As of yesterday, according to Gallup, only five percent of Americans hold a positive view of the economy. (They’re probably all hedge fund managers.) Fifteen percent of us have a mixed view and 79 percent think the economy has gone to hell.
That’s not exactly how Gallup words it. “Negative” is their mild take, and mine is more polite than I feel. But however you say it, there are few of us who aren’t hurting financially.
Gas prices get the headlines, but have you been to the market lately? A good bread is nearly $4.00. My favorite morning coffee blend is up 20 percent. A head of romaine lettuce set me back $2.99 last week. And it’s a damned good thing I don’t care much for beef, pork or veal. Even my staple protein, chicken, is so expensive that I buy two or three and freeze them when there is the occasional 99 cents-a-pound sale.
My favorite summer fruits, blackberries and raspberries, are $3.99 a half pint - I won’t be gorging on those this season. The first apricots were in the store yesterday. I can’t remember what the price was, but it was so shocking, I passed them by.
I have only myself to feed - well, the cat too (don’t ask what’s happened to the price of his food), but I approach grocery shopping these days with a heavy heart and a too-light pocketbook.
And it’s not just food. Or, perhaps, it’s because of food and gas prices that I have come to carefully consider every potential purchase, no matter how small. I am particularly skittish right now, waiting to hear from the oil company what my heating fuel will cost next winter. There is a certain pair of summer silk pants I want, but I’ve put off buying them.
All this has led me to try to recall how people got through hard times in the past.
Although I never felt deprived as kid and certainly never hungry, I realize now how my parents stretched their short supply of dollars in a hundred small ways. They kept the heat turned low and when I said I was cold, my mother told me to put on a sweater. One way she bulked up meals was with bread – cubed in soft-boiled eggs and a stewed-tomato side dish; slices under the beef stew.
We had a lot of side dishes that my mother and neighbors had canned themselves: tomatoes, beans, relishes, jams and jellies, pickles. I don’t know if it was planned, but apparently neighbors grew different fruits and vegetables, then shared their canning with one another. So my mother might say at a meal, “These are Judy’s carrots” or “This is Carol’s strawberry jam.”
But I don’t suppose most of us grow much food these days, let alone can anything. I have no space to grow large items like peppers, cucumbers, carrots and not enough direct sun for tomatoes. But I am growing all my herbs this year: basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and two kinds of mint – enough to dry or freeze some for winter. At the market, fresh herbs cost $2 for half an ounce, double from last year.
It's not necessary to dive too deeply into the internet to find dire warnings that hard economic times are going to be with us for awhile and I’m looking to cut every corner possible. The price of gas doesn't affect me much; I need to drive so little that I fill up the car about once a month. But I’m not renewing a lot of print subscriptions and I’m going cold turkey on my most expensive indulgence - buying books.
There are several repair projects around the house I'll do myself rather than hire someone. Although I don’t want to, I can live without those silk pants and I hadn’t planned a vacation this year anyway.
Most TGB readers are old enough to have weathered several economic downturns and a few remember growing up in the Great Depression. That ought to be good for some suggestions. Who among us are cutting back and how are you doing it? What are your best tips and secrets for surviving hard times?
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Zarges gives us a lesson about survival in the desert southwest in Mr. Zee Goes Up.]