New York couple has different worries

Marketplace Staff Dec 23, 2008

New York couple has different worries

Marketplace Staff Dec 23, 2008


Tess Vigeland: Yesterday we profiled a Florida family dealing with the challenges of a recession over Christmas. Today we head to New York to meet a couple whose holiday season will be a normal one in spite of the downturn. Sally Herships stopped by their Manhattan apartment to talk with them.

Sally Herships: Brian and Sarah Epstein live in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s East Village. Sarah’s 25; she’s looking for a job in TV journalism. Brian is 40; he’s an assistant professor at a university in Virginia.

Brian Epstein: The nice thing about being a professor is that it’s a relatively stable job.

The Epsteins are in good financial shape. He made a lot of money in Silicon Valley a few years ago; she’s been getting $12,000 a year from her grandparents since she was born — that’s added up to a nice nest egg. So the Epsteins are comfortable, but they’re still worried about the financial crisis. Sarah’s family has been particularly affected.

Sarah Epstein: My uncle just really doesn’t know where he’s going to be.

Her uncle is a high up lawyer at Merrill Lynch, so they’re worried about his job. And then there’s Brian’s brother — he works at AIG. They’re worried about his job too.

Sarah Epstein: And there was a time where every time he would call we’d go like ‘huh!’ You know, cause we didn’t know what was going to happen to him.

They’re a bit unsure of what’s going to happen to them too. Brian isn’t worried that he’ll lose his job, but is salary isn’t enough to live on. He and Sarah are depending on their savings.

Brian Epstein: And that’s all the savings that I have. It’s not that much. You know I see my earning prospects going down over time rather then going up. And I know how hard it is to put together savings. So if it does go away or if something happens, then it is worrisome.

They got a bad scare in September when the big investment banks started crashing. Sarah’s phone rang at 7 a.m. It was her father with disconcerting news.

Sarah Epstein: Merrill Lynch is bankrupt, you’ve lost all your money. And he hangs up the phone. You know. And I called Brian and I said, ‘honey did I lose my money?’

It turned out Sarah’s money was only managed by Merrill Lynch, not invested in the firm. So her funds were safe. But it taught them how fortunate they are to have a cash cushion, which many of their friends and coworkers don’t.

Sarah Epstein: It’s really hard when you’re in that pool of people to have more than they do, because there is this feeling that we’re not going through the same thing that the country is going through.

As the state of the economy has gotten worse, it’s made Brian and Sarah Epstein much more aware of how fortunate they are. Sarah says she doesn’t think twice about picking up the check when she’s out with friends and coworkers. And she’s giving more to charity. They’re also paying much more attention to their own finances. They don’t talk about it, but they’re taking a leaf out of Sarah’s grandfather’s book. He made a lot on New York City real estate; when the market tanked in the ’70s, he saw the opportunity to buy buildings cheap.

Sarah Epstein: And that’s always been on my mind as well. You know — can we take advantage of these times or not?

They’ve already made a start; they put some money into beaten-down financial shares, which they plan to hold for ten years. And they’re putting some more into their apartment. This holiday they’ll make latkes, light candles, and start decorating their home, themselves.

Brian Epstein: Tomorrow we’re going to be painting the wall.

Sarah Epstein: [laughing]

Brian Epstein: Yeah, with Benjamin Moore paint. So we splurged on the paint.

A small luxury for a subdued season.

In New York I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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