The Oregonian, the newspaper for most of Oregon, ran this article about a Portland couple in financial trouble. I enjoyed (although that's not quite the word I mean) reading about the Carters because they have handled their finances in ways both right and wrong, and because they are drawing near retirement age.
They have saved for retirement, and have not raided their 401(k) to keep themselves afloat during the past two years that the husband has been out of work. They do not have credit card debt. They are helping out their pregnant married daughter and her husband.
On the less positive side, they have used their modest home as a piggy bank, and now, in their mid-fifties, still have 25 years to go on an increasingly non-viable mortgage. If they are not upside down, they are near to it.
The husband is retraining, but he rightly fears his age will be against him in the workplace, both in his prior work as an insurance adjuster and his new degree for medical billing. My question is why he waited two years to start the retraining. In retrospect, he needed to be working at least part-time at any job he could get or he needed to start school sooner. I'm guessing he didn't because he hoped to find work in his field, and it never occurred to him that it would be two years and he still wouldn't be employed.
In fact, I suspect the whole family thought his job loss was just a temporary set-back, not a major lifestyle change. This would explain their continued reliance on expensive meals eaten out and their unwillingness to stop shopping at one of Oregon's great, local and costly markets, New Seasons.
The comments section is enlightening as well, (123 posts at last count), though there's a fair amount of political nonsense to be waded through. The advice varies from the terrible (Cash in the 401K) to more thoughtful commentary on how to live on a reduced income. I admit to a bit of surprise that some posters felt it was somehow "unfair" of this couple to take advantage of a federal mortgage-suspension program. Personally, I think it makes no sense NOT to take advantage of any available program that would help the couple get back on their financial feet.
The comments were also interesting regarding the presence of the couple's daughter and son-in-law. Clearly the young couple needs to increase the 'rent' they currently pay, but if they're going to pay market rent (as some posters feel they should) why would they bother to stay with their in-laws? I assume the idea is to help both families--giving Mom and Dad some much needed cash while allowing the kids reduced housing expenses.
Too many of the comments focused on the mistakes that have already been made (and were highly judgmental in ways that suggested to me that the posters had never truly experienced any of the life experiences this couple had had) without offering suggestions for the here and now.
But I am in total agreement with those who suggested that the couple accept that their situation is NOT temporary and adjust accordingly. Should their earning power go up in the future, more power to them. But it may not. $39,000 a year (which is what they will have when the husband's unemployment insurance runs out) is a comedown from their past lifestyle, but it's not impossible for a two-person family to live comfortably, if not richly, on that amount.