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March 2009 Archives

  • Attention-getting frugality

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 30, 2009 3:46 PM

    thrifty.jpg (Photo via Flickr: Nedster98)

    There’s frugal, then there’s conspicuously frugal.

    Which are you?

    The frugal person grows tomatoes in the backyard. The conspicuously frugal person plows the front yard and invites the press to watch as local kids sow the seeds.

    As the recession continues and job losses mount, people are cutting back on spending. Others who still have the same jobs and incomes they did last year — and I’ll confess right here, I’m one of them — are also cutting way back and can’t seem to stop talking about it. It’s become almost a second identity.

    The frugal person trims spending on food. The conspicuously frugal person announces he’s feeding his family on a dollar a day then blogs about it in solidarity with the truly hungry.

    So which are you? Frugal? Or conspicuously frugal?

    Are you seeing showy displays of frugality at work or home? Is it okay to make thrift a political, status or fashion statement? If you are jobless or poor, what do you think about the frugal or frugal-seeming acts of others?

    Share your response with Marketplace, or click the comments button if you’d like your insights displayed here.

  • What are your top three debt regrets?


    (Photo Courtesy of Channel R)

    When you owe money on a credit card, the size of your debt can become an abstract number. All of the meals, shopping trips and splurges behind the digits fade away as you plot ways to eliminate your debt. Detachment can shield you from anxiety, but it can also prevent you from examining how you got into hock to begin with - a necessary first step to becoming debt-free. So, in an effort to prompt sounder fiscal management (and get some cheap thrills) I’d like to hear your top three debt regrets. To get things started, here are mine:

    1. Absinthe shots in Prague. Dozens upon dozens of them when I lived (beyond my means) there. They didn’t drive me crazy, but they did drive me into debt.
    2. Ironically, a top of the line cordless soup blender won’t be helpful when I’m in line at a soup kitchen.
    3. Books for law school. It turns out that I didn’t need a JD to work in public radio; however it might come in handy if I have to file for bankruptcy.

    What are your top three debt regrets? Tell us in the comments section below or tell the newsroom privately.

  • How is employee recruitment changing?

    Seemingly everybody is outraged at the bonuses paid out by AIG, but the embattled insurance company claims that bonuses were necessary to retain top talent. Is that true? If you’re “talent,” or a company looking for “talent,” we want to hear from you.

    What’s the employee recruitment scene like these days?

  • There's retirement, and then there's UN-retirement.

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on March 20, 2009 1:59 PM

    And no, I’m not talking about Brett Favre or Roger Clemens. Would that we all had those options.

    When I was nine, my grandfather retired from his job as a biology prof. Just a few months later, he had a heart attack and died. This might be a little dark for a springtime Friday afternoon, but what if… a silver lining of this whole financial mess (and those godawful numbers you see when you log in to your 401(k) account) is that Americans will work longer…thus extending our average life expectancy!

    But really.

    We’re hearing from people all over the country about plans to work longer so they can afford their retirement. We’re wondering — are there people out there who retired and then had to UN-retire to make ends meet? How does the financial shakedown around retirement affect your concept of the American Dream?

    Are you out there? Tell us your story here.

  • Picket fence + 2.5 kids = American Dream. Does it add up?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on March 19, 2009 4:01 PM

    We’re doing some reporting on the changing (or not) American Dream…. and we want to know how homeownership fits in with your idea of this thing we call the American Dream. Share your insight with Marketplace here.

    One traditional narrative of the American Dream is the urban exodus of young married professionals with children into the suburbs in pursuit of a yard and good schools. Is that your story — or are you taking a different path?

    Where did you live when you started your family — where do you live now — and where do you want to live next? If you’re renting a home for your family, do you have plans to change that? Do you want your kids to be able to walk to school, or will the minivan be a big part of your life?

    Share your insight here, or leave a comment!

  • How is the "Great Recession" treating you?


    15 months, and more than 4 million jobs later the economic downturn finally has a name: “The Great Recession.”

    How are you doing so far?

  • Will recession mess with your vacation plan?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 17, 2009 10:00 AM

    alfonsator.jpg Photo credit: alfonsator via Flickr

    Many of those in the Public Insight Network say they plan to spend less, stay closer to home, and economize by trading that hotel room for a camping spot, or getting a season pass at the water park rather than a week at the river.

    What’s your summer travel plan? And how is it different from your usual vacation?

    Are you afraid to leave town while a job application is pending? Maybe you’ve got a job but don’t want to be away from work while layoff talk is afoot.

    Jane Lawrence of Allenspark, Colo. and her husband love to SCUBA dive, but despite skipping vacation last year due to the economy, they still don’t feel confident enough to take their dream dive trip to Bonaire, an island in the Netherlands Antilles.

    I think we are going to compromise and take a trip to Mexico, which is much cheaper and closer. We will use credit card points for the airfare, and buy an all-inclusive package so that we know exactly how much it will cost. We are still debating whether to “invite” our college-aged son to joint us, which will increase the cost of the trip by 50%.

    Continue reading Will recession mess with your vacation plan?.
  • Are laid-off workers a bargain?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 16, 2009 3:00 AM

    Are you selling your skills at a discount in today’s labor market?

    That might be the right strategy because companies are bargain hunting for talent in these days of 8 percent unemployment, says New York employment consultant Nancy Halpern.Nancy_Halpern.jpg

    She’s one of many in the Public Insight Network who responded to Marketplace’s questions about layoffs. Did you hold one of the 4.4 million jobs the economy has shed since late 2007? Are you a boss who’s deciding which jobs to cut, or a co-worker feeling job survival guilt? Maybe you’re an expert, like Halpern, who advises companies and individuals about that next hiring decision.

    She tells Marketplace reporter Jeremy Hobson that much of today’s common job-hunting advice is outdated:

    Companies never looked at talent this way before, as if it were on sale. Before, they were focused on paying market rate and being competitive to attract talent - that has completely changed.

    Continue reading Are laid-off workers a bargain?.
  • How does foreclosure affect children?


    Almost 2 million children nationwide have had their lives disrupted by home foreclosures, according to one study.

    Do you know any children who’ve been affected by foreclosure?

    Foreclosures force people to move, and moving is tough on children both socially and developmentally.

    Continue reading How does foreclosure affect children?.
  • Does Spring Break bust your budget?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 11, 2009 8:04 AM

    Thumbnail image for Hitchhiking onnufry.jpgPhoto: Onnufry via Flickr

    Spring break, that traditional furlough from college life, affects the financial lives of students as much as those who work at local businesses and tourist destinations. Young adults aren’t all off partying MTV-style, either. Some stay home to fill in for absent co-workers. Is your spring break a money-maker or a budget-breaker?

    Share your Spring break plans with Marketplace.

    Nyssa Collins, of Hillsborough, N.C. is planning to hitchhike to Florida with her brother if they can’t find a cheap rideshare on Craigslist.

    Continue reading Does Spring Break bust your budget?.
  • How confusing are your taxes?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 10, 2009 10:50 AM

    The big tax prep companies are pushing confusion this year in some of their ads. What’s your tax-time confusion, if any?

    Share your tax story with Marketplace, or add your comments below.

    We ran the question by people in the Public Insight Network and found that tax confusion abounds.

    Thumbnail image for stefano bloch crop.jpgTo musician Stefano Bloch of Minneapolis — seen here in Los Angeles, where he has played clarinet with the Philharmonic Orchestra — the only easy thing about the government’s simplest tax forms is its name: EZ

    I have filed with an online “EZ” tax place. It has been the most complicated experience. I still don’t know if I ever received my state tax refund from Minnesota when I moved here for school. I fill out the forms on line but still have to print them out and mail them in. So what is the use of going online at all? I found out I had to hand sign the forms after not receiving my stimulus for almost a year. This year I am going with hard copies… unless I realize I need help.

    Continue reading How confusing are your taxes?.
  • Where are jobs for career shifters over 45?

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 6, 2009 10:19 AM

    celinecelines via flickr.jpg(photo credit: Celinecelines via Flickr)

    Nancy Jean Parsons, 50, who lives near Orlando, Florida, took me to task yesterday.

    She was responding to a thank-you note I sent to people age 50 and older who had shared stories of the recession shredding their retirement plans. Fifty, she said, is too young for retirement, unless you’re leaving the military:

    Geez. Don’t rush me.

    Well, I resemble that remark. I’m 50 and fighting it. I throw away all AARP mail. I’m far from retirement, unless I win the lottery and become a full-time recreational athlete. I wrote back:

    Isn’t planning for retirement important for people our age?

    Parsons’ answer encapsulated my every anxiety: maturing in a retracting job market, the real estate meltdown, the demise of newspapers and the financial crisis:

    Well, planning is a dead issue. With the house underwater and (being) down six figures in the regular (and) retirement accounts, the concept of ‘planning’ a retirement is a bit of a joke now. Everyone I know is looking for a job or trying to keep theirs and angle into one that ‘lets’ you be older on the job. Media, advertising, PR, etc., and many more fields have ‘get lost’ signs up for the people over 50. But we are not all nurses. So how do we stay viable in the workplace, since we have to, when we are indeed aging? This is what retirement planning is: How can I keep on working? And where?

    I offered a suggestion:

    Continue reading Where are jobs for career shifters over 45?.
  • Toughing out a recession-era retirement

    • Posted by Sharon McNary
    • on March 4, 2009 3:00 PM

    Retirees in the Public Insight Network say they are hurting. Most stock market investors have seen deep losses - the Dow is at about half its year-ago peak. But while young people can wait for a recovery, retirees and workers nearing retirement age say the security they saved for is vaporizing.


    The retirement dream of many a weekend sailor is to sell the house and buy a boat, retire to the Caribbean living well off Social Security and the interest of your life’s savings.

    That was Dalton Williams’ plan in 2002. He figured the interest on his $350,000 savings plus Social Security would provide him with a decent income if he lived aboard his boat outside the United States. For a while the plan worked great. He was drawing $1,200 in interest from his 401(k) investments and enjoying life afloat off Bequia (1966 photo by Simon Baddeley) in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. But now his 401(k) is sinking and at age 62, Williams is drawing just $500 per month in principal and interest combined.

    This was not my plan. I am glad I am living outside the United States. If I were in the U.S., I would be in a real financial mess trying to live on $500 plus Social Security. Living in the Caribbean I can just eke by.

    John Landreth, 55, can speak for many retirement savers about the worst of the financial crisis:

    401(k) turning into a minus 401F. That’s cold.

    What’s the recession doing to your current or impending retirement plans? Share your story privately with the Marketplace newsroom, or add your comments below.

    Continue reading Toughing out a recession-era retirement .
  • From Octomom to new medical ethics laws

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on March 4, 2009 11:13 AM

    Who knew that when Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight teeny-tiny babies that the nation would need nothing more than a good juicy distraction from our economic troubles? Not that medical ethics isn’t a worthy topic, and that there hasn’t been lively debate before about the ethics of IVF. But “Octomom” refocuses the debate. And at least two states (California and Georgia) have introduced fertility-related legislation in the last week.

    I’ve got to wonder — we’re in the middle of a recession, and IVF is big money (read, billions of dollars). Laws that regulate that industry could discourage doctors — and patients. Isn’t that anti-jobs?

    If you have experience or expertise with IVF, fertility, or medical ethics, what do you think the media — and Marketplace specifically — should be reporting on? Tell us privately, or just hit us up in the comments.

  • R U shovel-ready for eco-stimulus?

    • Posted by Jo Easton
    • on March 3, 2009 3:14 PM



    You might be ready, but is your town, city or county?

    Share what you know about your region’s preparedness to move ahead with stimulus funded “green” projects — and tell us why you have the inside view.

    Continue reading R U shovel-ready for eco-stimulus?.
  • Recession? What recession?



    More than five million Americans are on the jobless rolls, the highest number of people collecting unemployment since 1983. On the other hand according to the Department of Labor, over 140 million Americans still have their jobs.

    If you’re in a position to weather the economic downturn, we want to hear about how things have, or haven’t, changed for you.

Inform the news

Overheard on the Trading Floor