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What If You Run Out of Money?

By Chuck Yanikoski

If you, or someone you care about, is retired and running out of money, what can be done? The situation may not be as bleak as it looks.

Although your cash may be dwindling or gone, you may have other assets that can be turned into cash. A home that you own, valuables that you possess, and life insurance policies all can be converted to spendable money in more than one way.

Whether you own or rent, you may be able to find a roommate or boarder who will pay for the privilege of sharing your space.

In addition, the old expression "time is money" is still true. Even if you are no longer vigorous, you may be able to do simple work for modest pay. It doesn't have to be a regular job: parents are happy to pay for a reliable person to watch their children, and grown children are happy to pay for someone to help tend aged parents.

Or if you do have any particular knowledge or skills (and chances are, you do), there is probably someone out there who needs them. If they aren't advertising for you, then you can advertise for them. If you can't afford a newspaper ad, many markets and other local retailers allow people to post notices for free.

Beyond that, you may be entitled to income or other benefits that you don't know about:

  • If you were previously married to someone who made more money than you did, you may be entitled to higher Social Security benefits. Check with your local Social Security office.
  • Did you or a former spouse ever work for a company with a pension plan - even if it was many years ago? Get in touch with any such employers.
  • The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators maintains a website where you can check, state by state, for various kinds of unclaimed property. You can also check the IRS for unclaimed tax refunds. There are separate lists online for certain unclaimed life insurance policies, for unredeemed savings bonds, for undelivered tax refunds, unclaimed bank deposits and for other unclaimed funds.
  • The federal government subsidizes housing for seniors through Section 8 rental vouchers. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging.
  • You might qualify for Medicaid - or if you don't currently qualify, you might soon.
  • If you are already in a nursing home, or if you now need one, federal law prohibits facilities from discriminating against you because you cannot afford to pay. Medicaid will cover your care, if you cannot do so yourself.
  • Some localities offer real estate tax breaks to needy elders. Check with your municipal tax collector.

Remember, you are not alone. There are three kinds of places you can seek further help of many kinds:

First, relatives and friends may be able to help. Some may even be eager to help. Even if they themselves can't help, they might know someone with whom you match up.

Second, many government agencies are in the business of helping people like you. For starters:

  • The U.S. Administration on Aging has local Area Agencies on Aging that provide many kinds of information and support. Visit their Benefits CheckUp Page to see what government and private benefits and services you may be eligible for.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development can help you with housing options.
  • The U.S. Administration for Children and Families offers the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which can help cover home heating or cooling bills.
  • Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services can explain your benefits and refer you to the appropriate agency in your state.

Third, churches, private charities, and other groups often can be of help, in big ways and small ones. Many groups are local: check with your church, with your town or city clerk, or with the leaders of local fraternal organizations for possibilities in your area. In addition, many national organizations offer local assistance, for example:

  • The National Council on Aging offers advice on public benefits, ways to get lower cost prescription drugs, and other useful subjects.
  • The National Shared Housing Resource Center can help match you up with others who need housing or are looking for it.
  • Meals on Wheels provides meal services to people in need.

You probably also need to find other ways to economize. Begin by:

  • Asking your local librarian for books and magazines that deal with smart shopping and other forms of consumer economizing.
  • Identifying where you do spend money, and find things you can eliminate or reduce.
  • Learning to shop better, using second-hand shops, church or charity stores, discount and close-out stores, factory outlets, wholesale clubs, food pantries, or other such low-cost retailers. Look for sales, church bazaars, swaps, yard sales, cou-pons, and senior discounts.
  • Getting a part-time job at a local restaurant or retailer; you not only will earn a little money, but you may get good discounts or even freebies on items sold there.
  • Asking for discounts, whether from the shop around the corner or from your doctor, or anyplace else you do business.
  • Finding bargains online.

Your biggest obstacle could be you! If your money is gone, or nearly gone, you might feel embarrassed, even if it was not your fault. We all like to feel independent, and suddenly that feeling is slipping away. It can be tough to ask people for help.

But pride has never been a virtue. You cannot deal with your situation unless you face it honestly, without pride, and without self-pity. Nor can you enlist others to help you, even those who desire to help, if you refuse to accept help, refuse to ask for help, or refuse to let people know that you need to make some changes in your life.

If you were a good person when you were self-sufficient, you are still a good person now that you are less fortunate. Now it is all the more important that you also be a smart person, and get help wherever it is available. Because other people are good, too, and some of them will be there for you, if you let them.