Updated on 03.03.09

What Do You See?

Trent Hamm

brown bearOne of the most cherished children’s books at our house for years has been Eric Carle’s classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Both my son and my daughter fell in love with the book around eighteen months of age – now, my son (who is a bit over three) is actually able to read Brown Bear to his little sister.

Over time, the book evolved into something of a game that I’ll play sometimes with my son. We’ll be looking at something together and I’ll point out a feature that I notice, then ask him “What do you see?” Then, he’ll point out some feature. It’s a simple little thing we do together.

What’s interesting, though, is that he’ll often point out something that I don’t even notice or recognize. Sometimes, he’ll just misidentify something – at other times, he’ll notice a detail I don’t notice. Even more interesting, sometimes he’ll recognize or see something that I’ve simply missed or that he sees completely differently than I do.

Over the last several months, as people have become more and more concerned about the downturn in our economy, many people are seeing doom and gloom in the economy. For example, many of my readers have sent me clips and commentary in which Peter Schiff predicts what amounts to the end of the United States and ask for my reaction to it.

At the same time, I look out there and I actually see a lot of positive economic news. I don’t believe the United States is headed for apocalypse at all – I just see a pretty strong recession that’s in the process of resolving itself.

It’s a difference in perspective. Schiff lives in a world of high finance – the very area where there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s to come in the future in the aftermath of their bubble popping. My perspective is quite a bit different – I tend to look at what ordinary people are doing and thinking about. I see people that are worried and acting more conservatively with their money, but their optimism is still there. Almost all of them still get up and go to work and stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Schiff’s perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if the financial world goes topsy turvy. My perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if half the people in my town are in line at a soup kitchen.

What do you see?

One of the big complaints I get about The Simple Dollar is that I sap all of the fun out of life by being too cheap. I get emails where people call me a big cheapskate and a loser that has no fun in life. On the other hand, I see myself as simply having interests and hobbies that are substantially different than the person who wrote to me. For example, I consider it a gratuitous waste of time to send insulting emails to people whose blog writings I disagree with – not a hobby I see value in.

I get other, rational emails where people argue that it’s not time effective for them to change to more efficient light bulbs because they will only save $3 over the next year with that bulb.

I tend to not see myself as cheap at all, just analytic. I tend to be willing to try lots of things, but the things that stick with me and become a part of my normal behavior are the things that obviously pay off over the long haul. I’m willing to invest hours of work right now if I can see that I’ll make a good hourly rate for that work over the next few years. I also prescribe a lot of value to doing things that I enjoy – cooking, brewing beer, playing games, gardening, and so on.

What do you see?

Personal finance, like so many other things, is a matter of perspective. We all bring different life experiences to the table – and we all wind up better if we share those ideas in a rational and useful fashion. The more ideas you understand, the stronger your own views and ideas become.

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  1. I have to agree with you on this one Trent. Life is all about perspective. Just as people think you’re a cheapskate, I’m sure there are people that think that my wife and I are crazy for having kids so early and that we should “enjoy” life more. Kids are what we enjoy.

    You can always find people that will disagree with you. The fact is, you probably disagree with them. In my opinion, that’s what makes life more interesting — a variety of opinion.

  2. jan rowley says:

    I agree about not wasting your time to comment on blogs that you totally disagree with. I can find better things to do with my time. I like your blog because it makes sense. We can save money painlessly and maintain a comfortable standard of living by being careful. I made fun of my dad when I was a kid when he bragged about the good deals he got at the grocery store and now I do the same thing. Dad was pretty smart actually.

  3. thomassee says:

    I see
    a column I enjoy reading
    which frequently adds
    nuggets of insight
    into my quest
    to live simply
    Thanks so much
    for providing it

  4. Kevin says:


    I love the blog and the way you connect with your readers. Your articles about frugality and personal finance are great. Your personal story and conversion to righting your financial situation is compelling.

    But posts like this just leave me scratching my head.

    If you are analytical and have good reason to be optimistic about the economy, it’d be great if you’d share EXACTLY what all the “positive economic news” you see IS.

    The economic news today – both leading and lagging indicators – is substantively more negative than it was a year ago, and even six months ago. Unemployment, PMI, consumer confidence, housing starts and existing home sales, home values, the financial markets, trucking and rail traffic, GDP growth – ALL of them show no signs of resolution, no signs of improvement. I’m not wishing this on anyone, but these are the facts.

    Saying things are positive is ok – but it’d be nice if you backed up your positive attitude with some data.

    Otherwise posts like this one seem as hollow as a campaign promise.

  5. I see that, in this recession vs. previous ones, it’s now much easier for people to start up mini and microbusinesses via the internet, which even gives access to international markets. This may not provide each person with a full living: but for a significant proportion it may mean the difference between going under and scraping along.

    We have tools now we just didn’t have in previous years: I think this will smooth over the bumps for a lot of us.

  6. Gabriel says:

    Fantastic post. It’s true that perspective is nearly everything. Economically things may be bad. That doesn’t mean that it is the END OF EVERYTHING! or that we need to stop having fun. In hearing stories about the great depression, it seems like some families would dissolve and others would pull together and end up being much closer and happier. It all depends.

    theBadLibrarian, that’s a great point about online businesses! I have a couple of online ventures, including a blog about ways to make money outside of a traditional job. I think it’s a message that more people need to hear!

  7. Abby says:

    Bravo, Trent! I don’t want to downplay the severity of the current recession. Certainly it has hit some families, some regions and some industries like a freight train. But the claims that the apocalypse is here and we’d best hoard canned goods? I don’t buy it.

    My husband works in finance. Yes, it is grim. But my neighbor works in continuing education for adults – they’re booming, as more workers head back to brush up on skills or transition to a new field.

    The world is changing, but it isn’t ending.

  8. Beautiful Post! I think it is so important to be aware of how YOU see things, and not get caught up in the gloom and doom of media images and messages. One of my favorite positive perspectives is Ode Magazine. I love sharing this with folks because it has been a fantastic resource for me to recieve life-affirming, positive and intelligent news from around the world.

  9. Stacy says:

    My husband and many of our friends are in construction, and currently are not working, but I’m still not seeing any panic amongst us. We’ll all get through it, even if we have to take jobs working fast food and tightening belts even more than we already are. I appreciate your not going into panic mode as well.

    On another note, I laughed at your mention of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, since my 16-month old has forced me to read it to her 8 times already this morning….

  10. Suzy says:

    This is simple, beautifully expressed, and speaks to the idea that everything is about perspective, baby, perspective. I spiral into money panic sometimes too, but then I remember that I am loved, I have people that I love, and that even if half of us were in food lines, there would be stories of some of the other half of us helping.
    It’s all perspective. S.

  11. Daisy says:

    It infuriates me that you get such negative emails! The feeling of freedom from debt is such an incredible feeling; perhaps these people are in such a large hole that they can’t possibly conceieve it or they’ve never been there, but regardless, its something we should all achieve for, even if it means cutting down on the materialism.

    When I hear about people that are so rude, I just think that people like us (with money sense) will have the last laugh when we’re living comfortably in retirement while those others are trying to find a job at 70 something years old because they have (unsurprisingly) outlived their money.

    Sorry, I’m off my soapbox now.

  12. lee says:

    I agree with you that things are changing, and that all is not gloom and doom as so many are fond of lamenting. The media certainly isn’t helping in this regard, with their discouraging headlines. And don’t even get me started on how the banks themselves have contributed to this.

    A little optimism can take us a long way. When people stop freaking out, and start moving on with their lives, the economy will settle down and things will improve.

    No, we have not come through this unscathed, but so far we’re managing.

  13. momof4 says:

    Clearly people have different ideas of fun. I think that making my own bread, growing some of my own food etc is tremendous fun. There is joy in finding a way to save a bit more so that My family and I can enjoy the humble life we have with 4 kids and me working minimally outside the home. What could be better? I don’t always agree with you but I love the effort you put into your blog and you have a great community of readers.

  14. Studenomics says:

    I think the reason people refer to others as cheap is because they wish they could save money. Since they are not good with their finances they choose to call those that are good with money “cheap.” We should start calling them stupid or lazy because for us it makes no sense to spend more money on something when we could save.

  15. Nick Dunlap says:

    @ Kevin

    The media seems to report whatever gets the most readers and viewers(i.e whatever gets the most money). Happy positive articles don’t seem to get as many readers as negative and scary articles. Just yesterday I read an article on newyorktimes.com that reported positive signs is several housing markets in the U.S., but they managed to put a negative spin on it. Why?

    In my opinion, many of the problems we are currently having are a direct result of consumer fear. What causes the fear? It seems that much of it is caused by nothing substantive, but simply reports heard on T.V. and read in the paper. I admit that this is not the only cause of the fear, but probably a good bit of it. Again, in my opinion, a lot of what is happening in our economy can be changed by seeing things in a positive, fear-free light.

  16. Sonya says:

    i regularly read your blog and im a 22 year old college student and i just do not understand some of the negative comments you recieve either. i guess i have to much going on in my life to comment when i really connect or feel positive with a blog then to actually post a negative comment!! anyway i think you do a great job and i agree with looking things with a positive attitude,

    soo i guess what i am saying is keep up the great work, maybe all your tips or story dont always apply to me but last time i checked you were the writer on simple dollar not us. so if someone can use the tip or taking something away, great. if not. hit another link.

  17. Kevin says:

    @ Nick:

    I agree with you to an extent. The situation has no doubt been exacerbated by negative talking heads and to a degree, by the President himself speaking of “catastrophe(s)” and the like.

    The stock market certainly falls prey to this, and to a degree the economy does as well, as consumers lose confidence. Nearly 70% of GDP is from consumption, and as consumers get battered by the news and negative attitudes, it certainly doesn’t help things.

    Where I disagree with you is in the idea that “many” of our problems are the DIRECT result of consumer fear. They are the direct result of the housing market collapse and the credit crisis. Consumer fear is just the icing on the cake.

    The underlying fundamentals are not positive. There is a housing crisis. There is a credit crisis. The financial sector is a mess.

    We need to see some positive indicators – the housing market hitting bottom, a rebalancing of inventories and sales, the PMI rising, and so forth – before things will start to turn around.

    What I was taking exception to was the comment that there is “a lot of positive economic news.”

    A simple question: WHERE?

  18. honestb says:

    As a history student who studies, among other things, the Great Depression, I’d say I agree with you Trent, that comparisons to to Great Depression are way overblown. I mean, pretty much everyone I know has shoes, still, even homeless folks.

    However, I’ve got to join in with others in questioning this “positive economic news” you’re telling us about. The only thing positive about the Economy right now is that it could still get a lot worse. In my hometown, which is probably one of the least affected places on the planet (Calgary, Alberta) people I know looking for jobs (in what’s still considered a hot market) are having a lot of difficulty, and stories of big layoffs and hiring freezes are pretty run of the mill.

    Historically speaking, this isn’t nearly as bad as the Great Depression, or the Post-WWI depression that hit Canada (but the US largely avoided), or any of the major cyclical depressions before the advent of the Welfare State. It is at least as bad if not worse than the recession of the 1980s, the worst one most people reading this are likely to remember.

    I base this on Unemployment, largely, which is a more reliable measure of the health of the economy than the Dow Jones or other stock index. Like the recession of the 1980s, we can expect very slow recovery, because many of the jobs lost are gone for good.

    In short Trent, I think your positive attitude, while perhaps well-founded in your situation, is a little bit out of sync with what’s happening. For people who are likely to keep their jobs, riding this one out should be fairly doable (and, because of deflation in consumer goods, maybe even better than before the downturn), but for the probably 10% or more people that are going to experience unemployment at some point during this crisis, they have every reason to be very deeply worried. I’m going to be done my undergrad in a year’s time, and I’m really not sure if there’s going to be a career around to start.

  19. Lynne says:

    I see…..someone whose blog teaches responsibility with some guidance. A blog I enjoy reading and have encouraged others to read –including my college bound children and their friends. Your blog is a reminder to eschew the unimportant things in order to better afford the things that really are important. And family is the most important of all! It’s nice that you get that.

    But I also see……having to work for more years because of the economy. I see a friend having to lay off all of his employees and downsizing his business to a family business for the same reason. I see the same friend who has had to put his house up for sale to proactively downsize so all will not be lost if his business fails altogether. I also see my husband and I thinking about having to tell one of our employees that the economy and the government squeeze on small businesses has made it impossible to allow us to keep all of the employees that have worked with us for so long. Do I choose the one who is older and will not get a job in our city with so many younger out of work? Or do I choose the one who has not saved a dime and who is already hanging onto her house by a thread? A lot of small business owners are in the same boat. It’s hard.

  20. Jenni says:

    This is what I’ve been thinking! Everyone acts like this is the end of the United States as we know it. But we’ve been here before! People state that unemployment hasn’t been this high in 25 years. Well OBVIOUSLY we turned ourselves around 25 years ago. What did we do back then to better our situations? (I say ‘our’ even though I wasn’t born yet!) I’ve never seen the economy this bad; but I’m young, and maybe older people have. It’s a cycle. The pendulum will swing back, eventually.

  21. tambo says:

    I think that the media loves to focus on the negative and it becomes a self-feeding machine. Since the news states that consumers aren’t spending and the housing market has tanked, then – amazing! – spending and housing sales decline even further, more jobs are lost, and the reports put increased negative spin on the reaction they helped create. Is our economy struggling? Sure, but the media frenzy does a lot more to fuel the downward spiral than to stop it, imho. But it’s really not all gloom and doom, lots of sectors are doing pretty well, and, really, what’s so bad about having to live within your means for a change? Spend, spend, spend without regard to how we’re gonna pay for it got our nation into this mess, a bit of frugality will surely get us out again (Alas, I don’t think the stimulus is part of the frugal mind set, but more of the spend-spend-spend.)

    Also, we keep hearing how it’s *impossible* to get credit. That’s absolutely not true. If you’re paying your bills on time and aren’t carrying around a lot of consumer debt, credit for mortgages, cars, and everything else is just as easy as it always was. We recently re-financed the house without a bit of trouble.

    We’re in a financial slump, sure, but the sun will come up tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. Life will keep on keeping on.

  22. The negative news constantly bombarding us reminds me of a book I read a few years ago by Barry Glasner titled “The Culture of Fear”. The topics are now dated, but the point is still valid. Remember Y2K and all of the doom and gloom surrounding that event? What about the invasion of the killer bees in the early 90s? I was pretty young at the time but I remember the news stories about how they were going to take over the world. They still haven’t come.

    He goes into detail about how the media uses selective data to make their stories seem more severe than they really are, or completely opposite of the overall trend. It is an interesting read.

    While I don’t feel that our economy is doing well I do think that the problem isn’t quite as bad as we are lead to believe. People are struggling but maybe that is a good thing in the long run. There are lessons being learned here and maybe it will create a stronger economy when we come out of all of this as a result.

    I think our markets have been falsely inflated for a long time and now we are returning to where we should have been had it not been for these inflated prices. The same type of housing market crash happened in China near Shanghai about 10 or 15 years ago because of inflated prices. This isn’t something new or limited strictly to the US, its just that we have created a perfect storm and all the problems hit us at the same time.

    We’ll get through all of this. In the meantime, turn off the news, read a fiction book and go for walks. :)

  23. KC says:

    I tend to agree with you Trent. Although things are bad, the worst I’ve seen in my 35 years and my parents say the worst they’ve seen in their 65 years, it isn’t the end of the world (or the US). Frankly this recession has been good for my husband and me. It made us aware of financial problems in the practice he was in and we packed up and moved 500 miles away to a better practice with more money, less hours and closer to family. If it hadn’t been for the recession we never would have noticed the financial problems in the old practice.

    In fact we owe the bad housing market for the reason we ended up where we did. When my husband called about the job he eventually took they said they’d just offered the position to someone…a week later they called us to offer my husband an interview because the other person felt he couldn’t sell his house and move at this time. When we were offered the job we jumped on it. We still haven’t sold our old home, but its small and very affordable. In others words we’ve lived modestly enough in the past that the recession hasn’t effected us and we’ve been streamlined enough that we can take advantage of opportunities. Not everyone has been as fortunate as we have, but I know I will look back in 20 years and say this recession was the best thing to ever happen to me and my family.

  24. Valerie says:

    “For example, I consider it a gratuitous waste of time to send insulting emails to people whose blog writings I disagree with – not a hobby I see value in.”

    I wholeheartedly concur! Why even bother reading a blog that was going to make you angry like that? I personally do not find you to be cheap, just practical. I enjoy this blog and find your views refreshing. Keep up the good work.

  25. Hey I love the site, frequent here a lot. However I don’t happen to see much good news. So yes perhaps it is a matter of perspective. But I think it’d be great if you make an appointment on your calendar for 5 years from now and see who’s perspective was right.

    I think Peter Schiff is right that things are going to get much worse. I don’t really see him as making a mountain out of a mole hill. Rather I see him as saying that right now things are relatively good compared to what they will be and how they will affect the average person.

    Let’s all hope Peter Schiff is wrong. (I know he does)

  26. Also we should all keep in mind that our friend Peter Schiff is one of the largest proponents of getting out of debt. (On a personal level and a governmental level.)

  27. Here is what you wrote that really doesn’t make sense to me.

    ‘Schiff’s perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if the financial world goes topsy turvy. My perspective is that it’s like the Great Depression if half the people in my town are in line at a soup kitchen.’

    Peter has never said that it’s the great depression if “the financial world goes topsy turvy.”

    His perspective is rather that the policies of our nation are going to cause half the people in your town to be in line at a soup kitchen.

    I don’t mean to sound mean. :-) I love your site and I’ll keep reading it. Keep up the great work!

  28. IRG says:

    Years ago, I remember someone trying to educate me about the term “perspective.” How one sees/views things.

    He used a piece of sculpture as an example. Three men circled the sculpture and each “saw” a different piece of work based on where they stood and who they were.

    The point: Each perspective was different, but valid. All could co-exist in reality.

    In your blog, I “see” someone who is genuinely and authentically sharing their opinion and perspective in the hopes of inspiring others to think carefully about their choices and understand the ramifications of them, fiscally and otherwise. Although I “see” someone who occasionally is overly optimistic –without anything to back it up–I see a person who has faith and hope. As long as you don’t pretend that things are NOT as bad as they are, I’m all for that Trent.

    I “see” a good blog and one that I and others enjoy even if we don’t always agree with Trent. In fact, your work has more meaning because I and others don’t mindlessly accept what you write, but question it and take away what we find valid and useful. Which, I think, is your goal. You never struck me as someone who wanted to shove his ideas down anyone’s throat.

    I see a glass as being half-full AND half-empty.

    Those who “see” a reason to be concerned and those who feel fearful in this world right now (because their world and the worlds of those they know are severely and permanently altered by the current economic situation–fact, not fiction or the media) are not wrong or pessimistic. In fact, many of these people are sooo upset because they are/were believers that if you showed up, did a good job, were a responsible citizen, saved, etc….that it would all work out. Well, they’ve seen that this is not the case. (And let’s ask ourselves, what kind of world is it where a thief like Madoff doesn’t have his lifestyle changed one bit while others have lost their life savings? And let’s not debate the greed aspect of investing. The guy’s a thief. Period. And no one is making him pay back a cent, let alone he now has a deal to protect his wife so that she has HUGE assets. Sorry for the off-topic, but I “see” a thief being aided and abetted by the very govt that did NOTHING to stop him. I see injustice, big time.)

    I “see” fear and I also see possibility. The thing about fear is not to pretend it does not exist, to “not see” it. But to be able to act and to keep “moving” even though one’s faith and hope are severely tested.

    Those who “see” that the economy will never “recover,” well, they aren’t necessarily incorrect. When/if it does, it cannot resemble what came before or we’ll have the same problems.

    Those who “see” possibilities beyond the chaos of the current times, well, it’s what we all want. It’s hard to imagine HOW, given the lack of leadership in the citizenry (Hello. The government can’t be our savior. WE have to do it.) But it’s possible.

    The media does not create fear. It reports on what is out there. And make no mistake, It is out there. Of course, there are people who have not personally seen such chaos, and they often dismiss all this fear-mongering. But just because they haven’t experienced it personally, well, it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. And without a valid reason.

    When you don’t have a job, can’t get a job, have no prospects for work, have nowhere to live. Have no one but yourself to take care of you, have no insurance and are sick, for example, fear is not an inappropriate response. People who have worked all their lives, never done drugs, never lived lavishly. Now, they have nothing. I see pain and suffering, that is undeserved.

    It’s really hard for a lot of really good people who all their life have showed up, done their jobs and given far more than they have taken. Nobody is “there” for them now, when they most need it.

    I “see” greed in companies that live only to satisfy the greed of shareholders at the expense of the economy and the country and lots of real people who are the backbone–either as customers of or the employees of these companies. And I see greed in how people approach investing. And spending their wealth–which is frequently acquired off the backs of others and not their own work.(I love when people talk about the companies “they” built. The ones that require thousands of employees and millions of customers to make it work. Yea. YOU did it all by yourself.)

    I applaud Trent for his work in inspiring and motivating us all to rethink how we spend and how we approach our lives. And for doing such a great job in helping us connect our fiscal choices with the quality of our lives. That’s major mindfulness and awareness. Thank you, Trend.

    I see a fair and generally balanced approach to helping educate people via a blog that shows some very thoughtful insights.

    Finally, I see a lot of fellow citizens who need a lot of help. If we can’t all reach out and help one another, why are we here?

    By the way, I believe the “little” people, the folks without money, power or resources of the rich and the government, as being the ones who will ultimately make this country work again. IF they aren’t crushed literally to death by all of this. Cause it is hard to create when you have no home, food, healthcare and reason to get up each day.

    They are the folks who truly care more about each other and the country than many, if not most, of all those folks with all that wealth that they seek to keep, rather than redistribute.

    It is us average folks who can ultimately make the difference. I see possibilities for a better world if people can find the resources to survive.

    I see a world where everyone reaches out and shares what they have. Because if everyone did that, there would be enough for everyone.

    I was raised to believe that the more you had, the more you were obligated to do, share, give, etc.

    If only that were the case with most people. You know what they say, if you need help, look for the “poorest” person. They’ll give you what you need long before the comfortable rich people who seek to isolate themselves from the world and its needs.

  29. Steve says:

    Your post is astute and sensible, and life is all perception. You are correct!

  30. Char says:

    This was a great article. One of the reasons that people feel so much fear is that their values are tied to what they have and many owe so much that they can do nothing but fear. My husband’s company has been on shaky ground for 11 years and I work in the financial industry and there is plenty of downsizing going on. I am not in a frightened heap on the floor though because I have spent many hours educating myself with books, blogs and articles like yours so we are no longer in debt. We have been developing hobbies that can eventually bring us income and we save where ever we can. If we lose both of our good jobs and we lose our house my husband and I will still have each other and frankly I could live in a shack if I just have him. This is the example I have from my beloved grandmother. My grandparents owned a very successful grocery store before the Great Depression, they were wealthy, living in a lovely home with the best those days had to offer. They could not turn folks away during the Depression so they let others have the food on credit they knew they could never repay. Eventually they lost it all and they moved from their beautiful house to a little storefront where they sold soap out of the front and lived in the back. They had 2 small children and a whole lot of love and they left their store open long days to get every customer they could. They struggled many years until after the depression they sold their soap store to an investor and continued to work for him. They were able to buy a modest home and live until they happily celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.
    One day “Pop” passed away, 2 weeks later “Nana” followed, not wanting to live without him. They were old and happy until the end. Some of their peers jumped out of windows because their focus was on the things in their life, my grandparents’ was on each other and their children and when ALL the things were gone life was still ok because they had what was truly important. Trent, that is what your blog focuses on everyday, the love you have for your wife and your children is apparent and you will never be poor as long as you have them and even if you have to wait in line for soup you will do so with love and dignity I, too, will be there with you if things spiral to the point they were in the Great Depression. Thanks for the continued good advice

  31. Johan says:

    Yes, if you are an economist, things are grim. But if you work (or worked) for a company that lived by lending what it needed for its cash flow, things are pretty grim too.
    That is not to say that I do not agree with the post – it is not as bad as the news would have it, although it is not a happy situation. I went to the mall yesterday and several of the shops had shut down. But on the plus side, the ones which were still there had space to expand. It is now that inventiveness and cleverness will start to come into play.
    Which makes it hard for people who are not used to look at the world from different perspectives. The more you are used to this, the easier it will be to find the rosy parts of the picture. You just have to learn to do it with less when things are like they are now.
    Which is why this is a great blog, and part of my weekly reading. I do not mind being cheap, as long as I do not have less fun. Especially not the way things are now.

  32. Borealis says:

    Its hard not to be skeptical about this being a depression when there are still many people buying $6 lattes, driving huge SUVs with one person in them, and restaurants are still full.

    It certainly is a recession, but it is not a depression until these signs change.

  33. Shevy says:

    It is very much related to your point of view, where you are standing influences what you see. The economic fallout is not as severe in Canada as it is in the US (although I’m not thrilled by the recent developments with our dollar) and I certainly don’t see it as bad as the last 2 recessions I’ve been through. Why?

    Even though I work for a non-profit and we’re definitely having to work harder for some of our donations, I’m still employed. And I didn’t lose a ton of money in my retirement funds because I tend to put my money into GIC’s.

    Last time, I was working in a different industry and lost my job. The time before that I was living in Calgary when the oil patch went bust and interest rates were hovering around 18%. I personally knew people who just stuck the key in the mailbox and left their house to foreclosure.

    This time around things are tight for a lot of people but I don’t know anyone who’s in the process of losing their home. (I know people who wish they’d sold their place, rented for a year or so and then bought when prices slumped a bit because they’re miffed that they bought at the height of the market but they’re not only doing okay they’re paying down their variable rate mortgages at an amazing rate, thanks to the drop in the Bank of Canada rate.)

    So no, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. But I think we all need to be careful.

  34. Sarah says:

    Sorry, Trent, I see in my industry a number of leading firms laying off 10% of the white-collar staff and significantly more of the support staff. I see firms delaying the start date for incoming employees by months and months. I see several friends laid off in the past few months, and another friend working at a place where they just fired the entire floating pool of secretaries. I see a bunch of applications coming into my job from people who have lost their jobs (or, even worse, were hired by one of the firms that recently went under and never got a chance to work there). In the state where I grew up, I see over 10% unemployment–and that’s using the government’s statistics, which tend to underestimate.

    It’s grim out there.

  35. Shelly says:

    My son loves brown bear story – you should try the felt board characters. http://thehappytoddler.blogspot.com/2008/11/flannel-and-felt-story-board.html

    I just read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I had read it about 10 years ago and got quite a different perspective on it this time. While 10 years ago it seemed so fiction, now I was able to draw quite a few parallels with today’s economy, it was eerie.

  36. LC says:

    I have actually been feeling a bad economy for many years already. Sorry to all who have joined me, and are now personally affected. But these kind of restructurings usually leave us better off in the long run. Look at how many fat cats and corporations are going towards the dust bin, and leaving more room for you and me. Most of us are only slightly effected, because we do not own very much.

  37. Jeanne Gregory says:

    What shall we doe with the “old” light bulbs now that we have changed over to the more efficent ones ?

  38. jreed says:

    I see people are getting bored with being paralyzed by fear. I see people coming to grips with what they have lost and starting to figure out what their next step is going to be. This economy is like a huge tanker ship that will be slow and hard to turn around…but it will turn.

  39. Lisa I says:


    Thanks for this. Yes, there are layoffs–a LOT of them. But I see this as is a correction for unsustainable growth. For years, this country has grown at a tremendous rate and now that it has slowed all you hear is doom and gloom. I’ve been saying for years that it wasn’t possible to maintain the level of growth that we have become accustomed to, the economy just doesn’t work like that and it is unrealistic for us to expect it to.

    As for positive economic news, I think if folks are looking for anything besides doom and gloom, they need to turn off their televisions and look around them. What I see is that yes, things have contracted, but many seem to be taking it to heart and doing good things with it. Like starting vegetable gardens and buying livestock for fresh eggs, etc. They are not only saving money, they are eating food that is less processed and more nutritious thus losing weight and potentially ending an epidemic of obesity that is expensive to the taxpayers.

    I also see our money is worth more. Have you noticed exchange rates lately? Our money is worth more overseas than it has been in years which means that everyone else is investing in us. But I wager that you couldn’t find a single news outlet that is reporting this. They are too busy selling news with sensationalism.

  40. Donna says:

    Excellent post!

  41. Charles says:

    Being cynical I wonder how many of them are being spit on in public as having contributed to this mess. I also think they don’t like Any over sight of bonus structure/schedule, etc…. People are plugging along.. Some Barely.. This all started, (how is that for grand statement?), when after 9/11, dubya said we should all go shopping instead of selling war bonds and talking about the hard ship of this war. Shop carefully and with forethought.. Thank you.

  42. m says:

    Lynne #10,
    I know of a few business’s who are in the same boat, one called a meeting and told the employees of the situation, several were able to give up a few hours here and there. One lady wants to take the summer off to be with her children and offered to watch children of others for a small fee. These people had been together so long they also asked if taking a small cut in pay would save the jobs of co-workers. One offered to sell items online for the co-workers so losing hours wouldn’t hurt so much. They had a trade day where everyone brought in stuff that they didn’t use put it on a table and everyone else was able to see what they needed, childrens clothes were a hot item. They brain stormed and found solutions to the immediate problem, if this will keep them from going under is still up in the air but it gives some people a chance to find other jobs.

  43. MDececo says:

    Trent, I’m with you. I’m 66 years old, retired for 13 wonderful years and although my husband and my investments are waaaaayyyyyy down I am confident things will turn around eventually.

    I started reading your blog in October and the first thing I did was make a budget and start trimming costs and watching our spending. I bought YNAB because it lets me sleep at night and we’ve been living on our pensions and Social Security for several months now. I now have a decent emergency fund and it’s growing. I make my own laundry detergent (powdered, not liquid) and am thinking about a garden.

    There was a time when I thought it was impossible to live on our pensions and Social Security but with less wasteful spending it’s pretty easy and my husband is able to golf three days a week and we can still take a couple of trips a year.

    We have dinner parties with a nice circle of friends, have lots of fun and laugh a lot. Sure we’re all a bit worried but there’s no point in dwelling on it.

    If I hadn’t read your blog I might not have gotten on a budget when I did…..! Thank you for writing…..keep it up!

  44. CJ says:

    Great article–I see this is a correction for the country’s unsustained growth promoted by the media. The media has urged people to spend more than they could afford to be in the “poplular in group,” like high school. It was the easiest way to expand the economy and allow the financial predators to skim off people’s hard earned money.

    We have lived frugally for years, not like you have, but within our means. We spent Jan & Feb camped in the desert in a small, but paid for, RV–living off solar panels and weekly sewer dumps& refilling the water–for $20 a week. Weather was great and neighbors were fun. Life was good–because we didn’t watch TV nor pay $1 for a newspaper(that was 50 cents two years ago). No TV nor newpaper equalled a stress-free enviroment. Back in the big city with TV now–and lots of stress about “Isn’t it awful?”

    We find fun and enjoyment in living as inexpensively as possible–because we know our retirement income will be that–and it is more fun to prepare ahead than have to play catch-up later.

    Your column gives us lots of new hints and tips, and we thank you for playing with us! It is nice to have like-minded friends!

  45. almost there says:

    I am doubtful things will work out in the end. See pages 15 and 16 (of the pdf) of the report of the 2008
    Financial Report of the United States Government issued by the GAO (Bean counter in chief). This only lists just over 52 trillion in federal obligations. I have read reports that with the current bailout it is up to 65 trillion dollars.
    Page 18 explains the difference of the President’s budget (cash basis or liar’s budget) and the GAO’s budget, Accrual-Based Results and Basis of Accounting. Quite long but worth the reading.



  46. Lynne says:

    m(#26), Thanks for the thoughts. Like most businesses we get paid last. We’re doing everything we can to cut back on our expenses so we can get through this, as any family is doing now. We have weathered a lot of storms over the years, but it just seems as if the government has declared war on business. We will have to raise prices and hope for the best. This is where everybody is going to be affected. Businesses have no choice but to raise prices. We’ll do everything we can, including cutting everyone back in hours, to keep going with all the people who work with us, but in the end, it may not be enough.

  47. anna says:

    Hello Trent,

    I’ve been noticing a lot of outright hostility and rudeness in many blog comments sections lately. And I wonder if people are just losing their inhibitions or forgetting that there are feelings involved. I wish it wasn’t so. Just because one if offered the chance to comment doesn’t mean that one has the right to simply blast away regardless of the effect it may have on others.

    As for people calling you a kill-joy, I think it just stems from differences in personality. It must be hard for others to understand the simple satisfaction that comes with not wasting. That is what I would call it. I am getting increasingly frugal with age and I get a bizarre satisfaction out of it. It’s not just about not spending, penny-pinching and being a tightwad, it’s about being organised and efficient. And I do know that others do not experience any sort of satisfaction in this. I don’t hold it against them either. People are just different.

  48. SueO says:

    Trent, I’ll set aside my opinion of the topic for a moment just to say that from a writing standpoint, this is a beautifully wrought piece of writing. Very nicely crafted.

    As far as my opinion of the topic, I’m inclined to believe this is a sharp lesson with a bit of sting. Like most painful lessons, it is survivable by those who gain from the lesson and recognize it for what it is. For those who feel only the “sharp” and run off to the corner to cry,…well, they’re not going to get much more out of life, are they?

    As stated, my opinion.

    Keep on writing, buddy!

  49. Lisa D. says:

    I agree with your article. I think we are going to go through hard times and it can be scary. My Dad reacted very badly to the Depression and we suffered for it in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ve had to come out of fear-mentality and get a more balanced view than the fear-mongers in the media.

    I think the person who criticised you (and all those others) are nitwits. Learning to use one’s mind and creativity to grow is awesome and lots of fun. Anytime I find a clever way to do more with less I “win”. Beating the marketing system that seeks to manipulate money from me for things I really do not want or need is another win for me.

    I choose to be a responsible consumer and I think that says more good about me than if I had boatloads of money to throw around carelessly like so many celebrities touted by the same media.

    Living this way also leaves me able to see beyond mjust myself and help others too. Someone asked about what we are supposed to do with all the “old” style lightbulbs. It’s pretty simple, donate them to folks who are in so much need they do not have any lightbulbs!

    Keep going, I love what you are doing with your blog. You are one the right track.

  50. Anne says:

    Great article Trent! I agree with what others have said about the negative e-mailers. If they don’t like what your write in your blog they don’t have to read it.

    Ever since the election I have stopped watching the news. It is mostly doom and gloom and it’s too depressing to watch. They just want to put fear into people’s minds to get ratings. There are some great things that are happening and people are getting creative about their situations, creating new business and trying new ideas. But you don’t hear any of that on the news. They just keep talking about how bad things are. The current situation is not even close to how bad things were during the Great Depression of 1929. My 90 year old Grandmother has told me the stories of what life was like back then. We are much better off today than folks were back in 1929.

    You have to make the best out of your situation. You also need to be pro-active and change your situation before it gets changed for you. There were so many people who were living well beyond their means and now their situations are bad. These folks were not responsible and now they are paying for the consequences of their actions. There are those of us who lived below their means and this recession isn’t really affecting us too much. Except for the fact that our Government is out of control, prediciting the worst and passing these ridicilous bailout bills.

    The bottom line is life is about survival of the fittest. Those who are pro-active, smart, responsible, sacrifice and work hard will survive. You have to take responsibility for your life and situation and not count on the government and others to bail you out.

    I switched jobs about 6 months ago. I saw that things were slowing down at my company (and industry) and layoffs were coming soon. I was lucky enough to find a better paying job in another industry (health care). It took me a year of looking before I found my current job. I was proactive and changed my situation before I let someone else change it for me.


  51. Shauna Redmond says:

    So what! They think this, they think that.

    YOU are better off!

    You probably have two running vehicles and a decent house. Well feed children and never go without.

    I live pretty much the same way and agree with you with almost everything you write. I read your blog religiously. I was already applying the same principles and you give me a boost of self esteem that lets me know I am on the right path.

    And catch this. I make middle income wages, own a house for the past two and a half years now, my husband attends full time college and does not work, I have a two year old son, and I am pretty well off. Oh did I mention that I am only 24?

    I find people in their 30’s and 40’s trying to “give me advice” all the time. On how to “build credit” save money and invest in “gold”???!!!????


    Do you think I bought a house at 22 listening to the general, poor, in debt, public give me advice! Obviously I know what I am doing.

    The secret? I live frugal. I own a good 1992 Nissan Pathfinder pristine condition, no payments. A 2004 Dodge Dakota again paid off! A two story 3 bedroom 2 bathroom home, in which I got a great deal and built the second room and bathroom, and a guest house.

    I did that by eating leftovers once or twice a week, freezing my own Waffles, and popping my popcorn on the stove! Yeah, I do take the time reuse old containers, and shop at secondhand stores. So what! If you didn’t know that I shopped there by me telling you, you would simply never know. I NEVER pay full price for anything.

    They (those people trying to give me advice) are waiting for their gold investments to make them wonderfully rich so they can get out from their 400 dollar a month upside down car payments and maybe save enough to buy a house. Until then they enjoy their two bedroom apartments driving the latest model vehicles with no savings to speak of. They might retire at 60 or so but most likely not, because the false hope of social security will fail them.

    When I pay off my house in 10 years, I will have no bills aside from utilities. Then who will be laughing!

    By the way, At the rate I am going recession and all, I should still be okay and comfortable to retire at 45 right after paying for my child’s college education in full without a single loan. (unless he decides to be a 6 year med student, he might half to fuss out the last two years on his own but that is beside the point)

    So the recession might suck for the corporate sponges who will make a half million a day instead of a million. OH MY!
    But for me, I love this recession. For those of you who want to buy stocks, get a four wheeler or a new Computer this is the time. Prices will not be this low again or a while.

    It like hitting the reset button on the economy. Those who are my age will finally get their chance to step in and buy houses, (which is badly needed) afford groceries, and live independently.

    So for all those people who slam you, for being frugal, cheep, whatever!

    Throw this in their face!

    When I retire at 45 and drive away in my shiny new 2040 Toyota that I paid cash for, I will be doing it knowing full well that they are not. I’ll hop on a plane first class to Finland to enjoy the mountains without going into debt.

    They will be in their 20 year old cars that they spent 10 years paying off while they are still working 9-5 jobs So they can save for the next 10 years and buy a house at 65. They most likely will never retire or pay off their house in their lifetimes, unless they plan on working until they are 95 years old to pay off their 30 year home loan.

    Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. — Albert Einstein

    Feel free to repost this.

  52. CourtneyRyan says:

    Hi Trent, Thanks for the post, I was actually thinking something similar the other day. It is about perspective.

    But then again much of life is.

  53. no_sked says:

    you wrote “I consider it a gratuitous waste of time to send insulting emails to people whose blog writings I disagree with – not a hobby I see value in.”
    thanks for not being a hater >)

  54. Jim says:

    Peter Schiff’s arguments seems more about fear mongering and politics than actual economics.

    More on Schiff:


  55. Charlotte says:

    If I disagree too much with any blog writer, I simply unsubscribe.

    I gave my regular light bulbs to the Salvation Army.

    I think the economic indicators look grim and we are nowhere near the bottom. We are still a long way from comparisons with the Great Depression. Maybe there is hope.

    Remember the fable of the ant and the grasshopper? There are too many grasshoppers today. The ants have already started preparing for dark days, whether or not they arrive. Life will be much easier for your blog readers who are already adjusting their lifestyles and getting out of debt. Even if the recession ended tomorrow, they will be in a better position to live an easier life for the rest of their lives. Which of you faithful readers would go out and blow your emergency funds if that were the case? I’m willing to bet that you have already established a better lifestyle on less and would not give up your financial independence or peace of mind.

    While what you see depends on where you sit, some people are sitting in better positions than others.

  56. renee says:

    Perspective is everything. I once had a teacher who said the difference between a recession and a depression is–a recession is when a lot of people are out of work, and a depression is when you are out of work. My husband’s work has severely dropped off, and it is difficult to not let that affect our thoughts and attitudes.

  57. Caroline says:

    Anyone who gives YOU a hard time is a loser. Great blog! I was just talking to a family friend who’s my parents’ age (53). I told her I wanted to save enough money for grad school so that I wouldn’t even have to work while I was studying, and she looked at me like I was crazy! She said that was too much money to ever save – and I just looked at her like she was crazy.

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