Friday, June 11, 2010
My "What Would You Do Moment" That Clarified Our Present Economic State
Today I visited the offices of a client of mine who's firm is shutting down the operations of one of its 3 operating companies due to the present economic downturn. They made substantial investments in their production plant just prior to the recession a few years ago. This debt put them in peril as the slow down in construction eroded their revenues in the building services business.
Over the last year a steady stream of individuals had lost their jobs at the company as they attempted to stay afloat. As they started releasing people who I thought were indispensable I knew that they were in trouble.
Today it was my job as the "computer systems guy" to close out access to the computer accounts for the terminated workers. The assets and customer lists were sold to their long time competitor. This was the last day on the job for some people who I had worked with for several years. "What are the options for a '57 year old plant manager today'?" asked one man who was pondering his future the other day.
All of a sudden my long struggle to get my wife and kids to stop "taking money out of my wallet" by spending money unnecessarily (and turn off the lights and television when they leave the room) seem insignificant.
As I left the offices I decided to restock on some food for the house from the nearby farmers market. After I was done shopping I stood in the checkout lines. They were surprisingly busy for the middle of the day. I cant' stand waiting in lines.
A new line opened up to the one beside me. An elderly woman who was behind me responded to the cashier's call of "I can take the next person over here". She was quicker on the draw than I was despite her cane. I have a bad habit of vacating one line only to get behind someone that I dread the most - those who have a stack of coupons or those who pay by check. I decided to move over to the new line and take my chances.
I noticed all of the chicken, turkey legs and fresh vegetables that the old lady in front of me had in her basket. I told her "With all that food I'm gonna have to invite myself to dinner over your house. You look like you're about to throw down". She laughed.
The cashier proceeded to ring all of her items up. "Mama that will be $57.13" she said. The woman pulled out a debit card, swiped it into the machine and then punched the buttons. She pressed "NO" to "Cash Back" and then mistakenly hit "No" to "Is This Amount Acceptable?". The cashier said "You just canceled the payment. Try it again". The second time she did it correctly. Then the terminal said "Declined - Over The Limit".
I wasn't sure what that meant. "Over the limit"? What limit?
Was this an "EBT Card" and she could only spend so much per day?
If this was a bank card - it would say "NSF" or "Balance Exceeded", I figured.
The woman handed the cashier 2 items back and the balance was now "$51.07". I figured that if she had a limit it would be at "$50" and they should go below that.
Once again the lady swiped her card and it was declined. It was debt card from "Bank Of America". The lady did not have the money in her account.
She handed back one of the packs of turkey wings and some spices. The total came out to $44.34. Once again it failed to process.
I recalled that I had seen a "hidden camera" show called "What Would You Do?" (or whatever the name was) which captured the reactions of shoppers in response to an elderly woman and a young woman who were purchasing an expensive prescription drug for about $125 when they only have $35 to spend. The elderly woman drew more support as others paid for her pills. The young woman was seen as irresponsible and no one bothered to help her.
I did not want to see another round of unloading of this woman's food and then another attempt at approval from the bank. I said to the cashier: "Hold on. Don't take out any more of the food. I'll pay for it.". I would have felt like a selfish, unempathetic, creep had I not stepped in.
"Why thank you young man. I appreciate it", the woman said.
I had just received a check from a credit card with a positive balance that I had posted in my joint account. (I shredded the card so I can't use it and I forgot to stop paying on it via my bill payment service). I would rather have this lady purchase food than my wife spend this money out of our joint petty cash account. :-)
"Thank you again, young man" she said as she walked out.
I have no idea about this woman's background. She seemed like a person on a fixed income struggling to get by. I figure that there are many other people like her that are running on financial "fumes in their gas tank".
I did not do pay for her groceries for notoriety nor am I posting this for any acclaim.
For me this was an example of the harsh economic times that are being faced by many people, especially those who have lost their jobs recently. "There by the grace of God go I" I was thinking.
I won't miss this money. There are 1000 + 1 other things with their hands in my wallet trying to take money out. This money had no particular "name" on it. I was happy to have it available to me. I am blessed to have a few different channels that are filling up my bucket. (Still trying to win that PowerBall though).
These economic times are going to force an increasing number of people to "take out some meat" from their shopping carts and live a far more modest life.
It is clear that this country and the global economy is in the middle of a massive realignment/ correction.We have not seen the last of this recession.
"The Government" is not going to be able to spend debt money in order to allow people to retain the standard of living that they are used to. There needs to be more direct community action to help people out. This is where those collection of individuals who desire to "reach back" and care for another will have to do so with direct channels instead of believing that their having voted for a "tax and entitlement spending increase" is evidence of their Christian faith. This is not the case.