Hello again, I've taken Jim up on his generous offer to publish another guest article from me! This was a "food for thought" post I published this week over at my website…
I digress, I wanted to share a story about my Aunt Jane with you today.
Aunt Jane is in her early sixties now and has been a widow for the last couple of years. She and Uncle Joe had been married for just shy of 40 years when he died of a heart attack suddenly. This was a shock but Aunt Jane always says she’s glad he didn’t suffer.
Aunt Jane had always been a stay at home mother and had never worked outside the home. Wait, I take that back she did do some part time work early in their marriage but nothing really to speak of! Her and Uncle Joe had lived in the same home on the outer edges of a small town, population 7-8000, for almost their entire married life. The house was a smaller 3 bedroom, 1 bath rambler with a detached garage out back. It sits on an acre of land. She still has her own well and septic system, even though the town has always intended to bring public utilities down her street, it hasn’t happen yet.
When Uncle Joe died, he left Aunt Jane a small life insurance policy. She explained to me that they had the home nearly paid off, I think she said less than 5 years to go on the mortgage. It was always their plan to have it paid before Uncle Joe retired… He never made it but he still took care of that for his widow. Aunt Jane used the insurance money to clear the mortgage note and make a few repairs that they had put off the last couple years, new roof, some fencing, etc. She said she still has a small nest egg, not much mind you but a little put away, just in case.
It was kind of expected in the family that Aunt Jane would need to go find a job somewhere to make ends meet, now that Uncle Joe was gone. She surprised everyone by continuing on much as if he was still around. She never lived in a showy way at all anyway but there is still things that have to be provided for, right?
Uncle Joe and Aunt Jane had a pretty large flower and vegetable garden, also some fruit trees here and there on the property. They had always had a flock of chickens running around the yard over the years as well, still do! We all knew she canned alot of her produce and spend a lot of time at the local farmers market on the weekends when it was open, which is about 8 months of the year in that town.
After her two children were grown and gone, it was kind of assumed that she had her booth at the market as a social outlet and hobby. I guess it was those things primarily but she had a clientele for her extra vegetables and eggs. She was handy with a needle too, she would sew items over the winter and then put them out at her stand during the months the market was open.
As I was pondering the way Aunt Jane was living and how some family members seemed to believe she was on the rim edge of poverty, I decided to take a drive over to see what she was up to…
This was over a month ago and the weather was still a bit warmer. I found her outside working on the small patch of green she still had cultivated in her garden area. When I arrived, I noticed the house looked like it was in good repair. I saw her chicken coop was still standing over in the corner beside the garage where I had remembered it always being located, chickens coming and going around the yard as if on their own schedule of activities.
She greeted me and we went inside the house to have that talk I had called about. The home was as warm and inviting as ever. Just about how I’m sure you can all imagine it being for yourselves, pictures of the family, grand kids, that sort of thing. The place seemed alot quieter than it used to but then again its just her there now. She poured us coffee and we got comfortable.
I started by asking how she was getting along without Uncle Joe and got the standard as good as can be expected, still miss him, that sort of thing. After just a few minutes I got down to business.
I started by asking her how she’s able to make ends meet without having a job? Did Uncle Joe leave her a pension that nobody knew about? It felt kind of funny to ask such personal financial questions but there was a bit of curiosity in the family. I should say a bit of concern, she is well loved and her children never really let on much on these details either…
She began by saying that she doesn’t really need much, you know, kind of humble. She explained that she has her garden and chickens, so she always has plenty to eat. I could see she wasn’t going to just give up her information. We have good OPSEC, in our family! I pushed her a little more and asked how she could afford to keep the lights on and gas in the car, that sort of expense is ongoing and can’t come from the garden out back?
As it turns out she is able to qualify for Uncle Joe’s social security now but is choosing to wait until she’s 65 to get a bigger monthly check. She explained that she doesn’t even need that money and can survive without it so it made sense to just wait a few more years. How can this be, I asked. She further explained that the only assistance she is on is for a medical program she qualified for when she turned 62. She said that she has a $100 payment each month for something to do with this but other than that she is on her own.
This sounded to good to be true? She went on to remind me about the apartment she rents out… Wait, what apartment? She explained that she and Uncle Joe had converted the detached garage to a “Mother-in-law” apartment years ago when they thought his mother would need to come and stay with them in her later years. They had never ended up using it for the intended purpose but it was there waiting, just in case! She said that the son of a friend from church had been renting it since shortly after Uncle Joe died. She said it just worked out fine, he pays her cash on the first of each month and is a quiet man. Uses the place as mostly just a place to sleep.
I asked her how much rent she is able to get? She explained that she started asking for $350 a month and that included the electric. They had upped the amount to $400 last year and both parties are content with the arrangement! Sounds like a good situation but that isn’t enough to pay the bills? She said she has her market stand that brings in some money too! Oh, alright, now the truth comes out – she must be a shrewd business woman… How much do you bring in at the stand, I asked? I waited as she went through some silent thought process in her head… She finally says that she can usually clear a $110-120 a weekend when the market is open!
This caught me off guard and I tried to quickly tally up what the number I had just heard meant in dollars and cents. $400 a month for the apartment came to $4800 a year. The market stand at $110 x 4 weeks a month, 8 months a year. his came to $3520 a year, staying on her low estimated figure. This only comes to $8320 annually, not exactly a living wage! I asked again if there is anything else she can count on for income, are your kids helping you? She said that she didn’t need any help and puts money in savings every month in case her kids need help from her! Whoops, I apologized for any offense.
It got quiet for a minute and then she said she watches dogs on occasion as well. Dogs, I said, what dogs? She explained that years ago her and Uncle Joe had a couple of dogs themselves and always enjoyed them. Word got around at church and from time to time friends would ask if they could watch their dogs over a weekend. They had that big fenced yard and all. She doesn’t remember how they had arrived at $10 dollars a day but it was half of what a local kennel charged and they didn’t mind the extra playmates around for their dogs to play with. It kinda became a habit and she still has 2 dogs that come from time to time. I asked what she might get on a regular basis from that? She thought may be 2-3 times in a month, so $30 bucks a month…
Now, we were getting somewhere, that added an extra… $360 per year. She claims that that’s it, nothing else but she’s doing just fine. Check my numbers if you want but that means she has only an annual income of $8680.00! I tried to convince her that there was no way a person could live on so little income!
She got out her checkbook and went through the columns for me to see if there was something she missed.
She read me these numbers -
$100 – power company, she has this cost averaged by the utility company
$100 – medical insurance payment, medicare/medicaid, I didn’t get it?
$67.50 – property tax, I helped her figure this out from her county statement
$33 – Insurance for the house
$39 – Auto insurance, I confirmed that this is only liability coverage
$81 – telephone, cable TV and internet package
$50 – gas for the car, we looked at 3 months worth of checks and averaged it…
$160 – grocery store, she said that $40 bucks a week is typical, it checked out…
She went through it a couple of times and said that there is the out of the ordinary cost from time to time but this is what she typically pays. She was quite proud of the fact she was able to have about a hundred dollars left at the end of the month as well! I’m proud of her too! I asked her if she had to pay any income taxes? She said that her friend the CPA had told her that the standard deduction was high enough and her income low enough that she didn’t need to pay any. OK with me!
I asked her what she was doing differently now that Uncle Joe was gone? She said that they didn’t really do it much different before but they put alot of money into paying off the mortgage whenever they could. She said that they would usually take a trip once a year but she hasn’t gone much of anyplace since she’s been on her own. Uncle Joe didn’t make a real large salary, worked for a small local company and didn’t have a pension. They had decided that they would have the house paid off and then they could both work on their projects and maybe he’d work some little part time job to help out after he retired.
She said that she spends as much time with the grand kids as she can but they’re getting older now too and not as interested in hanging out with granny, like they did when they were younger. Her children and their families both live in a larger town about 30 minutes away. She said that she sees one or the other of them almost weekly. As much as she misses Uncle Joe, she doesn’t feel alone. She has friends from town that she has know for nearly a lifetime and is active at her church still as well! I was repeatedly warned that I didn’t need to be worried about her!
I explained to her a little about the families concerns and how they were apparently unfounded, she was doing better than a few folks I could think of that had 2 paychecks coming in! I got her permission to talk about what she and I had disclosed… “It’s not exactly a secret”, she told me. I thanked her and got myself back on the road to home.
Over the next couple of weeks I pondered these figures often. $8680 annual income. Almost unbelievable, but it was all there to be examined. A woman in her 60’s, homeowner, living on her own and no paycheck? She has income from a couple of creative outlets and a small nest egg in the bank, with more going in slowly each month. Not bad, not bad at all! She said that she would take the social security check and it would be nice to see more money being put away for a rainy day but she could make it without any help! I have to agree…
Could any of us do this? What’s her secret? Is this possible because she’s a widow or an older woman? Is society going easy on her because she’s a little simple minded? I don’t think so, the family was even concerned that she might not be eating enough. She eats better food than the rest of us, she grows alot of it and has fresh eggs from her back yard. Her days are filled with activities that she enjoys and she still chooses what she wants to do each morning.
Is her standard of living lacking in some area I missed? Her house is older but not that old, I think it was built in the 50’s… Is she dressed in rags and living in her own filth? Hardly, she looked just like any other older woman that you might see working in her yard. So, what did it take for her to achieve this magic feat of living far below the poverty line?
Well, lets see, she owns her house free and clear! She’s creative and has productive hobbies! You did catch that she needs to make a whopping $110 dollar profit each weekend, 8 months out of the year. I bet anyone of you or I could find a way to come up with that same $110 per week. Maybe not at the farmers market but somehow… That’s only $3520 a year. Oh yeah, the shrewd old gal has that rental property, see she is way ahead of the rest of us now that we consider her real estate investment portfolio! Right, a 2 car detached garage converted over to a small apartment. Yeah, if you didn’t have that you would have to find some other creative way to come up with the $4800 in rent she collects…
Hello, anyone see what I’m getting at here. My “Poor” old Aunt Jane! So poor she lives better than many who work at jobs they hate 40 hours a week. Let’s not rock the boat and try to get our house paid off, just keep shoving the extra money into the company 401K and someday, unless we die first, we might be able to retire and do the same things “Poor” Aunt Jane gets to do everyday on that homestead she has!
Yep, that’s right this is another one of those thought exercises that I want you to mull over this week and see what your brain spits back out at ya! I bet you think of my ”Poor” Aunt Jane this week when your sitting in traffic waiting to get home from that job you work to keep the payments current on the new house, new cars and vacation fund full of dreams. You are going to take the family to Hawaii this year on your 2 week reprieve from reality, right.
All I ask is that you think it over and see who’s situation could best be described as “Poor”, I doubt you come to the conclusion that it’s my Aunt Jane’s!