In retrospect, I don't know how I managed to take a vacation then - granted, I was glued to my Blackberry and was only due to be out of the office for a day and a half. A few weeks earlier, the firm I was with was forced to cut expenses like so many other firms had. Ten percent of our employees were let go, senior management took pay cuts, raises and bonuses disappeared - as did the generous 8.5% 401k employer contribution. There were also other side effects: hours became longer, catered lunches and snacks became less frequent, and the masseuse who came weekly came monthly and then not at all.
I realize this sounds like a yuppie whine, but I never forgot how lucky I was to even have a job. My hands shook as our CEO announced - with his voice cracking - what was to become known as the new normal.
In the early days of the crisis, I happened to speak with one of the firm's founders in the elevator. He was somewhat of a mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me and my teammates launch our Kids and Money curriculum. The DJIA had one of its many triple digit drops the day before and he advised me to buy a leather journal and write down my thoughts at each market close.
I didn't follow his advice exactly but I kept many of the market update emails I sent to clients then. There was no winning in the market, all we could do for our clients was let them know that we were there: paying attention, raising cash targets, and like everyone else, hoping for it to get less bad. There were days when I would refresh Yahoo Finance compulsively and calculate what each drop meant for my firm's AUM, and in turn, our revenue. My dwindling net worth became one with my self worth.
I also kept emails exchanged between friends who were also in the industry. My favorite was when a friend remarked that for $10 you could own shares of four blue chip companies and still have enough leftover for the vending machine.
As we now know, things rebounded. I noticed it when my firm slowly reinstated monetary incentives. Being a foodie, my market indicators were as follows:
- Hedge Funds returned to wooing us with boozy, catered spreads.
- My firm's board meetings featured egg tarts and other delicacies for breakfast instead of dry Starbucks pastries.
Though the S&P is up over 200% since the lowest days of the crisis, it still doesn't feel like things have fully rebounded. (And let's be honest, even the market highs are a result of the Fed taking drastic measures.) Unemployment is still high as is underemployment. Older workers are putting in a few more years to recoup loses in their retirement accounts while younger workers scramble for jobs and live with their parents.
I wonder what coming of age during the Great Recession will mean for this generation. A recent report from UBS confirms the hesitation millennials feel about reaching financial milestones such as homeownership, marriage, and family. That said, I'm glad to see things are (somewhat) better.