Lesley Williams
Age: 21; Tested positive: 1995; HIV counselor and consumer liaison; parent of three Houston, Texas

$500 Houston Regional HIV/AIDS Resource Group counselor, part-time consumer liaison
$500 Project SOUL peer educator
$289 food stamps
$781 rental assistance

Williams' three-bedroom house costs $850 a month, and Shelter CarePlus, a federal HOPWA program, covers all but $69. "We have no livingroom 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 themsuffer." Plus $37 for water and $22 for gas.

Medicaid covers Williams' Viracept/3TC/d4T combo, plus doc visits forWilliams and her three HIV negative sons. She gets free supplements --alphalipoic acid, acidophilus and a multi -- from Montrose, a communityclinic. Every other month she springs for a $10 box of Sudafed.

Through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, Williams getsvouchers for dairy, juice, cereal and peanut butter for her two kidsunder age 5. Vouchers from the nonprofit Stonesoup cover other basics-- meat, pasta, fruit and toiletries. Any other groceries stay withinher $289 food stamp budget. "Every other week, we treat ourselves toMcDonald's."

Williams shells out $200 monthly for a '95 Plymouth Voyager to acoworker who is "very lenient" with the payments; $109 for carinsurance and $75 to $80 for fuel. "Friends help out with the gas money-- sometimes!"

Williams' three kids do day care funded by Title IV; during the schoolyear, a local church picks her sons up from school, provides dinner andhomework help and delivers them to her door. Williams' sister, Natacha,18, "helps out a lot" by kid-sitting for love, not money.

"I have a great support system: friends, sister, job and church. Itmakes a world of difference. Best of all, my kids come home and tell methey love me."

WIRED $125
$40 for a land line and, to cut down on bills, $85 for a cell with free long-distance.

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 fromchurches and ASOs; Mom may splurge on their sneakers, but "I tend torun into women with kids who donate clothes that fit my sons." Williamsherself is secondhand Rose.

The kids swim at the Y, ride bikes in the park ("I spent $40 on alittle red wagon to pull around the youngest") and play games on adonated computer, while Williams crochets, listens to music and singsin the church choir. "Gospel keeps me sane. When I feel down, I justturn 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 eachstate sets its own criteria and income caps, call the Office of PublicAid in your state capitol to see if you qualify for a handout at thecheckout.

Peter Christie

Age: 39; Tested positive: 1995; Director of Educational Programs at Ballet West, Salt Lake City, Utah

$1,800 monthly take-home
$500 teaching at the Conservatory for Ballet West
$125 a month, freelance teaching or choreography

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."

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

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."

"I tend to save up when I see clothes that I want."

"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

$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

Franklin dishes out $150 a month for digs she got through the ChicagoHouse Service Agency. After recertification last fall, residents had topay a security deposit of $150, shredding her careful budget. "It cameout of the clear blue sky and created a huge amount of stress." Shewent on a $12.50 a month payment plan. Plus, $75 for electricity and$15 for security.

Franklin is set to start a Kaletra-based combo (doctor visits areMedicaid covered), but bouts with pneumonia keep postponing the newregimen. For now, her medicine cabinet holds antibiotics and TriCor, atriglyceride-reducer, both are of Medicaid. Plus over-the-counterallergy, nausea and pain meds; vitamins and calcium; and herbs such asgarlic capsules and golden seal, total: $39. "The state of Illinoisdoesn't cover a lot of things, period. Not just for people with AIDS."

Food stamps ($259) afford Franklin the basics (coffee, butter, milk,fresh fruit and veggies), and two free shopping bags of food per weekfrom Groceryland, a local store, are a "tremendous help." She spendsadditional cash on foods that lower her high triglycerides and ondistilled water. "I avoid microsporidiosis [a parasite] at all costs.That's what I had when I got my AIDS diagnosis."

Franklin's ride to and from medical visits is taken care of by ChicagoHouse, which supplies four half-fare bus cards a week and one cab ridea month for emergencies. She pays 90 cents a trip out-of-pocket whenshe goes out on other errands -- "I do have a life, and not everythingis medical."

A major movie buff, Franklin budgets for one video rental a week. Sheadores books, too -- free from the library. "If it's a good healthmonth, I have cable!"

Twice a week, Franklin visits her psychologist (covered by Medicare), arequirement for the past 28 years. "I can't imagine not having aprofessional, objective person to vent to and consult with." Herregimen also includes an woman-only support group: "It's sisterhood and education. The intimacy women share, there's nothing else like it."

"It's about $40 just to have the phone sitting in your house. That'swithout calling your sisters or your daughters." Franklin purchased aheadset because of neuropathy, which she'll be paying off at $13 amonth for two years.

Franklin's been too sick for the Stairmistress, but she uses computercard games as visualization therapy. As she clicks on cards and theydisappear, she imagines she's killing HIV -- she redubbed solitaire "TCell Builder."

"There's absolutely no money for clothes," so Franklin sorts throughdonations to Chicago Women's AIDS Project to meet her fashion needs.

For "personal fulfillment," Franklin created the Fu-Fu Fund, after thenickname her eldest grandchild gave her. She finds deals at dollarstores so she can dole out gifts to her grandkids. "I gotta do stuff toremind them I'm their grandmother -- for my sake!" Last summer, no. 9arrived, and Fu-Fu rang up $120 to welcome the newborn. Afterward "Ilooked 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 Foundationof Chicago, 312.922.2322, offers a free map to the Windy City's PWAmoney trail, from meals to wheels.