Updated on 08.26.14

When Staying Afloat Takes All You’ve Got

Trent Hamm

alice“It takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place.”
– The Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland

I receive piles of stories from readers, but the final question in yesterday’s reader mailbag really stuck with me for a while.

I’ll quote it here, so you can read it again:

So I sit here writing this at a very challenging job that I enjoy the bulk of, but zaps the life right out of me, and leaves little of me for my 2 young children, ages 6 and 2. (I am a paralegal.) I enjoy the majority of what I do, but there is so much of me invested in this, and I feel over-worked. I am currently the only paralegal for 2 very busy attorneys, and I only have a helper to answer the phones for about 20 hours per week. This all leads to my question.

I am a single mother for the majority of the past 2 years due to a nasty divorce. My ex has left me emotionally, logistically, and financially alone to raise these children, the older one of which has Autism. If he shows no interest in them, how hard should I pursue him for the nearly 5 figures he is behind in child support? Yes, he has been Court-ordered to pay, but manages to “hide” his income, and tells people that he has no work. And yes, I really need the financial assistance. I have cut expenses to the bone, and before my last, meager raise, I was receiving food stamps, to my shame. I have moved to a cheaper place, but can’t take on a roommate, as 1. The place is too small, and 2. Not many people can live with an autistic child.

I already pay approximately 25% of my income on nursery school and after-school care. I just can’t face taking on a second job. I am exhausted already, the babysitting fees would be sky-high, and I already feel as though my children don’t get enough of my time.

I receive a variation or two on Callie’s story once a week. After a series of misfortunes and challenges, a person finds themselves in a situation where they’re doing everything they can to simply bob along with their head barely above water.

These emails get to me more than any other ones I receive. It’s not too hard to feel the challenge of the situation that Callie is going through in that email. Those situations often feel inescapable and leave the person feeling hopeless and helpless.

Most of my advice to people in these situations follow the same lines.

My Thoughts

Keep in mind that the only way out of this situation is a very challenging short term

I really like the way Dave Ramsey puts this phenomenon: “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.” If you want a better life than you have now, you’re going to have to do some uncomfortable things in the short term. My suggestions below are not meant to insult you or demean you – they’re meant to put you in a better place in a few years so that you’re not going through what seems like an endless cycle of struggling.

Cut your spending – and by that I mean really cut it

So often, I get emails from readers who tell me that they’ve cut spending to the bone, but after an email exchange, I find that they still have cable television, they still have home internet access, they still have a cell phone plan, and so on. If you have these things, cut them. If you need to call someone, use your land line. If you need to watch television, use the over-the-air signal that’s free. If you need to use the internet, get comfortable at your local library.

The argument that “I need X for escapism” isn’t a good argument, either. There are countless ways to “escape” from the challenges of your life that don’t involve pouring money down an endless monthly bill.

Cutting your cell phone, your cable, and your home internet will save you $100 to $150 a month. If you start putting that towards your debts, you’ll find that they start disappearing just like that.

Swallow your pride

If you think you won’t do something because that’s what “poor people” do or you’re afraid of someone seeing you do something, check that at the door right now. Pride is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome on the route to success.

You should be taking advantage of every single opportunity around you (that you’re eligible for) to save money. Use food stamps. Use your local food pantry. Use WIC. Get welfare payments. It doesn’t matter whether you think they’re “right” or not – these programs are out there just sitting there waiting to be used, and if they’re not used, they go to waste. Use them.

Along the same lines, do your clothes shopping at Goodwill (I certainly do). Hit free entertainment in your community (like community concerts and the like – we certainly do). Eat at home exclusively and prepare your own meals as inexpensively as you can – and if you don’t know how, now’s the time to learn. Get ahold of your energy company and see what energy efficiency improvements they’ll help you pay for so that your energy bill goes down. Clean out your closets and sell everything you don’t use regularly.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, this sounds terrible,” ask yourself if doing this for several months while getting your head above water is worse than the constant state of fear you’re in right now, a state that has no end in sight. It is your choice, no one else’s.

Stop worrying about what other people think of you

If some vague concern about what people you don’t know or barely know will think of you because you’re doing something that indicates you might not be rich is holding you back from making a change in your life, stop it. The opinions of people you don’t know are (1) not important at all and (2) often not what you expect them to be. If I see a person at a food pantry, do you know what I see? I see a responsible and focused person who has had some hard luck and is trying to improve their situation.

What goes hand in hand with that? Don’t be afriad to ask for help

I understand the social desire not to ask friends and neighbors for help, but you should start with some of your closest friends who know what you’re going through. Other great places to ask for ideas and assistance are people who work with the agencies mentioned above – WIC, food pantries, and the like. Don’t be afraid to ask your pastor for help, either – almost every pastor you meet are in that position because they desire to help the needy.

A final suggestion: look long and hard at your social network

It’s been shown time and time again that we do things that reflect what our closest friends do. Our income is the average of the income of our closest friends. Our spending habits match those of our closest friends. Your career dedication often mirrors those of the people you value the most. If you’re surrounding yourself with people who engage in behaviors that are beyond your financial means, spend some time shoring up the relationships in your life that involve people who don’t spend money to have a good time.

Just remember, at all times, you’ve got to live differently if you want to make a different life for yourself. The techniques and approaches and things you’re doing now have left you in this painful situation. In order to break out, you’re going to have to make some real changes.

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  1. Amanda says:

    I agree that pastors will help where they can. Here’s my question tho: many pastors appear to be paid (some a lot) have nice houses (some really fancy) some have retirement accounts set up. Why don’t they follow jesus’ advice that they received free, give free? If some churches didn’t extort $ from people who can’t afford the people could pay for their own food!

  2. Cathy Moran says:

    It is unclear whether the “debts” to be paid from cutting expenses are on-going costs of living or accumulated debt from the past. If it’s the latter, a single parent with that much on her plate should consider filing bankruptcy. Wipe the slate clean, then live simply enough that you have some cash reserves. For all too many people, no amount of discipline and frugality will repay credit card debt at credit card interest rates.

    Then look to collect support. That money is your children’s father’s obligation to them. See if your county D.A. or child welfare department can help with the expense of enforcing your support order.

  3. Johanna says:

    The Red Queen is a character in “Through the Looking-Glass.” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” features the Queen of Hearts.

  4. Julie says:

    I meant to reply yesterday but time got away.

    Deadbeat dads can’t hide forever, especially from the IRS. It would be worth your time, Callie, to go to your local child support recovery unit and see what they can do to help you collect child support. If they are his kids, he has a legal (not to mention moral) obligation to support them so that you don’t necessarily have to go on welfare. Didn’t your divorce decree stipulate the support obligation? If not, you also need a new lawyer. Judges do not look kindly on fathers who refuse to support their children, at least here in Iowa.

  5. Jason says:

    Start interviewing: good paralegals are always in demand and at least some firms realize they have to pay to retain hard-working talent.

  6. Ryan says:

    @ Amanda,

    “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” – L. Ron Hubbard (creator of Scientology) ;)

  7. Amanda says:

    @4 LOL

  8. But you ignore the most important question, and the most important answer? How hard should she go after support for her husband? To avoid answering that question is be irresponsible. Even if you answered it yesterday, which you may have, it needs to be answered again.She should be going after him with every legal recourse she has, every semi legal recourse, and every networking opportunity she knows of. Two people had these children. It doesnt matter if he never wants to see them again, he still has a support obligation.

  9. Leo says:

    You suggest cutting the cell phone and keeping the landline. Frankly, I’d say do the reverse. Sure, cut the add-ons for the cell phone bill like texting, special ringtones, web access, etc. But there are many basic cell packages that can be less than landline service. And no extra charges for long distance calling packages.

  10. I will say that I have no problem with my priest making a living wage at all, and that I give to mine willingly because of all it does.

  11. Kat says:

    Amanda, depending on the church, most pastors get paid a living wage for their work, which includes leading the worship services, writing their sermons, running the various church programs, and ministering to the needs of the congregation, which includes things such as classes, Bible studies, and advising those in trouble. So, this money is not given to them freely, it is earned wages for professional services, and for most churches, these pastors had to go to school, have a degree, and go through interning. The US average salary for a pastor is $85,000 according to salary.com, which isn’t bad for a professional nor is it ludicriously high, and I assume most tithe (all that I have ever known well enough to discuss such things do). Why wouldn’t they have a nice house and a retirement account? They have to provide for their family, and they will someday retire just like any other professional. Being a pastor is usually a full time job, not a hobby.

  12. A dad says:

    I am a father of 4 and have been in arrears in the past. It took me years, but I finally did get back on track and paid all of my debt off. I then did all I could to ‘make nice’ with my ex. My children have benefited from this the most. And that was my goal from the start (when I did lose my job during the divorce).

    I talked to many single mothers who would not go after their ex for money because of some reason or another. Then they are afraid to actually talk to the system (the courts). Then they are afraid of this and that. Why? The courts almost always side with you! Plus, your children need both parents!

    And can we please retire the phrase ‘dead beat dad’? No one calls a woman who bails on her kids a ‘dead beat mom’. Plus, this label gets slapped on every single divorced dad out there. I’ve given my children as much attention, money and love as I can possibly give- and I still hear the term bandied around in an attempt to make all non custodial fathers a faceless, evil entity.

  13. Des says:


    Wow. Ok. First, pastors don’t “receive free” they receive for working their job, just like the rest of us. You don’t think they should have retirement accounts? Really? If you don’t think your pastor is worth what he or she is paid, don’t give $$ to that church. Second, I don’t see how churches “extort” money. Again, if you don’t like what they do, don’t give or go to a different church.

    OTOH, I think my pastor is awesome and definitely deserves what he makes. Don’t I have a right to do what I wish with my own money, including giving it to him?

  14. I agree that you should talk to your child support agency. Here in Texas at least, they hunt these men down. I helped a woman in your situation when her cousin stalked the ex until she found his deadbeat employer and I got them both in trouble.

    Obviously, that won’t help you in the long run, but you shouldn’t feel bad going after someone who LIES and violates a COURT ORDER. As far as I am concerned, he is a criminal. I’m glad Texas goes after these guys.

  15. Anyway, getting back to Callie’s story (and off the side subject of pastors)…

    I wonder if she could look at transitioning to freelancing as a possible way to earn more and maybe work a little less. It sounds like her job is really hurting her quality of life right now (along with her ex-husband), so making an improvement there could help a lot.

  16. Annie says:

    I am all for cutting expenses, and I didn’t get a cell phone until 2005 (SO LATE at the time), but I just don’t think cutting a cell phone from your life when you have young children is realistic. Especially when one of those children has special needs and it appears that their sole provider has a very demanding job, i.e., is away from them a lot. If anything, cutting a land line might be the more realistic choice.

    In America in 2010, it’s just not logical to lump cell phone service in with a true “extra” like cable, home internet, or brand-new clothes. Not saying I’m happy about it, but it isn’t.

  17. valleycat1 says:

    Callie’s question is only whether to pursue back (& future) child support (I agree with the others that the answer is an unqualified yes.)

    Her circumstances are difficult, but having read this in a second day’s post, I realize my situation was similar 25 years ago(though without the added challenge of a child with autism). Some stages of life are very difficult, but taking things one day at a time & making some hard choices for the short term, as Trent discusses, do eventually get this through. I’ve survived this & have a better life now – to the point it took awhile for it to ‘click’ in my head that this could have been my question years ago!

  18. Gemond says:

    I don’t really get you using this letter to reinforce the points you are trying to make here, Trent. It’s another case of you, in my opinion, stretching to make a point, and in the process appearing both insensitive and inept. (You really really should avoid advice giving when you truly do not understand what people are going thru. You mean well, but really, you insult people’s intelligence in the process.)

    Trent writes:
    “It’s not too hard to feel the challenge of the situation that Callie is going through in that email. ”

    Trent: With all due respect, unless you have been in this situation, and having an autistic child is really a major element in this mix, you CANNOT feel what it’s like. This is not just some monetary challenge.

    I have personally known (and helped) women in this situation and frankly, it seems to me that you simply do not “get” it.

    In life, people can do ALL the things you mentioned and then some. And still be drowning. Life is not fair and most people in these situations do all they can and then some. They do ask for help (and are often refused; that’s why they don’t keep doing it.)

    You telling her to look long and hard at her social network? The woman doesn’t even HAVE, it seems, much of a social network. If she did, she would NOT be writing to some guy online who is clueless about her situation. She’s desperate.

    Women in this situation, and again I know many from the work I do, do NOT hang out with people who spend on anything. Why? They don’t have the time and they don’t have the money. Nor the energy or inclination. Clueless, trent, you are clueless.

    Some of this advice is well, to put it mildly, patronizing. At the least, some of it is irrelevant.

    I don’t know the woman who wrote, but she doesn’t strike me as somebody who is only pretending to have cut her costs.

    I have an autistic nephew and believe me, unless you have been around a child who is autistic, you have NO IDEA what is involved in caretaking at any level. That this woman has the physical strength to even work and take care of those kids is a miracle in itself. And she has a demanding job.

    Also, the fact that she works? It probably disqualifies her for LOTS of help from the government. I know this from what my sister-in-law has gone thru to get help. (It’s the reason some mothers in this situation do not work.)

    You talk about asking for help from pastors. Well, that doesn’t work today, especially in big cities where a parish/church, if it has any charitable organization (St Vincent De Paul, for example), requires all sorts of hoops and such for people to go thru. And then it still turns them down. There simply isn’t enough money. Doesn’t mean she should not be exploring options, of course.

    By the way, she probably has asked for help. She certainly did by writing to you. (Please please please stop telling people to “swallow your pride.” These people have none left and that is part of the problem.)

    You live in small community. Honestly, you don’t seem to get that what works where you are, is NOT the way it is everywhere else.

    If I were the woman who wrote this, and saw this post, I’d be both hurt and annoyed. Because really, who needs to be told to tough it out for a few more years.

    The woman IS toughing it out. She is extremely uncomfortable. There is NO guarantee it will ever get “better” only a bit more manageable if she can get the child support owed her. Which is doubtful cause there are plenty of fathers out there and plenty of women desperately trying ALL measures to get it back.

    and your reaction and comments and so-called “advice”? Really. Not helpful. It just betrays your attitude that people “create” these sort of scenarios and then have to just tough it out.

    It would be more constructive to offer a list of national organizations that provide information and resources on 1/collecting child support (she’s a paralegal, which means she’s probably already working for/with lawyers who must know something about this)2/helping women find jobs in organizations that offer additional benefits (child care, etc.) that this woman can use and 3/organizations that specifically help single mothers in her situation provide ongoing care and resources for her autistic son.

    I’ve read your blog for a long time. I do believe you mean well, but you’ve been straying off your path of knowledge for so long that I’ve reached a juncture where I just don’t want to read anymore.

    You need to educate yourself about stuff before you write about it. Otherwise, send good wishes but don’t waste time regurgitating what you’ve written before and trying to make it “work” in a situation where it doesn’t.

    You’re not helping in these situations. You’re actually doing more harm than you can imagine.

    I have been privileged to have learned so much from the women I have assisted over the years. ALL of them are tough, determined and committed to improving their lives to better raise their children. THEY are often far better parents than people with tons of money and lots of stuff.

    They are also more respectful and encouraging and supportive of others. And they don’t pretend that life isn’t what it is even while they work hard each day to make it better.

    You. DO. NOT. GET. IT. If you did, you would never have written this article int he way you did.

    Even if you don’t post this, I hope your assistant will give this to you. YOu need to learn more about life before you can write about these things, Trent.

  19. asithi says:

    Pride does seem like a big factor with some people dealing with debt. I have a friend who NEEDS to buy a laptop because her company blocked Netflix (she can’t add to her queue). I suggested that she use the computer at the library, but she said that it is a hassle since you have to reserve the computer in advance. So she is going to buy a laptop and sign up for DSL service for this convenience. With the amount of debt she has and being so close to retirement age, I just don’t see how this is a smart decision. But I can see why she thinks it is a necessity with all her friends owning computers and other material goods that she does not have.

  20. Kerry D. says:

    I thought Trent was saying that pastors “want to help the needy” not that they are needy.

    Wanted to mention that a child with autism may qualify for SSI, and at least here in CA, we have “regional centers” that once qualified (and autism would) provides money for programs and respite care so that overworked caregivers can have a break. There may be an organization that supports and advises parents of these types of opportunities–in our area there is “PHP” or “parents helping parents”

    Being a single parent of a child with a disability is particularly challenging, and draining. And Callie is right–it’s near impossible to get a babysitter, or keep one. (Been there, experienced that.)


  21. Walker says:

    My family ate 3 squares during my 4-month lay-off this year only because a local church (we don’t attend) gave away bags of free food every Saturday to those who signed up for that week. We never had accepted any help before. And I must say, the folks there were gracious and didn’t judge.

  22. Jan says:

    Social Security now gives and allowance for people with Autism…you might want to check that out. It is a recent addition- so people don’t know about it. There are agencies who give free respite care for autism as well. Check with your child’s school.
    Look into Headstart and Early start for the two year old- free AND with a sib with autism they are usually happy to get their hands on the second child.
    Use WIC. It is excellent. Many in the military use it because the lower enlisted salary is so low.
    Make sure you are on your state’s health care system for the children and take out catastrophic care for yourself.
    Filing for the dead beat dad is the largest one. A know- a hassle – my friend JUST got back support (for the last 10 years).
    Last- valleycat is right- this too shall pass. Join a church, ask for help,but be ready to help others in return. After you establish a social group you might find you have more energy:>)
    My thoughts are with you in your struggles!

  23. Jan says:

    Amanda- Churches are like any other sector of our society> if you don’t want to participate, then don’t. Otherwise MYOB and grow up a little.

  24. @ Gemond. While I agree that Trent is pretty clueless about this segment of society, I think his tone was in response to her feelings.

    She sounds like she doesn’t feel like she deserves the child support and that the food stamps are shameful. Trent’s response at least addresses that because really a lot of women feel that way. It does it in lecture mode, but it’s right, in this situation at least.

    I also think women like this undervalue themselves in the workplace. I bet that office would drown without her, but she is too stuck and too scared and too proud to ask for more money.

  25. kristine says:

    I believe the ex has already been taken to court, and an order for payment issued. The next step would be garnishment if possible, or jail. I am not sure the ex being in jail would help her.

    Support groups are a great idea. A woman with an autistic child will likely have a harder time arranging play dates with new people. Not impossible, but very difficult. And I cannot imagine she has time for social outings!

    I hope that in addition to this blog, since Trent likely has the woman’s locale, he can help with more than good suggestions, and give her some solid leads on where to go in her area. It’s a nice reciprocation for getting to use this woman’s very tough situation twice in his blog. It sounds like perhaps further e-mails were exchanged.

    I do not want to star an off-topic debate, But I lived in Brooklyn around the corner from the Bishop of Brooklyn, near Pratt. He lived in a huge mansion, with a HEATED driveway. This was 1 block from people quite literally starving on the street. One block away. On snowy mornings I passed shivering homeless, and his perpetually clean driveway, behind huge iron gates,on the same short jaunt to the subway. It disgusted me, but hey, maybe those poor weren’t Catholic.

  26. Gemond says:

    To Ashithi:

    Your example obviously shows that some people do not need a computer as it is just needed for entertainment purposes only. (Your example is very specific.

    However, this is not always the case. There are plenty of people who are required to do work at home but they will not be getting computers from their workplace. These people are not all execs making big bucks who can afford a computer.

    And it’s the rare person today who does not need net access to do research online to get a job, improve job skills or simply negotiate modern life (You want to sell on craigslist or ebay? You need ongoing access to a computer. You want to buy stuff cheap? You need access to craigslist.)

    Just doing normal things like paying bills, making complaints, getting help. Do you know how many companies no longer let you contact them by phone, and ONLY take email, for example? How many financial transactions are less expensive and more accurate and timely if you do them online?

    Just because you are in debt doesn’t mean you may not legitimately need a computer of some type. Especially if you have children who do need it for schoolwork. Today, the basic assumption is that kids have access. We’re talking public schools here.

    And unless you’ve got a roommate or next door neighbor who will let you use their computer whenever you need it, you don’t have access.

    The library isn’t always an option, because of the limited hours and because you do need to book in advance. Plus, you forget. It costs money via a car or public transport to get to the library ($4.50 per trip here in NYC. Make 8 trips a month and you can pay for your own net access at home.)

    I also take exception with the judgment made on those in debt who continue to have, say, Netflix, and/or broadband or DSL service or cable TV. How easy it is for the “frugal” to say that this is excessive, unnecessary and all the other judgments passed.

    Let’s think about this. You have no money to eat out with friends, to join them or your family members in any activity. YOu can barely afford to drive to the store and work. You are not hanging out at lunch or after work because you can’t afford it (which means you are cut off from a lot of things).

    All you do is work and worry. Yes, you get books and DVDs from the library. But you live in an area where your antenna barely gets a few channels on your 15 year old tv. You can’t even talk to people about TV shows, which everyone does at work, cause you can’t watch them. You don’t have a computer. So you can’t watch stuff for free.

    And we think these people are being self-indulgent to have some form of access to the net? To feel like they are a part of society? We’re not talking about spending like the rich. We’re talking about a basic level of stuff here.

    Well, I’m a radical because I believe every home should be wired for free so that everyone has net access. We’re no longer equal in this world when some have net access and computers and others don’t.

    A lot of people with money problems live alone, have little or no family nearby. Some are single parents. They have NO entertainment or even free time. Yet we begrudge them access to some TV or a computer.

    And the frugal judge them for wanting to have the basics of what most people in this country have.

    Yes, we are all privileged in this country when it comes to what we have ACCESS to. But access is not the same as having it.

    I gotta stop reading The Simple Dollar. I’m just tired of the judgment people make on those who are struggeling to just survive.

    They need more compassion and understanding. They deserve it.

    A person working full time and part time who has debt should not be told they are wrong to have some entertainment option at home. Seriously.

  27. Crystal says:

    I think living as tight as possible is the only way she’ll be able to get ahead financially for sure, but if the world was fair, someone would wring out some money from that deadbeat dad…

  28. kristine says:

    Better suggestion: Check out of there is an Ethical Humanist Society near you. They are notorious do-gooders on the local level, from clothing to food, to help in any way possible. If you ask, they try to help. No affiliation needed.

  29. “Another big part of all of this is to stop worrying about what other people think of you”

    Though I’m not certain the woman you responded to needs this advice (or much of what you offered) – sounds to me like her situation is far too demanding for her to be overly concerned with what others think – I do think it’s a valid point to make when discussing a number of other personal finance issues. Debt very often seems to be in large part driven by a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality’.

    That said, I think the more practical advice for this writer is to be very very proactive in pursuing her ex for his back child support (particularly if it’s in the five figures neighborhood). Regardless of his interest in the children, this woman obviously takes her role as a mother very seriously – I would have suggested applying that seriousness to making sure that her and her children receive all the back child support due to them. Her time, energy and finances might be better served directing her efforts in this direction as oppossed to focusing on vague things like pride, what others think, etc. She should immediately contact a lawyer and explore all legal possibilities. And while I’m no expert in child support resources, I am sure there are groups and resources in her area that might also provide financial help in supporting her legal battle. Good luck Callie!

  30. WendyH says:

    Callie doesn’t mention friends and family, so I don’t know if she has already reached out to them for help, or if her relocation to a less expensive place and other “logistical” issues have left her essentially on her own? I would urge her to let them know about her situation and if nothing else, get some moral support. What about his friends and relatives, are they aware of his inaction?

    Also, is there any way that something can be done with the work situation? She mentions an assistant for 20 hours of the week, how about asking for more help than that?

  31. Dan says:

    I agree with cutting cable and your home phone line, but not the internet. It can replace so many things (including cable and phone!) that even a basic plan would be extremely valuable.

    “Going to the library” to use the internet when you have a family with their own internet needs is quite impractical. If Dad has to run to the library to use the internet and then Mom needs to follow up on that email she sent earlier and then the two teens need to do their socializing on facebook, who’s paying for the gas to make all these trips? What about the adage that time is worth more than money. A $25 internet plan would be WELL worth it.

    I would suggest cutting back on entertainment expenses and food. A great majority of the population purchase food items that are bad for them and are expensive – you don’t need beer, chips and other snack foods.

  32. Barb in GA says:

    Posting this to add agreement to Gemond’s comment (#10). I’m also a long-time reader, and feel your response to Callie was, at best, not terribly useful. It sounds to me like she’s already following all your cost-saving strategies, and has not been shy about getting whatever assistance is available to her. So, what about those people who have honestly done all they can, and are still drowning?

  33. Gretchen says:

    I 100% agree with comment #10.

  34. John S says:

    Hey, no worries Kristine. I’ll take the heat off you and officially start the off-topic debate.

    The average salary of a minister is $85,000? Holy carp! That’s a lot of income, considering the cushy life you lead while earning it.

    Sure, you have sermons or masses to deliver a few times per week (most of which are recycled and probably available in “pre-canned” format. You can throw in your own anecdotes as they occur to you, to make it seem “personally prepared”.

    Sure, you have to do a Bible Study or a catechism class once or twice a week. But really, doesn’t this just serve to help indoctrinate people (or solidify such indoctrination) so that they will to continue to show up and put money in your coffers?

    Sure, you do weddings once in a while (for a sizeable extra fee which is not considered part of your salary. Plus a very nice free dinner, usually.)

    Yeah, once in a while you have to put up with a problematic couple seeking counseling or something like that. And funerals can be downers. And you have to be nice to everyone, pretty much at all times. And you’re under public scrutiny.

    But all in all, it sounds a very cozy gig, if you can hack it. Not everyone has the gift of public speaking, of course. But if you have what it takes to do the work, I’d say it’s fairly easy work.

    $85 grand? Man. I’d love to make that kind of money.

    Let’s not ignore the tax breaks they get from the government, either. A lot of churches in my area have HUGE campuses. Soccer fields, enormous buildings, rectory houses, guest houses, mansions, school buildings, great big yards… all tax free. Really?

    I’m all for protecting peoples’ right to have place to worship (which I assume is the rationale behind religious institutions’ tax exemption), but where do we draw the line between a constitutionally-protected worship house, and an unnecessarily luxurious expansive estate?

  35. valleycat1 says:

    Something else lost in all these comments is Callie’s statement that until she got a meager raise she qualified for food stamps. She didn’t say she voluntarily quit getting them. The problem is that the cutoff level is so low, that the pay raise was more than cancelled out by now disqualifying her for food stamps, but her income isn’t high enough to support her family of 3.

  36. cathleen says:

    I must disagree with cutting internet access. As a former HR manager and a current tech employee you WILL lose jobs if you are delayed in receiving and sending emails. Relying on a library is not the same, in many situations, unless you are sleeping on the couches there!

    Very bad advice if you are in almost any field that uses email. The jobs are so scarce you need to be checking email within minutes not hours.

  37. Linda says:

    I don’t see any mentions in Trent’s post of trying to look for another job or trying to change the situation at her current job. The job doesn’t pay enough, she works long hours, has little help. Can the office hire more help? Can she look for a new job and possibly leverage an offer to get more pay at her current job? Or find something with better hours or ask her employer to work from home once or twice a week. This may be another example of how the short term will be more uncomfortable (the added time of job hunting, having to summon the courage to ask for more help or more money), but will pay off in the long term. Even though the economy is tough right now, there are still places that are hiring.

  38. Amanda says:

    @22 some good points.

    Sorry all, I was making an off-topic comment. Didn’t mean to start a debate. I do feel horribly for poster & her situation.

    My father is a volunteer minister-the duties are split between (usually) 3-10 others who take the lead in the congregation. He also has a “real” job, where he earns his retirement. My husband and I are full time volunteer Bible teachers. We have part time jobs to support our work. None of us are given a stipend of any sort-we pay for our food, housing, etc. We make contributions as well as any other congregation members who would like to donate toward utilities locally or building simple structures for worship in poorer countries. But, no collection plate is passed-EVER. No one is made to feel poor and we help each other out. If someone is sick or poor we take them meals as loving congregation members.

  39. jgonzales says:

    I have to comment on the pastor thing. Yeah, $85,000 sounds like a lot, but that is average. That covers the pastors of the mega churches like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes (who make millions) to the pastors who have churches with 100 people and make, if they are lucky, $20,000 a year.

    Also, you make it sound easy. I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t write his own sermon (and I’ve known plenty over the years) or who didn’t have a packed schedule.

    There is a lot more going into a church then you think. It’s not one couple who needs help, it’s a dozen (for even a small church). Most pastors won’t do a marriage without pre-marital counseling, which means meeting with the couple for at least a few weeks before the wedding. Helping out the poor and needy in the community means someone to administrate it and that falls to the usually falls to the pastor. Funerals leave people hurting and who do they turn to? The pastor.

    If you think a pastor doesn’t work hard, you’ve never actually seen a pastor’s average day. I’ve never met a pastor who worked a normal 9-5. Most pastors work very hard and deserve the money they make.

  40. jim says:

    This article and the advice given is not specific to Callie as an individual. The article is citing Callie as an example of one of the many people Trent gets emails from who are in difficult situations. The advice in the article is general advice for the many people like those who Trent hears from who are in difficult situations. The advice and the article is not about Callie individually or single mothers with autistic kids specifically.

    Trent certainly wasn’t claiming to really know the experience of a single mother with an autistic child nor was he claiming that his advice here was any kind of magic bullet or total solution to someone in such a situation.

  41. Aryn says:

    First, she should be contacting a lawyer to file a garnishment on her ex’s tax refunds, as well as his wages. My friend was stiffed by her ex, but she now gets his tax refunds directly from the IRS.

    Second, I have to disagree about cutting her cell phone plan. With an autistic child, she needs to be always reachable in case something happens. I would bet that she doesn’t pay $100 a month for a cell phone – you can get plans with minimal access or pay as you go much cheaper, and be reachable in an emergency.

  42. Amanda says:

    @29 good point. Some cities have $1/month cell phone plans for people under a certain income level or if they are using one or more assistance programs. They’re often called Lifeline programs.

  43. Kat says:

    John, I fail to see how someone who gets regular middle of the night calls from people with suicidal thoughts, from people whose child has been rushed to the ER, from people who just found out their spouse is cheating, or that found out they have cancer and are panicing unable to sleep, etc is cushy. My pastor spent about 30 hours when he did my wedding, not including however long it took him to write the personalized sermon based on my relationship and verse, and my fees were donated to charity. Few congregations would put up with a pastor who recycled or precanned sermons. And it is not “once in a while” that they get people who have problems, it is every day, especially for larger congregations. The funeral isn’t just an hour, it’s the hours beforehand comforting the grieving and most likely the hours after. These are trained professionals who had to go to seminary (college) and interned, just like other well paid professionals, and the skills such as public speaking and personal relating is also tough. I cannot speak for the megaachurch televised pastors who are skewing the average high by making millions, but for your neighborhood church, I doubt that their life is as cushy as you assume and they work more hours than you think.

  44. jim says:

    “The US average salary for a pastor is $85,000 according to salary.com”

    That number can’t be accurate.

    BLS says that median pay for clergy is about half that at $43k and mean of $47k.

    Salary.com is a website that gets its data from surveys so their data isn’t necessarily reliable. BLS is official government data gathered from employer records that everyone files.

  45. jim says:

    valleycat said: “The problem is that the cutoff level is so low, that the pay raise was more than cancelled out by now disqualifying her for food stamps”

    It generally doesn’t work that way. YOu’re saying that if you get a $100/month raise that might put you over the threshold to wipe out your $200/month food stamps or a situation similar to that. From what I’ve seen the food stamp benefit gradually decreases as your income goes up. Its not an “all or nothing” situation. If you make $2500 /month you might get $160 a month in foodstamps, but if you make $2600 it will drop to $125/mo and then at $2700 it might be $89/month. So the increases of $100 in pay is more than the decrease in food stamp benefits.

    Now I don’t know for sure exactly how the program is ran in every state but the ones I’ve looked at it works this way.

  46. Elisabeth says:

    Oh, the “pride” thing really hit a note with me. Here we are struggling so hard, and husband refuses to get rid of our satellite. “There’s no reason to! What would we watch?”. He might watch an hour or so a day, and since I work at night, I always miss the shows that I used to watch and I just catch them on Hulu or the network site. I don’t see the point of keeping the service. So he can watercooler talk the shows with his friends? What friends? We don’t do anything socially because we can’t afford it. The internet, however, is a necessary evil for work. I’ve convinced him to drop us to the lowest package, though! Hooray.

  47. Deb says:

    Trent is right on target with his comments. There are alot of people who need a little tough love. Life can be difficult and we have choices – we can either lay down on the tracks and let the train run over us or do what it takes to survive and thrive. Compassion is nice but it doesn’t pay the bills.

  48. Karen M. says:

    @10 I agree. I thought this was very general advice for a specific situation, and kind of cold to use that letter as a reference point.

    More and more, I sense the blog posts are written without consulting any outside sources for information that would be helpful. Instead, they are merely Trent’s feelings on what should happen, without any facts to back up those feelings. For instance, in this post, he talks about getting WIC, food stamps, and welfare and using food pantries and how these programs are just waiting there for people to use. Food pantries maybe, but the others are income-specific, and information about that would be helpful. There is not one solid piece of verifiable research in this whole post. The penultimate paragraphs seems like it might be scientific, but it isn’t. Even one of quotes is misquoted, which could have been avoided using a quick internet search.

    That attitude, coupled with all the typos (which I feel is disrespectful to the audience), has made me reconsider my visits to this site.

  49. Richard says:

    I don’t think Trent’s suggestion to “Get over your pride” is off base at all. Callie seem hesitant to pursue back child support, accept food stamps (if she is still eligible) and ask her employers for more help. She needs that kind of push to improve her situation, else she will probably begin a spiral into learned helplessness.

    @Gemond – You are obviously very passionate about families with autistic children, but your post seems to defend (perhaps even encourage) learned helplessness. Not really helpful.

    The message I got from Trent’s post was to keep trying. If what you are doing is not working try something else, just don’t give up. There are always possibilities.

  50. Johanna says:

    Now that I’ve had time to read past the Alice quote, I agree with Gemond that this is a pretty insensitive post here, Trent. Maybe you’ve encountered your share of people who say they’ve “cut expenses to the bone” when they haven’t really, but to assume that that’s therefore true of everyone? Accusing people of lying when you don’t know anything about them is not going to get you off to a very good start.

    And I second the call to please stop saying “swallow your pride” when encouraging people to accept help from charity or government programs. “Swallow your pride” means “these things are shameful, but you should do them anyway.” These things are *not* shameful – or at least, they shouldn’t be, and we shouldn’t be perpetuating the view that they are. Programs like food stamps exist (for now, anyway) because we as a society have decided that everyone deserves to have enough to eat for themselves and their families.

    Admittedly, I’ve never been on food stamps myself, so maybe I don’t “get it” either. But it seems to me that there’s no reason why accepting food stamps should have to require swallowing your pride.

  51. Stefanie says:

    I just wanted to offer a few more suggestions for Callie’s specific situation in the hopes that she will read the comments. Depending on where she lives, Angel Food Ministries is a great resource for getting low cost food. They have sites in most larger communities. There are no income requirements or forms. Each month they have a certain list of food available. You order a box, pay $30 and pick it up on the designated day. Just google them for more info. I have used them before and it can really help out during tight months. Sometimes you have to get a little creative with your menu planning, but it is still a pretty good deal.

    Also, check with the Mormon church in your area. I am hesitant to mention this because of the heated discussion about religion, but maybe they can help. Let me state that I do not have any religious affiliation and am skeptical of organized religion, but I have lived in a small community that received Mormon missionaries every year. Their mission is to provide service to the community free of charge. My personal experience has been that they are always good, reliable, kind-hearted people who only want to help people in the community. I’ve had them volunteer at the childcare center where I worked on a regular basis and was never once “preached” to. One of my neighbors even called them to come and help her move her furniture. Perhaps there are missionaries in her area who can come by from time to time just to lend an extra set of hands. Perhams having those extra hands around when she gets home from work or for a few hours on the weekend will give Callie a little emotional breathing room. Just a few suggestions. Best of luck to you.

  52. Frugal Ella says:

    While I’ve never hit rock bottom (knock on wood) we’ve had to make some cuts to the budget to pay off debt. It took three rounds before we finally identified things that were luxuries masquerading as necessities. Cable, cell phone…it’s amazing what you can learn to live without…and it’s made even easier when you see the progress you can make with that extra cash.

  53. Pk says:

    #1 Amanda: I’m glad a number of people have stood up in defense of pastors already. I feel inclined to add my 2 cents. First off, pastors are people just like you. People with strengths and weaknesses. People with families to support and complicated lives like anyone else.

    My father is a pastor and makes less than the “average” 85,000 a year stated here. He went to school for many years, earning a doctorate and an extra degree in counseling to better serve the congregations he has worked for. In other professions he may have received a raise for these improvements, however in his profession he has not received a raise in more than 10 years. His job entails far more than once a week sermons and occasional weddings (with “a sizable extra fee” which usually amounts to about $50 donated to the church – not to him). There are ups and downs to his job, just like any other job. He works incredibly hard and deserves the money he earns and the retirement account he has just like anyone else who has a job.

    Some differences? My dad gives more than 10% of his salary back to the church. He works beyond his scheduled hours to counsel those in need. He works most holidays… those sermons and services are more than the 1 hour they require for those who attend.

    Bottom line, much like in other professions there are pastors who are greedy and dishonest and who take more than they give. However, this does not exemplify the large majority of pastors out there who are hard working individuals who are certainly not living lavish lifestyles while their parishioners starve.

  54. z says:

    Trent, I think you are pretty clueless about the availability of public library internet in more crowded areas. In the city or even the suburbs of a big city it can easily be a 2-hour wait, so it’s very difficult to do with children in the evening. Lots of your readers live in urban areas, so maybe you should try to find out what their circumstances actually are before lecturing them so overconfidently. Not everyone lives in an area with abundant, uncrowded public services.

    I also have no idea why you think a cell phone is such an inexcusable extravagance. Pay-by-the-minute plans are very cost-effective, and land lines don’t usually offer that kind of pricing.

  55. Ben J says:

    I’m 100% with the comments made by Gemond @ 10.

    I don’t know the e-mail’s sender, Callie, but taking it at face value she’s moved to cheaper accomodation and has cut as many expenses as she can.

    I don’t think most of the advice given in the post was helpful to her situation.

    This post combined with the fact that the occassional comments that I post never make it through moderation has lost me as a reader.

  56. Russell says:

    1. Pastors are usually self employed. For those of you that are not selfemployed, there are a lot more taxes to be paid to the government when you are a 1099 instead of a W2.

    2. She should talk with her busy employers (attorneys) and ask for help, assistance, and guidance; maybe even a raise. They know people in the law enforcement and judical branches of the government and should be able to help.

    I gladly give my coworkers advise or guidance in areas that I am knowledgable. We all do things like this.

  57. Debby says:

    Callie, if you are reading this, know that there are those of us who are praying for you! Hold on!

  58. Todd says:

    I tend toward atheism, but I’d like to stick up for Trent and for pastors here. I think Trent did a decent job of trying to be sensitive to someone in a truly difficult situation. He admits that he is generalizing, and that he is not in this situation himself.

    In my limited experience, most pastors do the same thing themselves. They listen, they try to be helpful to those with very different problems than their own, they give generalized advice, and they make a living (however meager or not) doing so. They aren’t Christ. They are human beings who want the same comforts most of us want. Often, the ones who are most skillful at dealing with people tend to move up to the best and most well-paid positions in the biggest churches. They probably do as much good as most clinical counselors do. It’s a profession.

    At least Trent looks at this issue head on. I don’t intend to give away everything I own, and so to avoid seeming condescending I might just gloss right over letters like this if I were in his place. Trent, at least, stops and tries to be helpful.

  59. Rachel says:

    Salary.com over-estimated my salary by $25,000. I wouldn’t think that’s an accurate number.

    My pastor spends upwards of 60 hours a week at church studying and writing sermons. He does Wednesday night Bible studies, Tuesday night jail/ mens ministry visits, weddings (which he is not allowed to get paid for, by the way), fellowship dinners, and numerous hospital/ funeral/ house-call visits. He was the only one who came to visit me in the hospital.

    Considering the personal sacrifices he makes, he earns whatever (low) salary he gets.

  60. AnnJo says:

    I honestly don’t know what the limits are for food stamps but the sole paralegal for two “very busy attorneys” should be making considerably more than that. If one’s income doesn’t meet one’s expenses, sure, cutting expenses is part of the solution, but increasing the income should be part of it too. The advice should have included the suggestion to look at the pay scale of paralegals in her area and make sure she’s earning what she’s worth.

  61. AnnJo says:

    On the issue of shame and pride – If this woman’s ex-husband had a better developed sense of pride and shame, he wouldn’t be caught dead doing what he has done. Instead, he has adopted Johanna’s philosophy and concluded that strangers drafted by the government should be supporting his children instead of himself.

    Let’s not be too quick to urge people to abandon pride and shame. Our society affords people more opportunities than have been available to probably 98% of all human beings who ever lived on this Earth. Granted that even so, some folks can’t make it on their own and need help, but pride (i.e., self-respect) SHOULD keep that number to its bare minimum. I admire this woman for the way she is facing these challenges, and hope she finds a way through her problems without losing her self-respect.

  62. Roberta says:

    The point here I think is to convince the writer and anyone else in a tough financial situation that there is hope because there are probably still some things left to cut that would free up some cash. To me, the post is positive and empowering.

  63. kristine says:

    I just want to chime in on the “don’t lose the internet” camp. And I would be more inclined to give up the landline than the cell. Most babysitters have cells, and she definitely needs one as her child has difficulties.

    At our library- the wait for a computer can be several hours. This woman does not have the resources to do this on any kind of a regular basis. And I doubt having both children in tow would be feasible for that amount of time. I

    I suggest internet and skype combo, of she wants a landline.

    And I wholeheartedly agree that I would like to see more research in these articles, rather than opinion, no matter how well thought-out. More meat is needed. As a reader I would prefer to see research specific to quoted letter (even if not immediately relevant to the entire audience. Otherwise, it seems like this reader is being held up as an example, in a negative way-unkind given her circumstance.

  64. Heather says:

    @22: Have you ever walked in the shoes of a pastor or seen them at work for a whole week? If not, you cannot speak authoritatively about it. Most pastors do not live cushy lives…even if they make $85,000 a year, their per-hour pay likely lower than yours or mine.

  65. Systemizer says:

    What Gemond says:

    “… case of you, in my opinion, stretching to make a point, and in the process appearing both insensitive and inept …”

    What Trent hears:

    “… blah blah blah enraged negativity blah blah blah enraged negativity blah blah blah …”

  66. CD says:

    I can only imagine Callie’s scenario – but I have been down the barely-getting-by scene. A few ideas I’d seriously consider:

    * Find a special needs group and see if it’s possible to trade childcare with someone who has a similar need.
    * Find a one room studio apartment. rent a garage with a bathroom, or a master bedroom, or a garage apartment. Even a trailer in someone’ back yard.
    * Rather than worry solely about debt – put 1/2 of anything left over into savings or debt, and 1/2 towards GETTING HELP. There are times when your sheer sanity and health are equally important. When you are nearing the edge of exhaustion where your ability to support yourself and family is in question – you’d better focus on getting yourself into a better state. Money’s important – but your health is first.
    * Rather than worry about cooking everything from scratch, opt for healthy, cheap, but PREPARED foods. A Costco run/month could stock you in frozen veggies, whoe wheat pasta/raviolis, chicken strips, dumplings, and soups. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. The kids will get older, you’ll be able to do more then.

    I’ve been in some pretty low points. Get out of the red zone, get some rest, get your head on straight.

    My prayers are with you Callie (if you are reading this). And you can be assured you aren’t alone. If you have TIME… reach out.


  67. Systemizer says:

    Oh, what the hell, Callie, I’d ask those lawyers how much jail time to expect for a triple homicide including two counts of premeditated infanticide.

  68. When you’re going thru hell, keep going. She’s in a soul breaking situation and she needs outside help to get her through this.

    When things are that bad, the reality is that you are drowning. When you are drowning you need outside help. It isn’t that you don’t want to save yourself, or don’t have a plan you just CAN’T. Basic survival instincts are in full control. You ask for help but people don’t help because you aren’t “motivated enough” to go scurrying off on their “suggestion” of something you might do, which is especially frustrating when their suggesting has nothing to do with what you are good at or even know how to do.

    The thing I feel from her is aloneness, not loneliness, she needs a friend to help her, to be there for her. To be a coach for her.

    I’m going thru my own hell right now and a miracle has finally occurred after 18 months of asking someone finally agreed to become my job coach. The situation still sucks but finally hope is off of life-support, she’s still in the ICU but it feels like she’s getting better.

    I got a nudge toward the side of the pool, I haven’t reached the edge yet but it is almost in reach and someone cares enough to do something. Before it was eye contact with people who seemed content to watch me drown. Did you know that 10% of drowning children die will having eye contact with someone, usually a parent.

  69. marta says:

    Ann-Jo, that is not helpful at all.

    You are doing the same as Trent, implying that resorting to social programs equals losing one’s pride and self-respect.

    That’s BS, to put it bluntly.

  70. haapai says:

    Ouch! This could have been one of your strongest columns. It’s obviously something that has been perculating for a while and I believe that some of the things that you said were absolutely sound. The Alice quote, the bobbing for breath metaphor, and everything in bold were absolutely spot on.

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with some of the other posters that Callie’s story was probably not the best lead-in. I also find myself wishing that you had substituted some other form of discretionary spending for the cliche cable/internet/cell plan examples. Obviously there’s a ton of savings associated with pulling the plug on those services but cutting them is often a starting point. A person who is bobbing for air needs to go way beyond those cuts.

    Sometimes rough times call for packing a lunch of neon orange (boxed) mac and cheese in yogurt containers and reusing those stained containers until the lid cracks and no longer holds a seal. Packing such a lunch (or something more healthful but just as inexpensive) triggers a lot of fear and shame but might be a better example.

  71. Gretchen says:

    I agree that this could have been an excellent post- but you made too many assumptions and didn’t need to rehighlight Callie’s letter.

  72. Jane says:

    How did Systemizer’s comment get through moderation? Read it again.

  73. In response to the chatter on the comment board: Most people I know who work in ministry have modest incomes. Very often those church wages are minimal or part-time. The church workers I personally know who have above-average lifestyles are those who also can access income streams from other sources (spouse’s income, a second job, or maybe an inheritance.)

    Now to the topic at hand:

    The fact is, people are trying to hold onto as normal a life as possible when finances are tight. It’s quite a challenge to figure out what you can live without vs. what stresses you out more to not have.

    That being said, if you honestly qualify for a program, service, or discount … you are the family it was written for. Sign up, use it and then apply the savings toward another family expense.

    One example: sign up for the lunch program if you are eligible. Then you may be able to keep the kid in sports (and that’s VERY difficult to find financial aid for).

    Now, how to find those programs? 211 / United Way across the country can give referrals for commonly asked situations such as “where do I apply for food stamps?”

    In some cities you can also find web sites hosted by libraries, senior citizen agencies, newspapers or TV stations that list free and low-cost community resources. In a few cases you can find a freelancer who has dedicated his or her own time to building up such a database.

    Example: the community resource site I recommend for southeast Michigan / Detroit area is Julie’s List http://julieslist.homestead.com/

  74. Johanna says:

    @marta: I think it’s interesting, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, that the people who opine that government social programs should all be replaced by private charities are often the same people who argue that anyone who accepts any form of help should be ashamed of themselves.

  75. Bryan M. says:

    there are numerous places to find streaming television content on the Internet – Hulu, the major television web sites. A basic Internet plan can cost as little as $30/mo for DSL. Plus there are library DVDs. Cable is ridiculously expensive, and could be cut with minimal disruption.

    As well, public libraries all over the country are cutting hours due to local budget cuts.

    Also, have to agree on the cell phone with others here. A landline can be cut instead, and you still have round-the-clock access with the cell phone. And there are pay-as-you-go cell plans as well.

  76. littlepitcher says:

    I worked for a pair of attorneys at one time. Minimum was $5/hour, and that’s what they paid. So don’t think Callie’s outearning Buffett.
    I forgot to mention that she can, and should, request “professional courtesy” when dealing with any client or contractor of her bosses when seeking advice or assistance (and I’d be seriously going through the files for ideas).
    Cutting Internet is not an option when you have a disabled child or need to upgrade your employment. First concern here is that, when moving, locations often are available where you can get free Wi-Fi. I’m thinking of my friend who just bought a fixer-upper adjacent to an interchange with not one, but two free wi-fi outlets–one restaurant, one big box. Many businesses run on an open router and their wi-fi is free, whether or not they know it. I’m not sure about cutting TV services when they may be essential in keeping an autistic child calm and occupied–and this is one spot where handing the child Netflix and a mouse is not a thrifty option, if s/he should get temperish and destructive.
    Also thinking of an acquaintance’s wife who has a child requiring full-time custodial care. She found a federal government job and their insurance pays for the custodial care.
    Everything Callie does from this point on should be examined carefully for secondary benefits–can you walk to work? Is day care handy and cheap? Will the benefits add another $2-300/month in pay? She can and should develop the clients and servers of her low-paying job for a network (think Keith Ferrazzi here) and utilize them, if possible, to bootstrap herself out of the slave job. And, heaven help her, she will have to do it while handling a Home Life From Hell.
    No, Trent didn’t understand prior to this, and that’s why he has a comments section, so our experience can supplement his.

  77. Heidi says:

    This woman sounds like she needs help–over and above a few personal finance tips.

    For people who have never been a primary caretaker for an autistic child, just imagine the intensity an infant requires in its 1st year. Very different needs, but the intensity is similar.

    This lady and her children need help in taking care of themselves.

    The comments that point to specific groups that might be able to provide help are spot-on. When you are this desperate for time and money and worrying about your children, a person needs specifics–what is the next step? A phone number, a web site, any link to a social group that can do a few things for her and help her get to a stable point where doing yet another thing is healthy for her family.

    Seriously, go to Costco? Use the internet at the library? Start working on more relationships?

    This women and her children need help without needing to give in turn for awhile. She is giving plenty.

    A social worker’s goal is to help a person reach their potential–this women has clearly done that and needs help.

    Does anyone else know of other groups that might be able to help her with something as simple as a phone call?

  78. Dottie says:

    This is the best description I found of my job on salary.com. (My job requires a Bachelors degree and I am the Senior Manager reporting only to the President):
    Business Office Manager
    Responsible for the direction and coordination of several business office operations. May require an associate’s degree in a related area with at least 7 years of experience in the field. Relies on experience and judgment to plan and accomplish goals. Typically reports to a senior manager.

    I clicked to find what the average salary was and it stated they do not survey for this position.
    Business Office Manager is a very common profession so why would it not be included??

    My conclusion after investigating salary.com from first hearing about it in the above comments: It is useless and highly inaccurate.

    Also, I am very involved in the operations of my church ( Mid size Catholic church) and I do not know of any priest in the Orlando diocese that receives an $85k salary per year…most make about half of that.

  79. Diane says:

    I felt very sad reading Callie’s letter with it’s despair coming through. I can offer no help or advice beyond what has been given other than that Callie can add another person rooting for her.

  80. Sam says:

    Callie – your not the only one. My son’s Dad, who isn’t hiding & makes 6 figures, is 5 figures behind and the child support office won’t do jack because it’s “too hard” and not cost effective for them to go after him since I make too much to get welfare (in my state the cut off for that is 7k a year). The only thing you can hope for is if you can find an atty willing to help you pro-bono but hose are few & far between.

    I already do everything that Trent mentions and then some – for example, the only thing we use that’s disposable is TP(no paper towels, no paper napkins, etc & torn clothing gets turned into rags). I still go hungry 3 nights a week so my kids don’t. Any of the above mentioned”tips” to save money on food don’t work & cost more per serving then cooking from scratch.
    I’ll pay out more in child care then a second job can pay & every at home gig I’ve tried requires high speed internet and other resources that I can’t afford. I’ve also tried plying my trade out of my house and just got a bunch of people that wanted me to work for free – they didn’t want to pay me.
    If you do have paid for internet one free option is that Netzero still does 16hrs a month for free via dial up – it’s just enough to check email (However you need to never close the email window, just refresh it after the dial up connects to pull up anything new – if you close the window it takes 20 minutes to get logged back in and that can make those 16hrs go fast). It’s a pain for me but, the inconvenience is worth the free part since my public library doesn’t allow kids ni the internet room & won’t allow me to have them sit at a table where I can see them outside the room reading (unattended).
    My current babysitter (also a single Mom) said that in the evenings the wait is over 45 minutes for those 6 computers & when there’s a kid to feed & get to bed on time so they aren’t cranky for school that makes it very stressful.

    I wish I could help you – like watch your kids a bit for you to help take some of the financial load off.

    I agree Trent was pretty open & shut on this. If he hasn’t walked the walk he shouldn’t talk the talk. If she’s disqualified for food stamps after her last raise then she’s probably disqualified for any assistance except the Medicaide (if her State is anything like mine). In my experience as you earn more money first goes welfare, then goes WIC, then goes childcare, followed by food stamps and then medicaide (cut off for that in my state is 17k).

    One detail I wish for is what town she’s in to see if a internet search could pull up any resources she maybe hasn’t found yet. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can see some resource over looked.

    @ Gemond – AMEN!

    #43 “CD” – most states require a seperate bedroom for the children – two kids of the same gender in each room. If she does any of the living situations you mention, child protective services could take the kids away and cost her a lot of money.

  81. Richard says:

    When it comes to surviving and especially caring for your children, pride should not even be an issue. You need to do whatever it takes to get the job done, period. You gain self respect by getting through the tough times. I believe that is the same message Trent is conveying in the post.

  82. marta says:

    @Johanna, I have noticed that as well. And isn’t it “funny” how some of the people who say the most repulsive things about social programs (welfare, socialised medicine, etc) and those who dare to use those programs, will also proclaim loudly and clear that they *do* give money to charities and/or church?

    I don’t get it.

  83. reulte says:

    Callie – Leverage your position as a paralegal. Ask your lawyers for legal advice regarding what paperwork to file to garnish your ex’s wages and/or notify the IRS or if they know of an inexpensive lawyer who can help you. Ask them for a raise and/or an assistant and/or shorter hours and/or a bonus. Explain this is a temporary situation until your youngest child goes to school or your ex pays his back support or both. Tell them you will be taking your lunch break away from work from now on to check on your children/refresh yourself for the afternoon/just get away from the office/do exercise. If you can’t cut your spending (and I don’t think you can), then perhaps you can cut your belongings. Fewer clothes for yourself, fewer toys for your children (kids don’t love toys, they love time with their mom), fewer belongings to dust/clean/put away so you have more time for yourself and your chilren. Perhaps you can tell the children’s grandmothers that paying one of the child-affiliated bills would be most appreciated. My ex-mother-in-law was shocked when she found out her son wasn’t paying his child support payments — perhaps yours will be as well.

    When you have time with your children, take them outside whether it’s to read to them in the park under a tree or to chase them on the beach. Exercise and the outdoors is great for kids and not so dismal for you looking around your home and seeing what you have to do and seeing what belongings you don’t have. (I hope that made sense!)

    Good luck to you.

  84. Holly says:

    I know this post won’t help Callie’s situation, but I had to respond to the comments about pastor’s salaries…
    THANK YOU!!! #30Kat, #26jgonzales and #38Rachel, for commenting in support of your pastor!

    The $85K average salary is most likely for those individuals who are the SENIOR/LEAD pastor of a church (and a pretty large one at that, with at least 800-1000 members). Most churches have 100 or less in their membership, so you can do the math. My husband was a staff pastor (one of many at a 850 member church), made half that and much less at the 2 positions he’s held as a staff pastor. He worked incessantly. 9-10 hour days at the office, nonstop phone calls while there, and his cell phone was ringing off the hook the other 14 hours of the day – and he was not the lead pastor! He did anything/everything needed to help the church run smoothly – many pastors have to be plumbers, carpenters, janitors, receptionists, writers, supply replinisher, Sunday coffee-maker, speaker, comforters, attend every birthday/anniversary/funeral/wedding, the list goes on and on. No free time! I’ve known of a few guys who’ve done what #22John said – the canned sermons 1 hour a week, but the majority of guys/gals I know doing full-time ministry is exactly that – full time. My husband is so caring and giving toward people that he would sometimes neglect his personal needs & family. That happens a lot in ministry! Not just the husband/wife doing the work of the ministry, but the whole family is involved. It’s called serving. You like your weekends, holidays? don’t go into ministry.

    People who give to the church should be giving out of desire to obey what God’s word says about providing for the shepherd/church by tithing in Malachi 3.(Tithe means Ten). God also says that if you give, it will be given back to you in greater measure than you gave. “Try me in this” God says. “See If I don’t open the store houses of heaven for you” (my own paraphrase). Ask any person who didn’t tithe, then started tithing – the provisions were there. People who go into ministry and attend seminary/university/correspondnece courses or other higher learning to obtain a theology degree are doing it b/c they want to help people to know God and have a relationship with him, not for an easy life. Yes, the gov’t provides tax deductions for housing and the like, But they are also considered self-employed, so have to pay the full 15% of FICA tax. There are many self-employed people out there that know this is quite a chunk of change.

    I pray that everyone would have a good view of pastors, Christians, churches…I know there are some horrible examples out there. God is wanting everyone to know him – the real him. Not the one many of us portray through our flawed human nature, therefore flawed churches. He is perfect, we are not. But he still loves us!

    Thanks for letting me put in my 2 cents worth. Hope someone gets some insight/help out of this.

  85. Erica says:

    Some of these posts are off topic and breach being snide. How about some encouragement for someone in a dire situation? To those that have thanks! Trent, here’s some additional resources:
    1. Angel Food Ministries – allows you buy grocery items for $30 but is plenty food to last 2 weeks for a small family is stretched right,
    2. food pantry
    3. some local DCFS office offer daycare vouchers
    4. Contact the local support groups
    5. Contact a property management group – They know where all the affordable rental units are and might offer a discount
    6. Barter you time on weekends – example if you know someone is elderly offer to clean their house and in exchange have them watch on of your children
    7. Contact the private schools that offer onsite daycare and see if they offer scholarships for the daycare program….(Save’s a tone of money)
    8. Look into MOPS – mothers of preschoolers
    9. Contact the women’s shelters for a list of resources

  86. Nick says:

    I guess I’m in the minority who don’t see Trent’s advice as directly for Callie specifically, but rather for a broad category of people.

    “I receive a variation or two on Callie’s story once a week. After a series of misfortunes and challenges, a person finds themselves in a situation where they’re doing everything they can to simply bob along with their head barely above water.

    Most of my advice to people in these situations follow the same lines, and I’ll share most of the ideas here.”

    That’s generalized, not for Callie specifically.

    For #10 Gemond, a laundry list of helpful organizations may be useful, but much of Trent’s brand is built on inspiration, motivation, and setting goals on a personal level. I think it’s pretty consistent with his sites goals.

    Callie’s email shows a lot about her attitude. Consider the following phrases:
    -zaps the life right out of me
    -I feel over-worked
    -emotionally, logistically, and financially alone
    -to my shame
    -I…can’t take on
    -Not many people want to live with an autistic child
    -I just can’t face

    All that, and what’s her question? “Do I go after back child support?” That’s a lot to bring up for a relatively simple question about weighing legal action! I can see why Trent might write a post about having to change attitudes.

    And what’s your assessment?

    “I have been privileged to have learned so much from the women I have assisted over the years. ALL of them are tough, determined and committed to improving their lives to better raise their children. THEY are often far better parents than people with tons of money and lots of stuff.

    “They are also more respectful and encouraging and supportive of others. And they don’t pretend that life isn’t what it is even while they work hard each day to make it better.”

    I don’t really fault Trent for being an optimist instead of a bleak realist, but it sounds like you do. Not everyone can bootstrap, but why assume they can’t by default?

  87. Lynn says:

    Trent, I’m honestly surprised that YOU say the home internet thing is a “luxury” when that’s the way many people (including you, I might add) get paid or that cell phone bills should automatically be cut (considering the cancellation fee is sometimes more than what is left on the contract AND expected all at once). It’s not so black and white.

  88. Heather says:

    wow, this is such a good article and so personally applicable to us! You have been writing some great articles recently, which is why I love reading this blog! You’ve motivated me to see if we can cut our spending even further and clean out even more stuff for a (fifth?) garage sale. Timely encouragement to keep sticking to the path. Thanks!

  89. Having been in this situation myself (minus the autism) I have to agree with Trent 100%. Forget about the bum. You don’t need him in your childrens life. The money is not worth the emotional damage that can be done. Focusing on that will keep you from seeing the options and opportunities that you can take to improve your life and situation. One of my close friends also has an autistic child. There are some school districts that have programs specifically designed to meet their educational needs. You may want to research and consider moving to one of those areas. Many issues cannot be resolved over night but as you continue to reach out the answers will come.

  90. Jake says:

    Concerning this article “When Keeping Your Head Above Water Takes All You’ve”, at what point to consider your long term health. Trent could you way in on this. The reason being when growing up my Mom worked a full time job and went to college almost full time will raising my brother and me. Now 25yrs later she is resting and recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome. It seems to me at some point you have to cut your losses(stay in debt for a possible until the kids are public schools), look out for your health first and not continuously burn the midnight oil.

  91. Michele says:

    I have been in this situation myself. I was a single parent, raising two kids, and minimal income. I worked a full time job from 8p.m. to 4:30 a.m. so I could get a family member to babysit for free, I worked a second job weekdays from 5 am. to 8 am. and a weekend job for 10-16 hrs on saturday and sunday. The only way I was able to do this was with the support of my family, and the ex’s grandparents, who loved seeing the kids every weekend. I did this for 3 years and it only supplied enough income to meet the bare expenses. I stood in food lines, I volunteered at a local non profit and my pay was a pizza – one less meal to buy. I got food stamps, I got wic and didn’t qualify for much else.

    On a misting rainy day, at the height of rush hour, I was on my way to a dr appointment and my car skidded. I drove underneath the trailer of a semi-truck. I spun around, watched the dashboard of my car fold in half above my legs, and the window shatter. I walked away with a scratch on my knee.

    At that point you gotta admit to yourself that god was trying to tell me something. I ended up quitting a couple of my jobs and moving home to my parents. It was not easy and its not always an option, but once the kids got in school I was able to work my way into better and better jobs, and get some education (almost all grants and scholarships which I am forever grateful for).

    It felt like it was never going to end, but eventually it did. Not the most helpful advice for the here and now, but it is do-able.

  92. Yvonne says:

    There are two sides to every story. I’m not saying that Callie did anything wrong, but a lot of people are making a lot of comments with limited information from Callie and zero information about her ex. Maybe he is mentally ill…maybe he is paying support and it’s going to another family (yes, this does happen). It’s amazing how heated people get without all the facts.

    I think Callie should pursue the back child support, but there is NO guarantee she will get it. It takes a lot to get thrown into jail for non payment of child support. And as someone said earlier, jail doesn’t do her or the kids any good. Your license gets suspended first, and that can happen multiple times before any court action is taken. If Callie focuses on what SHE can do to improve her situation, then the child support (if and when it does come in) will be a bonus, not something that determines whether she sinks or swims.

    Given that Callie is a paralegal with a household of 3 (unless there is other family living with her) she is probably too far above the poverty line to qualify for most government assistance. Support groups and some sort of case management from a social worker are probably her best bets. There are lots of resources for single mom’s but you need to know the right people and some can only be accessed when referred by a case manager.

    There is a whole spectrum of Autism. Not all Autistic children are low functioning and we don’t know where her child lies on that spectrum, so please don’t assume your autistic child, niece nephew, whatever, is the same as Callie’s.

    I don’t ever comment, but reading this really got me feeling sad. Some of you have so much hate for people and situations you know nothing about (even if you have “been there before” you really don’t know. No one knows but Callie). Everybody just needs to relax and let Callie know she has people hoping she’ll make it out of this mess a strong and happy person.

  93. Vicki says:

    Hi Trent, I need to point out what I see as a fatal flaw with your advice to this woman, and that regards getting rid of the cell phone. In today’s working world, this isn’t an option for many people.

    1. Through services such as Cricket, a cell phone is actually cheaper than a home phone in many locations. Here in Albuquerque, I was paying ~$70/mo for a bare bones basic home phone. My cell phone costs me $45/month and I can take it with me anywhere, it has voicemail, it has caller ID, it has free long distance, and I can text with it for free.

    2. I actually worked with someone in the past who got fired because she didn’t have a phone where she could be reached at any time and/or have a message left that she could respond to—and that was for an hourly job at a call center. Having dated an attorney in the past, I know that they expect their paralegals to be contactable—even if they’re at the grocery store with their kids, and no, they do not see a cell phone as a work expense that they should pay for.

    3. Unless you have a relative who is watching your kids for free, any form of childcare demands (as part of the contract) that you supply them with a cell phone number that they can use to contact you at any time, and at any place should there be an emergency with your child or some sort of emergency (say the building burns down at night) where they need to contact you so that you can make alternative care arrangements. I can just imagine the contact demands for an autistic child. A general work number and home number is not acceptable nowadays, unfortunately.

    Some food for thought…

    thanks, Vicki

  94. kristine says:

    Not especially to Callie, but it should be noted if you accept any kind of public assistance- WIC, food stamps, etc., it is held against you in a custody battle. I had a 2 year custody battle- my ex was wealthy and had no interest in the kids, but saw the children as property. He largely ignored or yelled at them. I was pulling up by my bootstraps, but went without food for long periods so the kids could eat, as my lawyer advised me accepting public help puts you at a distinct disadvantage in a custody case: financial liability of the state being weighed as just as important as parenting skills. I see the logic, but it seems inhumane. I was unaware of food pantries at the time- I had no internet, and went out very little.

  95. Maria says:

    @ Trent – as you’ve ALWAYS said – it is true that you can never know a person’s complete situation and can only put advice out there for people to read – on that respect – this column is a great summation of how to ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps” as my Dad would have said.
    As for the bashing and judging that is going on above – none of us knows what truly goes on in each others homes, wallets, or hearts.
    I thought this was a great post and wish Callie and anyone (male or female) going through the same thing all the best.

  96. Belinda says:


    I would ask you to consider the fact that things like cable television and internet access are no longer luxury items in this day and age. For instance, I looked at cancelling my cable television service and found that, due to the transition to digital TV, I could no longer receive even basic local television stations without paying my local cable company a monthly charge. Having access to things like weather reports and school closings in the winter, etc., do necessitate having at least local tv coverage, which means a cable bill.

    Second, if you have high school students in the house, as I do, internet access is important for school projects and research. Yes, it’s available at the library but there are only so many terminals at the library, and they are often all in use at the times that we can get there. Not to mention those snow-bound days in February when just getting there could be impossible.

    And because the cable company where I live runs a monopoly on internet access, it is far cheaper to bundle the cable and internet than to have one without the other. It would cost me substantially more per month to cancel one or the other.

    Please realize that what may seem like a luxury to you that could be cut out of someone’s spending may actually be necessary just to survive in today’s world.

    I would also like to point out that working poor, such as Callie and millions of other Americans, make too much money to qualify for things like WIC and food stamps, but hardly enough to make ends meet, let alone save for emergencies.

    Time and again when I come here, I find that the solutions you put forth are wise for those of us with middle class incomes who spend too much on our ipods, our clothes, and our lattes. But the same advice does not apply to people in Callie’s situation, and you need to realize that.

  97. Belinda says:

    @ #10Gemond:

    Here, here.

  98. almost there says:

    Is it just me or has this blog about PF turned into a “Dear Abby” site. I think Trent should stick to what he knows and forget about giving off the cuff advice in which he is not trained. Remember, Trent has had a good life even in his financial meltdown times. He was never in fear of loosing a home having wages taken or going hungry. He just had to stop spending on the extras to turn his life around. He clearly has no inkling of what Callie or the other desperate people are going through.

  99. jim says:

    “if you accept any kind of public assistance- WIC, food stamps, etc., it is held against you in a custody battle” …”financial liability of the state being weighed as just as important as parenting skills”

    That doesn’t sound right. I can’t imagine that is any kind of official policy or based on actual law. What state is that?

  100. MattJ says:

    Jim: “That number can’t be accurate.”

    I also doubt the number, but I just want to point out that the set of all pastors and the set of all clergy aren’t identical.

    Rabbis are clergy but not pastors.

    Priests are clergy but not pastors.

    Bishops are clergy but not pastors.

    Deacons are clergy but not pastors.

    The BLS number could differ from the salary.com number by including even youth ministers, nuns, etc. Neither organization necessarily used the dictionary definition of the words ‘pastor’ or ‘clergy’, anyway.

    The comparison is extremely unlikley to be apples to apples.

  101. Miss Shell says:

    #10: Horse hockey! I was the child of a mother in just such a situation. Deadbeat dad, two kids, hardworking mom who needed help. One of mom’s problems was that she was embarrassed to ask for help- she was afraid of what her family would think. If she had had Trent’s advice, it would have saved her a LOT of stress and trouble.

    And if y’all want to stop reading, that would be great- then the rest of us won’t have to see your tired invective.

  102. jim says:

    MattJ, you’re right that clergy is not equal to pastors. Pastor is a subset of clergy. Still the BLS figure is much more accurate and dependable.
    3rd source: Payscale.com says the salary range for “pastor” is in the $37-66k range and they have over 4000 survey responses.
    4th source: the Christianpost had an article that said: “Compensation packages, including benefits such as retirement, life insurance, health insurance and continuing education allowances, have increased to $81,113 per year for the average senior pastor.” However that includes the cost of benefits like retirement & health insurance and is specific to “senior” pastors.

  103. Tammy says:

    I just have to say to all of you that want more research on topics from Trent, he never claims to be an expert on any of this. This is HIS blog, by definition HIS opinion. You choose to read it or not, that’s your choice if you don’t trust his opinion on a topic then go do the research yourself and learn more about whatever topic you are concerned with.

  104. Crystal in Ft Worth says:

    Aaah Trent, so cute and nieve. Do you really believe you can just waltz into WIC and get food? No-you must apply and THEY will decide if you may get food. My husband and I both worked in warehouses for $12 per hour and were turned down. Help with the $285 per WEEK we had to pay daycare? Denied. CHIPS/Medicare? Denied. Help with school so we could rise up? Denied. TXU to help with huge Texas August energy bills? Denied. We made too much for all of these ‘charities’ my tax dollars so faithfully support.

  105. almost there says:

    #61, Jim. I know that what the government gives they take away. A family member quit his job to take care of his father full time until the dad died. He could have been paid by the state of California as a caregiver but it would have been taxable income (state and federal)and upon death of the father the state would want the money paid to the caregver (pre tax) from the estate. So It would have cost the family member in the long run. So, yes, I can see income from the state being held against one.

  106. Katia says:

    I am the secretary of a church and would like to say that 1)you would not believe the number of calls I get per week with all sorts of sob stories about how they can’t pay their bills, etc. Then when they come in to fill out the paperwork, they reek of smoke (and some alcohol) and whip out their blackberry to take a call…then expect to get assistance. I believe that many people feel a cell phone is a given right…well, it’s not if it means you are neglecting your other bills! Our area offers free cell phones with 200 minutes to low income families, and I get disgusted looks when I suggest that people sign up for these, or use the pre=paid ones and just limit how long they are on the phone. When someone fills out the form and has $80 for a landline/internet; $70 for cable; and $120 for cell phone, but can’t pay their gas or power bill, something is definitely wrong! So I agree with Trent…cutting to the bone is the key…and that means sacrificing the ‘wants’ to focus on paying for the ‘needs’. I personally do not have cable, but I do have DSL and I use a prepaid cell, so my phone/internet bill is around $60 a month, not over $200!

    2) As for the pastor’s work…I can tell you that my pastor is far underpaid for all he does. He gets approximately $60,000 (there is no parsonage so he pays house payments). He spends a lot of time on visitation of the sick and home bound; has taken homeless persons out for lunch when they came for assistance; purchased phone cards (see above for my thoughts on that); makes hospital visits, is there for surgeries (some start at 5:30am); pre-marital counseling, weddings, funerals, regular counseling…they are all considered part of his job, so he is only compensated if they wish to give him a gratuity, which most don’t because there is no receipt where there is a line to remind you to tip. He is on call 24/7 for whomever needs to talk. Nope, as much as I love the people in my churcn, I wouldn’t want to be a pastor!

    There are many agencies to help out low income families, but it has been my experience that people just don’t take the time to make the calls and fill out the forms (some say to ‘jump through the hoops’ which are there for a reason…to help reduce fraud, thus saving money for those who truly do need it). They would prefer to get a free hand out, rather than take responsibility themselves or make sacrifices.

    My heart goes out to those who are truly trying to keep their heads above the water, but for each of those, there are 10 who are just trying to milk the system while living the good life.

  107. jim says:

    #65 almost there. Sounds like you’re saying that California expected an estate to pay for caregiver bills. That doesn’t sound very much like #59 Kristin’e situation. She was saying her lawyer told her that her “custody battle” would be hurt if she took public assistance. Custody battle is the legal dispute between spouses for custody of the children. Maybe she was talking about the amount of child support she migght get? I thought she was saying that if she took food stamps she would lose custody.

  108. CNM says:

    I find the comments to this article more interesting than the article itself! The sad truth is that people in the letter writer’s position simply do not have a lot of options. It sounds like she makes too much to qualify for many public assistance programs but yet she still doesn’t make enough money to cover her needs. Trent’s advice reflects that very problem of being a member of the working poor. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good options here.

    We just don’t know whether Trent’s advice to cut out unnecessary expenses is obvious or not. We don’t know the writer’s personal circumstances- maybe she already is eating instant mac n’ cheese and lives without a telephone or maybe she’s just starting to really pare down. It’s hard to tell and, when you receive a request for advice from someone you don’t know, that is not unreasonable to suggest. Similarly, with her child support issue. We don’t know the details. She should most definitely do everything she can, including filing a writ of garnishment. But, unfortunately, the legal system can only do so much. If her ex-husband really is getting paid under the table or has zero income, there is little recourse.

    Furthermore, Trent’s advice for reaching out for assistance is sound. The FIRST thing I would recommend is to reach out to family for a helping hand- whether that be looking after the children a few hours a week or asking for help around the house or in the kitchen. It can be hard to do so. It’s almost easier admitting to some guy on the internet that you’re facing financial troubles than it is to ask someone you personally know for some help.

    The only glaring omission in Trent’s advice, I find, is that she should ask for a raise. She has nothing to lose and she shouldn’t sell herself short. If she doesn’t get enough money at her current position, she should start looking elsewhere. I work in the legal field and experienced paralegals are in high demand and will command a nice salary in my area.

  109. kristine says:


    You are right, I was specifically saying that my bid for full custody would be damaged by taking any form whatsoever of public assistance. I was specifically asked by the judge if I had ever received welfare or food stamps, in my adult entire life, even in college. If the state can choose between a parent who can foreseeably fully support the children, or a parent who at any time needed state funds, they are pre-disposed to the historically solvent parent. The difference in parental love can not be proven, and if both parents are “fit”, and seeking custody, it is slanted toward the one who has not “failed” and needed public assistance. I had to borrow 1500 from friends and relatives to pay for the forensic psychiatrist to testify that I was more bonded with the children. That took 10 years to pay back.

    I have never received child support- my ex has chosen to be a hi-level mooch, attending concert, restaurants, basketball games, summering in the Hamptons, and driving a brand new SUV, all paid for by the young widow and mother of 2 with whom he co-habits. He has an MIT education, and has as a life goal never to work. On paper- he is penniless, so hardly a dime for the kids. The children’s expenses were to be shared according to proportional income. It was HUGE financial mistake no woman should make. In this job market, you cannot prove that anyone is purposefully not working.

    I am now solvent, and remarried. I was lucky to get a job that paid for my first masters, and then married a professor, and also got an MSed so I can teach! Things do get better. But I would never have believed it at the time. Hang in there, Callie!

  110. Amanda says:

    It appears my post got stuck in moderation…

    @22 some good points.

    Sorry all, I was making an off-topic comment. Didn’t mean to start a debate. I do feel horribly for poster & her situation.

    My father is a volunteer minister-the duties are split between (usually) 3-10 others who take the lead in the congregation. He also has a “real” job, where he earns his retirement. My husband and I are full time volunteer Bible teachers. We have part time jobs to support our work. None of us are given a stipend of any sort-we pay for our food, housing, etc. We make contributions as well as any other congregation members who would like to donate toward utilities locally or building simple structures for worship in poorer countries. But, no collection plate is passed-EVER. No one is made to feel poor and we help each other out. If someone is sick or poor we take them meals as loving congregation members.

  111. Having kids usually takes all you’ve got–emotionally, financially,and everything else.

    But to me, they are worth every minute and every dime

  112. lynne says:

    I work in special ed and we have 3 autistic children in our class. I have so much respect for their parents. These are some really great kids, but their needs are such that they take a great deal of emotional & physical attention. I can’t imagine raising an autistic child on my own, much less having his/her sibling, no support from the other parent, and not getting financial support from that parent. My daughter works in a law office and filed all her own paperwork to get support for her child. If the ex-spouse is working but claiming he isn’t then that woman needs to contact the child support division & provide whatever information is necessary. He has a social security number and that means any income he has earned is being reported to the government & is traceable. Since she is a paralegal she should ask her attorney employers how to proceed if she has not been successful in this on her own.

  113. Linda says:

    @ Kerry D., #5. Cali is broke. There are a lot of groups that can help. Great suggestions here. And go after (legally) the deadbeat dad–doesn’t she work for a couple of lawyers? In fact, if they’re worth their salt, they should have already stepped up to help. If they haven’t, she needs to ask. God bless her. Tough times for many.

  114. sjweiland says:

    1. for Callie-Sometimes knowing short-term sacrifices are worth long-term rewards, such as asking for a raise and litigation with your ex, can propel you to make the difficult decisions. You will build momentum. Your circumstances seem to necessitate a cell phone. Being a single-parent of two boys by a disinterested father, I can identify with. Clueless would be me pertaining to the autistic aspect.

    Being resourceful and persistent are two attributes that can take you far and helped me the most. This might be a quote belonging to someone; “adversity asks us to find creative solutions to life’s difficulties.” That quote/phrase saw me through many low moments and inspired me to pick myself up time and time again.

    When I divorced I was 29 and the children were two and five. There was $7.xx in the checking account and the savings and investment accounts had been closed. I had been a stay-at-home mom/Stepford wife. [Slowly fast-forward 20 years and I was able to retire at 49, debt free, no mortgage (30 year fixed paid off in a year and a half), paid cash for three vehicles additionally I own a small farm with a house, barns, chicken coop and other brick buildings, it also has wooded acres with two ponds and income producing crops, free and clear.] Within 24 hours of giving Mr Beater & Cheater the boot, I had a new place to live, in an excellent neighborhood, and a decent job! My first paycheck opened a checking and savings account at a credit union. The opening balance on the savings account was $1.00 and all found money went into savings; aluminum can recycling, any coin found, birthday and Christmas money, odd jobs, etc. The delight in watching it grow into a money market account, an IRA and mutual funds.

    I put myself through college and my children received private school educations. All was done without any assistance from the government or family, though they would have helped, but I refused to ask. The Tightwad Gazette changed my course and my life. Every expense was evaluated by my motto, “there is ALWAYS a cheaper way.” I found time to volunteer at my children’s school and tutor at risk girls. I worked full-time and attended school and snuck in odd jobs. I packed lunches for classmates @ $5/lunch, a widow ate dinner with us three nights a week for $20/wk, I sat a co-worker’s child three nights a week for $75/wk, I cleaned houses, did sewing and mending from my home, mowed lawns, typed papers for FNP students @ $2 per page plus they sat with my children as this usually occurred in the middle of the night at my office. I also bartered. I hemmed uniform pants for the store in exchange for my children’s school uniforms plus a little extra $ and a store discount, did mending for a mechanic and a carpenter in exchange for car and home repairs, sewed for two children in exchange for massage-aaahhhh. I slept 3-4.5 hours/night, did not watch TV. Massage, work and school were my forms of “relaxation.” Life is good and I would do it all over again if need be.

    Callie you are stretched emotionally more than I will ever know. Please do not give up or give in. You can do this. Dig deep and hang on. It will get better.

    2. For Ryan @ 4-EXCELLENT and so true – I am a cafeteria-catlic here in the Bible belt of hypachristians-small town with packed churches every Sunday and members breaking every commandment 24/7 including time at church if they can swing it. One of our churches had a pedophile pastor and the congregation wanted to “keep him on.” Another had a pastor with a serious porn addiction and they wanted to keep him too! Our priest has the spine of a tapeworm. Yes they all live the good life in a town with >30% unemployment, close to 50% of the families are on welfare and/or SSI, but have time to sell meth on the side. Most jobs require drug-screens; why not make welfare and SSI recipients comply as well? Whatever your religious affiliation is in this town, if you need clergy the only one you can reach is the only female pastor of a VERY poor little church. She is underpaid. The rest are worthless, overpaid and could give a care or concern let alone a prayer.

  115. Cee says:

    Hey, lay off Trent, Cailee asked him for his advice – it wasn’t unsolicited. Clearly Cailee thought he was qualified enough to give her advice, so don’t patronise her by claiming Trent “doesn’t get it”. He’s not being asked to “get the whole picture”, he’s being asked for a particular filtered view point. By Cailee.

    Rather than seeing it as “fodder”, look a little deeper at the Trent’s words:
    – it reminds us to have perspective with our own problems
    – it reminds us to have empathy for those doing it tough, rather than disdain

  116. Kevin says:

    This story reinforces my decision to never have kids.

  117. Sam says:

    I think #59 Kristine’s comment depends on the state.

    My son’s Dad tried that angle & the judge pointed out that if he had been a “Man” and helped with the baby when born instead of dragging it in court for 3 -4 yrs we wouldn’t have ever needed state aide.
    However, in the state I’m in the Mother gets sole legal custody automatically & she has to be proven unfit via endangerment to change it. I don’t know how many other states still run that way but it’s estimated it saves our court systems at least a million since custody can’t really be drawn out & bickered over much.
    That said, it’s really sad to see kids with a Mom who doesn’t take good care of them.

    Her letter sounds like she was already on food stamps so it’s probably a moot point.

    For those to think this is like a Dear Abby thing – maybe Trent should start a “help letters” section for people to try to help/advise those who write in with unique circumstances.

  118. Sam says:

    PS –
    Callie, I spoke with a freind who is a school psych and she said some large church/non-profit organizations might be able to help out a bit.
    She said in our area St Vincent DePaul has a network of volunteers that help special needs families. I know other cities I’ve lived in that same group helps out a lot too. So, maybe if you call the United Way they can tell you if there’s any such thing in your area. Also, the United Way might know of support groups for Autistic parents.

    There’s three autistic kids in our Scout Troop and we all help out as much as we can – like giving the parents a break by watching the kids for an afternoon, keeping an eye out for garage sale items we know those families need(since they usually can’t go because of the kids – we don’t do it to be rude) & other things.
    So there are random bits of help out there – it’s just uncovering it while still working full time & running the household.

  119. Daniel says:

    I quit going to church when my preacher started buying all of his sermons (yes, literally all of them) from a publisher, and I would see him out in public at least once a week in the middle of a working day (I worked in retail at the time) because (as he put it), “I need some time off.” I understand preachers visit people and attend meetings, etc…just like anyone else. Most of the time, he was shopping, constantly buying new cars, owned two houses, etc. Rarely did I run into him out and about and he was actually on church business. So yes, this sounds like an easy job to me, sorry if that offends someone here.

    The staff randomly cancelled evening services several times throughout my attendance. Church employees vandalized church property – with no consequences. The expense to members was $10K+.

    I am a Christian, but I honestly don’t think I could step inside another church ever again. The hypocrisy, laziness, and outright greed astounds me. I tried visiting other churches for a bit and got the same slimy vibe. Kinda sad. :(

    I now choose to donate my time and $$ in other ways, which I hope have an even greater impact (wouldn’t take much really).

  120. Daniel says:

    And sorry for the cynicism – having a rough day for so many reasons and needed to vent. This represented the perfect opportunity.

  121. Daniel says:

    And one final church complaint, then I’ll shut up: churches have nothing for people my age (20s-30s) who aren’t married and don’t have kids. They completely ignore people in this situation. If you try to become involved in something, they question your motives. And if you choose not to be involved in something (for whatever reason), they judge.

  122. jgonzales says:


    I’m sorry to hear about such a bad time you’ve had at churches. It always hurts me to hear about others getting hurt in a place that’s supposed to bring peace and love. If you live near a larger metro area, maybe you can search for a church with events for your age group. One big issue churches have is how to retain people in your age group I’ve known many who are starting programs geared for your issues.

    I understand why you’ve walked away, but I hope you can give a new church a chance soon.

  123. CD says:

    Sam: You can’t be serious. If I can afford a studio in a decent area with a pullout couch, a bathroom, and a kitchen – CPS would have a beef with that?

    I just can’t believe anyone would actually do that. People living that close to the bone need to cut every expense that doesn’t endanger the safety of their kids.

    I know plenty of families who have temporarily lived like that. I have a garage apartment that I had SEVERAL families asking to live in (one room). But I’m in So Cal where we’re used to living on top of each other. Maybe we’re zoned differently.

  124. kristine says:

    CD- Yes, it’s true. Also in my custody battle, I was told by my lawyer I must have a 3 bedroom place, with 1 bedroom for my daughter, and 1 for my son, and 1 for me (They were 2 and 3). Ridiculous. That put me in the red, big time. But once that was all over, my little ones were very happy to go back to sharing a room for a few years!

    Another interesting money fact in NY- if you are married, you are NOT obligated to send your children to college. But if you are divorced, child support policies REQUIRE that you come up with 25% of your child’s college expenses, based on State school tuition. Go figure, as most people have less money after divorce.

  125. AnnJo says:

    @marta at #45,
    I am not “implying” that resorting to social programs equals losing one’s pride and self-respect, I am stating it. It may not for you and Johanna and Callie’s ex-husband, but it would for me and obviously does for Callie.

    You may believe we are wrong in our views, but on what basis do you conclude they are not worthy of your respect or tolerance? After all, the worst that can happen is we will strive harder to keep ourselves and our families off the public dole, and thereby save you some money.

    For instance, I provide 90% of the support for two family members (a mentally ill sister and a minor nephew) including housing in my own home, food, utilities, private school and other expenses. These are people who would otherwise be on social programs costing you money.

    You could say I do this because my self-respect would be damaged if I could afford to provide for my family members and did not. Snicker if you wish, call me a sucker, but how exactly does my doing this harm you that it should make you so resentful of my philosophy? Shouldn’t your resentment be better directed at Callie’s ex-husband and people like him, who have the opposite philosophy to mine?

  126. Zanne says:

    I am not understanding why Callie is even worried about whether to pursue the children’s father for support. The Court has ordered the father to pay and that releases Callie from making a decision about the issue. From her email, she clearly knows where he is. I think she should apply for child support enforcement services from her local agency, after which she shouldn’t even have to appear in court, and allow them to pursue the court ordered obligation. That may take some time, but eventually he will either pay or sit in jail. And, they can intercept his IRS and State tax refunds for her, too. Frankly, if she has been receiving benefits (i.e., food stamps), the agency should be doing this already. (When you receive benefits, by federal law, you assign your child support rights to the State.) If the agency is not pursuing child support and Callie didn’t close her case, someone’s not doing their job; either Callie’s not giving good location info to the agency, or, Callie needs to complain to the supervisor of her caseworker because the case isn’t getting worked properly by the caseworker.

  127. Johanna says:


    First, it is possible to have contempt for more than one person at a time. So the comparison between yourself and Callie’s husband is irrelevant.

    Second, do you suppose it’s possible that people like Callie see accepting help as something shameful because people like you (not any one particular person, but many people in aggregate) are telling them that it is? (You know, this sort of reminds me of the homophobes who harass gay people, then turn around and say, “See – homosexuality is linked with low self-esteem and depression” as “proof” that gay people need to be “cured.”)

    Third, do your sister and your nephew associate accepting help from *you* with a loss of pride and self-respect?? Do you think they should?

  128. Systemizer says:

    @48 Jane

    My comment above acknowledges how dire this woman’s situation is.

    Trent fails to do so and yours doesn’t even attempt to.

  129. marta says:


    I don’t even know where to begin.

    Callie’s ex is a jerk, no one is disputing that. But he is not here and, as I said, telling Callie and other people in her situation that they SHOULD be ashamed of resorting to social programs is NOT helpful at all. Can’t you even comprehend that?

    So you provide for your family. That’s great. Do you tell them to be ashamed of it?

    Do you realise that not everyone has got friends or family to resort to when things get dire?

    I am not American, so you are not saving *me* any money. Even if I were, honestly, there are a zillion things I would complain about before I said anything against my tax money going to social programs. I live in a socialist (oh, the horrors!) country, so yes, I pay quite a bit in taxes!

    It’s true that our philosophies are nothing alike. As for tolerance, you are right in that I can’t tolerate or respect people making others feel worse about themselves when they are already in an awful situation. Sure, you have the right to say whatever you think, but I also have the right to tell you if I think it’s BS.

  130. AnnJo says:

    Marta and Johanna,
    If you will read my first post on this subject, I said that there ARE people who really need help, but that self-respect and pride can help keep the number to a minimum. As an example, if Callie’s ex-husband had a decently developed sense of shame and a drive toward some self-respect, Callie would not be in the bind she is. I have no desire for Callie to feel bad about herself, even if she is forced to resort to food stamps; she’s obviously doing everything she can. To the contrary, I’ve said I admire her.

    Marta, your complaint about “people making others feel worse about themselves” makes no real sense. My posts about Callie, if she’s reading them, should make her feel BETTER about herself. They recognize her as a full self-actualizing human being, and not a helpless, other-directed victim. The only person who ought to feel bad from what I’ve written is Callie’s ex-husband for whom, I admit, I have nothing but contempt. And you know what? If he feels worse about himself from something I’ve written – I’m glad. He should man up and start taking care of his responsibilities.

    Don’t you realize that your philosophy requires us to see no moral difference between Callie and her ex-husband? As far as I can tell, you would give him a free “self-esteem” pass, because if there’s nothing wrong with turning responsibility for your dependents over to the government, why should he feel any shame?

    In any case, most of what I was describing was my OWN sense of responsibility and how I judge myself, which helped me understand what Callie was saying about how she felt. Your and Trent’s recommendations to her belittled her beliefs as foolish. I was acknowledging them as valid and shared by others, who respect her.

    It seems strange, but what you both seem to be objecting to is the idea that Callie and I might feel badly about ourselves when we fail to meet our responsibilities. So you propose to make us feel better about that by making us feel stupid for feeling that way in the first place.

    There are millions of people in this country doing what I and Callie do – taking care of needy people in our families, churches and neighborhoods, and trying hard to do it without immposing burdens on others. Some of us will fail, but as long as we want to keep our self-respect, we’ll get back on our feet as fast as possible. Be glad, instead of resentful, because if we all decided to do it your way and turn to the government for help, I doubt the system could survive.

  131. PDX Lager says:

    “If you need to call someone, use your land line.”

    What? KILL the landline, keep the cell phone (which you can use outside of your house and likely comes with free long distance.)

    I need to question the intelligence of anyone suggesting you drop Internet and keep a land line phone in 2010 in order to save money.

  132. Sam says:

    Amen AnnJo!
    If more Dad’s had a sense of responsibility & shame and if more people knew how to pull things by their boot straps the world would be better. how much better I don’t know but I do think it’d be less stressful.

    My kid’s Dad has never felt any shame for spending thousands on his electronic toys while we barely get by… as his balance owed in child support & daycare climbs.

  133. Steve in W MA says:

    If he’s hiding income and has taken no responsibility for any aspect of daily care of his children, go after the guy viciously in the courts.

  134. Davina says:


    Perfectly stated.

    This woman is in a terrible situation and Trent didn’t even bother to address her query about going after her husband for unpaid child support.

    This blog is permeated with the attitude that couples, marriage and families are always wonderful and warm. Often they are not, and women get stuck holding the bag for the rest of their lives.

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