Dreher says he and his wife have saved more in recent years, but being prudent and conservative has its limits.
"You can be responsible and be making progress in your own little world, but there are outside factors you can't control," he says. "You prepare for the worst, but you can only do so much."
THE JOB HUNTER
For Linda Speaks, life in 2008 and now is a study in contrasts.
Four years ago, she had a steady job, a middle-class income and the comfort that comes with saving for retirement.
Today, she's in the middle of a long, frustrating search for work, her savings are gone and her unemployment benefits will soon expire.
When the tobacco company where she was an administrative assistant and events coordinator asked for retirement volunteers in late 2009, Speaks decided to leave. She figured it wouldn't be hard finding a job, considering her three-decade work history. Hundreds of resumes later, her search continues.
"At points, it's very depressing," she says. "It just invalidates 32 years of experience you thought would be of value to somebody at some point somewhere. ... I don't feel of worth to anyone."
At 57, Speaks wants to keep working. "I don't care to sit on the porch and rock my years away," she says. "I still have a lot to give. I'm organized and detail-oriented."
Speaks considered starting a small business in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area, and took some community college courses, but with the sagging economy, the timing seemed wrong. And with companies doing more with less, she says, "That leaves me on the outside. I can't get my foot in the door anywhere."
Speaks regularly attends meetings of Professionals in Transition, a support group for the jobless and underemployed.
Meanwhile, she and her husband, a mechanic, have tightened up their already frugal ways. No vacations, no big purchases â¿¿ the 12-year-old car they want to replace will have to do for now. "We've never, ever lived beyond our means," she says, "but now we don't have the luxury of savings. We've used every bit of income my husband brings in. In four years we've not added to anything, we've not improved anything."