When Mike Petersen was laid off work five years ago, money was tight for him, his wife, Shauna, and their four children.
The couple worried plenty and made some decisions. Luxuries were out. Sacrifices were in. Vacations weren't in the budget. Coupon-clipping became an art. Macaroni and cheese appeared on the dinner table so often the kids jokingly called it "yellow death."But that was then and this is now, and, boy, are things better now.
Today, the Petersens certainly aren't rolling in money, but a combination of hard work, frugality - and a healthy economy - have resulted in some dreams coming true.
The Petersens have added a huge family room onto their Taylorsville home, complete with a big-screen TV so they can do what they enjoy most - get together as a family - which was tough as the kids grew and the house felt increasingly cramped.
"We have what we want now," said Shauna Petersen. "I don't think we could have done it if the economy hadn't got better."
She adds: "I feel confident right now that everything will be good. I have a lot of faith in the way things are going."
She's not alone in her optimism. Consumer confidence is at a 30-year high. Inflation is almost nonexistent. Interest rates are low. Job creation is up and unemployment is the lowest it has been in 24 years.
Even gas is cheap.
At the same time, not everything is rosy for everyone. Bankruptcies both in Utah and the United States are reaching record levels. Credit card debt is skyrocketing. It's tough to buy a starter home in many cities. And the need for homeless shelters and food banks is still acute.
What's going on here?
"The first thing to understand is that the aggregate statistics are aggregate: They only tell the average story," said Val Lambson, a profes-sor of economics at Brigham Young University.
"At any time, some people are doing well and some are doing poorly. Overall, the economy is doing extremely well," he said.
With low inflation, low unemployment and high consumer confidence, the economy actually is flourishing, he said.
Lambson is less concerned with such things as credit card debt because he said those statistics can be misleading. "They're just outstanding balances, not carry-over balances. As people use credit cards for everyday transactions instead of carrying cash around, debt levels seem high even if people are paying off balances at the end of the month. You have to look at those statistics quite carefully."
As for the tough hurdle of getting into a first home, Lambson said that's another example of needing to look past the simple statistics. "The housing market is a complicated market because it's heavily influenced by local zoning regulations and building codes. In a free market, if there were a demand for lower cost housing, it would be supplied. But because of all the restrictions builders are subjected to, the free market doesn't prevail for housing."
However, Bernard Poduska, sounds a more cautionary note.
Poduska, co-chairman of BYU's family sciences department, worries that America, like many Asian countries, could be headed for a fall.
Many Americans enjoy a false sense of security due to the "phantom economy" provided by equity credit or credit card availability. A number of people are consuming based on what they expect their incomes will be rather than what they actually are. And many Americans have a certain sense of entitlement, Poduska said.
"As long as we're able to live at this level, we feel everything is wonderful," he said. "It's just like the Asian economies. If anyone ever decides to call in the debts, there won't be the money to call in."
Poduska said he doesn't advocate a life of deprivation but wishes that Americans in general would differentiate more between wants and needs and spend sensibly. "Our incomes and our economy are solid. If we live within our means, we'll be able to perpetuate it. But if we continue to consume as if there's no tomorrow, that day of reckoning is going to come," Poduska said.
The Petersens'fortunes changed when Mike Petersen got a new job as a welder for Salt Lake County five years ago, first at a fairly low wage but with subsequent raises. Meanwhile, Shauna Petersen continued to run a home-based beauty salon and then became licensed as an instructor in cosmetology and barbering at Salt Lake Community College.
The Petersen boys in college on scholarships (now ages 23, 20 and 19) return home regularly. Their sister, 15, is still at home finishing high school.
The decision to add onto their home was not an aesthetic improvement but a practical necessity.
"The boys come back and bring all their friends. It's kind of an unofficial open dorm at my house, which I like. I always wanted to have a place for them where they could come and feel comfortable," Shauna Petersen said.
"I had all these older boys at my house, and we didn't all fit. My husband and I just decided it was now or never to add on. We were able to take out a loan and refinance what little we owned on our house and redo the house," she said.
Although the hard times were worrisome, they actually brought her family closer together, Shauna Petersen said.
Nonetheless, prosperity is a lot better.
"I feel the way the economy is now, I'm not too worried. It looks like a brighter future for all of us," she said. "My kids are getting to the age where they'll graduate from college and get married, and I want the economy to be good for them, too."