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Surviving the recession

This seems to be the point in time when everyone has come to accept the fact that we are in for an extended period of financial low tide. For the last year and a half, the paradigm has been one of panic combined with the hope that "they" would "do something" to shore up our teetering economic house of cards and that this would happen quickly and everything would get back on track within a few weeks or months. But that has turned out to be a bit too much of a leaky vessel to put much hope in.

At this point, people seem much more accepting of the fact that the house of cards has come down and no one really wants to try and put it back up again. Instead, we seem much more willing to tough it out, to accept whatever losses we have sustained and to let the economy stabilize and come back up slowly with a more solid foundation.

This attitude is very healthy for the long run. But it still leaves many of us wondering how we are going to make ends meet now and in the near future. Many of the paths we have relied on in the past are no longer available or are blocked, at least for now. I, for one, have been rethinking my entire strategy for keeping my shop afloat and my cash flow at a level that at least allows me to keep my doors open. In the past, I could always "front load" my next job a bit if I needed extra cash to get the current shop project done. But when the next job is a fireplace mantle instead of a 10,000-sq.-ft. house full of casework, there is much less cash to flow. So I have started to be much more "nit-picky" about how I spend money. I look for decent, lower cost, shop-grade plywood instead of "first quality" sheets. On projects that are to be painted, I may use poplar or alder instead of the hard maple I have always insisted on in the past. I will buy "generic" drawer hardware instead of the more expensive "name brand" products.

One thing I have been focusing on is getting my overhead down to an absolute minimum. I have submitted a request for a rent reduction from my landlord. My shop rent has escalated every year for a long time now and the property owners are letting new tenants into vacant spaces at lower rates than I am currently paying. So it's not unreasonable for me to at least ask for an equivalent rate.

I spent several hours on the phone with the power company trying to get a lower rate from them. Most people do not realize that power companies have different rates just like hardwood vendors have different prices and you actually can negotiate with them. That resulted in a 10 percent reduction in my electricity bill every month. I also got my phone bill cut by more than half by eliminating many of the "convenience features" like caller ID, call forwarding and so forth that I rarely used but was paying every month for. Another thing I did was to get together with a couple of my close neighbors and set up a network that can share one Internet connection. This allowed several of us to drop anywhere from $25 to $45 a month from our phone bills and still have Internet access.

These things are not going to make a huge difference in monthly overhead but they can add up to a significant savings each month.

Another thing I have done is to completely rethink the kinds of jobs I am willing to accept. I used to take a pass on any kind of repair or refinishing work. But now, I am welcoming these small jobs. It is interesting how willing people are to spend a couple of hundred dollars to get the leg glued back on grandma's dining table or a drawer front reattached. These projects typically only require a couple of hours work so they can be done at the end of the day and a few of them a month can pay the rent. I even put a classified ad in my local paper that says "No job too small ..." The ad costs under $40 a month to run everyday and pulls in a surprising amount of work.

I also sent a letter to the owners of my building offering to be responsible for maintenance in exchange for rent. They are located in So. Cal. and the property is in the northern part of the state so it is not very easy for them to get things fixed. Recently, someone broke a sprinkler head and it spewed a fountain of water for three days before a guy finally showed up to fix it. I went out and stuffed a stick in the end of the broken pipe which helped a bit but it was something I could have actually fixed in short order.

I hope, like everyone else, that things will get back on track and that I will once again be able to pick my projects and to focus on the kind of work I like to do. But for the time being, I am not going to pass on anything that will help me keep my doors open.


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