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Old 02-06-2011, 09:01 AM   #21
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As far as other gov't programs,,,, in my part of the country, there is an energy assistance program that low inocome people can appy for that helps pay the heating bills. I don't really know the detailed qualifications but you might look into it.

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Old 02-06-2011, 10:00 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Katsmeow View Post
My mom is 86 and gets SS that is about $16,500 a year. She did work throughout her adult life (unusual in her time). She gets about $5300 a year from required IRA distributions and a couple of tiny pensions. So, just under $22k a year.

She does not spend it all. Her house has been paid for since the early 1960s. My parents bought a starter home in the late 1940s and she still lives in it (she is a widow now).

She spends a little bit of money now for someone to mow and take care of her yard.

She still drives but her car is almost 20 years old and is still very low mileage on it. She only drives to things that are nearby.

She doesn't have (or want) cable TV. She doesn't have internet. She doesn't have a dishwasher (her counters aren't the right size for a dishwasher to fit). She doesn't have a cell phone. She doesn't spend money on any hobbies. Her hobbies are doing some work in her yard and watching broadcast TV and reading the paper. She has a close relationship with a sister who lives nearby. She eats out extremely rarely (a few times a year maybe). She rarely travels (when she comes to see us a couple of hundred miles away, DH goes and gets her and then takes her home).

Her house is small (maybe 1500 SF) so her utilities bills are tiny. Probably her biggest expense is medical particularly prescriptions and the medicare prescription benefit was very, very helpful for her.

The other major expense is when she occasionally needs a major house repair or maintenance. A few years ago she had new windows put in. She did something very daring then. She put it on 0% interest at Sears. She had never used a credit card before (well, one time my dad used a credit card to pay for a hotel room, but only once). She did use some of her savings to pay for that.
In other words your mom is managing just fine on $22k a year. Lots of people do.

Folks this board tends to skew middle class to upper middle class. Most workers don't live that way. Further not everyone lives in a suburban split level with cable, a dishwasher and all of the other toys that Madison Ave thinks you need to have a decent life. Lots of people live on much less and manage. I am thinking of all of the low wage earners I have worked with over the years. The nurse aid and the janitor usually retires with little savings so SS will make up a large part of what they will live on. They never had much to begin with so they are not supporting expensive life styles.

Not every wage earner lives independently. I have two brothers who work but are mentally retarded will depend of SS when retire. They live with my parents and will live with a sibling after my parents die. We have put money aside for them but on paper they have no savings.
Getting back to those low wage earners. A lot live with relatives to pool resources.

It would be nice if articles like the one posted by the Op would get into the demographics of the people they are talking about. Poor people don't have saving and never will. They manage during their productive years and will manage during their retirement. There are supports both formal and informal that articles like the one posted seem never to take into account.
It is those informal support that people like us have no clue about because we are pretty much independent. However poorer folks depend on them to make it.

I think articles like these are directed at the haves to scare them.

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Old 02-06-2011, 10:15 AM   #23
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A lot depends on the standard of living one desires (or desires for loved ones).

My grandmother (who died a few years ago at 98) lived on SS and had a very lower middle class lifestyle and easily made ends meet. It did help that she lived in a senior apartment complex where rent was based on ability to pay (partially subsidized), but she was amazingly frugal. Sometimes to a fault like wearing the rattiest old clothes while she had drawers and closets full of new clothes she had received as gifts but wouldn't wear (most of which ended up with goodwill after she passed, tags and all).

I agree it wouldn't be easy to live only on SS, but it all depends on your expectations - as a previous poster indicated, those who frequent this forum tend to be more well to do and have higher expectations than those who are less fortunate (either by circumstances or as a result of their own decisions).
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Old 02-06-2011, 02:14 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by youbet View Post
. But the message I get from your description of your mom's life style, and from being involved in my MIL's (who has even less than your mom) support, is that SS alone doesn't provide a level of day-to-day living that DW or I would find acceptable. The years we worked to make sure we'd have significant income beyond SS look like an excellent investment!
She doesn't feel deprived or feel her lifestyle is unacceptable. The thing is that many of the things that she doesn't have that we feel are necessities -- cell phone, internet, dishwasher -- are things that weren't around during most of her life and when they came about she wasn't all that eager to get them. Some of this is personal taste of course.

My other mother (I'm adopted so talking about my biological mother here) is very similar and also frugal. She is a bit more "modern" and so does have internet for example and uses the computer (she's 81 or so). But still she has a modest lifestyle.

I could see my kids thinking 30 years from now that I don't spend any money on X, Y, and Z which are the expensive new things but for me they are things I never had so I won't miss them.
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Old 02-06-2011, 02:20 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Katsmeow View Post
I could see my kids thinking 30 years from now that I don't spend any money on X, Y, and Z which are the expensive new things but for me they are things I never had so I won't miss them.
Sounds like you should be FIRE'd then. Sorry, I can't remember if you are or not. You've got the financial end covered.

While DW and I grew up poor (walked to school in the snow 10 miles uphill both ways, etc. etc.) and certainly are keen experts on cheap living, we'd be unhappy on a SS only income. We've been FIRE'd almost 5 years and there really aren't enough "don't care" items in the budget to cut and get back to a SS only spending level without causing some discomfort. We have no regrets that we worked a little longer to have a little more now. Of course, I understand some folks have jobs that are hell and leaving those jobs, even to live very, very frugally, would still be better than working.

I'm glad your mom is enjoying life and is content with her situation. That's so important and I know you'd be part of a solution if something came up where help was needed. Good for her and good for you.
"I wasn't born blue blood. I was born blue-collar." John Wort Hannam
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Old 02-06-2011, 04:23 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by mickeyd View Post
Which is worse 34% of all, or 25% of some or 22% of others? Any way you scope it there are way too many folks depending on SS (I guess) to get them thru the final third of their life. It's a sad situation that does not appear to me to be getting any better.

Why should I care? If those guys are all broke at 70 or 80, who do you suppose they (or the gumment) will come after to pick up the tab?
This isn't just some future concern. In 2006, about 28% of the single people over age 70 said that SS is their only source of income. Married couples do much better, only 13% of them said they had just SS.*

As you suggested, the taxpayers pick up some of their costs beyond just SS. My MIL lived in a HUD subsidized apartment where her rent was capped at 30% of her income. Elderly people are also one of the groups that can qualify for Medicaid.

On the other side, both my MIL and my mother had very low expenses as they aged. If you're poor you make do with no car or a minimal car. You don't travel, eat in restaurants, buy electronic gizmos, or buy entertainment.

Put the additional gov't benefits and the lower spending together, and I think we cover the necessities for elderly people who couldn't or didn't save. They aren't starving or homeless.

Looking forward, the increasing percent of the elderly will add to our bill for HUD subsidies and elderly Medicaid. I'll guess those will be small additions to the bill for normal SS and Medicare.

* From table A2 here Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2006 - Importance of Social Security Relative to Total Income (Beneficiary Aged Units and Persons in Beneficiary Families Only)

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