You might have noticed a little theme happening on the Zees lately--looking back, way back. Memories of Christmases past, old family houses, how we used to dress, road trips of the past. I started wondering why I was doing all this looking back into the past. I guess it is because when times get tough, we love to get nostalgic and look back at simpler times. We pretend that the old days had fewer problems and that we didn't have to worry about anything way back then.
It's probably no mistake that all this nostalgia started happening at about the time when our national financial meltdown occurred. The net worth of the average American family has been going down, down, down as many homes are worth less, while mortgage payments stay the same; life savings are shrinking while the need for retirement income comes closer and closer.
I guess we are lucky, out here on the prairie. We're in a small town that has a growing need for additional housing, so our home values are pretty stable. Mortgages are held by small community banks that have always made loans on conservative terms so we have avoided the problems in many places where foreclosures are growing.
At the same time, we dare glance at the shrinking 401K only when we are feeling exceptionally strong. I was listening to an NPR interview with bankruptcy and commercial law expert Elizabeth Warren (What Does $700 Billion Buy Taxpayers?) and her report on the future for credit card debt and home bankruptcies over the next few years was so grim, so appalling, that I suddenly realized that I shouldn't be listening alone--I couldn't deal with this awful outlook by myself.
As we prepare here for the holidays, we have cut back where we can, as if doing so can make any difference in our shrinking life savings. Last year we set up for the first time a modest outdoor light display--even those few lights made a big increase in our electric bill. This year, we have only two little electric candles, one in each of our front windows. While simple and plain, the Christmas symbolism is still there, and we feel that we are doing a tiny bit toward simplifying our lives.
However, we never stop being grateful to have our home, our family, and our lives. For a look at those who are not so lucky, see June's post from Australia called Homeless at Christmas.