One Family's Struggle to Stay Financially Afloat in Tough Times

If Lisa Cramer had her choice, she would be a full-time stay-at-home mom to daughters Kate and Lindsey. Her husband Michael, a manager at an auto glass store, would be the breadwinner.

But for now, the only way this Palmyra, Pa., family can make ends meet is for Lisa to work three part-time jobs.

It's exhausting taking care of two young children and a household all day and then working at night — and all the more so, now that Lisa is pregnant with her third child.

If she gave up one of those jobs now, Lisa says, "it would be a disaster."

"There'd be some bills not getting paid," her Michael says.

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So, the Cramers do what they have to do. Lisa thinks of her bookkeeping job at the local butcher shop as money to buy gas, while the sales job at the children's store is a way to get bargains on clothing. And her two office cleaning jobs? Those usually pay the credit card bill or serve as a welcome injection of cash in the second half of the month, when she says they are often "a little short."

The Cramers don't live lavishly, but rent, food, gas, car payments, insurance, student loans and an old credit card debt eat up virtually everything they make. A few years ago Michael lost his job and they had to rely on a credit card to get by.

"When we used a credit card to get through, that really burnt both of us. That really bothered both of us that we constantly had to do that. But on the other hand, you have to eat, too," Michael recalls.

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"When it's grocery day, you've got to get groceries," Lisa agrees.

Today, even a $9 haircut for Michael stretches the family budget.

"It is frustrating to work all those hours and not have anything left to do anything fun for yourself, or get the girls that little toy they've been wanting," Lisa says.

Michael adds, "Even a little Polly Pocket — it's five or six dollars. And there's not five or six dollars for that."

But there is no self-pity here.

"You know what? I'm blessed. My furniture may not match. It may not be brand new. But I have a bed to sleep in, and I have a home to live in and my girls are safe," Lisa points out.

Michael's motto is "the next good thing is always just around the corner," and things are looking up. They've just used last year's tax refund to make a deposit on a $64,000 house they are buying through a county program, and they are giddy at the thought of the $1,800 rebate check headed their way.

"That could be so much," laughs Michael while Lisa claps her hands with joy.

They muse about how the money will help buy oil for the house in the winter, or when the baby comes along and Lisa can't work. But the windfall won't last long.

In a year, Lisa and Michael expect to still be working four jobs and probably counting their blessings as they do.

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