THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Inflation Pinches Cheyenne Military Family

Couple turns to a side business to help cover the expenses of raising five kids

By Elizabeth Sampson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CHEYENNE, Wyo.—Tucked into a cozy tree-shaded cove on the beach of Cheyenne’s Sloan’s Lake, it’s almost possible to forget for a few minutes that the stress of inflation is causing Matt and Kristin Edwards to strategically stretch their thin budget.

Matt, 46, and his wife Kristin, 40, are a military family. Matt serves full time in the Wyoming Air National Guard; Kristin is a stay-at-home mom to their five children, ages 11, 10, 9 and twin 8-year-olds. (Matt also has a 20-year old child from his first marriage.) Kristin also owns Heaven’s Touch Luxury Picnics, creating themed picnics for date nights, birthdays and even marriage proposals. 

Kristin used to do party planning, and during the pandemic, some event planners offered picnics as a safer way to gather. When she saw photos of those picnics on Pinterest, she decided to give it a try.

“Because we have five children at home, I just need a little part time work,” Kristin said. “It helps me be creative and meet people, and it seemed like a perfect fit.”

It also helps pay the bills. “If she doesn’t do the picnic business,” Matt said, “the kids don’t have any activities.”

Kristin and Matt Edwards rely on Kristin’s luxury picnic business to weather the soaring cost of groceries, gas and activities for their children. (Wyoming Truth photo by Elizabeth Sampson)

The couple recently sat down to one of Kristin’s picnic spreads, as they discussed how soaring inflation has strained their family budget. It was a rare moment away from their children, who were off at camp.

Kristin launched her business in December when inflation was already kicking up.  She recognizes that not everyone can splurge on a luxury picnic, but maintains a steady stream of three to four clients a week through word of mouth and posts to over 2,000 Facebook contacts.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but have been surprised by the support and interest,” Kristin said. “If they have wiggle room in their budget, they will figure it out and make it happen. Many would eat out anyway, so for a little higher cost, they get an incredible experience, too.”

As food and supply costs increased, Kristin hiked her picnic prices from $135 to $150. Gas prices are a factor, too, as certain items are only available out of town. She drives 45 minutes to Fort Collins, Colo. to purchase bulk organic items at Costco and creative charcuterie board items at Trader Joe’s. 

“Before gas was expensive, but we would just power through,” Kristin said. “Now it is literally prohibiting us from doing things we want to do.” The Edwards have cut back on restaurant meals, date nights and visits to Colorado.

Gymnastics is important to their three daughters, and with prices rising across the board, this sport is no exception. Since July, their monthly bill has spiked $50, so Kristin has applied to work as a part-time gymnastics coach to offset the higher fees.

As they raise their children amid surging inflation, the Edwards are teaching them the importance hard work and money management. That’s both as simple as helping their 10-year-old son start a dog waste removal service–and as complicated as teaching their kids to ration snacks.

“We literally went from not caring what the kids do for snacks to, ‘Nope.  You will have this many snacks, this is where you get your snacks, and when the snacks are gone they are gone,’” Matt said.

Recently, the Edwards have come to rely even more on military resources. They moved from a rental house in Cheyenne into a slightly smaller house on base at F.E. Warren Air Force Base to stretch their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), money the military provides for housing and utilities. Matt’s monthly BAH is around $1,700, but their rent and utilities off-base were about $2,600. While the Edwards still must rent their base housing, utilities are free.

The couple is also selling plasma for extra cash. The plasma company allows them to go in twice during a seven-day period and pays them $100 per week for two successful donations.

“It takes 90 minutes or so,” said Kristin. “It helps others who depend on plasma for medical reasons. . . .”

With the Edwards children heading back to school, the family has relied on the Airman’s Attic, a free thrift store on base, for kids clothes. They also got free backpacks full of school supplies from the National Guard.

“We’ve had to find some very creative ways to handle the increase of just living,” Matt acknowledged. “We’re bumping right up against the ceiling right now to where we’re looking at each other going, ‘We might need to do something extra.’”

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