Being resourceful during times of economic uncertainty

Due to the uncertain economy, many families will need to cut back and simplify this holiday season. Rather than holiday spending sprees with anxiety filled wake-up calls in January when credit card statements arrive, why not find ways of celebrating that do not require spending beyond one’s means? Being resourceful and creative as a family can provide memorable moments, joy and happiness borne of hours spent together.

Those of us old enough to remember have gone through several economic downturns. I completed my doctorate during the recession of 1981 and was full of optimism about obtaining a position at a college. Sending out countless resumes and letters of recommendation was a daily ritual. Getting few, if any, responses were part of the same ritual. When the budget for my position, training teachers for New York University, was cut, I became even more discouraged. I found myself, much like many who are presently without work, going on unemployment and needing Food Stamps.

Existing on the bare minimum, I had a decision to make; either I could wallow in the unfairness of it all or take control of what I could to make life easier for my daughter and me. Each morning at dawn, I carried my bicycle down six flights of stairs to the then-closed West Side Highway. Riding back and forth cleared my head, and when I returned home, my endorphins and mood were elevated and ready for the job hunt ahead.

That Christmas, my daughter and I made holiday decorations together, volunteered to serve dinner for the homeless at a local shelter and visited a friend in the hospital who was suffering from AIDS.

Many families are facing similar difficult situations and periods of transition. Not to negate how difficult it is to be without work and to see one’s finances dwindle, there is a potential upside of going through difficult times. These tough times can bring a family closer together.

During the past several decades, many families have been kept apart by long commutes, work schedules and after-school hours filled with structured activities that seldom require a parent to be present. Cutting back on these activities opens the door to new inexpensive ways to bring hours of delights during the holiday season and beyond.

The basement of my house still has the lids of Ball jars attached to the ceiling where former residents hung canning jars. They reminded me of times gone by and how much fun it could be for families to relearn the forgotten joys of the canning process, and to enjoy the tasty results. Hours can be spent in the kitchen laughing and creating wonderful foods that, when ready, will bring back memories of seasons past. A word of caution: remember the purpose is to destroy decay and illness-causing bacteria so directions should be strictly followed.

Putting together complex puzzles with hundreds of pieces is another rewarding activity. These puzzles can be worked on for hours and weeks on end. Puzzles usually have a theme, and working on them can be accompanied with storytelling, learning about far-off places and their traditions. For economy’s sake, a suggestion might be to have round-robin puzzle shares with family and friends.

An activity from my childhood that could easily be revived is marbles. When volunteer teaching at an orphanage in Vietnam during the mid 1990s, the children played marbles for hours. Having few other games, they also did not have genuine marbles. The game was played just as passionately with little stones they had gathered. These children played cooperatively for hours, absorbed in the task of strategically planning moves. Marbles is a rewarding activity that definitely could be resumed along with board games, chess and Scrabble.

Knitting is an inexpensive activity that is described as recession proof. This low-keyed activity is known to relieve stress and can be enjoyed as a solitary activity or in knitting circles. Many yarn shops offer classes in knitting and crocheting that are not age discriminatory. At such shops, one can find young and old engaged in conversation while knitting away for hours on end.

Visiting the local library is a wonderful way to fill afternoons and weekends. New books are added all the time. Being in a chamber of knowledge does much to warm hearts. Librarians have encouraged so many children’s love of reading and introduced them to many different literary genres.

With the advent of the Internet, many families no longer visit the library as often as in the past. Making weekly scheduled visits will bring back a valuable tradition and serve to keep many libraries open as well.

Leading the category of outdoor activities that are fun, challenging and can be a solitary or group activities is jumping rope. Children have enjoyed this and other rope activities for hundreds of years. Double Dutch is a true favorite that has tremendous popularity in cities, but can be enjoyed anywhere, and skill sets keep evolving with imaginative new techniques. For the ambitious, Double Dutch teams can compete against each other. Many tournaments are held nationwide for middle school students. This activity is so wonderful because it is truly egalitarian and has the potential to bring different groups together from which lifelong friendships can arise.

Many such inexpensive activities exist, and what fun it will be to rekindle them and see kids in the neighborhood skating, riding bikes, playing games rather then running off to participate in sports leagues when barely out of kindergarten.

One of the greatest of gifts of all is to give back. Many hospitals, homeless shelters and churches have special holiday meals and programs. Volunteers are always needed, and by serving others, one sees how fortunate our lives truly are. Families also are encouraged to have children get involved with community service projects elucidated on Random that has an up-to-date listing of wonderful opportunities for service throughout the United States. Random Kids also provides information and instructions as to how parents and children can develop their own projects improving the lives of those living in their own communities —

Each of us faces many ups and downs, corners to turn in the days of our lives. In times of plenty we can expand; when the money is tighter we cut back. The important thing to remember during a time of economic downturn is this is not the first time we have survived a sinking economy, and, eventually, things will turn around.

Ring in the New Year and new possibilities by bringing back what was wonderful in the past and create fond family memories for the future. The words of the prescient playwright Thornton Wilder come to mind:

”I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is a struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field or a home or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds, and God has always given us that.”

”Thus, let us not lose our optimism as we have so much to be grateful for. Faith in what tomorrow will bring, hope for the new dawning and charity towards others will keep our candle burning brightly for years to come.”