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Granite Staters Cut Back, Ponder Future Effects

Posted: October 13, 2008
by Shira Schoenberg

Linda Schaudell, 60, has been working at Shaw's on Fort Eddy Road for 22 years. As soon as she was eligible, she started investing money in her 401(k). Last quarter, she lost $8,000 of her retirement savings due to the collapsing markets. The previous quarter, she lost $3,000.

"I have three years to go (until retirement)," Schaudell said. "I don't think I'll recover how much I've lost."

As the stock market tumbles, workers such as Schaudell are seeing their savings disappear. Uncertainty abounds over whether the U.S. government's $700 billion bailout package can stave off a total economic collapse. And individuals are getting hit by high prices for gas, food and heating oil.

In more than 15 interviews conducted around Concord yesterday, many residents said they were cutting back on eating out, taking vacations and casual shopping. But most said they felt prepared to handle short-term effects. The scarier thought for many was, "What's next?"

"Our parents grew up in the Depression, and I worry that that's where we're headed," said Cathy Williams, 54, a teacher's assistant at John Stark High School who also works at Things are Cooking on Main Street. "We're the 'clean your plate generation.' We were taught to save our pennies and not be frivolous. But for a while, we were able to be frivolous. Now we don't know what's around the corner."

Even before the stock market started to crash, local residents were feeling the pinch of increasing gas and food prices. And the cutbacks required to keep a balanced budget only seem more important today.

"We knew it was coming, and we planned for it," said Martha Buchanan, 53, who lives in Weare and works at Deka Research and Development Corp. "We paid off the car, paid off the mortgage, don't use the charge card, buy food in bulk and don't travel as much," she said.

The first things to go, for many of those interviewed, have been the luxury items. The money that used to go to checking out sales at the mall now goes to fill up the car. The vacations shift from traveling to staying at home.

Shane Bixby, a 26-year-old construction worker from Concord, watched his 5-year-old daughter Jade play at White Park yesterday. "We got into doing more of this stuff than bringing her to fairs, amusement parks," Bixby said. "It got too expensive to go."

Mark Grappone, 39, an accountant from Concord, said he used to eat out once a week. "Now if I'm lucky I go out once a month," he said. "The cost of food is so much higher, and the bill is a lot. Sometimes my wife and I split a meal."

But many said that at least for now, they still feel relatively secure. Denise Martel, 34, a Concord nurse, said she is thankful her profession is a stable one. She has been cutting back on the number of extracurricular activities her kids participate in, and she has been following the loss in her retirement account. But, she said, she is not overly worried. "Enough will rebound," she said. "We've just got to ride it out."

Adrienne Sullivan, a Concord retiree, is old enough to remember recessions in the 1970s and 1990s. "The same type of stuff has all happened before," she said. Sullivan is prepared to use the same strategies to get through these tough times as she did in the past. "We use a lot of coupons and are careful how we shop, we shut off things, unplug things that are not being used, use five minutes of water," she said. "It's easier for us now when we don't have children at home."

The biggest questions for many are those that affect the long term: how to plan for retirement, what to do with shrinking investments and what the future of the economy looks like. Jim Hofford, 80, a retired writer who lives in Washington, said he and his wife have already lost a lot of money in the stock market. "Do we keep our stocks and think it will rebound, or do we take out half and put it in something safe like CDs or savings accounts to have security?" he asked. "There's a need for reappraisal of where you are. Do you put all your eggs in one basket, particularly if you need income?"

Raymond Godin, 55, an economics professor at Manchester Community College said he is concerned about the level of government regulation of the financial markets. He said he thinks the bailout will help, but he does not expect it to have an impact until the first quarter of next year. He personally has not felt the economic impact beyond the higher prices of gas and heating oil. But his students are scared.

"They're listening to their parents, and some have money invested," Godin said. "They're concerned about downsizing, losing their jobs." Some are worried that their parents will lose their homes if interest rates rise and refinancing gets too difficult.

"For students age 18 to 25, the economy's not a major thing," Godin said. "Now, it hit them in the face. They're affected. A lot of them are giving up Friday night and Saturday night parties because they need the gas to go to work."

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