Chicago-Area Family Finds Opportunity In Downturn

John and Jody Johnson, with one of their sons, Scout. i i

John and Jody Johnson, with one of their sons, Scout. Unlike a lot of American families, the Johnsons, who live in an affluent suburb of Chicago, aren't overly worried about the financial crisis. Cheryl Corley/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cheryl Corley/NPR
John and Jody Johnson, with one of their sons, Scout.

John and Jody Johnson, with one of their sons, Scout. Unlike a lot of American families, the Johnsons, who live in an affluent suburb of Chicago, aren't overly worried about the financial crisis.

Cheryl Corley/NPR

While many families are struggling amid the financial crisis, not everyone is.

In Winnetka, Ill., an affluent Chicago suburb, the Johnson family is concerned about the shaky economy, but they also believe it provides opportunities.

John Johnson, in his early 50s, runs a painting contracting company called G-Town Painters. He started the 35-year-old business with a friend to help pay his way through college. Jody Johnson, in her late 40s, is a senior marketing executive at Allstate Insurance Co., where she's worked for 25 years.

Sitting around the kitchen table, the couple talks about their home and their financial situation.

"We've lived here 13 years now, and since the time we bought [the house], the value has gone up exponentially," Jody says. "I would say it's three times what we bought it for. It's nice having a contractor in the family."

The Johnsons' large airy kitchen is an addition to the 100-year-old two-story updated frame cottage.

Winnetka, about 20 miles from downtown Chicago, is one of the North Shore's wealthier suburbs. The median household income is about $200,000, not too far off from what the Johnsons make.

The Johnsons say despite the state of the economy, they're making only small changes in their daily lives.

"We're not in any panic mode," John says. "We're not getting foreclosed on and we're still not going to change our lifestyles. We're just going to move on."

"I think we're changing it somewhat though," Jody says. "We don't go out for dinner maybe as much as we used to."

They don't go out to dinner because they have kids, John adds with a laugh.

The Small Changes: Retirement Funds and Gas

But Jody says their long-term finances have been affected. She has kept a close watch on her profit-sharing funds and pension plans — and those have been going down rapidly.

"Certainly, that's disturbing after 25 years in a company," she says. "You hope that's going to be part of your retirement, and you're watching it go down and down and rebalancing it, and trying to make sure that you have the right risk level. And that doesn't seem to be working at the moment."

John says he's been trying to cut back on gas and transportation costs, but he says for the past three months, business has been good. That's because people in the North Shore's moneyed communities are taking a little extra care of their homes, instead of perhaps buying a new one.

"I have some well-established clients and it's been wonderful, actually, in these times," he says.

John's business is good. Jody's job is secure. And the Johnsons believe they have plenty of time to recoup any investment losses, even the drops in the college fund accounts they've set up for their two sons.

"I do watch them, don't get me wrong," John says.

But again, the Johnsons say it's no time to panic.

"I actually think it's a good time to buy," he says. "We've been sitting on idle cash. So, we didn't invest that monies and I think it was a good idea. I think there are definitely bargains to be had if you do your homework and make sure they have good management and the right earnings ... I think there's a rebound coming."

As the couple chuckled at the prospect of a quick economic recovery, John also crossed his fingers for good luck.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.