One family's recessionary tale


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    Julie and Tony Kaser outside their home in Rogers, Minn. Tony Kaser lost his job as a computer programmer in November. Less than a month later, Julie lost her job as an X-ray technician.

    - Annie Baxter / MPR

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    Ashley Kaser, 19, and her brother, Travis, 13.

    - Annie Baxter / MPR

Ashley Kaser, 19, and her brother, Travis, 13.

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: Kids and money, you've heard us talk a lot about that topic over the past few weeks. How we teach it. What they think of it. All leading up to a special live show in Portland, Ore. next month. Talking about money never seems easy, but throw in a stressful situation, like a job loss, and how do you know what to tell your kids and how they'll take the news about a change in lifestyle?

From Minnesota Public Radio, Annie Baxter reports.


Annie Baxter: About a year ago, the dynamic in the Kaser family started to change. Julie and Tony were living in their pretty yellow three-bedroom house in a Minneapolis suburb with their two teenage kids. They didn't think they were living extravagantly -- or see themselves as vulnerable.

But then, last November, the dad, Tony Kaser, lost his job as a computer programmer.

Tony Kaser: Now I look for work. That's my job.

Only a month later, his wife Julie got laid off from her job as an X-ray technician. Julie says their 13-year-old son Travis knew that meant they'd lose the house.

Julie Kaser: Travis got off the bus, and I met him at the door and he just started bawling. "You're home? You got laid off too?" He knew. You didn't even have to tell him. He knew.

Julie's found some part-time work, but it's not enough to pay the mortgage. She says the kids don't blame the parents for this situation; they're just sad.

Julie: They realize that it was really no fault of our own.

That's the first of several places where the kids' perceptions diverge a bit from the parents'. Nineteen year-old Ashley Kaser does have a lot of sympathy for her parents; she believes they didn't do anything to lose their jobs and that they're trying hard to find new ones.

But she wishes her parents had set money aside -- not just for a financial crisis like this one, but also for her college education. She's a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and is paying her own way.

Ashley Kaser: Yes, I'm actually a little bit upset about it, just because I hear about all my friends who have parents who have saved since the time they were two. It feels like that's a parent's job. Not to pay for it all, I don't think that at all, but to think about it when you're growing up.

The Kasers admit they could've saved more -- maybe taken fewer trips, not built a deck on the back of the house. But Tony doubts that would've fended off foreclosure.

Tony: We see on the news a lot of people that had a good six to eight months worth of savings set aside, and they're in the same situation. And now they're going to lose their homes and things, too.

And, Julie says in the end, family is really more important than money. It's crucial that they hang together at this tough time. But the kids have some different takes on that message as well. Ashley, for example, has a surprisingly sweet complaint for a 19 year old: she thinks her parents could be more focused on the family right now.

Ashley: I feel like I wish my parents would do more stuff with us now that they have time to do more stuff with us. Granted you don't have the money to go out all the time, but you can still hang out and be together. They don't do much of that.

And Travis, the 13 year old, sees another version of home life through his little wire frame glasses. His parents used to indulge his requests for new school clothes and supplies without a thought. But now those requests can fuel debate

Tony: I still want to know what is so big about this particular calculator.

Travis: It's got the graphing thing.

Problem is, the calculator costs $80.

Tony: So you're spending money every single year for a new calculator, then?

Travis: Dad, dad, dad!

The family still ends up laughing over these conversations. But Julie and Tony admit tensions have flared since their layoffs, and Travis has taken note of the bickering.

Travis: It's mainly about how one is supposedly lazy, and the other feels like they're working their butt off, and they don't get any appreciation for it.

Catherine Solheim: Teens really observe what adults are doing.

That's Catherine Solheim. She's a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota. Solheim says, after job loss, it's tough for parents to be consistent role models for their kids. And kids pay attention when the parents fall down.

Solheim: They tend to observe very, very closely what parents are doing. So they look for that inconsistency. It's kind of part of the growing up process and figuring out who they are.

Julie Kaser's trying to figure out a lot, too. She's overwhelmed by her hunt for work, and even as she struggles, she knows the kids are watching.

Julie: I think when you're in this situation there are good days and there are bad days, and the kids see that on our faces some days.

A day that's guaranteed to be bad will likely happen in March, when the Kasers will be forced to leave their home. Their options include moving into Julie's sister's basement. The Kasers have discussed the eventual move with their kids for months, to the point where Ashley and Travis say they don't want to talk about it anymore.

But Julie Kaser says there's really no way to avoid the topic. Her kids keep seeing her come home with moving boxes and they know what they're for.

In Rogers, Minn., I'm Annie Baxter for Marketplace Money.

Ashley Kaser, 19, and her brother, Travis, 13.

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