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The Question Man

By John Fox · February 18th, 2009 · Editorial

Over the past month my wife and I have spent a lot of time analyzing our household budget. We’ve started collecting every receipt and allotting certain amounts for groceries, restaurants and entertainment.

We’ve always lived frugally, but we’ve never counted pennies the way we are now. Like most of you, we have little to “fall back on” in terms of savings — and the little savings we do have, namely our 401k plans, lost 40 percent of their value last year.

Have you noticed that companies you pay bills to — Duke Energy, credit cards, the mortgage loan — are depositing your checks faster than ever? It happened to me again this morning, when a company beat my guess by a day and overdrew my checking account.

Yeah, I shouldn’t be playing the float and trying to time when checks will be deposited, but what can I do? Every day and every dollar is critical right now.

Having said all that, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Both my wife and I are still employed, we have health insurance and we’re managing to keep all the financial balls in the air.

In tough economic times like these, you’re reminded how interconnected we all are: When we pinch pennies at home, our favorite restaurants lose business, they lay off waitstaff or buy fewer products from Findlay Market vendors, who spend less to advertise in CityBeat or decide not to open that second location in a vacant storefront in a neighborhood business district, which loses existing tenants because the street looks deserted.

And yet how can you not focus on yourself in these times? I’d love to renew memberships at the public radio station or the zoo, but maybe this is the year we do without.

The cornerstone of the concept of community — whether it’s your neighborhood, Greater Cincinnati or the country as a whole — is that Americans understand we all live better if we work together. We look out for each other, particularly the less fortunate among us.

But what happens when we’re all less fortunate? Do you start to pull in a bit, circle the wagons and recategorize “community” as those under your roof or those to whom you’re related by blood? If that happens, do others outside that tight circle become “others?” Or do you continue to reach out, share what little you have and have faith that better days are just around the corner?

Honestly, though, are better days around the corner?

Every government body — from local school systems to Hamilton County to the states to Congress — is running a deficit. And the best solution the best minds could come up with is for the federal government to print more money, hand it out to state and local projects and let it filter down eventually to neighborhoods, schools and, oh yeah, us.

The stimulus plan does include tax cuts, of course, which are estimated to equal about $16 per week in savings for a married couple. Does that scenario dramatically change your lifestyle? Me neither.

Since I’m counting every dollar, $16 a week helps. But that money likely is going to help pay down credit card debt instead of funding a new car or a nice birthday present.

What are you going to do with the extra $16 a week or, if you’re single, $8 a week? Are you going to hang onto it or pass it through to your community? Are you going to save or invest? Will it make a difference? Will it stimulate you?

Sorry, but a lot of questions this week and few answers.

CONTACT JOHN FOX: jfox@citybeat.com



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