Off the Ledge

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My husband was unemployed for ten months and just got a job. We
managed to hold onto the house but depleted all our savings trying to
survive. My job seems stable and if my boss is to be believed I am in
line for promotion. The kids are grown and seem to be coping with the
economy, better than we are in fact. There’s lots of deferred
maintenance in our lives that’s screaming for attention. And while it
may sound trivial, we’ve been living poor for so long I cannot recall the
last time we’ve done anything more than a bottle of wine and a video
for a blazing Saturday night. I want to be able to celebrate our good
fortune but have begun to feel like my grandparents, who always
referenced The Great Depression before they spent a dime. How can I
balance necessity and joy?
Off the Ledge

Dear Off the Ledge
Unless you’re a very unusual person, you’re familiar with the concept
of dieting. You’re facing a very similar situation. You need to set goals,
establish a money diet, and then stick to it. Even though you’re off the
ledge, nothing is assured, so until you have a robust savings account
again (imagine what your life would have been without one), you’re
going to have to live with one eye on the vicissitudes of the economy.
Sorry. You’re not alone.

Start with an inventory, system by system of all the deferred
maintenance in your lives. That means everything from the plumbing
to getting your teeth cleaned. Go person-by- person, location-by-
location, system-by- system. Takes notes on what’s needed, how long
it can be delayed, a d what the estimated cost will be. Rank your
priorities both by what you want and the downside risk of not doing
the repairs (personal or domestic). Take your monthly income and
divide it into three parts: what you need to live on now (a step up
from where you’ve been, but not high on the hog); some amount
towards savings; and something to the fix-it list. Set goals for each
category and give yourself appropriate carrots and sticks for meeting
and missing them. In six months, you should have a better sense of
what’s solid and what’s not. Then you can recalibrate your priorities.