At least it does when you are small.  Coming back from taking the trash to the dumpster the other day I was struck by the comparison between our neighbor’s truck, and our ‘house’.

Our house is feeling especially small these days with summer looming and the prospect of spending more time together indoors once school is out.  And it seems we will be forced to limit our outdoor activities in our patio area – a 3-foot wide concrete slab that borders the trailer.  Today the park manager told me that the owner (who sadly is not fond of children) has said we either get rid of the toys on the patio or get kicked out of the park.  So I took all the Hot Wheel track to the dumpster, and packed up the cars and my son’s Legos to take them to storage.  We will park my youngest daughter’s bike behind the trailer and the scooter and skateboard will go underneath.   The basketballs have already been banned –  they are stored in a Tupperware container under the trailer and taken out only for team practice. Bouncing them here bothers the older residents.

My son who can spend hours building fanciful Lego cars and other vehicles (along with my oldest daughter who wants to be an architect and builds equally intricate Lego houses) will be sad when they come home tonight, but if you know anything about Legos you know just how many tiny pieces are required to build these creations!  And there are so many specialized pieces –  little figures, windshields, lights, wheels, corners, stairs, windows and doors.  I freely admit the Legos were getting out of control – we have a big table next to the trailer and a couple of boxes of Legos and the kids would spread out and design and construct to their heart’s content.  And they didn’t get cleaned up and put away after each session – no one wanted to just build and dismantle – so they sat out on the table top and a few would get scattered below…  Well, I couldn’t throw them all away but we cannot keep them indoors either as we have NO counter space for Lego creations. So off to storage they go.  Heck, we have no counter space period and the one table becomes a bed nightly!  We gave up an experiment with jigsaw puzzles over Christmas vacation for this very reason – it was just too hard on everyone to take the thing apart each night and start again the next day.

What we really need is MORE space – a bigger RV with bunk beds for the kids, and a little more indoor storage, and some counter space.  I haunt the listings on craigslist and cruise by the park and sell lots in town looking for travel trailers even though I’ve hardly begun to put aside any money for such a purchase.  And I must find some free/inexpensive activities for the kids this summer so we aren’t couped up  in this tiny space for days on end.  Spring break showed me the necessity of that as during those 10 days we started out getting on each other’s nerves, and by the end were driving one another crazy. If we are forced to be together in this space for the 10 weeks of summer we will descend to the point where the majority of our  interactions will be negative.  Like overcrowded rats or the lost boys in The Lord of the Flies, our inner savages will awaken.  And if that happens…it won’t be toys on the patio that get us kicked out of the park!

We are allowed to have the table and a couple of chairs on the patio, and ‘may decorate with potted plants’ if we wish.


When we had to move out of our rental house and into our trailer we sold almost everything we owned.  Furniture, artwork, clothing, toys, yard tools, TV, VCR, coffee pot, kitchenware, dog food bowls…well, nearly everything!  But try as you might to downsize there are always things you can’t part with for one reason or another.  I had to save boxes of paperwork, and thought it was worth saving things that we could use once we were back in a house and clothing the younger kids might grow into in the next year. I had a work wardrobe that I hoped I’d need again soon and I couldn’t give up my entire library or the things I bought for the children to commemorate their birth heritage.  And the kids didn’t want to give up everything they’d collected or earned or cherished.   So we did what so many people do – we rented a storage unit.  And it’s jam-packed – both with the things we couldn’t give up and things I subsequently bought to try and sell on eBay or Craigslist. 

Some days when I stop by the storage center to remove or put something in our unit I see units double locked – one lock bearing the little red sticker warning the unit ‘owner’ that they are in danger of the storage unit version of being foreclosed.  “See the manager” the stickers say. Or I see a flyer posted advertising an auction of storage units whose rent has not been paid.  I make a mental note – remove all valuables from our unit if in danger of defaulting on rent!

There have always been storage unit auctions – people die, or go to prison, or for one reason or another abandon their unit, and the owners of the storage center, unable to reach the renter or extract the rent from them, sell the contents to settle the debt owed.  With the current economy these auctions have increased – more people have to downsize and store things, and more unit renters eventually find themselves behind on their rent.  Conversely more people are also looking for alternative or additional sources of income and are buying up units for items to resell at the swap meet or on eBay.  It’s sort of a microcosm of the economy, one in which the majority of both sides – losers and winners– are poor folks already beaten down by the recession.

In a recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune, Kimberly Pretto, president of Kobey’s Swap Meet, calls the increased number of storage unit vendors a “very sad thing” while noting that it is a new contingent of vendor that’s very strong in the market right now.

A measure of the new avid interest in storage unit auctions is the number of websites offering ‘how to’ guides, or tips for attending, and making a profit from these auctions, such as: How to Be Successful With Storage Unit Auctions,  Storage Auction Secrets (a website selling a slightly sleazy  e-book so I’m not linking it- you can hunt it up yourself if so inclined), and Storage Auctions, a Good Bid for Sellers, and How to Profit from Storage Unit Auctions.  All of these websites focus on the potential bidder – little is said about the person whose belongings are lost.

So here’s the view from the other side – J. Moore’s reflections on having lost a storage unit.  Moore (not sure whether that’s Mr. or Ms.) fell behind on a few payments and found out after the fact that the unit was sold.  What was in it?  “All my pictures, my cat ashes and 2 favorite stuffed animals, which I have had since I was 1 year old, one was from each of my grandmothers and all the other things and gifts from family I had left that I cherished and can NEVER BE REPLACED.”   Despite leaving a message with the ‘auction person’ asking for help in getting in touch with the winning bidder in order to retrieve some of these personal, and not profitable (who buys cat ashes) items, J. Moore never heard back.  “Vultures” is the term Moore uses for people who buy storage units.   

I, myself, have benefited from this system.  Although I’ve attended a few auctions I haven’t bid on any.  I don’t have the cash reserves or the space to store things. But I have, down the line, purchased things that others have unwillingly deserted in their storage units, to resell on eBay.  Several local liquidating businesses, in addition to buying up estates or stores that have gone out of business, regularly buy the abandoned contents of storage units and resell them – to people looking to save money on purchases (clothing is especially cheap and furniture and appliances are sold way below retail), and people who try to turn them over for a profit.  And I shop there.  But I’m not entirely comfortable with it, and while pawing though boxes of office supplies, DVDs, books, toys and clothing, I can’t help to wonder at the fates that have befallen the previous owners.   The photo albums and historical or genealogical mementos bother me the most.  Old black and white stiff portraits of solemn people dressed in their Sunday best, the family snapshots of children playing in wading pools in the backyard, or hugging the dog in a strangle-hold or blowing out candles in a blurry faded color Polaroid.  Who are these people and where are the people who cared for them?

And the boxes after boxes of dinosaurs, actions figures and hot wheel cars.  Is there a little boy mourning their loss or are they long forgotten treasures of an adolescent who has moved on to fixate on video games and the opposite sex? 

Or one person’s purple collection – purple candles, bath soaps, shower curtain, slippers, dishes, scarves, oven-mitts, lingerie, even purple  post-it notes – as I looked (in amazement frankly) through these boxes of purple possessions I had to hope that the fact that they were stored meant the owner had moved beyond this obsession and had opened up to a variety of colors.  Maybe for that person losing the storage unit was a good thing!

When we moved from our Colorado house we left some things stored in the basement with the intent to retrieve them at a later date.  Some of those things were irreplaceable – for instance Christmas ornaments collected over a span of nearly a half century.  My mother started the tradition – adding a Christmas ornament with some significance for each child each year, and I’d continued it with my children.  We didn’t need them at the time we moved but we cherished them and never thought to lose them.  But by the time we evicted the squatter in our house they were gone – who knows where.  Did he throw them out in a fit of spite?  Sell them at the swap meet along with our collection of lighted Christmas village buildings?  That loss still festers with me and now when I look at the books and clothing and kitchenware and the little collections of figurines and vases and such retrieved from abandoned storage units the cost to other people’s lives is almost palpable.  Somehow I don’t think those people shop here – I’m surrounded by happy bargain hunters focused on their own gain or potential profit. 

So far we have been able to make our rent on our storage unit.  This month I’m trying to cull out some things to get us down to a smaller unit at a lower rent.  Some of this is just sorting out papers – a few boxes of ancient financial and academic papers will go to the free shredding day a local bank is hosting – and books (going to the school rummage sale to raise funds for the various field trips).  Some of it – I’m thinking family photos and genealogy records – will be shipped to my sister for safe keeping.   Perhaps I’ll include a few other things as well.  Who knows what next month will bring?

Things have been tough for a long time now, longer for some folks than others, and even with the glimmer of an economic recovery on the horizon, in a grim article titled “ Millions of unemployed may never recover”, the Seattle Times reports that the effects will be long-lingering for a great number of people.  Likely to be especially hard hit will be those who have been out of work for the longest period, and older out-of-workers.  I guess that will be a double whammy for me.  It is thought by some economists that long stints of unemployment erode a worker’s skills and lessen their ability to maintain networking contacts.  Even those economists who doubt that workers in general would lose skills after only six months or even a year or two out of work, agree that long periods of unemployment tend to make it tougher to get re-employed. And, as the article says, “even after getting hired, such workers are likely to experience a sharp and lasting hit to their incomes.”  And many older out of work folk will choose to retire early which means more people drawing Social Security and Medicare, and fewer contributing to the programs through payroll taxes.

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but I very much agree with a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, and have said in earlier posts, that this recession  is bound to create fundamental changes in our society that will continue even into whatever level of recovery with which we are blessed. I don’t just fear my own future but the future of the generation that is in or just graduating from college, a group that globally has suffered job loss disproportionately during the recession. 

If you have children in this age group, read the Atlantic Monthly article. It’s a wake-up call.  And if, like me, your children are younger, consider what you can do to raise independent thinking, hard-working, entrepreneurial-leaning adults.  According to one study reported in the Atlantic Monthly article, teens and college graduates who have a hard time finding a job and suffer a lengthy stint of unemployment are more likely to develop drinking problems and symptoms of depression in middle age.  And that’s regardless of whether they eventually do find work.  There is something about not working that takes its toll on one.

A large and long-standing body of research shows that physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely through a combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. The most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent among the young, and endures for a lifetime.

Consider that the youth of today has been raised with high expectations – they’ve been told they can do and be anything and what’s more that they can have anything (a very materialistic generation) – but since they have also been “trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward,… many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.”

Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Not a good starting point for kids trying to enter the job force during a recession – or in the lingering aftermath of one.  Contrary to the song, parents, perhaps you should let your babies grow up to be cowboys.  If ever there was a profession designed to inculcate the ethos of hard work and independence that would be it!  Our youth will need our help to recover fully and we need them to be productively employed, paying into social programs and replenishing the federal coffers.  

Will there be any possible benefit to our children, having experienced the hardships of the recession?  Perhaps.

A recent paper by the economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo shows that generations that endured a recession in early adulthood became more concerned about inequality and more cognizant of the role luck plays in life. And in his book, Children of the Great Depression, Glen Elder wrote that adolescents who experienced hardship in the 1930s became especially adaptable, family-oriented adults; perhaps, as a result of this recession, today’s adolescents will be pampered less and counted on for more, and will grow into adults who feel less entitled than recent generations.

If so, I hope to count my children among them.  Interestingly enough my mother, born in 1928, was very adaptable and family-oriented, and ruggedly independent (a label a friend recently tagged me with) as well.  I think the lessons she learned during the hard times in her life, both as a youngster at the tail end of the depression and later as a divorced mother of four school-aged children, and which she imparted to me, go a long way to explaining why I’m able to roll with the punches the last few years have dealt me.  My children were all in orphanages when I adopted them.  I had intended to try my best to make up for that – to give them everything they might have been denied, to raise them full of American self-esteem and the belief that they could do and be anything they could want to be.  I still intend to do that, but just as I did, working my way through both undergraduate and graduate school, they will learn the benefits of earning their self-esteem and rewards through hard-work and perseverance rather than having them handed to them.  They might not be able to have anything they want but I hope they will still believe, and develop the skills to be what they want.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.  With over 8 million jobs lost in the last couple of years, jobs are a big topic in the news, in bars, at the playground, on the senate floor, and at campaign podiums.  Job seekers, job training, creating jobs and WTF to do about all the people who have lost jobs.  In the latter category comes the sometimes heated discussion about unemployment benefits.  As an article in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled  Senate jobs bill: the perils of extended unemployment benefits, says:

The Depression-era program was originally intended as a temporary bridge to help the jobless until a recovery put them back to work – though nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers do not qualify. During a more normal downturn in the economy, states help people who have been laid off with jobless benefits lasting 26 weeks. But now, in some of the hardest-hit states, the long-term unemployed have been able to collect benefits for as long as 99 weeks – almost two years.

Some would argue that the long-term availability of unemployment insurance has turned it into something like welfare in the days before reform: open to abuse and not helpful in encouraging people to actually look for work. “Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” said Republican Sen. John Kyl, of Arizona.

As someone collecting unemployment benefits I’d like to address some of the real disincentives to look for work or rather disincentives to take work, any work, or to enroll in courses to retool for a new career!

As another news article recounts, taking a part-time or temporary job while searching for a new full-time job can be deadly.  Deadly, that is, to your unemployment benefits. Some job seekers have been taking on jobs they wouldn’t have contemplated a few years ago, just to make a little money, to put food on the table, or stay in their home, only to discover later that by doing so they have re-set the calculation of their unemployment benefits so that they are no longer eligible for any benefits at all once that job ends and they are unable to land another. 

 “What is going on for these workers is that because their most recent wages are much lower than the wages they earned in their prior fulltime job, they are facing substantial cuts in their weekly unemployment benefits,” says George Wentworth, a consultant at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in New York.

In fact, so substantial that in one case the woman’s unemployment benefits went from $483 a week to nothing after she took a brief part-time job. 

I’ve been counseled to take a job, any job, just to, well, to look good to employers.  But will taking a job as someone who hands out samples at Cost-co really make me look good to employers in my field (environmental permitting)?  Would I even put it on my resume?  Umm, no, I wouldn’t.  Would it help me to support my family?  Not really.  The pay would be minimal and after various taxes would probably be less than my unemployment benefit (which, based on my last quarter’s earnings is at the top of the scale – which is still paltry when you are supporting a family of 5).  Plus I’d be paying for after school care or babysitting on top of that. 

And if I take a job handing out samples at Cost-co, or accept the small amount that has offered to pay me for article I wrote, I could be up the creek without a paddle if I haven’t landed that full-time job in my field within a year of being laid off.  Because if I don’t have a new, good, job within that time, my unemployment benefits will be recalculated, based on my earnings in the last quarter and if that’s the payment my benefits will zip, zero, nada.  And I won’t be able to support my family on that!  So while I was thrilled to secure my first ever paid writing job I won’t be invoicing Salon or filling in the w-9 to report the meager income to the IRS and the unemployment people.  Salon can donate the money to a charity.

Another hindrance built into the system is the fact that you lose your unemployment benefits if you opt to take classes or retrain for a new career. The reasoning is – if you are in school you aren’t available to work and you have to be available to work to collect benefits.  But without the unemployment check how are you going to pay tuition (and rent and food and gas…)?  If they want you to get back in the workforce why don’t they pay you to take classes?  Or let you take part-time jobs without penalizing you when those jobs end and you are once again unemployed? 

Maybe the recession is over, maybe the recovery has started.  But locally unemployment is still over 11% and there are 5 times as many job seekers as jobs.  Obviously in order to get people off the unemployed rolls and back to work, you need JOBS, a lot more jobs, but in the meantime instead of stalling on approving unemployment benefit extensions and griping about how the unemployed are viewing those benefits as entitlements, why not remove the real disincentives to go back to work?

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let…fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but..two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means
King of the road.  ~Roger Miller

A friend is contemplating moving her family from a house that has become too much of an expense in these days of reduced work hours, to a 2-bedroom apartment.  She has four kids and a husband so a 2-bedroom apartment will be a real change.  She thinks they will have to give up their cat but hopes to keep their little dog.  She knows of our situation, but until I mentioned it, hadn’t even considered downsizing to a trailer or RV!  I suspect she’s not alone, in fact I’ll bet most of you reading this blog would also list this option pretty close to the bottom, if not consider it a last resort!  So let me offer some arguments in favor of full-timing in an RV.

Surprised to hear me extolling the virtues of this lifestyle, given my frequent complaints about lack of space?  Granted, I would suggest you do your very best to find a trailer or motor home appropriate for the size of your family! Although, as an aside you must check out the blog of the family of 13, yes, they have 11 children, traveling the country in first a 30-foot travel trailer, and currently in a 40-ft toy hauler! But once you’ve done that, there are a lot of advantages to this life-style, particularly if you desire, or are forced, to live more frugally and if you like to be independent and are comfortable with flexible arrangements.  Here are some of the pros and cons.

It’s CHEAP!  We own our trailer outright (it is a 2004 Terry Dakota ultra light model that cost me about $7500).   First, last and a deposit on an apartment would have cost me at least that much here.  And we wouldn’t own anything but would again be at the mercy of landlords and property managers. While a larger trailer would be (will be) more, even our ‘dream’ trailer will likely cost less than 6 months of apartment rent (we don’t need a brand new trailer).  We didn’t need first, last and deposit to reserve our space, and our pets didn’t incur any additional expense (although that varies by park). Our monthly rent is under $700 and that probably includes more utilities than most apartment rents – electricity, sewer, water and trash.  Granted rent is likely to go up in the next month or so as they are planning on trenching to put in new electrical connections as well as cable and telephone lines but we’ll face that when we have to (or move).  I pay for cell phone and internet (another ~$110 a month).  We rent a mailbox at a UPS store for $15 a month. We don’t have television services and just use ours to watch movies rented for $1 a night at Red Box or DVD Play on weekends.  We use propane to cook and heat on rare occasions that it gets cold enough to justify it (the AC is in use more than the heat as the trailer heats up fairly easily and can get quite stuffy).  Because we aren’t driving around, towing this house of ours, it is less expensive than if we were on the move.  Parks also tend to cost less per day on a monthly basis than on a daily or weekly basis – another reason to stay put for awhile, even if you don’t have children in school.

It’s probably easier for an RV’er to adjust expenses than it is for those of you living in a house.  If we had to we could move locations, looking for lower rent.  This article, while seemingly aimed at the retired couple rather than the family, outlines some of the economic advantages of living in an RV full-time, noting that if you needed to you could pull out of the full-service park and stay at a state park or ‘boondock’ for a few weeks to save money.   And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, if you can land a host position at a campground (wish that had worked out for us) you can stay rent free for as long as 6 months in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.

Another benefit is the independence. This is important for me.  The attitude at the RV Park is pretty much live and let live (although, again, from what I’ve read that varies from park to park).  We pay our rent, keep our area relatively clean (aside from the Legos strewn everywhere), and pick up after the dogs.  We have amicable nodding relationships with most other park patrons, and have developed low-key friendships with a few others.  The children know and abide by our number 1 rule- they are not to go into anyone else’s trailer.  We currently live next to an anti-social fellow who has lined the windows of his Airstream trailer with aluminum foil.  We don’t bother him.  He doesn’t bother us. But if he did… we could move a lot easier than if we were in an apartment downstairs from a person who had loud parties all night or was involved in other objectionable behaviors.  And had I opted for the transitional housing for down and out folks, we would be a lot more hemmed in by well meaning but patronizing rules and regulations.

Home repairs are easier or cheaper.  Yes, if you live in an RV or travel trailer instead of an apartment, you can’t call the landlord when your toilet gets clogged.  But believe me it’s easier to unclog a toilet in an RV than in a house!  All you need is a long stick!  Tearing up the floor in the trailer this summer and replacing it may be a bit more difficult, but I suspect it will be a lot cheaper than it was to rip out the 10-year old carpet in the dining and living rooms in our house in Colorado and replace it with bamboo flooring.  I have a book – something along the line of RV’ing for dummies – that helps me figure out most of the ‘home repairs’ that I might need to undertake, and can go online for additional information.  Mind you we do not have a motor home – those sometimes need the attention of a mechanic and naturally it’s not easy to leave your home in the shop overnight!

Cleaning is a lot easier and quicker.  And you need a lot fewer cleaning products.

Utilities tend to be cheaper even if they aren’t part of the park rent.  Powering an RV takes less electricity than powering a house of any size.

It’s harder for your teen or pre-teen to get involved in the wrong sort of activity.  Of course the reverse is that it’s hard for your children (or you) to get any sort of privacy.

You are forced to let go of unnecessary possessions.  Painful at first but liberating in the long run.  Seriously, this can really help you to refocus on the important things in life and make you quite nauseous when you realize how much money you spent on unnecessary things like décor in your previous life! All our artwork and knick-knacks, and candles, and potpourri and flower vases and the like are either gone, or, in the case of the best of it, in storage.

If you are really footloose and fancy free and can afford it and take to the road with your family I imagine the learning opportunities for the kids must be fantastic.  The novelty of new sights and places probably help tremendously to keep the family engaged and happy. This is a different lifestyle than ours and in some ways I envy those living it!  I suspect we would feel more of a ‘we’re in this together, team’ if we were on the road.

Downsides – you are much more space constrained and in addition to requiring the culling of possessions, this can be a problem or at least an adjustment in personal relations. If you are used to solitude and privacy don’t expect it in an RV, unless you live alone.  If someone is sick, as my son is tonight, you are privy to every moan and cough.  Bad habits and sleeping patterns are quickly exposed. I recommend families try to get RVs with separate quarters for kids and parents! 

You may not feel established or connected in a community; especially if you are on the road a lot.  It can be lonely and you might feel cut off.  We don’t really have that issue – if you stay in the area and have children in school and sports, or attend a local church, you put down some sort of roots even if they aren’t as deep as those you would have if you lived in the same house for 20+ years.  Anonymity and being the one just passing through aren’t always bad things though – you probably both see the best of a community and see it with clearer eyes.  And if you don’t like what you see, you can move on!  Full-time RV’ing seems to create a community of its own, both in the parks and online (check out – an online blog for those seeking a lifestyle of ‘freedom and adventure,’ and FOTR (families on the road) a connection resource for families who full-time it. 

There may not be much of a place for kids or dogs to play.  Some parks are better than others in this regard – the more expensive local park has a pool, small playground, basketball court and arcade.  Our park has nothing – nowhere for kids to play.  And your children may not be as safe as they would be living in a house.  Sad to say, but RV parks and mobile home parks do tend to harbor a greater than average percentage of registered sex offenders.  Hence our No. 1 rule!  These issues are part of the reason my youngest are enrolled in the afterschool program (where they have a chance to play, do homework and art projects in a supervised environment) and I enroll the older kids in sports and choir and am willing to drive them to play dates at friends’ homes.  They need time with friends, they need physical activities, and they need to play. 

If you don’t have a lot of savings, or a decent retirement income, it may be hard to generate income while living in an RV – if you are on the road.  Maybe you have the sort of business that can be done from anywhere (life coaching or some other sort of consulting, for instance) or have snagged a fantastic writing assignment about your travels, or have those work/life skills that can find you work in any town in which you land.  Or you migrate from park to park taking on work kamper jobs- host or caretaker positions and it’s easy for you to move on once your work runs out.  But if you don’t fall into these categories it can be hard to support the on the road lifestyle.

Hmm, maybe I should have started with the cons, and ended up with the pros!  I said it before, and I’ll say it again – for those of us who have ended up in rather dire circumstances – unable to find or afford ‘normal’ housing, living in a trailer beats the alternatives – sleeping in tents, or your car, or shelters, or alternating between any of those and a cheap motel just to have a shower and a night’s sleep in privacy and security.  That’s hard!  This is quite doable.

The article was published yesterday – one of those personal essay pieces and a bit of a re-hash for most of you but if you want you can read it at:  I think I must have been a bit down when I wrote it- probably due to the increased stress of spring break!

Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have got a little, it is often easy to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little. ~ Adam Smith

Saving money is the new black.  Yes, the painful message of the recession has found a receptive audience.  Stop borrowing and spending!  Hunker down, simplify, live frugally, and save money!  (However, you might want to stuff those savings in your mattress given that another painful message of the past few years has been that banks are not to be trusted!) 

According to a Bloomberg report:

In the recession following a borrowing binge that sent consumer debt to the highest level ever, Americans are shutting their wallets and building their nest eggs at the fastest pace in 15 years.

From 1960 until 1990, households socked away an average of about 9 percent of their after-tax income, government figures show. Americans got out of the habit in the 1990s as they saw their wealth build up in other ways, first through surging stock prices and then soaring home values.

That process has now gone into reverse. U.S. household wealth fell by $1.3 trillion in the first quarter of this year, with net worth for households and nonprofit groups reaching the lowest level since 2004, according to a Fed report. Wealth plunged by a record $4.9 trillion in the last quarter of 2008.

And other stories  report that it is “time to “pay the piper” and time to sober up, say goodbye to immediate gratification and return to fiscal discipline” and advocate a “recession diet” of frugality and savings.  Here’s a little chart of what was in and out in the early days (2007) of the recession:

Saving Borrowing
Cooking at home Eating out
Fixing the old car New car
Staying at home Foreign vacations
20 percent down No down payment
Debit cards Credit cards
Working past 65 Early retirement
Library Bookstore
Tap water Bottled water
BART Bay Bridge
Patching Remodeling
Public park Theme park
Eyeglasses Lasik surgery
Poker night Weekend in Vegas
Brewing coffee at home Starbucks
Flying coach Flying first class

Source: Chronicle research,

This was the first line of defense when we were just beginning to feel the pinch of the recession and I’ll bet most of you have been tightening your belts and keeping a grip on your wallets for the past year or two.   It’s getting old, isn’t it?

But now we’re told that there is light at the end of the tunnel, economic indicators that demonstrate the recovery has begun.  So will this new frugality and fiscal responsibility last?  Will we turn our backs on the credit industry with its outrageous fees and interest rates and seductive marketing and save until we can afford that coveted purchase?  Or are we so weary of pinching pennies that we are willing to pretend that this recession never happened and resume our profligate ways? Have we learned our lesson?

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the rich are beginning to book luxury vacations again and orders for private jets are up.  Even Middle America is willing to do its best to jump start the economy with a little spending.  According to a recent report, many consumers will put their tax refund towards big ticket items rather than stuffing that windfall into their mattress.  Those planning to splurge still make up a minority of people getting a tax refund, according to the survey, but the numbers are growing. About 12.5 percent of people getting a refund expect to make a major purchase. That is up from 10 percent last year.

Consumers are simply tired of living relatively aus­tere lives, NRF executives said.

“A little bit of ‘free money’ will go a long way for Ameri­cans this year,” Tracy Mul­lin, president and CEO, said in a release announcing the survey results.

“Retailers planning spe­cial promotions over the next few months may find that shoppers are a bit more receptive to opening up their wallets than they have been for the past year.”

So what’s it to be?  Save or spend?  Or, for some of us neither!  That is, we can’t even think about splurging on a big ticket item, nor do we have enough money to make saving seem worthwhile.  Yes, I know I need to save; I have car insurance due in June, and other expenses (oil change, root canal, floor repairs, a new battery to run our water heater, oh, let’s not make a list!) that I will not be able to afford without saving for a while.  I’m committed to saving money, and I have goals for which to save.  In addition to the aforementioned needs, I want to squirrel away every extra penny for a larger trailer, one with bunk beds so each child has a bed to call her or his own.  Even before saving, I know that every extra penny should go to pay my son’s overdue medical bills or to repay the money I owe friends and family, but it is hard to make a $50 payment knowing that at the end of the month the money might be needed for gas or to put food on the table. 

When your basic monthly expenses equal, or frequently exceed your income, it is hard to stash anything aside.  Our windfalls tend to be small and like those other recession weary folk who will spend their tax refund on big ticket items, we (kids especially) are also tired of living austere lives.  If I have an extra $20 it’s easier to say yes to an ice cream treat, or a trip to the $3 movie theater with the kids, than to save it for a ‘dream trailer’ or payment that is not due for 3 months. 

The key to saving money, I’ve decided, is to have money to save! I hope the economic indicators are correct and the recovery is underway.  Spend your money rich folks!  Invest in new developments and businesses!  We still have over 8 million jobs to ‘recover’!

Thanks to Melissa who shared this link with me:

A story in the Seattle Times about the “new face” of homelessness and the disagreement about what constitutes homelessness these days.

It’s that time of the decade – census time.   Time to stand up and be counted!  You might wonder, at least you might if you are in my situation, does the census count the homeless and if so, how do they do it?  I spent a little time looking into that question and it turns out that the homeless are actually counted more frequently than the rest of the country!  The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) demands a count at least every other year from cities and counties across the country so it can allocate money and services designed to combat homelessness. This means that there are already methods in place to conduct counts of people without a fixed address that census workers can use.  Do these methods work?

In Minnesota census ‘enumerators’ (why does that sound like a role for Arnold Swartzenegger?) try to count the homeless over a period of 3 days.

  • On the first night, enumerators will count persons residing in shelters and temporary arrangements.
  • On the second day, enumerators will interview persons at regularly scheduled mobile food vans and persons at soup kitchens. If individuals at the mobile food vans and soup kitchens report a “usual residence,” they are not included in the SBE operation and are instead included in the general population count.
  • On the third night, enumerators will count persons at pre-identified targeted nonsheltered outdoor locations.

They’d still miss us.  The article points out that counting the homeless isn’t easy because ‘some homeless people don’t want to admit they are homeless, and the homeless are not uniquely identifiable as such by any physical characteristic, and thus cannot be identified easily.’  That’s right; we aren’t all unkempt slovenly individuals shuffling along the sidewalk talking to ourselves or asleep under newspaper blankets on park benches!

Similarly in San Francisco they too will spend three days attempting to count the homeless at shelters, soup kitchens, parks and highway underpasses and the census in Washington D.C. will include people in transitional housing and emergency shelters, on the streets, and in parks and camp sites, along with formerly homeless people now in permanent housing where they receive assistance from case workers. It does not, however, include those who are doubling up with relatives and friends, sleeping on couches and floors, one step from a shelter or worse.

Because the HUD count, and now the census count, methods are aimed at what I consider the traditional class of homeless – as described above, those in shelters, attending soup kitchens, at campsites, etc. – I wonder if it will accurately capture the numbers of the new homeless, those formerly middle class, now unemployed and cast from their homes by this Great Depression.  We don’t frequent food pantries or hang out under bridges.  We (I’m speaking generically here) stay with friends and family, move from motel room to campgrounds, sleep in our cars and RVs.  And we are probably amongst those who do not want to admit we are homeless. Would you want to be memorialized as homeless in the census for future descendants and genealogy buffs to see?  And we probably won’t benefit from the funds for homeless services.

Yesterday we arrived home and amidst the commotion of unloading kids and homework and groceries and releasing the dogs from captivity for their mid-day walk, a young woman approached.  She was wearing a name badge around her neck, carrying a clipboard in her hand.  “Hello,” she said.  “I’m from the US Census 2010.”

We were counted. But I don’t know if we count.

A couple of folks have written to me wondering what’s up since I haven’t posted recently (thanks- nice that you care! 🙂  so I wanted to let everyone know that while life is pretty much the same as usual here, there are a few family things going on that have taken me away from the blog.  My middle daughter’s basketball team made it to the championships (and I’m team mom so that means lining up snacks, the end of the year coach gift, team posters, party, etc.) and won with a 13-0 record!  It’s parent -teacher conference time (minimum days) at school so less free time for mom and I’ve been helping out a friend with her business, as well as applying for 2 more local jobs and preparing my workshop for the local Children’s Museum.  And I’ve been invinted to write an essay for’s Pinched column so I’m busy mulling over that as well as working on posts on saving money, things the poor shouldn’t do, pets in an RV, and other subjects!  One of these should post later this week – tomorrow is more day labor work, sweeping out a warehouse!

Box Car Kids

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