Recession Mama

{September 29, 2009}   Broke Girl Frame of Mind

By Heather

I was digging through some papers this week and found a poem that I wrote back in 1996. It’s on a torn piece of notebook paper. Just something I scribbled down one night following a frustrating day of looking for a job.  I’ve kept it tucked inside my green folder with some of my other “thoughts” and stories. I’m not sure why I still have it. I  just don’t throw that kinda stuff away. (not a pack rat, just sentimental)

The “thought” or poem really gives one a sense of my “broke girl” frame of mind. I was just moving along in slow motion, trying to keep a positive attitude. But it was hard. I was failing miserably at being a “success” and accomplishing simple tasks. Even brushing my teeth felt like a major chore.

I was just tired of searching for a job. Tired of having all of the wrong qualifications. Tired of being jerked around.

I’m pretty sure this was around the time I answered an ad for a “public relations” position. I was excited to get an interview. I went into the office and discovered over 50 other people in the room.

Great! A group interview. I hate these. But I’ve been through them before. Better shine!

No such luck. Turned out they wanted me to sell vitamins, water filters and other health crap that nobody wants.

Whoa! Pyramid scheme. I gotta get out of here.

I rushed to the door and was stopped by a very tall guy who refused to let me out. The conversation, to the best of my recollection, went down like this.

“You can’t leave in the middle of the presentation”

“I’m not doing a pyramid scheme. I thought this was a PR job.”

“No but it’s a great opportunity. Really you should sit back down. You’re really not allowed to leave.”

“Either you let me out of here or I’m calling the police and telling them that you are holding me hostage.”

He got out of my way and I went home and sobbed.

So why share this now? Especially when it was so long ago.  It just feels right. I GET IT! It’s not easy searching for a job or learning a new skill in a crap economy. Once you’ve been in this position, you can never forget.

I don’t have any great “Dear Abby” advice or pearls of wisdom here. All I know is that when you’re on the bottom there’s no place to go but up. That’s what always kept me going when the going got tough. You’ll be reminiscing about the “bad times” soon enough. Now I’m going to torture you with one of mine.




Shoestring remedies and dime store anecdotes

A handful of full of change and a hole in your pocket.


Telephone rings and you wish you hadn’t answered

One more letter and it won’t ring at all.


Looking at the want ads cuddled up in a blanket

Turned on the heat, but it only blows cold.


One more day and you’re back where you started

Two more days and your start is long gone.


Deep dark thoughts, scratch it down on some paper

A whole idea once was great now it’s gone.


Brush in time with your voice a humming

Head down lights out you’re dreaming perfect songs.




{June 6, 2009}   Gone Fishin’

 By: Liz



I have decided that job searches are a lot like fishing. Not that I go out fishing a lot mind you. You’re out at sea alone with your thoughts… and you sit there patiently waiting for something (a prospective employer) to bite. You put the bait on the hook, you throw out your lines, and then… you wait… and wait, and wait some more. When you finally do get a bite, you than have to decide if that’s the kind of fish (job) you want? If the fish you spent all that time catching is big enough (paycheck) to feed your family dinner? For you to eat (live off of) in the future? Will there be any (bonuses) leftovers?  If you like it, you put it in the boat, take it home with you and you subsist off of it. Your fishing trip was a success. If not, you throw it back in (turn it down) leaving it for someone else to catch.

You’re throwing out all these lines day after day, month after month, and still what happens if you don’t get any bites? How do you catch the BIG FISH?


How do you even know if there is a nibble? If your bait (resume) is even eye catching enough to be seen by someone who can actually help you get hired? How do you change the bait when the bait is you? How do you get bigger or better or seem tastier to employers especially when all the things that make you different and help you to stand out are being taken away? Because the current process; build a profile, go to our website, and upload your resume leaves you no room for creativity at all. All you get is to cut and paste your resume into a box and send it into the internet sea if you’re lucky you get to add extra bait (a cover letter) in the hopes that it soon will be read.

 It’s like you threw bread into a coy pond. The fish fight, fight, fight over just one crumb. Plus, even though there are hundreds of thousands of people like myself out of work it feels seriously lonely in my boat.


I got to thinking about how your parents always said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Boy, when you become an adult do you realize just how finite finances really are. That no matter how much you have it never seems to be enough. Your parents weren’t really trying to deprive you of anything they were just trying to provide everything they could. There are just limits (credit card and otherwise) that you just can’t afford to max out. As a child you don’t have a concept of that? You don’t see that… because all you see is the Easy Bake Oven, or the Snoopy SnoCone Machine, or the new must have outfit of the moment… right in front of you. All you know is you’re not getting it.

 money tree

 What I have learned is that it’s actually more expensive to be out of work than it is to have a job. There are expenses that you just didn’t realize the cost of (health care, life insurance, medicine) or that you didn’t have before because your employer was paying for them, or you were, especially when you find out Cobra costs this single person $508.03 a month. When you don’t have a job or you have a part-time job how do you foot the bill for that… and any unexpected expenses.

At some point you may have to ask for help… it’s just a matter of whom you’ll ask?

j0387248CATCH 22

Yes, unemployment benefits are great. Applying for them makes me feel sad . When you don’t have a job… you don’t get to keep tons of pride… in fact you better be prepared to give a ton of it up.  Sucking up, brown nosing, kissing butt… Learn it, know it, perfect it. 42-15348570

There’s a lot of competition out there and companies know it. They will give the job to someone younger; someone they can train, with less experience and workplace expectations than you.  Read: Cheaper and less complicated.


It seems that companies and employers are holding all the cards right now. The perks are gone.   They expect you to take less money to work longer hours, accept more responsibility and handle more stress. Face time just got all the more important. Who knew looks meant so much and we’re not talking about actual physical beauty? Be seen. Be noticed. Be there and be unforgettable. Forget about more flexible schedules, or hours, even taking a vacation. Because the question becomes; will your job be there for you when you get back?


Because let me let you in on a little unemployment benefits secret. When you earn over $100 a week, working your part-time job to keep you in the black, they start docking your benefits. So you have to balance what you are gaining with the money you are now losing. Is it worth it? Yes and No. It depends on your current situation. What’s so strange and I don’t quite understand this, is how unemployment rewards you for not working? Isn’t that the point of the benefit in the first place? To get you out there and working full-time so you become a contributing member of society again? It’s a cycle, a really bad one. That becomes tougher to break, especially when it is easier to stay home, twiddle your thumbs, and do nothing because you earn more money.  How is that really helping put people back to work? 


{May 28, 2009}   Guilty Shopper

By: Heather

Mamas and Papas. I’m a guilty shopper. But I’ve done a little shopping lately.


Let me explain. If it’s for me, I usually hesitate.  But if it’s for the kids or the house, I usually don’t feel guilty.

I guess we all have our limits and splurges.

I still set limits on what I’m willing to spend. And I shop by looking at the price tag FIRST.

My husband is very generous and he tells me not to worry.

“If you want it, get it.” he says. But I still feel guilty if it’s for me.

But this week I pushed my guilt aside and finally bought my mother’s day gift. I got a cream colored soft leather purse that hugs me like it’s in love. I’ve been searching for a white/cream colored purse for years but have never really found one I like, at the price I like.

I asked the sales lady several times if the bag was on sale. She repeatedly said no. But I decided to “let go” of the guilt and buy it.


But wait a minute. There are people out of work who can’t pay their rent, who are struggling to buy food. How can you spend that much money on a purse? Ridiculous!

Perhaps. But it doesn’t stop there. I also bought my husband two pairs of leather flip flops and a purse for my mother’s birthday and ordered some dress shoes for myself.

I’m horrible right? I felt a little sick when I handed over my debit card to pay for the purchase. I just kept thinking, “How can I have so much, when some people have so little? I should just put it back and be happy with what I’ve got.”

“I know. I probably shouldn’t get all of this”, I tell the clerk, “but it’s really good quality and hard to pass up. And I can never find shoes that fit me.”

Side bar: My feet are really narrow and it’s almost impossible to find shoes that fit.  So when they do fit, I get them.

“Can I return these if I change my mind?”


“I just feel a little guilty.” I say.

“Well if you can afford it, then I say spend it.” replies the clerk. “It helps us out.”

Hmmm. The comment hit me like a meatball sandwich.

“It helps us out.”

cash register

That’s so true. If everyone stops buying just because they “feel guilty” then the economy will really crash and burn. I wonder if some of our “hesitation to buy” has actually costs people their jobs.

I hope that my purchases will help keep someone employed, and they in turn will keep buying their morning coffee, which will keep the barista employed, which will help them pay for college, which will help their parents financially, which means they can pay for their cleaning lady, which means she can buy groceries for her family.

It’s a big circle. It may seem unfair that some people can spend money on so-called frivolous things. But  here’s my question– “Doesn’t that help the economy?”

My purchases will not break my bank. And I will use everything for a LONG time. Plus we donate to charity, our church and help friends and family when they’re in need. So maybe I should NOT feel guilty. Maybe I should feel good about helping the economy. And hopefully that’ll keep people working too!


By: Heather 

Hey mamas and papas. We’ve all had a car that we’ve loved or hated at one point. But what happens when you finally own your dream car and then LOSE your job? I’ve been there. Sort of. When it happened to me I was driving a Ford F150 extended cab, with chrome wheels and a great stereo. It had two gas tanks and I could never afford to fill them up at the same time. But I thought it was cool anyway. It was safe and  intimidating on the road. It was definitely a conversation starter.


Ok. It WAS an odd choice for a woman. It was really more of a high school boy’s dream car, but it worked for me.  I moved a lot so it made sense to have a truck. I also got a good deal. I could never count on a man to loan me his truck or help me move, so I decided that if a girl and I couldn’t move it, then I couldn’t have it. I didn’t own a full length sofa until I was married. I could move everything I owned with the truck in two trips.

He did have a name by the way. It was BART– Big Ass Red Truck. We stuck together through some tough financial times. We eventually parted ways. (he drank too much… gas that is)


My fabulous friend Marie is having a rough time right now. She’s out of work, but isn’t ready to give up her dream car. I can’t blame her. Read her story and you’ll understand why.

By: Marie

I’m not selling my car.  No No No No NO!   I love my car.  Unemployed or not, that isn’t going to happen. If I have to live in the back seat and install a commode in the trunk I’ll do it.

Her name is Sophie.  If you haven’t named your car you should.  Cars are very special people-type things.  They get us home safely in the rain and plug along during long trips.  Every time I make it home safely after a difficult drive I give Sophie a pat on her dashboard and tell her she did a good job. 

Sophie getting Marie into trouble

Sophie getting Marie into trouble

Sophie is a magnetic grey, tan topped 2008 Toyota Solara Convertible.  Sexy.  And when the top is down and it is 103 degrees in Dallas I look hot!! 

So when one of my friends says “you can always sell that car of yours” I say NO! 

What does it matter that I umm…. paid cash for the car.  I don’t like debt.  I like money, but I don’t like debt.  Dad taught me to only charge  if I could go home and write a check for the same amount.   

Two weeks after Sophie came into my life my company announced it was closing.   Yeah, yeah, yeah there were signs.  But we thought we could pull it out.  Didn’t work.   When I said two weeks, I meant two weeks. Sophie came home on November 26thand CompUSA announced it was sold/closing on Dec 7th.    

I volunteered to stay on and go down with the ship.  I did… and the ship did sink.  My last day was mid-February, 2008.  We’re in 2009 now.  So I am quite qualified to be a Recession Mama.   According to that is 440 days.  Of course that includes weekends, and when you are counting the days of unemployment you like to subtract out the days of the week you wouldn’t have worked anyway.  It’s a psych yourself out game.  

I’m working a temp job now.  And I have to tell you, it ain’t me.  It is 33.454% of my old salary.  I know because I constantly do the calculation just in case division tables have changed.  They haven’t.   

Thanks to Dad’s financial lessons I still have the first dollar I ever earned.  (I did come close to spending it one time)

  I’ve always been able to find a job. And I’ve been offered every job I’veapplied for…except for one time.  Well, maybe two times.  I don’t count the time that my infant nephew drooled in my eye and gave me pinkeye.  Apparently it wasn’t the look that Neiman Marcus wanted when I went in for my interview the next morning. 

So, tomorrow morning I will trudge to my temporary job. Sophie will be waiting for me at the end of the day.   I will put the top down, crank up the tunes and smile all the way home. 


I LOVE music! I absolutely couldn’t live without it. It’s a necessity along with food, water and shelter. When I need to think or just “figure” things out, I grab my IPOD and just start walking. I pound the pavement and breathe in the polluted air. It makes everything come into focus for me. It also inspires me. For example, Lilly Allen’s “LDN” makes me want to ride a bike and wave at people, Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” invites me to roller skate (shoot the duck anyone?) Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You” gets me to speed walk and Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” makes me wish I could sing in a bar.
So how does music relate to the recession you ask? Everything! Well, for me anyway. It’s just my little coping mechanism to deal with all of life’s little “monkey wrenches” or the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly says in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling? –Holly Golightly

It’s no surprise that I remember exactly what I was listening to the day I rolled into Dallas. I was broke, jobless, exhausted and uncertain about what I was going to do. I had been living in Arkansas. And when I realized that wasn’t going to work out, I Ieft. I literally packed up my old junkyard car and left in the middle of the night. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I was just suffocating. I couldn’t breathe. So I just turned to my life in Arkansas and said “See ya later.” And I drove off.
I felt better with every mile… every hour on the road. I had made a decision. It was done. No turning back now.

I had been so paralyzed with fear, with indecision, that it felt good to make a choice. My so-called career wasn’t going as planned. I was out of money, and didn’t have an apartment or a home to call my own. I had exhausted all of my other “options.” So, I took a friend’s offer to crash at her apartment in Dallas.

I called my mom along the road and told her I was headed to the big “D.”

“Do you have a job?” she asked.

“Nope. I’m going to stay and a friend’s apartment and look for one.”

“Well good luck and wear your seat belt.” she said
I don’t think she was going for a metaphor with the “seat belt” comment. But it could’ve applied.

It was really going to be a bumpy ride financially and emotionally. But I had no idea how hard it would actually be. That’s the thing with change. It’s usually painful in the beginning. But that’s part of the beauty.
See here’s the music again… That brings to mind Tom Petty.
Gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’

While driving to my new life in Dallas I blared folk singer Iris DeMent. It gave me some peace to connect with someone else who had struggled. I played “No Time To Cry” over and over.

Here are some of the lyrics:


But now I’m walking and I’m talking doing just what I’m supposed to do
working overtime to make sure that I don’t come unglued
I guess I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry

The chorus:

I’ve got no time to look back, I’ve got no time to see
the pieces of my heart that have been ripped away from me
and if the feeling starts to coming, I’ve learned to stop ’em fast
`cause I don’t know, if I let them go, they might not wanna pass
And there’s just so many people trying to get me on the phone
and there’s bills to pay, and songs to play, and a house to make a home
I guess I’m older now and I’ve got no time to cry

Oddly, I also found some comfort and strength in Waylon Jennings version of Luckenbach, TX.

So baby let’s sell your diamond ring
Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away
This coat and tie is choking me
In your high society you cry all day
We’ve been so busy keepin’ up with the Jones
Four car garage and we’re still building on
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love

See even rich folks have problems too!

Lately, I’ve been pulling out my upbeat songs because I need energy for my next big project. It’s directly related to the crumbling housing market. We can’t sell a property for lot value, so we’re going to fix up the home and try to lease it. It’s a major task. Holy demolition Batman!

I’ll have more details and pictures on Thursday. They should help explain why the economy has rekindled my hatred for wallpaper and brass knobs.
Ahhh.. Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” just popped into my head.


At the end of every party, someone usually cries, fights or has a complete meltdown. It happens almost every time. My son’s 5th birthday was no different. There were a few tears here and there. A quick little argument between two girls about who would sit by the birthday boy. (he is adorable you know) And then there was the meltdown after the party was over. (nobody wants to leave a bouncy house)

I think the same could be said about the economy. Most Americans have enjoyed these prosperous years. There seemed to be plenty of jobs, real estate was solid and Wall Street was a good thing not a dirty word. But the party is over. And some folks are crying, fighting and having meltdowns.
People bought homes they couldn’t afford, racked up credit card debt and lived way beyond their means. Now they’re throwing a temper tantrum because they can’t have what they want.

Yes, we’re grownups but many of us still act like children. I can be one of them at times. I know I need to be reserved in this economy, but there’s a part of me that silently screams: “I want it, I need it, I really gotta have it.”

But wait a minute. Am I not the mother who tells her children to be happy with what they’ve got? Yes. That’s me.

In fact, that same phrase flew out of my mouth after my son opened nearly 20 birthday gifts from friends. He was thrilled with every rip and tug of the wrapping paper. He was enjoying himself so much I can honestly say he exclaimed “Look what they got me! I never knew I always wanted this!”

And bam! That phrase woke up the former broke girl in me. I stood there looking at all of the generous gifts, the piles of wrapping paper and started to worry that maybe my son would have a skewed sense of reality.
About that time he said.
“Is that it?” “Can I please open one more gift?”

“No!” I say. “That’s it” “Be happy with what you’ve got!”

Now most kids would throw a fit and stomp their feet at this point. But surprisingly he didn’t. He just said “Ok.” And then insisted that I get some double “A” batteries so he could fire up a robot.

He’s a good kid. A sweet boy. He just loves getting toys. Anything really. You could wrap up a pine cone as a gift and he would still be excited.

Grownups love the thrill of getting something new too. It’s just human nature. We NEED the basics. But we WANT a lot of things. And our “toys” just happen to be a little more expensive.

I didn’t have much when I was broke. But at least it was mine. And I had a few friends and family that would’ve crawled through glass just to help me. And that was really all I needed.

So my former broke girl has a challenge for you. Just look around. Just stand in a room, take a moment and look around. Look at your family and friends. Catalog all of the important things in your life.

Maybe times are tuff right now and you’re really not sure how this party is going to end. You may not have a job, a home or savings. But STOP looking at all of the things you don’t have… And just be happy with what you’ve got.

There’s plenty of “good stuff” if you look hard enough.


{April 7, 2009}   Tired Broke

Mamas and papas (thanks Craig!) I’m not sure where to start but I feel I must share what being broke and sick of the job search means to me. It’s absolute EXHAUSTION. There have been times when I wasn’t sure how everything was going to work out. But I kept the faith and just kept going. I would always tell myself  “Keep moving, keep trying, keep the faith. It will pass. It will change. It can’t last forever.” It did pass. It did change. But it would take a long time.

During one of my longest struggles I scribbled in my trusty note book the following words. I’ve kept them for a long time. I’ve never known what to do with them. But it feels right to share them now. (interpret them how you want) 

“Exhaustion drapes over me like an old overcoat, tattered and torn I’ve got my strap stuck in the door. Twisting and pulling and crushing my bones. One more step… I can”t find the courage. ”

For a while, I had just about given up on finding security. I know it sounds dramatic. But honestly when you are on your own, you’re on your own. It’s frightening and exhausting. I never thought that my life could be so good because I struggled so long. But it is. 

Financially, I’m not struggling now. But once you’ve been broke you can never forget. And right now my survival instincts have kicked in. It doesn’t matter how much money is in the bank. I’ll always worry. I just can’t help it. 

I am cutting back. Sure, I could do more. But I can’t FIRE the people that depend on me for their livelihood. I just can’t. I’ll give up a few things to keep them employed.

Yes. Right now I may live in a wonderful neighborhood, drive a nice car, and have beautiful things. But that doesn’t make me immune to the economy. I think about it everyday. And right now my former “broke” self is whispering little lessons in my ear. I hope you will listen to them in the weeks ahead. Some are sad… most are funny. I’m sure you can relate. 


et cetera