Annual Income = $0 Redux

Lisa Towes-Daugherty |

Written by Lisa Toews-Daugherty

My husband, Jay, was laid off in August. The company he worked for was acquired and needed to trim 25% off of its budget. As a result, they closed the satellite Washington DC office Jay ran. In the first few weeks, Jay focused on using his contacts to get jobs for his team, who are now all re-employed. Most were even able to pocket some extra money from the severance. Not so easy for us.

So, like nine years ago, our family income has been drastically reduced. Not quite $0 since I’m working part-time, but not enough to cover our monthly expenses. While his planned sabbatical was a time of happily penny pinching as he recovered from ten years of intense travel, this unplanned hiatus feels unsettling and unjust.

Like before, we immediately began cutting expenses to make a 5 month severance stretch. But we had our 20-year wedding anniversary and Christmas in there, making it difficult. Our oldest daughter is a junior in high school and talking colleges. Oh – and a third car for her would be nice, she points out. Our health care costs doubled going on COBRA.

It is surprising to me how different it feels this time around. There is more pressure and tension. I hesitate to purchase even the needs – the next size up pair of snow boots – when it might not snow. Should I try to sell the clothes the girls have outgrown rather than donate them? Our daughters aren’t toddlers this time around. They are teenagers with definite opinions, wants, and "needs" around what they wear and how they look. Even in public school, we are expected to shell out $900 for a mandatory orchestra trip to Philadelphia and $300 for a band trip to Hershey Park.

I need to stop – it’s not productive to keep going. I can feel my blood pressure rising and I’m wondering what my point is. You can cut expenses, purchase only "needs" not "wants," and change habits to live more frugally. But none of it is any fun when it’s forced upon you.

Jay and I walk together every morning. It’s our time out of the house to talk about how we are feeling and support each other. We talk about his job search (but not too much because I don’t want to nag), finances, projects we have going on, books we are reading, church, family, and, when we run dry on those topics, the weather. Never politics. We remember that we have the resources to get us through this. We remember to be grateful.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what-if doomsday scenarios fueled by fear – what if the market crashes, what if a tree falls on our house, what if we face a major health crisis ….. But none of those are the reality of today. That’s not this moment. Today, Jay simply doesn’t have a job. No more, no less. No good, no bad. It just is. And that will change. In time, the right job will come his way and this will be but a blip in our story. We need to check the fear and simply hold on to the facts. That is where happiness and contentment can be found, even in unsettling times.