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Getting specific

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We asked our cover story subjects for some specifics on their decision to get more out of family life on less money.
Kyran Pittman says her and husband Patrick Houston’s strategy adds up this way:

• Car expenses: A $250 monthly payment for their one car, a 2003 Kia Sedona minivan. Gas, with most outings limited to less than 10 miles, costs between $175 and $200 a month. She admits, “On certain occasions it is a bona fide pain to have to share.”

• Utilities: They use compact fluorescent bulbs in all fixtures. They bundle telecommunications from one provider. They try to keep air and heat at reduced levels on floors they are not using. Because they work at home, some of these costs are tax-deductible.

• Health insurance. “I have catastrophic coverage at a reasonable premium. Patrick’s premiums, due to pre-existing conditions, are prohibitive without a group rate. He is uninsured and if I think about that for very long, I get freaked out. I am hopeful we can find a good group rate through a professional association eventually. Mostly I just tell him to eat his vegetables and drive carefully.”

• Credit card debt. Another concern. They acquired some credit card debt to establish their home business. “We still tend to reach for the plastic when the billing is still out and the cupboard is bare. The minimum monthly payments are large, and we would love to be rid of them.”

• Clothing: She watches prices. “We hand the boys clothes down through all three, so I don’t mind paying a little more for something for them that is durable, but I welcome hand-me-arounds from friends and pass our stuff along when the baby has outgrown it.”

• Groceries and entertainment: “I clip coupons and watch the specials like a hawk. I would like to keep our monthly grocery budget to $600. That takes a lot of work and self-discipline and sometimes we go way, way over.” Nights out are rare and bookstore visits are often “window shopping” for books to check out at the library.

She adds, “I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think frugality equals morality. I love to eat fine food and I appreciate nice clothes. I enjoy material pleasures as much as the next person. There are just other things I value more, like watching my toddler son take a nap on his dad’s chest in the middle of the day. A second car isn’t worth that to me. Not even close.”

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