Color of Money Live: Feeling squeezed in the middle class

Aug 30, 2018

Send in your questions to Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary.

This week, Singletary is joined by Alissa Quart for her book "Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America," which is the selection for the book club this month.

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So glad you could join me today. Looking forward to your questions and always your comments. 

Today I have a guest so please tap her as well. It's Alissa Quart author of "Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America."

Is that you? 

Let's talk.

I read Squeezed on Michelle’s recommendation. But the theme of the book differed greatly from “the Color Money.’ Unlike Michelle’s ‘take your medicine’ advice about saving, working hard and spending wisely, Squeezed offered 320 pages of blaming and complaining. I understand it is tough out there for many people, with student loans, the high costs of housing and daycare, but instead of good advice and/or solutions, the book cast everyone as a victim: adjunct professors, pregnant paralegals, underpaid teachers and non-practicing attorneys. Instead of advising readers to avoid student loans and any other debt wherever possible, the book advocates for a wide range of expanded government services. Buried under all of the blame are a few stories of folks who take control of their situations. One man and his wife run a daycare center because it allows them to also spend time with their own children. It’s a lot of work and they provide round the clock care, but he explains to the author, ‘sure I’d be happier if I didn’t have to work, but so wouldn’t everyone.’ Another women leaves the Adjunct Professor track to pursue a degree in Speech Pathology because it’s the one service she can never find for her disabled son. I have enormous sympathy for folks with economic hardships regardless of the cause. I know how debilitating debt can be. But the only true solution is to plan wisely. Some may still end up in tough circumstances through no fault of their own. But to expect the world or the government to care for us throughout our lives is not responsible or realistic. How does Ms. Quart expect the government to provide free day care, a guaranteed income and higher salaries for teachers without going broke?

Read Michelle's column: Why the future of America’s middle class is so financially fragile

Hi there,

For starters, on your question of "planning." The point of Squeezed was that even the best laid plans can be undone by the contraction of a profession, like journalism where something close to 40 percent of newspaper jobs were lost in a ten year period. 

Or as in one person's case, pregnancy complications and hospital bills for her infant put her in immense debt.  

We need to have social support to protect people when such need arises. 

I don't think it's unrealistic to want social support like maternity leave or subsidized daycare as almost every Western European country and Canada does drastically better on this score than we do. The U.S. is one of only eight countries, along with Papua New Guinea and tiny Pacific Island States to not have a national law guaranteeing paid parental leave. 

We have the money for some of these things-- we are an incredibly wealthy nation. We just aren't choosing to spend this money on our citizens.

Thanks for the found money site tip. I found small amounts (under $100 each) for each of my parents. For me, there’s a under $50 credit balance from WP Company, LLC. Yes, I apparently have credit due from my old Washington Post newspaper subscription which hasn’t been active for over 9 years (moved out of state). I’m going to use it to renew my current local paper, which also provides a digital WaPo subscription, so I can continue to follow you!

Read the discussion from Michelle's chat last week.

Bless your heart. Me and mine (and their college funds) appreciate your support!!!!

What strikes me about extreme couponers is how much time they sink into collecting these things. Apparently, their time isn't worth anything - a concept I find puzzling and repugnant, because it's usually women that do this. This contributes to the idea that women's time isn't valuable, and that they should just be available to do anything for anyone.

Read Michelle's column: Extreme couponing may not be saving you as much money as you think. Here’s why.

Because I write about money people are always telling me about how they found a sale or got a coupon. I smile because while that's good it doesn't mean they are "saving" money.

When you spend you are not saving. You are just spending less.

Read the newsletter. I had a wake up call when my coupon wallet was stolen. I was devastated. Until I realize how much time I spent looking for and cashing in coupons. Often I was getting more than I needed because I had a coupon. 

Dishwasher is 5.5 years old (and all of 6 months past warranty!) It has a slight leak that supposedly will go away with the replacement of a $380 part. Or should I spend another $300 (we have life happens $ for either approach) and get a new one?

I've been in my home now for about 15 years. And having similar issues with various appliances that are at the end of their life (planned I suspect by the manufacturers). I'm going through the same thing you are right now. I HATE spending the money to buy new because to fix is more than new.

So, I with you.

If it were me -- and it has been lately-- I'd get the new one. 

Hi Michelle - I love your columns. My husband and I have an infant and a 2.5 year old. We have started 529s for each ($3,300 in the toddler's account and $2,500 in the infant's). We are not currently contributing to the 529s because my husband is unemployed. Once he starts a new job we will start automatic contributions. I just read your article on sending your children to college debt-free. I graduated from a private college in DC with only $5,000 in loans, thanks to my very very generous parents and some merit scholarships. I just did the Vanguard college savings calculator and I am FREAKING OUT. We need to save $500 per kid, per month, in order to have them graduate without debt. We cannot afford that. Our biggest expense is our mortgage - around $2,700/month. We do not have car payments or other debt. I was hoping to do $200 per kid per month. I know little steps can go a long way...but I need a motivational speech here because this is SCARY.

Read Michelle's column: How we sent our children to college debt-free

The last thing I wanted to do in writing the column about how my husband and  sent our kids to college free was make anyone freak out. We started more than 18 years ago and we've benefited from a good market in those years. And while the state college cost has been going up we still managed to get in before it's CRAZY -- like in 2034.

I would suggest you save ALL that you can and if it's not enough for the full ride -- tuition PLUS room and board. Cut the room and board. This means they go close to home or close to a relative who will let them live free. Or they go to community college for 2 years and transfer to the four-year school. Plus, a lot of community colleges are offering full tuition to high school honor students. Had my kids not gone straight to the four year university because we had the money they all could have gotten a free ride to community college because of their grades. 

You should also encourage your children to take AP classes and study hard to get really good scores, which will also knock out some beginning course and save you money. 

Yes, your kids may not have the same experience of living on campus, etc. but that's okay. They will be just fine. 


I say all this to say, please don't freak out. Just manage your expectations and those of your children. 

You can do this. I may not be the traditional way but your children can still get a good college education 

It's often said that parents today can't afford the life their parents did. But our parents had only one car, much smaller houses, no internet, often no cable, fewer appliances, etc. Can we in fact afford that life our parents had, only no-one is satisfied with that any more?

I love this question and I think the answer is mixed, both yes and no. Our parents did indeed have simpler lives by and large. Yet at the same time, the thing that is harming our standard of living is not the cost of an iPhone or a laptop or even groceries. It's college, daycare, health care and yes, housing. 

What motivated you to write about the "squeezed" middle class? 

Hi Michelle,

I was pregnant with my daughter and I had that thing where I had morning sickness for 8 months and could not work. And both by husband and I were freelancers. I was one of the lucky ones in that we had savings and I got well after my daughter was born and we both found jobs, but the pregnancy and the tough early months, and all the stories I started hearing from friends and so forth about their struggle to afford daycare, inspired me to report this book. How was it worse for others? What were other middle class families going through?

This was my first venture into this topic publicly, 5 (!) years ago. Read here.

Can you talk more about this: "The middle-class families running furiously and breathlessly just to find themselves staying in place are a large varied coterie."

Are we as a society losing compassion for the people who have some of the America Dream but also struggling? 

Hi Michelle, 

I am not sure we are have entirely lost compassion but I think people judge one another in this country and there is a clear reason for that.

There is a deep American tendency to bootstrap on the Right and among Democrats as well in a different way. We are told-- and feel- that there is something wrong with us if we can't get many side hustles, or obtain a professional second act when our first one collapses, or not be in debt or even not "lean in".  

I hope if my book does anything it is to help readers blame themselves less for these sorts of things. I've gotten incredible reader emails to this effect, where readers say they felt comforted. 


I'd like to hear more from people who feel squeezed. What's it like for you? Do you feel people understand or are compassionate about your situation? 

And for the record I HATE when people say or indicate in some way that they "pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps." 

You did not. No one does.

We all have help in some way. We had parents who taught us well or save for us. We had someone who took a chance and hired us. Or we were fortunate to be born in to a family situation where money wasn't an issue or even if it was aid helped when things got stretched. 

I made it out of a low-income situation with parents who abandoned me. But I did NOT do it by myself. 

I'm interested in reading this book. My husband and I have one child, have adequate (bordering on strong) retirement, college, and emergency savings (and a life happens fund) and yet we always feel squeezed -- especially this time of year (back to school when it seems like I am paying $$ for things every other day - yearbooks, gym uniforms, sports fees, PTA memberships, etc. Even though we are planners and very fortunate, we realize that all we have worked to save can be gone with one illness or other turn of bad luck. It's terrifying and we, as a country, have to do better.

I agree. I'd love to hear more about how you got to this point so I can explain to the many people I am now hearing from some winning individual strategies. How did you devise the "life happens" fund? (Is that your term-- it's a good one.) Also, I very much agree about all of the hidden costs in having children that no one seems to talk about like school trips and test prep. Have you ever discussed this with your friends who are parents? 

i don't know how to "live chat"

You are on the live chat. It's a text chat. Just send in your question. Or just read along. Welcome.

The local supermarket has an app on my phone. Sometimes I go in and put coupons on my shopper's card...then if I happen to buy the product, then I get the discount. IT's not a lot of time, and I am not even looking for the products ...but if it is something I usually buy I put it on the card. It's about all I can do.

This is exactly what I do. In fact, I'm going to write about this strategy. In other words, like me, you let your shopping dictate your couponing and not the other way around. 


I think one answer to the first respondent today is that societal economic arrangements vary according to different periods of history. For example, health care: back 200 years ago "health care" didn't really exist. Doctors with a single black bag were few and had few tools and remedies at their disposal - in most cases, it didn't really help to visit one. Hospitals, run by unpaid religious women, were reserved for the dying. But now, seeing doctors, getting tests, treatments, getting therapies, surgeries, physical rehab WORKS. It CURES. But it is no longer a question of a doctor with a black bag. There are now expensive teams with expensive machines and expensive recordkeeping. But the majority of people cannot afford these treatments out of pocket, or even with insurance. Wealthy, successful countries cannot endure the disruption of having 40% of their population unable to receive treatments. The bankruptcies, chaos, epidemics, ruined lives are intertwined with those of the whole population. Therefore ALL wealthy, successful nations EXCEPT the US offer health care to their citizens. While I do not believe it is a "human right, " I believe that health care for citizens of wealthy, successful nations is a benefit that is a hallmark of such a nation.

This is a great response. 


I am worried about financial security but my husband, who is much more happy-go-lucky, says, "God will provide," and "it will all work out." I think those are nice sentiments but won't exactly help pay the bills. I asked him recently to brainstorm with me ways to either increase our income or decrease our expenditures and he flat-out declined to get involved (we have had similar discussions in the past). He has expensive tastes and aspirations so I feel like I am frequently pushing back against his suggestions that we get a new car, or buy a bigger house, or spend money on a big house project, etc. He has a history of not paying bills on time so I am the one who manages bill payment and everything else financially related, but like I said, he just refuses to get involved. It is very frustrating. I feel like we keep circling around and around on this issue.

If you are local, please, please come take my managing money in marriage class at my church (First Baptist Church of Glenarden). I teach it with my husband. And we get a lot of couples just like you guys. But by the end of the 12-week course many spouses who believe like your husband are delivered to better thinking. They get involved in the finances. 

I can't guaranteed the results but sometimes hearing it from a neutral party makes a spouse wake up. 

If you can take the class (Sundays noon to 2 p.m) try finding another class or program. Or a marriage counselor. 

But if all else fails, you will have to continue being the money manager who says no. Take the hit for the team. 

I had my 2 yr old enrolled in daycare full time in the mid seventies while I worked as a cashier in a department store, earning minimum wage. My weekly paycheck was $109.00 net and I paid $28 for the daycare. It was a wonderful daycare and it was only 25 percent of my pay. it's so incredible what parents have to pay today. I don't know how they do it.

Indeed. Daycare has risen astronomically. The strange part of it is daycare workers are still paid terribly. 

People do it by spending a large percentage of their pay at the expense of building a financial safety net. 

Just a suggestion... I have a friend with four kids, all school-age or younger. When she asked me for my coupon insert, I exclaimed, "YOU have time for couponing?" She answered, "Not I, but my daughters do!" She had her middle school and 4th grade daughter handling their grocery list and associated coupons. AWESOME!

Very awesome. I love that she's getting the kids involved in watching what they spend. 

As an aside about teaching kids about money. I have a rule. You cannot put anything in my cart without knowing the price and having compared it to other items.

Once my daughter was about to put something in. She stopped. Looked at my face and ran back to the aisle. It was so funny!

What is your opinion on private schools when public schools are not adequate in certain areas?

Hi There, 

I'll be honest. This is what my husband and I did when we lived in an area of Manhattan where the public schools were inadequate and where we would have to go to great and troubling lengths to get her into a good public school. I have very complicated feelings about it but my daughter loves her school. 

That there are a lot of problems. But they are caused by our govt. Close to 60% of most people's paychecks go to taxes. For programs that are constantly being 'reformed.' Things don't work and to think that they WILL work *this time* is folly. I agree that there are issues, but I do not agree with the solutions. We have been trying the same solutions for 50 to 100 years (depending on how you count it) and they do not work. Thinking more of the same is the answer is just not the right thing to think. Also, every time we start a program, there is really no evaluation and no saying: this isn't working, let's just stop. It keeps going and getting reformed with the same bad ideas...and you have to use force to take people's things from think long and hard when you say 'the government ought to....'

I agree that a good number of well-intended programs, both in the public and non-profit sectors, do not accomplish what they set out to do, and innovation is needed. But how will self-reliance help us instead? If you are against government intervention, how do you propose we think about homelessness or healthcare? I think a striking account of what happens when people reject the government entirely and go off the grid appear the memoir Educated by Tara Westover, where the author was forced to rely on herbs to recover from illnesses as a child.

And think about Social Security. It works because it keeps millions out of crushing poverty. 

Before you start either process, check out repair videos online. Our family, in the past several years, has replaced a faulty heating element in stove, replaced over the stove microwave (did the removal and installation ourselves), fixed faulty element in dryer, and removed washer drum to remove rattling coins. All with the help of videos - we are NOT handy people. Home Front chat had a guy from Sears online repair site - super interesting discussion.

You are so right! I've forgotten this. 

By husband fixed our dryer. I fixed a phone this way. 

Thanks for reminding me -- readers. 

Remind him that God helps those who help themselves.

Or faith without works is dead!

Or after you've done ALL that you can, then stand. (Bible study works!)

I mean, most other countries manage it without going broke. Here, we talk about the importance of education and then make preschool education prohibitively expensive and pay teachers a prohibitively low salary and then wonder why we, as a nation, rank low in education scores, and why there are such disparities in education among the wealthy and the poor.

I love this response. In a number of the countries where children have high test scores, their teachers are relatively well paid and were themselves in the top of their classes in college.

What bothers me is that there's no safety net in America. I've written in here before (I was left with hundreds of thousands in medical debt after my husband passed away - before the ACA was enacted). So many of us are at risk of losing everything with one catastrophic accident or medical diagnosis - and it doesn't matter if you're diligent for decades about saving, paying for insurance and paying taxes. You're on your own.

I saw this time and time again when I was writing my book. I am sorry you are struggling with this.

You are so right. I'm a great saver but one major uncovered illness and I would be wiped out. 

I clip coupons for things I expect to buy, and save them until the brand goes on sale. But I still check, because the fancy brand on sale and with a coupon is sometimes still more expensive than the store brand.

Thanks for sharing. I just wanted to bring a different view to couponing and sale hunting. 

Lot of people consider themselves bargain shoppers. But we need to realize that sales are bait and even when we think we are saving, we are still spending. 

So yes use coupons but know the game too. 

Just a comment that it's hard not to feel squeezed, for most of us anyway, when every retirement calculator indicates we need anywhere from $1million to $2million saved to be sure we don't outlive our assets. This is to cover our housing, health care, nursing homes, etc. until death. Okay, maybe squeezed isn't the right word. Try panic!!

Indeed. Our culture is inhumane. How do you deal with the panic?

I hear you. But please don't panic. Those calculator are CRAZY. 

Here's how I stay calm. My grandmother didn't have a 401 (k)  or any investments.

She had a small pension, her Social Security and $20,000 in the bank for her retirement. When she died she had $20,000 still in the bank.

She lived in retirement for more than 20 years. 

Medicare helped with health care. She stayed on top of her health. When she was short I stepped in to help. 

Plenty of people retire and live well in retirement without $1 million. 

We were able to move to a prime location with great schools a couple of years ago. My kids now associate almost exclusively with kids from upper middle class families. My kids are seeing a "normal" that is far from average. They have a well-funded school and a PTO that has no trouble at all bringing in more cash than it needs. My kids and their friends travel, play sports and get involved in extracurriculars, and are generally living in pretty nice homes. How do I keep my kids from believing that this is how a typical family lives? More importantly, how do I help them understand that this sort of life is not just going to fall into their laps?

I love this question. I actually address a group of people who fall into this category in my book, in the Outclassed chapter. These are those who are "the bottom of the top" and have to explain to their kids (and themselves) that this isn't what America is like and that any discomfort they feel with their top one percent or ten percent neighbors is baked into our country, with its extremes of affluence and poverty. I interviewed a group called Class Action in Boston who do trainings for teachers and parents around this issue and started to deploy some of their lessons with my kid. It's in the final chapter of my book.

You teach your kids to be humble. You make sure they get involved in serving folks less fortunate. You do the same. And if you do, they grow up with compassion and knowing that others don't have it as well as they do. 

Really? I don't think that's true at all... I"m in one of the highest tax brackets and I'd say that maybe a third of my paycheck goes towards taxes. I'd happily pay more for better schools, infrastructure and universal health care. My family was lucky enough to go to Sweden this summer and if it weren't for the winters we'd seriously consider moving there!

Indeed. This is accurate. 

This is why Michelle recommend pre-marriage counseling. For me the late bill paying, God will provide and champagne taste would have been a nonstarter. As in I would have run for the hills away from the guy. Good luck trying to manage finances, he sounds like he has no clue.

Yes, I do indeed recommend premarital counseling in which such things would be addressed. And yes, I've often advised couples with extreme money differences not to marry if they aren't willing to compromise and find a way to live in financial peace.

But people are human. They fall in love with their money opposite and don't know how to deal after the fact. It is why my husband and I teach the class. Not all is lost if both spouses are willing to change. 

We are in the teeth of it now with 2 kids in daycare, which costs us north of $40k per year in our area. The only rationale for it is that it is temporary, as Kid #1 will be in kindergarten and after school care next year, which is significantly less expensive. Also, it is an investment in future income because if my wife (it's almost always the woman, which is a whole other set of topic) takes these prime career-building years off (mid-30s), then it would be harder to catch up to her peers. This is one of the major sources of the gender wage gap. In summary, we will suck it up for these few years before living the high life again (*sarcasm*) when all the kids are in school.

Ha.  I know this conundrum well. One big response to this would of course be companies adopting gender neutral hiring, blocking out identifying info on resumes or equal pay policies so female employees don't get squeezed. This is part of the motherhood penalty-- if there is a gap on your resume because you spent two years taking care of your kids you get dinged.

I am a federal employee deployed overseas for the next two years. Because of the hardship of the country in which I am posted, I have a little extra money every month to put to good use. I currently have a TSP loan used to buy my house ($36000 left) from which money is deducted each pay period and a home equity line of credit ($8000), the interest from which I am currently able to deduct from my taxes. Once back in the U.S., I will probably break even or lose a little money each month because of DC cost of living. How should I prioritize my extra funds - pay off TSP loan, pay off HELOC, or invest in the market to have a bit of a nest egg upon return to the States?

Pay off the debt. Start with the debt with the lowest balance. Make the minimum on the other debts. When you knock off the top debt start on the next one on the list. 

By the way keeping a mortgage or home equity line of credit for the tax break is not a good money management practice. You are not make whole since the break is a deduction not a a credit. Meaning you don't get back enough to justify all the interest you pay. 

Do you think members of the sandwich generations get squeezed even more? We juggle elderly parents (who luckily saved well for retirement) as well as a toddler but there are lots of hidden costs...taking time off work to take everyone to doctor's appointments and even taking a lower stress/lower paying job to be able to manage it all.

I do but then again I am part of this! I was running from a relative's medical appointment to relieve the sitter two years ago and I was thinking of this...

I went from comfortable to strapped in the blink of an eye when my ex walked out leaving behind a 4K electric bill, a shut-off notice, a numerous other bills, and an IRS lien on the home so that selling wasn't an option. I got plenty of help, my employer let me go from part-time to full-time, I picked up a second job and worked every Saturday, I cut back on household expenses and the kids did without many of the things that had before. It's been 11 years, still on the road to recovery, but, only working one full-time job now. It's scary and can happened to anyone.

Thanks for sharing. This is a classic squeezed story. What was your second job?

Hi Michelle! I am a 36-year-old recently diagnosed with metastatic (incurable) breast cancer. Statistics say that my chances of living 5 years are about 23%. But there are more/better treatments, and I could be one of the lucky ones! So what to do about retirement? I have been saving 10% into my 401k, and 3% post tax into my Roth 401k, as well as $2,000 a year into a Roth IRA. Do I keep saving knowing that the chances of me hitting retirement age are very slim? I do have $8,000 worth of credit card debt, a $10,000 car loan and no student loans or mortgage (renter). I also am single and have no children, if that helps.

I am so, so sorry for our situation. 

Right now focus on your health and well-being. I wouldn't deplete your cash savings to pay off debt because you may need the money should you not be able work. Pay what you can to stay current. And with no dependents it sounds like your estate will haven enough to settle your debts. 

If you like you could pull back on retirement savings to manage the debt better. 

Please also, if you haven't done so, get a will done. I would say this for anyone not just because of your cancer. 

I'm praying you beat the odds!

I read Squeezed and often read the Color of Money column. It is often difficult to not feel a bit down when reading this type of writing because it seems as if the biggest and best solutions need to be enacted at the highest levels of government and community organization. As one of the many twenty-somethings who live at home with their parents, I feel this keenly. I make all of the technically correct money decisions. I had very few college loans which are now paid off. I purchased a reliable pre-owned car and paid it off. I have savings and a retirement account, both of which I contribute to regularly. I don't spend a lot of money on new gadgets, clothing, or trips. But the cost of housing and other living expenses (especially medical insurance and health costs) still outstrip the decent money that I make. This makes me wonder how I will ever be able to live on my on without quickly falling into one of the situations discussed in Squeezed. What are some steps someone like myself can take to finally be able to fully support myself? Are there specific resources I can take advantage of? Also, I am trying to help my parents plan for their retirement. What can I do to help my mom sleep a little better at night knowing that she doesn't have to panic about how/when she'll ever retire?!

Sorry if I depressed you in anyway. You sound like you are a sterling example of someone trying to do right by yourself and everyone else. I think you should take a clear look at the BLS statistics about growth professions and then think about what aspects of your training or skill set fits best with which profession that is on the uptick. If you do choose to go to graduate school so you are even better prepare, choose the cheapest program you can. 

I also don't think you should consider yourself not independent because you live at home. 

There is nothing wrong with shared housing. If your parents are okay with you living at home don't stress yourself financially by moving out. 

As for your parents check out AARP, which has a lot of resources to help you help your parents. 

That's what I do, for myself and for the elderly parent for whom I shop. Personal care items can be expensive for seniors on a fixed income but are necessary. So I collect my coupon insert and his each week (both subscribers to the Post!) to see what's there for those products. It's still spending, but yes, spending less on products he has to use.

This is how you use coupons!

We close on our first home today! We're buying a modest home but lovely home at a price that we can afford and will leave us room to build savings!! This feels like such a success considering 2 years ago, DH and I were stuck in a payday loan cycle -AND- constantly relying on our overdraft protection on our checking account. I cringe to think of all the wasted money of those times, but I'm so pleased we pulled ourselves out of the mire and moved forward with a plan. A BIG shoutout to my wonderful dad and stepmom for allowing us to live rent free while we got back on our feet. We will pay it forward, but how do you thank someone who has done so much for you at such a vulnerable time!?

How wonderful. Good for you guys!!!

That "60% to taxes" figure is nonsense. I make a six-figure income, and I can tell you right now that I end up with 51% of my paycheck. You might quibble, but 22% of what I "lose" in these alleged taxes are my TSP and "catch-up" contributions. So even if you EVERYTHING else tax - and it's not, with insurance and all that - it's STILL not as dire as the Young/Old Republican that wrote that note. The point of a society is to try and better things for EVERY part of society. And that, as they say "don't come cheap." We're all a part of this world.

Yes, we are all in this together. Thanks for sharing. 

The book “You Can Retire Sooner than you Think” by Wes Moss gave me much hope about being able to retire without having millions in our accounts. My wife retired this summer and she is loving the free time. Time will tell if we saved enough for our retirement, but I am glad we took the first step by having my wife retire. Who knows how long you will have the health to enjoy the freedom of retirement and I don’t want to miss it because of a fear.

Happy retirement. 

We have one child, thankfully out of the daycare years, but in need of ASD therapies and additional supports. I think the biggest reason we feel squeezed is the costs of housing around here. We need to be in a better school district that will provide supports for our child, but those houses costs double what we paid for our house in the outer suburbs. As an example: My parents bought their house in Springfield in the 80s and paid $180k for it. Four bedrooms, 2.5 baths, nice yard, two car garage. That same house sold last year for $750k.

This is exactly it, We feel squeezed. I wish I had interviewed you for my book! 

I don't think this works even as a last resort. If the poster and her husband are pulling in different directions, ultimately this will frustrate both parties and it will be extremely difficult to succeed financially. I would advise that rather than putting effort into being the money manager she puts effort into getting him to understand that this dymanic is not okay, including marriage counseling if needed. If he doesn't understand the strain he is putting on her, he needs to see it. If he DOES see it and doesn't care, it's a relationship problem.

 I believe that is what I said. They need help. 

I'm looking forward to reading the book. We've definitely been squeezed, mainly by lower income (both spouse and I still work, PT and FT) and much higher medical costs - both insurance deductibles and more expenses. We're getting close to retirement age and have one in college; one in HS. The best thing I ever did was to set up state prepaid tuition funds with a windfall years ago. We also did 529s for housing, food, books & incidentals (which are anything but incidental). If not for this, we'd be totally underwater and kids would be amassing large student load debt.

This is terrific advice and very easy to do. We have done so as well. How do you set up 529s for incidentals? Maybe tell the readers.


I've seen the tv shows featuring extreme couponers and I've always been a little repulsed by the crazy stockpiles they have created. A few people seem to use the goods they purchase for charitable purposes - church ministry or whatnot - but the vast majority just stockpile for their own use. Or not - you have to wonder how much of the food stuffs expire before being used. And, as noted in Michelle's article - never any produce or meat. Is this a type of OCD?

Exactly. I didn't like the show.

Hi, we are starting the Debt Snowball, part of Dave Ramsey's babysteps and I was curious if most people tell others that they are doing this? With the holidays approaching and such, how do you tell / not tell people that you want to skinny down on expenses. Thank you

Read Michelle's column: Ready to pay off your credit cards? Try the ‘Debt Dash’ method





Give them a heads up now that you are on a mission to save and/or get out of debt. 

Hi Michelle. This morning I ran the college savings numbers at Vanguard for my two boys. Given the amounts in each 529 account, and the school we're aiming to send our kids, the calculator told me I can stop paying into my 10-year-old's account and can cut back to $100/month for my 7-year-old. But that's kind of scary! I mean, add no more?! What would you do? FYI, we were doing $100/month for older and $250/month for the younger. And yes, this assumes only undergrad. Thanks!

I would say still save. We are also paying for graduate school. And in the case of my son who has autism it gives him the space to add on more years so he's not pressured with a heavy class schedule. 

Hey guys, I have to run. So sorry if I didn't get to your question or comment. I read them all. I promise. Your time was not wasted. Come back next week and ask again. 

And, as many of you know, I often turn your comments/questions into a column. 

Thank yo so much for joining me today. My birthday is this weekend. Go on my twitter or facebook page and wish me a happy birthday. I can always use the support. 

Take care. 

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Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Alissa Quart
Quart is executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a journalism nonprofit with Barbara Ehrenreich. (Photo: Ash Fox)
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