Looking Back This Will Feel Different

Looking Back This Will Feel Different

When I think back to the “Great Recession”, I find it hard to remember how I was feeling about it while it was happening. At the time that the recession began in early 2008, my life had already been turned on its head.

I had moved from Pittsburgh where I had lived my entire life down to Northern Virginia to move in with my then-girlfriend. We were expecting our first child in May of that year. I was in a different state, living with a partner for the first time, woefully unprepared – mentally, emotionally and physically – for the reality of being a Dad.

I was – of my own volition, mind you – thrown into a completely new reality, in a new area where the only person that I knew was my girlfriend, everything was way more expensive and the people all drove like jag-offs. No more going out every other night, staying out at dive bars or bowling and then ending up at a friend’s house until 5 am. No more band practices, booking shows, promoting and recording performances.

At the same time, the economy was starting to fizzle out and the subprime mortgage crisis was in full throttle. Somehow I had managed to find my second job as a software engineer in Virginia and then my third back home in Pittsburgh. The job search was difficult but I just figured it was that way because I didn’t have much experience in my field… or much confidence in myself at the time.

The one thing I remember was the price of gas getting to over $5.00 a gallon in Virginia. Other than that, and people saying that the economy was bad and things were getting tough, I had no idea. I remember writing up my first budget when I moved in with my now-wife and actually being amazed that I could stick to it. Previously, all of my meager paychecks flowed freely from the pockets of my oversized JNCO jeans.

Later that year, we moved back to Pittsburgh to be closer to family. In fact, we moved in with my parents which was stressful in and of itself. My brother had moved home at the same time. So now it was my parents, my brother, my girlfriend, son, pet ferret and I. It took me swallowing a boatload of pride to move back in at all, much less at a time when we were struggling to find jobs for both of us in town, making sure that we were getting rent from my wife’s condo (that we had just moved from) that had depreciated 70% since she bought it in 2005.

In the beginning of 2009 we found a place of our own to rent and started to get things on track slowly but surely. I remember selling a lot of things that we didn’t use much anymore – but that I would have preferred to keep – (my acoustic guitar, my trombone, my live audio recording equipment) just to be able to afford a 42″ LCD HDTV (the same one that we still have, because hey why not? It still works!). And this wasn’t the “Oh I just read some zen article and need to declutter and sell things” this was “Oh snap I am broke as hell and would like to watch TV so let’s do this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

At this point I’m sure someone will stop me and say “Oh poor you. the only things you remember are the price of gas and how you sold some old things to buy a TV? Check your privilege!” There were many times that we barely made ends meet, but we never focused on that. In fact I find it hard getting myself in that same mindset or remembering those times clearly.

Maybe this is because a lot of the hardships that we went through at the time ended up shaping who I am today and how I think about money, life and family. Maybe it’s because I am on the other side of all of that now and know how it ended? Maybe it was because I hadn’t really been living a full adult life before then and didn’t have anything to pick up off of the pavement?

This COVID-19 pandemic feels scary as hell right now. Health-wise, I am worried for my Dad (65) my Grandfather (he just turned 99!!!), my wife, kids and the rest of my family. Less importantly, I am worried about my job, though I am trying to keep a positive outlook on it. I worry that our tenants won’t be able to pay rent and that I will still be on the hook for paying those mortgages, utilities, taxes and insurance… potentially with no income of my own to draw from.

At the end of the day, the financial worries that I have stem from risks – owning rental real estate, having a job in a non-recession-proof industry – that I took with open eyes in order to reach our family’s goal of Financial Independence.

That goal seems distant now, but I know that how we weather this current storm will define how we were able to respond to adversity in the future. I cannot wait to look back on this and think “That was horrible, but we made it through and here are the amazing life lessons that we got out of it”

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