Like most everyone else, Kentucky Living readers have faced tough economic struggles during what has come to be known as the Great Recession of 2009. But these tough times unleashed creativity and determination and brought them all a new appreciation of what endures—family, friends, and community. Five readers tell us what lessons they learned from the Great Recession.
Marilyn Loy Turner of Columbia had long pondered what would happen to our state and nation if we had to go through a time such as the 1930s Great Depression when the stock market crashed, banks failed, and unemployment soared.
“Now I know,” says Marilyn, a member of Taylor County RECC.
“I learned that hard times connect humanity,” says the grandmother of nine. “I saw an increase in volunteerism, in fund-raisers. I saw partnerships form. I watched families spending more time together. Schools had outreach programs for hungry children. Churches provided food…we rejoiced over Kids Need Kicks, a back-to-school program that provides new athletic shoes for children through our Family Resource Center. I thanked God for the barbers who gave free haircuts, the dentists who visited the schools.
“I watched as my son, Micheal, took on a second job. He didn’t just get another job though. He got a job that was not even a mile from his home so he could go home for supper and remain close to his family. Besides the extra income, he also got to take home movies for his family. That became a special treat. Through his actions, we realized that family is the most important resource, that it’s worth so much more than money or financial things.
“At the same time, people were considering their environment. They were recycling, growing organic gardens, selling produce at farmers’ markets. The Cooperative Extension Service was on hand to give advice and teach free classes.
“I’ve discovered that when our economy is weak, our people are still strong. Yes, our generation met the challenge. I hope history books will call us the gracious generation.”
Crystal Stephens of Carrollton “If you grew up like me, it’s not so tough to roll up your sleeves, tighten the belt, and settle for more beans, less meat,” writes Crystal Stephens of Carrollton. The Shelby Energy Cooperative member grew up in a large family with little money.
“Life was simple back then,” Crystal recalls. “Beans filled our hungry bellies and were a basic staple in our kitchen. With the ‘Dwindling Dollar Disaster,’ we just went back to simple living. No, we didn’t just have beans, but our steaks turned into Hamburger Helper, eating out became eating in, and daily meals were replaced with pots of chili or soup that could be reheated and eaten for several days. Generic products, once unwelcomed, soon began filling our grocery cart.”
The Stephens family even found ways to find humor in the situation.
“Soaring heat bills? No problem,” says Crystal. “Just turn down the thermostat and pile on the comforters.”
Sticky notes on light switches reminded family members that light switches work two ways: on and off. Growing their own vegetables saved money. Walking whenever possible also saved. Fresh flowers came from their own fields rather than the store.
“Surviving is simple with simple things,” Crystal reminds us.
Mike Coffey of Bowling Green started a company called Blue Cotton in 1991, which gets its power from Warren RECC. By June 2007, the company had found phenomenal success selling screen-printed T-shirts through their Web site.
Then the Great Recession hit. In the first quarter of 2009, revenue was down 22 percent. Coffey was forced to lay off employees. Spending halted for anything other than absolute necessities.
Even so, Coffey says he was never discouraged. Instead, he tried to be “sensible and smart.”
“Like any family, we looked at the things that really mattered and spent money on those things,” he says. “Everything else had to wait.”
For Blue Cotton, what really mattered was exceptional customer service.
“Everyone says they take care of the customer, but most companies don’t really care about the customer experience,” Mike observes. “Just call your cable company or your credit card company. We do focus on the customer experience. I mean seriously. We have real people trying to help other real people.”
The laser focus on customer service—wowing the customer, not just serving them—paid off. The company finished 2009 up 10 percent over the past year even though the first quarter was down 22 percent. Every employee who was laid off was offered his or her job back. Growth has been “phenomenal” ever since.
“When you do the right thing it tends to lead to reward,” Mike says. “You just have to remember to focus on the things that really matter.”
Kay Cornett of London Smack in the middle of the worst economic time since the Great Depression, Kay Cornett of London quit her job and went back to school. Hard times got harder. Kay cleaned houses so she could work around her school schedule. Her parents and husband, Johnny Jr., pitched in to help with son Leighton. The family didn’t eat out much and didn’t get to go many places.
But in November 2013, the family headed for a week at Disney World to see the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom. That was possible because Kay graduated in December 2010 from Eastern Kentucky University with an associate degree in nursing and immediately found a good-paying job. With two incomes, everything in the Cornett household is different.
“I went back to school to better our family,” says Kay, a member of South Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation. “A family just about can’t make it on one income unless one person makes a ton of money. It will be hard to go back to school. You will struggle. Do it. An education makes all the difference.
Joanne Stidham grew up in rural Kentucky with eight brothers and sisters. Although the 1960s and ’70s were times of prosperity for many, their family had little in the way of money and never even owned a vehicle. Still, they never lacked for food or fun. Joanne continues the no-cost fun today with her grandchildren.
“We put on 1960s music and dance in the kitchen,” she says. “We have fun with the chicken dance. We love to play limbo. My four girls and their children especially like to dance to the song Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
“It doesn’t take a lot to have fun. We had a lot more fun in those days than kids do in this day and time, even with their iPods and computers. If you want to have the time of your life, make your own fun.”
Financial security checklist
Associate State Director for Communications Scott Wegenast, with AARP Kentucky, provides the following checklist and resources so you can plan your financial security:
The Great Recession and sluggish recovery of the last few years have hit midlife and older workers particularly hard. The last decade spelled disaster for millions of older workers who lost their jobs, saw their retirement savings diminish, and had their healthcare costs continue to skyrocket.
So how ready are you for “what’s next?” AARP encourages you to take the next steps now toward planning your financial security. Below are some things you can do now—no matter what your “what’s next” looks like.
Find New Ways to Cut Your Expenses (and Start Saving More). Start by listing your bills and then figure out ways to trim them.
Network for that Next Job through social media and other means. It can benefit you to get on Facebook and LinkedIn. Work Reimagined is AARP’s new social network-based resource jobs program that connects employers seeking experienced workers with qualified professionals searching for new or more satisfying careers.
Evaluate Your Health—now. Commit to getting into shape if necessary and living a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you can use your newly found time to begin a new fitness program or learn how to prepare healthy meals.
Create a Budget. Know how much money is coming in and from where, how much it will cost to reach your retirement goals, and how much debt you have.
Prepare for the Unexpected. Consider how you would deal with major events now so you won’t get caught off-guard later. As difficult as it is to imagine catastrophe, take the time to consider widowhood, a significant illness, the need for long-term care, etc.
Determine When to Collect Social Security. If you can afford it, the longer you wait to claim Social Security, the greater your monthly benefit will be.
Stick to Your Plan. Visit AARP.org for more useful information and resources—from calculators helping you determine your financial future to articles and tips from experts.
• Work Resources–www.aarp.org/jobs
• Work Reimagined–www.workreimagined.org
• Ready for Retirement?10 Steps–www.aarp.org/readyforretirement
• Social Security Benefits Calculator–www.aarp.org/socialsecuritybenefits
• AARP Retirement Calculator–www.aarp.org/retirementcalculator
• AARP 401(k) Fee Calculator–blog.aarp.org/tag/401k-fee-calculator/