WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Holley's story: Medical issues cause unemployment

Posted July 19, 2012

This week's personal finance real life story is from Holley in Zebulon. Her husband’s medical issues have taken him out of work for 10 months so far. They initially expected him to be out of work for 6 to 8 weeks so you can imagine how challenging it has been to not have his income since October.

With the unemployment rate in NC at 9.4 percent for May, there are hundreds of thousands of people feeling the pain of this difficult economy. Many of our Smart Shopper readers live with unemployment and underemployment every day and some of them have generously offered to share their stories with us.

For the next few weeks, you will see how the economy has changed the way they live, eat, play and make ends meet. Some of them are successfully digging out after long-term job loss and some are smack dab in the middle of the black hole, struggling to pay bills every month. These are their real life stories and I thank them all for sharing their experiences.

My hope in running this series is that their suggestions and tips will be helpful to others who are also struggling. The creativity and determination these folks have shown is very impressive and I hope you are able to take away some helpful information from each situation.

Here is Holley’s story:

The increase in food and gas has caused an enormous financial burden on my family. In October 2011, my husband was taken out of work on medical leave and had to have surgery in November 2011. Due to complications, he has not returned to work and had to have another surgery in April 2012. My husband was a correctional officer and I work for the Dept of Social Services. So when our income was cut in half, we had to make a lot of changes.

My husband was having to drive 60 minutes round trip to go to physical therapy 5 days a week, luckily he’s down to 3 times a week, and routine checkup appointments. So, with the rise in gas prices, it came to a point where we were having to decide whether to pay for his medical care or buy groceries. I’m a super mommy and my best solution was to start couponing and trying to save as much money as possible.

We have switched from name brand items to generic brand, if I can’t get it for a good deal with coupons. I try to do my grocery shopping on my lunch break or on my way home to save gas. I also regularly watch websites for free events for the children and search for coupons for restaurants and clothing stores. I cannot pay full price for anything now..lol..:) My husband wanted peanuts the other day and I told him he would have to wait till they went on sale and I had a coupon.

The decline in the economy has prohibited me from frequently visiting with friends and family members. I stalk the clearance aisle at Target, hoping to get something for nothing. I have become a more frugal person where before I was an impulsive buyer. My husband and I were sitting outside the other day and we were talking about how if we were this frugal when we first got married that maybe we would have been able to save and not be so tight for money now. When my husband goes back to work and the economy gets better, I plan to continue to be frugal, so I can be more prepared next time..:)

Working with the department of social services, I see everyday how the economy has disrupted others lifestyles. When you see that other people are in a worse situation than you are it makes you humble and grateful that you might not have everything you want but you do have enough. I have clients that don’t have money to pay the electricity bill and their children don’t have running water to bathe in. I’ve had families that were evicted from their homes and forced to live in hotels or with overcrowded relative’s homes. I love my job and I love helping others. And even though my personal life is a little stressful right now, I go to work every day with a smile, because some people need a smile and I’m willing to offer mine. Some of my clients have sold everything in their home just so they can have shelter for their families. They might not have a couch or bed but they do have a roof to shield them from the weather. 

Before the economic crisis began, the majority of clients were people whose income was under the poverty line. However, now the middle class is experiencing more struggles now than before. I have several clients who have a mortgage payment of $1000.00 or more. They used to be able to afford it but now living off unemployment they are sacrificing other things in order to pay the mortgage. American’s are struggling!


Holley and I had a chance to speak on the phone this week and here are some other thoughts she offered:

The most difficult thing about her situation has been having to spend money more wisely and staying positive when so many negative things keep happening. She did say that couponing takes some of the pressure off and makes the things she can’t change more tolerable.

In addition to her family of 4, she has recently taken in her 25 year old cousin who is disabled right now after a serious injury. Her budget for 3 adults and 2 children is $50 - $75 per week!

Holley says that the biggest challenge is time management. She now has to strategize about groceries and make a plan. She takes 1 –2 hours per week to plan her list and organize coupons so she can get the best deals every week. In addition to working full time she is also back in school so time management is very important in her life!

Her favorite stores are CVS, Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods. She uses the binder coupon organization method and buys two Sunday papers each week. She also gets coupons from friends at work and prints them as well. She said her stockpile has taken over at least one closet!

Holley indicated that the key to success in couponing is to be organized. She also wanted to remind people not to be fearful about telling a cashier that you don’t want an item if it is not the price you expected or they won’t take your coupon.

In regards to her work as a social worker, Holley commented that she is seeing more families struggling than ever. Despite what the economists may be saying, she does not see the economy getting any better for her clients.

She’s said she has learned how to cope with the situation and be positive with what they do have. She emphasized that she tries to find the positive in every situation to become a better person and live a better lifestyle. I bet she is a great social worker with that attitude!

My great thanks to Holley for spending the time to share her story! I hope her husband and cousin are back up and running soon. Next week we will have a profile of one of our readers who offers a number of frugal and delicious meal ideas!

What do you think about the economy? Are you seeing any kind of recovery from your perspective or line of work?


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  • thecatsmeow67 Jul 26, 2012

    We will make our list and take the "big 3" circulars with us to Walmart because up here in Hillsborough and Mebane you better have the circulars or it is to much drama to make it worth it. We can save anywhere from $40-$75 a shopping trip depending on our needs/wants.

  • shc0729 Jul 20, 2012

    watchhillgirl mentioned zvrs & recyclebank coupons. What are these?

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Jul 19, 2012

    ncsualum, that is so sad to hear. It breaks my heart that so many are struggling to take care of the basics.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions.

  • ncsualum09 Jul 19, 2012

    Faye, as to your economy question, I agree with Holley, I work for disability, and I don't see an end in sight :( applications are through the roof, and it isn't because there is an influx of people suddenly being injured or disabled, people aren't able to find jobs, they have run out of unemployment and don't know what else to do. We are also seeing a lot of people who once were able to work despite their disability, but have been let go as the company can not afford to work with them any more.

    Like Holley, I see so many people who are losing their homes, dont have power/water/etc. It really doesn't give me much hope :(

  • astamper Jul 19, 2012

    I agree with Holley that I will continue to be frugal even after things improve; these hard times have taught me a lesson. I have also discovered (like jdouglas13 said) that I like the challenge of getting the best deal. HT is my first choice of grocery stores to get a good deal; you just have to ONLY buy what is on sale and has a coupon. (I too have turned on Wal Mart...hardly go there anymore.) Hang in there Holley, I feel your pain and wish you the best. Andrea from Apex.

  • happy2.0 Jul 19, 2012


    Generally, I get a check between $8 and $10 a quarter. (I don’t know why it’s that much. I can assure you I don’t spend $1000 a quarter on groceries for my husband and I. )They also mail me personalized coupons based on my purchasing history…things I buy on a regular basis.

  • happy2.0 Jul 19, 2012

    Maybe it’s just me but I have found over the past couple of years that the coupons offered in the paper and online are for items that aren’t crucial to a basic diet. A lot of it is for processed foods. Don’t get me wrong. I still clip away and use them when they make sense but most times I can find a generic that is equivalent for much cheaper. I do use them for toilet paper because I simply refuse to go generic on that. It simply isn’t worth the bargain price.

    I have found that sticking to one store for the majority of my purchases also helps. I shop at Kroger 90% of the time and that helps me in 3 ways. It is right down the street from my office so I don’t spend extra gas to get to the store. I earn 1 point for every $1 I spend. That gets me $.10 off gas at Shell stations and there is one near my home that is always the cheapest around anyway. In addition, those points are totaled quarterly and I’m sent a check for $1 for every 100 points. Generally, I get a check betwe

  • storchheim Jul 19, 2012

    I've always - and I do mean my whole life - lived frugally. Good thing, because I've been out of work for over a year but have enough saved that while I can't retire for good, I don't have to worry about bills.

    I only use one coupon (I refuse to say "couponing") and that's for 8 O'Clock Coffee, my one daily luxury. For all else I either buy generic brands of flour, sugar and cheese, or the basics of fresh meat and produce, and cook my own nutritious meals. Once a week, it's ramen with added veggie scraps and an egg. My food bill for one adult and 2 cats is under $200/month, and we all eat well.

    No cell phone, no nails, Great Clips for hair 4x/year, Goodwill for clothes. No "shopping as therapy". I'm not broke but I make my decisions as if I were.

  • tarheelfan4life2005 Jul 19, 2012

    Holly, thanks for sharing your story. I reside close to Zebulon and can mail you my extra coupons from my Sunday paper (I purchase one each Sunday). Also, I would love to purchase your husband some peanuts so you do not have to wait for a coupon. :) You may contact me at tarheelfan4life2005@gmail.com

  • watchhillgirl Jul 19, 2012

    I agree with you completely. I have to travel to a Harris Teeter in Wilson (I live in Goldsboro) and even with the added fuel, I save so much money it is worth it! I probably make it about 3 times month. But where else, can I get a whole cart full of groceries for about $25.00. That is what I spent last week. I saved over $90.00 and it wasn't a super double or anything like that. Between coupons, ZVRs and Recyclebank coupons that is about what I spend. It is so worth it. I very seldom shop at Walmart anymore, because I really don't get such a great deal.