Time For a Check In?

Sharon June 8th, 2008

So oil went up $11 on Friday, while the stock market dropped 3%.  Unemployment is up, and reports of a recovery are greatly exaggerated.  And most importantly, the word bubble is started to get scraped off the oil price jump:

But many analysts say that fundamentals, not speculation, are driving prices.

I don’t know how else to say it, this is not a bubble,” Jan Stuart, global oil economist at UBS, said. “I think this is real. There is a whole bunch of commercial buyers out there who are spooked and are buying. You are an airline, right now, you’re scared. I don’t see who would buy at these prices unless they need to.”

Jeffrey Harris, the chief economist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who was speaking before a Senate committee last month, said he saw no evidence of a speculative bubble in commodities. Instead, Mr. Harris pointed to a confluence of trends that has contributed to the oil price rally, including a weak dollar, strong energy demand from emerging economies, and political tensions in oil-producing countries.

“Simply put, the economic data shows that overall commodity price levels, including agricultural commodity and energy futures prices, are being driven by powerful fundamental economic forces and the laws of supply and demand,” Mr. Harris said. “Together these fundamental economic factors have formed a ‘perfect storm’ that is causing significant upward pressures on futures prices across the board.”

Who’d a thunk it?  You mean peak oil is a real thing?  Shocked.  Shocked, I say!  Note that this is the New York Times, not me ;-). 

But more seriously, let’s be blunt, even for the best prepared of all of us, this sucks badly.  All of us are feeling the scraping at our budgets, at least a little, and I know that some people are really hurting.  So I thought it would be worth doing an update on how this is looking in your neck of the woods?  How’s your family doing?  What you are seeing in your neighborhood that you haven’t seen before?

The New York State Budget strips the Universities pretty badly, so Eric is losing a lot of sleep about his job.  Now we made the choices we did pretty consciously - he doesn’t have tenure.  He’s been offered tenure track jobs at smaller Universities (he wants to teach, not do bench science), but turned them down because our long term estimate was that all of them were more likely to either dump him before he got tenure or go under completely if the economy tanked.  Eric teaches one of the largest classes at his University - 1/4-1/3 of all SUNY Albany students go through is class, so he makes the University literally millions of dollars a semester, and they pay him about half what they’d pay a similarly qualified research scientist.  Our bet was that Eric will look like a good deal to the University.  We may lose that bet - of course, we could lose the other way around.  But it is tough on him, because he loves, loves, loves his work. 

Otherwise, we’re not hurting too much, although we may have to cut back on stocking up a little.  We’re lucky - Eric’s off for the summer and so we’re hoping to go to driving only two or at most three days a week, and of course with the garden kicking in, and a reserve of stored food mostly bought at lower prices, we can economize.  The problem, of course is that I’m reluctant to dig into stores right now, since I think times are only going to get tougher all around. 

Lots of new gardens popping up around here, and lots more people asking me serious questions about energy and the economy.  The place I’ve gotten some plastic buckets from is saying they’re going to have to start charging me, and that’s ok - their costs are going up too.  A fair bit of economic strain among folks I know.  But mostly, a lot of hoping and praying that things will get better while there’s still a little hope of fixing the worst. 

 How about you?


52 Responses to “Time For a Check In?”

  1. AnnaMarieon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:05 am

    I live in an area with major water issues and I have a job that is seriously not sustainable since it’s a luxury service type of thing. I’m trying to sell my house, not having any luck and while our local unemployment is quite low and they *say* housing is strong I’m at the point of just dumping this beast so I can get to where I want to be.

    I’m not afraid of hard work at all but I want to go home and do it there.

  2. Adrienneon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:14 am

    I work for a state university too, in the library. When the economy wasn’t so hot in 2001 or thereabouts, they stopped filling empty positions and giving raises. So far they’re still replacing people who leave and I’m due for a raise by the end of this month (knock wood). No signs of belt-tightening at all.

  3. Anonymouson 08 Jun 2008 at 11:17 am

    Nothing dramatic, but little changes:

    It costs my spouse $50 in gas to go to work each week.

    We decided not to visit parents this month because of the price of gas. Will wait until next month.

    We limit our eating out to once a month, and to a local burger joint or ice cream parlor at that.

    And, for the first time, we’re finding it difficult to put a little money aside each month. With one paid-for used car, no cell phone, no cable, no clothes/books/magazine buying for a while now, I’m beginning to wonder where to creatively cut back.

  4. Lisa B-Kon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:24 am


    Doing OK. A small pay raise is in my future (I work for my City). We’ve eschewed driving the car for anything but planned trips - our town is extremely bike-friendly and we live in an area where everything - groceries, schools, jobs, entertainment, libraries, giant university - are all within easy biking distance. Gas hovers around $4/gallon and I see it going way up this week.

    Food is expensive but we’ve always been pretty good about meal planning. My garden is large and thriving (plenty of rain this year).

    Still thrifting and junking and networking/bartering with neighbors and friends as always - relatively gainful employment for the two if us has not changed that. We’re busy with projects - house, garden, bikes. A neighbor is hunting for a stove to use outside for this year’s canning extravaganza.

    We’re having a fun summer so far, despite the rain and heat. We have great friends and neighbors. I feel really lucky but am keeping a close eye in the near future, as is my husband.

    In my area:

    Some folks are truly hurting, but for others it seems that a lot of the “hurt” would go away with some changes in behavior/habits, ie driving less, shopping more consciously, more DIY stuff, etc. Most of the complaints revolve around the price of gas and the price of food. our farmers’ market, which I oversee, has had a huge increase in attendance. Patrons seem to be willing to pay more for a quality local product, but I know a lot of people who avoid the market because they expect the food to be inexpensive. oh! A young couple is selling handmade rain barrels and compost tumblers this year, and they’re making a KILLING. They sell out every single week - it’s great! Market patrons are really responding to the mainstreaming of sustainability, and I think that’s awesome.

    So - I’m watchful. Taking care of our own business, to be sure, but happy to share skills, help with gardens, etc. We shall see, eh?

  5. Alexandraon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:58 am

    In Wisconsin–gas is at $4 and rising, and our car just died and we’re not going to fix it. Can’t afford the repair, can’t afford to drive it. That puts me out of my part-time job, 20 minutes away (no buses to that location). Oh well.

    It seems like it took a long time for the rise in food prices to hit in the Midwest, but it finally did a couple of weeks ago. Rice doubled, pasta has tripled, veggie oil’s up 50%. Meat and milk are still curiously cheap. I’m cooking more beans anyway and liking it. Waiting for something, anything to happen at the farmer’s market…I’m starting to think it’s vaporware!

  6. Greenpaon 08 Jun 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I’m totally with you that underneath it all, the oil prices are driven by reality- but it would help the poor of the world (me, for one) if we also screamed our heads off about the speculators adding to it.

    The info is totally convincing to me- like the fact that Sachs Goldman (who has tons of trading in oil commodities, yes) published a forecast Friday morning- saying their experts now could see $150/bbl oil in the next few months.. and gosh- the price went up $11!! I’ll be darned. You think they thought their forecast might have that effect? Can you say “duh?” And “smirk, smirk”?

    We must get speculative dollars out of commodities- including food, of course. Somehow we need to wake up our governments to the idea that maybe it’s not ok for the richest people on the planet to just be able to grab food off the plates of the poor- just because they want to make a bigger pile of money.

    The problem of course, is that this is a capitalist sacred cow- capitalists should be able to take any dollar they can grab, and this is good for us all… eventually… really, it is… ok, well, it WILL be, some day, trust me…

    Maybe all the visible pain out there now will help us see? And change?

    Hey, we’ve got floods here, I’m feeling optimistic today. :-)

  7. Susan in NJon 08 Jun 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Things are tight but that’s partly driven by the cyclical and unpredictable nature of our work and various life transitions that have been under way for several years or that have been foreseen for a long time. I am thankful for a bit of respite, involving someone else’s life transitions, that allows me to stay in a salaried position with health insurance for several more months. We deferred vacation plans and a daytrip due to work pressures; but we might have done so anyway because of the cost of things. We’re trying to structure non-mandatory professional matters to eliminate travel (CLE by web, no dinner meetings that involve travel across the state, teleconferences where possible). With sufficient time and creativity, the work pressures, etc. could probably tied to the greater economy, costs, oil etc. but so far it’s not that far off from other periods during the last 10 years.
    We are enjoying the summer, our garden and a free vibrant county park concert schedule, and haven’t yet cut out driving to tennis or swimming.

  8. Kation 08 Jun 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I work in a library 5 days a week. While for us things haven’t gotten bad yet…. actually, at present EXCEPTING fuel prices, we’re doing pretty good….. It’s obvious that a LOT of folks in my area are either going through, or expecting to go through, harder times immanently. The library’s usage has gone up by roughly 5000 patrons a month, compared to this same time last year, meaning simply that a LOT more people are coming in.

    The books being checked out, from what I can see…. Not that we monitor what comes in and goes out in a database or anything…. are a LOT more gardening and home-repair books. Check out is heavily centered in home-repair and weatherizing, gardening and cooking from one’s garden and preserving those foods, handicrafts such as woodworking and knitting and quilting, and most recently, a LOT of use in the raising small-livestock area. Every day I have at LEAST a couple of patrons come through (during my 1 hour check-out-desk shift) with 2 or 3 “small livestock” books, in addition to the gardening and crafting and home-maintanence books they have.

    Thus-far, despite what our local newspapers say, there seem to be fewer tourists in town. Understandably, I think, though our local newspapers say that the tourists are still coming up despite the gas prices. Just not seeing it. The usual caravans of motorhomes and such aren’t present on the highways on my way to & from work, as they have always been in the past. Instead it’s one here, one there. And, as I live in a town based on tourism (NAMED North Pole, for pete’s sake!), the lack of tourists is going to hit hard. Ironically, our local “land baron” is looking to build North Pole’s first hotel right across from the grocery store/strip-mall he owns. He plans on having it built within a year’s time and staffing it with 10 full-timers, considerably more seasonal employees. (Not to say there aren’t hotels in Fairbanks, but this will be the first in North Pole, though we do have our share of B&B’s.)

    At the grocery store, RARELY do I see anybody anymore that doesn’t have a very worried expression on their face. Or make some off-hand comment to me or another perfect stranger (that I overhear) about how TOUGH it’s getting to afford food, or how they’re stocking up now before it DOES get tough for even them.

    The hubby DID just discover yesterday that in the year+ he’s been driving his “new” truck, he’s been seriously underfilling the tires, basing his air-pressure on his OLD truck. Turns out his new truck requires almost twice as much air in the tires. This has resulted in him getting only about 13 miles to the gallon. Seriously OUCH! My FIL thinks that we could see DH’s milage go up by about 5 mpg with the tires properly filled. As it was, the fill-up on Friday night cost over $70. My “new” car (purchased used in Feb. due to the impending death of my 17 year old buick) gets approximately 5 mpg better than my old car did, but even so the last fill-up was over $40. I’m driving less than I usually do, obviously, and keeping my speed down as much as possible. The hubby could do better in those areas.

    I’m not getting to the farmer’s market as much as I’d like to this year, mainly because it’s a 25 mile drive, one way. Even for supporting small ag. and other small business, I can’t justify that on a weekly, or even bi-monthly basis. Maybe once a month. We’ll see how it looks $$ wise next week.

    Need to do a Independence Days update, both here and on my blog. But, have to get breakfast made so we can head over to the inlaw’s for more planting & garden-tending, and supper later.

  9. Shambaon 08 Jun 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I ‘ve been keeping track of local–my 3 gas stations around me–since right before Katrina. It’s stunning how much it has gone up and up and down and up and … you get the picture. I filled up my tank on wednesday–for 3.96 a gallon for regular–prices have gone up from 3.87 the past week or so. I was out for my walk a day later–I didn’t use the car for a day and then on Friday, to my surprised, the price was 4.05! I shouldn’t have been surprised because I knew it would keep going up and probably will this week, too. I think it was the 4 in $4.00 that got to me!

    In San Diego where my brother lives, it’s 4.25 for regular.

    Grocery prices are still going up but not as fast as they were a month or so ago.

    My biggest worry these days is the investments that support my 87 year old mother in an Alzheimer’s unit. I don’t care if there’s anything left at all to inherit–I just want her to be comfortable and feel safe until she dies. The dividends from investments and annuities pay for half her income. It’s been almost 10 years since we had to use my parent’s money to pay for my dad and her care and she comes from a long-lived family!

    Of course, if the whole economy really tanks, I suppose my retirement will have problems, too.

    thanks so much for your blog, Sharon and the comments that other make here. It’s encouraging.


  10. Crunchy Chickenon 08 Jun 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Over here in Seattle, the housing market is finally taking a downturn and slowing down a bit. We’re fairly lucky, so far.

    Gas prices are high - $4.20 for regular, over $5 for diesel and $5.20 for biodiesel.

    I’ve noticed an increase in some food costs. Walnuts for one. WTF is going on with that? Pecans are suddenly cheaper and it’s not like they are a drop in the bucket. We pay $6 a gallon for local organic milk. I never look at conventional, but noticed the other day that it was only $2.99 a gallon. Jiminy! I’m sure that’s expensive to many, but it’s a bargain compared to Organic Valley and our local dairy.

    Now, if I can just get my husband to pay attention to prices. He spent $3/lb on apples the other day. We’re in WA! $1.98 apples are the rule around here… Oh well.

  11. Catharinaon 08 Jun 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I’m in The Netherlands and…no…we are not seeing anything.

    Economy is going strong, housing market is still good, food is a bit more expensive…but that is it. People are complaining about the gas prices, but are mostly angry about the raised taxes… the idea that oil is getting expensive is rarely mentioned.

    People are mostly concerned with the soccer championships and whether or not to buy a large flatscreen TV.

    Peak oil is starting to get mentioned on the news, but very superficially…..we just need to….ahhh, yes, that’s it…..use more fluorescent bulbs and then everything is OK. Sigh.

    Sharon, I love your blog…..but reading it is making me feel very schizophrenic :-) My husband is shoping for his new (company paid) lease car. Ah, well…at least the company is paying the gas.

  12. Jen H. in western Mass.on 08 Jun 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Things are tight. My husband just lost his grant-funded job assisting an engineering professor with his research. I’m still working part-time, but not feeling hopeful about the viability of the small non-profit I work for, which organizes study abroad in ecovillages. We have a buffer of savings and our only debt is our mortgage, plus my husband will be able to get unemployment benefits, so we’re not in a huge hole yet. We will still have health insurance because Massachusetts requires it and has a low-cost plan. Husband has been applying for jobs and trying to do some networking but it’s rough going and he’s kind of depressed and having a hard time functioning. We have a 14-month-old baby. We’re trying to drive as little as possible and carpool with neighbors.

    My observation is that my neighbors are starting to wake up. Lots of people are worried and trying to conserve.

    I bought a bike seat for the baby to attach to my bike, but feel a bit daunted to use the bike for certain trips. I’m afraid of being hit by a car on certain roads. Plus I’m not in shape. I’d love to bike to pick up my CSA share but it’s 6 or 7 miles each way, and I’m really scared of cars whizzing by at 50 mph coming within inches of me and the baby. Part of me wishes gas prices would get much worse soon so a whole lot of cars would be off the road and I wouldn’t feel so scared to bike. I know the hardcore cyclists would scoff at my fear but the fear is real.

  13. Christinaon 08 Jun 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I agree with Catharina - we’re not seeing much of a crisis in Europe, at least not yet. Gas price is going steadily upwards, ethanol/E85 stays the same. House prices have been rising rapidly for several years but the rise is slowing down somewhat.

    Food is getting expensive, though, and the global food crisis is making headlines in the newspapers. Peak Oil is finally starting to make headlines, too and people around me are talking more and more about global warming and greenhouse gasses. However, most are optimistic and believe that technology will fix it. But Dh and some of our neighbours are talking about putting up a windmill in our village. Electricity is getting more expensive all the time.

    The economy is strong (partly because of the weak dollar, ironically), unemployment is fairly low and most of us are getting along just fine, thank you. Although I sometimes feel it’s like the calm before the storm begins…


  14. Robyn M.on 08 Jun 2008 at 3:47 pm


    Well, if anyone’s checked my blog over the past few months, we’re rocky right now. To what extent this is the economy versus the idiots in charge of our University where my husband is (currently) employed is unclear, but we have little doubt that it will become more and more about the economy as time goes on. My husband has recently been admitted to an accelerated licensure program to get public teaching certification in Mathematics, in case his career in academia is truly over. In an immediate sense, we’re doing rather well, and we’re taking this year of solid employment that we’ve got ahead of us to try and save some money, make deeper lifestyle changes, and line up as many options as we can possibly wrangle. We already don’t drive much, don’t buy much, have a big garden, shop for local foods, etc., so the recent price changes haven’t been too bad for us.

    Our town:

    Our town is hurting in a bad way. The median income in our town is only around $28,000. These people do not have much space in their budget to make allowances for spiking gas and food prices. We’re hemmoraging good jobs, and even beginning to lose bad, service-sector jobs. I could criticize people for driving too much, having cable or other money-wasting activities, but I can’t really blame anyone for this. People need to drive to make what meager money they do, and cable/DVD/etc. is one of the few forms of entertainment they get anymore. I do think people in our town would benefit from learning different habits, but I’d like to see this problem met with compassion and understanding rather than accusations. Being poor is very hard; our economy is making it harder every day. People take pleasures wherever they can anymore. It will be a long, hard slog for people to learn a different way of life. Hopefully we’ll all be better off for it in the end, but the road there will be painful for many, and it’s going to start with one very steep learning curve.

  15. Paula Hewitton 08 Jun 2008 at 4:25 pm

    The cost of fuel/food/housing in Australia is increasing at a similar rate to US. Fuel costs virtually doubled in one year, and set to have another rise. We are also contending with drought - on the brink of agricultural disaster. fresh produce and meat increasingly expensive (Ive heard it is cheaper to buy Australian meat in US than it is the buy it here). Ive noticed that processed food is an increasingly cheaper option (not good)

    personally: we traded in SUV for more economical petrol car 18 months ago - thank goodness. meant camping more difficult (the only family holiday we could afford), but have now realised that driving holidays are a thing of the past for us anyway. We used to do lots of bushwalking (hiking) we now can’t afford fuel to drive to forests to walk. staying at home more. eating out less (not that we did much anyway). We have chooks and a veggie and fruit garden - we couldn’t survive on it, but it is better than nothing. we are eating more simple meals (chickpeas and pasta, or asian greens and rice with a little meat) - more like peasant food. we no longer buy fancy ingredients to make gourmet meals, eating cheaper cuts of meat, less choices of food (instead of having fruit bowl full of variety - we have two or three fruits that are in seaon/on sale). Also anything organic we used to buy is now no longer an option - we simply can’t stretch the budget to afford it (organic here is double price of conventional). we already lived a fairly frugal life, so are finding it difficult to find places to cut back. employment is ok - husband is in policeforce - pay isnt great, but job security guarenteed. I dont work with small kids at home (cant afford child care and costs of second car etc to have two jobs isnt worth it) - will re-assess my employment options when all kids start school.

    Others seem to be hurting too - complaining about costs of fuel and food - but dont seem to be doing much to change lifestyle yet (getting further into debt perhaps?). certainly terms like peak oil are being mentioned more in the media in the past 6 months but I think most of our friends think we are crazy. it doesnt seem to be sinking in that fuel prices (for example) are not going back down …ever. people were upset when fuel hit $1 a litre - 6 months(?) ago - now it is $1.50 (and set to rise again) and most people just seem to be accepting it (or blaming the gov’t) we have noticed an increase in public transport use - the city is struggling to improve PT to deal with increased demand- but is also spending billions on improving road infrastructure that no will will be able to afford to drive on(as one person wrote to the paper - Brisbane will have the best bike paths in the world). inner city starting to have issues of where people can park their bikes/scooters etc. so maybe it is sinking in ….slowly.

  16. Brian M.on 08 Jun 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Let me add to Robyn M, that our town currently has terrible flooding, we know several people whose homes were ruined, and our CSA farmer’s fields were 75% underwater yesterday. Our farmer’s market was cancelled. The water got almost to our church door but didn’t go in, and deposited several inches of mud over most of our parking lot. We’ll find out next week, just how much of the local agricultural around here was hurt, but it seems plausible that Darin at least will go under, and that would be a big blow.

    On the up side, people around here are trying to adapt. There are more bikes than last year, and more bike paths on the way, and a lot more mopeds get ridden. And gardening seems to be becoming more popular too. I talked with a nurse in a bar 2 weeks ago, and he told me about spending years saving up for a huge vacation to see the world. He started with a 6 week stint doing volunteer nursing in Kenya, and planned to visit Europe and Asia from there. But while immunizing kids in Kenya he had a change of heart. He saw the poor and read the papers written by people outside of the US, and saw the dollar collapsing and gas rising. And he decided that he was going to need the money to help him and his family get by back here, and that he’d seen enough wonders to tell his grandkids about, and he came back here when his 6 weeks was up. I think that is part of the zeitgeist here. Doom and preparation, are beginning to enter the heads of normal folk.
    -Brian M.

  17. Wendyon 08 Jun 2008 at 5:39 pm

    My husband has finally agreed that our oil burning furnace is an Albatrosse that we need to cut loose - and soon!

    So, the other day he went to a local woodstove place, and it was PACKED! He said people were looking for any alternative to heating oil. Pellet stoves, in particular, are very popular. We’ll be replacing our old woodstove with a more efficient (we hope) model and will be (hopefully) heating our whole house with the one stove.

    I’d love to be able to move the old oil furnace out this summer to give me a storage room for my bicycle and sell the heating oil in our tank to someone who might have a hard time paying the prices we’ll likely be seeing this winter. I heard my brother-in-law say today that he heard $6 per gallon for heating oil this winter.

    I’ve seen a lot more people riding bikes, but it’s summer, and that may just be a coincident, because I saw a lot more cyclists last summer than in previous years, too. I’ve heard, though, that the bus has an increased ridership.

    A new acquaintance asked me a whole bunch of questions about gardening the other day, as she’s planning to start one. I told her it wasn’t too late, yet, but she should really get on it and soon ;). She told me about a local farmer where we can get raw milk for $2 per gallon. Score! :).

    My family has been really lucky, so far, though. We’ve made a lot of changes over the past few years with regard to our spending habits and our attitudes toward money, and so we haven’t been feeling the pinch. I’m not looking forward to if/when we do.

  18. Kathyon 08 Jun 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Here in Melbourne, Australia, I have to agree with Paula - we are feeling the bite of fuel and food price rises, made greatly worse by our drought and subsequently water shortage. We are on heavy water restrictions here and really should be on even heavier ones - the government has backed away from imposing Stage 4 restrictions because of the political fallout, and is instead investing in a long-distance pipeline to divert water from the Murray River (itself in crisis) to the city and in a desalination plant. Petrol prices bite us right down the line here, because Melbourne is a city with significant sprawl, inadequate public transport options and centralised industry / business, so most everyone drives to work. Of course, much of our food is also transported long distances by road, which means we feel the fuel price pinch in groceries as well. As Paula says, organic food has become an unaffordable luxury for many, and indeed, fresh food is getting so pricey that many families are relying on cheaper (and rubbishier) packaged food. Mortgage rates and rental prices have also risen sharply and many people are caught in a housing squeeze too.

    We do have some things (currently) going for us here, though - a universal and mostly functional public health care system, a pharmaceutical subsidy system for everyday essential meds like insulin, heart & bp drugs, asthma treatments etc, a decent public education system, and a basic but not totally useless social welfare safety net. So while a lot of people are feeling the bite, and I personally know of 6 families in my area who have got rid of their second family car, the level of desperation doesn’t seem as great (yet) as in parts of the US.

    For us, we are very lucky at the moment. We have 2 children (5 and 3) and a medium-sized house in the suburbs quite near the water (on the non-trendy side of town). Husband is in a well-paid job managing IT and administration for a growing natural & cultural heritage consultancy firm - the people who do environmental impact assessments and remediations for big and small projects. They have more work than they can handle and are growing by the month at the moment, as environmental management concerns are coming to the fore in legislation here. No-one can say what the future will bring but for at least the next 3-5 years, his job should be solid, as the firm is booked up for work for that period.

    I work part-time from home in the state public service (17 hrs a week), which has allowed me to save on childcare costs (I don’t use any) and transport costs (as I work from my home desk), at the relatively modest price of giving up most of my evenings and some weekends to work, as during the day I spend my time with my children and are involved in community activities. My job is not as secure as husband’s - the public service is in a “make do with less” phase and we are in hiring freeze at the moment. No-one is *yet* talking about redundancies but I think it’s not far off. I’ve been a public servant for 9 years and have a permanent role, so I wouldn’t be first up against the wall, but I am preparing for the eventuality that I will lose this job at some point and have a few different contingency plans.

    We have one family car (a fairly new station wagon) which we share - husband drives to work two days a week, the kids and I do our running about 2 days a week, we drive to church on Sundays and two days a week it isn’t used. We have a manageable mortgage, buy food in bulk, grow some veggies and get eggs from my mother-in-law who has chickens. Despite the cost, I budget to buy only organic free-range chicken and lamb, and we get fish from the fish market at the local pier. (We rarely eat meat / fish more than 4 times a week in total, so that helps contain the cost too). We are not as yet having any difficulty managing to meet our bills, although we definitely have restricted the number of trips out to see my parents (who live an hour’s drive away) and I have started working on a budget system for groceries rather than a get-what-we-want system (we can eat very well indeed for $120 a week, excluding the periodic need to replenish pantry staples like spices, sauces, flours, sugars, rice and so on, if I am careful). The joker in the pack for us is my Coeliac disease, as gluten-free food is much more expensive than “regular” food, but with the exception of gf pasta, gf muesli and gf bread, I do not buy packaged / pre-made gf food anyway, so that helps!

    So on balance, I would say it’s hurting in our community, but not yet desperate, although a lot of people are starting to see the writing on the wall.

  19. Sylviaon 08 Jun 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Here in NYC I’m not sure what’s up. The price of food is getting to be crazy on certain items, and people will complain about it in an off-hand manner every once in a while, but nothing major. I’ve heard the food pantries are getting slammed, and our community garden is having a canned food drive to help out.

    There are a LOT of people on bikes this year, up even from last year, but that might be more of a hipster trend or environmental thing than a transportation necessity. Not that many people here drive, much less to work. The only difference it’s seemed to make is that the cops have noticed an increase in accidents involving bikes. So they, counterintuitively enough, have started ticketing bike riders more. Not the car drivers who swerve into bike lanes and pull illegal u-turns and sideswipe bikes like they’re not even there, and all of the other things that make bike riding in the city really nerve-wracking.

    The subways are still packed, but that’s nothing new.

    The housing market has not tanked. The insane price increases have pretty much stopped, and there have been a bunch of foreclosures in bad neighborhoods, but the sense is that most of those were speculators anyhow. Buying your own apartment (let alone entire house) is still way, way out of reach for the average NYer.

    The one thing that we’ve noticed (and this was confirmed by a few other people) is that the city parks are very, very crowded this summer season so far. Apparently it’s because air travel has gotten to be such a pain, and so expensive, and people are economizing and not traveling out of the city as much. But of course, thanks to the falling dollar, we still have plenty of foreign tourists in town, shopping away.

    Jobs seem to be ok. We usually notice when there’s a downturn in jobs, because a bunch of our friends are young freelancers, and they’re the first to lose work. But they all seem to be doing just fine so far, thank goodness.

    We’ve been going to the farmer’s market because our CSA hasn’t started yet, and the farmer’s market is really, really crowded. Lost of people interested in local food, in canning and gardening and and and. Our CSA has 40% more members this year, and our community garden membership doubled. People are really starting to get the picture about agriculture and sustainability. In certain neighborhoods, of course.

    We’re having a World Food Crisis party/potluck/canned food drive, as I mentioned, in our community garden, and it’s been really cool to see how many people are really into the idea. We’re planning on putting up a temporary art installation with little bits of paper/pictures/string all rigged together, with info on the world food crisis, sustainable agriculture, the energy/food connection, etc. We did the same thing last year on a smaller scale in our backyard, calling it an “anti-ethanol cinco de mayo party”, and that was fun. A few people have mentioned to me, wow, it’s weird how all that stuff you were talking about last year came true. Baby steps. First make people aware of the problems, right?

  20. Karinon 08 Jun 2008 at 7:58 pm

    I live in Central Maine. We are feeling the squeeze. There are lots of huge gardens in yards that used to have the super mowed lawn. Not that this is a bad thing. On my way into town (Bangor) I saw many, many Rv type vehicles for sale. A local paper company closed its doors and layed off 200 people because the energy expense were too high to operate. The big worry on everyone’s lips is the coming heating season. Maine home’s depend heavily on heating oil. The state is trying to implement a loan program for semi trucks that would allow truckers to install some mechanism to make them use significantly less fuel.

    On a personal note, my husband is a part time music teacher. He has the opportunity to take on some extra work at the school. It could mean some more money but it would require him to drive 2 more days a week which would add to the gasoline expense. So we weigh whether it is worth it or not…crazy.

  21. Kiashuon 08 Jun 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Someone said earlier than Aussie fuel prices had “virtually doubled” in the last year. This isn’t true, it’s been more like A$1.35/lt to A$1.50/lt. About five years ago it was a dollar a litre, and ten years ago A$0.75/lt. So it’s doubled in a decade, not a year.

    The price of fuel hasn’t hurt us, as we didn’t use the car a lot by most people’s standards anyway. We used to fill the 40lt tank once every four weeks, my spouse started biking to work two days a week for fitness so now we fill it up every six weeks. So it costs more to fill but we fill it less often, overall we’re spending less on fuel than we used to.

    The price of food hasn’t affected us personally, as we rely on basic grains, fruit and vegetables, and while those have risen in price, if you stick to seasonal food you’ll be alright. Our domestic food bill remains A$55 a week.

    The price of food has affected my catering business. I supply office workers and do office functions. With rice going from A$25 to A$38 for a 25kg bag in six months, and meat up by about 10%, I’ve had to pass those costs onto my customers. But as yet this hasn’t dropped custom, as I already had the lowest overall prices around, and the workers have all demanded pay rises to deal with price rises - good old inflation in action.

    Less competent small businesses who began with high prices are now in trouble, as they either raise their prices further and lose custom, or wear the rise in costs and it bites into profits. But that’s the free market in small businesses - the competent do well, the incompetent or greedy do badly. You can only survive as incompetent or greedy when you’re big business ;)

    Because we have no debt and are net savers, the rise in interest rates has helped us. The rise in house prices has finally filtered through to rents, so that when we moved earlier this year our rent went up by $3,000 a year, but that’s more than covered by the extra interest on our savings.

    My observation is that people with large cars, plasma screen tvs, and debts, these people are having trouble. People who are frugal are now overall the same as before, or better off. I don’t have a lot of sympathy, to be honest. The big spenders got to enjoy themselves in good times, they weren’t complaining then. We didn’t get to enjoy dinners out three times a week, huge tvs, overseas holidays twice a year and stupidly large cars.

    Lots of people treated their mortgage as a credit card. “Oh look, they just valued the house at $100,000 more than last time, let’s borrow another $100,000 and renovate and have an overseas trip in fancy hotels!” Now those people are in trouble.

    Their joy in good times gets balanced by misery in bad times; our frugal comfort in good times lets us have frugal comfort in bad times.

    Things are of course different in uncivilised countries without proper welfare, health care and education systems. Here in Australia if you’re in the shit for more than a couple of weeks it’s usually because you put yourself there - whether that shit is living on the street, or living in a mansion with a humungous debt.

  22. Nettleon 08 Jun 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Here in Philadelphia, I’ve noticed that our local farmer’s market is significantly more crowded than I have ever seen it before and our local farm-to-city organization opened up a couple of new locations this season, including one in the courtyard at City Hall, which I find a symbolically significant location.

    We don’t drive and don’t do very much supermarket food shopping, so we’re not seeing much difference in the budget. The biggest thing has been rice. I can’t eat wheat, so my diet is pretty much rice, beans, veggies, dairy and meat and not much else. My husband and I both strongly prefer brown to white rice, and it’s been getting harder to find brown rice sold in bulk. Our usual supplier, a little ethnic Indian food store, no longer has the 20-lb bags of brown basmati that we used to live on. Now all we can get are 10 lbs or less, and we’re paying the same for a 10 lb bag as we were for a 20 lb bag last year. I’ve been looking around for another source and have found nothing that is any less expensive. Actually, I haven’t found any quantity above 36 ozs anywhere outside my usual store. I don’t recall it ever being that hard to find brown rice around here. I still see plenty of white rice, though usually with a sign on it limiting how much you can buy at once. There’s a peculiar new sign up at the Indian store telling customers that rice is not returnable. I’m wondering if they are having people buying up rice and then trying to sell it back to them at a higher price. Next time I’m there and they aren’t too busy, I’ll ask what it means, because I’m really curious.

    I’m noticing a lot more bicycles and a whole lot of shiny new motor scooters locked up outside of the office buildings downtown. I just read a news report that public transportation use is up 12% over last year. There is lots of talk at work about gas prices and such and there seems to be a sense of recognition that things in general are going downhill. I’m also noticing that some of the things I do that used to make people think I was some wacky hippy chick are looking way more mainstream. Walking to work, carrying water in reusable bottles, carrying my own shopping bags, composting, even gardening - I’m becoming unexpectedly hip. The other day one of my coworkers caught me rinsing out a ziplock bag after lunch and gave me a big congratulatory speech about how wonderful I was for doing that and how she had never even thought of reusing baggies. I thought it was funny because it just seems so ordinary to me, but she thought I was some sort of environmentalist role model because I took five seconds to rinse a baggie. I told her you could do the same thing with saran wrap and tin foil, but that seemed a little too radical for her. I decided not to mention that I also don’t use paper towels or kleenex tissues, but by next year, who knows, I might qualify for sainthood by blowing my nose on a cloth hankie.

  23. Rosaon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:50 pm

    We personally aren’t feeling anything, but that’s because it’s summer - when the snow hits and we turn the furnace back on and drive the car again, we’ll feel it. I’m thinking about asking for winter bike gear for my September birthday, and finally sucking it up and riding through the winter this year (this isn’t trivial in Minneapolis, but lots of people do it.) The bike parking at my job is *full*, at least half full even on rainy days.

    The level of foreclosed/empty houses in the neighborhood seems pretty constant - the houses that were on the market by owner last summer were either sold to flippers or foreclosed on, and are for sale again now, boarded up or painted pretty. The neighbors crowded their whole family into the two upstairs units of their triplex and rented out the bottom unit, so we’ve got 6-10 kids hanging out in the yard instead of 2-6 this summer. We don’t have a tenant right now but a few friends who had their own apartments have consolidated, so I’m guessing we’ll have someone this winter.

    It’s been a long, cold, rainy, stormy spring - hail and thunderstorms this last week again - and I know the neighborhood garden store has felt it. I got invited to a strategic planning meeting at the community org. that runs our food shelf, so I wonder if they are as overwhelmed as all the other food shelves I hear about. I want to go, because they run community gardens too, but my partner is going to lose it if I volunteer for one more thing, so I said no.

    A lot of my coworkers are young and saddled with student loans and car loans. They’re feeling the gas prices, but they seem not to eat. If Metro Transit raises bus fares, which I’ve heard rumors of, that will hurt people.

  24. Susanon 08 Jun 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Public Transit ridership is way up in Seattle. Folks here are big on the whole “green” thing, so it’s hard to say how much of it is fueled by environmentalism and climate change vs. the astronomical price of gasoline (I paid $4.299/gal for “regular” today). Still, it’s way up and the papers comment on it every week.

    Housing prices are down, but not by nearly the percentage that the rest of the country reports.

    The papers report that food banks are struggling and the shelters are full, but that’s due, in part, to the mayor clearing out the homeless encampments and forcing the homeless to seek shelter beds.

    I’ve noticed many more veggie gardens in the neighborhood, but I don’t know if folks are just (again) doing the green and hip thing, or feeling squeezed and worried and have decided that a garden would help.

    I’ve heard a few comments from people complaining about the cost of gas, but more as a superficial conversation piece than anything else. I haven’t heard anyone complain about the rising cost of food or about making ends meet. People I know are still throwing parties and making elaborate dinners and going out to eat, to concerts, to movies, and on vacation. Most people I know are more than adequately employed, but still, I wonder why I’m not hearing any complaints?

  25. Sharonon 09 Jun 2008 at 6:45 am

    I hope all you midwesterners do stay safe in the floods.

    Greenpa, I’m with you on food commodity speculation, which has increased dramatically in the last year, but I’m not sure I am on oil. Oil speculation has been going on for a long time - for a while it actually kept prices artificially low, and no one was complaining then. Ultimately, I think a fast drive up in price is incredibly painful, but the best thing for the world - if we’re to deal with climate change, we have to get the price up and fast. I’d rather we have tradable rationing, and have the money being reallocated from the rich to the poor, but given that at this stage, that’s a complete pipe dream, I find I can’t work much outrage up at oil speculation. Because a gradual, steady rise up simply gives people too much time to adapt, and get comfortable with the new normal. Honestly, I think the speculators may actually be serving our interests at the moment. So reluctantly, I think I’m a no on this one.


  26. Chileon 09 Jun 2008 at 7:28 am

    I’m in almost exactly the same position as AnnaMarie (first comment.)

    We discussed buying a scooter this weekend but decided against it. The price for good quality ones that would be safe enough in crazy traffic here makes the payback take too long (over sticking with what we have). At current gas prices, it would be 23,000 miles. We drive less than 7,500 per year. Yes, I know prices will go up but we just don’t have the extra income to invest in this as opposed to doing without some errands and biking when possible. (Not possible for me when it’s 100 degrees outside - I get sick!)

    We’ve cut out eating out, at least for this month (for my addiction challenge), which is helping the budget a little. Like others have mentioned, no fancy ingredients for fun recipes anymore. I paid almost twice as much for 25 pounds of sugar recently as I did 6 months ago.

    In the area, I’ve noticed more people on bikes including some that are obviously brand new to it. Expressions at the gas station are always grim. Our mileage plummeted in the past month so we’re wondering if the gas is being diluted. I’m trying a different station, different brand…

    The thrift stores, without exception, are more full of stuff than I have seen in the 4 years we’ve been here. My theory is that people suffering foreclosure are just getting rid of everything they can’t sell and can’t afford to store. Craigslist is filled with ads but we can’t unload anything and I suspect that’s true across the board. MANY horses listed; people can’t afford to feed them. Unfortunately, being close to the Mexican border means that many of them probably end up down there in slaughterhouses.

  27. kateon 09 Jun 2008 at 8:11 am

    Sharon’s reports always cover mine pretty well. I live in the Capitol Region of NY (Northeast NY).

    This area is usually pretty safe from peaks of any kind, with the density of government jobs and the people who contract with the state or provide services of some type. When government cuts back, it is felt by a lot of people.

    We also have a lot of competition among grocery stores. I can walk to four stores with groceries plus a Farmer’s Market, two bakeries, etc. The past ten days I’ve driven a total of four miles. I wanted to see what I could do about driving, without giving up much. I walked. My garden is much bigger, but I was planning to do that anyway, after sticking pretty much to just tomatoes in the past. I find myself reacting mostly to the state of my financial investments. When the market is down and I feel like I have less, I spend less and get creative. I know that my situation is vastly different than the situation of people who have to drive 25 miles to work and don’t have too many options.

    I own a tiny camp in rural Vermont and see financial pressures more evident there. In the nearby town, one quarter of the buildings on Main St. were for sale. Three people have knocked on my door to ask if I have any work for them. It’s an area where everyone drives, and half the people seem to own trucks.


  28. Mark Mahanon 09 Jun 2008 at 9:17 am

    It’s striking that some of the other europeans aren’t feeling the bite yet. Here in Italy many people are tightening their belts and have been for some time. Gasoline is over 1.50 euros per liter, if you do the math that’s close to 10 dollars a gallon. Food costs more everytime I go shopping and we buy most of our food from small local farmers, limiting as much as possible purchasing from big distributors. Today this reality finally made it onto the front page of “La Republica”, Itay’s largest selling daily newspaper. Meanwhile our absolutely insane government is “pushing forward to give Italy cheap energy with low impact Nuclear reactors. This after a national referendum in the late ’80s banned nuclear energy in Italy, seeminly for ever. But what’s a national vote to people like Berlusconi, our corrupt and corrupting prime minister?

    People are still thinking that it’s just speculation that is driving fuel costs, that soon now things will returnt to normal. Normal is a concept that will soon take on a much different meaning. Thanks for your great blog, it really fills a big empty spot for a lot of people. MM

  29. Going Green Mamaon 09 Jun 2008 at 9:27 am

    Brian, I’m assuming you’re somewhere around Franklin??? We managed to be unscathed with floods but know of people who are hurting.

    We were already feeling the bite since my husband is out of work and the retail sector is reeling. I have an offer to adjunct teach this fall but am weighing the 50-mile RT drive each week. If they pay enough, we will do what we have to to feed the family. But it may be more cost-effective for me to get PT work at Target or something!

  30. Segwyneon 09 Jun 2008 at 9:40 am

    I live in Keene, NH, which is a wonderful very small city surrounded by farmland and forests. No suburbs here. We are biking more, and driving less. Some driving I won’t stop - specifically, the 180-mile round trip for visitation with my daughter. To accommodate that, we used our tax return to buy outright a more fuel-efficient car, which gets nearly twice the gas mileage (37mpg) as our family van. Gas here is up to 4.10 according to Gas Buddy. I try to always fill up on my way back from dropping off or picking up my daughter. Last night it was 3.83 at my usual station, but they were out of gas, so I got it at the next station which was 3.86. I try not to buy gas here in Keene unless I need gas to get out to Chichester where those gas stations are.

    My husband works in a nursing home, and his job looks to be very secure for some time. He hates working there because he has no patience left to deal with the kids by the time he comes home, but it is a reliable income. I don’t know what the income statistics are for the area. The last ones I find are from 1999 on the state’s website.

    No matter how frugal I try to be, I am still spending too much money on food. Food stamps now only gets us about 2 weeks worth of food, if we are very careful, and we visit the food pantry every week, and we still spent over $500 of our money for the 6 of us last month. Some of that went to the farmer’s market, and some of that got seedlings for our first garden. I have been trying to buy an extra bag of rice or pasta when I can, and when the food pantry has wheat berries available, there is almost always a sign that says to take as much as we want. I try not to be too greedy and limit myself to 5 lbs. I know most people don’t have access to a grain mill, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who does.

    Thankfully we have no debt. But it is getting harder to get by with our rent (subsidized), gas, food, phone and internet, child support, and the various little sundries that come up. We use freecycle a lot, too.

    I’ve been poor all my life. I am not panicking because we still have a functioning government, so I know our basic needs will be met. Once the gov’t collapses, we will be on our own, but I am not afraid of that, either. Sometimes I wish the whole collapse would hurry up and happen already. Let’s get it over with and move on.

  31. Segwyneon 09 Jun 2008 at 9:42 am

    Oh yeah, you know times are tough when there is a For Sale sign in front of a realtor’s office building.

  32. Meganon 09 Jun 2008 at 10:25 am

    Just paid $4.39/gal for regular gas this morning in Bellingham, WA. Ouch! Gas prices haven’t really impacted me too much, I only fill my tank every other week or so, but still. It’s going to hit $5 here very soon, it’s gone from $4 to $4.39 in just a couple of weeks. I can manage fine on the bus and on my bike and feet, but other people in my area who live out in the county and commute are going to have a tough time. Lots of scooters, bikes, and people on the bus.

    Prices in the restaurants are UP, I don’t eat out often, but across the board the stuff I order is costing more.

    I’m sure you other Hamsters are noticing, but crime is up in our town. There have been more assaults, broad daylight muggings/robberies … I think when some people are more stressed out over finances, this type of behavior gets just closer to the surface. There are definitely cracks in the happy dam here.

  33. Karinon 09 Jun 2008 at 10:32 am

    Friday night the local shell station was selling gas for 3.99 a gallon. Saturday morning it was 4.19 a gallon. 20 cents over night

  34. Kelli in North Floridaon 09 Jun 2008 at 10:39 am

    I haven’t worked for money since my son was diagnosed with cancer. He’s off treatment now, but we’re getting ready to move to a new house where we’ll live in community and should be able to afford for me to continue doing mainly unpaid work. (I formally worked for a non-profit food security program; my job was to help folks start school and community gardens.) My husband’s pay has been cut 20% for the summer. He works for a non-profit human rights organization. Hopefully, the pay will be restored in the fall.

    The housing market here started to slip about a year ago, and there are a lot of for sale signs now. We were lucky we sold our house quickly to our neighbor’s son and daughter-in-law who really wanted to live in this neighborhood. We sold our house for about 7% less than we would have been able to a year ago (according to a realtor), but we didn’t use a realtor so recouped the loss.

    Food prices are definitely up. In today’s paper, there was an article about how much busier the farmers’ markets are now because produce is less expensive than at the chain stores. Because we both work at home, the gas price hike is not affecting us as much as it is some. A recent newspaper article reported that more people are riding the bus and cycling to work. Both of these things seem like positive outcomes, if we can find ways to help the very poor who may not be as flexible with shopping or transportation and have little to live with during what is hopefully a transition to more sustainable food and transportation systems.

    Property taxes were cut drastically by our new Republican governor which has affected mainly schools. A $40 average savings per home owner resulted in drastic cuts in classes offered at our community college and a huge shortfall for public schools - including losing most of our school nurses. What is wrong with people…

    Overall, our family is doing fine - lots of changes with the down-sizing and moving but we’re feeling pretty positive still. I’m scouting out areas for community gardens in our new urban neighborhood and excited about getting our kitchen certified so we can can the excess produce farmers donate to us when the market closes and can help neighborhood folks who want to preserve their own food.

    In a nutshell, we’re doing okay, although I’m worried for others.

  35. geewhizpaton 09 Jun 2008 at 10:47 am

    I am up here in the wine country of Northern California. I have been doing food storage for awhile and have put a year’s supply of grains, honey and other staples before the shipping costs went sky high with UPS…purchased grain mill on EBay and bread machine at my local thrift store…lucky to have many CSA choices I can bike to and farmer’s markets etc. I have 2 recumbent bicycles that I purchased used several years ago…one for commuting and I am will be putting a mid-drive electric motor system on it…a bit pricey…about the same as a scooter…however no registration issues and can ride in bike lanes…which there are plenty…will hook up bike trailer and be able to use it like a little pickup truck when I shop for bulk at Costco…etc.
    I am self-employed and have developed my business to serve the “well-heeled” just to be somewhat recession-proof…I have some problems with that but I am counseling these folks on sustainability which they seem to be open to hearing about these days.
    Self-reliance and frugality have always been my focus so I am pretty ok…but my friends are struggling and my working class neighborhood is getting grim…not too many foreclosures here as these are humble homes that weren’t that attractive except to carpet bagging investors for rentals…also many Hispanic families who lost their homes…a few foreclosures from that.
    I am 1 mile from work and my car purchase 3 years ago was about getting at least 30 miles per gallon.
    So I have a mortgage that is the same as the rental market…a few car payments left (I bought used)…and a few debts related to my business that could be paid off. I have sublet my office hours that I don’t work and I will rent a room to a commuting college student as I am 3 miles from Sonoma State University. So I am ok and hunkering down…eliminated eating out and driving without a plan….I worry about my friends who are more exposed and have less resources…I give greens and part of my weekly CSA box to some of my struggling neighbors…as long as panic or desperate acts don’t start…I am holding my own…Pat

  36. Maeveon 09 Jun 2008 at 11:02 am

    The local school mill levy failed by a narrow margin recently, and the schools are having to cut teachers, reading tutors, slash the activities for kids, and not purchase books (among other things). They’ll probably face more cuts again next year.

    The food bank distribution network in the state is facing doubled fuel price from last year, and expecting that to continue to rise. This means instead of 10% of their budget going to fuel, 30%+ is going to fuel. Our state is large, distance-wise, and the far-flung rural communities are pretty hard hit. Food banks are having to purchase food, because donations from individuals and companies are down.

    I see a lot more people walking and cycling in my neighborhood. Food prices are up, and no one looks at me weird when I say I put in a garden.

    There was a report in the paper last week for women to keep better track of their purses, and not just put them under their chairs in restaurants and such, as there was an increase in purse thefts and pickpocketing. More reports of robberies and breakins too, and petty vandalism is up. But that last could just be related to school letting out recently.

    I worry about the winter heating costs. People around here use electric and natural gas primarily, and rates always go up between December and March, often every single bill. Our bill tripled in that time period, even though our fuel usage remained fairly even. I expect prices to be much much worse this winter. Part of my thrift sale, yard sale, shopping this summer will be for thick warm winter things- outdoor gear, blankets, sweaters, warm pants, and so on. The years of dressing for summer in the middle of winter are drawing to a close. I expect more people will be wearing leggings and tights under their skirts and slacks in the winters, instead of turning up the heat. Hmm, reminds me of my childhood during the 1970s actually! Leg-warmers and boot socks weren’t just “fashion statements” but necessities.

    We’ll be doing the “staycation” this summer, except for a couple things we’d planned on and paid for earlier in the year.

    Fuel prices were high enough just before Memorial Day Weekend, that my grandfather (who is a World War II veteran), didn’t make the drive to where our family is buried. This marks the only year other than the years he was overseas in the war, that he has not gone and decorated the graves. He said the gas prices were just too high.

    I’m just wishing I’d spent more efforts last year to find canning jars and such supplies, because hardly anyone was talking about it. This year there are already many requests on the Freecycle list for those sort of items, and I’ve not seen anything at any of the yard sales I’ve been to. I generally don’t have the time to get there bright and early first thing, so I’m guessing that people are grabbing those just as fast as they can.

    I did score a working food dehydrator (sadly electric rather than solar) for $3 this past weekend. I am leery of relying on freezers for food storage.

  37. Anion 09 Jun 2008 at 11:52 am

    Here in Vermont we are seeing the rising prices at the pump of course- mostly over $4/gal for regular, but did find one at 3.99 the other day.

    People are most worried about the cost of driving- most people have SUV’s and trucks out here and there is no mass-transit other than in a few areas. The NY Times article seemed to miss the idea that Vermont was in the same boat, although they did include part of Maine.I am seeing large #’s of motorcycles being used- it is really up. Also the “park and rides” are overflowing with cars/trucks parked all over the grass and down the roadside.

    People are also very worried about heating costs- fuel oil is big here besides wood. A neighbor is getting a wood stove and I know a lot of other people are planning on upping their use of wood- I already heat with wood, using a propane unit only for back-up heat if I am out all day working.

    Food costs are up- the growing season is just getting under way here so Farmer’s Mkts are still not selling much in the way of produce- I sell at market so hope it will be a good season. Organic milk is $4.99 1/2 gal or $9.98/gal btw!

    The job situation is dicey- we have lost a number of manufacturing jobs here- several plants closed down recently so that has added to the problem. Personally, I am not sure if I will be teaching anymore(p/t position), so other than the farm I am not sure what I will be doing for income. Finding some sort of work locally doesn’t seem likely so I will have to be creative.

    I am pretty concerned how things will play out here- very rural and mountainous, have to drive to go anywhere; can’t even imagine biking some of these hills. Between the lack/loss of jobs, high gas and fuel costs and food- it will be an interesting winter for many. Personally I am grateful my house is paid for, I live frugally and stay out of debt and am good at making do- maybe this will become fashionable again? I have always believed in living within ones means but that hasn’t seemed to be the way most of the country has been living. I do feel for those who are living on really low incomes while paying rent, childcare etc but have a hard time feeling sorry for those who have had a comfortable income but just spent beyond it. I don’t want to feel self-righteous or anything about it- that doesn’t feel good-but still I just don’t get it when people live this way….

  38. Elizabethon 09 Jun 2008 at 11:59 am

    My husband works for a large university, and I work for an affiliate of the university. However, he works with video conferencing, which they are actually seeing an increase in since the price of gas has risen so dramatically, so I think his job is relatively safe.
    On the other hand, we just found out I’m pregnant. We’re very excited about it and we were actually trying to get pregnant, but I can’t say that the floudering economy and generally unstable world aren’t giving me pause. We had planned on me quiting my job when the baby is born or a little before hand, but now it looks as though I may work part time and ask grandma to care for the baby 2 or three days a week. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but it might. We’re planning to turn off the cable and the home phone soon (just use cell phones), but I would definitely appreciate any other tips. We don’t eat out, I haven’t bought a new piece of clothing in 4 months (and when I did it was clearence at Target), we have old cars and relatively cheap car insurance. How can you have a baby on the cheap ; ) ?

  39. Sarahon 09 Jun 2008 at 12:45 pm

    For us personally, things have been fine. We’re living well below our income level, even for grad students, so it’ll be a while before we have to start seriously budgeting. I’m glad that the CSA is starting up tomorrow, though, because fresh veggies are getting really quite expensive. I’ve been seeing far more car advertisements emphasizing fuel efficiency instead of studliness, and many of my friends and coworkers are thinking about joining CSAs or farmer’s markets. Driving to Philadelphia on Friday, we also discovered a tiny little farmstand at a rest stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike selling delicious organic raw honey :-) I may mail-order some more from them, because I haven’t otherwise found a local source for buckwheat honey.

  40. Lisa Zon 09 Jun 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Elizabeth, babies cost hardly anything at all! You can find a lot of the baby stuff used or get it free (try relatives, friends, craig’s list, freecycle, etc.), and if you nurse (and pump if you work) you have no formula costs and a healthier baby. Baby won’t be affected by the economy at all, but instead will be happy to be here! I hope you won’t get too discouraged…If you have to work PT and Grandma can sit, you are lucky to have her. My grandparents cared for me when I was small and I still treasure the relationship with them so much! (I’m now 37 and Grandma is 90, Grandpa is long gone.)

    As for my news from Minnesota, I wrote a long comment yesterday and it got lost in cyberspace so I’m a bit discouraged to try again. I’ll just say we’re fine, good really, as we got used to being very frugal this past year for Riot for Austerity and lack of money reasons. Now our finances have actually eased up as my DH, a public school music teacher, finally got a raise and some backpay. We are investing any extra money in self-sufficiency and projects we need to finish up around the house/yard (nothing fancy, just upkeep).

    DH’s job is pretty secure, though as a music (i.e. not “back to basics”) teacher there’s always some chance the school district could just get rid of all the music programs. This would be a really desperate day in Minnesota, and I’m betting would take that economic collapse. Hopefully that’s a few years if not longer away! I’ve done a lot of thinking about losing the job, the house, etc. and I can say we’d be sad but okay if it ever came to that. However, for now I feel very secure.

    The natural foods co-op where I work part-time is also doing well, so my job is secure. I would love to be home, gardening and homeschooling and all full-time, but I’ve decided for now to keep my 15-18 hours a week job just to have the extra money and b/c I really like the job.

    Gas is high, food is high, lots of people are gardening and staying home. We’re happy to see that! Crime seems up–we had an attempted break-in a couple weeks ago along with a string of break-ins in our urban neighborhood. They caught 3 of the guys and the other one seems to have left town, thank goodness. Still, our awareness is up and we’re being more careful about locking doors, windows, etc.

    All in all, we’re doing great here. Nothing drastically different from the rest of the country.

    Lisa in MN

  41. deweyon 09 Jun 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Congratulations! How you can have a baby on the cheap:

    Use a midwife, and if you’re low-risk consider home birth. (If you are stuck with an OB/GYN, get one who won’t object when you make it clear you don’t want the whole menu of interventions without a verifiably good reason.)
    Breast-feed for an extended period, if you can, instead of formula and Gerber.
    Make your own baby food of pureed real food instead of Gerber.
    Buy or mooch used baby clothes.
    Don’t buy a new set of cute little shoes every couple of months for a baby who isn’t even walking or would be just as comfortable barefoot (you can get hardly used baby shoes for the dress-up occasions).
    Use cloth diapers at home and launder them yourself.
    Give used toys, simple high-quality toys, homemade toys. Don’t let yourself be made to believe that baby’s development will be stunted if his toys don’t have cords or batteries.
    Don’t let the kid watch a lot of TV, because it will make him want the stuff advertised.
    Read to the baby a lot and play outside with him. By the time he is 3-5 years old he will hopefully like reading and playing outside so well that he won’t notice he doesn’t have an Xbox 360.

    My economic update (large midwestern city): We, personally, are doing okay. We’re trying to stick to $60 per week for basic groceries and gas, but the husband will not give up satellite TV or internet access unless we are jobless and, I suspect, mushroom clouds are blooming on the horizon. We’ve always had certain differences of opinion on money (overall, I’m cheaper), but his insistence on maintaining certain luxuries I don’t much care for at the expense of others has started to irritate me more as money seems tighter. I bet Sharon could write a column about TEOTWAWKI-induced marital conflict. We put in a little salad patch, rabbits have eaten all the bean leaves and are eyeing the lettuce; thinking of waiting out for the rabbits with an air gun and getting the calories indirectly. Husband likes to do his shopping at garage sales Saturday mornings and says it seems like half the families are selling everything they own either because they are being foreclosed on or out of some other economic necessity. Property values in our area have not dropped but there seem to be a lot of unsold houses, and malls are taking a hit. Went to buy something at the “usual” mall for the first time in a couple of years and was shocked to see how many stores were gone - almost all of the businesses in one whole wing, where they had turned off the otherwise miserably cold AC (gee, why might this setup be economically unsustainable?). I’m told that other malls are also declining significantly, though this one worse than most.

  42. Taraon 09 Jun 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Here we’re paying just under $4/gallon for gas. People are still chugging along in their SUV’s and trucks without giving it too much thought. There’s actually more and more new retail shopping going in all the time, which I find astounding. I do very little shopping in the chain grocery store, but someone told me that meat prices have gone way up. I have noticed much bigger price increases on meat and dairy products in my area, as opposed to produce and dry goods, which seem to have stayed fairly flat.

    Spent our first night at our farmhouse. In the morning, over breakfast at the local diner, we overheard old-school, overall-clad farmers discussing the merits of the Smart Car. ;-)

    A friend reported seeing canning kits on an end-cap display at Target. If that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.

    We’re still okay, but we’ve started tightening the purse strings anyway, to ensure that we stay “okay” as long as possible. Husband and I have started carpooling to work, which we really should have done a long time ago.

    I don’t know how others in my neighborhood are doing - all the houses are rentals except for us, and renters come and go and we never really get to know them. I have noticed more people swaying to our side, but the prevailing opinion is still that prices will go back down and things will go back to “normal”. Whatever that means.

  43. Fernon 09 Jun 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Here - DC suburbs, east side - gas is up, of course. About $4 per gallon at the least expensive place in town and $4.17 at the most expensive place. Food is up, but corn-based products less than wheat based ones. A package of 95 fresh corn tortillas is about $4.39, less than half the cost of whole wheat bread. I spent the early afternoon today sitting under a tree frying tortilla shells for dinner, so as to not heat the house doing it. It was only 95 out, with code orange air quality and high humidity.

    Our 1/10 of a steer (we team up with friends to buy half of a grass raised organic grain finished one) was up 50 cents a pound this year, came out to be about $5 per pound average for the meat. CSA price was up $50, I work there and bring my son to work with me most of the time to work off some of the price.

    While the local farmers market is somewhat busy - it’s a bit early in the year for most items - almost no one walks or bikes to it. Pretty much the only walkers and bikers here are doing it for exercise, not commuting, other than the immigrants.

    We have our own business, it’s always been boom and bust - this is the boom time of the year. Some years the bust is from July thru’ the end of the year, we’ll see how this year works out. We work out of our home, so there’s no commute. Son is transferring from a community college 27 miles away and that commute to a state university 15 miles away, and should be able to find folks to car pool with - there isn’t any good public transportation to and from either of them. If he was going to DC or Baltimore, or even the ‘teachers college’ in town, commuting would be a breeze. If he lived on or near campus, it would cost an additional $7K or more a year, even if he can’t find carpoolers driving shouldn’t cost more than $2000 a year (assuming gas doesn’t top $5 per gallon over the next year).

    I’ve been canning as much as possible, moving away from freezing what I grow and extra from the CSA. That, too, gets done outside under the trees in the back yard to keep the house cool. I’m interested in drying food more, but fear that non-electric/heated ones will lead to mold problems - DC used to be a swamp, and humidity here is very high.

    Business expenses have been way up lately. We have a conference we have to go to each year, the price for our booth there has gone up from $2K to $3500. Air fare hasn”t increased, only because we’re taking red eye flights. Shipping our booth materials there will have gone up due to gas hikes.

    Husband has finally changed to ‘end of oil’ view from cornucopian/technology will solve everything’ view. Hasn’t changed his BEHAVIOR, but one step at a time.

  44. WNC Observeron 09 Jun 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Sharon, Western NC reporting in here.

    Food: Our town’s Saturday farmer’s market is booming, a few more people selling stuff and a lot more buyers. We’ve got a few more gardeners at the community garden this year, too. Half the plots are dedicated for local food bank production, with volunteer labor provided by local college students. I’m noticing more gardens in people’s yards, too, although it is still a minority thing. (To be fair, we have so many trees around here that finding a spot that gets enough sunlight is a challenge.) We escaped a late hard frost this spring, so all the fruit trees are loaded, with cherries, blueberries and peaches all due to become ripe within the next few weeks. My 1st honeybee hive is doing well, it is looking like I actually will have a good honey harvest my first year. The new beekeeper class I attended this past February had 300 people in attendance, and the local beekeper club has almost doubled in membership - beekeeping is getting to be a really big thing around here, and the bees seem to be doing OK here, no reports of CCD so far. We had good rain this spring, but things are turning hot and dry now, we could use some more rain. For me personally, finding time to keep up with everything is the big challenge right now.

    Transport: I’m seeing a few more Priuses & other hybrids, but not much evidence of people ditching SUVs or pickups yet; it is a mountainous area, many people actually do need 4wd. Not much evidence of people slowing down while on the road yet. The only big-3 auto dealer in town has gone bankrupt, most of his business was SUVs and pickups; I’ll be surprised if anyone gets the dealership up and running again. I’ve just started to see a few electric vehicles around; the town police have gotten themselves a GEM, and there are a couple of people that have what look to be glorified golf carts that are apparently road-OK. Just seeing a little more bicycling, but LOTS more scooters around; the local scooter dealer is doing a booming business. I’m walking to work now, I’ve not come across any evidence that anyone else is doing so yet. The local shuttle bus service is doing OK, and apparently there are enough riders on the bus to Asheville to keep it running. What we really need is for passenger rail service to be restored to Asheville, or it won’t be long until we are isolated and stranded up here.

    Housing & Residential Energy: Our local housing market has seemed to be doing better than the rest of the country. There are more houses on the market, but we don’t seem to be having a lot of foreclosures. Many of those houses on the market are not selling, because the retirees that want to relocate here can’t sell their homes. There is still some construction going on, but mostly stuff that was already “in the pipeline”; spec home construction has pretty much ground to a halt. A lot of contractors are keeping busy with home remodeling and retrofitting. I’m not seeing much evidence of anyone putting in solar panels yet, but there is a lot of interest in energy efficiency retrofits. Also a lot of interest in rainwater catchment systems. Green building has become a pretty big thing around here. As for myself personally, I’m trying to get more energy efficiency retrofits in as I can afford them. I’m especially concerned about propane prices, as I use far more propane than gasoline. I’m getting set up to use the woodstove a lot more next winter, and have quite a bit of wood accumulated that I need to cut and chop. Quite a few other people around here heat with wood, too (or at least use it to supplement), and I saw a lot of people eager to gather firewood from downed trees during the last big storm.

    Economy: Without tourists and retirees, we’d have to return to a backwoods hillbilly economy. So far, the tourists still seem to be coming; WNC is within a day’s drive of most cities in the eastern US, and offers good value vacationing, so we are probably picking up as many people downsizing and economizing on their vacations as we are losing people who are cutting out vacations altogether. I’m not sure how many years that game can continue. If we don’t get passenger rail within 5-10 years, we’ll start hurting big time; with passenger rail, we can continue to have tourism here just like we did 100+ years ago. As for the retirees, and the health care industry that serves them, the big question is whether new retirees will be able to afford to relocate here as the older ones die off. I’m afraid most Boomers will be aging in place, they just don’t know it yet. Of course, should Social Security and the 401Ks and pensions all go belly up, that would be a real disaster for our local economy, as the percentage of local income that is non-wage-earnings is about twice the national average. I’m not seeing any evidence that any of the local government or community movers and shakers have a clue about these dark clouds on the horizon. People are not one tenth as anxious as they should be. As for myself and my wife personally, my job is relatively secure; hers should be, but due to poor management we’re pretty worried about her long term job security. We’re trying to get our debts paid off as quickly as we can, and to get our long term preps in place. Local handcrafts are really big around here, quite a few people are earning at least some money making stuff for sale to the tourists; my wife has gotten into this as a sideline herself. That won’t be sustainable if the tourists go away, but then again maybe we have the foundations for a local “World Built By Hand”.

  45. Pippion 09 Jun 2008 at 3:29 pm


    Babies are really quite cheap! My little one is 7 months, happy as can be, and has almost nothing the Babies R’ Us claims is “required.” :) She sleeps in our bed (easier for nursing at night and no $$ for a crib, spent the first 6 months carried in a carrier (no special infant stroller), and is cloth diapered. We got a changing table for free from a friend that stores our cloth diapers and blankets and have limited ourselves to 1 baby containing device at a time (bouncy seat to booster seat, nothing else).

    I’d say there are a few things worth spending a bit of money on because you use them so much. Diapers are one. You can get them used but if you plan on having more than one baby it might be worth buying new so they’ll last longer. A good baby carrier like an Ergo (I’d also get a long piece of stretchy cotton for a wrap when the baby’s really little) is worth the price in my opinion. People gave us so much clothing we’ve barely bought a thing and toys and other stuff can easily be found on craigslist. I bought some good water-proof blankets for her to sleep on in our bed that catch the breast milk and occasional diaper leak and keep me from having to wash our sheets all the time.

    Here in Vancouver public transit use has been rising steadily for years, biking is up and so is gardening (I’m trying to start my first one but the cold rainy weather is making it difficult). Housing prices are still insanely high and we’re completely priced out of the market. Our jobs are secure as I’m a teacher and my husband is an emergency planner — not a bad job to have these days.

    Our weather has gone crazy, however, and we’re in the middle of “Juneuary.” Lots of local farmers are having a really hard time and our increasing popular farmers’ market doesn’t have enough to fill demand.

    I’m enjoying the blog and comments — thanks Sharon for all the hard work!

  46. Susanon 09 Jun 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Many interesting replies. New England, within commuting distance to Boston - I’ve noticed the traffic is slowing down. If I travel 60mph in a 65 zone, there are a growing number of cars pacing with me. Just a month ago commuting traffic would pass if you were doing less than 75mph.

    A large concern here in MA as in Maine, NH, Vermont, is the price of heating oil. It is almost doubled since the end of the last heating season (about $4.50/gal). For those not paying attention to the oil situation it is a huge surprise. We’ve just purchased an electric quartz heater and are cutting a supply of fire wood for ourselves and my daughter (in NH).

  47. Christinaon 10 Jun 2008 at 12:32 am

    Europe calling:

    Reports this morning about the stock market in Stockholm being shaky and going down. The oil price is cited as the main reason. Food prices still going up.

    Interest is supposed to be going up, so everyone with house loans will have to pay more - I’m really happy we bought an unexpensive house!!

    And truck drivers in Spain are on a strike to protest against the rising gas prices.

    So, yes, we are feeling the crisis too, but not to the same extent as in the US.


  48. lydiaon 10 Jun 2008 at 9:07 am

    A few days ago on a Sunday our local REI and Half Price Books stores were absolutely DEAD. Now, they here to fore had been very busy stores. You would think yuppies getting ready for summer backpacking and camping would be at REI. Nope. I am sure the employees are not feeling very good about job security. I wouldn’t.

    It’s cold here for June 9th and yesterday horrible wind storms. Oye.
    I keep wishin and hopin for a normal weather day so i can plant some more beans and squash.

    Gas here is $4.23 a gallon. I got a bicycle. Found a helmet at the thrift store for a dollar!

    My apple trees have lots of fruit and I hope to harvest about 150 apples this year. That is a very good thing.

    I live on a very small fixed income so I have been driving as little as possible, continuing to shop at thrift stores, and keeping watch for free curbside treasures. I went dumpster diving the other day and found over $75.00 worth of brand new tools and the like! Electrical parts, locks with keys, brushes, other misc hardware. I was thrilled.

    There is increased traffic of police sirens here, it seems like, daily.
    Crime is up I think. My neighbors big rig has been parked for two or three months- can’t afford to haul?

    Basmati rice is non existant here and the regular rice is being rationed to one bag per customer and the pallets are usually low at Costco.

    People in grocery store lines are more vocal and I hear more willingness to bitch about the corruption of our “leaders” and the gas prices and such, where as before no one said too much.

    I am mixing already used coffee grounds with new grounds to stretch it farther. It’s actually not that bad. I get the ground free from Starbucks. I wonder how long that will last, or since their customer base is down, will the grounds become a hot item for gardeners and coffee stretchers like me.

  49. MEAon 10 Jun 2008 at 9:43 am

    Yet another librarian chiming in here — there have always been children’s books set in our world “after things fall apart,” been they are coming through catalouging fast and furious right now — all centered on gobal warming.

    Shops aren’t as well stocked, but no shortages or rationing. More people biking. Even saw somone one without a helmet on the killer road that I’m scared to ride on. More interest in gardening. But as many cars and people as ever at the local organic farmers market. I think that I’m nestled in a very high-end spot, where some people aren’t starting to hurt yet, and keep on with business as usual and those are the ones driving to the farmers market.

    In the little neighborhood I live in, were we aren’t such high flyers, there is definately a feeling of trying to cut back, be more careful, and even a sense that we need to strenghten comminity ties. I finally made contact with a delightful newish neighbor who has been making very serious 90% reduction efforts — nothing like meeting a soul mate.

    MEA who made herself very ill trying to push a barrow of compost the 1/2 mile to her parents house in 103 degree weather becuase she though if she went slowly and stayed in the shade it would be ok.

    Saw regular gas for $4.00/gal outside the city limits of Trenton, NJ for the first time.

  50. BuddySon 10 Jun 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Things are not too bad for us in Edmonton Alberta. Food and gas prices have risen fast - We’ve just past the equivalent of $5.00 US a gallon. We are constantly being told that our utilities will be increasing - natural gas price has doubled in a year. We are debt free except for a mortgage so we do have some wiggle room for these cost increases, but we are cutting back on driving - carpooling and no nonessential trips - and we are staying home for our vacation this summer. We eat out only once or twice a month and we are buying more bargain priced foods.

    Luckily we cut back on buying useless stuff some time ago (electronics, junk food, collectables) and are still able to but a little bit of money into savings each month.

    I’m going to work on insulating our house better for the winter and hope to do some gardening.

    The media tells us the economy is strong here; malls, shops and restaurants are very busy – people are indeed spending money, but home prices have been stagnant for almost a year and there are homes for sale on every street. Home equity loans soared here in 06-07 as people saw their homes double in value and I believe we will soon see our economy weaken as a result of the high cost of living and personal debt.

  51. Susan in NJon 10 Jun 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Lydia — Riding a bike as greatbut as someone who owes the continued existence of her brain to a bike helmet, I would caution you that a bicycle helmet is not something that should be bought used — a helmet that has been through an accident may look fine but it isn’t. Please think about this.

  52. Ameliaon 11 Jun 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Salt Lake City checking in –

    Considerably more people on foot, on scooters, and on bicycles: I’m seeing many more bike trailers and the local shops can’t keep panniers in stock. Gas at the station on the corner is $3.91 for regular; our Costco has it for $3.82, but I’m not seeing queues yet. I’ve never seen so many people at the bus stops, and the southbound commuter rail line breaks ground in August.

    I was actually taken aback earlier this week: on a trip to Whole Paycheck for some local salt, I found a parking spot with no difficulty and there were far more staff in the store than shoppers. That’s never happened before. Derelict buildings near the light rail/major bus lines are being torn down or repurposed as mixed use development, though at least one project has been delayed by increased material costs.

    DH’s company is ridiculously busy, as they specialize in software for networking and telecommuting; though no one in the company received a raise this year — in fact, upper management took a pay cut in order to clear debt and invest in better equipment — his job is as secure as one could hope. More employees are being encouraged to telecommute, with the company paying for home Internet connections and cell phones: the money saved on office space and utility costs is being reinvested in health insurance.

    Our farmers’ market starts this weekend; I expect it to be much busier than usual. The weirdly wet and cool weather this spring has translated into apricots, grapes and figs literally sagging under the weight of developing fruit.

    Any vacation will consist of a drive into the mountains for a weekend or two: I’d love to go to England and see my friends — it’s been four years — but it simply isn’t going to happen. DS plans to spend Father’s Day weekend fishing with his dad, and is going to the library or the park in lieu of drives into the canyons.

    I think the cable’s going to go in a month or two — we’ll have ‘Net access paid for, and there are better ways to spend that money. The gym membership may be next: I’ll hate to see that go, as the public pool costs are actually higher on a monthly basis for a family membership, and DH loves to swim.

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