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Double job loss disrupts a family’s smooth financial path

For Victor and Shannon Macias, the good old days were as recent as 2012, when the couple could afford to take their two daughters to Disneyland or out to dinner without worrying about the bill.

But after both were laid off from their jobs, family entertainment became staying home and watching a movie or heading to the local park for some free fun.

“They are an unfortunate example of people who were in the middle class and were doing an excellent job of saving,” said fee-only financial planner Jennifer Hartman. “They had a very reasonable lifestyle.”

But like many other Americans who suffered layoffs during the recession and its aftermath, Hartman said, “the new jobs they were able to find don’t pay nearly as much as their old jobs.”

Between 2007 and 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the median annual income for a typical U.S. household fell from $55,627 to $51,017.

The country’s median income numbers have dropped steadily despite the end of the recession and the beginning of the nation’s economic recovery.

For the Macias family, the change has been dramatic. For a couple who never finished college, they had been doing well, but their income fell from a combined $72,500 in 2011 to $43,000 by 2013.

First, Shannon lost her full-time job working as an administrative assistant for a local church in 2012. Three months later, Victor was laid off from his job as a senior merchandiser for Mattel.

Since then, Shannon, 44, has been able to find only part-time work. That’s been hard on the family finances but also has fed her desire to be a full-time homemaker.

Victor, 40, has had a full-time job for the past six months as a driver for an electrical contractor, delivering equipment to work sites. But he’s earning considerably less money than he did at his last job.

To try to make up some of the lost income, Victor has been taking all the overtime hours he can get.

“The hard part is getting up at 4 in the morning,” he said, “and sometimes not getting back home until pretty late at night.”

With their old jobs, Shannon said, “we were making enough to put some money away and feel comfortable.”

Most months lately, Victor added, “we’re just making it.”

“The last few months have been very tough,” he said. “Now there’s a lot of anxiety. Now we worry about spending as little as $10, $20. Should we really spend it?”

The couple aren’t sure how to proceed.

They know they need to maintain a frugal lifestyle unless their income improves, but they also want to support their girls’ extracurricular interests, such as one daughter’s unexpected talent for fencing.

They recognize the need to save for the future education of their children, ages 10 and 12, without sacrificing progress in building their retirement nest egg.

“To have the girls go to college would be my fondest dream,” Victor said, “since we hound them so much during the year to do well at school.”

The Macias family currently rents in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood and would like to buy a home there that they could leave to their daughters.

Financial planner Hartman said the Macias family could have been in far worse shape if Victor and Shannon hadn’t maintained such good financial habits.

The couple avoided the kind of post-layoff overspending that often results in big credit card debts. They have paid off one car, a Chevrolet Tahoe, and most of their $17,800 in debt is a loan they took out to buy the family’s other car, a Chevrolet Cruze, to replace a 1965 Mustang that Victor reluctantly sold.

“Their debt isn’t bad,” Hartman said. “That is a positive thing. I’ve seen plenty of people just keep spending like they did when they were making more money.”

But the homeownership plans need to be set aside for now, Hartman said.

“They simply don’t earn enough,” Hartman said, to cover a mortgage in a neighborhood like Eagle Rock, much less the additional costs of homeownership.

“They don’t have the money for repairs, property taxes,” Hartman said.

Victor, for instance, has volunteered with youth baseball and softball programs; he could put his love of sports to work by offering his services as a private coach, Hartman said.

Hartman advised Victor and Shannon, who met two decades ago while working at the Glendale Galleria, to put new resumes together that emphasize their retail experience and strong skills working with other people.

They also need to find time to squeeze in some additional training or other education to bolster their earning potential, she said.

“There are online courses they can take,” Hartman said. “There’s also night school.”

Another reason for supplementing their current income, Hartman said, is that the family has only a small buffer against unexpected debts. They have $190,000 in retirement savings, which they really shouldn’t touch.

Their $2,500 savings account needs to grow large enough to cover at least three months of living expenses.

“Sudden expenses will happen,” Hartman said, “and they need to be better prepared for that.”

On the bright side, their retirement savings “are excellent for this stage of their lives.

They are way ahead of the curve. I’ve had clients who make $500,000 a year and haven’t saved a thing.”