Author Topic: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box  (Read 9458 times)

9ofPentacles

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« on: September 26, 2014, 05:29:10 PM »
Hi Mustachians!

I know you're all super-smart and will help me with my impending dilemma.

I wrote out a whole case-study this morning and it somehow got lost in the ether, so here's the Cliffnotes version:

I'm a 51-year-old mom of a 12-year-old still at home, and three grown kids who have all flown the coop. I've been waitressing my whole life. That was fine and dandy while I was homeschooling and raising my kids, because my husband was the main breadwinner, and my job was just part-time.

Then he died suddenly, four years ago. We had some life insurance, but not enough. I paid off all of our consumer debt and my car loan, but it wasn't enough to pay off my mortgage.

Now, four years later, I still have 12,000 in emergency savings, 7500 in a Roth IRA I opened last year, and his 401K of about 106,000 (still just sitting there because I don't know what to do with it).

My problem is this, in a nutshell: My main source of income is Social Security survivor's benefits, and it's ending soon. In just over three years, when my son turns 16, my half will end, and then 2 years after that, his half will end.

Here are the numbers:
SS: 2880 per month
Waitressing: anywhere between 1000 and 1600.

I have dialed down my expenses a lot (cutting out cable, switching to cheaper car insurance, slashing the food budget, soon switching cell plans to Republic, etc.) and I have finally gotten the outgo lower than the income. Last month I saved $500, this month I'm on track to save even more.

But when that SS ends, I'm screwed. Obviously, I can't live on 1600 a month. I would move, but my house is already tiny (900 sq. ft.) and my monthly mortgage is actually lower than rents in my area. Plus I owe about 10K more than my house is worth. The entire neighborhood has plummeted in value. I refi'd from a 30-year to a 15-year at a lower rate (and didn't take a dime out) but it still won't be paid off before the SS income stops.

People, I'm scared. This keeps me up nights. All I've ever done is waitress. I have no college, although I do have a "health coaching" certificate from an online school that cost me 5 grand. (I know! I've already face-punched myself repeatedly for that one.)

I know it was naive, but I really, really thought I would have a significant other sharing my life and contributing to my household by now. But I'm not even dating anyone, lol. Prince Charming is clearly not coming. I have to save my own ass, and I'm not sure how to do it.

There's also a Catch-22. If I do somehow snag a "real" job doing something vague and officey (medical receptionist maybe?) I will also lose my half of the SS if I make more than 14,000 a year. So it seems like it's better financially if I just keep the status quo going for the next three years, with the SS plus the part-time waitressing. Because that adds up to more per year than I could possibly make doing any other entry-level whatever, without a degree. I mean, my income is currently about 1000 a week, take home. What on earth could I do that could match that??

What do you all think? Am I as trapped as I feel like I am? Is there something I'm missing, or not considering? Is there something I should spend the next three years doing, to prepare for my financial Armegeddon? I can't touch that 401K without huge penalties, right? Besides, that's the beginning of my mustache! I don't want to raid it. I've thought of renting out my spare room for some extra income, but it's the size of a postage stamp and they wouldn't have their own bathroom. Who in their right mind would pay me for that?

Thanks in advance for what I know will be great advice. Oh, and all you young guys with stay-at-home spouses, if you're still working, make sure you have enough life insurance! My husband was only 42 and dropped dead of a heart attack.

Emilyngh

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 892
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2014, 05:52:11 PM »
Hi Mustachians!

I know you're all super-smart and will help me with my impending dilemma.

I wrote out a whole case-study this morning and it somehow got lost in the ether, so here's the Cliffnotes version:

I'm a 51-year-old mom of a 12-year-old still at home, and three grown kids who have all flown the coop. I've been waitressing my whole life. That was fine and dandy while I was homeschooling and raising my kids, because my husband was the main breadwinner, and my job was just part-time.

Then he died suddenly, four years ago. We had some life insurance, but not enough. I paid off all of our consumer debt and my car loan, but it wasn't enough to pay off my mortgage.

Now, four years later, I still have 12,000 in emergency savings, 7500 in a Roth IRA I opened last year, and his 401K of about 106,000 (still just sitting there because I don't know what to do with it).

My problem is this, in a nutshell: My main source of income is Social Security survivor's benefits, and it's ending soon. In just over three years, when my son turns 16, my half will end, and then 2 years after that, his half will end.

Here are the numbers:
SS: 2880 per month
Waitressing: anywhere between 1000 and 1600.

I have dialed down my expenses a lot (cutting out cable, switching to cheaper car insurance, slashing the food budget, soon switching cell plans to Republic, etc.) and I have finally gotten the outgo lower than the income. Last month I saved $500, this month I'm on track to save even more.

But when that SS ends, I'm screwed. Obviously, I can't live on 1600 a month. I would move, but my house is already tiny (900 sq. ft.) and my monthly mortgage is actually lower than rents in my area. Plus I owe about 10K more than my house is worth. The entire neighborhood has plummeted in value. I refi'd from a 30-year to a 15-year at a lower rate (and didn't take a dime out) but it still won't be paid off before the SS income stops.

People, I'm scared. This keeps me up nights. All I've ever done is waitress. I have no college, although I do have a "health coaching" certificate from an online school that cost me 5 grand. (I know! I've already face-punched myself repeatedly for that one.)

I know it was naive, but I really, really thought I would have a significant other sharing my life and contributing to my household by now. But I'm not even dating anyone, lol. Prince Charming is clearly not coming. I have to save my own ass, and I'm not sure how to do it.

There's also a Catch-22. If I do somehow snag a "real" job doing something vague and officey (medical receptionist maybe?) I will also lose my half of the SS if I make more than 14,000 a year. So it seems like it's better financially if I just keep the status quo going for the next three years, with the SS plus the part-time waitressing. Because that adds up to more per year than I could possibly make doing any other entry-level whatever, without a degree. I mean, my income is currently about 1000 a week, take home. What on earth could I do that could match that??

What do you all think? Am I as trapped as I feel like I am? Is there something I'm missing, or not considering? Is there something I should spend the next three years doing, to prepare for my financial Armegeddon? I can't touch that 401K without huge penalties, right? Besides, that's the beginning of my mustache! I don't want to raid it. I've thought of renting out my spare room for some extra income, but it's the size of a postage stamp and they wouldn't have their own bathroom. Who in their right mind would pay me for that?

Thanks in advance for what I know will be great advice. Oh, and all you young guys with stay-at-home spouses, if you're still working, make sure you have enough life insurance! My husband was only 42 and dropped dead of a heart attack.

I'm so sorry for your situation :(   And thanks for the reminder for those use with SAH spouses.

As far as what to do, can you post how you currently spend the $4k or so you currently live on.   You might get some face punches, but you'd probably get good ideas regarding places to save.

As far as working, I'd probably spend the next 3 years trying to plan what I'd do later (and possibly take classes if needed), but try to stay under the income threshold until your half of the benefits end (your child's shouldn't be affected by your income, right)?


Penny Lane

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 203
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2014, 05:57:10 PM »
I am so sorry for your loss.  I think you are doing very well to be thinking of all your options at this point.

Do you have health insurance?  I think this is crucial in your situation , especially with such a physical job.

I think the waitressing is a option; are there other skills you have for very parttime gigs?  Can you tutor older folks about iphones or computers?  You could do very well in my town doing this!  Are there friends of your child who need an hour or two of supervision after school?  The health coaching could be another gig, again especially for folks older than you who might need help with diet, activity etc.

Your living situation sounds OK from here; if your mortgage payments are reasonable that may be the best option for you.  It sounds as though you would lose out if you tried to sell in your area, unfortunately.  A tough thing.

I'll continue to think and hope others chime in for you.

Chrissy

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 934
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Chicago
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2014, 06:32:24 PM »
Please list all your expenses, so we can be of greater help to you.  I'm confused because you list your waitressing income at $1,000-$1,600/mo, but then later, you list it as $1,000/wk.  Is the job part-time or full-time?

Why are your survivor benefits ending?  Hm... well, taking that as fact, your survivor benefits end when you're 55, and your son's stop when you're 57.  You can start taking 401k distributions at age 59.5, and you can claim social security at age 62.  So, you have a gap to bridge (of varying depth!) of 3-7 years, and you will hit the deepest part of that gap in 4 years.

You're saving $500/mo now, maybe more.  If you continue to do this for the next 4 years, you will have more than $24,000 (with investment growth).  That's enough to get you through at least two years of the gap, to age 57.  Now, how to get you from age 57 to age 59.5...?  I suggest you call a family meeting with your 3 grown children.  They need to be apprised of the situation, and may be able to offer assistance and collaboration.

One thing that would be helpful is if you and your underage son move in with one of your adult children NOW (or parent, or in-law, or friend) for a rent at about half your mortgage payment.  Then, since you said your mortgage payment is less than rent in your area, rent out the house for a profit!

I would be sure the $12,000 emergency savings was earning a little interest, too.  Maybe keep $3,000 in checking, $3,000 in a 6 mo CD (through your bank), $3,000 in a 1-year CD.  You can always break a CD, you just won't get the interest accrued.  Make sure you don't get CDs that charge you a penalty on top of the lost interest.

What are your ROTH and your husband's 401K investments?

Is there any chance your husband had a pension or 401k from a previous job that he didn't roll over?

« Last Edit: September 26, 2014, 06:34:10 PM by Chrissy »

9ofPentacles

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2014, 06:36:42 PM »
Thank you, Emilyngh.

I had all the numbers in my earlier, lost post, but honestly I know them all by heart. I write down every penny I spend. :)
Here goes:

Mortgage, prop taxes and ins: 1199 (Just went up due to an escrow shortfall)
Health insurance: 376
Car insurance: 125 (Mine and my grown daughter's. She's 22 and doesn't even live here anymore. Probably should have a talk.)
Cell phones, me and my son: 142 (This is changing, because I'm finally free to switch to Republic! Need to buy the phones.)
Internet: 69
Hulu/Netflix: 16
Natural gas: 143 (budget plan)
Water: 35-40
Electric: 125-175
Food: 550-650 (trying to get this under 500)
Auto gas: about 70
Kid/school/sports: 100-200 (Parkour class at a gym, allowance, school lunch once a week, haircuts, etc.)
Entertainment: 100-200 (Movies, outings, restaurants, magazines, etc. I stopped buying books, this used to be more. Last month it was under 100 for the first time ever.)
Household/Irregular: 100 (I kept track of random irregular or unexpected expenses for an entire year and divided by 12)

Typical monthly outgo: Around 3300, sometimes more, sometimes less. My problem in the past has been feeling "rich" because there's money left over at the end of the month, and doing something dumb like going out to dinner "because I deserve it" or buying books for myself (my one vice) or letting the kid talk me into buying him something. Also, lately there's been a run of big-ticket home expenses…I'm not handy and had to hire someone to fix a bunch of stuff. Water heater took a crap, screen door broke, AC stopped working, a piece of molding fell off, lawnmower died. All this summer! That extra 500 bucks or so always seems to disappear somehow, so I'm cracking down. I REALLY need to start replenishing the savings. It's uncomfortably low, and moving in the wrong direction.

Chrissy

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 934
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Chicago
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2014, 06:58:00 PM »
If home values in your area have fallen, contest your property taxes.

Girlfriend, you don't have enough to retire.  Honestly, your kids might have to help you when you're older.  Therefore, NO outpatient economic care for adult children!  Your daughter can pay her own car insurance.  Like, NOW.

Do you need Netlfix AND Hulu?  Could you just have one instead?

Call your internet company and ask for a better rate, or switch companies.  I did this, and I'm paying $25 through AT&T for the next six months.

Electric is high.  Is everything on power strips that get shut off when not in use?  Are you using energy efficient bulbs?  Can you adjust the thermostat/water heater some more?

9ofPentacles

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2014, 07:06:16 PM »
Please list all your expenses, so we can be of greater help to you.  I'm confused because you list your waitressing income at $1,000-$1,600/mo, but then later, you list it as $1,000/wk.  Is the job part-time or full-time?

Why are your survivor benefits ending?  Hm... well, taking that as fact, your survivor benefits end when you're 55, and your son's stop when you're 57.  You can start taking 401k distributions at age 59.5, and you can claim social security at age 62.  So, you have a gap to bridge (of varying depth!) of 3-7 years, and you will hit the deepest part of that gap in 4 years.

You're saving $500/mo now, maybe more.  If you continue to do this for the next 4 years, you will have more than $24,000 (with investment growth).  That's enough to get you through at least two years of the gap, to age 57.  Now, how to get you from age 57 to age 59.5...?  I suggest you call a family meeting with your 3 grown children.  They need to be apprised of the situation, and may be able to offer assistance and collaboration.

One thing that would be helpful is if you and your underage son move in with one of your adult children NOW (or parent, or in-law, or friend) for a rent at about half your mortgage payment.  Then, since you said your mortgage payment is less than rent in your area, rent out the house for a profit!

I would be sure the $12,000 emergency savings was earning a little interest, too.  Maybe keep $3,000 in checking, $3,000 in a 6 mo CD (through your bank), $3,000 in a 1-year CD.  You can always break a CD, you just won't get the interest accrued.  Make sure you don't get CDs that charge you a penalty on top of the lost interest.

What are your ROTH and your husband's 401K investments?

Is there any chance your husband had a pension or 401k from a previous job that he didn't roll over?

Chrissy, thank you! I'm sorry, I should have been clearer. The roughly 1000 a week includes the Social Security income. It's 720 a week, and then waitressing I make another 250-350. It really varies, it's all tips. I work part-time, lunch shift, while my son is in school. He's at the age where he's too old for a sitter (almost 13) but too young to leave home alone every night. Money would be better working dinner, but then I would run into the peculiar problem of making too much money. I keep a close eye on my pay stubs, to make sure I'm staying under the 14,000 threshold for the year. Any side hustle I do would have to be under the table. I can't do afterschool care because I don't get home in time. My son is a latchkey kid himself.

Moving in with my kids is not an option, unfortunately. One is on the opposite coast, living with roommates himself, another is about to leave to go live on an organic farm in Costa Rica, and the third just moved in with her boyfriend. They're all young adults, just getting started in life. We have a great relationship, and we've actually brainstormed my situation, but have come up empty. The rest of my family lives in Florida, and I'm in Jersey. I love your idea of renting out my house, that is definitely thinking outside the box, I just don't have anyone in my life to move in with.

The Roth IRA is with Vanguard. I did one of the age-targeted accounts. And the 401K is with Fidelity, mostly Verizon stock. That's where my husband used to work. I'm leery about changing it, because it's been getting close to a 10% return the last few years. I know I need to do something safer with it, but honestly I know next-to-nothing about investing (except that you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket). His pension was paid to me in a lump sum right after his death, and that's long gone.


Chrissy

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 934
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Chicago
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2014, 07:27:45 PM »
Okay, thank you for clarifying about your job.  I agree with your decision to keep your income low for now.

Your husband's pension shouldn't be ALL in Verizon stock, as you know.  I think the target fund with Vanguard is great, and you probably want to do something similar with the Fidelity account.  I believe they call them "Fidelity Freedom 20XX".  If you want a higher rate of return, put it in an account with the date further away, like 2035, which keeps the stock/bond allocation more aggressive.  Check out Investor Alley and Real Estate & Landlording sections of the forum.  Ask those folks what they would do; they're savvy.

When the time comes... I believe H&R Block has a short training program, and their employees make a decent hourly wage during tax season.  It's daytime work, which would allow you to waitress at night, which, as you said, is more lucrative.  Also, becoming a real estate agent is usually a short course, and very little money.  You recoup your expenses and profit a little just on the sale of your own house!

About your son's allowance...  mine stopped at age 12.  I started babysitting.  I was also involved in after-school activities, but I found a way to make it work.

You might check with your pastor about people in your parish who could rent rooms to you and your son for a below-market rate.

Pigeon

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1197
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2014, 07:53:13 PM »
Could you take classes at a local community college for something that would boost your income when your SS drops. I might talk to somebody there and see if you'd be eligible for any grant programs.

Workinghard

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 637
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2014, 08:07:13 PM »
What about being a home health aid? Around here the pay is $10-$15 an hr and you can pick and choose days/times.

olivia

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 770
  • From Consumerism to Minimalism
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2014, 08:09:33 PM »
Your food seems high for 2 people.  I bet you could get that down significantly, even with a teenager.  There are a lot of threads here about lowering your food bills.

Electric and gas also seem high given the size of your house.  I know NJ is pricey, but could you do anything to lower those costs?  Turn up/down the thermostat, cover the windows, etc.?  Also a ton of threads here about lowering utilities.

Internet is also kind of pricey-can you get Comcast (I'm assuming that's who you have) to lower it?  If you call and threaten to cancel I bet they'll switch you to a cheaper plan.

Also, how much do you owe on your mortgage?  Would it lower your mortgage significantly if you refinanced back to a 30 year mortgage?  Could you do that to help you get through the gap years, and then sell it or rent it out?  Maybe by that time you'll be able to break even on it if you sell, or rent it for enough money for it to make sense for you to hold it. 

Or could you move in with family in Florida and rent out your house or sell it at a loss? 

tracylayton

  • Guest
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2014, 08:25:53 PM »
Your health insurance premiums might be less expensive if you shop for a plan on the Affordable Health Care Exchange, especially since your income is low. I am a single mother with a 13 year old son, and he loves to go on secret shopper assignments with me for fast food and restaurants. This month I will collect $180 in shopper fees and food reimbursement. Our grocery bill is about $75/week, and I cook 5 nights a week. I like the suggestion someone else made about possibly refinancing to a 30 year note to get your payments down. I also like the suggestion about going back to school over the next 3 years to get your earning potential up. God bless you and hang in there!

southern granny

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 534
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2014, 09:27:38 PM »
I agree that daughter needs to pick up her own insurance.  You do still have some areas you can cut.  I agree that you can get cheaper internet service.  You mention hair cuts.  You can cut his hair and probably your own as well.  I always cut my sons hair and it looked fine.  I never cut my own until recently when I read about pony tail hair cutting.  I tried it and it is okay.  Not as good as a salon cut, but I doubt if anyone notices.  But I have a question.  If you have not remarried by age 60, can't you start drawing widows benefit from your husbands account?  I have a friend whose husband died unexpectantly and I believe she started drawing his ss at 60.  That will just leave you with 3 years between losing your sons payment and being able to draw again.

frugaldrummer

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 678
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2014, 10:46:15 PM »
1) I don't see a line item in your budget for car maintenance and repairs, or for house maintenance and repairs - you need to set aside money every month for these "unexpected" but predictable expenses.

2) Your half of the SS survivor's benefit will stop when your child turns 16 - BUT - I believe once you turn 60 you can claim it again.  (My friend is in a similar position to you, 50's and widowed and a 12 year old son.  When her husband died, his first wife could collect survivors benefits because she was 60 and unmarried - even though she had no minor children).  Learn the ins and outs of the SS system, it's important to figure out how best to maximize your benefits. 

3) If you earn more than the max right now, your benefit doesn't suddenly disappear - I believe it is reduced though by something like 50 cents on the dollar for everything you make above the limit, so there is definitely a disincentive.  Saving money may be preferable to earning more right now. 

4) Your house - is it feasible to try to pay it off before you hit retirement age?  Could you sell it in the future and use the equity to buy a home in a less expensive  area?

5) An experienced waitress can make good money in the right places - perhaps when your son is grown you could work nights, cocktail waitress or other higher-end restaurant work?  Although it is physically demanding work, you might be better off to use some of the next three years to acquire other job skills.  What else are you good at?  Sales? (Waitresses are often good with people).  Cooking? Animals? Computers?  This might be the time to put your energy into starting a side business, one that could grow and provide you an income. The lean start-up years while you are still getting SS, then start making real money about the time you need it.

6)  You CAN withdraw the retirement funds before 59.5 if they are withdrawn on a schedule of equal payments based on your life expectancy (I forget the term for this) but again, you really shouldn't touch this money unless it's a dire emergency anyway - let it grow for your future.




« Last Edit: September 26, 2014, 10:49:13 PM by frugaldrummer »

frugaldrummer

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 678
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2014, 11:00:36 PM »
And more on side hustles -

 - dog walking?
 - babysitting - what about a single mom who waitresses at night and needs a sitter in the evenings when you're home with your son anyway?
 - write a book now - and sell it when your benefits expire
 - teach yourself computer skills from free online classes
 - crafts - can you quilt, sew,  make jewelry, draw caricatures, bake cakes? 
 - can you start a side business doing health coaching now?
 

frugaldrummer

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 678
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2014, 11:37:54 PM »
Btw, here's a link on the SS survivor benefits:
http://www.ssa.gov/survivorplan/onyourown5.htm

if you collect again at 60 looks like you only get 71% of his benefit (right now your half is 75%), but if you delay collecting it, your percentage increases gradually- up to 100% if you wait until full retirement age which is probably 67 for your age cohort.

So - imagine that you collect $1400  a month SS at age 60, and are able to earn 50% more than you do now waitressing by working nites/ higher end/ more hours with son grown - that puts you at $1400 + 1800 = $3300 a month without touching your retirement account.  Add in rent from renting out your second bedroom once youngest son flies the coop - you're at about $4000 a month, even if you do nothing but continue to waitress.

McGeens

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 18
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2014, 05:27:03 AM »
Renting out your room to an international student (high school or university) could work for your situation. You might find it less onerous than an adult housemate, and (in Australia at least) there are agencies which coordinate all the paperwork and financials. Your son would probably enjoy the company too! It could provide an extra few hundred dollars a fortnight to pour into the mortgage. Good luck!

TomTX

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3518
  • Location: Texas
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #17 on: September 27, 2014, 06:39:58 AM »
That is WAY WAY too high on food, especially with ALSO eating out.

Doesn't your job give you free meals?

Start thinking about $200/month on food. Really. LOTS of Beans. Rice. Potatoes. Carrots. Onions. Bananas. Cabbage. Find chicken at $1/lb or less. Cheap whole wheat bread (store brand)  - save your chicken bones/skin/gristle for stock, then use the stock for soup/rice/whatever.

NO eating out, unless it is super-cheap (like free at work)

Holyoak

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 447
  • Age: 53
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #18 on: September 27, 2014, 07:23:21 AM »
Quote
That is WAY WAY too high on food, especially with ALSO eating out.

Doesn't your job give you free meals?

Start thinking about $200/month on food. Really. LOTS of Beans. Rice. Potatoes. Carrots. Onions. Bananas. Cabbage. Find chicken at $1/lb or less. Cheap whole wheat bread (store brand)  - save your chicken bones/skin/gristle for stock, then use the stock for soup/rice/whatever.

NO eating out, unless it is super-cheap (like free at work)

No facepunch, but I totally agree and do the same.  I will make 5-8 pounds of damn tasty "cowboy beans", and eat that for days...  Costs maybe $8.  Go to ALDI and buy cabbage and make many good meals from that.  Homemade yogurt by the gallon costs at least half of store bought, and tastes so much better.  And as mentioned, save up the chicken bones to make great soup!  Eating out for you now is an extreme luxury, and even then it has to be very inexpensive.

Also I know NJ is sucky expensive for everything, but your utility bills seem way too high.  My avg electric bill for my all electric 900 sf apt is $45/month in PA...  That means electric heat too, and even then never more than $65 month.  Yep, gotta wear something warm, especially at night when it will hit low 50's in the place.  Space heaters work great, and save a ton of dough.  Good luck!

Exhale

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 824
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #19 on: September 27, 2014, 09:41:00 AM »
I'm so sorry to hear that you're facing this situation and admire your willingness to get real and be flexible. Here are some ideas and resources that you may find helpful.

Food
- Here's a great cookbook (link to the free pdf follows) Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day https://41aac1a9acbe9b97bcebc10e0dd7cb61ef11502c.googledrive.com/host/0B9c5aT4eSlRfMzVpbC0xemtkSlE/good-and-cheap.pdf
- Think Indian and Asian cuisines (and you don't have to go full on if you're not a fan of the spices) - the combinations and inexpensive ways they make things work is inspiring.

Entertainment
- Don't pay for it!
- Library for books, etc. - Get on the waitlist for new releases  and experience the fun of going to "buy" your new book.
- Library for movies and TV series. Also, make something old feel fresh. Maybe you watched one or two West Wing episodes. Well, now you can enjoy the whole series. Make it special: turn off the phone, make popcorn (see recipes in the cookbook mentioned above) and get comfy. Or invite friends over and make it a movie night. Same thing for oldies. For example, I have the Thin Man movies on hold. Once they're ready for pick-up I'll plan a movie night with friends.

Housemates
- Great way to save money. Here in expensive Seattle, many homeowners do this so they can afford their house
- If you're close to a college/university their are agencies that match places to rent with foreign (usually Asian) students. Can be a great way to make money and learn about the world

Teamwork
- Include your son in this project/process, he needs to help find ways to trim expenses. Also, he'll probably have some great ideas you haven't thought of yet!

Future ideas - once you son has flown the nest
- Rent out your house and be a live-in aid or nanny (you could do this for pay or in exchange for room and board)
- Join the Peace Corps (great way to pump up your skill set and resume, network, etc.)
- Move someplace cheaper than NJ (especially someplace where you could get a good waitressing job)
- Live in a RV

You may want to check out these two books - might give you some ideas:
- The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)
- Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World


Best wishes!
« Last Edit: September 27, 2014, 09:42:58 AM by Exhale »

9ofPentacles

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #20 on: September 27, 2014, 10:19:54 AM »
Wow! Thank you all so much! After reading these suggestions, I feel more optimistic about the future than I have in a long time. There really ARE concrete things I can do to be in the best position possible when the time comes. First order of business is to call SSA and find out exactly what I qualify for, and when. If I really can start collecting again at 60, then the situation is not as dire as I thought. I don't anticipate my expenses ever rising significantly--I like living frugally--and by then my house will be paid off, or I'll be able to sell it and pay cash for a little condo somewhere. Or move in with my sister in Florida…who knows? Right now she's the caregiver for her elderly MIL, but a lot can happen in 10 years.

And it's clear that I need to spend the next three years training for a new career. The local community college has some good programs, and I've always been interested in real estate too. The market here SUCKS but it doesn't cost much to take the test and get a license. I actually did research this a while back and learned that most real estate agents in my area only sell about two houses a year, but that's still extra money when I'll need it and it's a good thing to have. Either way, I'll probably always waitress part-time as long as I'm physically able. I like it, I always have. It's like getting paid to socialize. :)

One thing I'm definitely going to do is start a blog. I did start a health-coaching blog last year, but I thought the focus was too narrow and took it down after a couple months. I also thought clients would flock to me and that didn't happen, lol. Now I'd like to write about celebrating and thriving in the second half of life--body, mind and spirit. I'm a good writer. Part of the plan is to write an ebook, so that's another thing I'll be working on.

And finally, you're all right: my expenses are still too high. I buy a lot of specialty healthy super-food type things--chia seeds, almond butter, raw cacao, kombucha--and I just can't afford that luxury at the moment. I can be just as happy with a bowl of oatmeal in the morning as a superfood smoothie. (Stoicism, right??) I just started shopping at Aldi a few weeks ago, and it saved me quite a bit. I also realized Target has the lowest prices around for some of the things I buy regularly, and I get 5% off at the register if I use my Target card. (Don't worry, I always pay in full each month.)

You would think my job would give me free meals, wouldn't you?? But no. It's half price, between 2 and 5 only, and you're not allowed to take it to go. I can't hang around to eat because I have to get home to my son after my shift. Such is life at a chain restaurant. My son and I usually only eat out twice a month--once to the diner for breakfast, and once for our monthly dinner and a movie outing. I could drop the dinner, but I'm keeping the movie. We really look forward to that, it's been our mom-son ritual for several years now. (I smuggle in our own candy of course.)

I actually have hair clippers. My husband used to buzz his own hair, but I've never attempted to do my son's. I'll give it a shot next time and let you all know how it went. And what's this about a ponytail cut for myself? Tell me more, please. I am NOT picky about my hair. I go to Supercuts with a coupon maybe twice a year, but I'd be willing to cut my own if it won't look too hideous. (I don't color it either, letting it go gray.)

As for utilities, I just switched to Verizon FIOS, because they were cheaper than Comcast for internet. I literally JUST switched last month. Those two are the only game in town unfortunately. Seems like Verizon is the lesser of two evils at the moment. And no I don't need Netflix AND Hulu. I can live without Orange is the New Black, but I use the Hulu almost every day. I also have Amazon Prime, which I forgot to mention, and I'm keeping that. Worth every penny.

Yeah, my electric bill. I'm good about not running the AC, but the house is old and drafty, and I like it toasty-warm in the winter. I need to lower the thermostat and wear more sweaters. I already have CFLs in all the lights, but I don't unplug things. What should I be unplugging? The TV and modem are plugged into the same power strip. Should I be turning the whole thing off at night? What else sucks energy when not in use? The microwave? Washing machine? Should I turn off the water heater when I leave for the day? 

Let's see, what else? Health insurance. It's 250 for me on the ACA (that's after a $300 subsidy), another 40 for dental and vision, and 86 for my son to be on the state plan. I thought his would be free but apparently my income is too high. My work offers it too, but I'd still have to pay out of pocket and the coverage is worse. Open enrollment is approaching, and I'm going to sit down and compare the benefits and costs. It might be cheaper to switch to the work plan.

Okay. Thank you again! So much to think about, but you all have given me hope. I'm going to start a journal here on the forum so I can be accountable.

Catbert

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1707
  • Location: Southern California
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #21 on: September 27, 2014, 10:34:01 AM »
If you go over the $14,000 annual you *just* lose 50 cents for each dollar you earn over $14000.  Worth it to make the extra money especially if it helps you build a better career:

http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf

Note:  it will take them about 2 years before they realize you earned over the wage base since they find out about it based on taxes filed.  That can be the good new/bad news.  Good news that you can use the money now.  Bad news in that they will want their money back later.  They won't know about money that you may earn off the books (e.g., dog walking, casual babysitting).  Let your conscious be your guide on that one.

GardenFun

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 459
  • Location: Packers Hell - they're everywhere!
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #22 on: September 27, 2014, 11:07:01 AM »
Here's my understanding of items with secret electrical usage.

If it has a light or a clock, it is using electricity.  So when your TV is turned off, it is still using electricity when plugged in.  Same for microwave clock, pre-programmed coffee pot, DVD/Blu Ray player, video game systems, internet modem, etc. 

If it is plugged in, but doesn't have a digital component (i.e. toaster, lamp, dryer), it isn't pulling electricity if left plugged in.

Go on your energy provider's website.  Sometimes they will do an "audit" of your bill vs. people in the area who have similar houses.  Gives you an idea of your usage vs. the area, plus they can show how much your bill will change if you modify certain aspects of your environment (adjusting temp settings, etc.)

I have been going through a "why is my electricity so high" case study with my neighbor, and these are the areas we came across:

- Constantly running a dehumidifier in the basement because it is an old model that isn't programmable - auto drains vs filling a bucket.
- Constantly running a box fan in the bedroom for air circulation.
- Constantly running an air purifier in the guinea pig room. 
   **I brought up feeding the guinea pigs to the dogs - that wasn't an option.  "Cinnamon" and "Sugar" are still alive & kicking.
- Having too many lights on during the evening - including poor energy efficient models.
- Leaving garage lights on overnight.
- Drying all loads of laundry to overdry instead of line drying (can always run for a few minutes to remove the stiffness).
- Leaving video game systems on constantly. 


9ofPentacles

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 8
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #23 on: September 27, 2014, 11:13:51 AM »
If you go over the $14,000 annual you *just* lose 50 cents for each dollar you earn over $14000.  Worth it to make the extra money especially if it helps you build a better career:

http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf

Note:  it will take them about 2 years before they realize you earned over the wage base since they find out about it based on taxes filed.  That can be the good new/bad news.  Good news that you can use the money now.  Bad news in that they will want their money back later.  They won't know about money that you may earn off the books (e.g., dog walking, casual babysitting).  Let your conscious be your guide on that one.

Mary, thank you! For some reason, I've been thinking all this time that I would lose it completely. That's a game-changer.

former player

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4515
  • Location: Avalon
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #24 on: September 27, 2014, 11:42:18 AM »
Your house is old: it does not need to be drafty.  Find and fix those drafts (even with just the basic non-technical draft-proofing strips for doors and windows, draft excluders for the bottom of doors, a layer of insulation added to curtains for single-pane windows, etc.) and you will be warmer even with less expense on heating.  Look for advice at the library, or go on line to see if your energy company or local environmental groups offer free energy audits or advice on how to draft-proof.  After sorting the drafts, loft insulation is probably the cheapest and easiest bang for the energy buck.  You should have 12 inches of insulation up there.

By all means turn off the water heater when you are not in the house.   If it is one of those copper tanks with a separate boiler and/or an immersion heater, put an insulating jacket round it (don't do this for other sorts of water heater).  Put lagging round hot pipes so that you do not lose heat between the tank and the tap.  Put lagging round cold water pipes so that they don't freeze and leak in winter.

Instead of heating bedrooms heat beds (electric blankets or hot water), and for living rooms heat only the rooms you are using while you are using them (and make sure you and your son are in the same room so that you are heating one room not two).

Exhale

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 824
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #25 on: September 27, 2014, 12:51:06 PM »
One thing I'm definitely going to do is start a blog. I did start a health-coaching blog last year, but I thought the focus was too narrow and took it down after a couple months. I also thought clients would flock to me and that didn't happen, lol. Now I'd like to write about celebrating and thriving in the second half of life--body, mind and spirit. I'm a good writer. Part of the plan is to write an ebook, so that's another thing I'll be working on.

Blogging is a great idea. If nothing else it can be a way to organize your thoughts, favorite resources, etc. Something that can be useful when you start the blog is to figure out what is your unique niche/angle. Personally, I think your experience facing the situation you're currently in will resonate for many women who are single (many newly and unexpectedly so).


merula

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1269
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #26 on: September 27, 2014, 01:15:10 PM »
Comcast has a program for cheap internet for low income kids. http://www.internetessentials.com

It looks like you make too much to qualify right now, but it might be an option once your son turns 16.

Exflyboy

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6334
  • Age: 57
  • Location: Corvallis, Oregon
  • Expat Brit living in the New World..:)
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #27 on: September 27, 2014, 04:25:52 PM »
Ok a little bit of a FP from me, but you really have to start thinking about what is important here.. namely if your spending does not directly go to feeding you, keeping you healthy or a roof over your head.. get rid of it.

1) Get 2 (and does your Son REALLY need a cell phone?) $13 cellphones from Walmart (Go pros ). Set them up on $10 a month Airvoice wireless plans.. not $25 a month Republics.. Limit your calls to 250  mins a month to keep within the $10.
2) Cut Daughter off the insurance immediately.
3) stop eating out altogether
4) all school extra activities stop.. Make him a sandwich and send it to school with him
Cut food spending in half.. at least
5) cut off Hulu and Netflix.. buy rabbit ears for $10.
6) $69 for internet?.. are you kidding me?.. I pay $30 and I think that's too much.. shop around... Or cut it off completely

Your spending almost $48k a year... WAAY to high and there is lots of scope to cut here.

Do you really need a car?.. if not sell it.

This is freaking emergency and you have got to get on it fast!

Frank
« Last Edit: September 27, 2014, 04:27:44 PM by Exflyboy »

southern granny

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 534
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #28 on: September 27, 2014, 08:01:45 PM »
To learn about ponytail hair cuts, just google "ponytail hair cuts" or "DIY haircuts"  There are even youtube videos on it.  Basically you pull your hair into an elastic band then slide the band down and cut next to it.  Turned out better than I expected.  I'm glad you are feeling more optimistic.  Your son deserves a happier mother.  Good luck to you.

HP

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 89
  • Location: Silva, Mons et Mare
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #29 on: September 27, 2014, 09:02:32 PM »
Mortgage, prop taxes and ins: 1199 (Just went up due to an escrow shortfall)
Have your house inspected to see if you can get your property taxes lowered. They are updated based on the exterior of your house and not the interior, so if the interior is run-down some, they may lower the value and hence the tax.

Car insurance: 125 (Mine and my grown daughter's. She's 22 and doesn't even live here anymore. Probably should have a talk.)
Yeaahh.... also as your son gets older and starts learning to drive, take advantage of things like good student discounts if possible. Don't be afraid to have him get a job and contribute once he's driving and costing.

Internet: 69
Be sure you have shopped around for the lowest price. Switching providers can have a starters fee, but current providers will usually price-match and thereby you may avoid forking over the dollars to start services with a new provider.

Hulu/Netflix: 16
Use free Hulu. Cut off all the paid stuff. You'll miss it at first, but then you'll develop other things to do in your down/veg time. Like blogging! Woo!

Food: 550-650 (trying to get this under 500)
Check local health food stores for bulk co-ops. Ask mormons where they get their bulk. It's usually cheaper. See if Azure Standard does delivery in your area. See if Bountiful Baskets delivers to your area. You could probably spazz up your oatmeal with chia seed and dried cherries or whatever you like cheaper than a smoothie, but still get some of those nutrients even if you're not getting as much chia seed as you were formerly. ;) Some Aldi's have an organic line, last I heard. I bet you can get down to at least 300-400 if you focus more on bulk and simple meals, cutting out snacky stuff like granola bars and jerky and pretzels or whatever prepared stuff you like to buy. Maybe your son would like to learn how to make homemade grab and go snacks.

Kid/school/sports: 100-200 (Parkour class at a gym, allowance, school lunch once a week, haircuts, etc.)
Is it possible to cut out the school lunch? I second cutting your own hair. I have never been to a hairdresser/barber person. I have only gotten compliments on my hair. There are lots of tutorials online. The ponytail method sucks for my hair, but there are many methods to try.

Entertainment: 100-200 (Movies, outings, restaurants, magazines, etc. I stopped buying books, this used to be more. Last month it was under 100 for the first time ever.)

Maybe you can give yourself $40/mo, and your son $40 a month. Or have your son use his allowance for these things, unless it's a mom/son outing. $40 will take you to the theater twice, or it will take you out to eat once, or it will buy you a book or two. When it's gone, it's gone. Many outings can be free and still fun. Look for those.

Jacana

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 188
  • Location: Back in the DMV :(
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #30 on: September 28, 2014, 09:29:46 PM »
Just a thought on future jobs along the health aide line, what about nursing aide or attendant or orderly at a local hospital? I don't think those positions require formal training and waitressing skills might come in handy. Also have you considered being a veterinary receptionist? It doesn't require any particular degree and you should be able to swing it based on people skills and multitasking from waitressing plus a bit of knowledge in the health field. Assuming of course you like animals and would be OK in that field. Most vet receptionists I knew were trained on the job, thus eliminating having to go back to school and pay tuition. Think about looking into unglamorous but still important jobs in fields that interest you, you'll have less competition for those positions.

MrsPete

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3519
Re: Help a widowed single mom think outside the box
« Reply #31 on: September 29, 2014, 06:14:44 AM »
You're paying a huge mortgage for a tiny house, and you say that the job market in your area isn't great.  Your three adult children are out of this area anyway -- why are you staying?  I can see sticking around until your youngest has completed high school, but once that's done, why don't you pick up and move somewhere with a lower cost of housing and a better job market?  You say you have family in Florida.  I don't know what their job market is like, but the South is booming right now -- people and corporations are leaving the North as fast as they can rent U-Hauls, and they're coming here where the cost of living is low and the weather is good. 

You're paying for TWO PHONES what I pay for FOUR PHONES.  You do need basic phones, but you're overpaying. 

You're also paying what I'm paying for electricity, insurance and water -- but I have a house 2.5Xs as large and four drivers.  Maybe this is a cost-of-living thing, and -- if so -- it's even more evidence that you should relocate somewhere more affordable.  I'm paying less for food, and we eat out more often.