T he middle-
Are you prepared
for 40 days of rain?
By Paul and Sarah Edwards
FEELING ADRIFT IN a flood of rising
expenses? You’re not alone. Polls and surveys
show that, with rising costs for energy, health
care, education and housing, middle-class
Americans are feeling deeply concerned about
the economy and their futures. But in researching and writing our latest book, Middle-Class
Lifeboat, we found that, like Noah, many middle-class people and small-business owners
are responding by busily building arks to protect their futures.
As we interviewed more than 200 people
(many of whom are Costco members, including those described in this article) from all
walks of life, a theme became clear: The middle
class is nervous about the economy. Many are
so concerned about their future that they have
taken action of one kind or another to adapt or
change. In particular, three safeguards emerged
that we would all be wise to consider.
Safeguard your livelihood. Adapt your
business or career to today’s economic reali-ties. Think local, think virtual, think green.
Focus on serving emerging needs of a changing economy. Provide a basic local service that
cannot be outsourced. Operate in the virtual
world by providing niche products and services, or offer cost-effective alternatives that
help others conserve valuable resources.
A few examples:
■ Jennifer and Mike Rousseau began their
business, TechSoft Information Technologies
www.virtualcomputertraining.com) in Rox-bury, New Jersey, offering in-house software
training. But after 9/11 cost them their major
client, they shifted to providing Web-based
training to classes numbering no more than
10. Now, as corporations are moving from
instructor-led training to computer training,
the Rousseaus are focusing on licensing
courseware to corporations.
■ With business-wear becoming formal,
Greg Shugar realized that many workers’
stretched budgets don’t support $40 to $50
neckties. So he created The Tie Bar (www.The Tie
Bar.com), where he sells $15 ties that he manufactures himself.
■Dana Barrett and her partner, Bill
Boynes, both ex-corporate types, opened
Coffee Buy the Book (
com), a bookstore in Roswell, Georgia, selling
new and used books, coffee and baked goods,
where they find customers prefer an “
independent store where the owners are in the store
and they know and care about books.”
Safeguard your quality of life. Adopt a
lifestyle that preserves or enhances your quality of life. People are trading in high-cost,
high-maintenance lives for inventive ways to
live better for less. They’re moving to a small
town or small city, moving abroad, living on
the road and living together in various forms
of shared homes and communities. Some are
bringing simpler country ways to the city.
Mateo Rutherford and Jim Montgomery,
for example, are “urban Thoreaus.” They’ve
turned their city lot on a busy boulevard in
Berkeley, California, into a farm. They grow
their own fruits and vegetables and raise their
own goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and
pigeons. They’re living off the land and relish
a lifestyle that reduces their stress.
Others are choosing various off-the-grid
lifestyles. For example, Jan de Leeuw, a UCLA
professor, built a new home outside Los
Angeles that enables him to be virtually energy
independent. Built with insulated concrete
forms, his home saves up to 80 percent on
energy bills. By using a combination of solar
panels for electricity and an underground
geothermal heating and cooling system, in a
typical month he returns energy to Southern
Safeguard your finances. There are creative ways to afford what you need without
breaking the bank or your back. One is to use
cashless alternatives to extend your income.
Bartering and co-ops have been around for
a long time, but computer technology and
the Web dramatically increase opportunities
to barter and participate in other new means
For example, Valeriya Maleyeva of
Phoenix operates Swapery.com (www.swapery.
com), where people can swap thousands of
products and services person-to-person with
Small-business owners, artists and other
self-employed individuals in many communities are teaming up to share advertising and
marketing projects, hold expos and fairs, print
neighborhood directories and launch “Buy
Local First” or “Made in ___” campaigns.
For example, Allied Arts of Whatcom
County, Washington (
stages an annual holiday festival in downtown
Bellingham during November and December.
More than 100 regional artists and craftspeo-ple offer one-stop shopping for locally made
gifts. Organizations such as the American
Independent Business Alliance (
net) and the Business Alliance for Local Living
www.localeconomies.org) are supporting such efforts.
So, while many Americans are worried
about the changing economy, some are making innovative choices to navigate their way
into a new future, rethinking their businesses,
careers and lifestyles. Can you? C
Paul and Sarah Edwards’ 17th nonfiction book
is Middle-Class Lifeboat: Careers and
Lifestyles for Navigating a Changing