Get Out of Debt Guy

I Barely Have Enough Money to Eat. - Sandra

Posted March 20, 2013
Updated March 21, 2013

WRAL Reader Question

Dear Steve,

I have a car payment that is $277.01 a month, no house payment (paid off last year), my light bill is approximately $100.00 per month, cell phone and computer bill together is around $120.00 per month, tv bill is about $65.00 per month, I heat and cook with propane gas, my current bill is around $1600.00 (this has to be paid in full by June 2013).

My auto insurance is full coverage and costs me about $120.00 per month, some months I get to skip since I have it financed with the insurance agency.

My homeowner's insurance is paid up until May 2013. I don't buy many groceries since I get food from a local church every 2 weeks. I don't have any credit cards or other recurring debt other than the truck payment and insurance and utilities and gas bill.

Even with no credit cards and no kids to raise, I find it difficult to even keep gas in my vehicle and never have any money to do anything with. I am always out of money the day after pay day.

How can I ever pay off my truck payment and get a lower insurance rate when I can barely afford gas to drive back and forth to work?

I have to have insurance on my house and the vehicle, but cannot seem to get any money ahead to pay off my propane gas bill and have enough left to buy things that I need.

I use coupons as much as possible.

I am currently trying to get a part time job to supplement my income. I make about $26,000 a year.

I have no kids, so no tax deductions for me and I only have a high school diploma, would love to go to school but at almost 50 years old, what choices do I have?

Please off any help you can. I am desperate to get out of this dead end I have gotten myself into and would love to take care of myself without asking family or friends. Thanks!

Sandra

Answer

Dear Sandra,

You raise an issue that I've been concerned about for many years. The reality is it is hard or practically impossible for someone to raise themselves up when they are barely getting by to begin with. If it was easy, I would not have so many people always are asking me "how do I get out of debt."

The issue of the hurdle that is faced by people trying to move from welfare to work, sounds a lot like the stumbling blocks and obstacles in your way.

For those that may be interested, there was a wonderful book written on this subject by Judith M. Gueron titled "From Welfare to Work."

With nearly every dollar of your income spoken for, the options to adjust this equation are basic. We need to increase your income since it looks unlikely we will reduce your expenses further. 

I applaud your hard working drive to get a second job. Hopefully that will help to drag you away from the financial edge. But there are other ways to adjust the equation as well.

You are already utilizing the resources of the local food bank and that's great. But many people either are not aware of all the public assistance programs out there or don't think they are for them.

I can assure you the assistance programs that you qualify for are well suited for you and you should absolutely investigate them and apply for those you are eligible.

Every dollar you receive in public benefits is a dollar that helps you to buy gas and propane.

There is an excellent website to check to see what public benefit programs you might qualify for. Visit Benefits.gov. On that website you can see what benefit programs you qualify for, including:

Education & Training
Energy Assistance
Food & Nutrition
Insurance
Living Assistance

Depending on the value of your house, you may want to explore a reverse mortgage to take cash out to help make ends meet if you are still short after exploring additional income and benefit programs. But before you do anything with that I would suggest you talk to a free HUD Housing Counselor for guidance and advice. You can call 800-569-4287 to find a free reverse mortgage counselor to assist you.

The reverse mortgage would allow you to take the equity out of your home to supplement your income but of grave concern to me is you are 49 years old with a long life ahead. To be eligible for a reverse mortgage you have to be 62 or older. It's quite possible the equity would be long gone before you stopped needing the additional cash to get by. It's a band-aid, not a permanent solution.

Depending on what the situation is with the truck, you could sell it and buy a less expensive vehicle that would cost less to insure. In that case, talk to your insurance agent about what you should look for. There are some affordable and economical used cars out there.

I'm sure our wonderful readers will have additional helpful suggestions as well they will post in the comments below. They always do.

Big hug.

Steve Rhode

WRAL Get Out of Debt Guy 

If you have a question you'd like to ask about how to get out of debt, click here.

5 Comments

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  • steverhode Mar 21, 2013

    There is one issue I've been waiting for someone to pick up on. Hint, car insurance.

  • steverhode Mar 21, 2013

    One limitation I forgot to mention is that reverse mortgages are limited to people that are 62 and over. Sandra said she was 49.

  • steverhode Mar 21, 2013

    It is true that switching to basic cable and a combined internet package can save some money, and a prepaid cell package can be had for $20 a month. This is not a tragedy of a few dollars.

    We also don't know what if there is an early termination fee on the cell phone, if so that many not be able to be paid on such a limited income.

    Another option is to sell the house, invest the proceeds, and rent. There is some concern with such limited resources the home will be able to be well maintained moving forward.

    If someone does not want to sell and move, is unable to increase income, and has a paid off home, then a reverse mortgage is a logical way to remain in the home. There are advantages and disadvantages and this is why I advised her to talk to a HUD Housing Counselor to review her specific situation.

  • common tater Mar 21, 2013

    I too was a little surprised at the mortgage advice. If I had one thing finally paid for, I'd only mortgage it as an absolute last resort. First, if you're 50 and making $12/hour, you might want to rethink your line of work. You don't have to have a college degree to make a decent income. I know a woman who's 60, has a small business cleaning homes, and makes twice that at least. It may just be a matter of gaining the confidence to try something new...always scary. If you have a home paid for and no kids, you might consider renting a room...maybe to a female college student. You should be able to get about $4400 a year from that...and for you that's like getting a 17% pay increase overnight. If nothing else, do it for just a few years till you can get some "cushion" money in the bank.

  • tarheelgrad1998 Mar 21, 2013

    The "Get Out of Debt" guy suggests a reverse mortgage? Wow.

    How about, drop the TV service and use an antenna, or subscribe to Netflix if that's not enough. That saves $55/mo. Also, drop the cellular coverage to prepaid, which can probably save a minimum of $30/mo.

    And absolutely explore whether you need a truck or can get by with a cheaper car which is more fuel efficient (though don't go into more debt to get there...do the math).

About this Blog:

Steve Rhode has had careers in opthalmology, real estate and as the head of a nonprofit debt counseling firm. On his blog, he offers hard-won, free advice about getting out of debt, consolidation and making the right choices as you manage your money.