Amy Fried said her husband's income is enough to cover the mortgage, pay the bills and keep adding to the couple's retirement and college savings accounts.

But concerns about rising health care costs have the 45-year-old suburban wife and mother of three hitting the books and taking on student loans. Fried said she is studying to earn the master's degree and professional certificate necessary to get work as a school psychologist -- ideally with a public school system that provides job security and great benefits.

"I'm terrified about health insurance all the time," she said. "It's constantly going up for us."

Fried worries because her husband is self-employed, which means the family has to buy its own insurance without any employer contribution. The medical bills add up quickly for a family with three children ages 4 to 15, one with asthma and one who has serious allergies.

As an environmental engineering consultant, Fried's husband has "lots of work" these days, earning about $75,000 a year, she said. And the family is doing fine now -- living in a four-bedroom, 11/2-bath house in Cheltenham, Pa., and buying health insurance through a national health maintenance organization.

But his self-employment means her husband could lose a major client -- and source of income -- at any time.

A public-sector job for her would alleviate some of that worry, Fried said, adding that she wouldn't want to work for private industry these days for fear of losing those crucial health benefits.

The economy, locally and statewide, "is in very bad shape," she said. "There are lots of people losing their jobs. And if they do get jobs, they're at lower pay rates or lower hours than they had previously."

She and her husband work hard to save money, she said. They drive a 10-year-old station wagon and a two-year-old Honda Accord. They spent their summer vacation in a cabin in a Pennsylvania state park. Indeed, "going to school is a splurge," she said, since it requires "putting ourselves much more in debt."

But they keep contributing to those savings accounts, investing the money in stock mutual funds "because it's a big priority," she said.

President Bush's victory, she said, left her feeling "very nervous."

"Fundamentally, this administration has had a free hand to not deal with the [federal budget] deficit at all, to not deal with job losses, to not deal with the lack of adequate wages."

-- Nell Henderson

Amy Fried, 46, of Cheltenham, Pa., watches Daniel, 12, do homework. At left are Jesse, 4, and Hannah, 15. Fried says savings are a big priority for her family, but health costs worry her.