by Shadra Bruce
When Dave’s corporate job was lost through downsizing and reorganization in 2004, we decided together that corporate America wasn’t the right fit for him. When my “atrocious boss” (as our kids like to call him) threatened to fire me for using my own earned sick leave to care for our ill children in 2007, I joined my husband in corporate refugee status. We’ve never been happier.
We both went back to school, earned degrees, and made plans for a new future. Dave was going to teach and I was going to start my own freelance writing business. Dave is now certified to teach and substitute teaches for the local school because there are no full-time teaching jobs. I am successfully building a small writing, editing, and social media consulting business, and our two incomes adequately support us.
We do, however, live frugally by choice and by circumstance. When there’s money to spare because I’ve had a good month, we first pay off a little more of our debt. If there’s still some left, we travel, spoil our kids, or sneak in a date night. When money is tight, we don’t get to write a new rule that says we can increase our debt limit, nor do we write bad checks that the bank has to cash. Like most American families, we simply tighten the belt and do without.
Our federal government could take a few lessons on survival in the real world, from this example and that of thousands of other Americans who have made similar strides and sacrifices. You see, when others talk about “tightening up the budget,” they suggest things like “only get your hair done every 8 weeks instead of every six and you’ll save $500 a year” or “Take a brown bag lunch to work twice a week instead of eating out and save $800 a year.”
We already live more frugally than that, as do many families. When someone needs a hair cut in our household, they climb up on a stool in the kitchen, and I take care of it. We don’t eat out even once a week, let alone daily, as is the custom for many elected officials. It is possible to live with one vehicle or no vehicle at all, and if we can walk to the store or post office instead of drive to it, we should. Many Americans live without the perks that are afforded to those people we have elected to govern and enforce our laws. Our government, of course, doesn’t run that way. Now if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, who will be hurt? The aged and disabled people who will not get their Social Security checks, mostly.
But this isn’t about raising the debt ceiling; it’s about stopping the special interests and corporations that have transformed Congress into personal bankers. In the short term, we’re going to have to raise the debt ceiling or face even worse economic trauma. But in the long-term, America (at the individual level and the national level) needs to learn not just to live within a budget but to prioritize things other than their own special interests.