Looming Doom…

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With the sobering news this week of the millions in local debt owed by one of the city’s largest employers, there has been plenty of talk about the looming economic doom in our community.

I can’t help but feel déjà vu. Growing up the eldest daughter of a former Algoma Steel worker, there is a vicious cycle that has continued since I was a young girl. Boom and bust, profits and loses, bankruptcy and restructuring, creditor protection filings, layoffs, government support, bailouts and more. It feels like such a familiar story.

The difference from when I was a young girl, though, is social media, where people can instantly share the news, their thoughts and opinions. Although social media has so many advantages, it can also cause panic, worry, hearsay and rumours. This can be extremely detrimental to our community.

Economic hardship, which I have experienced firsthand, after choosing to leave my former career as a police officer, can wear on the body, mind and spirit. The feeling of owing thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt can make us physically sick.

Money problems, and the implications of not having enough money to pay monthly bills, is one of the most awful feelings I have ever experienced. We can feel like a failure, we can feel unworthy, we can feel embarrassed and we can feel devastated that the path we had projected for ourselves is not working out as planned.

Admitting a money problem to loved ones, discussing money problems with professionals and accepting a new financial reality for ourselves and our family can be such a difficult journey. I don’t wish this on anyone.

At the same time, having financial woes has been one of the most enlightening life lessons of my life. Going from earning a secure, substantial and comfortable annual income to having to count coin from a jar to put gas in the car, is a sobering exercise.

Re-evaluating finances and one’s lifestyle can allow us to truly get down to what is important. We cancelled newspaper, magazine, cell phone and television subscriptions. We contacted insurance companies and switched to a different company, to save money. We renegotiated our home telephone and Internet bill.

I stopped renting movies and instead signed out DVDs from the library. We car pooled when possible, stopped eating out at restaurants or getting take out. We experienced local attractions instead of going away on vacation and we walked or biked, as much as possible.

Since the holiday season is upon is, the most significant thing that we did was to stop buying gifts for family and friends. Christmas went from spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on presents and turned into one thoughtful gift for each of our children.

We discussed with our extended family that we would not be doing gifts, although some were stubborn and still gave gifts to our children or ourselves. My husband would sometimes do wood working or food gifts, which were made with his own hands and I would do photograph or slide show projects.

Instead of the thousands of dollars in credit card debt after the holidays, it was so freeing to not have to worry about what to buy for people and then not have to suffer in the first few months of the year to pay it off. To this day, we do not exchange gifts in our family, and it has been one of the best decisions of our lives. Our family still loves us, even without gifts in tow.

I once learned that children, in particular, will remember what we did with them as opposed to what we buy for them. We like to experience adventures together, go on outings and spend time doing fun things. We have been skating, tobogganing, snow shoeing, skiing, hiking, biking, swimming, sleigh riding, beaching, boating, etc. over the years and have the memories to prove it.

If you are like many people in our community, who are worried about our economic future, worrying about it won’t get us anywhere. Taking action will get us somewhere. We can only control our little corner of the problem.

What do we need to do to streamline our expenses? What action can we take to earn more money? Do we need to sell some things? Do we need to cook at home more? Do we need 150 channels on the television or will the basic channels do the trick? Can we get on an unlimited cell phone or Internet plan, instead of racking up additional monthly charges? Do we need 2 vehicles?

Maybe that part-time minimum wage job is looking good after all? Perhaps an appointment with the not-for-profit credit counselling organization is in order. Let’s ditch the pride and come up with a plan to ensure we are not blindsided by the instability of the economy around us. It’s never too late to be proactive.

Your life, your family, your peace of mind and your health are much more important than money problems. That is why we live in a modest, small, affordable home, drive basic vehicles, one of which is 7 years old, and do our best to ensure our lives are filled with memories and not things.

If all else fails, whenever we started to panic about money, we would look at each other and say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? They can’t kill us and eat us…’

For you, I want you and your loved ones to weather any financial storms that may be in the forecast. What action steps may be on your agenda?

‘If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.’ ~ Earl Wilson