'This Wasn't Easy': Can Families Cope With Cutting Back?

Two Families Adjusting to the New Normal: Time to Be Grown-UpsABC News
Two Families Adjusting to the New Normal: 'Time to Be Grown-Ups'

The economic recession has changed the lives of millions of Americans, and for two families featured on "Good Morning America," pay cuts and unemployment meant making behavioral and lifestyle changes that weren't easy.

Brad and Anita Wiggins of Santa Clara, Calif., were almost $1,700 a month over budget.

Brad Wiggins, 53, an attorney, father of seven and grandfather of two, has taken a substantial income hit -- 62 percent.

Members of the Bell family of Houston also have seen their lifestyle change because of the recession.

Latavious Bell, a computer engineer, has been out of work for two months, and the family's household income is down 75 percent. He and his wife, Tawayna, struggled to cut back on spending on their two children and to limit dining out.

VIDEO: This Wasnt Easy: Can Families Cope With Cutting Back?Play

Financial advisor Dave Ramsey gave both families a financial check-up, and they agreed to abide by his advice and make some drastic lifestyle changes.

Ramsey advised the Wigginses to refinance their mortgage, told Anita Wiggins that she needed to get back into the work force and stressed the importance of cutting costs.

Ramsey said it was important for the Bell family to discuss its financial situation with the kids and learn to say no.

He told Latavious Bell to be more aggressive with his job search and to consider work outside his field or part-time work.

He added that the family needed to cut back on shopping and eating out at fast food restaurants up to seven times a week, which costs them approximately $220 weekly.

VIDEO: Dave Ramsey talks two families into changing their lifestyles to make ends meet.Play

Would these two families take Ramsey's advice and change their lifestyles? And what else could they do to cut costs and improve their finances?

The Wigginses and the Bells also got advice and tips via Skype from "GMA" workplace contributor Tory Johnson, consumer correspendent Elisabeth Leamy, financial contributor Mellody Hobson and technology correspondent Becky Worley.

CLICK HERE for Tory's Advice
CLICK HERE for Elisabeth's Advice
CLICK HERE for Mellody's Advice
CLICK HERE for Becky's Advice

Families Struggle With Change

In California, Anita Wiggins found the job search to be "pretty overwhelming."

"I'm having a hard time," she said. "This is really making me face stuff that I haven't wanted to face, do things that I haven't wanted to do."

Tory Johnson told Anita Wiggins that the first thing she should do is create a resume.

"Then, I want you to write down all of your specific skills and passions," Johnson said. "And finally Anita, take a deep breath."

Anita took Johnson's advice and got down to business.

"I was kind of in one of those crunch times where it's easy for me to think that I don't have anything to offer the world or there's nothing that I can get paid for," Anita Wiggins said.

Watching his wife struggle looking for a job was hard on Brad Wiggins.

"I have a lot of love and respect for Anita, and it's been difficult for me to see her in this situation," he said, choking up. "I don't really have the words, I guess. ... I don't have the words."

After Ramsey's visit, Latavious and Tawayna Bell sat down with their children to tell them they would not be able to go to camp this summer and that the family would be cutting back on trips to McDonald's.

"The situation is that right now we really have to tighten up our belts," Tawayna Bell said. "And I know Daddy doesn't really want to have to do this. It's just in our best interest now."

She said that after talking to the children, "everything became easier. ... They were on board, and they didn't ask for things."

"When we talked to the kids, I felt like I had failed, like I couldn't provide," Latavious Bell said.

Mellody Hobson told the Bells that the budgeting changes they make will serve them well in the future and teach their children valuable lessons.

"The opportunity is here for you to really get control of budgeting," Hobson said. "Once things are better, [that] will only serve you very, very well. ... And I looked at, you know, the line items that you gave us and, without getting into specific numbers, what I would say is start thinking about what you need to have versus what is nice to have. "

Tory Johnson also paid a virtual visit to Latavious Bell and gave him advice for his job search.

"You really need to step up the efforts, and simply applying online is not enough," she said. "And you are going to job hunt ... like it's your job."

Bell took her advice and set up a strict job search regimen -- four hours a day, every day. He set Aug. 1 as the deadline for taking any job that would pay the bills.

"I don't have anything yet, but I am working really hard now," he said.

Anita Wiggins also was working hard, but after a week she felt as if she wasn't making any progess.

"It kind of put me into an emotional tailspin," she said.

To take pressure off her, the Wiggins family went back to the drawing board to figure out a way to reach its ultimate goal of eliminating the $1,700 surplus spending in the monthly budget.

"We looked at 15 categories of our budget," Brad Wiggins said. "And we found a lot of ways that we could cut further, that we could cut to the bone like Dave challenged us to do."

They cut back on summer activities, electricity and water usage, and started using coupons. "GMA's" Becky Worley helped the couple cut their cell phone bill and set up free online video conferencing to stay connected to their seven children.

"Becky's idea for video conferencing is great," Anita Wiggins said. "It's not the same as seeing the kids, but it helped make it all feel better."

The Bells also began to embrace saving.

Instead of going bowling for $100, the Bells played games at home and went to a nearby beach instead of a water park.

"I came home one day and my husband was playing board games with the kids," said Tawayna Bell. "It made me so happy. ... It's just priceless."'

For the kids, the changes weren't always easy.

Daughter Tianna, 13, said she was "bored all day" because she couldn't go to the mall, and son Tahj, 9, missed his fast food meals.

But "GMA's" Elizabeth Leamy had tips for family members to help with grocery savings so they could prepare delicous meals at home.

"Here's my best tip: Go to CouponMom.com, print out all of the price comparisons in your area, and go to Wal-Mart to price-match," she told them.

"I love that tip," Tawayna Bell said. "We saved $12 just on five items."

While the Wiggins were saving, they still struggled to bring in cash. So 12-year-old Sam pitched in, collecting cans, mowing the lawn and getting two jobs helping out at homes in the neighborhood.

After lots of soul searching, Anita Wiggins opted out of the 9-to-5 job search, and she and her husband started a dog walking business.

"I am excited," she said. "This is something I can do and, hopefully, I will make up the money we need each month."

At the end of the day, just by cutting out fast food and expensive family fun and saving on groceries, the Bells' savings add up to $443 a week, which is $1,600 per month and nearly $20,000 per year.

"I am saving so much money!" Latavious Bell exclaimed.

"I am so proud of the Bell family," echoed his wife. "This wasn't easy. ... But these are changes that we can maintain and that will help us in the long run."

And the Wiggins' tough cuts saved the family $325 a week, $1,300 a month and $15,600 a year.

"This has just been a challenge for us to learn to live with a new reality," Brad Wiggins said, "and to realize that some of our old expectations were just that.

"We need to look at the world the way it is now," he added, "make plans with what we have and go from here. I'm so proud of our family, Anita and our kids, stepping up and working together as a team to deal with the challenge that Dave gave us. They're the best and we're going to make it. "