Saving Pennies

Serena Lee

When the economy heads south, every cent counts.

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Sophomore Annie Lanter texts as much as possible, taking advantage of her unlimited texting plan to save money.

When Christmas arrives this year, sophomore Annie Lanter hopes that she won't find extravagant gifts wrapped for her by family members, or even a tree decorated with ornaments in her home. Worried about the financial health of her family, she would rather forego the usual gifting in exchange for more money in her family's bank account.
The recent downturn in the U.S. economy, which began with the subprime mortgage meltdown and led to the recent instability and decline in the stock market, has resulted in increased stress in many families. While Cupertino may appear insulated from the worries due to its affluent nature, many people in the area are mindful of the economic woes.
"To see stores [such as Mervyns] closing and people struggling has just created an atmosphere of gloom everywhere," senior Harsha Gorti said. "But at the same time, even the slightest hope creates a bundle of happiness if you look at it optimistically."
Yet for others, it is difficult to find optimism in the current environment. Lanter's family moved from Oakley, Calif. to Cupertino 12 years ago in order for her two older brothers to attend MVHS, and she immediately noticed the increase in the rent of her family's home. Her father, a construction worker for over 30 years, and her mother, a graphic designer for a similar amount of time, have had difficulty supporting their family for many years, and with the economy going into a recession, her situation has only become more taxing.
"I feel like I'm the one keeping them in Cupertino, and I'm the one putting pressure on them and myself," Lanter said. Though the economy has added additional strain to her social life, it has only motivated her to work even harder to overachieve academically.
Lanter's father has an upcoming surgery which is only further stressing her family's finances. After years of overworking his body as a construction worker, he has developed a spinal problem, which has also been excarbated by a family condition of spinal troubles. He will go on disability for one to two months, and will undergo an expensive surgery on his spinal discs.
"He's our main source of income," Lanter said. "We're living off what my dad makes. We have to figure out how we're going to stay here in Cupertino."
Though other families in the area may not be struggling financially as much as Lanter's family, even those that are relatively well off are feeling the effects of the economy. Students such as junior Michael Wu are increasingly burdened with an awareness to lead financially responsible lives. Wu has noticed that his parents, especially his father, seem to be more worried about the health of their stocks. Despite their financial worries, however, Wu feels that his parents have taken great steps to keep their money issues hidden from him.
When Wu's family visited Sushi Zono in Campbell for dinner earlier this school year, Wu learned  that his dad lost over $500,000 in stock.  As much as his parents worry about how their stocks are faring, though, Wu has not discerned a noticeable decrease in the amount of times that his family dines out or the frequency of his shopping, mostly because he considers himself to still be fairly financially stable.  
One of the restaurants that he still frequents regularly is Joy Luck Place, a restaurant in Cupertino Village with moderately priced dishes, which he dines at every week. 
"You would probably see me there every Sunday after church," he laughed.
Unlike Wu's family, Lanter's family has had to make sharp cutbacks in their spending. They have reduced their expenses on areas which they used to take for granted, such as traveling to Napa to visit their family. Her dad has foregone his yearly hunting trip. Her brothers live out of state, one in New York and the other in Germany, and they will have to pay for their own travel expenses in order to visit Cupertino. It is likely that Lanter won't see them until next year.
Lanter has pledged to better support herself, especially through baby-sitting jobs. She pays for her own cell phone bill, but usually texts, using her unlimited texting plan provided by her parents, in order to keep her payment low. She is skipping SAT classes to study on her own and postponing enrollment in driving lessons if she cannot earn enough money on her own to attend them. In addition to trying to persuade her parents to pass up the usual Christmas festivities, she is also asking her parents not to celebrate her Sweet 16.
"If I don't absolutely need or absolutely want [something], then it's not worth it," Lanter said. "It's gotten to a point if my friends are like, 'Do you want to do this' and I'm like, 'Does it cost money?' If it does, then I skip it."

But she is quick to note that she considers herself financially self-sufficient.
"I'm not reaching out for help or anything," Lanter said. "I don't want people to look down at me. I don't want people to think I want attention."  

Many students are actively monitoring their spending, performing simple tasks such as turning off the lights to save money on energy. For Wu, he plans also to take a job next semester, and his parents have urged him only to apply to in-state colleges. His brother, MVHS alumnus Calvin Wu, currently attends an out-of-state college with a high tuition.
From the current economic crisis, Wu has learned one important lesson. 
"I know not to invest in too much stock," Wu said. "I just hope it's not going to be another Great Depression and we're living in one of those Hoovervilles."