THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Frugal Lifestyle Enables Gillette Family to Weather Record Inflation and Gas Prices

Medical emergency forces family to cut corners

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

GILLETTE, Wyo.­–Russell and Heidi Kennedy were enjoying a comfortable life and living within their means when a medical emergency threw them off financial course.

Heidi and Russell Kennedy, of Gillette, are cutting corners to save money after a medical emergency caused Russell to lose his $60,000-per-year job. (Wyoming Truth Photo by Jennifer Kocher).

Russell, 48, a commercial truck driver, was on his way home from work in the oil field last January. Just as he passed through Wright, his vision began to tunnel until it was the size of a pinprick. Russell pulled over and called his boss, thinking his truck might have an exhaust leak.

But it turned out that Russell was having a stroke. It ended up costing him his $60,000-per-year job, and the timing could not have been worse. The couple’s combined income of $160,000 was nearly cut in half as inflation hit record highs, and overnight, they were forced to change their spending habits. To be sure, a six-figure income is plentiful for many families, but with four children between the ages of 17 to 25 still living at home, it has posed challenges for the Kennedys.   

After a three-month recovery, Russell now delivers for Pizza Hut. He works five to six nights each week and earns between $75 to $130 per shift—about half his former salary.

Added to this are Russell’s fuel costs and wear-and-tear on his 1999 pickup truck. It used to cost between $40 to $50 to fill the tank, but gas prices have doubled over the past six months. Pizza Hut reimburses him 42 cents per mile, so he comes out slightly ahead because his pickup gets about 40 miles per gallon. 

Heidi, 47, is a food blogger and owner of the “Crock Pot Ladies” website. She’s paid based on a formula of ad revenue and number of visitors to the site. Since launching the “Crock Pot Ladies” in 2011, her readership has grown to about 400,000 views per month, which equates to $100,000 per year. Prior to this gig, Heidi was a coupon blogger for 10 years, where she picked up money-saving strategies that have come in handy of late.

The family’s biggest monthly expense is their weekly grocery bill, which typically runs $300 to $400—up from $200 to $250. Even with her advanced cooking skills, Heidi said there’s no way to escape economics.

“Our biggest expense by far is meat,” she said. “Meat prices have really gone through the roof.”

In fact, according to the consumer price index, grocery prices in general jumped another 1.4 percent between June to July and are predicted to increase between 10 to 11 percent by the end of the year. Since 2021, beef prices soared 9.3 percent, pork 8.6 percent and poultry 5.1 percent.

Where boneless chicken breasts used to run around $1.99 per pound, Heidi said she’s lucky to find it cheaper than $3.50.

To navigate elevated food costs, the Kennedys purchased a Sam’s Club membership for $45 a year and now drive 141 miles one way to the closest store in Rapid City, South Dakota to shop. They routinely stock up on sale items, freeze leftovers and group errands to avoid excess miles.

They also ditched their $150 monthly cable bill and swore off soda, which has soared from a sale price of .99 for a two-liter bottle to around $4 this year. There are no vacations or splurges on personal items, such as Starbuck coffees or clothes.

Otherwise, the family is just getting by. This means that when Heidi needed four new tires on her older-model SUV, she fixed two right away and decided to hold off on the other two until she gets paid again next month.

As Russell pointed out, “We’ve always done the things you are supposed to do, and we will just continue cutting where we have to.”

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