weeks on the job. I am an American that has never felt especially patriotic and it's because of crap like this. For a moment, seven years ago, I felt like our country had pulled together, but look what happened.
Are you better off now than you were eight years ago? We sure aren't. Maybe you aren't, too. Perhaps we should take small comfort in knowing that so many of us are stuggling together and that maybe, in about a month's time, we'll be able to believe that things will getting better. We can only hope.