Taking Flight

“I had to step up and provide,” says Marcel Knox, who is no stranger to sacrifice. And that’s no small feat for the father of a blended family of six children ranging in age from 4 to 20 years old.

Marcel, 45, and his wife, Judith, 38, pay $980 a month for their two-bedroom, Yonkers, New York, apartment in which they live with their three children. In addition, Marcel also helps financially support three children from a previous relationship.

Taking care of a big family hasn’t been easy. “I’m a super penny-pincher,” Marcel says. You won’t find this crew regularly dining at restaurants. Instead, you might find Marcel buying in bulk at Costco, or Judith shopping at the supermarket with coupons in hand. A daily money-saver is a brown bag lunch for everyone. Marcel and Judith are also more likely to have a quiet evening at home than go out to a party. “Frivolity is history,” Marcel says.

Marcel earns $82,000 as an associate project manager with MTA New York City Transit. Judith worked on Wall Street until she became pregnant with their 6-year-old daughter. During her time as a stay-at-home mom, Judith received her nursing degree, and late last year she began earning $65,000 working as a registered nurse.

Her salary couldn’t have come soon enough. Some of the family’s financial burdens are lifting now that there are two incomes. But it hasn’t all been easy. “It’s stressful taking care of the three kids, getting them ready for school, [helping with] homework, making dinner, and taking them to activities now that I’m working full time,” Judith says.

Financially, it’s time to play catch-up. Although Marcel will be eligible for a pension through a defined benefit plan, he doesn’t have any retirement savings — he says his income had to go toward running the household. Upon retirement, he’ll be eligible for an annual payment of 2% of his final average salary multiplied by his years of service, up to 30 years. With Judith working, Marcel wants to eventually contribute 12% of his salary to the company’s retirement plan, but for now he’ll settle for socking away whatever he can. The Knoxes have $28,000 in a money market account, $9,000 in a checking account, and $3,000 in a brokerage account. Judith has $30,000 in student loan debt.

Fortunately, over the past decade, Marcel managed to pay off $15,000 in student loans and $5,000 in credit card debt. He and Judith decided to give up credit cards three years ago so that they could keep their debt under control. Marcel doesn’t have life insurance because he wanted to be conservative with spending, but he does have disability coverage from his employer. Judith has $50,000 in life insurance.

What’s the couple’s most immediate concern? “Saving to buy a house,” Judith quickly answers. “Our 12-year-old son needs a room of his own,” Marcel adds. However, Yonkers may not be where the family finds its future home. They want to purchase a three- to four-bedroom house in the $350,000 to $400,000 range,