From contributor Nia Williams
The internet is overflowing with talk of “new realities” these days. The New York Times reports on trickle-up belt tightening. The Wall Street Journal hosts a blog series by MBAs who, after a year of unemployment, are just getting around to making “tough” budget-cuts like canceling the gym membership. CNN.com breaks news that “In a recession, cheap is chic.” Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of (not-exactly-inexpensive) home decoration and design website ApartmentTherapy.com, used his most recent e-newsletter to trumpet his satisfaction with our shift to “simpler” pleasures. Says Gillingham-Ryan in the newsletter, “While for many the news is grim…I keep thinking that what we are witnessing is a return to Reality (with a capital R), which is a place that we haven’t been in for a long time. And, despite the pain, this reclaimed sense of Reality is one real bright spot that is worth talking about.”
With each new trend piece about the formerly-very-comfortable being suddenly slightly less so, cost-cutting by cutting your own grass, buying designer duds at Marshalls instead of Bloomie’s, and – horror of horrors! – clipping coupons, I find myself wondering: for how many of us is any of this really new?
Using the metrics implied in each of the articles listed above, I have apparently been living this “new” reality for most of my adult life, despite two degrees and, until recently, steady employment with a solidly middle-class income. So have most of my friends and family. Even the wealthier people I know – and I know a few trust-funders and high earners – were never profligate spenders of the sort depicted in these articles as the old norm.
So while I certainly don’t enjoy tales of the upper classes forced to scale back the creature comforts, I don’t really feel like they should be the face of this downturn, either. As a somewhat newly-minted member of the unemployed masses, my new reality won’t be about clipping coupons, it’ll be about finding out if, as a single person, I qualify for food stamps, and if I can bring myself to accept them if I do. (Right now, though it has been helpfully suggested by friends, I’m having a hard time with the idea. I’ll exhaust all other options first. Once I figure out exactly what those options are, I’ll undoubtedly discuss them here.)
What does the new reality look like for you?