Friday, April 25, 2008

It is a Recession, Stupid

Not an economic slowdown.

I find all this debate about whether the United States is in a recession a bit irritating. Mind you I am not an economist but I do watch my economy. And it has changed drastically in the last year.

I am on social security which I supplement with income from my art. A year ago the rather hot art market started to really cool down. By fall it was totally frozen and many of my art friends started suffering some serious financial problems. Several entered bankruptcy. Fairs that were once highly competitive to be accepted into were calling an asking why they had not received my application. I personally was cutting down the number of fairs I did and selecting those I did participate in based on how close they were to home. There are no fuel efficient vehicles you can load all your booth fixtures and art into. Mine is better than most with 20 miles per gallon.

A year ago I also let my spa membership go. Not a frill since I deal with several potentially handicapping issues that linger from a bad accident. I used to do twice a week religiously. I changed to a punch card and now go the 23 miles only when my friend can go too so we can cooperate on the gas. And while in town we also do all our shopping and errand running. But most of our grocery shopping is now done locally in the tiny neighboring town of Angel Fire. This means I may pay higher prices on food but do not “waste” the gas.

Oh, and gas is $3.76 a gallon here. Way over the national average. No subway, no trains, no bus. So I travel a lot less. I don’t go to Lowe’s or Home Depot for building supplies for the studio I am finishing. I bargain with the local hardware store. I don’t have things delivered but fit them into that van used for art shows. Electrical rates are up and so are the bills even though I have gone to all those energy efficient bulbs that give less light. Seldom more than one on at a time in my house at night.

I have also gotten rid of my satellite television which means I have no connection to mass media outside the Internet which I need for business. I used to have the Qwest land line package with all the bells and whistles and it ran me $69 per month. I have reduced that to the lowest and most basic package which is $18 but 2/3'rds of that is taxes and FCC fees. All long distance calls are done on the cell phone (also a business expense). See why artists get in trouble? If you hope to make an art sale there are things you must pay for like website, merchant account, supplies, fair fees, travel expenses, fax and cell, internet. But if there is nobody buying art because they are in the same fix I am it is all outgo and no income.

So I have cut basic services to a bare-bone minimum. I do not drive anywhere I do not absolutely have to go and then try to buddy up with my neighbor. I am shopping for clothing at the thrift shop. And this week I planted my garden for the first time in two years. I plan to live like a rabbit on the lettuce it provides for four months.

If a recession is where consumers do not buy things then yes we are in a recession. We have been for a months. The only other things I can pare down are those necessary small business expenses. Oh, and that economic stimulus check we are to get in May. I believe it has to go straight to the Chapter 13 trustee, so it is not stimulating me to go out and buy anything.

Next stop the poor house as my father used to say. He lived through the depression. I remember those stories. They seem all too real at the moment.