10/28/08 — Families struggle with budgets as economy continues downturn

View Archive

Families struggle with budgets as economy continues downturn

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 28, 2008 1:46 PM

Crystal Herrera used to stay up at night, waiting for the next calls from bill collectors.

The 22-year-old wondered how she and her husband, Alvin, would ever climb out of debt, how they would make a home on his first-term airman salary.

But then the couple asked for help, and found it in 4th Fighter Wing personal financial manager Arndrea Thomas.

And now, like many other young Air Force families who have sought advice from Mrs. Thomas, they don't worry quite so much anymore.

They have a "game plan."

"Before we spoke with her, we were really lost," Mrs. Herrera said.

Her husband agreed.

"Everything was just mapped out wrong," he said.

So Mrs. Thomas decided to focus on the basics with the couple, the "little things" she has found result in big savings.

"A lot of times, it is the little ways we can find money that make the biggest difference. That might be as simple as cutting back on going out to eat or not going to the movies," she said. "Those are things that everybody needs to look at doing."

Then she stressed the importance of making a budget.

"Before we went in, we didn't even know what a budget was," Mrs. Herrera said. "Now, it's a lot easier to deal with."

The Herreras soon found that "something as simple as writing out a list of bills" saved them big.

Mrs. Thomas wasn't surprised.

"When you know how much money you're starting out with each month, you know what you have left over to work with for food and other necessities," she said. "It sounds simple enough, but a lot of people don't use a budget."

The couple learned other tips from Mrs. Thomas, too.

"Make a menu before you go get your food," she said. "I have found if you have a menu planned for what you are going to eat every day, you are going to spend less money."

Shopping habits are important, too, she added.

"Use coupons," Mrs. Thomas said. "I always try to tell people, 'Using coupons is like walking down the street and seeing $1 on the ground. You are going to pick it up, right?' Some people look at using coupons as a stigma. It's not."

Since their first meeting with Mrs. Thomas, the Herreras have already seen significant savings.

They are starting to pay down their debt -- sleeping better as a result.

All because they "forgot about pride" and asked for help, something Mrs. Thomas urges all Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airmen -- and other young families trying to navigate this economy -- to do.

"Asking for help doesn't make you weak, it makes you smart," she said.

Mrs. Herrera agreed.

"I would lose more pride having to constantly borrow money from friends and family all the time," she said.