Updated on 07.12.10

Reader Mailbag: Lemon Sour

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Handling house sale proceeds
2. Helping a declining parent
3. Chasing a dream
4. Moving forward with bad policy
5. Spending choices on children
6. Cashing out stock options
7. Who is Trent politically?
8. Soda
9. Handling a small windfall
10. Creepy emails

Remember my complaint about soda about a month ago? It turns out that there was a labeling error. Apparently some bottles that contained “lemon soda” were mislabeled “lemon sour.” I’ve yet to receive a written response from the company, which may contain vouchers or some similar material. I’ll keep you posted.

After following your thoughts and advice, I am proud to say that I have eliminated my personal debt. My partner has made great strides in her debt, and now has about $50,000 worth of debt (car loan, consolidation loan, and credit cards).

We bought our first house to flip last November (’09) and our mortgage balance is $77,000. We received an offer of $220,000, giving us an approximately $80,000 profit after expenses, taxes, etc. I am writing to you to ask for your thoughts on the two options we are considering:

1. Pay off all of my partner’s debt, leaving us both with no debt whatsoever, and take the $30,000 as a down payment on our next investment property.

2. Roll the $80,000 into two properties, using $40,000 as a down payments (20 and 20) and the rest for repairs, etc.

Some other background: our emergency savings level is low (i.e. less than $10,000), I am self employed, she has a reasonably secure job. We have a very substantial sum in untouchable retirement accounts. We both enjoy investing in real estate and both sets of our parents are successful real estate investors.

It’s a nice problem to have but we really are not sure where to go with this. Thanks for your reply and help.
– Kate

I’m not entirely sure I agree wholly with either idea.

The big question I would have is whether or not you have a cash emergency fund sitting there so that if something bad happens, you’re able to just deal with it. If you don’t, then go for the first option.

Now, another key question: how high interest is that debt she has? It seems like it would be fairly high interest. If it’s above even a few percent, I would put paying off that debt as a higher priority than flipping properties.

I like option one much better, with the caveat of an emergency fund.

I’m my mother’s health care proxy and executor of her estate. I finally was able to nail her feet to the ground and talk about what her wishes were, but also what her estate entails. Right now she is 56 years old, with an ok paying job. I figure she makes about $40,000 a year, give or take, and has health care through her job. My dad is passed, so it is just her. She told me she has about $20,000 in cash, about $5,000 (yeah, that’s five thousand) split between three retirement accounts, and her house. She has a small home improvement loan on the house, I believe it is $10,000. The house is not in good condition. Looking at other real estate in her area, I am guessing that it would sell for $70-$90k. That is it.

What am I suppose to do about her retirement? While talking she mentioned that her monthly SS, when she reaches age to collect it, would not cover her current monthly bills. Her bills right now are probably the lowest that she will ever see them since once she retires she will have to get on medicare and buy supplemental insurance or pay out of pocket for her meds. I have this feeling in the back of my mind that we (my husband and I) are going to have to take her in, as she will not be able to afford the taxes on the house and will have to sell it, and then she will not have enough money to live on her own once she loses the house. My husband does not want her to move in with us, and while I don’t want it to happen either, I just cannot imagine what else she is going to do. We don’t own a house yet, only rent, and we have a toddler at this point – hoping for more. We are debt free, have our emergency fund, and are actively saving for a house. I am of the frame of mind that we should be looking for one that has an extra room as I see my mom moving in with us within the next few years.

Do you know of anything that I can do to help my mother not have to move in with us? Taking on an extra job or doing more is beyond her. Do you think it is wise to plan that she is going to be moving in with us? How can I convince my husband of this, if it does indeed come to pass – which I give a much higher possibility to, after talking to her.
– Susan

This is the tough spot that parents put their children in if they don’t adequately save for retirement. I see people in my own life following this path – and what’s going to happen in fifteen or twenty years is that they’re going to become burdens on their children whether they want to be or not. Save for retirement, folks, so this doesn’t happen to you.

Right now, your mother needs to budget starkly regardless of what she winds up doing. She needs to shore up every dime she can for retirement coming down the road, period.

Most likely, one of two things will happen anyway. Either she’ll keep working until she starts sliding downhill with her health (in which case, you’ll probably have to jump in to care for her) or she’ll retire before that and need a place to live.

It really, really depends on your mother’s character. Is she going to continually hint that she should take care of you? Or will she have a stiff upper lip and attempt to find her own solutions (low income housing, etc.)? If it’s the former, you’re going to have to make a tough call.

I’m a 25 year old IT consultant living in Chicago. I’m a computer science graduate, and I have a job where I make great money, live frugally (as much as you can in a high-cost city), save heavily and invest smart (automated, low-cost index funds). I’ve maxed out my Roth IRA for the last 3 years since being in the work force, and have maxed out my Simple IRA contributions last year and this year. I’ve already got about $50k in retirement accounts, and about $25k in more liquid savings. So, financially, I’m doing very well, and I’d like to thank you for getting me off on the right foot.

However, I’m not very happy in my job. I work for a small company, and have given more and more responsibility since beginning a year and a half ago. I’m now in the position that I thought I always wanted, but I’ve realized that it’s draining, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve been thinking about moving to a different position in my field, at another company. Something less technical and more people-oriented, as I’ve realized since being in the workforce that my skills really lie in bridging the gap between very technical, nerdy people and the non-technical crowd.

But, before I change jobs, I really want to travel. I’m a motorcycle and outdoor enthusiast, and want to travel the world on my bike. My current plan is to slim down my possessions (which I’ve already started doing), pack the items I want to keep into a deliverable storage box, pack the motorcycle up and hit the road for 6 months to a year. I don’t want to have a specific plan or route in place, but rather places and people that i want to see instead (Canada, west coast of the US, Mexico, and down to Panama). I have enough money saved that I can live on the road for a year and a half, which wouldn’t include temporary jobs I could pick up along the way or volunteer opportunities that would pay for housing and food like WWOOF (http://www.wwoof.org).

I’ve started preparing myself for this trip by taking motorcycle mechanic courses, stripping my bike down to the frame and putting it back together, taking Spanish courses, and reading anything and everything that I can about living on the road. I’ve also been taking my motorcycle for extended weekend camping trips and getting my gear & supplies figured out before I leave for good.

My question for you and your readers is this — am I crazy for doing this? My close friends and family are concerned about my safety and the impact this could have on my career, whereas I think that it will give me enough experiences to be a much better person and employee in the future.
– Stephen

You are absolutely not crazy for doing this. If this is a dream you have and you have the financial ability to do this for a while without any other life responsibilities, go for it.

It sounds like you know what you need to do to prepare so I’ll trust your preparations for the trip.

As for whether you’ll regret it later, my guess is that you won’t. This is the type of thing that will cause you to grow as a person. It will lead you down a completely different path in life.

What do you think you’ll regret more in twenty years: not doing this motorcycle journey or not working at an IT job that you hate? If you have the financial means right now to choose either path, the choice is probably pretty clear.

I’m 28, my husband is 33 and we’re expecting our first child. I’m trying to figure out how to invest our money, so would like your input on this.

No CC or student debt, car paid off in full, mortgage of $189K that is being rented out (almost breaking even, we only have to pay $150 each month and that includes property manager for the out of state property). Renting for $800 from my parents. I make $39K and my husband makes $40K. We’ve got $33K in savings, contribute fully to an IRA for each of us, are going to start contributing 6% into my husband’s 401K at his new job (his matches 3% if they put in 6% and my company doesn’t have 401K) and I have a term life insurance policy. A couple of years ago his parents got us into a Northwestern Mutual Adjust CompLife Policy for him that we now pay $500/month into (we’ve been doing this for almost 2 years, so have pumped almost $12K into this. If we cashed it out we’d only get $4K).

I now understand the AdjustCompLife Policy a little more than I did when we signed up, and I’m under the impression that this isn’t a good idea for people our age. My dad and his stockbroker agree that we might want to change this, especially since the guaranteed APY is only 2%. The estimated APY is like 4.5% (obviously the life insurance guy told us it’s because of historically low rates, and that the rates should go up). My dad and his stockbroker want us to get my husband a term life policy like me and to invest the rest of the money into a mutual fund instead, especially since $600 is a hefty amount to have tied up in an “investment retirement” type of account that is in addition to our IRA’s and 401K. I’m leaning toward this (I like that it forces us to save, but it isn’t liquid so if we need it we’re out of luck. We can “borrow” from our account at 5.8% interest rate or take the cash settlement out), possibly leaving what we have invested so that it can compound but stop payments and take that $500 and invest elsewhere. What do you think? And if you would invest elsewhere, where? mutual funds?

Also, what do we do with the $33K in savings? It’s in a savings account – really really small APR – but it is our emergency fund. Is there a better way to keep it liquid but in a higher investment?
– Kris

I would get out of that policy. You shouldn’t be putting $500 a month into a policy that’s only returning 2%. Replace it with a term policy (because you’re going to be parents), take what you get from cashing the policy in, and invest it.

Where should you invest it? In that mortgage, if nothing else. That’s going to be earning you a lot more than 2%.

I have more to say on where you could invest it, but Kris had a second question that focused more generally on parenting issues.

As an addendum, the biggest thing we are saving for is private school tuition for our unborn child. We’re approximating $20K per year for tuition alone, not including if we have another one. We’d stop at two kids, which would be $40K per year. Private school is not an option for us – we need to figure out how to save for that. We managed to save $20K last year, which would be tuition for one, but two? Yikes.

What other advice do you have for impending parenthood?
– Kris

Something else to consider: why not just keep the money from the insurance as cash in a savings account and then sock it away in your child’s 529 when he/she is born, as a great way to start the child’s college savings? That way, you’d have a heads-up on the private school expenses right away, if that’s the route you’re choosing.

I’m not sure what you mean by saying that private school is not an option for you – I’m guessing you meant that public is not an option. I would suggest that you research that very carefully before you make a $20,000 a year decision. Depending on the region of the country where you live, the gap between educational results in public and private schools isn’t very large at all (virtually nil in some areas). Public school quality varies incredibly from state to state and municipality to municipality in the United States. There are many public schools that are far better than private schools (particularly some magnet and charter schools). Of course, you may be making that choice for religious or cultural reasons, which is a different story entirely.

The best thing you can do for your child is encourage them to have a strong work ethic and give them enough of a mix of independence and guidance so that they have a sense that they can do anything for themselves. They’ll make something of themselves if they have that.

My fiance has some stock options with his company that we will likely be cashing out soon, in two installments. The first, which we’ll have in a couple of months, will be about $250k (about $150k in pocket after the cost of the stocks and taxes). The second installment is a bit of a mystery at the moment, and could range from $162k to $480k (and we won’t really know where on that spectrum it will be for probably a year, maybe longer). I have $100k in student loans, as well as a $20k car loan, and about $10k in credit card debt. He has about $6k in credit cards, $37k on his two cars, and a $170k mortgage. Altogether we’ve got about $343k in debt (YIKES!). Our household income is around $200k, and our savings is virtually nonexistent ($16k in his 401k but that’s about it). We’re youngish (late twenties, early thirties).

My question is, keeping in mind that we’re not sure what the total amount will end up being, what’s the smartest thing to do with that money? I think we should put it all towards debts, and invest whatever is left over from the second payment, if any, as part of our retirement fund/nest egg. Being debt free would put about $4500 extra in our pockets each month, most of which would go straight into savings. My fiance thinks we should pay off just the credit card debt and one or two of the cars, and then invest everything else, with the intention of paying off our debt in 10 years with the interest we accrue on the investments.
– Stacy

I agree with your plan. If you don’t have any burning goals in the near-term future, shoot for complete debt freedom.

The reason is simple: cash flow. With no debt, you don’t have the payments hanging around your neck. If one of you lost your job, you wouldn’t have to make bone-crushing choices. If one of you chose a different career path, it wouldn’t be devastating to your life. If you had a child and one of you decided to be a stay at home parent, you wouldn’t be gripped by debt.

Investing that money (probably in stocks) wouldn’t help your monthly cash flow and would put that balance at risk in whatever investment you chose. If you chose a very low risk one (like cash or bonds), it’d earn a much lower rate than it would if you paid off debts.

Get rid of the debt. Enjoy the freedom.

I know you don’t like to talk about politics, but I can’t figure out for the life of me where you stand politically.
– Carmen

I don’t care much for national politics. Rather than solving problems, both sides are mostly focused on grabbing pork for their constituencies and blaming everyone else for everything in a nonstop rush to re-election. You can’t even try to do something different because the tide is completely against you. Raise an issue no one wants to talk about (because it might scare some voters) and you get ignored with the idea never getting out of committee. Points are scored and ratings are grabbed not by making good points, but in painting the “other guy” as some sort of demon. Until there is serious electoral reform and very strong term limits, this will never change, and good luck to the politician who stands up for term limits in Congress.

I vastly prefer local politics, where people actually sit down and discuss things. Real problems are solved. Roads are built. Schools are built. Fire and police protection is organized and provided.

I care about solving people’s problems. I care about respecting other viewpoints than my own. I care about spending serious time thinking about the best way to solve a given problem. I don’t care for having to be in lockstep with someone’s philosophy. I don’t care for insulting people you don’t agree with when they’re merely trying to solve problems in a different way than you are.

Those things only happen on a local – and sometimes a state – stage these days. That’s where my heart lies. Sometimes I like solutions that would brand me a “conservative.” Sometimes I like solutions that would brand me a “liberal.” To be honest, I could care less about either one of those labels as long as people are sitting down together and honestly trying to solve people’s problems and are willing to listen to one another.

What are your thoughts on Soda? I know that in addition to personal finance you are also a fan of eating well, and healthy. I was wondering if you own or have considered a Sodastream type device to make your own carbonated beverages? The cost justification seems like it could work out over a period of time. I am wondering if it is worth the initial investment or if I should forgo this type of device altogether. Your insight is greatly appreciated.
– Del

I enjoy an occasional soda – and sometimes use it as an ingredient in a mixed drink. I don’t drink it daily or even weekly, however.

I think if you drink a significant amount of soda, you might be able to save money with a SodaStream type of machine. The best way to do that is with a simple cost analysis – what would the annual cost of each option be based on your soda habits? Will you continue that habit in the future?

There is potential there to save money. There’s also potential in saving money by simply drinking less soda and keeping it in the “treat” area rather than the “major expense” area.

My husband and I bought our first house back in 2009 and recently received our $8,000 check, which has been sitting in savings while we debate what the wisest way is to spend it. We’re both fairly conservative with our money so our first instinct is to use it to either pay off his student loans (~$16K at 8%) or pay off my car loan ($12K at 5%). We’re leaning towards paying my car loan because it wouldn’t take as long to pay it off entirely and, despite having a lower interest rate, it’s the higher monthly payment (I believe this would be the snowball method). However the other consideration is we really only have a couple thousand in savings, which is less than the emergency 6 month supply everyone advises. Is it better to pay off debt then build up savings, or should we keep it in savings and just pay our loans as normal? Is there a wiser course of action we haven’t considered? We both work very good jobs and otherwise have a modest amount more income than needed to cover our needs, so we’re hoping to knock down our debt quickly and build savings before working towards more fun goals of improving the new house.
– Amanda

I usually encourage people to have about two months’ worth of living expenses in savings for every dependent in their household. I’m assuming you don’t have kids, so I would keep four months’ worth of living expenses (your family’s take home minus whatever you save each month) in a savings account.

Compared to the importance of having that, your interest rates are fairly low. I would put the priority on the emergency fund. I know that it can be tempting to put it towards debt rather than having it sit there, but it’s that very moment when you use it for something else that you find you really need it.

As for which debt to pay off first, you’re really fine going either way. There are good reasons for paying off each of them first, so go with the one that feels right to you.

You’ve said that you’ve received some really creepy emails in the past. What’s the creepiest thing ever sent to you by a reader?
– Carl

Photoshopped pictures of my children and my wife take the cake.

I have also received a very sincere invitation for an affair from a woman that I believe lived pretty close to where I do. I didn’t follow up, so I don’t know specifically.

I receive all sorts of crazy on a daily basis, though. Those are the ones that stand out in my mind.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. marta says:

    This is a very common error, but what you mean to say is that you “couldn’t care less”. Saying you could care less implies that you actually do care quite a bit!

    Are you actually involved in local politics? At what level?

  2. Katie says:

    Thanks for standing up for public schools! I’ve worked with plenty of people who have gone to very highly regarded private schools over my garden variety public one, and have never seen a huge correlation in preparation for the workforce or even general knowledge base. Of course, there are places where public school really isn’t an option for safety or other reasons, but I think they’re a lot more limited than some people think. As a general rule, if parents are engaged intellectually and encourage academic pursuits, kids will be too no matter where they go to school.

  3. katek says:

    For Kris:
    $20K a year is an absurd about to be paying for school tuition if you’re only making $80K combined! You may have been able to save $20K last year, but good luck continuing that once you have a child or two, they’re not as expensive as people always make them out to be, but kids are not cheap.

    I’m not trying to criticize your parenting choices, where you send your children to school is your perogative. But is it really worth the incredible sacrifices your family will have to make? JD is right, private education is only very rarely better than public education, particularly when supplemented with parents who actually care about their children’s progress. Most children fail in school not because of the shcool but because of a complete lack of support at home, and I’m sure that won’t be the case in your home. Hire tutors and coaches to supplement an inadequate public school, it will save you a lot of money and potentially be even more beneficial to your children. And if your reason for wanting private school is for religion, as a product of 12 years of private religious schooling myself, trust me, as unfortunate as it may sound… you’ll find the worst kids in the bunch at expensive religious schools.

  4. Andrew says:

    For the lady with the declining parent, some other things she could do, start saving monthly as well, as much as she can spare, for her mothers retirement. She could buy a property with a really big garden and have a garden cottage built for her mother to live in. Another good thing would be to get her mother reading personal finance blogs like thesimpledollar to get a better grip on how to save and be frugal.

  5. JS says:

    Re: the motorcycle trip: do it now. I was laid off last year, and in the throes of unemployment depression, I went on a ten-week, 19,000-mile cross-country road trip. It provided a much-needed spiritual boot to the head, and I met my now-husband on that trip. Everyone thought I was crazy for doing it, but it was hands down the best thing I’ve ever done.

  6. cindy says:

    As someone who took off a year and a half to bike through Latin America, I want to encourage Stephen to go for it. Even though my career/life is a bit behind my friends’ now, I don’t regret it at all. Don’t listen to the naysayers. In my experience, they are just coming up with reasons why they couldn’t/wouldn’t do something like that. Good Luck!!

  7. Leah W. says:

    1. I’ve never been to a private school IN MY LIFE, and I went to college for nine years! I wish someone would explain to me the appeal of private school. Specifically, I wish Kris had given us some rationale for why public school isn’t an option. I would love to be enlightened.

    2. Okay, I’ll say it. Susan, TAKE IN YOUR MOM. What is the big deal about taking in an aging parent? If you’re financially capable at all, and if your parent doesn’t need a level of care you can’t provide, take ’em in! They’re your family for crying out loud.

    Looking forward to the ensuing debate…

  8. Tracy says:

    Kris – I’m really worried about the idea of up to half pre-tax income being allocated to children’s education … and that doesn’t even include saving for college. I second the fact that the couple should probably seriously reassess that idea – or look into scholarships, less expensive private schools or even considering moving to a different school district.

    Susan – the mom nearing retirement: There are other options as well. My mom, for example, has assisted living insurance – that’s something to look into. It gets more expensive the older the individual takes it out, though. There’s also the possibility of a reverse mortgage on the house, to see if that’s enough to cover the difference. Although definitely budgeting and saving now are a huge priority. Plus, it makes a difference if the mom is planning to retire the second she’s eligible or if she’s in a position where she’ll probably work much later. Or will seek part-time work for a number of years after official retirement.

  9. Gemond says:

    RE: The couple who are worried about a mother moving in with them.

    First, your mother is in a better position than many other people her age–although you seem to be aghast that she doesn’t have greater savings. (I don’t believe you mention her health in your query. That too may enable her to work longer, if she still has a job.)

    The over-riding tone of this query, alas, seems to be: Oh, gosh. I really hope we don’t have to help her out. Yikes. Poor us. Stuck with the “burden” of caring for her! (And Trent, you’re not much better with your own comment about this being a burden. Caring for someone we love is a burden? Challenging and tough maybe, but a burden? Wow. Let’s hope you’re never in a position to need your kids, something you simply cannot predict. You don’t know how the world or you will be 30 years down the road.)

    This woman keeps envisioning the worst-case scenario: Her living with you. That does not have to be the only option.

    You may want to consider that many, if not most, parents DO NOT want to live with their children, no matter how close because they are aware of the difficulties and hardships involved–on both sides. Most parents do not want their children to be their caretakers.

    You focus on how tough it would be for you. Well, it would not be easy for your mother to give up her home.

    In the meantime, depending on how big the house is and where she lives, she can wait out the poor real estate market and save some money (or use it for repairs) by taking in someone to share costs. Most folks hate this idea and with good reason, but when it’s that or living in some tiny apartment that costs more than the mortgage to rent (but is cheaper because there are no taxes and repairs and upkeep), most parents relent.

    We speak from experience. And here’s the thing, both myself and my brother, along with my sister in law, had a difficult relationship with our mother. That never stopped us from doing everything we could and then some to get her the help she needed, despite her thwarting our every move to help, until the last few years.

    My sister in law has an even more difficult situation in that she and my brother have an autistic child. Try thinking about that with anyone else moving in. But she would have taken in my mother if it came to it (I live several thousand miles away in a state with very few resources for the elderly and literally no room for anyone to stay. We don’t have the option to move to a bigger place, either, given our own ages.)

    Anyway, it is possible with the money your mother might save by taking in a roommate, by selling at some point, that she could use the profits to fund “retirement.” The real issue is your mother’s health. Because unlike my mother who worked over 70 years and to me, had earned her SS several times over, there will probably be few if any needed social services for your mother.

    You should also look into alternative living arrangements and begin this discussion NOW (it will give your mother lots of incentive to save, that is for sure) by reminding her of the challenges of hanging on to an older home these days. It took us six years to get our mother to move out of a house that was falling down because nobody could afford the ongoing extensive repairs ($20,000 roof and A/C which none of us had the $$$ for)and move into an apartment that we then helped subsidize (and did not begrudge doing though it was problematic at times).

    When she could no longer live on her own due to illness, we found a top-rated ALF and one that would take her in albeit using most of her social security. So, yes, we paid out quite a bit. Unfortunately, she did not adapt well to the change and this was a factor in her basically losing her will to live and fight a tough chronic disease. She didn’t live very long in the ALF and our only wish was that we could have afforded a full-time companion nurse for her (we had already paid a fortune in nurses for her post-hospital care.

    And despite the difficulties, which were many (our mother was, to put it kindly, “difficult”) we did not consider this a burden. But then we came from a world where you don’t consider your mother a “chore” or “burden” regardless of the circumstances.

    Again, there ARE ways to not have your mother end up in your home. It’s clear Trent is not familiar with these other options. His focus, like yours, is in avoiding the “burden” by placing all the onus on your mother.

    Heaven help you all. I hope for your mother’s sake that she does not have to move in with you either. Doesn’t sound like she’d be wanted or welcomed. Who needs that at any age?

  10. Gemond says:

    Meant to say:
    We wished we could have afforded a full-time nurse so that she could have spent her last days in her own apartment. The ALF was outstanding (and she even had her own room which accommodated a lot but not all of her things, a rare option) but nobody likes moving in their late 80s to a strange new place with strangers coming/going all over the place and no privacy.)

    FYI: My sister in law did offer my mother in law the option to move in with them, but my mother really could not abide being around my autistic nephew and was always yelling at him, something that was unacceptable to my sister in law and brother. So they were grateful she chose not to move in as it might have altered the otherwise close relationship my very accepting nephew had with her (Some autistic kids are among the kindest and gentlest with others. He really really related to and cared for his grandmother even when she was mean and nasty to him and others.)

  11. Diane says:

    My advice to Susan is when she does buy a house, look for one that could be made into a private suite with it’s own entrance for her mom because that train WILL pull up to the station. She needs privacy for her own family and her mom will need hers. Her husband will be better about it if the mom isn’t always in sight. I speak from experience.

  12. Mer says:

    This message is for Susan in regards to helping with her mom. My husband and I were in the same situation. My mother lived with us for 4 years after my dad passed away. It was a tough situation for everyone so we decided to find her a place she could afford. Her SS is minimal (about $12K a year). We located a senior living apartment complex in a small town near a relative for about $495 a month (water, elec. phone all extra). I pay for her supplemental health insurance and each sibling pitches in $100 each month (there’s 3 of us). She has to budget (she keeps a spreadsheet and writes down everything she spends) and we give her gifts of money for X-mas, mother’s day, birthday’s, etc. She’s makes it work. It’s not always easy and I pitch in a little extra when she needs it, but she gets to keep her independence and we get to have peace and our privacy in our home.

  13. Johanna says:

    @Stacy: Before you do anything, I think you should look into why you have so much debt and so little savings, despite your high incomes. From your age and level of student loan debt, I’m guessing that maybe you’re just starting out in your career after working on an advanced degree, so that’s understandable. But if your fiance has been working with his company long enough to accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock options, where has all his money been going?

    The fact that you have no savings and any credit-card debt at all makes it look to me like you’re living beyond your means. And unless you figure out how you’re going to put the brakes on that – if you pay off all your debt but keep living beyond your means – then before too long you’ll be right back where you started, except you won’t have any more stock options.

    And if you haven’t maxed out every retirement account available to you for this year, you need to do that, too. You’ll need all the savings you can get if you want to maintain your high standard of living in retirement.

  14. WendyH says:

    @ Stephen – absolutely do it now! It sounds like you are preparing for the trip as much as you can. If the safety concern is because of where you are traveling, there is probably an online forum of motorcyclists who have experience in those locations, you can potentially share their experiences to your friends & family for reassurance.

    @ Susan – how about considering a duplex or house with a seperate “apartment” space that could be income-producing until your mother needs it? That way it’s a not shared space, and the limited retirement money she has can go towards her other living and medical expenses?

  15. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    It used to be that older parents moved into he household at a certain age and helped take care of the grandchildren. In fact, this was pretty common well into the 20th century. Older parents were taken care of, younger kids had people to look after them even if the parents were at work, and everyone saved money. I have no idea when and how we all got into the mindset of “OMG! Parents moving in with me! How awful!!”

    They’re not a burden, they’re an asset!

    The only reason I would ever have for my parents to not move in with me in their old age is if they needed medical care which I couldn’t provide.

    Also, I love your political stance Trent. So true and so very sad. Our country is in pretty bad shape right now and I don’t see any improvement coming with the current situation in DC (That includes both parties by the way).

  16. Michele says:

    Re: Susan’s mother…seriously, why are you that worried? your Mom is only 56 years old! She could work until she is nearly 70 and when the housing market turns around, she might sell her house and get a lot more for it. It sounds like you are guessing an awful lot about her finances and life…”I figure she makes about $40,000 a year”…she might just be uncomfortable talking to you about details like that. And she might be able to keep her current health insurance as secondary after retirement. That is a big plus, too.
    You did not mention any health issues, so let your mother figure it out. She’s a big girl, and I agree with Gemond- a lot of parents do not want to move in with their kids. A lot of parents who face mortality when a spouse dies try to make some arrangements i.e. ‘health proxy and executor’ but it does not mean they are ready for the grave. She may have assigned you to that role, but it also might mean that she succumbed to your pressure about ‘details’ but she has other things figured out on her own. If you live your life constantly worried about what might happen 10 years in the future, you will drive yourself crazy. Take care of your own family and situation. You might not make it through the next 10 years! And remember, your husband may not want your Mom now, but things and relationships change. Give him some time, too. I would not pressure him to make a decision either way right now. Best wishes!

  17. Kevin says:

    Wow, there sure are some sanctimonious commenters on here today!

    Susan, I completely sympathize with you. Welcome to the “sandwich” generation, where you’re expected to care for both an aging parent, and your own children, simultaneous. It’s an ugly situation to be in, and let’s not mince words – your parents (yes, your dad could’ve taken steps to prevent this by being properly insured) were selfish to allow it to come to this.

    Yes, of course, parents are wonderful and loving and it’s a blessing for them to share our living space with us and it’s all rainbows and unicorns, blah blah blah. But let’s get real – you need your space, and so does your mom. I love my parents, but that doesn’t mean I want to run into them walking around my own home at all hours of the day and night. It doesn’t mean I want them sitting on the couch next to me every time I feel like watching a little TV, or overhearing every phone conversation I might be having. For the sake of PRESERVING a good relationship with your mother, you need to find her her own space, separate from yours.

    Sounds like work to me. Work you didn’t choose to take on, but rather is being forced up on you. Sounds like a “burden” to me. I don’t know why all the self-righteous people here are condemning that word, when it is in fact perfectly apt in this situation.

    If I woke up in your shoes, I’d plan to ensure that my next home had a separate living space, insulated from the rest of the home. A guest cabin out back, a basement apartment, whatever. Somewhere your mother can be on her own. Eventually, you can rent that space out to other people and turn it into an income stream (which, of course, means that as long as your mother is living there, she’s COSTING you an equivalent amount of money every month). You’d be subsidizing your mother’s housing costs, but really, it doesn’t sound like there’s any alternative, due to your mother’s poor planning and selfish lifestyle, spending every penny that came her way and failing to plan to not be a burden to her own flesh and blood. Doesn’t sound very loving to me, I don’t know why everyone here is sticking up for the woman. What kind of a parent blissfully drifts through life, spending all their money, choosing not to make arrangements for their own old age, and instead deciding to simply slough that burden off onto their own children, whom they otherwise claim to “love?” Does that sound like “love” to you? It seems to me, if you really “love” someone, you put the effort in to make sure you DON’T disrupt their life.

    Anyway, I hope things work out for you and your family. This has the potential to drive a wedge between you and your own husband, and I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  18. Robert says:

    For the story “Helping a declining parent” I agree with the above poster. I wouldn’t like my kid trying to tell me how to handle my finances.

    But anyways she will probably sell the house when she is older maybe 80K to 100K when the market raises some. then probably by a nice little 1 bedroom condo for about $60k the home money will last for 15 years for rent. then take the left over money from the sale and bank it and use it for condo fee and property tax might last about 10 years. during that time she will be on social security and have no bill but very basic. after that she will be 75 years old if she retires at 65.
    then she could get a reverse mortgage where they pay her monthly for her condo that could last her another 20 years to pay condo fee and taxes and other home bills. then when that runs dry she will be about 90 years old, by them God bless her if she is still alive and put her in a nice Little nursing home were they will care for her.

    but unfortunately every thing will be dry up and that daughter will get nothing for inheritance.
    but then that shouldn’t matter.

  19. Kris says:

    To clarify why we think private school is a necessity for our kids, we live on an island where the options are private school or a poorly run public school system. The public school system is poor across districts, so moving to a new district isn’t an option. Nor is moving away from the island.

    Obviously we get that providing a good foundation is the most important thing we can give to our kids, but we’d like to be able to give them a good education too.

  20. chacha1 says:

    I agree with Kevin about Susan.

    A big consideration for Susan is that she and her husband *don’t own a home yet,* which some of those “it’s family! it’s not a burden” comments overlook. It’s a little difficult to add on a MIL suite to a rented apartment, guys. And that presupposes that MIL agrees to home-sharing, is in good enough health to take care of herself, and doesn’t stop working at 62 to take the lowest possible SS payment for the next 20 years.

    Someone who has not planned for retirement and does not maintain her home is probably also not taking good care of her health. That doesn’t mean she won’t still live a whole lot of increasingly expensive years. On the coldest, most objective level, the best thing Susan can do is continue saving and creating the most secure possible life for her own family.

    Then get acquainted with the public assistance available in her mother’s area, check in occasionally with words of support, but otherwise prepare for what is probably inevitable: an unprofitable home sale once MIL cannot live on her own, and a Medicare nursing home. Susan could also use the intervening years to try to facilitate a closer and more open relationship between herself, her husband, and her mother.

    Whether or not Susan “should” expect to shelter her mother, I think her own family’s security comes first. IF it is feasible for Susan and her husband to buy a home that has space for a MIL suite or similar arrangement, it would be to the entire extended family’s advantage later on; but they should not overextend themselves to buy more house than they can afford based on a bunch of maybes.

  21. Laura in Seattle says:

    Stephen: Do it do it do it! My boyfriend was in the same situation three years ago that you are in right now. (Had a not-so-great IT job, really wanted to take a year and travel the U.S. on his newly-acquired motorcycle.) He had some setbacks, including having to spend the winter on the couch of a friend of ours in DC when he got caught in the Northeast in October (delayed start to his trip). But after some trials and tribulations, he arrived safely in Seattle with over 500 pictures, some great stories and a new ambition to be a motorcycle mechanic. The trip may not go perfectly, or even the way you think it will, but the experience will benefit you in ways you can’t even imagine.

  22. Sandy L says:

    We made the decision to move my mom closer to us and currently do take care of a lot of her day to day expenses.

    First, I totally agree with Kevin. I love my mom, but she is very opinionated and I can just see coming home from work and having some shrub I love chopped down to make room for zucchini plants. She needs a space of her own to do things her way. It would be horrible for both parties to have to try to live in peace under the same roof.

    Might I suggest a multi-family home as an option. This gives each of you your own space. Rental properties are usually more reasonably priced than homes with guest houses. In the northeast we have lots of 3-deckers (3 family homes) and it’s pretty common to have a couple of generations living in them.

  23. E says:

    Kris – in regards to private school. We’ve sent our 4 kids for the past 4 years…have you thought about homeschooling? I did the math, and I’m working my tail off for $50 a week! If you’ve got two of them totalling $40K in school tuition you’re loosing money! I’m going to homeschool them this fall instead…it’s not as difficult or scary as it sounds and there are tons of benefits of it!

    Just a thought :)

  24. Stephanie says:

    As a current teacher, I just wanted to throw my two cents in about the private/public school debate. School is not the same today as it was when I was a kid…teachers are basically forced to teach to whatever test that state uses as test scores determine everything. I hardly know any teachers who send their kids to public school as the education they get here in a Florida public school is far worse than any private school. Not saying it’s like that everywhere…but “No Child Left Behind” is a federal program with far-reaching consequences…

  25. Amanda says:

    Susan, I empathize. My MIL is 60, healthy, virtually no retirement savings and a condo net worth of $75k. Thankfully she asked for my assistance with budgeting skills (accountant) about a year and a half ago. She’s now paid off her student loans and credit card debt. Then she emailed me last week that she got a Nordstrom card and put $200 of “necessities” on it. I nearly flew through the roof; however, I calmly suggested she cut the card up!

    Our plan: Look for a duplex. She’s got a good 10 years left working. We’re being choosy about what we get ourselves into. Our home is 10 years old. Nice, wood floors, we’ve really made it “ours”. We don’t really want to give it up. However, we have responsibilities, which we don’t want to turn into a burden. Having her in our home would place a burden emotionally and paying for her to live somewhere else would be a burden financially. We figure after we find a duplex we can rent in out for awhile to help pay off the extra expense. She’s offered to sell her place and pay us “rent” if necessary when she moves into the other side of the duplex. It’d be ours to keep when she dies and we will have a nice option for retirement later.

    Hope all goes well with your decision!

    Kris, If you have two kids it’d be a cost equalizer to home school them and quit your job. That’s safer than any school. Probably more fulfilling for you too!

    Stacy, I agree with above poster. You need to learn to live within your means.

    Del, the cost of health care related to diabetes is high. Higher than buying soda or buying a soda maker. Could you consider drinking less?

    Amanda, I hate paying interest. Even though your car is lower amount the interest on the student loans is higher. Could you at least put some of it toward that?! Maybe you could sell your car and get one with a smaller loan until you can save up enough cash for the car of your dreams?

  26. Christy says:

    Twenty years ago while in my mid-twenties, I quit my job and sold my possessions, as did my partner, and we followed our dream of traveling in the Western United States. We loved hiking, kayaking, and camping.

    Both of us had our schooling behind us; I was a teacher and he was a nurse. This meant that once we settled, we could find work in most communities. Neither of us had debt.

    None of the people that loved us and that we loved, supported our goal of traveling, enjoying life, and living out of a truck.

    When I first set out on that adventure, I thought it was just about traveling and experiencing life. I now know that it was so much more. That experience taught me to live life on my terms and to live without the approval of others.

    When our travels ended, I was so much richer for the experience. Take the trip Stephen!

  27. Crystal says:

    Kate, please pay off all debt and build up an emergency fund before flipping another house. House flipping can be awesome or cruel depending on your luck and you will be happy to have some padding and breathing room from debt.

    Susan, maybe some of the commenters have better relationships with their parents than I do. I might be able to live with my in-laws, but nope, mom and I can never live together again. 3-4 hour visits seem to go okay, but anything longer and we’d both jump off a bridge. First, I wouldn’t worry about her future situation too much unless it was close at hand since you have no idea how long she’ll be able to work or how much her house could sell for in 10-15 years. If you do get a house with an extra space for her, I loved the idea of renting it out until it was needed. I hope it all works out for both of you.

    Stephen, if you have a passion and a plan, go for it! I’m 27 and married, but hubby and I would still pursue a real passion if it popped up. That’s what being young and free is all about! Enjoy!

    Kris, I went to a great public school and ended up graduating Cum Laude from college and everything…why are you sure you’ll need to send your kids to private school? I have a friend who has to send her kids to private school because they are literally geniuses that need to learn stuff without being picked on all the time before they’re old enough for college (which they could pull off right now)…but your kids aren’t born yet, so how did you come to this conclusion already? I’m not judging (promise)…just would like to know…$40,000 a year is a huge amount and I’m assuming you two have come to this conclusion for some reason…

    Stacy, I vote for your plan and then he can invest with that $4500 extra every month (or half of it or whatever works for you two).

    Amanda, let me start by saying I’m biased, but my husband and I just liquidated our emergency fund to pay off his car loan. We only have a mortgage left and about $4000 in cash spread around as padding in several accounts. We ONLY did this because he signed a one-year contract that is pretty much guaranteed unless he kills a kid (he’s a school librarian) and my job is 99% stable as well. Good luck with whatever you decide – paying off debt or building a bigger emergency fund both sound like great ideas.

    Trent, photoshopped pics of your family is beyond creepy. I’m sorry you get stuff like that…it’s just wrong.

  28. Patty says:

    Susan…check on the housing taxes. Some states/counties/cities have senior exemptions that kick in at a certain age and lower the taxes significantly. If the house is paid off by that point and taxes are super low then it would just be monthly utilities to worry about and perhaps be afordable. Otherwise she should work on cutting costs and saving up no matter the plan.

  29. cathmom says:

    I suggest that Kris and her husband investigate homeschooling their children. She says that they each earn about $40K, and that private school for 2 would cost $40K. If one of them had a career that they could do part-time, they could actually come out ahead with homeschooling versus paying for private school. Really, if education is so important to you that you are willing to devote half your salary towards it, then you would probably be great homeschooling parents!

    -from a mom of 7 who has been homeschooling since 1997

  30. Kara W says:

    Susan–let me put this in perspective for you: My mother died when she was 48. There isn’t a lot in this world that I wouldn’t give up to have her around to worry about her retirement. You only get one mother,so take care of her. Look at the alternatives for her retirement. She may not have to live with you.

  31. jim says:

    Kris: Why do you feel you need to send your kids to private school? Are you talking about college or K-12? Theres no compelling reason to go to private college over public college. I’m guessing you mean K-12. $20k is *very* expensive for K-12 school unless you’re looking at some specialty school or you live in a very high cost city. If the public schools are really that bad where you live then you could move to a better school district. Or homeschool. Frankly you don’t make enough money to spend $40k a year on school.

  32. Jan says:

    Susan- I think you may be panicking a bit soon.Your mother is certainly NOT elderly (unless she is ill). I was waiting for you to say she was in her 80’s. My sister’s husband died young as well- and my sister has a life again at 56. tough – but doable.
    She might have more put away then she lets on if your father passed away within the last few years. If she was uncomfortable talking to you about it- that might be the case.

    Help her get a budget that is reasonable for SS at 65. If she can make it that long- she could be in fair shape. I wouldn’t want to go into retirement with so little- but that is life. She could start saving now….start with not accepting presents from her and giving her a subscription to Netflix (that would significantly cut our budget!)
    Personally, I am planning on buying a tinyhouse if my husband passes away. It is portable and I would have my own space. Both of my children (and spouses) have said I could live near them (backyard:>) Of course we could switch as well- they could live in my big house and I could do the tiny house. I do not need much- a place for my dishes and a pillow for my head. Being with my grandchildren is the most important thing.
    Have you thought about moving in with her and building on a suite? Maybe that would cure both your situations.
    My siblings really missed a great deal by never knowing my grandparents in their later years.

  33. Kara White says:

    I have to apologize to Susan–it’s not fair of me to take out my mommy issues on you. Your problems are your problems. You may be jumping the gun, though. Unless your mom has some health problems, she probably has another 15-20 years to work, and if she wanted to retire before then, she should have saved better. This all goes out the window if she gets any major health problems, but cross that bridge when you get there.

    Try to sit down with your mom and ask her what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Where does she want to go? There are other alternatives than her moving in with you. There’s a tiny house on your property (when you get it). There’s senior living. My Grandma (mother’s mother) lives in senior housing and loves it. She loves taking care of all of the “elderly ladies” (she’s 80), and she has a very active and fulfilling life. There’s something to be said for that sort of community.

    Also, if your Dad has passed away recently, give your mom some time. She may not be able to make these decisions while she is in deep mourning.

    Just my $0.02.

  34. jim says:

    Susan : “While talking she mentioned that her monthly SS, when she reaches age to collect it, would not cover her current monthly bills.”

    Is she talking about retiring at age 62? She might be. If she works to 66 then she’d probably get a few hundred more a month. If she works to 70 she’d get a few hundred more than that. Working a few more years will increase her SS checks and maybe give her enough to live off of.

    Otherwise, do you know what she is spending her money on? She is probably taking home about $2500 a month, so where is it going? Maybe she needs to cut her spending some. Does she have a car payment? Does she visibly spend a lot of money on things that are not necessities?

  35. Todd says:

    Susan–My mother was in an almost identical situation. She had to sell the house because she couldn’t afford the upkeep, but she has made the $80,000 she cleared from the house last for quite a while. She lives on $1000 a month SS and another thousand from savings. The savings will run out in a few years, but I’ll worry about taking her in if and when it comes to that. It’s not easy, but there are many people living on SS and very little else.

    I doubt your husband will refuse if the choice comes to her moving in with you vs. living on the street. (If so, that would be another issue altogether.) He likely just wants to do everything he can to make sure she doesn’t end up helpless and dependent, knowing that would be a burden for your mother as well as for you.

  36. Laura says:

    Wow, what’s up with all the judgmental comments on Kris’s wish to send her kids to private school? By the way, all she asked for was advice on “impending parenthood.” NOT for people to tell her how to school her kids. She already said she saved up $20k last year, to that I say, you go girl!

    So keep saving your money…and when the time comes, if you do or don’t change your mind about private school, you will at least have that money for some part of your kids’ education, whether it is private school, extracurricular classes or lessons, college, or something else entirely. Obviously you can have all kinds of plans and dreams, but you will only know what is the best option when your child is there.

  37. Leah W. says:

    I don’t think I’m being judgmental about private school. I just sincerely want to know: what’s the appeal? Is the public school really that bad? Is the private school really worth $20,000/year?

    I went to college, grad school, and law school with people who’d been to private K-12. They weren’t any more prepared, educated, or intelligent than I was. So, I genuinely want to know the value of that $20,000/year in tuition.

    Anyway, Susan: My previous comment about taking in aging parents was undoubtedly self-righteous, and I apologize. Everyone is different. Everyone should decide for him/herself what is best for his/her family. I personally wouldn’t think twice about taking in an aging parent (even in my rented two-bedroom apartment!), but my relationship with my parents and in-laws is enviable for sure.

    Would my mom take in her mom? Never, because of the extreme negative effect it would have on my mom’s health — and I don’t blame her. I don’t know your mom; it might be bad for everyone if she were to move in.

    I guess my only goal was to point out that it’s not the world’s worst thing in every case if a parent moves in with a child.

  38. Mary W says:

    Susan – If you and/or your husband don’t want your mother to move in, don’t let anyone guilt you into it. There are options as others have mentioned: sell house and buy smaller cheaper condo; reverse mortgage; and/or roommate. This should be your mother’s choice, not your responsibility.

    And sheesh, your mother is only 56 years old. You make it sound like she is 86! As a 58 y.o. I can’t image anyone thinking they needed to figure out the rest of my life.

  39. Bryn says:

    Susan – obviously every relationship is different but I think you could try and focus on the positives. Both of my parents aren’t originally from the states and where they are from, it’s pretty common to have multiple generations in the house. Maybe it’ll be great for your kid(s) to have their grandmother around! All of my grandparents died when I was young (by the time I was 14) and I am so thankful for the years my dad’s parents spent living with us. I hope my kids will have that same sort of relationship with my parents.

  40. On the private school issue, keep in mind that the real cost of attending can vary a lot between schools. Some schools with high tuitions also have large financial aid budgets, meaning that qualifying families can pay quite a bit less if they don’t make much money.

    Some schools have substantially lower tuitions than others, but might have little or no financial aid available.

    And in some cases (both for public and private schools), there can be substantial additional costs not included in tuition (activity or books fees, transportation, after-school programs, etc.)

    Finally, as as some others have noted, sometimes kids do just as well in public or low-cost private schools as in high-cost private schools.

    So look around, find out more about your options, and don’t rule out any particular type of school prematurely.

  41. rosa rugosa says:

    Yes, Mary W! My Mom still works and lives alone and perfectly independently in a good-sized one-family house at age 75. I have no intention of trying to tell her how to live her life in the forseeable future. And at age 52, I’m so glad I don’t have children (always a new reason) presuming to think they’ll need to be telling me how to live my life in a few short years! The arrogance!

  42. Ryan says:

    $20,000 for K-12? Ouch!

    I just graduated from a public high school out in the country (corn fields) and while I’m sure it wasn’t not as great as some private schools, I think it has prepared me pretty well for college and my life. The friends I made and the teachers I learned from really have shaped my life in a positive way.

    Of course, the public schools in your area could be horrible. I don’t know. But that’s a lot of money!

    If I was your child, I’d rather have you save your money for my college than worry about tuition for high school.

    Just my 2 cents.

  43. Michele says:

    Ryan- it’s not unrealistic for those who desire a religious private education for their children- I paid $900 a month for 8 years for my two sons to attend a private Catholic High School. (Elementary school was a little cheaper- $300 a month for two kids) It was worth it for me and my husband because it reinforced our religious beliefs, in addition to what we taught and practiced at home. Both of my sons have told me over and over how much they valued the Catholic education they received.
    I agree, it’s the family priority to spend money on private religious education. Public education can be excellent- but I do have to say, in the community I live in now, our kids in the public schools are getting shortchanged with 4 day a week school for 3 out of 4 weeks from Sept-7 through June 6 due to ‘teacher furloughs’ that were negotiated due to the huge deficit in the state spending because of 12-15% unemployment and so many foreclosures. the state of Oregon apparently didn’t think the bad economy would last this long and just decided to cut spending- on schools, to seniors who need state assistance to stay in their own home/apartment and the disabled. It’s shameful.

  44. Cindy says:

    Susan, My mother was widowed at 55 when my father died at the age of 56. I think you are worrying too much, she still has a lot of life ahead of her! My mom eventually remarried a wonderful man and had a second life with him. Your mother may also be able to collect a larger amount from your father’s pay on SS when she does retire. I am not saying don’t do any planning, she should save as much as she can now. As others have said she does have some options other than moving in with you. You should also sit down and talk with her, because it sounds like you may not have all the details of her finances.
    Kris, Good for you to be able to save that much of your money, but is that really how you want to spend it? I would give the public schools a chance first. Since you have time before kids will be school aged do your research and make sure you get into a good school system. At 20k a year for each kid for 12 years it will save you 480k! I have my kids in public school and never thought that they are receiving an inferior education. My daughter is starting college in the fall and I am wishing I had saved more to help cover her costs, not spent more on her k-12 education. Each of my children had different needs that were 100% addressed by our public school. My daughter had a learning disabilty and with alot of extra help early on, went on to graduate in the top 15% of her class of 500. My son has been in the gifted/ talented program since 3rd grade. I have friends that pay to send their kids to cathlic school that do not have that program. If it is for religious reasons, I think that can be taught in the home and with extra religious classes outside of school. You are the most important teacher in your child’s life and the most important thing is to be involved in it, public or private.

  45. DiscoApu says:

    It only takes one of those people behind the creepy email to follow up. Get a gun and learn how to properly use and store it. Words wont defend your family.

  46. MichelleO says:

    My husband and I have a SodaStream machine and I love it. We use it mostly for making sparkling water and seldom for soda. I like to drink the sparkling water at dinner to the meal seem a little fancier and I avoid all the calories and ingredients I can’t pronounce that are in soda.

  47. Stephanie says:

    I’m not sure why my comment sat awaiting moderation for over a day and was then not posted, but I am commenting again on the public/private school issue….

    I went to public schools my whole life, including state colleges. However, school is not the same today like when we were children. Teachers are forced to teach to whatever test their state administers because everything is determined by test scores…from teacher pay, school budgets…everything. There is no flexibility in what teachers can teach…very often lessons are scripted out and teachers just read from the book. I am a teacher. I know this all for a fact because I live everyday. I don’t know any teachers that send their own children to public schools. It’s a shame.

  48. littlepitcher says:

    Where public schools are excellent, use public. One caveat–my county has the best public schools in the area, but they are riddled with bully gangs, to the point that one student was bullied into suicide. Finding out about such problems is difficult, unless a situation of this sort ends up on the front page.
    I had a parent living with me for several years. Do negotiate medical care and diet in advance. I found out, too late, that my mother’s advanced years and declining mental state caused her to become violent when she cheated on her diabetic diet, or when she was challenged on that cheating. Establish protocols and discipline in advance and have safety backups in case of unusual changes in behavior-check websites.

  49. Courtney says:

    Ryan and Michelle, Kris’s question said she estimated $20K PER YEAR, PER CHILD. If she is talking about K-12 that is a total outlay of over half a million dollars for two children before they even reach college. That, to me, is ridiculous – there is no primary education so fantastic that it warrants that expense. If there are no other options, I’d second the recommendation from others that Kris homeschool her children.

  50. Ellyn says:

    Regarding the mom with no retirement resources: Under Social Security a retiree may collect benefits for the higher earning spouse. If her benefits are low because her average income was low and her deceased husband made more money, then she should file to receive his benefits.

    Also, I believe that starting at 62 she could collect reduced benefits under her own plan – SAVE THEM – and then collect unreduced benefits from her husband’s account at retirement age.

    It would pay to read up on Social Security. If her deceased husband would be of retirement age now then I think she is also eligible to collect survivor’s benefits now that could also be SAVED.

    I did some reading about Social Security at the library this week – please feel free to correct me if any of this is wrong.

  51. 8sml says:

    I can comment on the value of private school, with the caveat that this represents only my personal experience.

    I attended private school until I was 14, then public schools thereafter. In comparing my private elementary school experience to my public high school experience: I had far more opportunity in private school to receive individual attention from teachers, who in turn had far more flexibility when it came to teaching me. I was given instruction far ahead of my grade in the subjects in which I excelled, and extra help in the subjects I struggled with. In addition, concepts were taught using methods that could reach kids with different learning styles–auditory, written, tactile, etc. When I got to high school, I found that most teachers couldn’t give me the academic challenges I craved and I was bored out of my skull most of the time (“Oh, you’re finished the work I gave you? No, you can’t work ahead or read a different textbook–just sit there and look at the wall.”). Private school gave me 12 years to realize that I loved school, before I hit high school and felt like I hated it (thank goodness for extra-curriculars and a couple good teachers or it would have been a complete wash). This flexibility is the primary reason I would send my kids to a (carefully selected) private school, though I would want a school where children came from diverse situations; however, as it turns out they’ll go to public school due to our financial situation, and I’m sure they will have some great experiences there too.

  52. katek says:

    8sml it sounds like you were at a poorly run public school, which may very well be the case where Kris lives, which is why she sees public schools as unacceptable. I know for a fact, however, that the students with whom I participated in an honors university program attended almost exclusively public schools and never had any trouble finding scores of academic opportunities. I went into college with with 12 credits hours, both through an program I participated in during high school and the credit awarded through AP classes and testing, so it goes both ways.

  53. katek says:

    Meant to add that those opportunities were given to me through my private schooling, but I lagged behind several of my peers who had attended public schools.

  54. Foo Finance says:

    @ Stephen: GO ON THE TRIP!

    I did something similar when I was 23-24. I am now 27. I got laid off from a fairly well paying job here in Atlanta. I was saving $500/month in my travel fund. I took the money I had and hit the road. I decided to go for 2 months so see how it went. I did 3 weeks in Europe and the rest in Brazil. I kept going. I ended up 18 months traveling the world, covering 35 countries, and learning more than I ever imagined. I also have 8000+ pictures that I still love to look at.

    The point is that you have the opportunity. My family and friends thought (and probably still do think) I am crazy. I never regret 1 second or 1 dollar I spent. I still tell stories from the road to this day and watch people’s mouths drop.

    As for affecting my career it helped! You can spin it on your resume a little. For example I taught English for a little while on the road. I put the travel time as “Freelance English Teacher” and that is the truth. People looking at 100 resumes a day like to see something different!

    No matter the outcome in your career I can say with great certainty that you won’t regret taking the trip. Chances are you will see and do things that will help you to realize what it is you really want to do. It may not be the IT field at all!

    Other tips:
    – Take lots of pictures
    – Keep a journal and/or blog
    – pack half as much stuff and twice as much money as you think you need
    – Get guidebooks (I like Lonely Planet) for places you will visit and study them
    – Take an iPod or other media device with you

    Feel free to contact me thru my blog (linked by my name above) if you like. I can help answer questions on traveling. I still travel overseas every year as much as I can. I am hooked!

    – Foo

  55. SLCCOM says:

    Stephen, the only way you should take that trip is if you have BOTH private health and disability insurance policies in place. If you both, go and enjoy. You’ll probably never get this chance again. If you don’t, stay home. There is a reason the emergency room people call them “Donorcycles.”

    Susan, there are other options. There are fraternal groups that you husband could join that include as a benefit retirement housing for parents and spouses. Your mother could rent out her home, and move in with a senior citizen that needs just a little cleaning and cooking to stay in her own home. That would let her save all her housing money for her own future. And getting a long term care policy is probably pointless. The purpose of it is to protect her savings. You might want to get it for her to protect your savings, though, as the government will come after you to pay her expenses.

  56. Kiara says:

    I see there have been many comments about public versus private school. My sister paid a fortune for her children to attend a private school. After four years, she pulled them out and put them in public school to discover that they were VERY far behind academically (while they had been getting straight A’s at the private school.) She has been spending what she is saving in private school tuition on tutors to help them catch up and supplementary programs to round out what she finds the public school to be lacking and is still coming out ahead monetarily.

    Research the schools very carefully and be fully aware that a teacher or a principal can make or break the educational environment.

  57. lynne says:

    My thoughts on Susan and her mother: I raised my kids & both have moved back home several times (son with spouse DIL, & daughter with child. ) My son & my granddaughter are in the process of moving out right now. So hopefully my children would be happy to have me with them, I truly don’t know. I am nearing 60, widowed. My home is paid for and I owe no money. I will have a small pension as well as my social security (more than I make right now altogther). My home does need a lot of work, but I have been trying. No I didn’t spend all my money frivolously or selfishly. My husband was not good at maintenance but did not want me to pay for someone to do it for him. I think that if they can get her mother to work as long as possible past 62 (where she’ll get a pittance from social security) it will be best. If she can’t work she would be able to get ss disability. It would go up when she reaches her full retirement age. Right now they should concentrate on paying off her debt & adding to her savings. If there are any family members who have skills perhaps they could get together & do some work to get the house in better condition. Please don’t condemn the mother or the daughter for the situation. You don’t all have the full story.

  58. Kate says:

    As a woman in her 50’s I say bravo to the mother who thought ahead and set up an executor and health proxy. Not so sure about a bravo to a daughter who feels that gives her the right to “nail her feet to the ground and talk about what her wishes were, but also what her estate entails.” Maybe the daughter should expend her energy living her own life and less energy living her mother’s life.

  59. Luke says:

    I’m a bit late to this party, but just wanted to agree with other posters who suggest that Susan is jumping the gun a bit with her worries about her mother. I am fifty-five, and honestly if one of my children was worrying that much about my future at this point, I’d direct them to a therapist. Also, people, just because someone gets to this age without being in fabulous financial shape doesn’t allow you to assume poor planning, selfishness, or other avoidable things were necessarily the cause. In my own case, I was ill and on disability for several years which wiped me out financially. The plus side was that I learned of necessity how to live with, and on, little. Now, I’m in excellent health and working hard to catch up, and I hope I’ve nurtured good healthy relationships with my children so that when I need their help–of whatever kind–eventually, they won’t be writing an advice column asking how to avoid being stuck with me.

  60. Georgia says:

    I am in a position to never have to take in parents. I am 73 years old and live in a 44 y/o double wide trailer which we kept up well until my husband died. I have done much work to it since then. I have no debts and what little I saved in my 503b goes to house upkeep. I am planning now to redo one bathroom and my bedroom this winter.

    At 58, your mother may have many good years yet. I retired at 69, but was still capable of working for several more years. I only retired because my husband had cancer and was beginning to fail. I had another 21 months left with him and I’m glad I did. I then worked at my former employer for 6 months, all I could without stopping my pension.

    But I do dislike retirement. I’m not certain I could get a good job now. My kids would be pleased to have me live with them. But I don’t want to. I am independent and want to stay that way. They live 550 miles away and I do appreciate that. Now they can’t boss me too much or if they do, I can ignore them.

    I agree with Foo. Stephen should take the trip. Life matters too much to lose out on good memories along the way. Even if he had to take a job he doesn’t like much in order to survive in the future, he would still have great memories to sustain him. And, even if the trip isn’t as great as he expects, all things look better in hindsight and give you lots to talk about.

  61. annie says:

    Stephen follow your dream!In my twenties I was widowed,my husband had such dreams and never got to live them out. I am in my forties now and his death thought me to live each day to it’s fullest and never put off tomarrow. And I love my motorcycle and would take off for a yr in a heart beat ,if my husband now would follow my gypsie heart!!!

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