Author Topic: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up  (Read 6184 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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First, let me apologize. This post is really, really long. Once I started writing it, I sort of just unloaded everything, I suppose. Kinda hard to see this in black and white, but for anyone who wades through my mess and offers any suggestions, I offer my sincere thanks.

I am an extreme late-comer to the idea of FIRE. In fact, I really should drop the RE because if I can get my finances in order and turn things around, by the time I can achieve FI there wonít be anything early about it. Still, it will be quite an achievement, given at my current rate Iíll simply have to work till I die (assuming I can live until 80), and thatís no good.

Quick background: I have five children, and for most of the years we were raising them, my annual income was between $25,000 and $35,000, and I was the sole breadwinner in the house, so it was a tough row to hoe at times. Not to sound like too much of a whinny pants, but there were periods when I was working a second job, and doing freelance writing on the side, just to pay the bills. The idea of saving money was simply not a serious option. For many of those years, we werenít just living paycheck to paycheck, we were living today off of next weekís paycheck, or the one after that, getting further and further behind.

Now as an old geezer, as I look back over the years, I definitely see Bozo moves I made, times when I wished someone had punched me in the face and said WAKE THE HELL UP. My income has been higher these past ten years, and if I'd been wiser and used a little common sense I could have something set aside now. When I think of what I have wasted, I could kick myself in the patootie, if my hips swiveled that far and my knees were double-jointed. Guess Iíll just have to settle for self-face punching. But, the past is the past, and the only thing I can affect is the future, so I'm trying to make some changes

Having said all that, hereís where Iím at:

54, married, with three kids still at home Ė two of them are working part time and attending community college, the third is still in high school. My wife is 51.
Filing jointly, with three dependents, live in Virginia.

Gross salary

Me: $54,900 (paid twice a month, on the 15th and 30th -- 4,582 per month gross) I've been on the job for 10 years, though we've gone through five CEOs and now three ownership changes, the latest one being last month.

Wife: $41,000 (She just started work in August as a teacher, so this is new for us. Sheís paid once a month, on the 30th. Gross 3,150. Assuming her contract is renewed, next year Ė September Ė that will rise because sheís on a 13-month pay plan, then sheíll switch to a 12-month plan).

My Deductions (in addition to taxes):  $150 a month for HSA (starts in January, no money in there at present)

$95 a month for health insurance
$15 a month for $50,000 in term life insurance
$6 a month for vision insurance

I haven't participated in our company's 401(k). There is no match, other than a "discretionary" match the company might make if it hits some undefined financial goals based on some mystery monetary performances for each of our locations. This company just bought us, so I have no history with it, but I know it has not done an end-of-year 401 (k) match for each of the past three years.

Net pay $3,600 a month

Wifeís deductions (in addition to taxes)

$200 a month family insurance policy (her and the kids, not me)
$28 a month family dental policy (her and the kids, not me)
$15 a month family vision policy (her and the kids, not me)
$157 a month retirement (mandatory. Her employer puts in another $63 per month, or the equivalent of 2 percent of her salary. She could add another 4 percent of her salary, or $126, and they would match that on a 50-percent basis, or another $63)

At present, she does not put money in her HSA, her employer put $1,600 in it at the start of the school year.

Her total monthly net is 2,297

OUR Total month net = 5,897

I do have a side hustle of sorts Ė I'm a writer, and publish short stories, novellas and novels (I can't do freelance non-fiction because I'm a newspaper editor and, in our company, that's a no-no). I've been doing the side hustle off and on for a little over three years, and at one time I was making $4K to $5K a month. No more. The genre/field I wrote in has just about dried up, so I'm pulling in $200 a month now, mostly as passive income from my old work. I haven't done anything new in a while Ė just didn't see the point of working nights, weekends, only to see the money spent as fast as I could get it deposited in my bank account. If I were to give it a really hard go, I might get that back to $1,000 or so a month Ė maybe more if lightning strikes a second time.

Assets and debts

Assets: This will be easy, because there ainít many.

At the end of the month, weíll have about $400 in cash.

$1,700 worth of stock in a small utility that Iíve had for years.  Dividends work out to a 2.95 percent yield at present, and I just let those buy more stock.

$2,000 from the side hustle due to me I should get about $1,200 of that toward the end of January, the rest at the end of February

Thatís about it.

Total assets -- $4,100 (counting the money due to me, but not yet in my hands)


Credit Card 1 -- $5,000
Credit Card 2 -- $4.800
Credit Card 3 -- $480

Medical Bills for me Ė $4,400. Half of this is on a medical credit card charging 6 percent interest, the rest are spread among several providers. We have not yet entered into repayment agreements with the other providers, so no monthly expense yet to budget.

Medical Bills for my wife -- $5,000. Weíre getting ready to put this on a medical credit card thatís interest free for 90 days, then 6 percent. As of this moment, we have not gotten the card and are not paying, so no monthly expense yet to budget, but I suspect itís going to be around $150.

Dental Bill -- $1,000

Auto loan -- $7,800.

Wifeís student loan Ė this is about $20,000. Not an immediate concern, because sheís in a deferral program that allows her to pay $20 a month. That might be adjusted upward in the summer, however, since her new teaching job will make us ineligible for this lowest level of relief. However, because she teaches in a rural, low-income area, she will most likely be eligible for $17,500 in forgiveness, but only after 5 years of teaching.

Total debts: $45,980

Monthly expenses: Some are fixed, some obviously vary month to month, Iíve used the recent average in those cases

Rent Ė 800
Electric bill Ė 240
Water bill 70
Internet 85
Car loan 290
Phone net cost Ė 225 (This will drop by $100 after March Ė my wife financed a phone for herself and my youngest child for two years as part of this plan. Itís a family plan, $40 per phone for unlimited everything, and we have 6 people on it Ė this is our share of the cost for myself, my wife, and my youngest. The other three pay their own portions. I will add, itís Verizon, and itís the only cell service weíve found that actually works where we live.)
Car insuranceó170 (Net cost. Itís actually higher, with 3 of my kids on the policy with their own vehicles, but they pay their portion)
Credit Card 1 -- $160
Credit Card 2 -- $130
Credit Card 3 Ė $30 (no interest charges on this card yet)
Medical credit card for me -- $64
Life insurance Ė $23
Dentist --$50
Student Loan -- $20
Daughter's trip -- $136  (this is a Costa Rica trip she's taking in the summer as part of a honors school thing. We've been paying this for 18 months and have another five months left. Too late to get out now)
Entertainment (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) $30
Fitness -- $100
Heat -- $110, but only through the end of March. Afterward that disappears until next November.
Gasoline -- $400 (varies a bit, but that's the high end. It's so high because of our commutes Ė my wife drives 40 minutes North to work, I drive 25 minutes South. Like I said, we live in a RURAL area.)

Total 3,133

Okay, I know those expense figures are outrageously high, but even with those, I should have a clear 2,800 in the clear, right? We should easily be able to do the grocery thing and still save some money, right?

Well, I got hooked up with YNAB a couple of months ago and used it primarily to track expenses for a couple of months, here's where most of the rest went

Groceries Ė $1,550 (ye gods, how do we eat that much?)
Eating out -- $300 (crazy)
Misc/throw-away -- $550 (nearly as bad as the $1,500 grocery bill)

For a grand monthly total of around $5,533.

Throw in a few auto repairs, birthday presents, and we're spending more than we make.

I'll pause here to allow you all to line up and punch me in the face

Okay, done? Well, for now, anyway. There will be additional face-punching sessions in the lobby after the show.

Clearly, we need to cut a third of that grocery budget, maybe more. And quit with the eating out and most of the misc/throw-away money. To be honest, those last two are mostly my wife, and one challenge will be getting her to buy-in, to do the budgeting and pursue some goals. That is what it is. Let's assume for this exercise, any advice you can give, that she is on board and working right alongside me

Beyond cutting the groceries and the misc/throw-away money, what should I be doing? Aggressively attack debt? Saving for a home down payment (I really want a home)? Putting money into 401(k)? Should my wife raise her retirement deduction to the max (I really want to retire with some semblance of financial security, eventually, one day)? Wouldn't putting money away for retirement hurt out chance to save for a down payment? Should I be saving money in a regular, easily-accessible account first as an emergency stash? Should I just spend my extra money on lottery tickets and hope for the best? Play the ponies?
Any and ALL advice, ideas, most appreciated. I will do my best to answer any additional questions you may have.

Thank you in advance for the help and the face punches.
« Last Edit: December 22, 2017, 12:08:00 AM by MegaLateBloomer »


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2017, 09:24:52 PM »
Here are a few thoughts I had reading through your post:

My husband and I were in a very similar situation a year ago with lots of smal debts and a budget out of whack. I would work on attacking the debt, and I would start with the small $480 credit card. To me, thereís something about seeing progress and being able to snowball the payments into other debt that helps build momentum. The rest of your debts are a similar size, so work on the ones that make the most sense next (highest interest, highest payment, whatever makes you feel like youíre accomplishing something).

It seems like you will have some extra cash flow in a few months after your trip and cell phones are paid off. Throw that onto the debt pile as well.

Your grocery spend is insane. Put those kids to work making home cooked meals if you and your wife have long commutes and full time jobs. With 5 adults in the house, you should all be able to figure out a way to get that down by at least half. You got this! Same with misc expenses. We just put a monthly cap of what we let seep out. Itís amazing how much you start questioning random purchases once you only have a small amount to spend.

Your car insurance also seems high. We pay about $57 a month for car insurance for two cars (one full coverage, one liability) and we switch companies every couple of years because every 6 months our bill magically goes up just a little bit. We switch companies and it magically goes back down.

Your utilities are up there as well. With 5 people in the house, it makes a little sense, but are you sure thereís not something you can do to help reduce those? We unplug all of our appliances and electronics (not the fridge or oven), keep the thermostat down low/up high to keep the heater and ac off, and Iím fanatical about turning off lights.

As for the house down payment, youíre 54. If you pull out a 30 year mortgage, you will be paying on that until you reach the average life expectancy age, and you will lose some flexibility with renting. Youíre also saving up for a down payment and taking money away from retirement savings. I guess I donít really see a lot of positives for owning a house in your current situation.

On a side note, my parents made us start paying rent when we turned 18. It was only like $100, but it helped them with bills and gave us kids some responsibility and an understanding that things arenít  just free in life.

Thereís a lot of people on here that give great advice. This is my two cents at least. :)


  • Bristles
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2017, 10:14:57 PM »
So excluding the student loan, you have $25,000 in debt. Boy, that extra thousand a month from writing that you think you can get to would knock that all out in 2 years just by itself. Plus some belt tightening in the area of food, and you might be able to be consumer debt free in under 2. If you are burned out from the writing, you and the wife can try a new side hustle but I donít know what that looks like. Once you have passed that debt, i would take all the extra money and max out the HSA and probably increase my term life insurance to at least $200,000. I would do the HSA first because a medical emergency would hurt you guys a lot, and if you use it for medical down the road then itís tax free in, tax free out.  Then I would start the process of adding as much to 401ks and IRAs as possible. If I were you I would go with traditional, not Roth since you can really really use the tax break right now.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2017, 10:54:34 PM »
For many, Investment Order is applicable.  How well do you think it applies in your situation?

And yes, $18K/yr on "groceries" should be reducible with just a little effort.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2017, 06:49:10 AM »
Thanks for sharing, you will get lots of great feedback here.

I also read, which is a frugal living/FIRE blog. She is doing a free uber frugal month challenge in January. I might consider doing this as a family with a goal of knocking out a couple of those credit cards and appreciating what is and isn't discretionary spending. Since it is just a month it is a bit less intimidating than trying to change habits forever and you get a lot of support and encouragement from other folks.


  • Stubble
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2017, 07:05:55 AM »
In addition to the debt repayment mentioned above, I would target these two expenses:

1. Cell Phone: Look at using RedPocket or a similar Verizon reseller ( ). I just switched to them and use it with AT&T. It is pretty cool that they will send you a sim card for each network (TMobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon) and you choose which one to activate. Instead of financing phones in the future, look to buy Moto E or G models that work on all networks. These should cost between $90 to $200.

2. Electric bill: $240! I assume this is due to excessive use of air conditioning since you list heating as a separate line item. Get a programmable thermostat or simply turn the system off when no one is home. As an example, allow the temperature to drop after 10PM when everyone should be in bed to save on heating costs. Also, begin raising/lowering the temperature 1 degree stretch your comfort zone. Don't be the guy who keeps the thermostat locked on 70 all year round.


  • Stubble
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2017, 07:12:55 AM »
Could you elaborate more on your medical bills and the "medical credit cards"?

I've never been charged interest on ANY medical bills, ever. 
You should be able to just call the medical provider and tell them you want to be set up on an interest free payment plan.

Additionally, if any of these charges are from a hospital, they should immediately reduce your bill by 30%-50% if you offer to pay it in full.

Miss Piggy

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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2017, 08:14:30 AM »
Could you elaborate more on your medical bills and the "medical credit cards"?

I've never been charged interest on ANY medical bills, ever. 
You should be able to just call the medical provider and tell them you want to be set up on an interest free payment plan.

Additionally, if any of these charges are from a hospital, they should immediately reduce your bill by 30%-50% if you offer to pay it in full.

Excellent points.

I've never heard of a "medical credit card." What is it?


  • Stubble
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2017, 08:36:25 AM »
Oh man, I feel for you.  You remind me of myself, but on a much larger scale.  (I don't have kids or a spouse, but have certainly been up to my eyeballs in debt.)  You can absolutely dig yourself out of this. 

The very first things I would do would be:

1.) Up your wife's retirement contributions so she's getting all the free money from her employer that she can.
2.) Kill your credit card debt. 
3.) Reduce your grocery bill.

Then I would establish a small e-fund and start paying off the rest of that debt, unless your interest rates are really low. 

I hope you continue to post and/or start a journal.  You'll find a lot of cheerleaders here and you're a good writer.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2017, 08:41:48 AM »
The good news is that kids moving out and your wife's new job will give you the opportunity to make a lot of progress very quickly.  The bad news is that it's going to take a completely different mindset.  You are used to buying what you want first and figuring out how to pay for it later, and using any new money to buy more stuff.  Why do I think that?  Because you just now boosted your income by 75% -- and yet you still somehow have only $400/mo. left over.

If I knock out your debt repayments and such, it looks like your current spending rate runs about $60K/yr.  That means that you will need about $1.5M saved to retire at that lifestyle.  That doesn't include any SS, but it also doesn't include the house you want.  That is clearly unachievable at your age, income, and spending level.  The good news is that any cuts you can make to your spending will have a double impact:  they will free up more money to save, and at the same time decrease the size of the 'stache you need.  If you can cut your spending to $3K/mo instead of $5K/mo, for example, you need only $900K to live at that level forever (again without even considering SS -- $1K/mo. SS would bring that down to $600K) -- and you'd have an extra $2K/mo to put toward that goal.  It's a double-whammy of the good kind.

So, some more concrete suggestions:

On the debt:  list all your debts with the highest interest rates first.  Pay the minimums on all of those debts every month.  Then throw every extra penny at the highest-rate debt until it's gone.  Once that is paid off, take all the money you were throwing at that debt and add it to the next-highest-rate debt.  Yes, some people prefer to pay off the smallest debt first, for the psychological boost.  That will cost you money.  With your age/savings/debt, you can't afford to give away that extra money.  Go by the math.

On the savings:  Your wife should contribute to her 401(k) up to the match.  Beyond that, you should focus on the debt first because some of it is CC debt, which will be at a high interest rate, and because you don't appear to have any kind of match at work.  Once you get the higher-interest debt paid off, you will want to begin to throw the extra into your tax-sheltered retirement vehicles (IRA, 401(k), 403(b)).  See the investment order sticky MDM posted for an explanation of at which point you make that change.

On the income:  You need as much as you can to get out of the hole you have dug.  If you have made significant money in the past with fiction writing, get back to it, figure out how to change things up to use your talents to bring in more cash.  Maybe the specific genre has died -- ok.  Is your sole talent writing in a specific genre?  Given that you make your living as an editor, I suspect not.  Good writing is good writing.  Get out of your rut and go use your skills for good instead of evil -- find some other genre or some other format that people will pay money to read.

On the budget:  OK, this is going to hurt.  At the 30,000-foot level, you are prioritizing immediate consumption over your future wellbeing.  You are working your ass off so that Current You can have a phone and a $20K car and your daughter can go on a fancy trip and you can blow $2400/month on "food" and "stuff."  How much of that is meaningful?  When you are 65 and still working, will you be happy you blew that cash, or regret that it isn't now 2-3x its value in your bank account?  Quick quiz:  think back to 2007:  what did you spend money on that year that you even remember now?  Did you have an awesome family vacation, or some dinner that you will remember for the rest of your life?  Or did it just disappear into the endless churn of groceries and Target and Home Depot and Amazon? 

The way you change your path is to give Future You a place at the table.  Every $200 you drop in Target on meaningless plastic crap is $500 or $1000 or $2000 less Future you is going to have available for food or medical care, so he needs some input into that decision before the money disappears.  Specifically:

1.  What is a "family" life insurance plan?  If it is whole life, or life insurance on the kids, drop it, immediately.  You need sufficient term life insurance so your wife isn't destitute if you die, and you aren't destitute if she dies.  Luckily, since your kids are older and you both now have jobs, that number is going to be a lot smaller than it used to be.  Do the math, figure out how much that is, and cut everything else.

2.  You cannot afford $20K in cars that involve $7800 in debt and cost $400 in gas and $170 in insurance.  That's $850/mo, before you even account for maintenance!!  Since you cannot avoid long commutes, you need small, fuel-efficient econoboxes that are so cheap that you can drop the comprehensive coverage and keep only liability. 

3.  You cannot afford multiple phones and fancy internet.  Shop around for phone and internet deals -- there are many links here about cheaper providers.  And your grown-ass kids can pay their own freight for these "necessities." 

4.  The $2400/mo in food/stuff is so self-evident I don't even need to waste time.  Corral those grown-ass kids into helping you shop efficiently and prep and make cheap, homemade meals.

5.  I will give you Netflix, assuming that your internet costs don't include cable.  But you need to drop Amazon Prime and anything else that is hidden in that $30/mo.  You aren't going to be shopping enough to justify it anyway.

6.  What's "fitness"?  How about running/walking, basic at-home weightlifting, exercise DVDs, yoga, and the like?  Keeping fit is important for your health, yes; but spending $100/mo. that you don't have to do it is a luxury when there is a whole big world of hiking and biking and other stuff that will get you there just as effectively (if not moreso).

Etc.  The fundamental point is that you need to question your assumptions about what is really a "need."  At your combined income, you should at a minimum be maxing out your 401(k)s -- if not more, given your very late start.  You can still do this, but you need to re-think everything and whack that budget with a machete until you have a lot more breathing room that you can devote to your debt and future savings.

Oh:  and you can think about a house once the consumer/medical debt is gone and you are maxing out your 401(k)s.  :-)


  • Bristles
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #10 on: December 22, 2017, 10:47:37 AM »
I would also like to add something about the House dream. You canít afford it, so donít bother saving for a down payment until your debt is gone. Letís say it takes 2 years. If after that point you are itching to buy it, a house in a rural area is not likely to appreciate in value more than the same amount of money in index funds. And it kills your flexibility. I am kind of assuming you guys will have your eyes on a nice, big, new house after feeling Like you finally have some money and after all you ďdeserveĒ something nice. Not trying to be a bully but itís just a feeling i get. Around age 60 and 70 people start selling their house to downsize because the kids are gone,, or because they canít do stairs, or because they want to move to a warm climate, or because they canít manage alone and are moving in with kids, or closer to grandkids, etc. I think you should wait at least 10 years before purchasing because it likely wonít be a great investment and your needs only 10 years in the future will look much different than right now. It would be another case of buying for todayís wants rather than future needs.
« Last Edit: December 22, 2017, 10:55:49 AM by Apple_Tango »


  • Stubble
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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2017, 11:13:56 AM »
The good news is you are on the right track with making changes, your debt is not outrageous, and you have two good salaries to work with!

First, I would definitely recommend contributing the 4% to your wifeís HSA, to get that additional match.  Unfortunately, no matching on the 401k so I would suggest focusing on building an emergency fund and paying of debt first.

I have never used YNAB, but I find having an Excel spreadsheet incredibly helpful - it makes me think about every purchase since I need to enter everything manually (at least twice a month).  Your misc/throw away category needs to be broken down in the future so you know exactly where the money went.  Do you need the fitness $100?  Can you search around for different car insurance Ė it does seem very high for Virginia (my parents live there and theirs is dirt cheap compared to mine in New Jersey!)  All necessary costs should be optimized as best as possible. 

Also, I would suggest making a budget plan for 2018 (perfect timing!) Ė This could include your projected income, what you want to spend in various categories (rent, utilities, phone, groceries, gas, insurance, etc.) per month and per year with totals.  I usually keep a running list of wants, needs, and future planned purchases with their costs so I know what to save up for.  Itís important to know the difference between a want and a need, not to deprive yourself but to make sure your spending is bringing you the most happiness - Must read: Your Money or Your Life!  Some items drop off the list when I realize I didnít actually want/need it after a few months of not having it.  Other times itís motivating to strive for something and when I hit a ďgoalĒ I may reward myself with something small. (Especially with fun money I earned like by test driving a Hyundai for a $50 gift card Ė just donít fall in love and buy one!

Costs for clothing, car maintenance, gifts, etc. should be in your planned spending budget too that way there are no surprises and you know how much to set aside each month for them!

You already know that the grocery and restaurants spending is insane!  Definitely try meal planning for the week (or bi-weekly to start) and going to the store with a specific list of ingredients.  Check out: for ideas.  Bulk purchases of say oats, rice, pasta, frozen veggies, fruits, or chicken breasts and other dried/canned/frozen goods that store well is smart Ė Costco has helped cut my food bill down greatly.  Also, there is an app called Ibotta where you can get cash back on purchases (I have earned $46 in 2017 from purchases I would have made anyway!  My referral code is ejtfnvk if you would to try it)

Once your spending is tidied up a bit you should have some extra money to beef up your emergency fund!  I suggest Ally bank so at least itís generating some interest (1.20% APY currently).  Itís an online bank that you can link to your regular bank and easily make transfers back and forth, the money will take a few days to transfer though.   

After your emergency fund is to your liking (at least 1-2 months worth of spending), then you attack debt.  I suggest formulating a plan of attack by using an Excel spreadsheet or website like at  That $480 credit card is what I would hit first for a quick win.  You donít list interest rates for the other credit cards, but typically you want to list them highest to lowest interest and attack the highest interest one with any extra money while paying the minimum for the remaining debts.  The idea is to pay as little interest as possible! 

If your credit is great, it might be helpful to find a no fee, 0% interest balance transfer offer Ė just make sure to calculate the minimum monthly payment needed to crush that debt by the 0% expiration (some cards will hit you with back interest on the full amount if you donít pay by the expiration so read the fine print!) For example, $5,000 + $4,800 = $9,800.  If you get an 18 month 0% offer thatís a minimum payment of $544.44 per month - basically what you have been "throwing away" each month already.

Note: Before you do a balance transfer you need to promise NOT USE THIS CARD FOR ANY NEW PURCHASES, EVER. Donít even keep it in your wallet.  Once your main credit cards are at $0 balance, pay them in full each month!  The spending needs to be under control for this method to work best FOR you, game the system ;)

For your other questions:
*Saving for the house is a big NO, sorry - getting your emergency fund up and debt down is the priority right now.  On the plus side, read this article:
*Keep enough money in your checking account for your expenses plus a buffer so you donít get hit with fees (check your banks minimum balance).  Any additional goes to building up your emergency fund and paying off debt.
*No wasting money on the lotto or ponies!  The lottery is a tax on the poor, you would be better off investing that money ($100 per month = $1,200 per year = compounded by 5% each year for 10 years is $18,000!)

Side notes:
*I second having your kids pay rent after they turn 18, even if itís only a little bit for utilities and/or food to teach them responsibility and the value of money.
*Move that $1,700 worth of small utility stock into an index fund at some point (problem is Vanguard minimums are usually $3,000+)
*Up the side hustle again if possible Ė that extra $1,000-2,000 per month could really boost your ability to pay off debts or hey, even get the $3,000 minimum for Vanguard eventually!)

My apologies for the length of this reply!  Iím also paying down debt so I feel your pain, it's hard right now but with effort you will be extraordinarily happy with the results that YOU made happen.  There is light at the end of the tunnel :)

Best wishes and Happy Holidays to you and your family! 

Money Badger

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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #12 on: December 22, 2017, 06:17:54 PM »
@MegaLateBloomer,   You are indeed a good writer!    There's simply a train wreck waiting to happen with the debts and lack of reserves in your life.   You know this of course so congratulations on asking a relatively savvy forum for input to help.  And at age 54, there's no way to deny Mother Nature's reminders that biological Fall is here and that you won't be able to work your way out of the money situation before Winter.   You have lots of good things going for you though so here's advice from someone who started poor and who's closing in on FI...

To answer your key questions regarding how to proceed: 4 words:  Dave Ramsey Baby Steps.   You can do amazing things with your wife's additional salary and benefits kicking in...   

Do contribute after tax $ to a Roth IRA.   Without a company match, and given your tax bracket, put it all in after tax accounts that you can draw on after 59 1/2.   

And a few more words:  "Kids 21 and over pay rent" as well as contribute to food and utilities to you while under your roof.   Else, kids fly the nest and finish college on their own.

Please say you didn't (and won't) co-sign ANY kids' student loans.   Else, you'll be the one living with your kids some day.   

God's Peace!


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2017, 07:25:05 AM »

Thanks so much folks. You all have certainly given me some varied, concise, and direct advice, all of which I most appreciate. So much to digest!

I don't know that I'll get into going back and forth on each point, or trying to justify what I can't or can do. I may very well ask some questions for clarification and such, but for now I'd like to take a bit of time to read through all the answers more thoroughly, try to put together a plan.

To respond to a few who did ask me questions:

The medical credit card is just that -- it's a credit card that can only be used for medical/dental/vision expenses (though I have seen one that included veterinarian expense as well). The ones I'm familiar with are generally lower interest rates than normal credit cards -- the highest I've seen are around 12.99 percent. Mine is 5.99 percent. I use that, rather than do a payment arrangement directly with the provider because the dominant provider here, the folks who own all the hospitals and a lot of the doctor offices, simply won't do payment plans. After 90 days, you're dumped into collections. The smaller operations that do offer payment plans I utilize when possible.

Someone asked about my "family life insurance" plan. I may have miswritten that (Yes I made a NEW WORD), I don't know, but there's no family life insurance. My wife has $80,000 in term life her employer pays, I have $50,000 my employer pays and another $50,000 I pay. I also have a $25,000 whole life policy my parents bought years ago and left to me that's essentially paid for, so there's no cost to me for that.

And on the groceries/buying in bulk, clearly, our grocery spending is out of control. Far, far too many daily trips to pick up this or that, too much impulse spending, not enough planning. There's much we can do there, but living in a rural area also offers some challenges, because of limited competition. There's one Walmart 18 miles away, one Food Lion just down the street, and one locally owned store whose prices are sky high and not even in the consideration. There was a Kroger 15 miles away, but that closed a couple of years ago. We've begun doing the extreme coupon thing, and I can already see where that will be beneficial, but not anywhere to the degree some folks make it work. Many of the sale items you see elsewhere in the country at Walmart or Food Lion don't go on sale here. I've even seen some items at Walmart which are featured in various sales websites go UP the week coupons come out. Not the whole class of items, just the brand that is supposed to be on sale. Heck, we don't even get as many Sunday coupons as other regions get.

Costco and Sam's Club? Nearest Costco is 50+ miles away, Sam's 65 miles.

I think that's it for now. I will be starting a journal here, to show what I'm doing, and hopefully get some other advice along the way. Thanks again for all of you taking the time to respond. I'm sure I'll have more questions...
« Last Edit: December 23, 2017, 08:11:31 AM by MegaLateBloomer »


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2017, 08:16:16 AM »
One thing that I donít know if you are doing but we found it very helpful so I recommend it to you. Sit down with your wife every week without fail and go over your spending/budget plan. Look at the bills each week and pay them based on the plan you will work up with your wife. Work on goals at the same time. Early on when our debts were awful and I cried after each of these sessions, we made sure that there was a treat of some sort (chocolate, ice cream, a cookie) associated with the budget sessions to help them go down a bit smoother.

Normally I recommend Dave Ramseyís snowball method but in your case I agree that you do not have as much time as others and should prioritize the highest interest rate debts first.

I also want to address two of your ways of thinking that jumped out at me and that I think would serve you to change. First, you are not old. There is still time for you to work yourself out of this mess and do well. So congratulations on finding this out in your 50s instead of in your 60s or 70s. I know people who didnít.

Second, I strongly recommend that you only count money that you already have when figuring out what you can spend. I noticed that you included $2000 from a side hustle in your assets. Until the cash is in your fist, it isnít real money and you donít have it. It isnít an asset. It is the hope of an asset.

Think forward when estimating how much you will have to spend (so include maintenance, birthdays, and so forth) but backwards when looking at how much money you have to spend. Donít spend money in your mind before you have it. What we do (and it took some time and effort to get here) is that we spend only money that is actually in our bank account. We have at least one month of expenses in checking before we pay a single bill. What you are doing by thinking as you are is extending yourself credit on the promise of future money.

I am among the spreadsheet users here rather than YNAB. But if YNAB works for you, do that. If a spreadsheet would work, do that.

And hang around with the mustachians. Theyíre an inspiring bunch!


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Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #15 on: December 23, 2017, 09:28:31 AM »
Have you ever grocery shopped on line? We have a service in CT called Peapod and it is a division of Stop & Shop grocery stores. You can place you order on line and they will deliver it to your house on a day/time you choose. It is helpful to not do impulse shopping. You might have other services out your way. Also, I am a Costco member and I shop on their website and buy some grocery items from them and they deliver by PO or other methods. Then there is Jet which is a Walmart company and they have certain groceries. Walmart and Target also have food items you can buy. I always look for free shipping and sometimes it requires a certain dollar amount. Rather than pay shipping sometimes all I have to do is buy a tube of toothpaste to get to that spending amount, which I will use anyway, to get free shipping.

Another thing to consider is buying a house is more than a house payment. You have to consider taxes, insurance, repairs, lawn mowing, snow cleanup. How many times when you think you are getting one foot forward, something major breaks in the house to set you back. Put the house on the back burner until you have all your expenses paid off. You might think Mobile Home. Some are very nice and a used, newer one would cost less. However, watch out for lot rents because they keep going up and up. I would say 'stay put' where you are.

Even if your employer doesn't match it is still a good way to save and grow your money. I worked for an employer for 4 years and contributed to the 401K with no employer match. Worked there 4 years and put in 22% of pay per week and saved $40K when I got laid off.

Write all your expenses down on paper which I assume you have and dissect each one and decide how you can cut down on expenses. For instance, do you need a new car or could you buy a used Honda, pay cash for it and use the money you aren't spending to pay down debt or put into 401K. I had insurance thru one company for probably 25 years and the cost went up and up. I called and asked if they could lower the premiums. They called back and said NOPE. So angry me, called AARP and bought a house, car and umbrella policy and saved $800+ a year. I even got a better policy thru them too. Nit pick each bill and see what you can do to reduce it down. As far as groceries, use the flyers to find the bargains and stick to what is on sale. Make a weekly list on breakfast, lunch and dinner. See if you can cut back by $100 a week to start. No more eating out! No more misc/throwaway. Get a cookbook or find gourmet recipes on line and learn to cook some good meals. We eat such good meals at home, I find restaurant meals pretty mediocre at times.

Good luck, you can do it. Don't let the gimme's and gotta have's take your hard earned money!


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #16 on: December 23, 2017, 12:49:46 PM »
Youíre not that old and you havenít wasted your life, youíve raised 5 kids and looked after your family with a small salary. Congrats. Now, youíre making better money and youíve begun to educate yourself. Follow the advice given here, get yourself out of debt ASAP. Get your kids contributing and put yourself on a 10 year plan to retire and be financially independent. That will put you exactly where you should be. Itís definitely doable. Stop the lifestyle creep. Good luck


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #17 on: December 23, 2017, 01:25:19 PM »
Yes, as another poster said, you raised 5 kids and on a low salary. CONGRATULATIONS! Now you are making more and your wife is working. This is what I would do but I am not you! Since 'time is of the essence' to save you must put the brakes on.
If you retire at age 67, which is most likely your Social Security age that is 13 years. If you work till age 70, that is 16 years. Put down on paper what amount you would like to see in your accounts when you retire.

1. Buy a decent used car, pay cash and sell new car thus eliminating payments.
2. Pay off credit cards, fast.
3. Put every expense on paper and figure out how to chop out as much of the blubber as you can. Ask yourself do you need it or do you want it.
4. Encourage your kids to move out as soon as they can. I have neighbors who's kids don't seem to ever plan to leave the nest.
5. After credit cards and bills are caught up, add up your expenses again.
6. Put as much as you can into both of your employer savings programs. Start high, if it becomes unreasonable, you can back off on the contributions. Save till it hurts!

If you save $20K for 12 years you'd have $240K. If you save $20K for 15 years you'd have $300K. Once you start contributing, if you or your wife gets a raise, let's say 2%, kick the savings programs up another 2%. Never take it home or you will spend it! I drove the Hub nuts making him save his raises and contributing 20% to 401K. Between the two of us we contributed 42% of our pay to 401k. Now the Hub is reaping the rewards of early retirement! Me too!

Good luck!


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #18 on: December 23, 2017, 06:06:36 PM »
A couple of thoughts to consider. You say live in a rural location with minimal grocery options-do you have any additional options near where you or your wife work? I also live in a rural area and shop in the town I work in. There may be cheaper options near your work places.

Your electric bill is crazy. I live in a house with an electric water heater, electric dryer, electric cooktop and electric oven. My electric bill is closer to $100.00 per month. We don't leave our computers or phones plugged in except when charging. We unplug electric devices when not in use (microwave, television) and have switched over to LED light bulbs. We do leave our refrigerator, stand alone freezer, double oven and cook top plugged in all of the time. We use a water heater blanket on our water heater. I minimize how often we go in and out of the house through the garage since it requires power to open the garage doors. I wash most of my laundry using cold water instead of warm or hot to keep water heating costs lower.

With planning and cooking from scratch you should be able to get your grocery bill down to $1000 and still eat like kings. Make pancakes from flour, sugar, baking powder instead of buying frozen waffles or pastries. Bake your own bread. Use a slow cooker or Instapot to cook while you are all at work or school so you aren't tempted to eat out because you're too tired to cook.

I was also going to suggest dropping Amazon Prime but before you do so I would check out the pricing on Amazon Prime Pantry and see if it continues to be worth having. If you do decide you continue Amazon I would have one of your children living with you who are college students  sign up for 1/2 price.

Finally, question all of your spending. Don't accept any of it as is. Question each and every expense. Is it needed? If so, get at least three other quotes or options for the same service or product before purchasing to make sure you are getting the best value.

Good luck! You can do this.


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #19 on: December 24, 2017, 06:14:39 AM »
You say Costco is 50 miles away. Not sure if it is all that cost efficient to travel 100 miles round trip to try to save money. But Costco does have on line groceries now. They will mail them to you. You have to be careful and order the minimum or they will charge shipping. I have a Costco Visa card that I use everywhere to buy everything I can possibly charge on it. I get the bill at the end of the month and PAY IT OFF IN FULL each month. This card offers rewards on your purchases. This year so far I have accumulated around $580 and can get cash in February when the checks are issued. I can also buy Costco products if I choose. This is a nice little bonus once a year for things I buy anyway! Gas, groceries, Walmart, Target, Jet, Costco, car repairs, donations, and more. The other good thing about charging everything on the Visa card is that you can see what has been purchased and you have a record of it all. You can go on line to check it out too.

If you go on that road trip to Costco, make sure you treat yourself to lunch and have that $1.50 hot dog and soda! Plus, pick up a few of their roasted chickens. They are about 3 lbs each and always $4.99!


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #20 on: December 24, 2017, 08:23:52 AM »
Chiming in to:

Again congratulate you on jumping into the forum and, so to speak, confessing your sins.  I hope you will soon be (to mix metaphors) tending your garden successfully en route to your retirement Eden.  Obviously the tending your garden part is going to involve some stooping labor, dirty hands, and similar effort though, so here's more of the same advice - just a different angle, Roshomon-style (if you will).

The grocery thing is crazy. I suggest one restaurant a month max, if and only if other budget targets are achieved, such as $1000 reduction in debt that month.  Once a week shopping at any grocery store will still let you buy huge baskets of staples and spices and fresh ingredients that you use for a week of cooking.  Once your family learns to cook your own food, you can eat all week.  Total cost at most should be $200 per person per month, $150 after you get the hang of it. My authority for this is that I myself dropped from $350 per month to $185 by cooking some, not all, of my food.  More can be achieved easily if you need to, which you obviously do.

It's not about coupons, it's about learning to cook nutritious inexpensive food.  Eggs, beans-and-corn, lentils for stew or India-style food, your choice of potatoes or tolerably inexpensive bread, vegetables that are (egads!) not organic, chicken at the right price, oatmeal, cookable grains for non-breakfast meals (rice, something else for variety), some nuts especially if on sale, some cooking oil, the fruits that are cheapest that week - these are the things that should fill your baskets.  Not cereal, waffles, veggie patties, organic this, packaged that, not Food Products of any kind except maybe bread or tortillas.  Food, not food products, my friend.  The internet is full of recipes, cooking videos, how to sites, even recipe engines that pick a recipe for you based on the ingredients you put in.  Who will be the first person in the family to Google magic words such as "thrifty meals I can cook" or "fast recipe for Indian food" or "easy crockpot stew from scratch" or "how to make my own breakfast tacos" or "fastest way to home cook eggs" or even "fast cheap home cooking"? 

Choose the style of food you like, there's a way to cook it at home in reasonable time using ingredients from your local stores, leavened in rare cases with a few ingredients obtained via internet.  I guarantee, you can drop 50% of grocery cost immediately and later get to 70% off.  I suggest that from now on, the price of family residential membership is either two days per week of cooking a family's worth of meals, or one full time job and one day cooking (you and your wife can alternate weeks of being the person who doesn't cook that week).  Your kids can learn valuable skills.  Every person must offer one compliment per day on some aspect of the day's cooking.  Family vote establishes most cooking improvement of the month, and the winner picks the month's restaurant if there have been enough savings to qualify. You're all pulling together on this.  Right from the start, you can save $1000 per month that can pay down your debts. 

Tweak the rest of your spending for just 20% savings and without earning an extra penny, just the 2 existing jobs, you can be debt free in two years.  Then invest the resulting cash flow until you're 65 and you'll be ready to sail into the sunset, no further changes required.  Though by then, you'll probably have waved buh-bye to the kids' expenses, saved some more on your own with the momentum of your new skills, and entered the zone where you have extra money.

For now, I am baffled by your long drives.  Are you living halfway between your two jobs, and they're the only jobs you can get?  Why live so far from necessities if it is raising your costs?  I fully agree with posters who suggest following the standard principle of live close to your necessities (usually work and food), thus minimizing cost.  Since you are and should be renters, you have flexibility - plan carefully for the end of lease, and pick a dwelling place that minimizes the family's driving.  As others have said, also learn to buy, drive and maintain small cheap cars.  This site has many posts, threads and advisors for details on this - it's a Mustache classic.  As you shift from debt mode to cash mode, these can be bought in cash so that you never have a car payment again.

PS.  On the cooking thing, busy children with active school schedules can cook on weekends and store the food in the fridge or freezer for weekday use.  Convenience for all can be devised.  Like any habit, once you develop it, this will be easy.  Only the transition will take effort.  The transition is kind of like one extracurricular class.  I suggest actually budgeting the time for it - make sure each person has time to learn in their schedule from January through May.  Let each kid take one less class because it's how they earn their "family scholarship" for the rest of their educational support.  After a semester or so, the whole thing will become a pleasant, playful autopilot if you set good targets and each person puts in some learning and some mutual encouragement throughout the spring semester.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2017, 09:12:27 AM by Bicycle_B »


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Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #21 on: December 24, 2017, 09:04:17 AM »
Here are some great food prep ideas:

fuzzy math

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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #22 on: December 25, 2017, 07:43:40 PM »
I agree with all the advice given here so far.
You should post a grocery receipt so we can get an idea of what you're buying.


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #23 on: December 26, 2017, 01:54:52 AM »
Posting to follow, for the good suggestions.


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #24 on: December 26, 2017, 12:27:40 PM »
I agree that cooking, not coupons, is the answer for your grocery budget. Check out Using this website is essentially how we kicked the restaurant/fast food habit and reduced our grocery budget.


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #25 on: December 26, 2017, 12:32:08 PM »
I don't know a lot about life insurance policies, but is it possible to cash out the $25k whole policy to pay down your debt?


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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #26 on: December 27, 2017, 04:30:43 PM »
I don't know a lot about life insurance policies, but is it possible to cash out the $25k whole policy to pay down your debt?
I was thinking the same. It's not worth much as life insurance but could eliminate a couple years of agony paying down that debt.

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Re: Case Study for the Old Guy who's wasted his life...but hasn't given up
« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2018, 09:14:00 AM »
Hey folks.

I haven't disappeared. I've been reading through your comments, seeing how I can apply them to my situation, doing a little other studying, and most of all having a heart-to-heart financial chat with my wife.

So, I have now started a journal over in the ... well, the journal section. Here

I kind of briefly outlines my situation as I did here, then I list my goals and plan of action to reach those goals.

Thanks again for all of your responses and suggestions.