How to Stay Debt Free While Living on Social Security and Stay Happy


Are you one of those people who can’t seem to keep up with your expenses? Keeping up with the Joneses will put you in the poor house. We had, even while my husband and I were both gainfully employed at that time. I was making good money and more so than my husband. But in spite of that we could not keep up with the expenses. We didn’t live a lavish life, just comfortable. We were the typical suburbanites but living in Long Island, New York was expensive.

It was time to sit down and evaluate our finances. I have learned my lesson the hard way and don’t want to be in a financial quagmire again. I’m a seniors living on social security and if I am not careful, I’ll be back in the same quandary as before. Here is how I cope with living with a tight budget.


Credit Cards – For years, I was living in a rich community but using my credit cards to the hilt to keep up with the Joneses. I had to admit that I was in deep debt all the time. I had a whole bunch of credit cards. Name me a store in New York at that time and I could tell you I had that store’s credit card except Bloomingdale. I had no idea why I didn’t have Bloomingdale’s card, maybe because it was my husband’s ex favorite store. I even had Bergdorf Goodman’s credit card. At some point, I had a substantial balance on each of them.

Now, I only have three credit cards but I only use one card that gives me cash rewards.


Car Payments – I also had four car payments at some points in time. I used to own four cars. Before my kids turned 26, all four cars in my house were under my name and I paid all the car payments, insurance and maintenance on all of them. Finally, I told my husband to transfer the two cars’ title to my kids. I was afraid if the boys had an accident we could get sued and we ‘d lose our home. He finally agreed.

When my husband finally retired, we gave up the lease on his car. Since he was not going anywhere, we opted for one car. I was selling real estate at that time (finally retired from accounting) so we worked out a schedule that he could only use my car when I didn’t have to go to work. It worked fine. We used to drive two Volvos. He had S60 and I have XC70. My two boys had a Blazer and a Jeep Cherokee Laredo.

Now, we only have one car and save money on car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance and repairs.


Home Mortgage – I did not realize how bad the situation was until about ten years ago when my husband got sick and retired finally and at that time we owned two houses. One was a vacation home which we used four times a year for two weeks at a time. I was getting very nervous and no matter how I calculated it we would go broke soon. I was paying bills out of one pocket into the other pocket so to speak. The Home Equity loan we had was fully used up and I was afraid we would lose our primary home. It was very stressful.

We were debating on which house to sell. Since we could not tolerate the winter months anymore, we decided to sell the house in New York and moved permanently to our vacation home in the South instead. Also living in the South is cheaper than living in New York. I would also get more money selling the New York house since at the time, the real estate market was down. We had lived in our NY home for 32 years and had big equity on the house. Meanwhile, our vacation home was under the water and we did not want to lose money on it. We had since recovered and we are now above the water and building equity.

Moving costs drained our budget for a good amount. We moved in three stages. When we bought the vacation home, we moved some stuffs to furnish it. The following year, we moved more stuffs. Finally when we sold the New York house, we moved stuffs for the third time. On all these moves, we used a moving company. That cost an arm and a leg. We also hired 1-800-junk for the final move to dispose the stuffs we could not move and to clean up the house after the moving truck finish their job. They junked three dumpsters and cost me $550 per dumpster. In spite of the moving costs, moving south is worth it.

Now, we’re down to one mortgage and we own a beautiful home with 3 bedrooms and 3-1/2 baths on a lakefront property.


Property Taxes and Home Maintenance

Living in New York and living in the South are night and day. Living in our townhouse now is much less expensive than living in New York. New York taxes are prohibitive. My taxes at the time we sold our NY home was about $8,000 a year and by this time could have gone up to maybe $10,000 or more. Our current property taxes in the South is $570 a year. That is quite a difference. My utilities are also down quite a bit from an average of $1,200 a month to about $250 a month. Our home exterior maintenance is paid by us in New York. Now HOA takes care of all that. Our HOA of $1690 a year is not bad at all since it covers exterior building repairs and maintenance including roof replacements and maintenance of the common area. I spent about $3,000 a year in New York just on ground maintenance alone.

Now, downsizing to a townhouse in South Carolina saves us plenty of money for home maintenance and taxes.


Clothing – Since we have a very mild winter, we do not need those heavy winter clothes. Our winter is so short, we could stay in our summer clothes with a few sweaters to stay comfortable. Winter outfits could put a strain on seniors’ finances who are in a tight budget.

Now, with a few winter clothes saved when we moved south, I don’t have to invest on more heavy winter clothes.


Community Involvement – While we were in New York, I was very involved in the community where we were constantly invited to fund raising events. Since I was an officer or board member on some of them, we had to go. They were expensive and in December, there were plenty of them. I’m still involved in the community here but the group I belong to does not go for expensive parties like in New York. We still have lots of fun. I chaired the Social Committee of my community for four years and we had a lot of fun activities without breaking the bank.

Now, I don’t go to expensive parties. I changed my lifestyle.


Entertainment – A year and a half ago, my husband was diagnosed with end stage kidney disease. He has to be on dialysis every day so we don’t go on vacation anymore. My relaxation outlet is gardening and reading. I have acquired more roses this year than at any time in my gardening years and I have also acquired more books to read although I purchased my books at a bargain bookstore on line for less than $5.00 for hardcover books. I also foray at book sales around the area. My church sells a grocery bagful of books for $5.00. That is the biggest deal in town. I usually get about 7-8 books per bag and I always bring home 2 bags. I don’t go to movies anymore. I can’t find a good movie worth the money nowadays. Once in a while, I watch TCM movies. They had better actors/actresses years ago. I also don’t watch TV. I turn on the TV only to see the weather forecast if there is a storm. My indulgence was watching Downton Abbey while it was on. I do read a lot.

So now, I save money on entertainment by reading. Lots of it. It enriches my knowledge and broaden my horizon without spending a lot of money.


Food – We don’t skimp on food. Since my husband got diagnosed with end stage kidney disease, we don’t go out to dinner anymore. My husband is on a very strict diet – no salt, less potassium, less phosphate. I learn how to cook with no salt. Everything restaurants serve now are too salty for our taste so we avoid restaurant food. We watch the food we eat. I buy quality ingredients and cook nice meals for us. Once in a while, I indulge myself with a rich dessert which my husband can’t eat. Wine is only for special occasion which my husband is not allowed so I don’t stock wine anymore. I can only drink half a wine glass for the whole evening so it’s basically nothing.

Now, our food cost is down because we don’t eat at restaurants anymore.  


Barring illness, I need not worry about my finances. I pray I can stay healthy for a long time. I eat right and don’t drink or smoke. I don’t take medication because I don’t have health issues. I’m very healthy. Knock on woods.

Out of the proceeds of the house sale in New York, we paid all our debts. We paid all the credit cards. We paid the balance on the car payments so now we own the car with no more car payments to worry about every month. We only have 71,000 miles on my 12-year old Volvo. We don’t intend to buy a new car for the near future. I’m happy with my Volvo. Our debt is just the mortgage on our house.

We pay my mortgage on time. We have no debt except the mortgage which I accelerate my payment to shorten the term. I pay my credit card (yes, one card) in full except on months that I have to pay life insurance (semi-annual) and car insurance (annual) but I catch up quickly and be on schedule in no time.

I don’t consider myself poor nor am I rich. I’m debt free and happy and contented with what I have. I have plenty of books to entertain me for the rest of my life and visit other places by reading. My garden keeps me in shape. It’s my exercise without paying the gym fee and I get beautiful flowers to enjoy. I don’t think I’m deprived of anything. I have what I want. A lovely lakefront home with gorgeous sunset, a fully paid reliable car, a beautiful garden, a library with 3000 plus books, a wonderful family and a few volunteer works I enjoy. What else can I ask for? Life is good!


Until Next Time. Stop and Smell the Roses

Rosalinda R Morgan

Author & Garden Writer