By Alex Blackwell.

The Blackwell family recently passed their own Economic Stimulus Package. The slow economy and resulting recession is playing havoc with our family budget. The rising cost of groceries (I paid over $4 for a box of breakfast cereal last night) is putting a substantial dent in our checkbook. More disturbing, though, is my home’s energy bill in February was more than the monthly rent of our first apartment.

My family’s budgetary challenges are only a snapshot of what’s happening across the country and around the world. While mortgage foreclosures and stock market losses is playing a significant role in shaping the worst recession since The Great Depression, perhaps the greatest impact of this financial crisis is how the unemployment rate is rising at an frightening rate.

Behind the unemployment reports and statistics are real people who find themselves without jobs, but with bills which still need to be paid and children who still need shelter and the certainty their next meal is coming.

Consider these facts: (source:

  • The unemployment rate in the United States is now 8.1%
  • 651,000 jobs were lost in February, 2009
  • 12.5 million jobs have disappeared since the recession began in December, 2007
  • 8.6 million Americans have been forced to work part-time because of economic reasons from their employer
  • Economists believe the jobless rate will hit 9.5% by year’s end and will approach 10% by the end of 2010. 10% means one out of every 10 Americans will not have a job.

Frugal living, but with compassion

No question my family has to make deliberate decisions about how we spend our money. Our stimulus package calls for cutting back on non-essential items. For example, I did not purchase Kansas City Royals season tickets this year, we are shortening our vacation from two weeks to one and Mary Beth decided not to attend a professional development seminar that would have given her a new skill to incorporate into her practice.
Instead, our plan is to hold on to this money and use it to help others who could be facing unemployment , the collapse of a small business or to help put food on someone’s plate. Our country is facing a serious financial and social dilemma right now – how do we tighten our belts and at the same time help keep others from losing their jobs?

Frugal living means living on less money. It means sticking to a budget, saving more money than we spend, and finding ways to reduce debt in order to make the most out the money we have.

Compassionate living means showing kindness and consideration to others. When we don’t show grace and love to others, we prevent grace and love from coming into our lives. True compassion is not just an emotional response, but a deliberate commitment based on being part of the human condition.

Frugal living, but with compassion can exist when we make the choice to make each a priority. The following are some examples of how my family is attempting to achieve both:

1.) Dining Out. Mary Beth and I love eating at a good restaurant. The issue becomes how we can continue this pleasure on our budget while at the same time supporting the local restaurant owners, servers and kitchen staff.

To address this, we have started the habit of sitting at the bar and ordering an appetizer, one salad and one meal to share. Restaurants that once frowned on meal sharing are now more relaxed about it. Sitting at the bar also sets a different expectation with the restaurant staff.

2.) Alternating lawn care responsibilities. I was watching a television news program recently about how one family in Arizona was dealing with the recession. The person interviewed reported he pulled the plug on his lawn care company as a way to cut expenses.

Instead, he would have his son attend to those responsibilities. But what happens if more families cancel their lawn care service? Chances are very good the unemployment rate will nudge higher once again.
The company I use to maintain my lawn is also a neighbor. Instead of cancelling the service all together, the arrangement will be to alternate between when he takes care of the lawn and when I do. I will still save 50% from what I paid last year, yet keep some needed cash flow coming in for my neighbor and his employees.

3.) Cutting back on haircuts. Since I now keep my hair short, I’m able to stretch the interval between my haircuts from three weeks to five. I still visit the salon to give them my business, only a little less frequently now.

4.) Prioritizing home repair projects. Our house is eight-years-old. It needs painting, new water facets, tile in the laundry room and carpet for the basement. Our first task in tackling these projects is to make a list. The list will not only prioritize what we need to do, but also who needs to do them.

Mary Beth and I can take care of the simpler projects and we will hire professionals to help with the more complex ones. By outsourcing some of our home projects, we are helping local businesses and their workers keep busy. By doing some projects ourselves, we are putting a little bit back into our budget.

5.) Living within our means. If we can’t afford to pay cash, then we aren’t going to buy it. This is a simple, but powerful frugal living concept. We will save until we can use cash - and then we will only pay in cash, not credit.
My wife and I will continue to make purchases that will stimulate the economy. However, putting ourselves deeper into debt to do so will not help anyone. We have the responsibility to plan wisely and spend responsibility. Everyone will benefit from taking such a common sense and practical approach. Bottom line: We can’t help others if we are not in a position to help ourselves.

The resources we have in this world do not belong to us. When our time in this world is over we will not be taking anything with us. But what we can take is the growth our souls will experience by showing compassion to others. If you are able to plant a few more seeds than you have been, you will be able to harvest a crop that will sustain you and will help nourish everyone you touch.

Economic downturns are cyclic. This current recession will soon give way to the next financial boom. The lessons learned from this slump can be broader than how we learned to stretch our budgets or live more frugally. The awareness we gain and the actions we take can last within us forever.

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