Column Date 2006-08-25

Life without a paycheck

Let’s hear it for Northwest Airlines!

They’re the first big American corporation to truly face up to economic reality in the year 2006.

You may have missed it, but the folks who run Northwest are currently trying to fight their way out of bankruptcy. In the process, they are cutting jobs and slashing their workers’ pay.

But to show that they have a heart and really care about their employees, the country’s 5th largest airline went even further:

They issued a booklet called “101 Ways to Save Money,” which offers advice to their ‘about-to-be-fired’ workers on what to do when the paychecks stop coming.

Here’s one Northwest tip you might find useful: for a low-cost date, take a long walk on a beach or in the woods together. And if you’re getting serious, you can probably find a nice ring in your local pawn shop.

Other suggestions include taking shorter showers, and searching local junkyards for spare auto parts.

But one of their tips breaks new ground: “Don’t be shy,” Northwest Airlines writes, “about pulling something you like out of the trash.”

Now before you label this ‘tactless’ or ‘insensitive,’ look at it this way: this advice could be useful to us all in our debt-ridden, throw-away society.

Scene: A city bus pulls up to a stop in Minneapolis, not far from Northwest’s headquarters.

“Hey, Joey, This looks like a rich neighborhood. Let’s get off here and scout around.”

Two ex-employees of Northwest Airlines exit the bus and walk over to a couple of nearby trash bins, which sit in the driveway of a typical suburban McMansion.

“Wow! Look at this, Phil – a 32-inch color TV set!”

“That’s a TV set? It’s so thick...”

“Well, you don’t expect someone to throw away a new plasma set, do you? I bet it works fine.”

“Hey Joey, didn’t you say you need a new sports jacket? Try this one on...”

Joey slips into a Ralph Lauren linen jacket in last year’s trendy shade of beige.

“Check this out: Nike Air Max running shoes! Looks like they’ve only been used on a treadmill.”

And so our two guys search on and on, collecting the flotsam and jetsam of our affluent society, happy that their employer cared enough to help them save money when their paychecks stopped.

I think everyone should read Northwest’s little booklet – it could help all of us, no matter what our jobs, adjust to the tough economic world of 2006.

Last year, for instance, even Northwest’s CEO, Doug Steenland, took a cut in pay. His previous salary was $615,000, and he now makes only $516,333 a year.

He might be interested to know that I saw a wonderful leather couch, in fairly good condition, in a thrift store in Manhattan for under $250.

And who knows what a frugal CEO might find for his wife in the trash cans on the Upper East Side.

©2006 Peter Tannen