How Mason Employees Are Coping with the Economic Downturn

Posted: November 18, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

From dealing with fluctuating gas prices to watching investments diminish in value, most everyone has had to make adjustments — mental and budgetary — to the current economic downturn.

With no raises this year and no immediate relief in sight, Mason employees are “making do with less” in a number of creative ways. Following are some examples they shared with the Gazette.

Getting There

— Take the Mason shuttle, advises Lori Petterson, department manager, Department of Public and International Affairs. “I live near the Prince William Campus but work in Fairfax and take classes in Arlington. The shuttle saves me money and aggravation — no dealing with knuckle-head drivers all around me, no wear and tear on my car, no searching for a parking space at Arlington — the Metro is just a block away.” She adds, “I can catch the shuttle at Manassas Mall and shop at the mall when I come back to Manassas, saving a trip to pick up milk at Target or dinner at IHOP.”

— Take the CUE bus. “I shop early on my lunch break to avoid the crowds and still have time to grab something at a fast food place to take back to my office when I hop back on the CUE to campus,” says Petterson. “The CUE bus stops at Fair City Mall, where there is a Giant, a Dollar Tree, A.C. Moore, Trader Joe’s and so many other places just a short trip downtown.”

— Combine trips. “We’ve made it a habit to combine and plan trips so they are more efficient. No more driving around aimlessly,” says Michael Richardson, senior technical assistant in Print Services.

Food Shopping

— Buy in bulk and share. Petterson says, “I buy things in large quantities and share with friends and relatives. I don’t need 10 pounds of potatoes, but if that size bag is on sale, I can split them with friends and family, saving us all money.”

— Plan meals around sales. “Hamburger on sale can make a great meat loaf for two meals, hamburger patties to eat now and freeze for later, mix in with noodles, make into spaghetti sauce,” says Petterson. “Buy the 49 cents-a-pound holiday turkey and make turkey dishes to freeze for after Thanksgiving. Buy the cheap spaghetti sauce and add your own spices, buy the store-brand cheese to add to your macaroni and cheese, buy the huge bag of chips, cookies and cereal and put them in snack bags for lunch boxes and a quick breakfast for grabbing when you walk out the door.”

— Join a shopping club. “We joined a shopping club for better prices on gas and food,” says Richardson.

Buying a House

— Save for better days. “My husband and I have been shopping around for homes in the Fairfax area for about a year. At first, we felt confident that we would be able to sell our townhouse in Centreville, which we purchased four years ago without a problem. But as more and more homes in our area started boasting foreclosure signs, the average asking price for a comparable house in our neighborhood began to plummet,” says Leah Kerkman Fogarty, senior writer in Creative Services.

“We’re setting aside a big chunk of our paychecks every month in a savings account that will eventually go toward either paying off the remainder of the loan on our townhouse (if we have to sell it for less than we owe on it) or toward a down payment on a Fairfax house.”

Paying for College

— Make a Plan B. “We have had to re-think how to pay for college for our high school senior. Our investment funds aren’t going to be what we thought they would be. With college looming next year we probably have to get a student loan. The difficulty there is causing concern, but we are trying to make our credit scores as strong as possible so that we can qualify for a student loan, which hopefully we can help our child pay off if the funds we invested over the years return to the value they had just a short a year ago,” explains an anonymous Mason employee.

Buying on Credit — or Not

— Use cash only. “This has made it much easier to stick to a budget,” says an anonymous Mason employee.

— Keep credit card bills low. “Pay something on store cards every time you go shopping in that store, even if it is only $10. It will remind you that you need to keep your costs down and make you think twice about shopping when you don’t need to, and it will help you pay off balances much faster, one visit at a time,” suggests Petterson.

— Pay right away. “When you use a credit card, as soon as you get home, take out your checkbook as you unpack your purchases and write out a check for the amount of the purchase and mail it that day. This will keep you within your limits when you see the money being deducted from your checkbook instantly,” advises Petterson.

Saving Money in Other Ways

— Barter for services. “I hate to weed, so if you weed for me, I’ll do something for you — trim your hedges, water your lawn and bring in your mail while you are on vacation, babysit your kids for a few hours,” says Petterson.

— Shop the dollar stores. “Why spend more money on candles, decorations, paper napkins and other throw-away items that you can buy cheaply at the dollar store?” asks Petterson.

— Ask for the Mason discount. “Check the HR web site for discounts and keep it bookmarked — check it once a week to see what’s new,” advises Petterson.

— Use payroll deduction. Petterson points out, “It hurts much less to pay over time and it is a financial benefit to have it paid pre-tax. Pay for an on-campus fitness center membership by payroll deduction to remind you to go to the gym every time you see the money show up on your paystub.”

— Check all your monthly bills. “You may find a car on your insurance that you sold months ago, a deductible you can change to suit your present lifestyle, transfer balances from one card to another to get a better rate, an additional amount charged each month for roadside car service you forgot you even had and have never used,” suggests Petterson. “You may be paying for call waiting, caller ID or other services you rarely use or could do without to save a few dollars per month. Rethink the cable channels you pay for — perhaps they have a cheaper package that has all your favorites for a few dollars less per month.”

— Shop before you buy. “If you love it this week, wait until next week to see if you still love it then. Maybe in the meantime you will see it for a better price or not really want it after all,” suggests Petterson.

Sharing with Others Less Fortunate

— Send in extra school supplies and snacks with your kids. “If you have some extra pens, ask the teacher to discreetly distribute them to some kids who don’t have any. Send in the chips from the variety pack assortment that your kids don’t like — someone in class will enjoy them. Your kids might even make a new friend if they can share with someone else. When you pay for the school field trip, send in money to pay for one more child whose parents can’t afford to pay,” says Petterson.

Gift Giving

— Make gifts instead of purchasing them. “If you are a great cook, bring food to a party instead of wine, cooking a big batch so you can feed your family and share a portion with your friends at the party. Send relatives handmade scarves you knit while riding the shuttle bus to and from work. Read a book out loud and record it for a busy friend who never seems to have time to read. Start a cookie exchange so you can get together with friends and everyone can show off their favorite recipe, or a book exchange so you can recycle and share the books you love,” suggests Petterson.

— Regift. “That sweater Aunt Nancy gave you last year might look much better on your friend than it does on you,” notes Petterson.

— Pare down your gift list. “Tell relatives who live 500 miles away that you don’t want gifts but would cherish photos to add to your photo album, and ask for pictures from them instead of gifts. Do this now before other people start to buy you gifts, so you can save them some money as well,” suggests Petterson.

Couponing

— Eat at restaurants that offer coupons. “Popeyes, Pizza Hut and many others have coupons on their web sites. Find out what the specials are and eat out when those specials are being offered at a discount,” advises Petterson.

— Double up. “I subscribed to the Washington Post to get coupons. Depending on what is being offered, I’ll sometimes go and additionally buy the two-paper pack at the store, since some of the places I shop allow multiple coupons in certain situations,” says Richardson.

Thinking Freebie

— Rather than join a gym, pocket the money. “Work out at the Field House, walk around a section of Patriot Circle (where there is no construction), walk around the track, take the stairs everywhere you go, help an older person load their groceries into their car and bring the cart back to the store,” suggests Petterson.

Making More Money

— Buy stock. Tom Kiley, associate professor of mathematical sciences, says he’s actually spending right now: “The best time to buy is when prices are low.”

Conserving

— Watch energy use. “We’ve been very careful about using air conditioning all summer and conserving electricity with compact florescent light bulbs,” says Richardson.

Thinking Creatively

— Cut back the work week. “I really don’t understand why, since in these bad economic times we are being forced to cut back, the work week is not cut back as well. Perhaps if the employed worked less it would give those people who are unemployed a better chance at finding a job,” comments Liz Boyen, applications analyst for TSD in the Information Technology Unit.

Win-Win

— Save money and help the community at the same time. One Mason employee calls attention to ReStore, a resale business that sells new and used building materials and home improvement items to the general public. Proceeds from ReStores help fund the construction of Habitat for Humanity houses within the community. All materials are donated by local retail businesses, building contractors, suppliers and individuals, and are priced at 50 to 90 percent below retail prices. ReStores are located in Manassas and Alexandria, Va.

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