Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Everybody Hurts

Regular readers know that I believe there is a lot of value to be had in reading the Wall Street Journal. From the news of the day to the editorial page to the business coverage, the paper packs good bang for the buck. Throw in the book, theater, and movie reviews, food, drink, and personal technology columns, and even the fledgling sports page and you have a fairly well-rounded information package delivered to your door six days a week.

But once in a while the upper-crust, East Coast origins of the paper come across in a manner that most Americans probably have a tough time relating too. For some reason I've noticed this most often in articles that deal with "lifestyle management" or personal finance. Case in point is this piece in yesterday's paper called Back to the (Thrifty) Future:

Before the financial crisis struck, for instance, when we'd go out for dinner with friends, someone would always pick up the check. The unspoken notion was that we'd be going out again soon, and that next time someone else would pick up the tab. There was an informal rotation, sometimes with a bit of a socialist bent. The bankers and lawyers usually grabbed a few more checks over time, but nobody really freeloaded.

Maybe I'm just hanging with the wrong mix of friends, but this isn't something that I've experienced much in my social circles. And the idea that the lawyers and bankers I know would be the ones more often than not picking up a check is almost laughable. They're usually the cheapest, stingiest ones of the bunch.

Summer vacations also reflect the new frugality. In the past, spontaneity was the watchword. Meet-ups in Las Vegas, a trip to London or Paris to do some sightseeing or a dash out to the Hamptons for a weekend.

"Do we have plans for the weekend yet Mitzy?"

"Well Chase, I was thinking that perhaps we could make a dash out to the Hamptons."

"Sounds splendid darling. I'll have Stevens prepare the motor car."

But now that tough times are upon us, those days of carefree summer vacations are a thing of the past. The writer makes note of his own personal sacrifices:

Looking back, it all seems just a bit foolish--the frivolous actions of a self-indulgent time. Now, it's about planning and watching pennies, or at least dollars. In February, my wife and I started mapping out what we wanted to do. Our goal was to do one thing fun and reasonably priced and one thing a bit more adventurous. So, we settled on a late-July bike ride across Iowa, and we're saving up to take a cruise in August. We also might squeeze a camping trip in there somewhere.

Only three vacation outings this summer? The suffering is truly heart-wrenching. And yet some still claim that we're not in the midst of an economic depression?

Our friends are taking a similar approach to the summer. One friend, who works at a large company and is doing just fine in the downturn, is taking his family to New Hampshire for a Fourth of July weekend with the in-laws. The rest of their summer vacation will be spent primarily at their modest lake cabin. He had thought of doing a "tear down" and building a new cabin, but for now he's happy with his smallish, vintage place. He'd rather not spend the money if he doesn't have to. Instead, he's saving up to pay for his kids' schooling.

A dream deferred is a dream denied. Thing really are tough all over.

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