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Rethinking family finances in a recession

  • Story Highlights
  • Upstate New York family directly affected by stock market crisis
  • Couple were heavily invested in stocks, husband works for AIG
  • Wife lost job as stock exchange trader, sister lost work at Bear Stearns
  • Family working with financial advisers, husband no longer planning early retirement
By Allan Chernoff
CNN
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HURLEY, New York (CNN) -- Kevin and Lucy Aikman are emerging from the financial scare of their lives.

The Aikmans have cut their spending and started a vegetable garden as part of their financial recovery plan.

The Aikmans have cut their spending and started a vegetable garden as part of their financial recovery plan.

The upstate New York couple have been confronting worries about their income, their investments and the possibility that the job picture could get far worse before it recovers.

Not only were the Aikmans heavily invested in the stock market last fall, but Kevin Aikman's employer, AIG, nearly collapsed. Although he is in home insurance assessments, which is considered a stable end of the business, the dual crisis -- rocking his investments and employer -- was particularly jarring.

"The first thought is fear," he said. "What about all these years I've put in hard work? All the money I invested? Is there going to be any money left at the end of the day?"

For Lucy Aikman, the financial crisis has been terrifying.

"I ended up having to go get pills because I couldn't sleep, so much anxiety," she says. Video Watch the Aikmans discuss their situation »

Lucy Aikman lost her job as a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange two years ago and hasn't worked since. Her grown daughter also lost her job, as did her sister -- who worked at Bear Stearns when it collapsed.

"Everybody is fearful, and everybody is falling like soldiers around me," Lucy Aikman says.

Just a few days before the stock market began collapsing last September, the Aikmans hired a contractor to chop down trees and excavate a pond by their home. Now, more than seven months later, it's still a hole in the ground.

The project, which cost $10,000, is on hold, and the Aikmans have chopped their spending.

The couple gave up their personal trainer and now exercise on their own. They postponed plans to build a screen porch. They don't go out to dinner as much. And they planted a vegetable garden.

"One of our biggest expenses is food," Lucy Aikman says. "It sounds strange, but we eat a lot of fresh produce, and as you know, to eat healthy, it costs money."

They've become more conservative investors with the help of financial planners Doug Flynn and Rich Zito, who reduced their exposure to stocks.

"We've taken it all the way down to ... about 15 percent stocks," says Flynn, of Flynn Zito Capital Management.

Flynn says it's wise to listen to yourself: "If you're losing sleep, you probably don't have the right portfolio, and we need to find the right portfolio for you."

To sleep better, the Aikmans bought extra insurance, and Kevin Aikman is shelving his dreams of retiring in 10 years, when he'll be 55.

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"The 401(k) just about fell in half," he says. "So when that happened, I reassessed and said, 'OK, maybe I'm going to need to put a few more years in.' "

The Aikmans realize they can't control the economic environment that is affecting everyone. But by cutting spending, boosting insurance and becoming more conservative with investments, the Aikmans feel they're controlling what they can to weather the financial storm, while still being positioned to profit as it begins to pass.

All About Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.Personal InvestingNational Economy

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