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(WXYZ) - On a hot summer day, fun in the pool helps cool down the Uhlarik family. Inside, fans are called on to help out because the air conditioner's on the fritz, and there's no money right now to fix it.
"We are not going to take out a line of credit or put it on a credit card," DeeAnn Uhlarik says.
That's how the Uhlarik's live. If they don't have the cash, they don't spend.
"Sometimes it's really hard," she says. "I'll tell you, my kids know when payday is."
DeeAnn and her husband Charlie have 5 kids. We first met them 5 years ago, shortly after the began their cash only way of living. DeeAnn is a stay-at-home mom. Charlie works for the federal government. They've always lived a pretty modest lifestyle, in a middle class neighborhood in Oak Park. But DeeAnn was always more of a spender.
"I grew up in a family where if you wanted it, you bought it, regardless of whether you can afford it."
When their youngest daughter, who has Down Syndrome, was diagnosed with Leukemia, mounting credit card bills put the Uhlarik's $20,000 in debt. And while there was a temptation to declare bankruptcy, instead they made a decision to honor that debt and get on the same page financially. They decided to live within their means, by living cash only.
They began slowly paying off their credit cards, and then getting rid of them. At first, DeeAnn would only use cash, now she uses a debit card too. But she checks her account at least once a day to check her balance. Her credit union allows her to set a budget, and notifies her when she's close to going over it.
5 years ago, I went grocery shopping with DeeAnn. She told me then, "I have to think about everything I buy and whether or not I can afford to have that this week."
And that hasn't changed.
"My kids sometimes do complain, we have no food. And I say, it's not like we have no food, it's that I don't have the food that you want to eat, like chips... but I have carrots."
The Importance Of Prioritizing
They've learned prioritizing is the name of the game. Putting their kids through parochial school is very important to them. So watching every penny in order not to go into debt is critical. So how do they do it, without turning to credit cards? They think before they buy anything, they don't eat out much, they drive their cars until they won't run anymore, and vacations, are more like staycations.
"We have a zoo pass, we belong to The Henry Ford, and we have a pool in our backyard that we bought on CraigsList," Dee Ann explains.
Well Worth The Juggling Act
She admits it's a big juggling act, sometimes paying one bill before another so she won't be dinged with a late fee. But it's all worth it. She says her marriage is stronger because of it, that she and Charlie have fewer money fights. As for her kids... "I hope that I'm teaching them, honestly I wasn't taught as a kid."
Studies show that people who pay with only cash for things spend anywhere from 12-20 percent less than people who pull out the plastic.