Economic hardship leads to inspiration

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Daily Journal interviewed the Gallmans in July 2009 about going from two incomes to one. After the story ran, readers were generous, volunteering to send money, diapers and toys for the kids. Sara Gallman was thankful for the help, but turned it down, saying there were people more deserving. This is our update to her story.

COLUMBUS – Two years ago, Sara Gallman and her family were living paycheck to paycheck. Now, they’ve paid off their credit cards and built up three months of savings.
They’ve also had a new addition – 1-year-old Michael.
“A lot’s changed,” Gallman said during a recent playdate at a park in Columbus. “We’re doing much better now.”
The Gallmans – Sara, Tony, 3-year-old J.W., 2-year-old Katie and 1-year-old Michael – were caught in the middle of the economic crunch in late 2008 and early 2009. Sara Gallman resigned from her job at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Starkville to give birth to her daughter. The family was going to rely on savings and Tony’s income from his job at Mississippi State University’s dairy plant.
Gallman, who lives in Caledonia, was going to look for a social work job in Columbus when she recovered from giving birth. The job never came, with employers telling her she was overqualified or they didn’t have the money to hire her because of cutbacks in response to the recession.
The Gallmans in 2009 ran through all their savings and racked up debt on their credit cards as they tried to manage with one income instead of two. The couple did away with luxuries like eating out and going to the movies and became dollar store shoppers.
Gallman was unemployed for about seven months before she got a job as a research associate at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center in Starkville.
“I got a job and things were looking up,” she said. “Then I got pregnant and it was scary again.”
Then a few ago, Tony left the dairy plant and took a job at Severstal, a steel processing plant in Columbu.
“What we had on two incomes averages out to what he makes now,” she said.
Now, the family will go out to eat – normally at a Mexican restaurant – every once in a while.
“That’s the biggest thing that has changed,” she said.
Sara and Tony also have date nights and invest in their marriage. Sara said things some times got tense between the two during the financial hard times, but they are much better now.
And, Sara went to her first concert last year – Zac Brown Band in Starkville.
But the Gallmans aren’t relaxing their financial vigilance much.
“We still budget,” she said. “We don’t stress as much when we do it, but we still budget,” she said.
They also save every penny they can, and they mainly eat at home. They do a lot of free or cheap activities, like game night or movie night at home.
Plus, Sara is an avid couponer. She knows which store has the best price on a product and she usually has a coupon for that item.
“I was into coupons before all the craze hit,” she said. “I’m still careful what I buy. I still look for the best bargain. I don’t think that will ever change.”
The kids want a dog – something that was out of the question financially before. But Sara said they are going get a dog when all the kids are potty-trained and the family no longer has the expense of diapers.
And, the Gallmans are getting satellite TV this month.
“We had Netflix,” Sara said, “but they recently jacked their prices up so we went looking for a better deal.”
It’ll be the first time in two years that the family has had any sort of TV or cable service.
The Gallmans also are looking toward the future with their finances. Sara said they will continue to build up their emergency savings. Then, they want to save up to build a house. College savings is another long-term goal, as is retirement savings.
“We’re going to have three kids in college at the same time,” she said. “That’s terrifying for us.”
But the family will figure things out, like they did before.
“I don’t want it to come across like we lived this really hard life because we made it,” she said. “We made it work. … It was not a hardship but a lifestyle.”

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