smart spending

4 personal stories of the Great Recession

Siphon money to savings each month

Jewel Brown, 41, opened her own hair salon in Norcross, Ga., in 2008, a tale of bad timing. Within a year, Brown had to start running special discounts just to get customers through the door. She shouldered the work herself, unable to hire more staff to increase business.

Jewel Brown

Jewel Brown

On the homefront, she had a son to care for on her own and a mortgage payment that was too high.

Refinancing was out of the question because she was upside-down in her mortgage, a common scenario during the recession where the value of the home is worth less than the mortgage.

"I didn't think I would last long," she says. "There were days when I cried because I thought I would have to close the salon. I kept thinking, 'How am I going to pay these bills?'"

Brown did what many Americans across the country did. She cut back. She turned off her landline and depended on her cellphone. She nixed premium cable and settled for basic services. She stopped eating out. She blew through her six-month savings cushion, keeping the lights on at her business and at home.

She and her son also developed a new saving habit together. They would save their coins in a jar, and every six months, she would deposit the full jar, worth $300, into a savings account. The strategy helped Brown buy her son a computer for school. It's also now helping her replace her depleted savings.

This month, Brown got another boost. She received a mortgage modification after three years of applying for one without success. Her interest rate was slashed to 3.1 percent from 8.1 percent, saving her $5,000 per year.

"I feel really blessed," Brown says. "It was an eye-opening situation, but I learned how important it is to always save. Even if it's just a dollar, that will add up. I'm teaching my son that, too."

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

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