Welcome to life in a recession


Is there anyone left who hasn’t heard by now that the world is in the throes of an economic crisis? Even if you sidestepped your high school economics course, you are now receiving an applied education in how financial markets and the banking industry function.

Ironically, it has reached the point that those whose bread and butter is reporting bad news are now anxious to report any shred of good news that surfaces. So that if the stock market goes up a few points it will likely lead news reports.

Nevertheless, layoffs and the large-scale cutting of staff at big companies keep coming. Statistics Canada this week released information indicating more than half a million people applied for employment insurance in January, an increase of almost 16 per cent over the previous two months. And there were 10,000 bankruptcies in January, an increase of 2.9 per cent over December 2008.

For a significant portion of the world population – and many here in Toronto are no exception – an unremitting state of economic crisis is what they refer to as their daily life. We who live on faith when it comes to meeting our financial needs and obligations say to the rest of you ‘welcome to our world’.

For those who are worried about it, you can slide down the economic ladder and still maintain your dignity, still have food, clothing and shelter. While it is not anyone’s concept of an ideal, the man who somehow manages to blend pride with humility while picking through the garbage container or other refuse outside a café for food can teach some of us that the pursuit of the middle-class standard is not the only way to live.

If you have recently been laid off or become otherwise unemployed, one of the first adjustments to make, after the shock wears off, is to lower your expenses. That could mean moving to more affordable housing. Now is a good time to move because any number of people who invested in the real estate market when it was red hot are looking for renters to help carry their costs in order to keep their properties.

Consider giving up your car and switching to public transportation, or using your car less often. Or, if you and your family use more than one car, now may be the time to give up one of them since the average cost of operating a car is about $9,000 annually. Also, given that the cost per week for cigarettes is between $20 and $30, now would be a good time to quit smoking.

If the recession has given you more free time, why not take a course to upgrade or expand your skills and knowledge in an area you’ve long been interested in, but had no time for before.

For those who had the same job for a lengthy period, welcome to the world of the ‘hustle’. This is the world in which you are essentially self-employed and you seek out a range of clients and sources to ply your craft or your trade. Think of it as fundamental entrepreneurship. You are a one-man or one-woman company with a service or a skill to deliver to whomever requires it.

I know a man who, for years, was a working musician and now ekes out a living as a house painter as well as doing small-scale home repairs. He’s always busy due to word-of-mouth referrals since there are many older folks who need the help of a handyman. He manages to maintain a good sense of humour and looks back with fondness on his past career, but is fully engaged as well in his current one.

Now is a good time to question what it is we really need to go forward in our personal and community life. In these challenging times the strategy is to be creative and to maintain a positive, can do state of mind. Some good has to come of it since many great advancements and successes have their genesis in times of desperation. This recession can serve as a time for assessing one’s priorities and re-establishing core values away from the insatiable grasping that marked the preceding decades.

On a related note…

Have you noticed that those alcohol-medicated guys asking for spare change on the city sidewalks most often hold out battered Tim Hortons coffee cups? I guess it’s because using Starbucks cups could send the message that they didn’t really need the money?

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