Last week, on one of the comments on the book review of “The New Frugality”, I was really struck by the comment Amanda left on how the economy has affected her and her family. She talked about how her husband lost his job and was unemployed for a year, and it got me thinking that there probably are a lot of people out there that can relate. Consequently, I felt compelled to e-mail her and ask her if she do an interview with me about their situation. She was so kind to say yes and share her story with thousands of our readers so that maybe someone else could relate. Here is her story:
Tell us about yourself:
I am a 32 year old mom to four kids ages 8, 5, 3, and 18 months. I have been married for 10 years. I have a biology degree, but have never actually worked in my field. I am certified as a pharmacy technician. I am currently a stay-at-home mom and have been since 2004 when my five year old was born.
What type of work did you and/or your husband do prior to the recession hitting?
When the recession hit, we were a one-income family. My husband was working as an environmental pipeline inspector. He was earning more than he had ever made before at this job, but we knew that pipeline was unpredictable and there would be weeks, or possibly months, between the temporary jobs. My husband was laid off in March 2009. We didn’t worry at first because we felt sure that another job was coming in the next month or two.
What was your financial situation prior to the recession?
We did have enough savings to make it for about 6 months in the event of a job loss. We also received a weekly unemployment check for $285. We had approximately $15,000 worth of debt (not including our mortgage), which included one car note, but was mostly credit card debt. We were in the process of slowly paying our credit cards off while still creating an emergency fund. When the recession hit, we also found that transferring credit card balances to cards with 0% interest for one year was not an option. Not only were the great credit card offers gone, but all of our interest rates rose significantly. I was told over the phone that because I was not making purchases on these cards, and was merely trying to pay off my balances, that they could do nothing to lower the rates.
When did your husband lose his job? How long was he out of work for? How did it impact you (emotionally, spiritually, financially)?
My husband was unemployed from March 2009- April 2010. Many of the pipeline jobs that were lined up were put on hold due to lack of government funding. He searched the newspaper, and went to all of the employment agencies in town. We got used to hearing ” we don’t have anything right now, but we’ll hold on to your resume.” For the first three months, it was like a vacation. We spent time doing things together as a family. We had enough savings to pay our bills. We assumed that the job market would pick up soon. After several months went by with no job prospects, we became less optimistic. My husband has a college degree. He has worked his way up from doing hard labor to foreman to inspector in several different fields. He was unable to find a job in his line of work, but also considered over qualified to work lower paying jobs, which he would have gladly done given the chance. It was tough on us emotionally because we were surrounded by people who were employed and still spending like there was no tomorrow. We dealt with the inevitable depression of long-term job loss by spending more time with the kids and our pets. Money was in short supply, but we had plenty of time. My faith in God is still as strong as it ever was. If anything, I have more faith that God is in control in any circumstance we find ourselves in.
While your husband was out of work what things did you change about your lifestyle in order to weather the storm?
When my husband lost his job, we made changes in our lifestyle that we will continue to practice even when the economy improves. I use coupons whenever I can combine them with sale items. I buy clothes, toys, and books at garage sales. I cook more at home, and we go out to eat only for special occasions. I look for free or low cost events for my kids to enjoy. I am frugal by nature, and I enjoy finding ways to get the things we need or want at the lowest possible prices.
Now that we are about 22 months into this recession what things are you doing different than before?
My husband is employed, but that can change tomorrow. He is working five hours from home on a construction project. He gets a three day weekend once a month to come home. It is not an ideal situation, but we make the best of it. We are saving as much as we can, and paying off debt slowly but steadily. We have not touched a credit card in over a year, and once we pay them off, we hope to never use them as a crutch again.
For anyone else that has lost a job recently or been unemployed for a while what advice do you have for them?
For those that are unemployed or facing unemployment, please know that you are not alone. Our friends and family were still employed when my husband was laid off. There is a tendency to feel like you are the only one struggling. My husband had a hard time being unemployed because so much of his identity came from what he did for a living. I gave him as much support as possible. When he got his job it was through word of mouth. He made a point of telling friends, family and acquaintances that he was in need of a job. There are still jobs out there, and having someone recommend you to their employer gives you a better chance. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but unemployment was a blessing to our family. We had more time for picnics, walks in the park, and board games. The biggest lesson I have learned during the recession is that you can’t put a price tag on the most important things like family and friends.
I would like to thank Amanda so much for taking the time to do this interview with me, and sharing her story. I know the “Great Recession” has severely affected a lot of people, and is ruining their financial outlook. However, I think stories like this show how by trusting in the Lord, having an emergency fund, cutting coupons and costs, and paying off debt can help you make it through the toughest of times.
Can you relate to Amanda’s story?