WHAT I DID DURING THE LAST RECESSION, & WHAT I WOULD DO NOW

woman puts out fire

This post was inspired by a guide from Bitches Get Riches on how to prepare yourself for the next recession. In my opinion, their advice is the best I’ve read because it is relatable and realistic, from the recommendation to get all your health concerns addressed to (gasp!) using a credit card for essentials if you don’t have enough savings to live on.

This all got me thinking about things I did back in 2008, when I didn’t even realize there was a recession until years after. I just knew I was broke, stressed as hell, and unsure if life would ever get better. Now over a decade later, I have a better understanding of how a recession works. Here is what I did then, and what I plan to do when the next one comes around. (Because as I’ve learned, there will always be a next one.)

 

What I Did in 2008: Desperately Applied for Jobs (Even the Ones I Didn’t Want)

I’ve mentioned before that I had just moved from St. Louis to Atlanta when the recession hit. The primary purpose of this move was to complete my bachelor’s degree after graduating from community college. I didn’t have a job lined up, but I figured I could easily find something part-time once I settled in.

As you know, that didn’t happen, which resulted in my frantic job search anywhere that said they were hiring. For nearly a year, I put in dozens of applications at places like Target, Walmart, and Forever 21. I even applied to be a hostess at several different restaurants. I didn’t hear back from most of them and I was called in for a couple interviews, but never landed the job.

Photo: Tamarcus Brown
 

What I Would Do Now: Use the Skills I Have to My Advantage

What I’m about to say is not to throw shade on anyone who works in the retail/food service industries…but I know without a doubt I would have HATED working any of those jobs. I’ve worked in retail before, and the condescending attitude that customers have towards employees, plus the low pay and non-existent benefits, always made me miserable.

Ironically, when I did start my first food service job, it didn’t last long. I was hired at a local restaurant as a server, only to be let go after three days because my personality wasn’t “bubbly” enough. That same restaurant also shut down not long after, but I digress.

The thing that blows my mind when I think about that time in 2008, is that not once did I attempt to find work doing what I’m actually good at: writing. Granted, freelance writing didn’t have the mainstream attention it does today, but there were surely companies who could have used my services.

If my primary source of income takes a hit in a future recession, I plan to focus on finding opportunities that align with my skillset. While it will be competitive with so many other freelancers in the market now, it’s a better strategy than blindly putting in applications for jobs that I have zero desire to do.

 

What I Did in 2008: Paid Bill Collectors Until I Had Nothing Left

With no job during my first year in Atlanta, I relied heavily on credit cards to pay for everyday expenses, until I ran out of cash to make the minimum payments for said credit cards. Still, anytime I came across some money, whether it was from a family member, or financial aid, the first thing I did was send in payments on all of my past due accounts.

Of course, this did nothing to satisfy the aggressive bill collectors who demanded the accounts be paid in full. I vividly remember the most humiliating conversation I had with a representative from a credit card company. I had just stepped into my dorm room and heard the phone ringing. (My cell phone had been cut off and the room phone didn’t have caller ID, so it wasn’t easy to dodge unwanted calls from collectors.)

The collector identified herself, and instead of hanging up, for some reason I attempted to explain my situation. Not surprisingly, she felt no sympathy and mocked me for using my card to purchase things like plane tickets and groceries, which she didn’t believe were “essentials.” Never mind that the plane tickets were to go home and see my family over the holidays, and the groceries were for, you know, trying not to starve.

That conversation stuck with me for a long time and only added to the frustration I felt for getting myself into this mess. How could I be so irresponsible and stupid? Why couldn’t I just try harder to find a job?

These are the questions that kept me up at night and convinced me to focus all my energy into paying something—anything—on my credit cards, even if it meant having nothing for myself.

 

What I Would Do Now: Tell Bill Collectors to Go Fuck Themselves

A lot of time has passed since those bleak days in Atlanta. With time comes maturity, and for me, less concern with what strangers at Commerce Bank think about me.

While I understand that paying bills is important, and haven’t been late on any payments in years, I no longer prioritize them over my own wellbeing. I currently have way more savings than I did in 2008, but if the day ever comes where I have to choose between making a student loan payment or buying groceries, Navient will just have to wait.

I understand now that companies don’t care about how noble I’m being by giving them my last dime. They don’t care if I starve or don’t have enough gas to get to work. Once they get their money, they’ll happily move on to harassing the next person who owes them, and who’s left scrambling to find money for basic expenses? You guessed it, yours truly.

Since 2008, I’ve discovered the principle of paying myself first, and it’s a concept I will never let go of, no matter how bad my financial situation gets. In a crisis, the priorities will be myself and my husband, housing, food, and transportation. Anything else can be dealt with once I get back on my feet.

 

What I Did in 2008: Panicked and Moved Back Home

If I could sum up my experience during the recession in two words, they would be: emotional rollercoaster. In less than two years, I paid nearly $2K to repair my car, only for it to break down again and be impounded, couldn’t find a job to save my life, found a job, got fired from that job, had to fight for unemployment benefits, had my credit cards stolen, and got a $300 speeding ticket. Basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

With all of these events happening back to back, I naturally decided this was the universe’s way of telling me to get the hell out of Atlanta. Things weren’t getting any better and I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to stick around for any more bad luck. I eventually called my mom and told her I was ready to come home.

Although I don’t regret moving back home because “everything happens for a reason,” sometimes I do wonder how things would have turned out if I stayed.

Photo: Pixabay
 

What I Would Do Now: Be Patient and Weather the Storm

It sounds super cliché, but I honestly believe that toughing things out would be my best option when/if shit were to hit the fan like it did in 2008. Also, I’m married now so running back home would likely be more complicated than it was at the age of 23.

Going through my first recession as an adult wasn’t fun, but it certainly taught me a lot about myself. It taught me that I’m more resilient and resourceful than I give myself credit for. It was also proof that life doesn’t end because you can’t pay bills, and things do eventually start looking up.

Most importantly, I learned there will be events in life that I simply can’t control. It doesn’t mean I’m an idiot or I don’t work hard enough. Beating myself up for not putting every single penny into savings or having all my debt paid off won’t help. As I mentioned earlier, I now understand recessions are a part of life and the best I can do is prepare as much as possible and brace myself for the rest.

Featured Image: Levi Damasceno

15 Comments

  • The job searching bit sounds so freaking familiar, but I was doing it in 2009 instead of in 2008 (even in the southeast just a few hours from Atlanta). Looking back it’s insane to me that I struggled to get a low paid retail job when I also could have played to my strengths in such a different way.

    • I know right?! It’s so strange how we go into panic mode and try to secure jobs we don’t even want when we would probably have a better chance making money doing something that interests us. Oh well, live and learn. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • There’s something about learning the second time around that this is a cyclical thing and that they come approximately every ten years that takes a lot of panic out of facing down the next recession for me. Like you, 2008 was my first rodeo and I didn’t know that recessions are normal and in a grand scheme kind of way, predictable. The thing that particularly stuck with me was that it was such a bad one, and it turns out that generally speaking, we don’t have to brace for every single one as if they’ll be catastrophic. (I still do, though. I’ve been semi holding my breath.)

    And yeah, running home when you’re married is a much weirder proposition 😁

    • That’s such a great point! (The fact that the 2008 recession was exceptionally bad, and others tend to be less devastating.) Now that we’ve survived one of the worst case scenarios, future ones will *hopefully* be a piece of cake. Thanks for reading!

  • What a great perspective! I actually belly laughed at the “What I Would Do Now” section regarding the bill collectors haha! Hindsight really is 20/20.

    • Okay, now I can officially add “succeeded in making reader belly laugh at her writing” to my resume. Flawless victory. Lol! But yeah, hindsight always makes you see what could have been done better so I try not to beat myself up over the mistakes I made. Thanks for reading!

  • Great story. I was 23 too and that was the first time I was really aware of the economy and why a recession was. I was supposed to seperate from the military in March of 2009….let’s just say good thing I didn’t.

    It’s hard to really judge things at that age and that point of life. I wish there would have been better financial education about that time to help people like us make better descisions. “You don’t know what you don’t know” holds very true. Love your learning experience with the bill collectors and your new found attitude lol. Power to you and your financial future!

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment. Interesting that you were in the military during that time. I think the instability from the recession was part of why I decided to join the military in 2011. It helped me to get back on my feet in a way that I don’t think would have happened if I chose another path.

      Comprehensive financial education would have been a huge help for me back then. I’m hoping that sharing what I learned will help those who are still trying to figure things out. Good luck to you in your financial future as well! 🙂

  • Yay for growth. I panicked during the last shutdown (2013) This shutdown, I was better prepared. Although I had just moved back to Maryland from Atlanta, I had a little savings so I wasn’t as shellshocked. In addition, I had a side hustle (Ubereats) plus I was content to just “be still”. When you know better, you do better. Great post!

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