New London Family Manages To Have Fun And Stay Within Its Spending Limits

The bus fare is ready in a plastic zipper bag: $2.25 for Mamie Rock and her 8-year-old daughter, Tessa, who are headed out of their home on Lower Boulevard for their weekly excursion to downtown New London.

The family's one car stays with Paul Rock, who needs it to get to work.

On Bank Street, Mamie, 45, and Tessa find their favorite kind of entertainment - free (with pizza to boot) - in the Kente Cultural Center's Kente Reads program, where Tessa learns a song in Swahili and makes a paper bee.

Afterwards, the two stop by the Flavours of Life store. Tessa picks out a $5.50 fish key chain for herself, one of the few weekly splurges Mamie budgets for and allows on this trip. Tessa also selects a pair of $11 earrings that will become a Christmas present for a cousin. Mamie buys holiday gifts throughout the year to prevent a rash of year-end spending.

The economy is bad, Mamie acknowledges. But this isn't Mamie setting spending limits to adjust to the economic crisis. This is Mamie on standby mode: thrifty and disciplined about her money.

”Should anything happen to one of us, it would be very hard for the other to keep up with all the bills,” Mamie says. “But see, if I were to dwell on that, I would probably fall into a state of inertia. So I prefer just to be a happy coupon clipper and really think about what we're doing, be very careful about the money, while at the same time having a fun and enjoyable family life.”

Mamie sets aside only about $60 of her biweekly paycheck from her teaching job at Mitchell College's Children's Learning Center for “extras.” About $150 goes toward groceries and $60 toward the baby sitter she shares with her neighbor. The rest goes into paying off student loans.

”Because I've been in school most of my life, and I've always had to think about debt and (its) impact on my life,” says Mamie. “I don't have luxuries, so I don't miss them.”

The result of Mamie's structured spending habits is an 8-year-old who does not take things for granted or dismiss hand-me-downs. Tessa has named every one of the 65 Littlest Pet Shop animals she owns and notices when one of them is missing. She made individual beds for them out of scraps of cushioned packing material, and the pets proudly live in a $3 plastic castle her mother picked up at a tag sale.

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