smart spending

Downsize your costs in 4 weeks

Week 3: Work inside the home

While the laid-off spouse is undoubtedly trolling job Web sites, it's imperative that he or she also take on a new daytime job -- lifestyle change expert.

"Any good business always has an accounting department, and someone's watching the money," Steve Economides says.

The stay-at-home spouse can help track spending, set a budget, clip coupons or watch for grocery sales, and cook.

"I don't care if you've never cracked a cookbook in your life, you can eat for pennies on the dollar at home," Annette Economides says.

An easy dinner like barbecue chicken, baked potatoes and frozen green beans can feed a family of four for $3 per person. That's a big savings over $10 entrees in a restaurant.

The thrifty duo also suggest the laid-off spouse get on the phone and negotiate with those who must be paid monthly, including credit card and insurance companies.

Week 4: Consider bigger changes

Sometimes, cutting corners and making smaller adjustments don't add up quickly enough to make an immediate difference, the Economides say. If there's a $1,000 budget gap at the end of the month, small steps won't scale the mountain of expenses.

In such situations, you may have to make bigger changes to keep the family afloat, Annette Economides says.

"You've got to survive," she says. "But you want to survive with your family intact. So you've got to make changes."

The Economides suggest renting a room, such as an unused guest bedroom, a basement room or a child's room (if two kids can bunk in one room). Depending on your location, rooms could bring in an extra $200 to $600 per month.

Establish criteria, screen prospective tenants and set ground rules, Steve Economides says. With careful planning, a rental can make a big dent in a monthly mortgage payment.

To cut more deeply into monthly expenses, sell extra vehicles and go from a two-car family to a one-car family, the Economides suggest. Learn local bus routes or negotiate car use with your partner. Maintenance and car insurance can cost hundreds every month, Annette Economides says.

Making ends meet may mean putting away pride and finding a job that pays less, but still covers the essentials. A few weeks ago, Barajas visited a restaurant. His waiter was an ex-mortgage broker.

According to Barajas, he simply said, "I gotta do what I gotta do to feed my kids."

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