Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Broke Like All the Rest

Why is it that I happen to have no extra money just now? Now, when it’s a buyer’s market for cars? Now, when there are rock-bottom-priced real estate deals to be had? Now, when vacations, elegant restaurant meals, high-end clothing, and more are super-discounted? This is so frustrating. I’m missing many gilt-edged opportunities to get a lot for not a lot.

I remember about ten years ago, at the top of the tech boom, I also had no money and thus no way to invest in the tech stocks that were going crazy and producing amazing fortunes. But I was able to get a job, in fact, several jobs. During the tech boom, we were nearly at full employment. Companies were begging for workers. Anyone who could walk and talk at the same time could get hired. It didn’t matter what you looked like, what your experience was, or if you had a bad attitude; there were jobs for everybody who wanted to work. Maybe not great jobs, but employment nevertheless. So I worked. And my debts got paid off.

Only later, when I owed nobody a dime, did my credit card companies start sending me offers for balance transfers at zero percent interest. Where were they when I needed them, when I had a lot of credit card debt and would have been grateful even for a lower APR? And now I’m back to being done with a debt again, and the zero percent offers are arriving again when I don’t need them. Because I’m certainly not going into debt to take advantage of all the great deals around. I guess my caution proves that I am no capitalist at heart, but I don’t like thinking of my credit cards as my own venture capital line of credit. It’s too close to home. The whole idea of indenturing myself again to a credit card company makes me uneasy.

As it is, although I’m not in debt and my home isn’t in foreclosure, I’m feeling kind of miserable over money. I’m feeling broke. And I have been wondering why.

Today it dawned on me: We’re all in this together. That’s the answer. Regardless of how well I manage my finances, I can’t get business that isn’t out there. My opportunities for income have shrunk, in concert with the gloomy economic situation in our country. Realizing this makes me feel a little better. It’s not just me. It’s all of us.

But I realize that I can’t just sit here and be a victim of this massive economic downturn. Sure, I’m leaving my few dollars of retirement alone to recover from the stock market crash. But I can do more. I can look for more work, do new kinds of work, sell stuff that I don’t need, and do jobs myself that I might otherwise pay someone else to do—with the mythical dollars that, currently, I don’t have. Or, I could look for new ways to economize, so I can use the money saved to employ people who are currently hurting more than I am for income. I also could volunteer to stay with an elderly person to give the full-time caregiver some free respite care. I’ve got the time, so why not? I could make and deliver a meal to a family that is finding it hard to buy food lately. If that seems too much like Lady Bountiful, I could spread a little of my small amount of available cash around at local yard sales, thus helping my neighbors in a manner that cannot bring offense to their pride. I might even pick up some items I could resell for a profit.

Thus the capitalist is reborn. I don’t have to think like an employee. (I haven’t actually been an employee for years, so it’s about time.) Getting away from the employee mindset means not sitting around waiting for a job to drop in my lap, or for the economy to get better without me. It means being creative, going looking for opportunities, hustling. Not constantly reading depressing stories about how the economy has tanked and everything that is being done to rescue it is wrong.

Granted, this isn’t a great time to make a fortune on eBay. But it might be an excellent time to write another novel and submit it to a publisher. Or to do something else. Whatever I do, I want to use some of the energy I’ve been wasting--wasting reading and talking and thinking about how bad the economy is--to try to improve my own personal economy. Or at least my karma. Maybe things will only get markedly better for me in terms of dollars and cents when things get better for everyone else. But I’m not going to sit around and feel confused and miserable anymore. I’m going to take action to try to improve my economic situation. And my attitude.

Now, I’ve got my own personal recovery plan.

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