Susanna Wilson at her sewing table.- Josh Rogosin/Marketplace
Susannaa shows off her dress label. She says she will never be able to retire due to her debt.- Josh Rogosin / Marketplace
Susanna Wilson subsists on Social Security checks, plus a one-day-a-week job at a local jewelry store that pays $12.50 an hour. In her spare time, she makes dresses for little girls.- Josh Rogosin / Marketplace
Susanna Wilson shows off a girl's dress that she made.- Josh Rogosin / Marketplace
Seventy-year-old Susanna Wilson stands in her kitchen at her home in Grass Valley, Calif.- Josh Rogosin / Marketplace
Susanna Wilson eats at her kitchen table. Her Social Security totals about $800 a month. A third of her monthly income goes towards fixing expenses like utilities, insurance and property taxes. She pays $300 toward her mortgage. And the rest of her income goes towards the monthly minimum payments on $9,000 in credit card debt, racked up over the years for daily living expenses.- Josh Rogosin / Marketplace
Being cautious in the face of opportunity
Tess Vigeland: Far and away, the story that drew the most reaction was our profile of 70-year-old Susanna Wilson, who basically saved nothing for her retirement years. Dozens of you wrote to us and posted on Facebook that you wanted to help and Wilson tells us she has been deluged by requests for the dresses she makes.
Susanna Wilson: Since the story aired, I've just had lots and lots of e-mails and lots and lots of phone calls about finding dresses. And I worried about how I was ever going to get any work done with all this going on. But I finally just calmed down and my friend said, "Come on! Just enjoy this." And so I am, I am enjoying it.
But if Wilson's original story was an abject lesson in preparing for the future, what's happened to her in the past week offers another one.
Financial planner Elizabeth Rutter Baer is back with us. We paired her with Wilson in last week's piece and they've been in touch since then. Thanks for joining us again.
Elizabeth Rutter Baer: Thanks very much Tess.
Vigeland: I suppose the very first thing we should do is acknowledge this is a wonderful thing to have happen for Susanna, all these offers of help.
Baer: Yes, with some limits on that. But yes.
Vigeland: Well, let's talk about those limits. I know that you and Susanna have had a back and forth about some cautionary tales you've shared with her. And my guess is that these are going to be fairly universal.
Baer: Well, I would think so. When people come to you with opportunities, you always want to take a jaundiced look to see who's getting paid and what's in it for everybody. She's getting phone calls and e-mails -- and some of them aren't very nice, as she would say. Some of them are pretty ugly, actually. But some of them are offering her opportunities, and my advice to her was, that we don't make any financial commitments, don't give anybody any money, don't put yourself in any kind of a liable situation until you can see what you're dealing with.
My biggest concern for Susanna, from the beginning, has been not current income. The issue is debt and getting out of it and getting onto a reasonable spending situation. And so, while there's opportunities for selling garments, these are short-term, small fixes to a long-term, larger problem.
Vigeland: And of course, we've all heard stories about how publicity for someone has, in turn, put them out of business, because they couldn't keep up with the demand for their product.
Vigeland: But then, they needed the publicity in order to get business.
Baer: That's why people have business plans. You really have to take a critical eye to what the potential is, maybe get an adviser. Many chambers of commerce have business advisers who sometimes don't charge to help somebody maybe start a small business and to get a business plan put together that's realistic. Things can sound wonderful when they're first presented by somebody who really has their own interest, perhaps, at heart, more than yours. So lots of research and homework before any commitments are made.
Vigeland: Beth Baer, thanks so much for joining us again.
Baer: Thank you Tess.
Vigeland: Elizabeth Rutter Baer is a certified financial planner in Lansing, Mich.