Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

Learning to live with less, and appreciating it

November 9, 2009


BELLA VISTA, Arkansas – For a man who has had his salary cut 10 percent and now has to work hard to make it to his next paycheck, Denny Robertson is in a philosophical frame of mind.

“I have had to learn to live with less. But I have shelter and I have food, so I have everything I need,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable to run out of money before the next paycheck, but we’ll get by.

Robertson, 34, is a product engineer at tool maker Kennametal Inc. at a facility in nearby Rogers. Facing the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, earlier this year the company laid off some staff locally and – in a bid to preserve jobs – gave others one week of furlough, or unpaid leave, every month.

After five months of that, however, the company gave salaried staff a 10 percent pay cut instead in order to keep the facility open at all times.

“If the economy shows signs of improvement then my salary will go back up,” Robertson said. “But I’m not holding my breath that the economy is improving and I’m not banking on it.”

“I keep hearing that the economy is recovering but I just don’t see it.”


Robertson and his wife Rebecca have two young daughters and have had to rethink their budget.

“We have picked up some good habits because of my situation,” he said, speaking at his home in this leafy small town in northwest Arkansas, which is just a few miles from the home of low-cost retail giant Walmart in Bentonville. “We eat out less and I have become more disciplined at making my own lunches for work rather than eating fast food every day.”

As a result, he has lost 20 pounds this year without any additional exercise. The Roberstons also now buys second-hand clothing and with the holidays coming up is planning to buy gifts only for children in their extended family – they will make cookies and other gifts themselves for the adults.

Robertson has stopped paying into his 401(k) retirement savings plan and the family now relies on credit cards only for emergencies.

“The credit cards are only for unexpected things,” he said. Recently his two daughters came down with the H1N1 virus and even with his healthcare coverage he had to charge co-payments and prescriptions to his credit card.


Robertson said that living with less has made him appreciate his church even more and he has raised his tithe payment to the church to 10 percent of his income.

“Even once my salary rises I’ll continue to do that,” he said. Another thing he said that will continue is that he intends to live within his means and not buy into America’s consumer culture any more.

He said that his church has members who are children of the Great Depression and this downturn has taught to appreciate what they went through growing up.

“In one way this recession may be a good thing for my generation,” Robertson said. “Perhaps this is what we need to build a little character.”

“We don’t have to have the latest TV to enjoy life,” he said. “Sure, I’d like to have that TV. But unless I can pay for it in cash, I’m not going to buy it.”

Photos by Lucy Nicholson

Click here for more of Route to Recovery


Wow! This would almost be helpful if it was actually a family that was not spending way more than they needed to.
These stories are always so other-wordly to me.

1) Almost never eat out
2) Do not even have a cable/satelite subscription
3) Pay into a 401k
4) Save at least 20% on top of the 401k
5) Don’t give a penny to any church
6) Make sure I have good healthcare coverage
7) Always balance food cost with quality to improve long term health and costs
8) Haven’t bought new clothes in over a year now

Seriously, just once I would like someone to come out and show some real cost cutting. Not painless trimming of excess.

Posted by Sebastian | Report as abusive

here’s what is wrong w/ this picture.
he’s got 2 kids, a dog and upping donation to his church.
ppl do not have money do not give money away, do not have kids, kids are EXPENSIVE

Posted by kai | Report as abusive

The guy featured in this article titled “living with less” appears to be living in a newer immaculate home with nice furniture, granite contertops and nice appliances. Everything he says sounds trite and the writing appears contrived. It is as if the reader should just sit back and accept that America’s economic powerhouse days are over and we should all just shrug it off and move on in a more frugal and sensible manner. First of all, the person feartured in this article is not indicative of the REAL suffering the economic downturn has caused millions of people, And, second, what’s wrong with being a little PO’d about seeing the country with the highest standard of living sink lower and lower. We should be seeking answers and holding certain people responsible, not simply trying to make lemons out of lemonade.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

When will this terrible recession end? – Arunabh Das

Posted by Arunabh Das | Report as abusive

Hey guy- if you are reading this, I will give you some free advice:
1. were you really eating fast food for lunch everyday? what were you thinking?
2. looks like your kids are eating frozen stuff. Learn to cook!
3. Church? No wonder you got into trouble in the forst place- you are highly irrational. Ditch the superstition and get back in that 401 k!

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

Well, that’s what is wrong with our culture, when we feel bad that we can’t afford the latest TV. Families that own TV in most countries in the world are happy to have just one TV that they could afford, and they continue to be happy to use that. If we keep spending on replacing a perfectly working product with the latest and greatest, our spending cycle will never end! Once someone has set up enough funds for emergency, retirement, and school expenses for kids, sure go ahead and spend the money. But till then, SAVE, SAVE, and SAVE!

Posted by Shahriar Chowdhury | Report as abusive

Do as Socrates did: He’d go into the markets and bazaars and make a (non)shopping list of all the things he didn’t need.

Posted by Iqbal Soorty | Report as abusive

Hold on a minute let see if I understood, is he giving more money for his church ? He has problems to make the ends meet and still rise in 10% the donations ?!

Posted by Emerson | Report as abusive

Yeah kids are expensive : cut the kids. Make them vanish or grow faster.


This story is a farce. Anyone who is giving 10% of their income to an organization isn’t really at the ‘epicenter of the American recession’.
Tell the story of people who are really suffering without granite counter tops & voluntary donations.
I love the characterization that the recession isn’t all bad, because afterall he’s not as fat.

Posted by glf | Report as abusive

Cascading global financial ponzi scheme is collapsing.
Go live off grid and grow your own food. You won’t have to worry about prostituting yourself to flip burgers for fiat currency.

Posted by Alan | Report as abusive

The reporters should have gone to Samaritan Community Center’s Soup Kitchen in Rogers on the “other side” of Bentonville. They would be reporting a whole different story.

Posted by Mike Phillips | Report as abusive

I think some people here are missing the point. One we have a classist society. And this depression is hitting everyone [excluding the top one percent]. This man is finding out what is important.

In the Midwest and South government programs [food stamps, welfare, medicare] is something that is publicly derided. To them it is in the church where you find salvation from what ever ailes you. Giving the tithe is apart of their economic custom.

The article is showing us two things. People are starting to look at what is really important to them, and that the Consumer Culture is crap. It has not saved us not one,:Yuan, Yen, Euro, Dollar, New Shekel, Pound Sterling. Whatever. The other:WE HAVE NOT LIVED WITHIN OUR MEANS FOR OVER 40 YEARS [Thanks Vietnam war Budget, Desert Storm, 300+ military bases, Military Industrial-Congressional Complex!.]

On the the budgetary concerns of our government—Eisenhower warned us ALL!

On the budgetary concerns of the individual—we must live within our means- protest congress- Or perish all.


Cut your credit cards
Make Love, not Wars
Living within your mean.
Credit Score is very toxic
No More Mortgage slavery
Big cars do not make a man.
Do not buy unless it is necessary.
Grow your own vegetables garden.
Stop being Consumers of the World.
Big ticket items do not make a women
Donate clothes you don’t wear to charity
Enjoy each other at Library or Bookstore.
Learning to live with less, and appreciating it
Spend more time with your family at the park.
Stop outsource jobs to India, China and oversea.
Subway and Public Transport are great for America.
Family vacation at Yosemite with all the funs for family.
Stop fill up your house with cool junks and hardly use items.


Having your income cut by 10% doesn’t mean he suddenly will not take care of his house or have the granite countertops that were purchased before the down turn! What a crazy comment. This article is about doing with less and the good habits that can be the silver lining. Why are people picking the story apart and insulting this guy? It is apparent in some of the comments that the attacks are on his spirituality. What a shame…

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

To paraphrase Barbara Bush: The recession forced him to eat less fast food and he lost weight, so this is really working out well for him.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

It all seems like the same old thing to me. Unemployment is talked about and the economy is discussed to death but the financial breaks keep on going to the guys who got us in this mess.

When will the American public wake up and demand that we stop being driven into the proverbial ground? All measures are being taken to make sure the richest 2% stay rich and milk off the rest of the public. No amount of democrat or republican rhetoric is going to change anything.

These are the same two parties that have been financed by the same big business that gets the federal loans. The small business owners and all of the workers are left to struggle for themselves. There are a lot of big speaches given but nothing changes.

I believe we have reached that point where the rock has been bled as much as it can. All of the advanced business school economics in the world will not make a bad economy look good in the face of double digit unemployment. It will put on a good face for a while but that will run out.

I don’t know how this will end but you an I won’t be better off and the people that caused it will be sitting on a beach somewhere retired on our money.

Makes a person a little angry…


Posted by Eduardo Aguinaga | Report as abusive

It’s great to see that the readers have pointed the obvious problem with this article. The reporter chose a relatively well off and educated family to represent the affect of recession on american families.

What I am wondering is, Does Reuters ever read these comments and try to rectify some of these problems with their reporting?

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

I write in praise of this families giving to their church. That the increased financial demands on their own family unit has made them sensitive to those of others. In many communities it is the Church that has the most sustained and immediate support of increasing Hunger and Poverty.

This family realizing their Good Fortune to have food and shelter through charitable giving is a good example to those ‘wealthier’ who might condemn the practice.

Doing good is the best dividend you’re going to earn when were going down. Don’t listen to those who advise against supporting your community through your church in a time of national pressure on the poorest and most unfortunate.

A noble and rather American act of charity.

Good for you!


Harvard was started and endowed by a clergyman; Countless hospitals like St. Jude were started by Christians; not to mention the majority of orphanges, homeless shelters, and other relief organizations were funded by Christian and other charitable donations.

You can try to make this world a better place or live a life of self-indulgence, simply parting and wasting your life away.

Posted by Peter Lau | Report as abusive

James Reginald Harris, jr


Are you serious? You are way too funny!!

Posted by Sebastian | Report as abusive

I like how his plan is to buy a t.v. (albeit with cash) as soon as this downturn is over. He’s really just holding his breath until he can go back to his consumerist ways (not to say that this is all bad).
I’m glad that our family has decided against xmas presents this year, I was tired years ago of that hamster wheel. I’m trying to convince them that we should give each other letters, talking about what we are proud of in each other, as well as what we like about each other. I know that sounds corny, but I’ve kept every letter I ever received that said nice things. And don’t get me started about trite cards with one line greetings that say nothing to who I am.
The undercurrent here is learning how to be human again – eating real food, appreciating and celebrating each other. And yes, we don’t need the church for that, we can do it on our own.

Posted by James Perly | Report as abusive

Sam — If you explore the stories linked from the map above, you’ll see we’re talking to a wide diversity of people.

Posted by Richard Baum | Report as abusive

Church? Good things? It is superstition and it is the rallying cry for most killing in this world.

This family deserves all its got coming to it: fat, laziness, and a television set which is second only to God.

What a bunch of freaks.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

So they talked with a guy who has a relatively good job and lives in the \’burbs. What\’s wrong with that???? The recession affects everyone. Here is the point: here\’s this guy in this suburban pre-fab house with all the trimmings, \”bought into\” the whole new-TV-every-year mentality and the recession has forced him to rethink all that. He no longer buys on credit, and instead of complaining, he has a newfound appreciation for how lucky he is–he says so himself–for things like a home and his family and food on the table.

I find it inspiring that he upped his tithe to the church–all you naysayers should try it too before slagging him for it. If you are not religious–I myself am an atheist–then commit 10% of your income to your favourite charity–if you have one. I\’m guessing you don\’t, because you\’re probably the type of person who prefers to complain than do anything for positive change.

I give about 2% of my income to environmental, children\’s rights and disaster-relief organizations. My partner chooses AIDS and cultural charities. Let me just say 2% doesn\’t sound like much but it is HARD! That this guy had his income cut by 10%, and then chooses to donate a full 10% is incredible. So walk a half mile before you scoff.

Also, there is a very good chance that his church is providing aids to families in need within their community, not just organizing anti-abortion rallies or buying gold pew ornaments.

The recession has cut my income by about 50%. That\’s perfectly okay with me b/c my spouse has a secure job and we make well over the national average. Instead of complaining about my income dive, I\’ve chosen to reallocate my extra free time to volunteering at my local food bank one day per week and spending more time working out (for my health) and cooking from scratch (for my family\’s health).

The recession has provided some positive effects to those who are able to grab them–and yes, lucky enough to be middle or upper middle class and not blue-collar– a newfound appreciation for what we do have, healthier lifestyle habits (packed lunches, not fast food), buying less landfill-destined crap from IKEA and Walmart… I like reading about how middle income people are coping: between cutting back, volunteering, growing our own veggie gardens and so on, perhaps a bourgeois lifestyle revolution is in the making!

Posted by Yuki | Report as abusive

James, Peter, I’m glad to hear some sanity and humanity in these blogs. Although, it is sad that for many it takes experiencing a crisis to realize the power of community and giving.

Posted by Kelly | Report as abusive


You need to crawl back under whatever rock you’ve been hiding under. This is a good family doing the best they can–the only freak here is you.

Posted by Voice of Reason | Report as abusive

My husband also worked for Kennametal, here in the Cleveland area, until he was laid off in March. A 10% pay cut is a heck of a lot better than being laid off and having to rely on unemployment (barely 50% of his previous pay). I’m glad the salaried employees at Kennametal are sharing part of the burden of the company’s struggle, rather than it all being dumped on the hourly employees, but they don’t have it as bad as they think.

Posted by Blossom | Report as abusive

It’s quite interesting if you take note, the people who are most opposed to tithing, church, faith etc. are the most angry and critical voices lashing out. James RH jr. makes a great and historically true point.

Posted by Roman E. | Report as abusive

Can anyone suggest how I can cut expenses?

Even before the recession struck, my family:
– almost never ate out
– bought new clothes only to replace worn out/torn/otherwise no more usable ones
– own a very modest smallish house (albeit in a nice ‘burb – quiet, good schools, easy commute, etc.)
– refi’d the house to very low fixed interest loan
– last bought a car in 2004 (used! and only to replace a totaled one)
– last bought a TV in 2003
– never carried credit card debt – all bills paid in full within grace period
– used every possible coupon/sale/promo while shopping for groceries, and rarely bought deeply processed packaged foods, opting for basics instead

Cutting 401(k) and 529 is not an option. Nor is cutting children’s activities (extracurricular ed, sports, music, etc).

Our biggest expense so far is taxes. Federal and state income tax, SocSec tax, property tax, sales tax, whatnot tax – they eat about half our family income if not more. No, I’m not suggesting tax evasion – it may turn out too costly. How about voting out tax-and-spend politicians, and bringing in the ones who takes tax cut as something more than pre-election lip service?

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Yuki, Thank you for your perspective. It is refreshing to hear from someone who is not a ‘chrisitian’ but has a respect for this man none the less. I defended the attacks on this man because they were unfair and you have enhanced this discussion with your perspective.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Most of the Americans have bought into the fiction that the economy will turn around any time now. Maybe the buffalo will return and the white man will go away.

I heard from God Almighty that we are facing disaster. The middle class will be crushed down into poverty just like Argentina in 2002. The American Dollar will go the way of the American Continental. Yes, the almighty Dollar will fail us.

We will have nowhere to look but up to an invisible God for protection and provision and guidance. And most of us will be surprised to get answers. A Christian revival will break out.


I saw one dog. There might be others, even a cat. Get rid of the pets, especially dogs.

401Ks are mentioned alot. If they are company matched to some percentage, fine. No more than the company match.
Look for 18 month CDs to return with at least a 4% return and jump on em.

Forget about an 8% return average over the next 20 years in stock markets.

Posted by timmy | Report as abusive

Can I suggest eating the dog

Posted by Graham Seed | Report as abusive

This man is about my age (I’m 35), and I can understand some of his feelings about the things he and his family gave up. Our generation came of age in the 1980′s, a period when consumerism kicked into high gear. He and his wife probably grew up in families that could afford having TVs in various rooms, have multiple cars, etc. That was the image of prosperity everyone aspired to.

However, he and I are different in that I grew up as an immigrant in this country, and had to live with less. I’ve been better equipped to deal with loss of work (I’ve been unemployed for almost a year even though I’m college-educated), and living without certain luxuries (I’ve never owned a car, and haven’t owned a TV in five years).

The Robertsons are now becoming healthier in mind, body and spirit by giving up those markers of perceived prosperity. It’s good that they are learning that now, while they are young.

Posted by Mario C. | Report as abusive

To the posters that think they see granite countertops, look again. Those countertops are formica. It’s a faux granite look-alike pattern.

This guys life style really doesn’t seem all that excessive. Yes, there are people out there having a tougher go of it. Some of them have it tougher through no fault of their own, save being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are stories from Reuters about those people too.

Posted by chollie | Report as abusive

There is definitely a lot of stuff that needs to get fixed before President Obama can claim that the recession has ended. – Arunabh Das


The U.S. needs to stop killing hundreds of thousands of people in Maldives and Bangladesh that are dying because of the CO2 emissions from coal-burning plants in the U.S. – Arunabh Das

Posted by Arunabh Das | Report as abusive

Make love not war? what world do you live in, that statement sounds naive to me. Conflict is a primary means of changing anything between those that have and those that do not. Certainly the odds are in favor of those that have. For example Israel and Palestine, the palestinians will either disavow there newly elected officials or face increasing numbers of people starving to death.

Posted by Kyle | Report as abusive

So just like I pointed out a year ago, this recession seems headed for a double-dip. – Arunabh Das


Theres no greater pleasure than producing your own food straight from garden to table. We can do so much to help ease the financial stranglehold we are in just by being more self sufficient. Its not difficult to throw some vegetable plants into the ground. However big or small itll all help see us through this recession.


Kids really are expensive! We all just need to tighten our belts a little and we’ll be fine. People have lived with far less in the past.


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