Rising above layoffs, illnesses and other hardships

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Kasey Trenum, a mother of four and blogger who teaches others how to save at KaseyTrenum.com, divides her life in two: before and after the chaos. Before the chaos, she and her husband both had well-paying jobs, a healthy savings account and an optimistic outlook. “We’ve always been thoughtful about our money and avoided debt, but we’d never really been in a place where we were financially challenged,” she says. “We just had goals of the American dream: keep working hard and keep saving money.”

Then, in 2007, Kasey’s second child was born premature and the medical bills started rolling in. Eight months later, her father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The day after the funeral, Kasey’s husband lost his job in pharmaceutical sales. And, as the real estate market slumped, two spec houses that the couple had built sat on the market with no interested buyers. “Suddenly we had three mortgage payments every month: The house we lived in and the two spec houses, and no steady income,” she says.

Shaken and reeling, the couple sat down and scrutinized their finances. They realized that the savings they built during those steady years could carry them through … as long as they carefully tracked every dollar. They started cutting out vacations, dinners out and their daughter’s gymnastics classes, but when that didn’t really move the needle Kasey retooled her spending habits. She started with the biggest line items in the budget: groceries and household items (paper products, cleaning supplies, etc.).

“Before, I might clip a coupon or two here or there, but I’d wind up forgetting them or misplacing them, or I’d still shop my usual list,” she says. This time, Kasey approached couponing like a mission. “Instead of just shopping for what I needed that week, I stuck to shopping the sales and stocking up on whatever I’d eventually need. I realized that using coupons for sale items could save me a tremendous amount of money.” Within a few months, Kasey was shaving down her total expenses on groceries and household items by $700 to $1,000 each month—enough to cover the mortgage on one of the family’s vacant spec houses. 

When people started asking Kasey how she was saving so much, she realized she could make a few extra dollars by teaching others. She started traveling and leading workshops about saving on household expenses. “That side income really kept us from using all of our savings,” she says. 

The light at the end of the tunnel

It took the Trenums five years—during which they faced two more layoffs—to reclaim their steady footing. And though they no longer have extra mortgages or unemployment to contend with, Kasey says the perspective she gained from that stressful period has stuck with her. “When you watch your healthy father pass away in a span of 10 months, it really makes you realize that material things don’t matter,” she says. “A splurge might make you feel good or distract you for a few minutes, but it’s fleeting—and then you’re stuck with that cost.”

Now that the family’s disposable income has risen again, Kasey and her husband have shifted from buying stuff to building memories: They recently skipped an elaborate birthday party and took a weekend family trip instead. “I’d rather spend that money on memories of a great family vacation,” says Kasey. They’ve also committed to rebuilding their savings, diligently socking away as much as they can while focusing on paying their mortgage each month.

“When our finances were strained, people would stress out and ask what we were going to do about this or that, and I’d remind them that seasons never last forever,” she says. “We got through a really bad season, and I want to remember that now and rebuild our savings so we’re prepared if the seasons turn again.”

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