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January 2009 Archives

  • Looking for some signs of these economic times

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 30, 2009 2:05 PM

    Photo credit: Reverend Andy via Flickr (Photo credit: Reverend Andy via Flickr, near Atlanta)

    Photo credit: Catherine Rankovic via Flickr (Photo credit: Catherine Rankovic via Flickr, Eureka MO)

    Okay, maybe those are pretty obvious takes on “signs of the times,” but I couldn’t resist. What are you seeing? Upload your own evidence of the recession and share your observations. We might just blog what you share.

    Spending drops in uncertain economic times. For cities, that might mean not cleaning up graffiti, or pruning the trees in a park. For schools, that might mean not ordering new textbooks. For a business, maybe that broken window doesn’t have to get fixed right now, or advertising takes a new tone…

    Marketplace has reporters all across the country. But we’re not in every community — and we need your eyes and ears to learn what’s happening on the local level.

    In your own day-to-day, what evidence of hard economic times are you seeing? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • Are you in the midst of a financial or job transition?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 29, 2009 3:47 PM

    A couple of months ago, the Public Insight Network brought us Colorado engineer Tanja Beshear, who was getting laid off from her job. Steve Chiotakis interviewed her on her last day at work.

    But you know as well as I do that layoffs aren’t just happening in Colorado, and there are thousands of Tanjas every day. Are you one of them?

    News of job cuts, corporate losses, and rising unemployment rates just keeps coming. This week Starbucks announced it’s going to close 300 stores, Ford reported record losses, and even the venerable U.S. Postal Service asked Congress for permission to cut delivery by one day per week to save money. (Neither falling snow nor sleet will stop your postal carrier — but falling revenues are another thing entirely.)

    Behind all these numbers and corporate changes are the stories of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Are you in the middle of a transition at work or in your personal life that’s been brought on by the recession? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • Part-time work...literally

    auto dude.jpg

    I asked the network if the financial crisis has affected them in a positive way, and Thom Davis from West Lafayette, Indiana told us about how he makes extra cash…one piece at a time:

    What I found was that each one of us have the ability to use our skills to create value — and hence wealth. I tapped into skills I haven’t used since high school to start a used auto parts business. No not a junk yard, I have neighbors! I now moonlight by taking apart ONE car at a time, and sell every part on eBay.

    Amazing! How about you? Have you discovered a new skill? Click on the link above to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom…or leave a comment below.

    And go here if you want to see Stevie Wonder’s take on the whole part-time thing.

  • Fond remembrance of boom times

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 28, 2009 3:51 PM

    Thumbnail image for 200332797-001.jpgThink back to a couple of years ago, when you’d go to get your mail… (Insert nostalgic sound of chimes here.)

    Did you ever open the mailbox, and credit card offers would literally fall out? I do — and it’s not like I’m some big spender. And I never said “yes” to those offers, either. I remember frustration at all the junk mail, and failed attempts to get off those lists. Maybe I should’ve taken a different tack — like what Beth Hamon of Portland, OR used to do when her mailbox filled up with credit offers after declaring bankruptcy:

    I would take the credit card offers and write across the entire page, in bold black ink, “Credit cards are the tool of Satan! Banks are out to rob the poor! The game is rigged!” or something like that. And I’d finish with, “Remove me from your mailing list and NEVER send me this offer again!” Then I’d stuff the whole lot of papers and stuff into their postage-paid envelope and mail it all back to them on their dime.

    They sure must’ve loved her. After about half a year, Hamon says, the offers tapered off. (Perhaps, she guesses, they thought she was…um…nuts?)

    Now I almost NEVER get a credit card offer, maybe three times a year or so, and that’s fine with me.

    I wonder — are people declaring bankruptcy these days getting buried under piles of credit card offers? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • IRS: Taxman or savings enforcer?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on January 27, 2009 12:00 PM

    Richard Berman of Hull, Mass. knows he could make more by investing his money in a CD or money-market fund, but he prefers to let the government double as his annual savings plan…

    He has more money than is necessary to pay his taxes withheld from his paycheck in order to get a hefty check later.

    I look at it as a way of forced savings that I might not otherwise do. I take that large annual infusion and pay off a bill or two, but primarily I set it aside for our vacation, travel and fun fund.

    Last year, he bought a big flat screen TV.

    How do you grapple with your taxes?

  • 2009 as the year of spending mindfully

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 26, 2009 9:00 AM

    We’ve been querying people in the Network about what’s changed about their lives since the recession started in late 2007.

    We’ve heard from people who left the country — removed themselves from the U.S. economy — in order to stay fiscally sound. Some are eating in more to save money… and eat more healthfully at the same time. Others are saving money by buying in bulk at big box or discount stores… even if they know they’re eating less healthfully now. But here’s what interests me: these people all have one thing in common. They’re taking stock of what they value, and how they want to spend their money. Cara Cordoni of San Francisco puts it best: “2009 is about the power of the money I do have!!!”

    Continue reading 2009 as the year of spending mindfully.
  • Deserting desserts

    trawberrySundae.jpgBlair Kolb has been laid off three times in the past year, and six times in the past three years. Nope, he’s not a temp, he’s a pastry chef:

    Restaurants are notorious for having small margins even in the best of times. As soon as things start tightening, people may not stop going out, but their habits can change quickly. As a pastry chef, I’m acutely aware of those changes; desserts are usually the first to go. Two restaurants have closed out from under me, three others have explicitly eliminated my position, and the last just sort of petered out over a number of weeks until I was no longer on the schedule.

    Have you been eating out less? If you still go out to eat, have you changed your eating habits?

    Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • Bride challenged to show skin in the home-buying game

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on January 23, 2009 11:45 AM

    lizelle kopinski How do you prove to skittish lenders that your down payment is truly your own money? Lizelle Kopinski of Springfield, Virginia, jumped through flaming hoops to prove the money came from wedding gifts in order to get her loan approved.

    Continue reading Bride challenged to show skin in the home-buying game.
  • Careful what you wish for

    To management - as soon as you know something about our situation, just tell us. The uncertainty period is worse than knowing you are going to be laid off.

    We’ve received a couple of comments like this from the PIN. Do you agree? If your company is facing layoffs, how are they communicating with you about it?

    Meanwhile, for many employees at Microsoft and Warner Bros, the period of uncertainty is about to come to an end.

  • It sure beats a FEMA trailer

    Empty Nesters who were thinking about downsizing are thinking again. With the economy on the skids, they want to be prepared for the off chance that their offspring might boomerang home.

    Ned Hill of Provo, Utah writes:

    I’m a parent and grandparent. My wife and I were going to downsize—move into a smaller home. But in this economy, we worry about our 5 children and their families. We decided to keep our larger home in case one or more of our children need to move in with us if they are laid off.

    And with home prices expected to drop another 9% in Utah in 2009, now isn’t the best time to sell anyway.

    How about you? Are you or is someone you know holding on to their home in case their families need to move-in with them? Or, perhaps some of your family has already moved in? Tell us about it

  • What do you want to hear?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 20, 2009 2:04 PM

    Public Insight Network member Chris of Cookeville, TN is working hard to pay off debt. Even though he’s “haunted” by consumer debt, he says he’s optimistic about his finances for the future. And he wants to hear more about other people’s situations on Marketplace:

    I’d like to hear about the kinds of debt people have, what their incomes are like, and how they aim to pay off that debt. I’d like to hear what some of these folks who have been laid off for over a year are doing to make ends meet. I’d like to hear what people are doing for fun on the cheap this year as well. I’d like to hear what kind of vacations those people who are still employed are taking.

    All right, so….anyone? Are you making it work financially after being laid off, or did you choose a smart strategy to pay off debt that you can maintain? Share your story here on the Trading Floor.

    As for Chris, he’s been focusing on quality time with family and friends.

    It’s cheap - costs a cheap meal (like chili), some sodas and chips, and everybody has a few games sitting around. We are also continuing to watch TV and movies at home. We seldom go to movies anyhow (little children, ticket prices that push a family night at the movies to nearly $50). We’re also planning several day trips in the coming months. Trips to museums, trips hiking, a mountain bike ride, etc. These trips typically cost gasoline, some cheap food and drinks.

    What about you? Are you spending your time differently in 2009? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • How are nonprofits faring?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on January 15, 2009 10:32 AM

    Does a sinking economy lower all boats?

    Philanthropy Journal carries a report that more than half of nonprofits reported raising less this past holiday season than the prior year. What’s the story at the nonprofit where you work, volunteer or donate money?

    Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • Job of the day

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 13, 2009 12:04 PM

    We’re asking the Network questions this week about preparing for tax season this year. Birck Cox wrote in from Philly, and yup, he’s planning on filing taxes this year. But what makes him interesting to me is his job: he’s a medical illustrator. What does a medical illustrator do? Cox says it’s simple: “I draw guts.”

    Cox_braininsitu_small.jpgI couldn’t resist, and checked out his website. Apparently, “guts” can be beautiful.

    I wonder if the economic downturn is affecting the market demand for medical illustrations?

    Continue reading Job of the day.
  • Tax time, folks.

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on January 13, 2009 7:47 AM

    As soon as I pull our New Year’s Eve party decorations off the wall, generally around MLK Day, I start thinking taxes. The IRS is ahead of me by a few days with its ode to the letter F — as in fast and free.

    On Friday, Jan. 16, the IRS rolls out “Free File” a selection of online tax filing options from the big name software companies. These are compact free versions of their tax programs that have been customized for people whose incomes or simplicity of filing qualifies them for the freebies. Check it out at

    Derek Castro of San Antonio, Texas might be a good candidate for the free software. He started his first post-college full-time job in 2008. Now he’s wondering what his tax bill will be:

    “Going from waiting tables to earning a decent salary is pretty shocking. I don’t know if I should even expect a tax (refund) this year. I hope so, though! Then, who doesn’t?”

    Continue reading Tax time, folks..
  • Are small businesses gonna feel the stimpak love?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 9, 2009 4:26 PM

    President-elect Obama is preparing a major economic stimulus package. An Obama administration promises lobbyists will have a reduced role, but that hasn’t stopped groups from lobbying for consideration in the stimpak. The NFIB, Women Impacting Public Policy, and other groups are pushing for greater SBA lending, tax benefits, steps to help small businesses pay for health insurance, and more items to help entrepreneurs get a leg up in a tough economy. And besides, aren’t small businesses usually the folks to pull the U.S. out of recession?

    If you’re a small business owner, how do you feel about all this? Do you think the stimulus package will help your business? Help Marketplace report on this by telling us about your situation.

    Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • Is customer service changing?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 8, 2009 1:55 PM

    When we ask business owners in the Public Insight Network about their strategies for success during a recession, they keep bringing up words like “add value” and “customer service.” As in — provide more value for your customers and you’ll be able to weather the recession…and maybe even be in a stronger position on the way up. So that’s the theory. But are you seeing it in practice at the businesses you frequent?

    When you go to the bank, can you find a customer service representative to save your life? Or at the grocery store are you being killed with kindness the minute you walk in the door? I’ve even heard about banks being proactive these days — reaching out to customers to make sure they have everything they need. Imagine that!

    As a consumer, have you noticed any changes (good or bad) to the customer service you receive at your technology provider, bank, grocery store, or any other business you patronize? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

  • What do your tax filings say about you?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on January 7, 2009 3:35 PM

    It’s 2009, and W-2’s are beginning to show up in people’s mailboxes. We know that you’ve got until mid-April to deal with your tax chores but Marketplace wants to know how you’re thinking today about your taxes.

    What’s the story behind your taxes this year? Click here to share your thoughts directly with the newsroom… or leave a comment below.

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Overheard on the Trading Floor