I am 44, have three children who will all be in college next fall, and my child support of $500 a month will end next June. I make $44,000 a year, have about $20,000 equity in my house, $7,000 in a retirement fund, and will have a small pension from my employer. I also have $1,000 in savings and a student loan of $12,000 is my only debt.
Though it is a small amount, I am very concerned about how I will manage when the child support ends. My house payments with taxes and insurance are about $1,000 per month, my car is paid for but has 160,000 miles on it, and I live in a small city with one major employer.
Do I focus on maintaining my current lifestyle, which is modest at best, and worry about retirement when my kids are finished with college? Should I move to cheaper housing (is that possible)? If I move to a larger city, will a new employer be unlikely to hire me due to my credit history? Would I even be able to finance a home with the bankruptcy on my record? What are my best financial choices?
---J.C., by e-mail
A. That's a pretty big pile-up of worries. When your worries get that numerous it's easy to forget that all your problems don't have to be solved at once. You can work on them one at a time. It's also easy to forget the positives: you have little debt, your responsibilities to your children will end in only a few years, and you have an income larger than millions of other workers.
So let's do a thought exercise. Start by imagining your life in two periods--- the immediate future and your new life after your children have graduated from college. If you save nothing during the next four years you will start you new life at 48 and will have 20 years to prepare for retirement. That's long enough to build a substantial nest egg--- one that will allow you to sustain your standard of living.
Where you will live in the future is likely to be determined by where you children move. While your bankruptcy will interfere with getting a mortgage (at least at reasonable interest rates), your future life may be just fine with a rental. Many empty nesters opt for convenience and ease over ownership. I also doubt that any employer would fail to hire you because you had to declare bankruptcy during a long divorce.
So the future looks bright.
The near future can also be bright if you can have some conversations with your children and make clear declarations about what you can, and can't, do for them. Then help them make new plans for how they will handle their educations.
For some perspective on how much money is necessary, please read the reader letter below.
Q. Forgive me for bothering you with a frivolous letter, but I wanted to tell you that I read your column now and then just for a big laugh. All these hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars and people still struggling and fretting about getting along now and in the future.
My income is $14,000 a year from Social Security and Teacher Retirement. I have a home paid for, a car and pickup paid for, and I have no struggle at all. I have no debts except monthly utilities, supplies, etc., and every month I have a few hundred left in the bank.
What's wrong with all these people that they can't get along on a Kings' Ransom?
---R.R., Royse City, TX
A. 'Nuff said.
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