Author Topic: Case Study - Help me stop spinning my wheels in mud and get on FI road  (Read 1458 times)

fi-pilgrim

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Life Situation: Male, early 40's. 2 adult children engaged in full-time studies who live at home
(experienced spousal abandonment when children were very young). Filing as head of household.
Moved from the rural midwest to a semi-rural area in a mid-Atlantic state about 2 years ago to assist
elderly parents and pursue an employment opportunity. I have had chronic illness for the past 5 years,
yet to be diagnosed, which keeps my hours part-time. I have an associates degree in business. Back in
the midwest I had contracted with NFP's and also had few other side hustles to make ends meet – I was
for all purposes self-employed and had a low income. I am now am employed in marketing.

I previously owned my own home, now renting a house at a below market rate. There are very limited
options for what I would consider affordable housing in this area. Housing costs (regardless of renting
or buying) are about double from where we lived before. Cost of living for everything else is also
higher, especially food.

I began diligently recording income and expenses again this year. What follows is an average monthly
total of each of my income & expense categories of the first half of 2018, with explanations when
needed.

Gross Salary: $2873/month

Pre-Tax Deductions: $0. Employer does not offer any retirement benefits package. Have not opened
any IRA accounts yet.

Other Ordinary Income:
Side Hustles: $192/month

Income Tax: $466/month (includes one time charge of $255 for tax professional to do taxes)

Net Monthly Income: $2599

Average Monthly Expenses: $2368

Charity: $4

Clothing: $24

Education: $53 (Primarily self enrichment, language study, books; will cut out in 2nd half of 2018)

Entertainment: $109 (80% of the 6 month total was a 3 day vacation, the rest are family recreation
times that we always try to schedule at times when it costs the least).

Food: $379
 Convenience Store: $3.24
 Fast Food: $68.03 (*ugh*)
 Groceries: $245
 Restaurants: $63

Healthcare: $523
 Healthplan: $226 (Medi-Share, 10K family deductible – ACA plan had no networked family
doctors or needed specialists in my immediate vicinity that were accepting new patients, that
plan would have had a similar monthly cost, but a $6000 family deductible).
 Physicians: $220 (includes paying off hospital bill @ $100/month)
 Drugs: $31
 Vision: $46 (Yearly vision checkups and new glasses for me)

Homesteading: $31 (Garden supplies, seeds, chicken food, etc.)

Household: $18 (Cleaning supplies, personal care, pet expenses)

Housing: $1061
 Phones: $78 (1 flip phone @ $10/month and 1 “unlimited” smartphone with Boost Mobile at
$50/month. Boost Mobile phone is also the only internet connection I have (8GB hotspot per
month) and I use that to work from home 20-30 hours per month). Avg. monthly amount also
included outright purchase of $79.00 phone to use on Boost.
 Rent: $675
 Repair & Maintenance: $22 (I am required to provide “basic maintenance” as part of our rental
agreement)
 Electric: $76
 Garbage: $28
 Heating Oil: $128
 Propane: $54

Misc: $39
 Checks from Bank: $2.62
 Gifts: $16
 Other: $17 (not sure where this money went to)
 Postage/Shipping: $4

Transportation: $180 (2012 Dodge Caliber, 88K)
 Insurance: $50
 Bicycle Repair: $1
 Cleaning: $3
 Gas: $96
 Parking: $1
 Repair & Maintenance: $27
 Tolls & Fares: $1

Assets: $37,901 (as of 7/14/2018)
 High Interest Money Markets: $27,232 (was hoping to use 20K for a down-payment on a
house)
 Brokerage: $664
 All Other Accounts: $3995 (Checking, Emergency Fund, Cash)
 2012 Dodge Caliber: $6000

Liabilities: $941.21 (as of 7/14/2018)
 Credit Card: 624.86 (used for UR points, paid off in full each month)
 Hospital Bill: $317 (paying off $100 per month, included in healthcare/physicians above)
 Does not include recent ER visit and upcoming medical procedures which will equal or exceed
my yearly deductible.

Observations/Questions:

Monthly Expenses: The clearest place we should cut back is on fast food and restaurants. We're
working toward that goal for the second half of the year. To save money this year, I've switched cell
phone providers, changed my car insurance, and started shopping at the discount bent and dent grocery
again. I'm very open to your observations and suggestions about the rest of our spending.

Savings: First half of the year, all savings went into the Money Markets. I've taken advantage of
various bank bonuses/special rates for opening these accounts, which sure beats the poor rates the local
banks/credit unions were offering. Starting this month I'm back to putting $100 per week in the
brokerage (about 20% of my income). I'd like some ideas on how I should be splitting up my stash. I'd
like to move gradually up to 50% savings rate. Just don't see how to do it with my monthly expenses
as they are. I'd like to retire by 55 – if I can make it that long.

Vehicle: When we moved out here, our previous vehicle would not pass inspection without needing
over $3K of work – more than the vehicle was worth. I had 30 days to purchase something else, which
is how we ended up with the Caliber. The Caliber presently needs about $1000 worth of work
(bubbling paint on rear quarter panel and rear suspension – neither covered under warranty/recall, I've
already checked). I'd like to sell this and get a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa Note with hopefully better
gas mileage and build quality. I'd like to try to do an “even trade”, even if that means the car I get has
higher mileage or is older than what I presently own. Your thoughts?

Healthcare: I just was diagnosed with a condition (not related to my chronic illness) that will require
surgery. Would it be better to pay them all off in a lump sum and keep on saving each month, or should
I hold off saving and just do a payment plan with the hospitals? I'm looking at having to pay $10K out
of pocket. As if the surgery isn't scary enough. (This is the first time ever that I've met a deductible on
any health plan).

In general: It kills me – I'm earning over 30% more here than where we previously lived, but things
feel tighter than ever. I feel as though I'm spinning my wheels in mud. It's hard for me to see much of a
future here given the cost of housing and property taxes. I'm not sure what to do about my parents who
are in their 80's and live alone and are in declining health. They moved to this area to retire about 15
years ago because they moved from a state with even higher property taxes. I wanted them to move
closer to where we formerly lived when they were thinking of making the change, but dad wouldn't
have any part of it. There's no other family close by, and I'm the only child from my parent's marriage.
I sometimes feel like I'm the one that's going to end up paying (quite literally) for their bad decision to
move here.

My health has taken quite a downturn since moving here as well. I realize I can't prove a direct
correlation and it's all anecdotal.

I'm grateful for my employment that pays quite well for part time work and has nice people to work
with as well, but it's a very small company which I don't believe will offer much opportunity for
advancement in the future. I'm worried, however, with part-time work that I won't fare much better
anyplace else. Looking at the raw numbers, it actually looks like I did better being self employed
earning a lower overall income than being an employee earning more after factoring in tax refunds.
For all these reasons and some others I won't go into here, I have considered moving back to the
midwest, or perhaps even moving out of the country to someplace with less expensive healthcare and
cost of living – I'm fairly proficient in learning languages and enjoy other cultures. (Yes, I'm in fight or
flight mode right now, and I usually choose flight). But what do about my parents? I'd like to hear
from others who have faced a similar dilemma.

That's all for now. I look forward to your feedback and suggestions, and engaging with you in
conversation that hopefully will be able to develop a roadmap for my future.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2018, 06:44:34 AM by fi-pilgrim »

ysette9

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  • Location: Bay Area, CA
Most people who write case studies here have spending problems and need help finding ways to cut. You, my friend, don’t have a spending problem but an income problem.

The engineer in me wants to get to the root cause of your health issues and improve that so you can work more. I am not a doctor though and wouldn’t know how to start. I wonder if some smart people on these forums can make recommendations on social services to seek out to help you get the care you need?

I realize this will be tough to do, but I really think you need to ask your adult children to contribute to the household. Even $200-$300 a month rent each would go a long way to giving you some slack in your budget. This isn’t ideal, but you just aren’t in a position to help them; you need to help yourself.

Speaking of helping, you moved to be closer to your parents. Does this involve helping them? Because if you are struggling yourself, how much can you reasonably do for them? Is there a way you can all live together to cut down on housing expenses for the time being? Honestly, I think you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.

SunnyDays

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I agree with Ysette, that it might be best if you all lived together for both financial and supportive reasons.  And if you were to do this, would it make economic sense to include another renter in this scenario to generate more income?  Does your kids' schooling restrict where you can live?  If not, then moving back where you came from may be cheaper, and if your parents are or soon will be needing assistance, they may be more willing to move there than they were before.
As for your undiagnosed medical issues, that does need to get sorted out ASAP.  If local doctors can't find an answer, would they refer you to somewhere like Mayo clinic?

fi-pilgrim

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Thanks to both of you for your responses. 

I've been to many specialists already and have gone down many roads that have proven to be dead ends.  The closest the specialists can get is labeling, treating and managing various"accessory illnesses", but not the root cause.  Blood work, allergy testing, etc. all come back negative.  Basically, I have many of the symptoms of Lyme Disease (tested negative with Elisa test) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I "crash and burn" after a few hours of mental work, or about an hour of physical work.  Some days are better, and I tend to overdo it on those days and pay for it 2 to 3 days afterwards.

As much as I hate to admit it, I agree about my daughter's contributing something to the household.  I will talk with both of them about that.

As for my parents, the option is not their to move in with them.  They are both extremely private people and wouldn't ask for help even if they needed it, but are grateful if you provide it.  Mom has degenerative bone issues, dad has diabetes.  My daughters and I have been able to help some with yard work, and being there for various medical issues.  But you are right, I need to put on my own oxygen mask first. 

Any other suggestions are welcome.


T Bone

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I have great empathy for you and your health and financial struggles.  Just by posting on this forum it's clear you are working hard, trying to sort things out, and get out of the mud.  I applaud you for all that!  I agree with the other commentators about the income side problem and support their advice.  My only thought on the health side: functional medicine.  Unlike our traditional medical approach where doctors look to treat symptoms, functional medicine looks for the root cause of the symptoms.  There are lots of traditional doctors (allopathic doctors) that are starting to recognize that finding the right drug to prescribe only gets patients so far.  There are resources here: https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/  You may find a functional medicine doc in your area, and your insurance may cover it.  Or you can research and just do the things a functional medicine doc would likely have you try.  Google Mark Hyman on you tube.  There's lot of science and particulars, but it all boils down to one key thing.  Food.  And radically changing your priorities and lifestyle to eat amazing, healthy food.  All the time.  And take Vitamin D.  Everyone is deficient in Vitamin D.

You got this.  You have everything you need to get out of the mud.

Tuskalusa

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First of all, I think you’re doing a great job in a time of crisis. You have a lot of challenges here, and you’re still managing to live within your means. That says a lot. Things are tight right now, but you’re not sacrificing your future by going into debt. That’s awesome.

I agree with the others who highlight that this is an income problem. You’re expenses look pretty good. It could be that you need to get through some of these challenges now, and then take on some of the bigger issues when you’re feeling up to it. Here are some general thoughts.

Your parents: For now, it sounds like they just need you to be around. It doesn’t sound like they have an expectation of financial or other support. So maybe just seeing you and your family is enough for now. Maybe designate a day each week to visit...have a meal and help out a bit. This could also be a place where your adult children could help. They could each take a shift to stop by, visit, and help.  Good non-financial contribution that takes some pressure off you.

Your budget:  The cuts you’ve identified look good, and they’ll help keep you within your means. For those small loans, I’d consider using some of your savings to just pay them off. That helps your monthly cash flow and takes the pressure off a bit. If your kids could just start paying for groceries, doing the shopping, and prepping some meals, that would take some financial and “house chore” pressure off.

Medical expenses: I’m sorry your medical issues are challenging right now. While this is going on, ramping up income with more work just doesn’t make sense. The good news is that you have a savings to cover your surgery. Also, if you can enlist your kids with some of the chores above, perhaps you can take some time to focus on your health. This is a lot of stress right now. Get through it and get to the other side. When you’re feeling better, you’ll have an opportunity to look at more options.

Good luck...I’ll be following and rooting for you!