What If You Had To Live Solely Off Of Social Security?

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A lot of us younger folks are so disillusioned by our government that we don’t expect Social Security to even be around when we turn 65 (or likely 75 by that time…). But the fact is that today millions of people rely on Social Security as their primary – if not sole – source of income. Taking into account that the average benefit is only $963 a month, that’s not very much.

AARP asked retirees who rely primarily upon Social Security how the manage financially, and reprinted a selection of the responses. I enjoyed reading them, as they gave me a glimpse of what obstacles they face, and it showed many different ways they deal with them. Being on a fixed income and having a limited ability to make more money due to disability or illness would be very frustrating to me. Here are some excerpts, which I have organized by the major spending categories:


We built our own house on a lake stick by stick, or we wouldn?t have a house on a lake. It took us two years. Our son helped with the framing, and my son-in-law did the painting, but my husband did a fantastic job, only contracting out the roofing. [..] We planned ahead and paid off our house before retirement.

We put our home into a reverse mortgage several years ago, and I will realize very little if I sell. I have no children within 130 miles but can’t afford to sell because of the dwindling equity.

[I] live in a Section 8 apartment. In this area, a one-bedroom apartment is $700 to $1,300 per month. I cannot afford this and was lucky to get on Section 8. I must share the apartment with two roommates.

The largest portion of your income will be taken up with rent, utilities, phone, and maybe an auto (I had to get rid of mine), so be certain to apply for government-subsidized housing as soon as possible, as there is likely to be a lengthy waiting list. I waited 3 years! Previously, my rent alone was higher than the current total expense for rent, utilities, and phone.


[…] Our biggest expenses are the cost of our HMO, our Medicare and our medications. My $511 monthly pension pays for that. Our medications, although prescribed by HMO doctors, weren?t on the HMO?s formulary, so the cost wasn?t covered. Since we don?t live too far from Canada, we used to buy our most expensive medications through a Canadian clinic. However, now they will no longer serve Americans, so we did what others do on limited incomes?we just quit taking our two most expensive medications.

[I] go to hospital clinics for treatment. There is often a two- or three-hour wait at the clinics to see a doctor, or more typically a student intern. But, private physicians do not take my Medicaid insurance. Some take Medicare and then bill you for the copay.

If you are a veteran, be sure to contact the VA for any medical or prescription help you may need. I definitely cannot afford civilian medical insurance!

Food and Nutrition

We know what is healthy to eat, and we can eat on $2 a day. A typical day?s menu would be:

Breakfast: Orange juice (frozen), oatmeal w/brown sugar, half a banana, coffee

Lunch: Tuna fish sandwich (on whole wheat bread from a wholesale bread outlet), carrot sticks, second half of banana, tea (made from tea purchased for 1 cent a bag from Wal-Mart)

Dinner: Baked potato w/chili topping, coleslaw, half-cup ice cream, tea (made with the same tea bag as used for lunch).

I can some items at home to supplement my food supply. I raise my own apples and have enough ground to plant a garden, but my age makes a garden difficult.

[I] spend no more than 30 dollars a week for food. I have just eliminated meat from my diet and gone vegetarian because I cannot afford meat or fish. In addition, I belong to a clubhouse that has a food co-op and provides meals for a dollar. I can get 30 dollars worth of groceries from the co-op for two dollars. Most of the food comes from a local food bank, and the food is expired. I have gotten spoiled food from the co-op, and also infested food, but must take the risk because I cannot do without it.

General tips

We put our home into a reverse mortgage several years ago, and I will realize very little if I sell. I have no children within 130 miles but can’t afford to sell because of the dwindling equity.


Of course, another one of my responses to reading these stories was a strengthened resolve to have the financial means to avoid dealing with some of these issues. Some of the respondents seem to be content, but definitely not everyone. Also, I should really explore getting better disability insurance!

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  1. Thanks for this post. It’s kind of heartbreaking to hear some of these stories. Like you, my new year’s resolution is to beef up my disability insurance!!

  2. Ken Blakely says:

    Good on you for spelling ‘solely’ correctly!

  3. “we just quit taking our two most expensive medications”

    This is wrong. Plain wrong.

    • Patricia says:

      A. a comment to jimmydageek; no i was not making provisions while i was young and i am so paying for it now. but i do not regret spending any and all extra income (very few and far between) on my two boys as i was a single mom and worked for a living but barely made ends meet. not everyone is fortunate enough to, firstly, have the knowledge to arrange for ‘old age’ and secondly, have any ‘extra income’ to put aside. my boys went without a lot of things that they wanted but they always had everything they needed. if you were fortunate enough to do that, i am happy for you jimmydageek and may God continue to bless you!
      my other comment is to plunkee; alas, i am trying to figure out which prescription plan i can afford with my medicare that is going to start this next month but in order to afford the prescription plan, it looks as though i too will have to stop quite a few of my monthly prescriptions. i am still on waiting lists for affordable housing and i will suffer until/if i can move. this is so sad!

  4. JimmyDaGeek says:

    Being the cynic that I am, I keep asking the question: “Were they making provisions for disability and old age while they were young?”

    • I invested in real estate to retire to New Orleans. Katrina took care of that and my property was foreclosed upon. I became disabled 4 years ago and receive $850 in monthly benefit. I live in a small apartment that costs $1040 monthly which is very reasonable for the area since most comparable apartments are about $1400 monthly. I was born and always have lived in this area. I have not been eligible for help till I have less than $2000 in assets. I have spent down my inheritance, my savings, and my I.R.A. accounts till now I am 3 months behind on my rent and wait for an eviction notice. I am told I can not be helped until I have that eviction notice. Is this fair? Did I try to plan a retirement? I am told I may not even get help with the eviction notice , in which case I will be homeless.

      • jean and rob says:

        We both had 2 401 savings, and he also had some invested on his own. Yet, I became disabled and had to live on my 401. that made it through 3 years. Then I had to apply for SSD. I would much rather be healthy and able to work, as I loved working! Yet, I am lucky to be able to do my ADL’s on my own. I practice gratitude, for the loss in my body health, and for the little we live on. Rob lost his job at the age of 57, it was real hard trying to get a job at his age in this recession. So at age 64 and 58 we have 1500 a month between us to make ends meet. We both have been divorced, that cost Rob his home as his EX had to have since she was a stay home Mom, with an education to be a paralegal. Plus for 10 years he had to pay his ex $3,600 a month. Not long after the separation, her boyfriend lived there, after Rob stopped paying her money, then she re-married. My Ex, was basically a dead beat Dad, he also never saw his boys, now grown again.

  5. These stories are tragic and should be a lesson to all of us. I, like Jimmy, would like to know what these people did to prepare (or not prepare) for retirement. My grandparents retired at 65. My grandfather had a high school education and worked in a steel mill most of his working years. They managed to retire with a paid for house and about 25,000 per year to live off of with SS. Seems like this shouldn’t be too difficult if you just focus a little on the future and don’t spend all your time living for today.

    • please read my reply above

    • Your and my Grandparents had the good term of employment. They worked for a company all their lifes, received free medical coverage, a high wage for the times, and a company retirement plan (which most companies matched what you invested into it). I came into the picture at the end of them times. Companies were downsizing, they were starting to make you pay half or the complete premium for medical. Wages started getting cut. Then it went down hill from their. In 1990 I received $50 for a winterization on a single bath residence from HUD. IBy 1995 it was $100, 2000 it was $75, and by 2005 back to $50 no matter how many bathrooms the property had. FYI: The more bathrooms the more anti-freeze at $3.50 per gallon. I quite HUD when I was completing a job after driving my own van with my own equipment to a property and making $30 after the cost of doing the job, not the cost of doing business. That would be Zero. So I could not afford insurance at $3,000 per month. I had a major heart attack, 80$ of my heart died. The hospital took all the savings I had. Now I live off of only SS of $1,000 after my medical payments for coverage. Next costs if my Doctors which I have (3), $35 ea visit. Then meds of $106 month. And I have been working sense I was 11 years old with a paper route and mowing lawns. I have been married twice, both with women that had four children that I raised. Now I am so poor I can not even provide for myself. And if the Government does not quit catering to these big corporations the next generations are going to be worst off then me.

  6. AJ Vasquez says:

    im 16 and cannot believe that it will soon come down to that

  7. That’s funny that you should post this today — I was just thinking about the very same thing this morning (a mental exercise). I would say most retirees I know who get Social Security, receive about $1K a month. I know there are very inexpensive retirement communities in Florida where you could rent a place for less than $500 a month — and if you buy a condo, the maintenance would run about $300 a month. I don’t know about utilities in these units, but you would still need a phone, say $40 a month. The rest could be for groceries and medications and everything else. I think a car would be too expensive, but otherwise you could get by, provided you don’t have many health problems.

    But, of course, it goes without saying that having savings and a real pension from elsewhere would make life so much better. And some people don’t even get that $1K — it’s really sad for them.

  8. Dobromir,

    An interesting question. I think you can receive your SS paychecks out of country….I seem to remember reading about a South American country that had a tax policy of not taxing ex-pats retirement distributions as a draw to bring in foreign money to their country. I wish I could remember more, but I dont know if that applied to ss or just pension checks. Does anybody remember reading about this or seeing this on TV? I believe there are some countries you can retire in and get US SS payments, and some that you cannot.

  9. I think a lot of people do move overseas (Mexico, etc) to take advantage of lower living costs in those countries. I believe you CAN still draw on social security benefits if you live in certain treaty countries. For other countries, your benefits halt after a certain period of time.

    Personally, I’d much rather the government dump social security altogether in favor of comprehensive nationalized health insurance. But since seniors are such a huge and consistent voting block, I’d doubt that’d generate much support.


  10. Long-term disability insurance is a must for young folks! Most employers offer it up to 66% of salary, but benefits are not taxed (unlike regular income), so, if you choose, you can be insured for most of your post-tax salary for the rest of your life (until inflation eats it up). (I do believe it reduces your SS disability benefit, but I could be wrong.)

    These stories are sad, but we have to remember that many others (like my grandparents) did save during their life, and/or received a pension in addition to SS, and lived quite comfortably in retirement. They also had their homes paid off many years ago, which is absolutely critical for a retiree. But even the people mentioned in the article have found ways to make it, and they do have a warm place to sleep and food on the table, and I believe that this is all that SS was intended to provide.

    Hopefully, for those of us reading this forum, we can learn from those who are less fortunate.

    • Getting long term disability is a smart idea, getting your own Long term disability insurance outside of the employer is even smarter, why? because the insurance program offered by your employer will be taxable when used, however, individual long term disability policies are not taxable, I wish I had bumped mine up from the 500 per month I had to around a couple of grand, the premiums are not that expensive and it would have paid off greatly seeing that I would eventually have needed it. Also Long Term Disability insurance does not reduce your Social Security Disability amount, it works the other way, your Long Term disability policy will take your social security disability payment as an offset for their liability allowing them to pay you less. Basically lets say you have LTD for 60 percent of your salary, the Long term disability will pay the difference between what your SSDI pays and what it takes to bring you to that 60% If 60% is 2000 and SSDI pays you 1000 then your LTD policy will pay the other 1000. Hope this helps somebody, just went through all of this myself.

  11. You can collect your SS benefits no matter where you choose to live in the world. Direct deposit into any bank and many banks (Citibank, etc) allow easy and low cost transfers to in-country accounts.

    The bigger issue for some is that you have no access to Medicare/Medicaid in foreign countries. You must either use the local health care system (often not a problem since it is lowest cost and higher quality than that US shamble of a system) or travel back to the US for major treatment.

    Retirement overseas works best for relatively healthy people.

  12. Sorry my ignorance, but would you still receive your Social Security if you go and live somewhere abroad? It seems to me that if you go to live in a country where the $1000 would buy you much more.. why not do that?

    • because as citizens of the USA that have contributed to the system as much as was required as well as trying to create a good retirement, we should be aided if we fail because of the high cost of living, disability, victims of natural disaster, etc. We had a percentage taken from our paychecks and to us it was an insurance we could at least survive. The younger generation makes far higher salaries and pay that insurance too. So why is there not enough to help a citizen like me that contributed for more than 35 years before becoming disabled?

  13. I think the foreign country people are talking about was Panama. There was a Nightline short on it where they were building condos like crazy for American retirees. I remember they said Panama uses the dollar for their currency so there is no currency risk and medical care and stuff is really cheap. Also the wilderness is not that far away from the city.

    Doing a quick search the episode first aired over a year ago, probably all sold out by now. Other than Panama I’m not sure retiring overseas would be a great idea for younger folk if the value of the dollar keeps dropping.

  14. Brian,
    I think that who pays for the premiums determines if it is tax free or not. My company has lt/st disability but according to HR since the company pays the premiums and not me it would be taxable income.

    Anyone know the rule?


  15. I work in the insurance industry. I believe I can answer your question saladdin.

    If your employer pays the premiums, your insurance benefits will be taxed.
    If you pay the premiums (on a post-tax basis), your benefits will not be taxed.

    Please please please, before taking out any LTD policy, READ YOUR CONTRACT. Most LTD contracts were not designed to replace your total income in the event you get disabled. Instead, they will provide you with a bare minimum income that’s just enough to get by. No insurance company will give you a free ride. Benefits usually run out after awhile, and then they will give you some job rehabilitation so you can get back to work.

  16. As a Financial Planner I see an amazing amount of “head in the sand” when it comes to planning for the future. It takes discipline to save – something sorely missing in our consume at all cost society. Financial education should be part of H.S. core curriculum ? without it all will be lost.

  17. You can draw S. S. in most overseas locations,no in Cuba etc. Medicare is only good in USA,so be prepared to pay cash in a lot of locations. If you are really poor stay in USA.

  18. Can someone explain so many people think this is such a great tragedy? I’ve not been able to figure it out. Social Security is roughly 72 years old, or maybe about 3 generations. You’d think this program was a right guaranteed by the Constitution (which is over 200 years old). The same thing with the drugs, most of these have only been available in the last 20 to 30 years, or 1 generation.

    The same people complaining they can’t afford it should just be grateful they might even have the chance to get something like that. Their parents didn’t have all of these wonder drugs. Their grandparents didn’t either, but I don’t hear people complaining about how poor their relatives were treated in the past. No, they seem to think they’re owed something. I don’t know where this entitlement comes from. They didn’t learn it from their parents. Can anyone explain it?

    And housing and food, please. These people live like kings. Maybe we should drop them off in Myanmar, North Korea, somewhere in Africa or any number of places so they can adequately evaluate how bad they have it. My wife’s grandmother grew up in rural Nebraska without electricity until they were in their teens and indoor plumbing until after college (she’s 93). Even the richest person in the world 100 years ago (Rockefeller) didn’t have as high quality food as what the poorest people have access to now. They didn’t have the farming techniques (see the dust bowl) nor the technology (refrigeration) that we’ve had. Even shipping in bananas or something out of season was unheard of, but the above post has complaints about what someone having to split a half banana — probably in the dead of winter.

    I just can’t believe so many whiners complaining about how rough they have it. That’s what’s sad. This used to be the home of the brave, but now it sounds like the home of the babies.

    • I guess you are neither disabled or living on a fixed income. In 1937 The supreme court made Social Security Constitutional. For over 35 years I paid to the government a percentage of my salary and so did my employer and when I was self employed I paid a larger percentage. You may want to read my comments previously written here…. my situation is not all that uncommon and I hope you never find yourself in it.

  19. Early Retirement Extreme says:

    When DW and I lived in Indiana, we rented a small house and lived quite nicely (frugal food, small car, health insurance, no cable, no going out) for $550/person/month. Of course we did not have any medical costs to speak off. Still when when people complain that they spend $1000 on rent and then say that they “can’t” move out of NY or CA or their 3 bedroom home, I find it hard to sympathize. Incidentally, our menu looked much like above except that the unhealthier items, ice cream, sugar and juice was substituted for 50# bags of beans, rice, and cheap vegetables.

  20. jonathan:

    some sort of post discussing st/lt disability insurance would be helpful… maybe an overview and then a typical scenario or two and how that would work out if you were disabled, etc.

    oddly enough i just finalized my elections for ’08 benefits (i’m 23) and did not sign up for the disability insurance ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  21. I think a lot of people are hung up on retiring in the US – doing so is the reason people have to choose between their buying medicine or paying rent, or to eat expired, infested food from the co-op or pay the electricity bill.

    Location Arbitrage is the way to go. I’m currently living in Thailand – I pay about $250 per month rent for a new, fully furnished 914sq ft Condo. You have the option as a foreigner to purchase something similar for ~$49,000+ at the current exchange rate – but I may decide to move and don’t need the hassle of trying to sell the place.

    My SS and pension are set up for Direct Deposit into my US bank. I can withdraw locally from the thousands of the ATM machines in the Kingdom, and should I need a larger amount, I can wire from my US bank to my Thai bank.

    Everything is cheaper, including medical care – for example, I spent $17USD, 5 minutes in the waiting room in the Ear Nose and Throat center, 35 minutes with the doctor being attended to at Bumrungrad Hospital for a problem I had last month – they even take American Express. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My Doctor graduated from Columbia University in NY. HE talked to me in English about my problem, HE checked out the problem, HE treated me, prescribed some antibiotics and followed up by telephone several days later. — No Nurses, No PA’s no Interns, no paperwork – none of that BS, but An actual Doctor.

    Traditional Thai Massage – you can get 2 hours of muscle stretching and bone cracking goodness for around $7 – Foot massages around $4.

    Haircut? $4

    You can eat for pennnies a day. A large plate of Pork Fried Rice, papaya salad and a drink will run you about $1. Inexpensive Seafood from a dockside restaurant in say Hua Hin, a resort area about 2 hours from Bangkok can be had all day for a few dollars. Local Beers are cheap – ~$2.00 (Bud Light is an import here, and it’s about $7 a bottle!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    Of course there are downsides just like everywhere else on the planet – Horrendous traffic, bad pollution and continual VISA rule changes,military coup (although voting starts tomorrow on the new government), brand new gleaming skyscrapers right next to tin roof shantytown settlements. But I personally would rather continue (even improve) the western lifestyle that I had become accustomed to over the last 58 years, than to sleep in a hovel without heat in the winter, eating canned dog food and having to share my living space with the rats and cockroaches.


  22. Aaron Stroud says:

    Scott, well said. While this trend is depressing, I hate to think about how the rest of the world views the complaining. By rest of the world, I’m not talking about western Europe, but the people living around the rest of the globe. There is no excuse for being broke in the richest country the world has ever seen.

    Especially, when our broke citizens live like royalty compared to hundreds of millions of people around the globe. I ran across this zero sum wealth quiz recently that elegantly makes your point Scott.

    • I live without cable TV, without traveling anywhere, I have no money for anything other than budget cuts of meat, I live in a substandard building with many violations, they tell me I cant receive food stamps, no rental assistance, utility assistance is $12 monthly, I can’t spend anything on entertainment or recreation. I eat mostly pasta or rice. You call this living like a royalty? Yeah I know in other places people have it worse… but I paid into SS for over 35 years.

  23. Ditto on what ak said. An article about disability insurance would be great. Could you include who it’s most appropriate for? I’m unmarried, 25, and in grad school. I don’t think the school offers anything for us. Is private disability going to be prohibitably expensive? How much coverage do we need?

  24. Cheapster Bob says:

    There is no money in the Social Security lock box and present time. It has already been pilfered by the suits and ties in our Government if not “lost” outright.

    This was supposed to go away after the country got on it’s feet following the depression but once a boondoggle is started it never goes away.

    I don’t want Social Security checks. I’ll give that money up if they simple shut it down today and grandfather those already on it.

    I’ll take care of myself thanks.


    • Kay Green says:

      its not a handout Cheapster its earned you earn social security when they deduct it from your paycheck I paid into it over 40 years

  25. While these situations are kind of sad, don’t you think they should have thought about their future a little more when they were younger?

    I’m not necessarily saying they deserve this, but I’m not too fresh on sympathy either.

    And I’m sure there are exceptions.

  26. What the article fails to mention is that SS was never intended to be your sole source of income in retirement. It was meant to be a supplement. The problems with Medicare dwarfs the SS problem. For people without pensions (like me), medical/insurance costs will be the focus of my retirement issues. For those who think SS and medicare are going away, I don’t see it. That social blanket is too ingrained into our society. I understand people should save and budget but most don’t. Last time I checked typical hostpitals receive 40% of the income from medicare. So if we eliminate SS and medicare, we have a large part of our VOTING population in dire straits. I figure the social security cap will increase every year while I’m employeed whether I like it or not.

  27. I think a lot of people thought about it when they were younger, but didn’t factor in the cost-of-living increases they would face. A lot of pensions never adjust and so whatever you got you get forever, making a person increasingly dependent on Social Security. In this way, Social Security could teach a thing or two in pension planning. In fact, why not have employers fully fund Social Security, ramp it up and let employers offer it as part of their benefits package, offering a real pension that would serve the worker for the rest of their lives. And the employer could receive tax breaks for doing this too. I know they already pay into SS (and so does the work), but I’m talking about an increase to SS, and a decrease in other pension plans. And Social Security can be controlled and insured, while the other ones can dwindle or get stolen (look at Enron).

  28. The question of why didn’t they save asked by many of the above posters, sort of bothers me. The article really doesn’t give a clue as to what these people made during their working lives. For all we know, they were janitors or fast food workers. I think with a low wage, even small emergencies can wipe out your savings. My grandparents worked very hard and tried to plan, but did not have a lot, and probably depended very heavily on their social security.

  29. Noble Drusus says:

    Please consider the source of the printed responses, AARP, an organization highly motivated to portray SS recipients as struggling through desperation and tragedy. They also portray the cause of the problem to be low payments, thus perpetuating the myth that it is possible for the working population to support a decent standard of living for the non-working population. Their agenda is to not only sustain but increase the cash transfer payments from young healthy people to old sick people, so it is no wonder they are trying to tug the heartstrings/pursestrings with this kind of publication.

  30. Hey, if living only off of SS isn’t so bad, then what are we saving for? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Let’s just hope the Ponzi scheme doesn’t run out before it’s our turn.

  31. Please, these same people of our generation who are currently leasing or have a loan out for a fancy new car, getting iphones, and wearing Uggs. I can’t believe how people my age (early 20s) are just blowing their money thinking their future is wide open… much of this based upon their own parents spending habits. Sure enjoy your fun toys now but suffer the consequences later of your “luxurious” your youth.

  32. The information that I read says that for about 1/4 of those receiving Social Security it is their only source of income. One of Social Security’s purposes was a safety net. Once Social Security “runs out of money” it will still be able to pay 2/3s to 3/4s of the current benefit on an ongoing basis, which is enough to keep people fed. The country has tried a system without Social Security and a large percentage of older people lived in poverty without sufficient means and this was when life expectancy was much shorter. You can quibble whether or not the government should be responsible for this.

    As for disability, you’re chances of needing disability income (meaning, not being able to perform your job and having to rely on something else for income) prior to retirement is higher than the chances of dying. Chances of being disabled are pretty low when you are young, but go up as you get older. I’m fortunate that my employer pays for a policy that replaces 50% of basic pay. I’ve had one friend get laid up with a bad knee that took months to correct and another friend who has been out since May with ovarian cancer. The company’s medical insurance would have paid for most of the medical bills, but without a long term disability policy, they would have not had any income. I’m not sure if I would actually buy a policy if I were self employed, but I’m thankful that it is available to me.

  33. Look, SS isn’t a sole source of income, it’s the support layer. It’s like half a retirement plan. We’re paying you 1k per month so now you can get by with working a whole bunch less. Oh what’s that you don’t want to work at all? But you only save 10 years of inflation-adjusted income and we’re expecting you to live for 20? Well that’s quite the pickle.

    But what are you going to do? Just raise SS and pay for it with taxes from the “non-existant” pile. Unless you’re on SS and infirm, just go back and work part time. You must be able to do something useful, right?

    We’ve all heard of the The Ant and the Grasshopper, where one saves and the other starves. Maybe it’s a little cold-hearted, but it’s a pretty popular tale and I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard it, so at some point we have to say “I told you so”.

    The disability insurance reminder is a great thought though as I’ve just got the papers for the insurance policy on the new job and I’m getting married, so all of the paperwork needs to be refiled.

  34. I would like to reply to JimmyDaGeek — no one “plans” on being disabled.

    To Scott, I can but hope that for the rest of your life you never need compassion, because you showed none here.

    For those who said “These people are living better than the rest of the world”, let me remind you that these people are NOT the rest of the world. These are OUR people, and we should consider how we would want to be treated if we were in their place.

  35. sfordinarygirl says:

    My grandparents live in the Bay Area soley off of SSI. Of course they paid off the mortgage before they retired and went SSI only. They each bring in $300 to a grand total of $600.

    They applied for low income discounts for electricity and the phone bill (which came in handy to call 911). The phone bill is $10, electricity is usually $50. I don’t know how they afford homeowners insurance which is like $100 a month. They canceled the auto ins since my gpa’s in the hospital. I suspect my dad pays the annual property tax bill. So they get help there.

    But for food my grandma has the most amazing green thumb. Before my gpa ended up in the hospital the both of them ate from the garden except for the occassional pork chops or chicken they bought at the asian supermarkets. they spent like $20 a month mainly for the meatier items. they also don’t eat out since my grandma cooks from scratch all the time. they also don’t have any entertainment expenses. they’re at home watching tv or tending to the garden.

    but they’re also super frugal and are always looking for ways to save. when the asian newspaper subscription got too expensive they canceled the paper.

    as for health insurance they’re on medicare …

  36. I am on disability, my income is $649 a month. I struggled with a bipolar disorder for 30 years (I still do struggle). My illness prevented me from being able to hold down a full time job for more than 6-8 months. Because of constantly starting over with new dead end jobs savings was not an option.
    how I live–rent is half my income the rest goes for utilities, phone and my 1 luxury internet connection. I moved to a warmer place and in town recently to try to lower my heat bills and I get bu on 1 tank of gas a month. My medicare premium is $100 a month. I’m terrified of hitting the donut hole for prescription drugs. I MIGHT be able to afford my blood pressure medication but the 1 medication that controls my bipolar illness will not be an option-it is $300 a month. I know my future will be bleak indeed.
    In addition my adult daughter who lives with me has late stage neuralogical lyme disease, no insurance, no income. I am desperatly trying to get her the care she needs but it all takes money I don’t have.
    Yes, the rules say I can work part time but I can only keep the first $65 a month then my check is systematically reduced. And there is a real risk that someone who doesn’t know me and will never meet me can decide if I can work part-time with a bit more effort I can work full time and take away my safety net and medical insurance.
    I tried to apply for rental assistance but they are not even taking applications. The only way I might get help with the utilities is take the risk and let them go unpaid and get a dis connect notice. But if that risk doesn’t pay off them I’m really screwed.
    Ahh–to get a thousand dollars a month—I’d be rich!

  37. As someone stated no one expects to become dependant on Ssecurity Disability income only at age 49 but it can happen to you and you and yes…YOU. I had great health till menopause arrived. Now I suffer weekly migraines, diagnosed with Bipolar disease. suffer with uncontrollable sleepwalking.panic attacks, Narcolepsy and something similar to Lupus. Until age 49. I was on top of the world. I planned to work till age 75. I never expected to need SS income. Well,I thank God for it now. I enjoy working but with all the above problems…it’s not an option.

  38. I think most people try to prepare for their lives-but things dont always turn out as expected-Im a 48 y/o RN-and I am disabled due to a neck-and a low back-pain injury. Then my husband died. At 55-we had been married 30 yrs and raised 3 kids. Now I live solely on social security disability. I have a college degree-yet I cant afford to eat decently.But-I know I am still doing better than third world countries.So-Im not here to complain-but just to say I think most folks never believe they will end up in this mess

  39. Gates VP says:

    @Trudy: I think most people try to prepare for their lives-but things dont always turn out as expected…

    I’m going to argue that in fact the opposite is quite true. For an in-depth sample, I have a blog link. The post contains a list of people suffering from not foreseeing things going wrong.

    Some classic problems failures to prepare:
    – Auto insurance: taking minimums on liability coverage (and then getting collision). If you can’t see it being a problem please take a second look.
    – Lack of disability insurance in labor positions. If your job requires mobility, you’re leveraging your body to make your living. So you have to insure your living by insuring your body. You wouldn’t practice medicine without liability insurance, why would you make a living moving dirt and not insure your ability to move dirt?
    How many nurses, construction workers & tradespeople are walking around without sufficient disability? or without any? isn’t that just tempting fate.
    – How many people do you know that have updated their wills in the last 24 months? Do they know how to access their parent’s wills? Their kid’s wills? (if they’re old enough) Does your spouse have access to a list of your on-line passwords? Does anybody?
    – Most people I know don’t read very many books or engage in very little professional development (and I work with degreed individuals in IT).
    – How many people have an actual, coherent “retirement plan”?

    When you dig into these questions, I think it becomes pretty obvious that most people are simply floating along hoping that nothing really bad happens to them.

    Trudy, I don’t want to sound mean, but why are you living on social security disability? Shouldn’t you be receiving long-term disability (through work / private insurance)? Shouldn’t you have at least a couple of years income from your husband’s life insurance? Is a couple of years enough time to rehab your back and neck?

  40. I’m glad you posted this.

    I have a friend who never expected to become totally disabled in mid-life. She now lives on $ 920 Soc Sec Disability and $15 food stamps…. She’s quite sickly and alone to make everything more of a challenge.

    Miraculously we got her approved for a 30% apartment which rent of $ 372.
    The rest of her budget is like this:
    -92 Tithe
    -372 rent
    -65 car ins
    -120 food
    -35 gas for car
    -15 TV penalty for cancelling contract
    -63 phone – will drop soon to $33 + free phone
    -80 Electricity
    -81 life insurance+meds

    Her car’s a wreck and we live in a city with no public trans. By her example, I’m learning how critical it is to save save save and make sure you’re very lovable because you’ll need help when you are hungry or something goes wrong.

  41. @anita: I have a friend who never expected to become totally disabled in mid-life.

    Please see my comment above. Again, I don’t mean to be impolite, but who really “expects” to become “totally disabled”?

    You say that you’ve learned “how critical it is to save save save…”, but isn’t this really a case of how important it is carry adequate disability insurance?

  42. I read a few of the comments. “Didn’t they save” you say? Let me tell you, my husband was 44 when he became disabled. No, I didn’t save
    I still had three children in school. I quit work for the most part to take care of him. I live on SS. If you can’t give helpful suggestions please don’t question why we are where we are. Had we been able to work until
    we were sixty-five I know things would have been different. Lucky you, lucky grandparents. These replies just make me angry as I got a medical bill yesterday. No, I don’t have Medicaid, and we own our own home. But house and car insurance is eating us alive.

  43. I read these posts and wonder “how did we sink so low as to not want to take care of our own”. I doubt anyone strives to be down on their luck but it does happen. I am a developer in Panama (rural Panama) and build condos priced for just the group of people we are speaking about. Not “bad people” just people who have not fared as well as others and would like a decent retirement without going broke to have a home.
    As the economy worsens there are going to be many more that fall into this category. As such, I have designed a new dwelling and will be promoting it very soon. The unit will sell for under 15k and the monthly cost of “land usage, septic, water elect hook up etc) will be under $125. per month. Utilities, phone internet etc are extra.
    Here in Panama, you are eligible for permanent residency with only $1000. per month income for the applicant and $250 per month for each dependent. This brings about many added benefits as a “pensionado”. Cost of living is low and where we live, the people are great.
    I would like to know how many people would be interested in such a home. Please ask any questions or give any input as to what you want. This info helps me build to suit. As I will probably only be building about 10 units I would like as much input as possible. You can contact me directly at jack@easyretirementliving.com

  44. Judith Baker says:

    From reading, I think the seniors trying to make it on SS Disability should be commended. A person can’t save enough to make life easy when a person retires. Most people in the US make approx $40,000 for a family of 4. Now, unless you are frugal all your life, you are not going to be able to save a whole lot of money.
    I am a senior and I am frugal, but I manage. Of course, the amount I receive from SS is much higher than most. I have Hi speed and Directv because I thought we were going to have COLA, but we didn’t get one last year and not this year either. I can’t get out of paying because I will have to pay a high price to do so. So there is no going back to low speed and rabbit ears. ๐Ÿ™ I watch my money and just enjoy it.
    I do want to give credit where credit is due and all the senior stories here let me know ‘we’re’ making it through ideas and ways to stretch our money. Let’s think ‘glass is half full’ and keep a positive attitude. Just take it a day at a time. Remember to smile because if you concentrate just on the negative, there will be hell to pay on your health. Good luck

  45. rosalie says:

    For those that feel that we are not “entitled” to SS, let me ask you, Why Not?
    I have been paying into SS my whole life, started working when I was 14. We don’t have a choice. I’m close to the age where I will be able to get my SS. The salaries I made did not leave me with much left over to be able to save for retirement. I wasn’t fortunate enough to work for any employer who had a retirement fund for us. So, when I do retire, that is all I’m going to have. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have retirement plans are blessed. But, don’t look down on us that don’t. We are not looking for handouts, and yes, we will live on what we get. It totally irks me to see that some of you down-grade us for not having any retirement funds. Compassion is not something you have much of. Hopefully when you are old, you won’t need someone’s compassion to survive.

  46. my father has always made sure that his 4 kids and disabled wife for many many years,got all we needed and maybe get a nice treat if all bills were paid and food on the table.and he had to work 2 full time jobs to take care of his family and i dont know how he did it but he did and for that i love and respect him i could not ask for a better father than he truly is.my mother died in September 2005 but while in the hospital is when i really knew how much he loves her.he has some money in an account for his retirement cause he is 67 years old and works like a young man can do or even do it better than the other ones can.just about 2 or 3 months ago he took his retirement and is going to live 5 to 6 months a year in Florida and then thr rest of the year is here at home in Loiusville,ky.im 40 years old and he feels like it is still his job to take of me cause my 23 year old son says its not his job to take more care of me.well cause there is very little for those whom need the help when really they dont need any extra money cause they are able to work,but the disabled people get very little at all and this is not fair.

  47. I live entirely on social security in an over 55 adult community, brand new and awesome. My car is a 2006 Saturn Ion. I have a few credit cards but will not use them unless it is an emergency. I look for my clothes in t he Thrift/Resale shops. Some clothing items do not have the price tags off of them and they are Designer clothes. I have pieces of very expensive jewelry, but I buy a lot of jewelry on line at yardseller.com and style.ly@style.ly. Of course, I buy shoes new, but I stay stylish. I get my hair cut at Walmarts and I am pleased with it. I paid $50.00 for a haircut when I was working. No difference. I hi light my hair myself. I do a great job. I have Hi speed and Cable. I buy furniture at Salvation Army and I am careful, catch it when it first comes in and I have beautiful pieces at a much lower price, in excellent condition. I eat well. A few minutes ago I cut a large roast in half and froze it. I eat fish, chicken, have lots of fruit and sweet potatoes, lettuce and tomato, avocados etc. right now in my frig. I live alone and it suits me. I am content. I am blessed. I live a simple, yet fully rewarding life. When you have children, a house to run, you are both working and have 2 cars, it is difficult. It is hard to save for your old age. I did, but I don’t have any of it now. I live on Social Security alone. I take in a first run movie once in awhile. Traveling is not a favorite, (packing and unpacking, coach on the airplane. Yuk) I eat out (appetizers make a delish main course). I have car and health insurance. Those things are very important. At one time I was ‘the Jones’ everybody tried to keep up with and I like it. Now I know, that is too hard to do. I learned it doesn’t really matter. I have a lot of friends, some well to do and I have them all over (in increments, of course. :-), put on a pot of chili or whatever, have them each bring something, use paper plates and enjoy the fellowship. No one really cares or even knows what you have, the price of something. Actually, they are enjoying the time they are spending with friends. If they do say something that would be ‘uppity’ and hurtful, and they never have, they wouldn’t be invited back. I don’t pick my friends like that. I hope, even if it is only one person, that you’ll think about all I said here and maybe take it down a notch or two (lol) and enjoy life more. Good luck

  48. I forgot to say I am retired on Disability. I tithe, but it is not 10% of my income, but it an amt I think God will accept and to make up for it I do some volunteering at my church.

  49. Terri Christian says:

    Wow! I’m not sure how I came to this web site but am so glad I did! Your stories have brought tears to my eyes but yet filled my heart with hope. I am 45 and have had severe psoriatic arthritis & RA since I was 18 (although back then, it was unheard of so young) It worsens w age and there is no cure as of now.The pain is unbearable at times. My husband of 10 years just up & left w no notice or reason that I can figure. My daughter just turned 18 & moved out so I am now alone, unable to fully care for myself. My husband had promised to always help me any way needed & to always be here for me, not to worry. I hadn’t even questioned my future until now. I have fallen into this depression from all of this, which only adds to my problems & uncertainties. Then i stumble across this site with such moving stories & strong people that are doing what is demanded of them. I admire you all & thank you for sharing. Your posts of struggle & determination. You may have snapped me out of my spiral down. I don’t feel so alone now & know that I will be ok with a some time & adjustments. It’s a rough road ahead, but do-able. That’s more than I had before now. Thanks again all, for sharing something so personal. I hope we each get that break that we seemingly couldn’t deserve more.

  50. Terri Christian says:

    I may have got a little off track. i forgot to mention,I am awaiting my answer if approved or not for my Social Security benefits. My only income.

  51. I’m 72 years old and do live on SS and I am broke the first week after getting my check. It is my only source of income, I worked all my life and was forcibly retired from my job of 14 years when the company decided to move south and closed the plant puting 750 employees on the street, some of them committing suicide after trying to find employment to support their family’s after unemployment ran out. I live in an apartment that cost me $900/month and pay utilities, I don’t qualify for medicare “EXTRA HELP” for prescriptions, I don’t qualify for “FOOD STAMPS”. I play the PCH GAMES and they are always asking me to buy something I don’t have money for. If they had a comment section I would tell them that if I were to win I would buy a lot of things from their Sponsors. Thank you all for listening to me

  52. We can trace our problem all the way back to 1974 when Lyndon Johnson was able to move Social Security from the self-sufficient social Security fund into the general fund. Had this not happened, people would’ve been able to retire at 50 to 55 years old at $2000 a month approximately. Plus we also spend about $350 billion a year on illegals getting benefits that they are really not entitled to.

  53. I currently live in Portland Oregon have been on Social Security and SSI since 1995 I make $649 disability $100 in SSI if I move to Panama City Florida how much increase or decrease would my funds be… somebody help me please thank you

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