"Hold on Tight" is the subject line a friend of mine used on an email he sent me yesterday, to which he had attached a report from David Rosenberg, the highly respected Chief Economist at Merrill Lynch. Rosenberg paints a grim, but convincing picture that we're talking years before things will stabilize and, in any event, they will not come back to the highs of the last decade. Those days are truly over for virtually everyone alive right now.
It's true we all have to hold on tight, and that means several things: first, we have to hold on tight to whatever we have that can be nailed down so that we survive this economic tsunami. Those who have jobs cannot take them for granted, so do what you have to do to keep that job, especially if you've been coasting for a while and hope it hasn't been noticed. Trust me, it's been noticed. So shape up and make sure you are delivering value for whatever you're getting paid. While you're holding on to the essentials, get rid of things that aren't absolutely necessary. If you don't use your car much, consider driving a ZipCar, if your town has a ZipCar franchise. Or double up with friends when you need an auto. There are probably many areas of possible belt tightening that could deliver real savings without too much pain.
Consider having a "Pitch the Pain" party with friends and figure out how, collectively, you could save money by pitching in on shared essentials, and pitching out of your life the stuff and activities that clutter your life or don't provide value.
Another aspect of holding on tight concerns the need to brace yourself for the rollercoaster life we're all going to experience for the foreseeable future. There's no escaping this, no matter how secure your economic picture may be. We talked last night to the owners of a neighborhood restaurant that is normally bustling, even on weeknights. "Business is down," they said, "and we don't know when it'll be back." So far, they haven't lowered their prices and have watched as neighboring restaurants, who had put cheaper items on their menus, have managed to keep their restaurants full. At least for a while. They're clearly holding on tight, bracing for tougher times ahead.
And how about the necessity to hold on, like never before, to those you love. If you ever needed your friends, now is that time. And they need you, too. Some of them may not realize it, or may be ashamed to acknowledge it, but they are eager to talk with others who are in the same state of fear of the future, of what lies ahead, around the bend, after the layoffs and the foreclosures of others (if not of themselves).
Four of us met for dinner earlier this week, and spent the evening outlining our particular plans, in both our personal and professional lives, for weathering the storm, for keeping our businesses healthy, for surviving--hopefully, even thriving--without having to lay off employees. It was a relief to hear such candid evidence that none of us is in this alone. You may want to have a similar conversation with several of your friends. You can listen to each others' stories, then exchange tips on survival methods.
And beyond friends, hold on tight to your family. Call that brother of yours with whom you don't get along. He may need to hear from you more than you know. And he'll be grateful, even if he doesn't say so. At the least, you'll feel better for having made the effort. You probably held on tight to him when you were both younger, right? Hold on tight now. And call your parents. I'll bet they expected to have a comfortable retirement, and now they're scared that prospect may be slipping away.
Hold on tight. We're on the rollercoaster and haven't yet hit that place where you swoosh on down...