One family's recessionary tale

  • Photo 1 of 2

    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

  • Photo 2 of 2

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

    - Annie Baxter / MPR

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


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.

Log in to post4 Comments

Yet another reminder to buy a smaller, simpler house than you can afford with a conservative 15 year fixed mortgage and at least 20% down. Especially since there has been talk about age ceilings in such technology related fields for years.

It won't save everyone, but this couple with a grown child would have been spared foreclosure. A home, like a car is a depreciating liability as much as it is an asset, and no one can afford to lose their life's efforts like this.

I am not married.. but even as a bachelor i make sure i save at least 50% of my salary every month... trust me.. i do that.. I am a computer programmer myself. Its all about planning things... don't buy a house if you cant afford.. buy it only if you have at least 40% of house's value in cash or bonds to shield yourself from such future uncertainties.

i am in the same position as this family, i am on my fourth go around with the mortage company, I have talked to HOPE to see if i qualify and I do but when i tried to contact them on any questions i nwver got a return answer. I live where the jobs are scarce and if you have one you better keep it.But saving monues is not always the best answer, I have saved monies and had car problems, re-modeling like the cieling caught on fire and the insurance paid there share but.... ther you go another problem that you have to fix and it isnt given away free! I feel for these people and i may be right next in line with them if my problems continue.

Surely another lesson for families is that all the breadwinners in a household need connections to others in their line of work--professional or 'affinity' associations--in their career field and locale. I wonder if Tony or Julie have done so as a 'career security' strategy, helping them stay up-to-date in their respective fields as well as connected to others who will know of job opportunities before those opportunities are posted to the Internet and then 100's apply. An added benefit is that, even in being among the 100's who apply, they could be more informed of the 'hidden' needs of the organization and thus improve their chances of being screened in to interview. Unfortunately, too few people make a priority of this type of membership and active participation in such associations, leaving themselves dependent on 'post-and-apply' processes (which function as a 'screening out' task) for finding employment, which are not the way most jobs are found. Living in a Minneapolis suburb, there are certainly many such associations and affinity groups, even groups that share common 'leisure' or community-based interests, that could help folks like the Kasers.

With Generous Support From...