- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Jonni McCoy, Doris Dobkins and Cindy McIntyre chose to leave high-paying careers to become stay-at-home mothers. Each has written books sharing her experiences and what she has learned.

"About 10 years ago, I was a die-hard career-working mom. I had worked for 10 years for Apple Computer and National Semiconductor as a buyer," says Mrs. McCoy, of Colorado Springs. "I was making 55 percent of our joint income, and I quit, and the only expense that went away was day care."

Mrs. McCoy had to write a business plan to convince her husband they could survive on one income.

"It was a real challenge. My husband said, 'This won't work, and we are going to end up moving.' I didn't want to move. I took it as an ultimate challenge and found ways to scrimp and save and cut and make it work," she says.

This was not easy for someone who grew up as a self-described "rich kid." The McCoys were living in the pricey San Francisco Bay area at the time. She has documented her experience in her book "Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two Income Economy."

How did she do it? She found ways to cut the family's grocery bills by planning meals around what was advertised on the front and back pages of the sales fliers.

"The store loses money on these to get you into the store. This will cut your bill by 30 percent," Mrs. McCoy says.

Other tips she recommends include buying generic or store brands.

"These are cheaper than name brands with coupons or even name brands on sale with coupons," Mrs. McCoy says. Cutting back on convenience foods is another area where she saves money for her family of four.

"Anything prepackaged is going to cost extra," she says. In fact, she figures prepackaged food costs about four times more than do-it-yourself food.

Mrs. McCoy also recommends having homemade alternatives to prepackaged snacks and boxed cereals.

"I am not in the kitchen every day cooking I do it one Saturday morning a month. I make a ton of stuff and leave it in the freezer," she says.

Other suggestions include watching unit pricing and stocking up when sales are good. Bigger doesn't always mean better, she says. She does not shop at warehouse clubs because she does better buying store brands or sale items.

Mrs. Dobkins, the mother of two children in Lincoln, Calif., has been a stay-at-home mom for about 1 1/2 years. Before that, she held several jobs, as program director for a nonprofit health care company and as director of operations and a marketing officer for a software company.

"Fifty percent of our income went away when I stayed home," she says. "I thought I would never make it. For the first, literally, two to three months, it was the biggest adjustment to live on less. It's been a learning process."

She cuts fat on grocery bills by having a list and paying with cash or a check. She does not spend unbudgeted money. Like Mrs. McCoy, she plans menus around sale items. She brings her children when shopping.

"I let them help plan menus; I show them the fliers to pick foods, and I include them in the process. I think it's real important in educating your kids," she says.

Mrs. Dobkins' book, "Financial Freedom From A to Z," shares her experiences in cutting expenses and getting out of debt.

"One of the things I have really come to realize is that it's probably the best idea to focus on one debt at a time," she says. "You are better off listing all your debts and taking the one you are going to pay off first usually, the smallest ones to get you going… . When that's paid off, take all that money and put it on the next one. By focusing on one at a time, you see progress quicker and get out of debt quicker. Close the account when it is paid off."

Mrs. Dobkins recommends keeping an eye on credit-card companies because some employ tactics that many consumers are not watching for. For example, she says, she constantly is charged late fees even though the payment was mailed two weeks before the due date. When she calls the credit-card company, the charge is removed.

Pay attention to the payment dates, Mrs. Dobkins says. Your bill may have been due on the 15th for years, but the due date will move up slowly to the 12th or the 14th. In addition to watching the statement and checking every charge, she recommends paying in full each month.

Mrs. McIntyre, of Newtown, Conn., is the mother of two teen-agers. After moving from Kansas to Connecticut in 1991, she realized that many people don't know how to reduce their living expenses. As a result, she started the Frugal Gazette in 1996 to share her knowledge.

"That was one reason I felt there was a need. Families work full time, and they don't know how to reduce their living expenses," she says.

Mrs. McIntyre also recommends looking at the grocery bill first. For her family of four, she spends $50 to $75 a week. The average family this size spends about $175 a week, she says.

Mrs. McIntyre left her career as a registered nurse last year and devotes her time to being a mom and to her new venture, the Frugality Network at www.frugalitynetwork.com. This site contains links to a wealth of resources.

"The Frugality Network is different in that whatever you are looking for, you are taken directly to what you want," she says.

Another feature of the site is a whole page of calculators.

"You can compare interest rates between two credit cards," she says. "There's a calculator for two-income families, mortgage calculators and more."

It appears that Mrs. McIntyre has found a new career. She has a book coming out in February, "Declare Your Financial Independence," to be published by Adams Media. It will detail specific ways to reduce expenses.

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