A friend's husband lost his job, and predictably, this friend is poleaxed. Between moments of glassy-eyed panic, she wallows in emergency financial self-assessment.
"We've lived on nothing before. We can do it again," she says with the grim look of someone who is sure she can do it -- again -- but would rather not.
And her family is in good financial shape. They've still got her income. They've always lived lean.
"We have all the bills paid off, the cars are paid for, I'll take care of the credit card this month, and then there's just the house," she said.
It's amazing how much depends on housing.
The 2007 housing implosion trashed the economy, because we believed houses could triple in value every two years but never go down. Everyone had a goose in the basement laying golden eggs, home equity loans soared, far too many people filled their debt-burdened homes with toys.
Our goose got cooked when the bubble exploded and all that "equity" disappeared. I have kin who have lost homes. I walk past foreclosed houses daily.
But Utah's housing market is getting better.
The chief economist of the National Association of Realtors said recently homes sales in Utah were up about 10 percent in 2011. I know Realtors who even see the occasional bidding war.
Please, people, bid carefully. Don't get into that "house as piggy bank" thinking again.
If national disaster teaches one thing, it should be that housing as investment is a game most can't afford to lose. Buy a house for a home and nothing more.
Some advisers have gone to the other extreme.
Rich Arzaga, CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Management in California, recently told Reuters news service he added up mortgage interest, maintenance and taxes, and decided that, after 30 years, it is very unlikely you will get all that money back by selling a house. His advice is to never, ever, buy one.
But his advice to rent forever is also dumb.
You don't buy a house to make money. You buy a house to have the security of a place to live, no matter what.
If my friend has one rock-solid thing in her life, it is that she owns the roof over her head. She figures to cut back and make mortgage payments. Even if she can't, eviction and foreclosure take time, and time lets you recover.
I've told my own kids to buy a small home -- each child does not need his own bedroom -- pay it off and never, ever, borrow against it.
I've told them a paid-off home has to be part of a thrifty lifestyle. If they live below their means and accept that not everyone needs a snowmobile or cable TV, they will never be homeless.
If worse comes to worst, I tell them to live on noodles and their vegetable garden, but they'll always have a roof over their heads.
No advice is universal. Many people shouldn't buy: People who move every two years, people who can't do maintenance or mow lawns, people who can't save money for whatever reason. It is very individual.
But if a home fits your life and you can pay it off, you have real wealth. Your annual taxes plus maintenance and utilities are what others pay for rent in three or four months. The rest of the year is free.
In an era when a job, or even a whole industry, can evaporate overnight, a place to live for free is very, very good.