Homeowners are snapping up suggestions to cope with the economy. In a spirit of helpfulness -- and with a penchant for dishing out unsolicited advice -- here is THE HOME REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE PLAN that is working (almost) for us.

All that's needed is a pair of devious parents (or a double-devious single parent), one college-age kid and a little creative coercion. Here is how it works.

Parents are aware that colleges offer now (in addition to tuition rates that are rising like the tide in the Bay of Fundy) a chopped-up school year with a bewildering assortment of semesters, trimesters, minimesters, work breaks, semesters abroad, etc. (All designed, of course, to give a kid a chance to take a leisurely five or six years to acquire a bachelors degree.)

Now don't fight this, folks. Learn to work with it. When your college person arrives home for an unspecified period, seize the offensive and declare a "Work Break." Yes, you will meet with some initial resistance; here is where the creative coercion comes in.

Use your own style and imagination, but here are a few bargaining points that worked for us:

"Your mother would clean out the roof gutters, but with her fainting spells and fear of heights . . ." "Your father's back is much better, but he really shouldn't be climbing ladders with those heavy paint buckets . . ." and finally, and most effective, "Do you plan to eat next semester?"

Although some of this is painful to recall, I have decided to share with you our initial experience with THE PLAN--where we succeeded and where we went wrong.

In the beginning, we encountered a tad of that "initial resistance" referred to above. Our son, it seems, had wanted to think of this particular period as a "Florida Break." With parental patience and wisdom and a winning way with words ("Things are tough all over, Buster), we were able to pursuade him that Florida would have to wait and that the "crummy hourly wage" (his words) would be compensated for by the joyous proximity to a free food and beverage supply.

Also included in the contract was the right to choose his own working hours -- provided they numbered 8 a day and fell between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (This became known as the 8-8-8 proviso.) From this point the negotiations proceeded without a hitch.

The very first day the contract was in effect, yours truly arrived home with the anxious feeling that there was something we had failed to include in our labor agreement. This vague unease increased as I approached the front door and realized that the entire house was pulsing and throbbing like the engine room on the QE2. So help me Leonard Woodcock, we had forgotten to negotiate a stereo clause!

Now this was a totally unforgivable oversight on the part of experienced parental negotiators. When I say experienced, I'm talking about parents whose exposure to "youth music" pre-dates Early Elvis. To improvise on a song by Paul Simon:

We've been Mick Jaggered, Grateful Deaded

Joni Mitchelled and Zeppelin Leaded

Beatled, Dylaned, Joan Baezed

But managed to come out un-faezed

Because of one unbreakable rule (and here we borrow from Muhammad Ali):

Play it loud, with your crowd

When we're around, cool the sound.

With a lot of older siblings, our youngest offspring has acquired (in addition to an eclectic taste in music) a degree of electronic sophistication. Not satisfied with the sound from our old stereo (which-for-cripe's-sake-doesn't-even-have-a-tape-deck), he had augmented its output with a couple of gigantic speakers (abandoned in the attic by an older brother). So we are now talking BIG sound: BIG DOLBY WRAP-AROUND STEREO SOUND. Formidable.

So I pushed my way through a pounding sound-sea of Mick Jagger's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and after locating our painter-in-residence, I signaled with graphic mouthings and gestures that he "diminish the volume somewhat." He complied, but shortly thereafter the paint brushes were hung up for the day. The stereo was off and the message from our contractee was crystal clear. "It is not written into the contract that I can't have 'Loud Music to Paint By.' "

I took a look at his day's accomplishments. They looked Pretty good. I thought about the minimum wage. He was working pretty cheap. Did I want to take this back to the bargaining table? No.

The job progressed nicely. The joint was jumpin', but the neighbors never complained. I found lots of errands to run during the day.

One day I arrived home to freshly painted rooms and the sound of silence (which reminded me of a song I heard once). The "Work Break" ended and our painter headed back to school where his "Loud Music to Paint By" became "Loud Music to Study By."

So there you have it: THE PLAN. Feel free to use it, but in the heat of your bargaining sessions, don't forget the stereo clause.