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Gail Vaz -Oxlade personal finance guru
Gail Vaz -Oxlade personal finance guru

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I am 56 yrs. old, divorced for 4 yrs and receiving spousal support after 33 yrs. of marriage and being a stay at home mom. I have 3 grown children all independent and in university. In 2004, once the kids were launched, I went back to University and graduated 2 yrs ago with a Masters degree in a field with excellent job opportunities. However, due to the recession, I have been laid off and am now unemployed!

I have no savings, no RRSPs, rent a home (with a low rent), have just paid off all my university costs and have little debt. This summer I will receive an inheritance of approx. $150,000.00. My dream is to buy a small home and try to pay it off in 10 years, (a challenge in Vancouver's overinflated real estate market). I am afraid that my mounting uncertainty and panic (my new career was supposed to be the answer to my worries) will cause me to take a wrong turn while planning my financial future...and I am running out of time. What do you recommend for late starters like me? Is it too late? The more I learn the more paralyzed I feel.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Cecilia, late bloomer or early bloomer, it is only important that you have bloomed! Good for you for getting debt free too. You're doing well, and now it's important not to panic. I'm not sure what you career is, but the first question I would ask is this: Are your skills portable? If you can find another place in the country to work, then you can put those skills you've worked so hard for into high gear. As for you $150K inheritance, that won't go far in the real estate market you're currently in, but may take you a nice long way to mortgage-free in another location. I know that the ties that bind are often tight when it comes to staying where we've rooted, but you might want to consider the options available in another location.

If relocation is out of the question, I would strong recommend you get yourself a first-class financial advisor and let him or her help you decide how best to invest that money for your retirement. Since you do not currently have a job, you can't get a mortgage. If you are hell-bent on home ownership, then the only other thing I might suggest is that you find two or three like-minded people who you could share your home with - yes, roomies - and use the income from them to pay down your mortgage as fast as possible. (At least one of them should be handy with a screwdriver!) Good luck.

Helen writes: I have watched your show frequently and enjoy it very much. One situation that I have not seen you discuss on your show, is how to make a decision when one partner in a marriage wants to go back to school. I am in the situation where my husband (51 years) wants to go to grad school to pursue a degree that he started 16 years ago and never completed. He was laid off from his job in Decmber 2008 and still has not found a new job. So he is thinking seriously of going back to school. He currently has a BSc degree, one university level certificate and 2 advanced diplomas from a community college. He has also started taking courses in different college level programs. With all of these qualifications, he has not been able to get a good career job.

My question is, how can we balance out his desire to pursue a graduate degree against the working time left (I'm 55), the costs of returning to school (school costs, lost wages and lost pension contributions), and the risk of not being able to get a job when completed (especially if he is 2 or 3 years older).

We own our own home (still with a pretty big mortgage), have no debt. I have a some investments in RRSPs and will get a small work pension when I retire. My husband has very little in terms of retirement savings and, so far, no work pension accummulated. I would appreciate your advice on this. On the one had I would like to support him in returning to school to fulfill his dream. On the other hand, I am very concerned about paying off the house before retirment and saving enough in order to have a decent retirement and to move to BC where housing is very expensive but where all of our children and their families live. Thanks for your advice on this.

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