Recession Diary: A Turn In Fortunes

Earlier this year, recession-related money troubles led Caitlin Shetterly and her husband, Dan Davis, to pack up and leave Los Angeles with their 3-month-old baby to move in with Caitlin's mother in Maine. Dan is a freelance photographer who, because of the economy, hadn't had a job since December. Caitlin, a freelance radio reporter, had been counting on Dan to help support their family. They lived with Caitlin's mother for five months and then, in September, Dan decided to go back to school.

Here, Caitlin continues her family's story.

At the end of August, Dan and I moved into our own apartment in Portland, Maine. Two weeks later, we dove head first into what felt like our only lifeline: a master's degree for Dan, which we hoped would bring more opportunities if and when the recession lifted. Three days a week he took the bus two hours south to Boston with a packed lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, homemade hummus, pretzels and apples.

Caitlin's mom, son and husband celebrate the couple's recent good news during Thanksgiving dinner. i

Caitlin's mom, son and husband celebrate the couple's recent good news during Thanksgiving dinner. Courtesy of Caitlin Shetterly hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Caitlin Shetterly
Caitlin's mom, son and husband celebrate the couple's recent good news during Thanksgiving dinner.

Caitlin's mom, son and husband celebrate the couple's recent good news during Thanksgiving dinner.

Courtesy of Caitlin Shetterly

Three nights a week Dan drove a half an hour each way to a bartending job. I was alone with our nine-month old son and, trying, during nap times and at night to do a small amount of freelance work and also work on a book proposal inspired by my blog and NPR diaries. We were barely scraping by. One morning as Dan, our son and I ate breakfast, I told him that caring for a baby and the household alone and also trying to make money on top of that was starting to feel impossible. For Dan, it was hard to come home every night.

"I'll have a good day in classes and I feel like all right this is going to be good experience and it's gonna put us in a better place," Dan says. "And then I come home and you've had a bad day or you're overwhelmed and it goes from something that feels positive to being a nuisance and troublesome."

Three weeks in, Dan and I started talking about what it would look like if he dropped out of school. But first we tried to trim every bit of fat from our budget — we lowered our cell phone plans, got a landline with no features, started hanging our laundry to dry and began ordering food from a bulk buyers club.

Still, the stress was mounting. With Dan's travel costs and the unpredictability of his bartending tips, the numbers were not working out. Creditors from our year of financial collapse were dogging our answering machine.

We hit a breaking point when Dan decided to call my Dad to ask for help.

"It was a hard conversation, because I had to admit to your father that I made a mistake when I already felt like I've made a mistake, several mistakes that got us into this situation and, yeah, the end result was that I had to ask him for money and for him to help us," Dan says.

I understood that as a man and a father Dan couldn't help but blame himself for everything that had happened to us since the recession began. My Dad came through with the margin we were short. Even so, our debt loomed.

Suddenly, a light appeared in the darkness. The book proposal I'd written about our journey West and back home again started to get interest from publishers. My agent set up phone meetings and, then, overnight, there were offers on the table. We sold the book. That day we had $16 in our bank account and an empty fridge. Like that, our lives changed.

When I called my Mom to tell her we might not have to move back in with her again, she said that we needed to remember that luck was not the primary ingredient in this sudden, exciting success.

"I really do believe that you and Dan have worked very hard and we all work very hard in this family, so that counts for something," my mother, Susan, says. "So when an opportunity comes along you have a preparation for it. That's what I think. But yeah, it's a Cinderella story. A little bit, yeah. A little bit."

My book deal is not enough money to retire on or even to buy a house, but, to us, it's huge because it gives us a chance to bail out. No sooner do we adjust to our good fortune, however, than we start eyeing the ominous pile of bills in the corner.

As we pay back and equalize our lives, Dan and I know that what we're learning from our journey through the recession is to simplify.

Last weekend, we were back home at my mother's where we lived for five months this year. We celebrated Thanksgiving, made kindling and got her house ready for winter.

This holiday season, we're celebrating the time we've spent together as a family and would never have been lucky enough to have shared if the recession had not rocked our world and made us come home.



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