For Family, Saving Becomes A Way Of Life

Kate Koffman, with her sons Evan and Aidan. i i

hide captionKate Koffman and her sons, Evan (left) and Aidan, have discovered the joy of making pizza instead of ordering out.

Debbie Elliott/NPR
Kate Koffman, with her sons Evan and Aidan.

Kate Koffman and her sons, Evan (left) and Aidan, have discovered the joy of making pizza instead of ordering out.

Debbie Elliott/NPR

With the economy in crisis, there's growing evidence people are making significant lifestyle changes. And it's not just people who have lost a job or are in foreclosure. Even families with resources are cutting back and putting more money in the bank.

Home economics is making a comeback in kitchens across America. Even in unlikely places.

Kate Koffman is busy in the kitchen of her northwest Washington, D.C., home. She lives in a neighborhood near the Potomac River called the Palisades. Karl Rove and Alan Greenspan have houses here.

Koffman is preparing for a "date night" with her husband. Instead of meeting friends at an expensive restaurant, they're going to have the couple over.

"Fun and frugal — I'm going to feed them a bunch of wine first and then play Pictionary, because I think it's going to increase my odds of domination," she says with a laugh.

Her husband runs his own high-tech software firm, and Koffman just got a master's degree in public policy. They have two young sons.

For the first time, Koffman is taking a hard look at where her money goes. She now keeps a weekly food chart posted on the fridge.

"It took me a long time to figure out what you're going to have every week," she says. "I tend to think about dinner at 4:30 the day that I've got to feed my kids. But [I'm] planning better to have the food in the house and use the leftovers from the meal before and the lunch tomorrow and the breakfast for the third day. And not be quite so wasteful as we have been in the past."

The family used to order pizza from a nearby Italian restaurant. "Then I discovered Pillsbury dough," Koffman says. That means a $7 meal, instead of $23 takeout."

And the boys — 4-year-old Evan and 6-year-old Aidan — get to make their own pizza pies.

As Aidan shapes his dough into an A, he talks about what he does with his allowance, which he gets for taking out the trash.

"I'm saving my money and I'm going to save it until I'm an adult or something and see how much I have then," he says.

That thinking is good for Aidan, but not so great for the economy.

"It's a paradox. If people just save more, the economy tanks," says economist Peter Morici with the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. "In this economy, the fact that people are spending less and saving more may be good for their personal circumstances, but it does make it more difficult to resurrect the economy. That's why we need a stimulus package."

The Commerce Department says Americans are saving more than they have in 14 years. The U.S. savings rate jumped to 5 percent in January.

Morici says it's natural for people to save as a way to rebuild their balance sheets when they see plummeting assets like homes and stock market portfolios.

Koffman is trying to cut up to 15 percent from her budget. She says she's not saving for anything in particular, just keeping cash in the bank.

Other families are doing the same thing. Potluck dinners and thrift store shopping are fashionable. There will be fewer spring break trips. Koffman says her family will postpone a planned vacation to Portugal.

"There are some changes here that are good changes, not just for our fiscal soundness but for our family philosophy, and I think the kids benefit," she says. "I'm not sure they would tell you there's been a radical change in our life. But they sure like making their own pizza on Friday."

Koffman sees the cutbacks as more of a challenge than a sacrifice.

"I don't feel any enormous pain yet in my day-to-day living," she says.

"Psychologically, there is much angst," she adds. "There has been a sacrifice in emotional safety. But our life is lovely and we've got two great, fabulous kids and we have great friends who are willing to come spend time with us. So it would be hard to call that a real sacrifice, I think."

Economists expect this savings trend to continue, as Americans who can do so make adjustments to live within their means and build up a safety cushion.

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