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Volume 16, Issue 43 - October 23 - October 29, 2008
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Well-Aged Advice on Managing Hard Times

The greatest generation was formed by the Great Depression

The axiom of the decade was
Eat, drink and be merry, but
it had its corollary: For tomorrow we die.
This Fabulous Century, 1920-1930: Time.Life Books

On Oct. 24, 1929 — 79 years ago this week — the wavering stock market took the big plunge. That was only the beginning; it would be more than a decade before The Great Depression ended. It was a time to test the mettle of what historians claim would become the Greatest Generation.

Like many of my generation, I was too young to remember the big crash, having been born three years previously. By the time I was old enough to assess my surroundings, just about everyone around me was poor. One doesn’t really miss what one never had.

October 24, 2008, depression is again on the lips of the worried citizenry. This time around, things are considerably different. Our excesses top those of the ’20s many-fold; in the event of a rerun of the Great Depression, our crash could be farther reaching and even more devastating. Easy credit, much but not all of it associated with credit cards, a bigger array of pricey merchandise, fancy vacation destinations, greater acceptance of taking risks, insistence that everyone was entitled to a new home and all its amenities — and just plain wanting more: All of that has made us much more vulnerable.

We have eaten, drank and been merry, never thinking tomorrow would catch up with us.

But we also have things going that weren’t around when I was in diapers and short pants. Foremost is experience: the very lessons of the Great Depression. Also, we have in place more than a few government and business safeguards to cushion the fall.

But with more than a few people trying to save their homes and their new expensive automobiles, and with others watching their investments for retirement, college and rainy days evaporate, it’s obvious we’re on an exceptionally bumpy road with many ruts ahead. Seeing I’m older than dirt and was here the first time around, there have been some of later generations who have put this question to me: What can we expect if we fail to nip this economic downturn in the bud?

My Recipe for Making Good of Bad Times

Buying habits will change. The turnabout has reminded us what goes on a plastic card must be paid off. We could be in for a valuable lesson in frugality: Save for what you want, for when you get it paid for it is indeed a treasure. Elaborate vacations, the opera, theater, sports tickets even the movies may go. Not all those additional television channels will be affordable.

Good comes along with the bad.

Family members will get to know each other better. I recall in the Great Depression on the upright piano in our house, “Red Sails in the Sunset” was atop the many song sheets, and evenings were spent with Mother at the keyboard. We gathered around the radio for the latest episodes of Amos ’n’ Andy or Lum and Abner.

How to get along with a smaller fleet of vehicles in the driveway? Be what a family is supposed to be: together. Go to the same thing, whether it’s a PTA meeting or a church social.

Do things inside and outside the home you have paid others to do previously. Raking leaves the old-fashioned way is not only good exercise but also better for the environment than blowing them. Learning how to plant a few vegetables not only saves money but also gives you the fresh tastes to savor of food you’ve grown yourself. Dining out in a fancy restaurant is an adventure, but a meal in the kitchen is often healthier. When you read books, not words on e-mail or the web, you relearn the excitement of letting your imagination run wild. Beats many of the movies they put out these days.

Knitting, sewing, beading and crocheting have their own productive niche while conversing with family and friends or watching television. Why throw a pair of socks away because a hole is developing in the toe? Or a shirt because a button or two is missing?

Keep your spirits up. You are eating, you have a place to sleep, a family to care for and things to do that can bring and keep you closer. There have been tougher times in the past, and we — or our forbearers — have weathered the storms. No reason we can’t again.

The Missing Ingredient

A great boost in the Great Depression was the comfort of our leaders. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave one of his many fireside chats, everyone gathered around the radio and listened. Unlike our leaders of today who leave communication to underlings, FDR spoke concerned citizen to concerned citizen, explained programs and objectives and promised better days. Most of us believed him, and he proved right.

He gave us hope, the most vital ingredient of recovery. Today, do you get the impression our leaders are cooped up in a war room somewhere plotting their version of recovery oblivious to our yearning for input? I do.

Where are they when we need them and their assurances the most? Perhaps, if they shared some time and encouragement with us instead of being cloistered with the same financial wizards who got us into this mess, we’d have enough confidence in the system to already be digging ourselves out of the current troubles.

We are the ones who need the bailout, and it won’t cost hundreds of billions — just a bit of time, understanding and meaningful assurances. Then we can all begin to work together to solve this mess.

Enough said.


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