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Hiding the credit card, looking for bargains lets one family save

SOME people never leave home without ``it.'' But Christine Saunders-Fields knows where her credit card is: hidden in a drawer. ``It's too seductive to carry it around,'' she explains. Hiding the credit card, and only paying for purchases with cash, is one of the ways Ms. Saunders-Fields and her husband, John Fields, save money. Saunders-Fields estimates the family saves about 8 percent of their income before taxes. This would be almost double the national average.

But as Saunders-Fields will tell you, it's not easy. ``Some people would consider me stingy,'' she says.

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To save money on groceries, she comparison shops. ``I'll go to three different stores to save money,'' she says. If she finds a particularly good buy, she stocks up on the item. The family recently purchased their first new car at an excellent price. The reason: It was a leftover 1987 model. ``We're bargain hunters,'' she explains.

To save money on vacations, Saunders-Fields and her husband, an attorney, will often find another family to share part of the cost of renting a house. They recently vacationed in the US Virgin Islands, where they were attending a wedding. The bride had arranged hotel rooms for $25 per night and low air fares. After the wedding, the Saunders-Fieldses stayed on at the hotel for their vacation.

Along with their bargain hunting, the Saunders-Fieldses are disciplined when it comes to setting up a budget and sticking with it. Each month they pay their fixed expenses: rent, payment for student loans, telephone bills, and parking garage bills. They then both take a weekly allowance for discretionary spending. Mr. Fields gets $100 allowance per week, while Saunders-Fields, a psychologist who works twice a week, receives $50. If they run out of money before the next paycheck, she says, ``we just do without.''

Their savings goal is relatively modest: They want to save enough money to send their two-year-old daughter, Aurora, to private school. It's one thing they realize won't come cheap in New York.