We are the median: Housing costs hurt N.Y. widow

Dec. 7, 2011 at 7:29 AM ET

John Makely / /
Ann Valencia looks on as movers unload a truck full of her belongings and load them into a storage unit she rented. Valencia has had to downsize and move in with a friend after she could no longer afford her two-bedroom apartment in Bayside, New York.

Ann Valencia, 55, lived until recently on her own in an apartment in Bayside, Queens, N.Y. But earlier this month, the high cost of rent and utilities forced the administrative assistant to move out of the apartment, put her things in storage and stay with a friend until she can find a more affordable place to live. 

Multimedia producer John Makely visited with Valencia recently as part of a series of stories looking at what it’s like to live on the nation’s median income of about $50,000 a year.

What’s it like to live on around $50,000 a year?

It is extremely difficult to survive on my salary. I find it increasingly difficult to juggle my financial obligations as things become more expensive.

How has the weak economy affected your finances?

The weak economy has affected my finances in ways which I couldn't have imagined. As money grows tighter, it has forced me to use my credit cards for basic items and services that I would have paid cash for in the past.

Do you worry about money?

I worry about money constantly. I am, for most aspects in my life, an eternal optimist. I tend to see the glass half full, but this aspect of my life has taken a toll on me emotionally. As a single woman in her fifties, it is frightening at times to be on your own. Although I adore my independence, I worry what would happen if I lost my job. There is a silent foe in the work world — age discrimination! It is extremely difficult to find a new job over the age of 50.

John Makely / /
Ann Valencia makes about $50,000, equal to the national median household income, but living in New York she has trouble paying her bills.

What do you splurge on?

Every few weeks I splurge on a manicure. I like my hands and nails to look nice and enjoy the relaxing time of having a manicure.

Is there anything you wish you could afford but can’t?

I wish I had a new (or newer) car. The other would be for a new computer as mine is about eight years old and runs very slow. I use my home computer to write, which is my passion.

Is it difficult to pay your bills every month?

I juggle my bills the best that I can. In my company we are paid every two weeks. One of my paychecks doesn't even cover my rent, so I have to take some money from the other check to supplement my rent. My other bills tend to suffer due to this. I have borrowed from my life insurance and 401(k) to try to make ends meet.

What kind of debt do you have, and do you find it hard to pay off your loans or other debts?

I have credit card bills, a student loan for my son's school and medical bills. I am constantly struggling and juggling to pay all of these debts. I am only able to pay a little over the minimum payments on credit cards. As I depend on them more often now, my balances are higher, as are the minimum payments.

What are you most proud of in terms of your financial situation?

I am proud that in spite of all of this financial torture, I still have a good credit score. I am also proud that I was able to raise two wonderful children, provide for them and give them a good home and education. As a widow, it has been a real challenge as my late husband was killed in an auto accident 20 years ago this December.

Will the upcoming holidays add to your financial burdens?

Yes, it will add to my burden, but what is more important than spending the holidays with friends and family? … I am very lucky to have wonderful friends and family who aren't materialistic, so gifts are more on the sentimental side than expensive. Aside from gifts, there is more food to buy and cookies to bake for the holiday celebrations. In my family, we tend to share this expense and everyone brings something to the table, both literally and figuratively!

More on this series:

Click here to see previous stories in our "We are the median" series. We’re also sharing our thoughts — and yours — on Twitter (hashtag #median), Facebook and Google Plus. We invite you to comment on our posts — but keep it civil and on topic, please!

Finally, please share your story of what it’s like to be living on about $50,000 a year by clicking here to send me e-mail. We’ll feature some of your stories in future Life Inc. posts. 

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