‘I’m not the only person in the US with this problem’: I’m 61, unemployed and live in a rental. My $50,000 in savings runs out this year. What is my next move?

I’m 61 years old, I didn’t save enough for retirement, and now s— is starting to hit the tab.

I quit my job in 2014 to take care of my elderly parents so they could live their lives in their own home and not have to go to a nursing home. I moved in with them and slept on their sofa from 2014 to 2020. My father died in early 2015 and my mother died in December 2019.

I am currently unemployed and have approx. $50,000 to my name; $30,000 of that $50,000 is invested in the stock market, with the rest in my checking account.

I have spent the last few years studying and investing in the stock market and it was paying the bills. I did the work and treated it like a business, but the recent bear market has limited my stock market returns. I have no debt, no car payment and a credit score of 750. I turn 62 in July so I can start collecting Social Security payments early, at about $1,000 a month.

I plan to apply for a job to supplement my social security, but at 61 years old and having been out of the workforce since 2014, it will be a difficult task to say the least.

I don’t have health insurance, but I hope I can stay healthy until I turn 65 and qualify for Medicare.

My rent in Fort Lauderdale has gone from $1,800 in 2020 and 2021 to $2,400 in 2022 and $2,800 in 2023. Also, my landlord will start charging $50 a month for parking this year. I can no longer stay in my apartment because my $50,000 in savings will drop to zero at the end of the year.

I’m having no luck finding a cheaper place to rent. I don’t have a job or annual income from last year to put on the rental application so no one is willing to rent to me.

What are my options? I’m assuming I need to use the $50,000 or lose it in the market to qualify for benefits such as housing assistance or SNAP payments.

If you could suggest anything that I might be overlooking, it would be appreciated.

I have a feeling I’m not the only person in the US with this problem or something similar.

Desperate for a solution

Also see: ‘My sister always struggles with money and drugs’: I own a house with my husband and mother. Should we cut my sister out of the family inheritance?

Dear Desperate,

Please don’t give up hope.

The labor market remains relatively competitive: There were 1.7 job openings for every unemployed worker in November, well above the pre-pandemic level of 1.2. You need to find a job – even a part-time job to get experience again – and a cheaper place to live. It may involve moving to another state or at least another part of Florida. The cost of living in Fort Lauderdale is approximately 20% higher than the state average, and the city’s housing costs are about 50% higher than the national average.

You are correct about your eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments. According to the State of Florida, to be eligible for SNAP benefits, you must be a resident of the State of Florida and meet one of the following criteria: “You have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) of less than $2,001. You have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined ) under $3,001 and share your household with one of the following: A person or persons age 60 and over or a person with a disability (a child, your spouse, a parent, or yourself).”

You worked hard to save $50,000. This will help when you are looking for a place to live and provide you with emergency savings. I applaud your willingness and conscientiousness to invest in the stock market, but as you have discovered, the last few years have resulted in extensive losses for many investors. The decade-long bull market gave people a false sense of security, and the series of corrections since then has been a wake-up call for retail investors. Investing in shares is a long-term plan, and trying to play the market is risky.

You don’t say what happened to your parents’ home, but I assume it was either rented out or sold, with the proceeds split between you and other siblings. We all need a safe and stable place to call home. Without it, your other financial worries will seem even more serious.

There are low-income housing for seniors that accept Section 8 rental assistance, such as Gateway Terrace in the Victoria Park neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. There are waiting lists for these types of properties, but the sooner you put your name down the better. And as an old Irish lottery slogan goes: “If you’re not in, you can’t win.”

As for finding work to supplement your Social Security benefits, looking for a job is itself a full-time job. In addition to online job sites like Employ Florida — Silver Edition, Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor, there are organizations in Fort Lauderdale like PrideStaff and nonprofit OIC of South Florida that can help you find work.

According to the Social Security Administration: “If you start receiving benefits at age 67, you will receive 100% of your monthly benefit. If you delay receiving retirement benefits until after your full retirement age, your monthly benefit will continue to increase.” If you’re 61, that puts your year of birth at 1962, so your full retirement age should be 67.

The US Senior Community Service Employment Program helps low-income job hunters age 55 and older find work. According to its website, “Participants work an average of 20 hours per week and are paid the higher of the federal, state or local minimum wage. This training serves as a bridge to unsubsidized employment opportunities for participants. Participants must be at least 55, unemployed and have a family income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level.” The program also helps people with job training, resume writing and interview skills.

I encourage you to cast your net wide, from the retail industry to the service industry and even within the school system – including bus drivers and hall monitors and student aides. The United States Postal Service is also hiring. Make a virtue out of taking care of your parents in recent years. It shows dedication, humility and loyalty.

“Your story is heartbreaking,” said James Cunningham, a financial adviser with offices in California. “I can understand that you are scared, stressed and see no way forward.” Your Social Security, he said, will not meet your needs. “There are other housing options that are cheaper. One option is to move into low-income housing for the elderly.” There are also nonprofit organizations that can help you in that search.

Please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing. Once you have additional income, you will be in a much better position to tackle the other areas of your life.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com and follow Quentin Fottrell at Twitter.

Check out Moneyist’s private Facebook group where we look for answers to life’s toughest money questions. Ask your questions, tell me what you want to know more about or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Moneyist regrets that he cannot answer questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘She’s a grifter’: My father set up a $500,000 trust for my troubled sister and asked me to be the trustee. What are the risks associated with being an administrator?

‘We live in purgatory’: My wife has a fund, but my mother-in-law controls it. We make $400,000 and spend beyond our means. What is our next move?

I’m afraid to tell my spouse: I maxed out my credit cards and racked up $100,000 in debt because of my gambling addiction. Can you help?

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