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

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

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

I am currently unemployed and have approximately $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 750 credit score. I turn 62 in July, so I can start collecting Social Security payments early, at approximately $1,000 a month.

I am planning on looking for a job to supplement my Social Security, but at 61 years old and having been out of the job market since 2014, that will be a difficult task to say the least.

‘I don’t have a job or yearly income from last year to put on the rental application, so no one is willing to rent to me.’

I have no health insurance, but I am hoping that 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. Plus, my landlord is going to start charging $50 per month for parking this year. I can no longer stay in my apartment because my $50,000 savings will drop to zero by the end of the year.  

I’m not having any luck finding a cheaper place to rent. I don’t have a job or yearly 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 would have to spend that $50,000 or lose it in the market to qualify for any benefits such as housing assistance or SNAP payments.

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

I have a feeling I’m not the only person in the U.S. with this problem or something similar to it.

Desperate for a Solution

Also see: ‘My sister is always struggling 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 is still relatively competitive: There were 1.7 job openings for each unemployed worker in November, well above pre-pandemic levels of 1.2. You need to find a job — even a part-time job to get experience again — and a cheaper place to live. That may involve moving to another state or, at the very least, another part of Florida. The cost of living in Fort Lauderdale is approximately 20% higher than the state average, and the city’s cost of housing is roughly 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) under $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 look for a place to live, and provides you with emergency savings. I applaud your willingness and conscientiousness in investing in the stock market, but as you have discovered, the last couple of years resulted in widespread losses for many investors. The decade-long bull market gave people a false sense of security, and the series of corrections since then have been a wake-up call for retail investors. Namely, investing in stocks is a long-term plan, and trying to game the market is fraught with risk.

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

There are low-income housing developments 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 jobs sites like Employ Florida — Silver Edition, Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor, there are organizations in Fort Lauderdale such as PrideStaff and the 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 get 100% of your monthly benefit. If you delay receiving retirement benefits until after your full retirement age, your monthly benefit continues to increase.” If you are 61, that puts your birth year at 1962, so your full retirement age should be 67.

The U.S. Senior Community Service Employment Program helps low-income job hunters ages 55 and older find work. According to its website, “Participants work an average of 20 hours a week and are paid the highest of 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 urge 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 assistants. The United States Postal Service is also hiring. Make a virtue of the fact that you took care of your parents in recent years. That 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, won’t meet your needs. “There are other housing options that are less expensive. One option is to move into low-income senior housing.” There are also nonprofit organizations that can help you in that search. 

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

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

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

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