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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Choosing Savings Over A Sofa: A Single Mom Makes Tough Choices

Unemployment is one of the most forbidding words in the English language. If you don’t have money socked away for emergencies, it doesn’t matter if you’re out of work for a year, losing a job can wreck your finances.

Meet Natalie Berquist. The Lewisville mother of two lost her job late last year. Even though she found another in less than a month, she faced homelessness and is still digging out of the financial hole.

Natalie’s story is the latest in our series One Crisis Away, a look at the one in three North Texans who have almost no financial cushion.

  Natalie Berquist, 42, has two children; a daughter in her early 20s, and a happy, tow-headed 4-year-old named Samuel.

“If I would have had him first, I probably wouldn’t have had any other kids!” Natalie jokes. “He gives me a run for my money every day. If you can jump off of it, climb it, break it, tear it up, that’s Samuel. But I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”

Natalie’s daughter, Nicole, has her own family now; they live in San Antonio. So it’s just Natalie and Samuel sharing their Lewisville apartment. It’s in a gated complex that’s new and clean, but their unit is pretty much empty.

“Even though I do have just a bed in the living room and a bed in the bedroom, to me, that is enough for us right now. You know we have a place to sleep, we have a safe place to live,” Natalie says.

She’s not exaggerating. There are only two pieces of furniture in the entire place, a little bed for Sam and a futon that mom sleeps on. No tables, no chairs, no sofa, no desk. And Natalie says that’s fine, she’d rather put her money in the bank than sink it into a living room set.

Saving money has always been difficult for Natalie, but her financial troubles boiled over late last year. She was working for a mortgage company and in early December, it was bad news for her whole division.

“The President of the company stands up and says oh, we’re letting you guys go, you’re going to get a 30 day written letter of notice and Dec. 31 is your termination date, and thank you for your employment here and don’t ask for severance,” Natalie says.

Her lease was up the same month, and with no solid leads on a new job, Natalie had to let her apartment go. Homelessness loomed.

“But I ended up, you know, staying in a hotel and then I ended up going to a shelter, and it was called Shared Housing,” she says.

Shared Housing matches people who need a room or two with folks who have them to spare. Even though Natalie bounced back from her layoff quickly, landing another job within a month, she stayed in Shared Housing for eight months.

Natalie loves her new position in customer service for a mortgage company called Nationstar. But even with steady employment, she has no wiggle room financially.

“Definitely, I don’t have any security. The security that I have will be every year when I get my income tax, but that always seems to go somewhere to something,” she says. “So basically I live paycheck to paycheck.”

Since her time in Shared Housing, Natalie says she’s learned a lot about managing money. She’d rather have a savings account than a sofa, she and Sam are drinking water instead of soda, and she’s doing all she can to be indispensable at work.

And while her apartment may be mostly open space, that just means more room for Sam to play.

Meet Natalie Berquist in this video.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.