Monday, March 9, 2009

Portrait: Phoenix, Arizona

I am a 27 year old mother and wife. I love my husband and daughter as much as any wife and mother could. They are amazing and make me so happy. They fill my life with love, laughter, friendship and hope. Because I love them so much I am incredibly fearful about our future.

I am the sole provider for our family. My wonderful husband stays home with our daughter, just over a year, and he’s so good with her. He quit his job when she was just 3 weeks old and has been a stay at home Dad ever since. We did fine on my income alone for about a year, but I am in real estate. Enough said, right. My income has decreased by about 60% and although we were very smart with our money when times were good I don’t want to slowly eat though our savings only to end up broke in a year or two. We have cut back our over head as much as possible to try to live within our new income level and although we’re doing just about everything humanly possible, we’re still not quite there.

We got rid of our cable (both computer and TV), our cell phones are at the lowest plan (we don’t have a home phone) and we’re on the savings plan with our electric company - only doing wash and running the dishwasher between 9pm and 9am and on the weekends. We got rid of our Netflix account so all we have is 1 TV channel that comes in and movies to watch, we now buy our dogs the super cheap food (which isn’t all that good for them, but hey we’re all sacrificing) and we get all our baby’s clothes from friends and family hand me downs.

We get our meat and diapers at Costco, we shop with coupons and buy what’s on sale, and we do not eat our at all unless we have a gift card to do so at no cost. We only water our yard and plants once a week, the baby gets a bath every other day, and I shave my legs before I shower in an attempt to save water and lower our water bill. I no longer buy the nice razors for myself but the crappy disposable ones that give my legs a rash half the time (probably because I use them a week or two longer than I should), I only wear mascara on my top lashes (which I have decided I like anyways) and don’t wear make up at all on my days off to make it last longer, and I no longer buy mask for my face but instead go into our backyard and cut off a piece of one of our aloe vera plants, which works amazingly well, and put that on before bed.

I buy the cheapest hair spray I can find, I haven’t had my hair cut in about a year (my husband cuts his own), and I use super cheap shampoo/ conditioner which leaves my hair feeling “oily and gunky,” but it’s 1/3 of the price of the name brand I used to buy. We try not to use the cars more than necessary in order to cut down our gas expense. My husband tries to walk a lot more and find ways to entertain himself and the baby without getting in the car to go joyriding or off-roading (which they used to love to do).

The only debt we have is our house, which is great except that it is over $100,000 upside down. It’s so discouraging as we put 10% when we bought (didn’t do the crazy $0 down, 100% financing) and we own $100,000 more than what our home would sell for today. We own everything else we have outright and we still can’t seem to get our overhead low enough to let my husband stay home with our baby girl. As disappointing as that is, it’s not the end of the world. He’s been looking for a job and I have been looking at day care facilities. We pray that he will find something, anything, soon and that he’ll have weekends off so our daughter only has to be in day care 3 days a week. This would be okay - we would adjust - we’d all be fine.

However, my company is looking to do layoffs again. They just can’t make money selling houses in this market – the costs to build a home (purchase the land, raw material, labor etc) is more than what the market will buy it for so they have to slow their production and get rid of some of us as there is not enough to sell to keep us all employed. It makes sense, financially, for the company to sit on the side lines and let the inventory around the valley get bought up. They’ll get back into the market when they can make money on their homes again. You can’t blame them - no company can consistently lose money month after month and stay afloat, but for me it’s the end of the world. If I get laid off we lose our healthcare. This, more than anything else, scares the crap out of me. I have been looking, any applying, for other jobs that offer less than I make (even making 40% of what I used to) just in case, but I haven’t had much luck. My husband has also been looking and applying to jobs I find him (we don’t have the Internet at home anymore so I have to look for him at work) but that isn’t going well either. There was recently a job fair here in Phoenix and 10,000 people showed up for 400 available jobs. It’s not hard to do the math and realize that there are a lot of other folks who will take whatever they can find too.

The future is bleak and uncertain, but I choose to be hopeful. We are willing to do whatever we need to in order to take care of our family. We have lots of love in our lives and good family and friends. Everyone says money is just money and it’s not what really matters in life. With the way things are going I think a lot of families, just like mine, are going to put that saying to the test. We’ll all find out, very soon, whether we can be happy with love and friendship alone.

Phoenix, AZ