Cents and Sensibility

Life-changing events bring on an urge to save

Staff WriterOctober 3, 2010 

  • On the grocery front, Michelle Huddleston of Holly Springs says she spends an average of $55 a week to feed her family of four. Beyond couponing, she was so bold as to ask the butcher at her Harris Teeter to call her when the meat was marked down.

    Joan Wilkinson of Raleigh is a single mother with a part-time job who wants to buy a house one day. She cut her gas bill in half by replacing her worn out minivan with a hybrid. She also saves by juicing and freezing vegetables before they go bad.

    Stacy Robinson of Raleigh is another single mother - with two under age 5. Her list included two great strategies: tell the kids "no" more often and wait 24 hours before buying anything over $50.

    Wendy Dyer of Raleigh packs a lunch, uses envelopes to track spending for food and eating out, and picks up aluminum cans to recycle for money.

    Marvin Woll of Raleigh advocates cutting energy costs by lowering or upping your thermostat depending on the season and using box fans in your windows. In a year, he figures such methods save him $600.

    "Over the past seven years we have saved $4,200," Woll wrote. "This money helped pay for my son's college and living expenses."

    Jennifer Ferris of Chapel Hill sets micro budgets: no more than $1 per person for breakfast, $2 per person for lunch, $3 per person for dinner.

    Michelle Bryant of Clemmons has a "no spend month" when only necessities like the gas needed to get to work or school can be bought.

    Gwynne Murphy said that graduating from college and living on her own have given her a new financial perspective. She looks for free things to do in Durham - like the summer movie series at Duke Gardens - and sometimes just avoids stores.

    Sarah Coggins of Morrisville makes baby food for her son, plans a continuous route for errands to save on gas, finds free entertainment options, barters and uses online bill payment to save on envelopes and stamps. She says that every little bit helps now that her family has gone from dual income, no kids to two adults and one child on a single income.

    Catherine Jill Koethcke Osborne and her husband sold their second car. They carpool from their home in Raleigh. The sale of the car went into the emergency fund, and now their savings from not having to pay gas, taxes and insurance on another car goes into savings.

    Jessica Kent writes out her monthly budget and then puts the extra into her savings account right then so she can't touch it for the rest of the month. To ensure she doesn't need it, she buys store brands and carpools when she can. Kent, who lives in Cary, also switched insurance companies and says being a vegetarian is a money-saver as well. Kent says this is all new to her. "I'm really bad with money ... until this year," she wrote.

    The change: A car wreck. She was fine, her car was not. With no savings she had to borrow the money from her boyfriend to get the car fixed. She paid him back and now is determined never to have to borrow again.

    "The best part about getting my finances in order is that I feel like everything else is getting in order too in my life."

A few weeks back, I asked people to tell me how they were saving money and why. As an incentive, we gave away a Container store box filled with $100 worth of items from the retailer.

More than 50 people responded, and while we picked our prize winner randomly, Jamie Wilkerson's reason for saving was typical of many that we got: a life-changing event. In Wilkerson's case, it was marriage and a job layoff.

Wilkerson, an accountant, and her fiancée were already evaluating their joint financial plan when, two months before the wedding, he lost his job at Sprint.

They became serious about cutting costs and switched providers for their phone, cable and Internet service. The moves saved them a couple of hundred dollars. She joined a coupon circle to save more at the grocery store. And she tried to simply buy less and think more carefully about purchases.

"It was like the worst possible timing," said Wilkerson, 30. "When I was sending in our wedding announcement to the newspaper, I wanted to say, 'You can view the groom's résumé at. ...' "

Robby Wilkerson found a job four months later, just as his severance pay from his old job ran out. But Jamie Wilkerson says frugality has taken hold of the Cary couple, and they continue to look for ways to save money.

The messages from others were similar. Newborns, early retirement, layoffs or less pay, divorce and college costs were the incentives for many. Elizabeth O'Brien of Raleigh said the country's financial problems were behind her family's belt tightening even though they had not been directly affected.

The O'Briens eat at home more and decided to teach their children to play tennis rather than pay for lessons.

There were big cost-saving measures - cancel the house cleaning service, cut the cable - and smaller ones. Most folks are coupon clippers. Many are consignment shoppers and yard sale divas.

Everyone said they are slowly building savings and getting out of debt. And while many said their efforts are a work in progress, everyone seemed committed to keeping it up.

Jill Hughes of Cary says saving money is too much fun to stop: "I love seeing what I've saved. ... I love dressing my daughter in a perfectly adorable outfit that cost me $4 secondhand."

Staff writer Sue Stock contributed

mary.cornatzer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4755

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