Age: 21; Tested positive: 1995; HIV counselor and consumer liaison; parent of three Houston, Texas
MONTHLY INCOME $2,070
$500 Houston Regional HIV/AIDS Resource Group counselor, part-time consumer liaison
$500 Project SOUL peer educator
$289 food stamps
$781 rental assistance
GIMME SHELTER $1,084
Williams' three-bedroom house costs $850 a month, and Shelter Care
Plus, a federal HOPWA program, covers all but $69. "We have no living
room furniture, though, not even a couch." Her electricity averages
$175 because she has to use the A/C full blast during the Texas summer.
"August is so hot. I have small children, and I'm not going to let them
suffer." Plus $37 for water and $22 for gas.
PILLS & BILLS $5
Medicaid covers Williams' Viracept/3TC/d4T combo, plus doc visits for
Williams and her three HIV negative sons. She gets free supplements --
alphalipoic acid, acidophilus and a multi -- from Montrose, a community
clinic. Every other month she springs for a $10 box of Sudafed.
DAILY BREAD $289
Through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, Williams gets
vouchers for dairy, juice, cereal and peanut butter for her two kids
under age 5. Vouchers from the nonprofit Stonesoup cover other basics
-- meat, pasta, fruit and toiletries. Any other groceries stay within
her $289 food stamp budget. "Every other week, we treat ourselves to
GOING RATE $389
Williams shells out $200 monthly for a '95 Plymouth Voyager to a
coworker who is "very lenient" with the payments; $109 for car
insurance and $75 to $80 for fuel. "Friends help out with the gas money
KIDDIE COSTS $0
Williams' three kids do day care funded by Title IV; during the school
year, a local church picks her sons up from school, provides dinner and
homework help and delivers them to her door. Williams' sister, Natacha,
18, "helps out a lot" by kid-sitting for love, not money.
HEAD CHECK $0
"I have a great support system: friends, sister, job and church. It
makes a world of difference. Best of all, my kids come home and tell me
they love me."
$40 for a land line and, to cut down on bills, $85 for a cell with free long-distance.
THREAD COUNT $133
The baby uses two packs of diapers, $34; two packs of baby wipes, $5;
and two packs of pull-ups, $40, monthly. Williams' tip? "Buy in bulk."
As for dressing the boys, "I pray on it!" They get school stuff from
churches and ASOs; Mom may splurge on their sneakers, but "I tend to
run into women with kids who donate clothes that fit my sons." Williams
herself is secondhand Rose.
R&R REWARDS $45
The kids swim at the Y, ride bikes in the park ("I spent $40 on a
little red wagon to pull around the youngest") and play games on a
donated computer, while Williams crochets, listens to music and sings
in the church choir. "Gospel keeps me sane. When I feel down, I just
turn on Yolanda Adams." She occasionally splurges on a game of pool, at
$6 an hour.
TIP: To correct the popular misperception once and for all:
People earning regular wages can qualify for food stamps. Since each
state sets its own criteria and income caps, call the Office of Public
Aid in your state capitol to see if you qualify for a handout at the
Age: 39; Tested positive: 1995; Director of Educational Programs at Ballet West, Salt Lake City, Utah
MONTHLY INCOME $2,425
$1,800 monthly take-home
$500 teaching at the Conservatory for Ballet West
$125 a month, freelance teaching or choreography
GIMME SHELTER $463
Christie splits the $750-per-month cost of his duplex with his partner of five years, and spends $38 a month on electricity and $50 on heat. As for security, "We're in Utah -- a lock on the door and that's it."
PILLS & BILLS $110
Blue Cross/Blue Shield (from work) covers all but a $15 co-pay per doctor visit, a $15 co-pay for quarterly lab work and a monthly $60 co-pay for Christie's d4T/Viracept/Ziagen combo; Diflucan for thrush; prophylactic acyclovir; and Claritan to stave off allergies. He gets free dental checkups through a Value Care package from work. His annual visit to the optometrist costs $100, plus $260 every two years for contacts. And he spends about $20 for sundries like dry-skin lotion and Advil: "I go to Costco and get a big bottle that lasts a couple of months." He also takes advantage of a Cafeteria Plan at work, which allows him to pay for prescription meds with pretaxed income.
GOING RATE $510
Christie drives to and from work in a leased car, which sets him back $380 a month, plus $110 for insurance and $80 for gas.
DAILY BREAD $525
Christie's usually too busy to cook, so he forks out $400 a month at restaurants -- "Sometimes you hit Panda Express, and next you go to the Four Seasons" -- and splits $250 a month on groceries with his partner. "My biggest vice is breakfast cereals: Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms. Since I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, I need something."
HEAD CHECK $130
Christie keeps his sanity by laying down $30 to $35 a week in impulse buys -- anything that catches his fancy, from CDs to kaleidoscopes. "I probably should see a therapist, but I don't."
CIRCUIT CUT $90
Christie is a regular on the information highway, spending $30 on a home phone, $40 on a cell, and $20 for an e-mail account each month.
STRETCHING DOLLARS $0
His membership at the local Anatomy Academy gym is one of the "little perks" of working at Ballet West. "With this job, I really got lucky."
THREAD COUNT $220
"I tend to save up when I see clothes that I want."
R&R REWARDS $375
"Who has time for that?" Peter spends about $30 a week unwinding after work, usually by going to the movies or charity events. At home, he splits a $75 cable bill with his partner and rents the occasional video. Plus, "When you're working in the arts, you know people here and there. You attend things for free that are work related." Every few months, he ventures outside of Utah. "I try to tie travel into work. Though sometimes I take a real vacation." He reserves $200 to $300 for each trip. "Budget? What's that?!" he says with a laugh. "You give yourself the freedom, but it doesn't mean you have to spend every last cent."
TIP: If you have private insurance, but, unlike Christie, are fighting over access to specialists or other benefits, learn your rights under consumer-protection laws. The Public Policy and Education Fund of New York publishes The Consumers' Guide to New York's Managed Care Bill of Rights, which is full of useful information, and free, at 800.636.2455 ext. 121.
Waver Lynn Franklin
Age: 45; Tested positive: 1988; Diagnosed with AIDS: 1996; Parent of three, grandparent of nine, Chicago, Illinois
MONTHLY INCOME $871
$532 SSI (Supplementary Security Income) plus SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)
$259 food stamps
$80 public speaking, writing for local newspapers and preparing training programs
GIMME SHELTER $252.50
Franklin dishes out $150 a month for digs she got through the Chicago
House Service Agency. After recertification last fall, residents had to
pay a security deposit of $150, shredding her careful budget. "It came
out of the clear blue sky and created a huge amount of stress." She
went on a $12.50 a month payment plan. Plus, $75 for electricity and
$15 for security.
PILLS & BILLS $39
Franklin is set to start a Kaletra-based combo (doctor visits are
Medicaid covered), but bouts with pneumonia keep postponing the new
regimen. For now, her medicine cabinet holds antibiotics and TriCor, a
triglyceride-reducer, both are of Medicaid. Plus over-the-counter
allergy, nausea and pain meds; vitamins and calcium; and herbs such as
garlic capsules and golden seal, total: $39. "The state of Illinois
doesn't cover a lot of things, period. Not just for people with AIDS."
DAILY BREAD $382
Food stamps ($259) afford Franklin the basics (coffee, butter, milk,
fresh fruit and veggies), and two free shopping bags of food per week
from Groceryland, a local store, are a "tremendous help." She spends
additional cash on foods that lower her high triglycerides and on
distilled water. "I avoid microsporidiosis [a parasite] at all costs.
That's what I had when I got my AIDS diagnosis."
GOING RATE $18
Franklin's ride to and from medical visits is taken care of by Chicago
House, which supplies four half-fare bus cards a week and one cab ride
a month for emergencies. She pays 90 cents a trip out-of-pocket when
she goes out on other errands -- "I do have a life, and not everything
R&R REWARDS $18
A major movie buff, Franklin budgets for one video rental a week. She
adores books, too -- free from the library. "If it's a good health
month, I have cable!"
HEAD CHECK $0
Twice a week, Franklin visits her psychologist (covered by Medicare), a
requirement for the past 28 years. "I can't imagine not having a
professional, objective person to vent to and consult with." Her
regimen also includes an woman-only support group: "It's sisterhood and education. The intimacy women share, there's nothing else like it."
CIRCUIT CUT $133
"It's about $40 just to have the phone sitting in your house. That's
without calling your sisters or your daughters." Franklin purchased a
headset because of neuropathy, which she'll be paying off at $13 a
month for two years.
STRETCHING DOLLARS $0
Franklin's been too sick for the Stairmistress, but she uses computer
card games as visualization therapy. As she clicks on cards and they
disappear, she imagines she's killing HIV -- she redubbed solitaire "T
THREAD COUNT $0
"There's absolutely no money for clothes," so Franklin sorts through
donations to Chicago Women's AIDS Project to meet her fashion needs.
THE FU-FU FUND $28
For "personal fulfillment," Franklin created the Fu-Fu Fund, after the
nickname her eldest grandchild gave her. She finds deals at dollar
stores so she can dole out gifts to her grandkids. "I gotta do stuff to
remind them I'm their grandmother -- for my sake!" Last summer, no. 9
arrived, and Fu-Fu rang up $120 to welcome the newborn. Afterward "I
looked for some work."
TIP: To tap into services that may better your bottom line,
ask your friendly ASO for a local resource guide. The AIDS Foundation
of Chicago, 312.922.2322, offers a free map to the Windy City's PWA
money trail, from meals to wheels.