Residents feel pinch of slowing economy

Recession worries have many cutting their spending
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Retirement doesn't seem so comfortable for Auburn resident Bill Chelonis. The 61-year-old is a support engineer for Hewlett-Packard and four months ago, he was looking forward to ending his career. Then he found out his work retirement fund dropped by $20,000. It's a hard time for people who are close to retiring or trying to get ready to retire because their funds are kind of scarce, Chelonis said while taking a spoonful of pasta salad at the Auburn Senior Center Valentine's Day potluck. Sitting next to him, Barbara Crowell, senior center executive director, nodded in agreement. Crowell and her now-deceased husband fell prey to a mortgage scam a few years go in which they lost all of their savings. I went back to work at 71, Crowell said. I'm 75 now, and I don't know when I'll stop. In a time when the housing market has taken a turn for the worse for some, responders in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll said they believe the economy is approaching another recession. The cost of food and gas is up, and for some Auburn residents that makes a tight budget even tighter. Crowell said she already forgoes expenses such as making repairs to her house. When she rarely goes shopping, it's to discount stores. She also sends fewer gifts to her grandchildren. You cut back on everything, Crowell said in the crowded banquet hall Thursday. The filled room was decked with seniors adorned in red sweaters and heart stickers pasted to their clothing to celebrate Valentine's Day. But it was tough for some to say whether or not they will feel the love in their wallets with the economy growing by a slim 2.2 percent in 2007. It's a low growth rate that was last seen in 2002 following the country's last recession in 2001. I just budget my money very carefully, said Angie Beavers, 83, of Auburn. I don't know how (the economy) is going to hit me yet. Retired residents on fixed incomes aren't the only ones feeling a pinch. Living on a budget is something 19-year-old Auburn resident Jessica Schlenker is used to doing since she moved out of her parents' home a little more than a year ago. She shares a two-bedroom, one-bathroom duplex with her boyfriend and their roommate. The trio cuts on costs by keeping most of the lights off. Recently, they stopped using their heater to avoid another $300 gas bill this month. Her $14.50-an-hour job at the deli counter in Raley's helps her pay rent, gas, food, car insurance for her 1990 Honda and other bills “ sometimes. It gets tough at the end of the month to pay rent. Sometimes I have to go to my mom, Schlenker said. Her spending is limited to the necessities and she skimps on those when she can. She shops at discount grocery retailers such as Grocery Outlet and Costco in Roseville. I don't need the most expensive spaghetti sauce, Schlenker said. Jessica's mother, Lisa Latorre-Schlenker, 38, says she's not sure whether or not the poor economy will play a role in the hit her family budget will soon take. Her husband, Curt Schlenker, is 59 and is getting ready to retire from owning a local body shop. We stick to the basics, Latorre-Schlenker said. The family, which includes the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Jamie Schlenker, cuts back on how often they go to a restaurant to eat and how often they go to the movie theater. Excess items such as cookies are cut out off the grocery list. Anything we don't really have to have but we'd like to have is obviously cut, Latorre-Schlenker said. The biggest difference is the elimination of family trips to the flea market. That was a favorite place of ours, Latorre-Schlenker said. As her husband approaches retirement, he wants to travel. But there will be limits to that, Latorre-Schlenker said. We might have to stick to the idea of using a motorhome instead of staying in hotels, she said. While the economic downslide has already hit some workers like Chelonis, he said he remains hopeful that things will change in time for him to retire next year. If it doesn't, he said he'll have to consider a part-time job. Crowell doesn't necessarily see a light at the end of the financial tunnel. So for now, she said she'll continue to spend as little as possible and going to work every day. You just do what you have to, Crowell said.