Learning to live with less, and appreciating it
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