When The Going Gets Tough ?????

Back in 1972 which may seem like a lifetime to some, a rock band from north of the border called the “Five Man Electrical Band” wrote a minor hit simply called “Signs”. The tune began with these words…. “Sign sign everywhere a sign…..” I bring this up, not to reminisce, but merely to point out that as I watch things transpire in our economy today I can’t help but think that there are a lot of signs being raised that tell me that as individuals and families, we may be in for some difficult times ahead ! In spite of our government telling us that things aren’t really as bad as they feel, a mood of pessimism seems to have fallen over many.

What are these signs that I’m talking about?

First of all the price of crude oil is a very ominous sign. As the world’s number one consumer of petroleum products, the rising cost of fuel, gasoline… heating oil and diesel are putting a tremendous strain on the average budget. As we have built our homes larger and larger and planted them further and further from our jobs, our ability to cut our fuel consumption, is rather limited.

The second sign that seems to point to more difficult times ahead is the increase in food costs. Again, some, but not all of this has to do with high fuel prices as most of our food is transported by tractor trailer. So with diesel prices rising to well over $4.25 a gallon, it was inevitable that this added expense would be passed on to you and I. A secondary reason for the increase in our food budget is our government’s poorly hatched plan to divert food (as in corn products) into fuel (as in ethanol).

Folks…. this ill conceived plan by some mid-western senators has not only not done anything to bring oil prices down, but has done everything to raise the price of meat, dairy products as well as breads and cereals to an almost unbearable level.

A third negative sign that has been raised is the precipitous fall of the American dollar.
As the currency by which most international commerce is transacted, the dollars fall has made hard assets (as in most commodities) seem cheap and make them a perfect hedge against further weakening of the dollar.

A fourth sign that doesn’t bold well for the average American Joe, are home prices. For so many years as home prices increased, many if not most Americans, refinanced time and time again using their homes as their personal ATM machine. But now with the dramatic fall in home prices in many areas (may I add, probably back to proper levels) many of us find that our homes aren’t worth nearly as much as we owe on them! And the sub prime situation has only exacerbated the problem.

CNN Money recently released two very telling statistics. First of all they reported that there are approximately 2.07 million vacant homes in America today, but a more shocking and sobering number to all those who would have us believe that the worse of the housing crisis is behind us is that CNN Money also wrote that 2.8 million more homeowners could see the payments on their sub prime mortgages reset in the next two years which could cause who knows how many more homes to come on the market.

Friends, I guess if I was inclined, I could point to other signs that don’t bode well for you and I.

A war in Iraq which has become a nightmare from the past as well as an economic hemorrhage, a Congress which spends money like a drunken sailor (I apologize… at least drunken sailors spend their own money), and a trade deficit which will never shrink as long as we ship jobs (jobs of every type) overseas, and finally no willingness by our leaders to gain energy independence !

So the question is, what can the average family who is struggling to make ends meet do to make these difficult times a bit bearable.

For starters, energy conservation will go a long way in helping the bottom line. We do have to drive so gasoline is a necessity, but consolidation of trips, and car pooling when possible will help a great deal. And in the home, energy efficient bulbs and appliances, sealing around windows and doors as well as resetting the thermostat a few degrees will bring noticeable results on our utility bills.

In the area of food, two ideas come to mind which need to be considered. First of all, “load up the pantry.” Government data shows food inflation for the average American family is now approaching 4.5% a year, but many prices are rising even faster. Cereal prices are up around 8% this year, with pasta and rice having skyrocketed more than 13%. Dairy products… peanut butter as well eggs increasing at 30% are playing havoc on the food budget. And many experts predict that this trend will only continue in the future!

So If you keep any spare cash (what’s that you say?) in a passbook savings or checking account or even a money market account which are paying minimal interest at best, you will be many percentage points ahead by buying in bulk today the staples that you will consume tomorrow.

Secondly, have you considered a garden on your little piece of Eden ! It makes a whole lot of sense! I know that the day of the family farm may be gone, but even the smallest plot worked by the most inexperienced person can pay great dividends, not only on the food bill but also in your health as you will be consuming the freshest of the fresh!

You say you wouldn’t know where to start. Start on the internet by googling vegetable gardening or some other keyword, and I guarantee that in a short time you will know more than enough to commence with this project. And who knows, like me, you might find that in the good times as well as the bad, gardening will become not a task, but a pleasure.

Friends…. While many of us moan and groan over the drop in our property values, our backyards are becoming our properties most valuable asset.

Well, time is up and I have things to do. My grass needs to be mowed and my garden tilled. In closing, I hope that something you have gleaned from my words might help you, even if a little, get through the days ahead.

Never forget this…. We’re all in these difficult days together and we will get through them together!

God bless you all!