5 Recession Survival Stories: Real Stories from the Recession

Some career changes are planned carefully for years. Others throw you for a loop. The current recession seems to come with plenty of the loopy kind. Whether it means taking on an extra heavy workload, agreeing to a voluntary pay cut, or moving to a new town for a job, people have found many ways to survive the recession. Here are just a few.

Susan -- Dobbs Ferry, NY

Twenty-three years ago, Susan Bachman started as a salesperson for the San Diego-based wholesale apparel company Nitches, Inc. She learned the ropes, made her way up through the company ranks and eventually became head of a division in the New York office. She considered it home. Then, last November, she was laid off. "My boss, whom I'd known for most of my time there, flew in from California to tell me," she says. "We sat in my office crying over the good times for an hour or so."

Bachman is a single mom and could only cry for so long before she had to get working again. Despite her long career in apparel, she couldn't find work in that field. So she branched out to other types of sales jobs. Nothing panned out. But because her resume was posted online, she founded herself flooded with requests for interviews from insurance companies. One was Atlantis Health Plan. She interviewed and was offered a position selling health insurance. After a week of training, she started in May. "It was a very hard decision to go in such a different direction," she says. "I was making a nice salary and benefits, and now I'm starting from scratch at the age of 49. This is a commission-only job. No benefits. It's really scary!"

Jim -- Palm Harbor, FL

Last September, just four years away from his anticipated retirement, Jim Maslaniak was laid off from his job as director of sales for a Taiwan-based exporter, Four Star Group Inc. The lost job -- combined with a hit to his investment portfolio from the plunging stock market -- meant it was time to rethink retirement plans. Surprisingly, a small interest in a direct sales company turned out to be a life saver for Maslaniak and his wife.

Roughly six months before the layoff, the couple heard about a company called Talk Fusion, which sells technology to put videos in e-mail for sales, marketing, or personal use. The company compares its business model to McDonald's franchises, selling video e-mail instead of hamburgers. "We decided this was something we could have fun using and also supplement our income when we retired," Maslaniak says. "I never thought I would be involved in direct sales but this was not lotions, potions, gels or vitamins. It is a product I envision replacing traditional text e-mails over time and it has great marketing potential for businesses."

As it turns out, the sales have been astounding. Maslaniak made roughly $4,000 the first month, and $8,000 the next two months. It's gone so well that he has stopped looking for a way to get back in the corporate world. "Instead of supplementing our retirement, it has given us a way to continue living the same lifestyle, without having to spend months away from home," he says.

Kate -- Seattle, WA

Like most working moms, Kate knows all too well the challenge of juggling identities and shifting quickly from one to the other -- mom, professional consultant, reliable co-worker, wife. For the last five years, she has worked part-time for a midsized management consulting firm in Seattle while raising her two daughters, now 6 and 4. Facing a tough economy, but not wanting to cut personnel, her company offered staff a voluntary leave of absence at 30 percent pay with benefits. Kate grabbed the chance. Starting this summer, she'll take a year off from work to focus on her kids.

"This last year has been really stressful to me since I have kids in two different schools and an uncertain work schedule," she says. "My kids are also at challenging ages in terms of their needs. Removing the stress of the juggling is appealing. What makes it extra appealing (and the reason I decided to take it) is that I have a guaranteed job back."

Kate and her husband will no longer have to pay a nanny, but they'll need to cut monthly expenses by about 15 percent to cope with the lost income from her job.

"The big change I want to make is to be more available for people. Our current lifestyle feels so stressful that I frequently don't have the time to connect with people or even really listen to them -- my kids included," Kate says. "I frequently find myself saying that I would love to help that person if I had more time. I plan to volunteer in my kid's class, serve more at my church, and also just be available to friends to lend a helping hand or listen."

Ed -- San Francisco, CA

While health care has fared better than many industries in the recession, even doctors aren't recession-proof. Ed Zimney, MD, lost his job as medical compliance officer -- reviewing patient education materials for accuracy -- in October when the company was sold. Zimney, who lives just outside of Seattle, contacted everyone he knew at the city's various biotech and pharmaceutical companies. None of them were hiring. Although Zimney's expertise is medical reviews of drug advertising, he branched out to include drug safety, a specialty from earlier in his career. His search eventually led to a six-month contract job. The hitch? It was in San Francisco. "We did the math and even with living expenses down here, it's well worth my while to live and work here," he says. So Zimney sublets a house in San Francisco while his wife and son stay home in Washington. Until his contract ends in August, he's working as a medical case evaluator for the drug company Genentech.

"Living in San Francisco has been both great and difficult. It's a great city but it's hard to be away from my family, and my wife has all the responsibility for the house and our son and the dog, so it's hard," he says. "Especially with my son being 15, it's painful to miss being with him. He just started driver's ed and I wish I could be there more to take him driving. These are the reasons why I'm going back at the end of the six months, even if it means losing the job."

Zimney doesn't relish the idea of starting another job search at the end of the summer, but knows that job security is a rare thing these days -- Genentech was recently acquired by drug company Roche, which could mean deja vu all over again

Michael -- Seattle, WA

The recession means booming business for Seattle attorney Michael Harris. His specialty -- bankruptcy. "I've really never seen anything like this," he says. "The analysts say we're reached the bottom, that consumer confidence is up, but I don't see it here in the trenches." Since the recession hit, Harris's phone has been ringing off the hook with clients who need help declaring bankruptcy. People come to him when they've exhausted all other options to work things out, to scrape together enough to pay the bills. He also works with clients whose property investments have tanked due to the depressed real estate market.

Harris, who primarily works with individuals but also helps businesses that go bankrupt, says people can attempt to declare bankruptcy on their own, but legal reforms instituted in 2005 make it worth your while to hire a lawyer. "You need a lawyer's help to figure out if you qualify, to check your income levels, to figure out repayment plans," he says. "The laws are complex."

Layoffs, divorce, major medical expenses -- or usually a combination of these types of major events -- can lead a client to Harris's door. And while it's nice to be busy, Harris says he looks forward to quieter times. "It really is a shame," he says. "There's a lot of hardship out there, a lot of sad stories."

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