A family dealing with disease and a down economy comes to terms with life on a budgetConsumer debt isn't in the cards for Phillip and Emily Rogers. They don't own a debit card because they believe it leads to impulse buying. They have just one credit card that they use sparingly and pay off quickly.
By: By Rob Schultz, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
REEDSBURG -- Consumer debt isn't in the cards for Phillip and Emily Rogers.
They don't own a debit card because they believe it leads to impulse buying. They have just one credit card that they use sparingly and pay off quickly. "We're the last people you want to steal our identity from," Phillip joked. "We'll know when you use the card because we don't use it."
They keep their spending modest and try to keep their debt limited to their mortgage. But that discipline is being sorely tested as the family shops for a used handicap-accessible van to transport Emily, who was diagnosed with a rare, inflammatory disorder called Devic's disease in 2009.
Like families across Wisconsin, the Rogerses -- Phillip, Emily, and children Thane, 17; Ian, 12; and Grace, 7 -- are buffeted by economic insecurity, rising gas prices and unexpected expenditures. They've agreed to let State Journal readers into their home as one of several families participating in a collaborative journalism project, We the People/Wisconsin.
Later this year, the families will be invited to a statewide television event to address major candidates for public office.
Once a two-income household, the Rogerses had to scale back their economic aspirations after Emily was forced by her illness to quit her job as a teacher.
Besides the money Emily gets from disability and social security that just covers her weekly $600 at-home nursing care bill, the Rogers family lives off Phillip's approximately $50,000 annual salary as the principal and a teacher at the preschool-through-grade 8 school at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Reedsburg.
The couple still manage to give 10 percent of their income to their church, calling it the most important part of their budget.
"It's what we do because we've been blessed," Phillip said as he referred to the outpouring of support they've received from the Reedsburg community and their church since Emily was diagnosed with Devic's disease.
Added Emily: "We've found when we do that, things work out."
Things also work out because they have basic cable and a budget cellphone plan that does not include smartphones or texting. Thane is the only child who has a phone, and it doesn't do much.
"It's an austerity phone," Phillip said with a smile
If Thane and Ian want expensive basketball shoes, Emily and Phillip pay for them by delaying buying something they need for themselves. The children also know that they can't buy top-shelf clothes and should wear hand-me-downs if necessary.
"Why wear a Ralph Lauren $50 shirt that I'll wear once a week?" Ian said. "Why not wear the $10 Nike shirt that gives you the same amount of coverage?"
As for groceries that seem to get more expensive by the week, Phillip and Emily buy bulk goods at Sam's Club in Madison when they need to stock a basement freezer, and they buy generic whenever they can at the local grocery store. Crock-pot dinners are the meals of choice. The leftovers can feed the entire family for days, and the meals are easiest for Phillip to cook.
"Heat and leave it," Phillip said confidently. "A crock pot is a man's tool. It should be at Home Depot."
Top-of-the-line games are out. The children are encouraged to work and save their money to purchase the latest video games.
Phillip and Emily don't have expensive hobbies, don't go on trips and have scrapped their weekly visit to Wal-Mart to avoid any impulse buying urges.
"We've had our couch for a long time and we will continue to have it," Emily said. "We use things until we can't or shouldn't as opposed to making changes as much as we'd like to."
The same goes for high-tech devices such as the Kindle. Emily laughed that she doesn't mind reading a real book or going to the library to get one for free.
Phillip was a two-sport athlete in college, and the whole family loves to watch sports. But they don't go to Madison to watch the Badgers play football or basketball, or to Milwaukee to watch the Brewers or Bucks -- with one exception: Grace is going to a Bucks game through her school after she raised $10 by jumping rope for a heart-disease fundraiser.
Phillip has started doing more do-it-yourself repairs around the home and, on those rare family visits to McDonald's, everyone must choose from the $1 menu.
"It's not that we have to live the way we live," Emily said. "It's that we want to live this way."
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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