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Making ends meet for the atypical American family is not easy

August 06, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Lorrie Carlin, left, is raising her grandson Kyle, 3, in her Hagerstown home.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Like most people raising children, Lorrie Carlin’s days are full.

There are meals to prepare, clothes to wash and shoes to buy.

She kisses scraped knees, is a master at hide-and-seek and always has time for one more bedtime story.

But none of this is exactly new. Carlin has raised five children of her own.

Now, at the age of 44, she’s raising her 3-year-old grandson.

Carlin is not unique.

According to AARP, about 3 million children live in households headed by a grandparent.

And this isn’t the first grandchild who has lived under her roof. She took on the responsibility of caring for another grandchild some years ago.

What is different is the economy.

“We were once able to live pretty comfortably,” the Hagerstown woman said. “Times have changed.”

Carlin said her husband is employed as an emergency service dispatcher for an area plumbing company. But over the past year, his hours were cut from 40 to 32.

“We were trying to meet our bills plus the mortgage and we just couldn’t do it,” she said. “We lost our home.”

Carlin said their house is in foreclosure and they now are renting a house in Hagerstown, which costs $300 less than their mortgage.

“We only had so much money and had to make decisions on what monthly bills we could pay,” she said. “We tried to work with the bank, but in the end, they weren’t willing to compromise.”

Carlin said her husband once again is working 40 hours a week, but financially, getting back on their feet has been tough.

“Everything is expensive these days,” she said. “And when you have children, there is always something they need.”

Carlin said she and her husband have custody of their grandson, Kyle, but because they are not the child’s biological parents, they receive little help in covering his expenses.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the Parent-Child Center,” Carlin said. “They help me with diapers, clothes, furniture — with everything. They’re always there for me. Even in a pinch, they’ll bring diapers to my door.”

Carlin said her grandson is growing so quickly, she always seems to be replacing his clothes and shoes.

And because he’s a bookworm, she turns to the center for most of his reading material.

In addition to the Parent-Child Center, “I do a lot of shopping at yard sales,” she said. “The only things I don’t buy at yard sales are shoes and socks.”

Even with bargain shopping, Carlin said the family probably has a clothing budget of about $100 per month.

“This kid goes through shoes,” she said. “If you have children, you understand.  Plus, there are other adult family clothing items that have to be purchased in a store.”

In addition to the Parent-Child Center, Carlin has turned to Mary’s Center in Hagerstown for help, including a new crib and mattress. She also receives assistance from the Washington County Health Department WIC Nutrition Program.

“You quickly learn what resources are out there,” she said.

Carlin’s grandson receives a medical card from the state and they receive some monthly child support, but with today’s economy, “it doesn’t pay for much,” she said.

Being on a tight budget has made a difference in day-to-day living, Carlin said.

“We’re not poor. My husband makes a little more than $25,000 a year,” she said. “But we are stretching every penny.  While living in our other house, we had seen an increase in our utilities. In previous years, our gas bill averaged about $90 a month. This past winter, it was over $200. I can only imagine what it will be this year.”

Carlin said they pay about $100 for cable, which includes phone and Internet service.

“But we consider that our only entertainment,” she said. “We used to go to the movies. We don’t do that anymore.”

As a small luxury, Carlin said the family still goes out to eat, but very rarely and not at the same type of restaurants.

“We go to places — usually buffets — where the prices are low and the baby can eat free,” she said.

Carlin said the household averages about $125 a week for groceries, a far cry from what she remembers when she was raising five children.

“I used to pay about $50-60 and had more people to feed,” she said. “Now, I get home and feel like I’ve forgotten some of the bags. I ask myself, ‘What did I get for this?’ And I’m just buying the necessities.”

“I raised five children, so I know how to make ends meet,” she said. “I’ve always bought generic, and I don’t buy junk food. I only buy what we need.”

The only times her grandson gets sweets, she said, is at Easter, Halloween and Christmas, when she makes cookies using sweetener instead of sugar.

Carlin said her husband is a diabetic and pays $50 a month for insurance through his employer.

Carlin said a three-month supply of pills alone costs $300, “which we couldn’t afford, so I got on him to get insurance,” she said. “It covers pills, blood strips and needles.”

Since the insurance only covers his diabetes, “We live each day hoping there are no mishaps and we stay healthy,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t know what we would do.”

While Carlin is sad that they lost their home, she said she can’t complain about their current house, which has a little more space, including a dining room and a backyard for her grandson to enjoy.

“His happiness is our priority,” she stressed. “He’s very special to us.”

“Even though things can get tough, even though you have to sacrifice, I wouldn’t change having him with us,” she said. “I love being here with him.”
And that’s a plus when it comes to child-care expenses.

“I’ve never had to pay to have someone watch him,” she said. “Some people spend a big part of their paycheck on child care.”

Carlin said she feels like the family is slowly getting back on “good footing.”

“Our rent is less than our mortgage and my husband has returned to full-time hours,” she said. “But we are still very careful about how we spend our money. Very careful.”

The bonus, though, is spending time with her grandson.

“We lost another grandchild a month after Kyle was born,” she said.  “I would have lost my mind if he hadn’t come into our lives.  He doesn’t realize how much he held me together.  He’s a joy.”

“I worked throughout the years my children were growing up,” she added. “I missed a lot of things with them — first steps, everything. Now, I’m able to have those things with my grandson that I missed with my kids.”

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Lorrie Carlin’s monthly budget

• Rent — $800
• Food — $600
• Clothing — $100, including yard sales
• Entertainment — $140 for cable
• Utilities — $200 for electric; $20 for gas (summer); $150 for water/sewer every three months
• Medical — No health care insurance, except for coverage of diabetes supplies for husband, who pays $50 per month.

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