smart spending

4 personal stories of the Great Recession

Avoid spending and become debt-free

Jennifer Butz, 35, of Atlanta, became a home loan officer in 2006 just as the housing bubble made its last hurrah. Not long after, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. For the next year, the brisk pace of business along with credit cards and her savings helped Butz stay afloat despite multiple hospitalizations.

Jennifer Butz

Jennifer Butz

"But then, 2008 rolls around, and that's when everything hit the fan," Butz says.

Butz was hospitalized again for 38 days in 2008. By the time she got out, she had no job. Her house was going into foreclosure and her car had been repossessed. Her credit cards had gone to collections and she faced thousands of dollars in medical bills. She finally filed for bankruptcy in September 2009. A Catholic charity also paid for surgery to remove her spleen to keep her blood disorder in check.

Butz now audits warranty claims for third-party, rent-to-own companies -- a stable, well-paying job. Besides doing a weekly budget, Butz earmarks money for savings and debt, such as the $1,500 she got as part of a mortgage settlement. She's working to pay off the $6,000 on her car loan and $3,000 in credit card debt.

She lives in the cheapest rental apartment she can find, one that doesn't exceed a quarter of her take-home pay. She still thinks about owning a home again, but says she's gun-shy after losing her previous home.

"If I want to buy a house or a car, I want to pay with cash," Butz says. "My biggest goal is to be debt-free."

The financial crisis of 2008 changed the way money pros approach their work. Here's how.

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