Families that cut a little last year are cutting more now

To help make ends meet, Angela Harris stopped going to Starbucks about a year ago.

That seems so simple, now.

More recently, her husband, Ola, was forced to transfer more than 500 miles from his family in Richmond, Va., to Atlanta to keep his job as a network engineer.

He now sees his wife and 4-year-old son, Toyin, every other weekend. To save money, instead of flying home he often makes the nine-hour drive.

"It isn't easy," says Angela, 42, a legal secretary. It also means the family now must pay rent and utilities on two apartments. The changes have scrapped the plans they once had to buy a house in Richmond.

They also put off plans to start a college savings plan for their son. "Our financial adviser said to wait" and focus on their 401(k) accounts, she says.

Angela still sees her family as luckier than most: "We have always been prepared for the worst. We never got big homes or fancy cars. And we only have one credit card, which we always pay off."

But she acknowledges it's still hard to walk by the local Starbucks — which she must pass several times a day — where she used to treat herself daily to a $3.46 Iced Caffè Mocha.

"I've pretty much forgotten what it tastes like," she says.

Dropping vacation plans

A year ago, to save a few nickels, Sharon Honeywell gave up her Crystal Light tea. More recently, her family in Flourtown, Pa., outside Philadelphia, gave up something she cherishes a lot more: a family vacation.

"We've always taken summer vacation," says Honeywell, a bookkeeper whose husband, Steven, works in health care.

With the economy weakening and their 19-year-old son, Steven, starting in the fall at Penn State University, Honeywell says, "We had no choice."

The family had taken a summer trip every year — including to the Grand Canyon and to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Last summer, they took a few weekend trips to the shore.

"It saved us several thousand dollars," says Honeywell, who also has a 15-year-old son, Michael, in the 10th grade. "They both understand this is a unique situation for us."

Honeywell and her husband also cut back on their IRA contributions over the past year, for the first time funding only half the maximum.

"When we saw how much we lost," she says, "we figured our money was better off in a money market at the bank than in the stock market."

A mother looks for work

About a year ago, Sara Winters made herself the official family lunch packer. Not only did she stop buying lunch every day, so did her husband, David. And ditto for their 16-year-old son, Jack.

Now, the Columbus, Ohio, family is making far more substantial cost cuts. Winters, 46, a graphic designer, recently quit her job because, she says, the daily pressure of a potential layoff became too great. The family-owned direct-mail marketing company she worked for had mostly real estate clients. As that client base dried up, layoffs began and the staff shrank from 30 to about 10.

"You can imagine how stressful my job became," Winters says. "You didn't know if the doors would be locked the next day."

She's taken on part-time work, including unloading trucks and stocking shelves at a local Target store over the holiday season.

While her husband's printing business is doing OK, the family isn't saving money like it used to. She's stopped contributing to her retirement plan, and the couple are not contributing to their son's college savings. "The best way we can help out our son," Winters says, "is to stay out of debt."

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