Economic Recovery? Not Around Here

Dear Mr. Dad: I lost my job more than a year ago and have been unable to find another. My wife works part time, but doesn’t bring in nearly enough to cover our expenses. We have no health insurance, burned through the little savings we had trying to stay current on our mortgage and other bills. Now we’re faced with having to take money out of our retirement accounts to make ends meet. I’m so embarrassed by this whole thing that I can barely face my children. What can we do?

A: I’ve been (and still am) in almost the same situation and I definitely feel your pain. The good news is that you already took the first step: acknowledging that there’s problem. The bad news is that you’re in for a bumpy ride. Here are some steps that should help.

  • Buy some throat lozenges and get rid of any weapons you have around the house. I’m only half kidding. This may be the most frustrating and infuriating experience of your life; you’re going to do a lot of screaming (hence the lozenges), and you don’t want to do anything to hurt yourself or someone else. Believe me, it’s tempting, though.
  • Ask for help. Start by talking with your mortgage company about refinancing your home or modifying your loan. But be prepared for an exercise in twisted logic. My lender told me that I made too much money to do a loan modification but not enough to refinance. There were other options available, but I didn’t qualify because I was current on my mortgage. Apparently, being a responsible adult and paying my bills meant that I couldn’t get help. Defaulting, however, would have made it a lot easier (try to avoid this).
  • Look into the Making Home Affordable Program. This actually encompasses two separate programs, HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) and HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program). The rules can be complex and seem designed to exclude as many people as possible. In my case, conveniently placed loopholes made me ineligible for any program. Check your eligibility here:
  • Apply for insurance through But hurry: If you don’t make the February 15 deadline, you may have to wait until October to enroll. Ready for more twisted logic? My income was so low that I wasn’t eligible for Obamacare and had to enroll in Medicare. But then Medicare denied coverage because I have money in IRAs. If I take it out now, I have to pay penalties.
  • Apply for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps). Check your eligibility here: Also look into local food banks.
  • Ignore the media. Every day there’s a new story about the booming economy and dropping unemployment numbers. I’ve seen precious little evidence of that. Plus, those statistics are carefully manipulated to exclude all the people who have given up looking for work, who are working part time for economic reasons, or who are under-employed. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics—the agency that calculates the “official” data—the true unemployment rate is roughly double the official one.
  • Use your situation as a lesson—if you can talk about it without scaring your children. Being in horrible financial straits (which, hopefully, won’t go on too much longer), made me a lot more sympathetic to homeless people and others who access government benefits.
  • Get past embarrassment. You and your wife worked for many years, and a lot of the taxes you paid has gone to help people in need. Now it’s your turn, and there’s no shame in getting the help you deserve.

You’re About to Be Schooled

Dear Mr. Dad: I can hardly believe that summer is almost over. It’s been a tough year, financially for our family, and I’ve been putting off doing the back-to-school shopping for my three kids (14, 10, and 5). But at this point I don’t really have a choice. Any tips on how to get it done efficiently and, hopefully, save a little money?

A: Wow, summer did fly by especially quickly this year—I can tell because I find myself muttering under my breath about how much I hate shopping and how expensive things are. But, as you say, it’s got to be done. So here are a few ideas that should make the experience a little less painful.

Check under the bed. Before you go to the store, take a walk through your house. Chances are your child didn’t use up all of last year’s paper and pencils, and you can probably reuse some of last-year’s (or the year before’s) binders. You’ll find that there are a lot of things you can buy less of or skip altogether.
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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. And Breakfast. And Lunch.

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 20-year-old son who has been living on his own for several years. But he’s hit a few rough patches lately, and now wants to move back home. My wife and I want to do the right thing and help him, but we’re afraid that letting him move back in with us could turn out to be the wrong thing in the end—for everyone. Is it wrong of us to want our son to stay on his own?

A: Well, first of all, congratulations. You raised your son right: he went to school, got a job, and started making a life for himself. So it’s only natural that you’d assumed that you and your wife would have your house to yourselves. But times are much, much different than when you were your son’s age. According to a recent survey by, only 4 percent of Baby Boomers were living at home after having started their careers. Eleven percent of Gen X (those born between 1961 and 1981) got their first jobs but kept living (or moved back in with) ma and pa. And 28 percent of Gen Y (those born after 1982) are still under their parents’ roof. It’s no wonder that your son’s generation is sometimes called the Boomerang Generation.
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A Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More

[amazon asin=080072206X&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Kasey Knight Trenum, author of Couponing for the Rest of Us.
: A not-so-extreme guide to saving more.
Issues: Where to find coupons for what your family eats; how to reinvent your shopping strategy, how to make grocery shopping less stressful–and even fun.

You’re living where? Really?

Okay, I admit it. I moved back in with my parents after college, just until I got settled. And then, years later, after my divorce, I moved back in again. But I didn’t stay long—mostly because it seemed horribly embarrassing to be living with my parents. Plus, it definitely made dating kind of tough. I mean how many times can you get away with, “Oh, can’t go to my place because, ah, they’re painting and the place needs to air out.”
Well apparently, the days of feeling embarrassed about being an adult and living with ma and pa are gone. The Pew Research Center just did a survey of over 2,000 adults across the country and they found that the number of young adults living at home is at the highest level since the 1950s. In 2010, for example, nearly 22 percent of adults 25-34 were had moved back home. The report, “The Boomerang Generation,” also found that:

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Home, Sweet–But Smaller–Home

Dear Mr. Dad: Because of the current economic situation, my wife and I have decided to sell our home and downsize to a smaller, more affordable one. We’re both comfortable with this decision, but we want to be sure that when we talk to our children (3rd and 5th graders), we don’t panic them. Depending on where we move, the kids may need to change schools. Any suggestions?

A: The fact that you and your wife have thought through your decision and are on the same page puts you way ahead of other families who are in similar situations.

For you, the first step is to sit down and talk with them in a way they can understand. Unless they’ve spent the past year on another planet, they’ve probably heard about the recession and may have even talked about it at school. But you’ll need to find out how much of what they’ve heard actually sank in. The problem is that they may understand just enough to be scared, so it’s important that you reassure them that despite the current state of the economy, they and your family will be OK.
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