Can I buy a future for myself?
November 20, 2016 3:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm middle aged, and I seem to be unemployable. But I have some money. Not enough to live off for the rest of my life, but surely enough to start a business. How do I invest €250 000 in a (low-risk) way that provides me with a job and a modest but steady income? I live in an affluent EU country.

The question basically stands as it is, but here's the long form for those who want more detail:

I'm basically a fuck up with an inheritance. Never could get a career together, partly due to issues like severe anxiety and chronic depression (nowadays manageable but for the occasional flare-up), partly due to life choices. For most of my adult life, I've been a homemaker with a few artsy or crafty side gigs (none of which are reliably profitable). Now that my marriage seems to be breaking down, I'm trying to come up with a plan. Any plan.

I have a graduate degree in WTF Why Would You Major In That?! and a bachelors in LowPay and NoVacanties, both from many years ago, and my job search has demonstrated I'm not exactly a hot commodity on the market, what with my laughable work history at age 45. I suppose I could eventually find an entry level job in retail or something similar, and if all else fails, I will. (I used to work in retail a lot when I was young. It's bad for my anxiety and depression, but then again, so is not being able to put food on the table.)

As to my capital: this is money I inherited decades ago, and it is now invested in various ways that generate an income of about €400 a month. I also own (as in, paid for) half of the very modest house we live in. If I liquidate everything and use a chunk to buy an apartment for myself and the kids, I would probably end up with a leftover of €250 000, maybe even €300 000. (Spousal alimony isn't a thing where we live, although my ex will continue to provide for the kids as much as is needed.)

What do I do with the money? What can I do? I'm pretty terrified of everything at the moment - what if I put the money into something and fail? I don't have much of a head for business, to be frank. Maybe starting one would be a bad idea.

But if I did, what could it be? I'm not dreaming of sipping daiquiris on a yacht while my minions work. I would love for my investment to provide me with a day job and enough of an income to get by.

I live in a lively, large city. I don't have any particular skills or hobbies I could turn into gainful work (I mean, I'm not going to be able to earn a living with home cooking, podcasting and macrame).

Any advice would be much appreciated.
posted by kattebjorn to Work & Money (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The short answer to your question is no.

As a business owner myself, I can't say this strongly enough: hold on to your savings and find yourself a job, any job, that will provide you with a steady income while you figure out what to do with the rest of your life. The recent upheavals in your life, the lack of family support, the fact that you don't have a head for business, the anxiety: these are all recipes for disaster.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:25 AM on November 20, 2016 [36 favorites]

Funny, as a business owner I would have said yes.

The key thing to running your own business seems to be temperament, in some ways. Whether or not you are that type of person, who throws yourself at unexpected challenges that you don't fully understand, who tackles things they don't know how to do with a certain amount of confidence in their own self-efficacy. That self-efficacy doesn't have to be general, or even come from a good place; for me, at first, it was pretty much the terror of knowing I had to get it right.

But then also maybe I got lucky. No, I definitely got lucky. I think anyone who supports themselves this way has gotten lucky, at some juncture.

There's no magic bullet for type of business you could open or what have you than would result in security. You'd have to do the work, which would be scary, for every possible future you might build that way.

And right now you're scared. Can you stay scared, and use that fear? If starting a business would be an attempt to avoid fear and danger, then don't do it--you won't get that out of it.

But also...idk. You seem to be in a time of upheaval, right when you have the least amount of confidence in yourself. You don't have to figure this all out at once. You could take that entry level job and use it to figure out where your strengths lay, where your weaknesses are, and thus what type of thing is sustainable to you long term. Use it to learn about yourself and business. Use it to get ideas. It might make the whole thing less depressing and anxious if there's this learning purpose to it.

It seems like no matter what, you're going to change and learn a lot. I'd suggest taking steps to make that learning and that change things that you do for yourself, rather than things that are done to you. And then you go from there.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:42 AM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you should take a small amount of money and get some job training. Coding boot camp or medical assistant, secretarial, dental assistant, nursing school, etc. Or try to get a temp job in an office where you could eventually move up - so excel skills, word, office, typing, etc. Or get a teaching certificate and start out as a substitute teacher. You have two degrees. You're not a fuckup - you just need a skill set and you can get that. If you think of it like that, it takes the emotional baggage out of the picture.
posted by gt2 at 4:58 AM on November 20, 2016 [19 favorites]

This depends a lot on your location, but if you were ME in MY location, I could buy a two-family house with that money outright and use rental income from the second unit to pay all my taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, etc. and there would likely be some left over. I'd make up the rest with your aforementioned artsy side gigs or a part-time job.
posted by metasarah at 5:03 AM on November 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

i came here to say exactly what metasarah said. find a community with a lower cost of living (and especially lower cost of housing) than where you are now.

if you are not able to work due to disability such as anxiety and chronic depression, are you entitled to any kind of benefits? the house can be owned in the name of an LLC, or held by a trust benefiting you and your children, if having assets in your name would interfere with benefits you are otherwise qualified for.
posted by zdravo at 5:25 AM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing that owning your own business is a stressful endeavor. It is also very risky if you don't have experience and a business sense. I vote you invest the money some low risk mutual funds and use it to buffer times when you cannot find work.
posted by Kalmya at 5:59 AM on November 20, 2016

Thank you for your thoughtful answers. I promise this won't become a back and forth, just a few clarifications before I shut up:

I would really love to WORK. My children are older (they'll be leaving home in a few years) and don't need a full time parent anymore. So as to living off rental income, I'm not so sure. In this city, the extra money I'd have available would buy a modest one family condo. Rental income is, to my understanding, also heavily taxed here. Rental property may be a slightly better way to invest my money than the current scheme, but it may not be enough to provide a living here.

Please note that I have been looking for work, unsuccesfully. I haven't even been able to find temp work. I was hoping to avoid moving my search towards unskilled labor. The job market is not very dynamic atm, and I have the impediments of age, no relevant recent experience, and non-native language skills. But the 'any job I can find' option is definitely on the cards, I was just hoping to find a way to use my good fortune to come up with something I could feel more hopeful about.

I don't need to save this money for retirement or future medical expenses. I'm afraid to waste it, because who wants to blow the only chance they have and end up in this exact same spot, only penniless.

It seemed to me like there's gotta be a better alternative than to work as a middle aged shop girl while sitting on bags of money. But maybe there isn't, at least for someone like me.
posted by kattebjorn at 6:31 AM on November 20, 2016

Could you relocate to someplace with a better job market where your language skills aren't a barrier?
posted by shiny blue object at 6:46 AM on November 20, 2016

Sorry, one more thing since I overlooked this:

find a community with a lower cost of living (and especially lower cost of housing) than where you are now

I would hate to disrupt my kids' lives and education, besides there's a good chance they would in that case choose to stay here with their father. Relocating is something I may end up doing, but only after they've flown the nest. That will take a few more years.
posted by kattebjorn at 6:53 AM on November 20, 2016

Move somewhere cheaper! The worst thing people do -- well, among the long list of bad financial things people do -- is live in high-cost places when or after they or their spouse aren't able to earn the high-incomes that those places offer some people.
posted by MattD at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a pretty neat psychology interview you can take called The Strong Inventory. It's available online or through university career centres but requires an after-questionnaire interview with the psychologist who scored the quiz. I found the one I did very helpful because of the top 12 jobs, I'd been happy in half of them, and it made it clear that I was happier in research and analysis than I thought. It compares your scores to the scores of people who've been working in a job for five years or more and love their job, to see how closely you align with their answers.

I'm in the same position, and I wouldn't do a business because of the burn-through rate - a new business can easily take 1-3 years to go profitable. I'm going back to university for a degree in a field I love that has good career prospects, and using the money to pay for a house that I could subsidise with room-mates if needed (AirBnB? depending on your city's tourism and the type of adorable house you buy and location, AirBnB can bring in a decent side income.) with the money as back-up so I only have to freelance part-time during school.

Have you thought of freelancing instead of a business? That's something that you can scale up with funds as well. If you're good at teaching, start tutoring and giving classes. If you're good at writing, start editing and writing short pieces for local trades. If you know the area well, can you be a tour-guide to visitors from your home country? Can you be a freelance PA online for people in other countries so you're working in a different job market? A friend here in Singapore works for Canadian companies mainly, remotely.

Basically - do a bunch of small side jobs without sinking assets into them, and see which ones take off, then slowly start putting resources into them. Spread your risk and try lots of different things - pet walking, tutoring, catering, at-home childcare - whatever specific skills you have that are esoteric and possibly saleable. (I can do book design and editing by accident - from working on home and volunteer projects). Bootstrap! Keep your capital until you have something you know for sure you love and is worth putting in some serious money.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Don't sell your house.

I think you should take an evidence based approach to entrepreneurship - *heavily* research small business ideas, find a niche you can realistically fill, and look for a business partner with whom you could share responsibilities (network like a beast).

At least where I live, there are programs and workshops (some run by the government, some by independent organizations - even TD Bank has a few things going on) for would-be entrepreneurs to help them research, come up with business plans, put them in touch with investors, etc. (And on that score, the fact that you have your own $ to put in would put you in a great position to find a match. Just make it the *best* idea you can come up with.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:38 AM on November 20, 2016

I also think you might surprise yourself with what you could do, if you tested it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:45 AM on November 20, 2016

Use the money as deposits on 2-3 rental investments and pay the mortgages on them with the rent income. Looking after the apartments, finding tenants, and furnishing and repairs etc is an occupation in itself. So long as you buy in a growing city, your investment will appreciate (in the long term 10+ years if not sooner), and if you need to make the capital liquid again at any point, you can sell up fully or partially (something you probably can't do with a business).
posted by Coda Tronca at 8:47 AM on November 20, 2016

What about something to do with childcare? You say you've been raising kids so you definitely have skills in that department. Maybe you could look into whatever licenses or whatnot you need in your location to do that sort of thing? I'm not sure I'd start my own care center in your position but you could first see if you could find a position elsewhere.
posted by FireFountain at 9:20 AM on November 20, 2016

I think that to decide whether to take a given risk, it's worth working through different scenarios that could result and evaluating whether they would be acceptable outcomes. It's possible that an outcome that would be disastrous now would be less problematic at a later point.

That said, I don't think starting a business would be the best idea right now if you're looking for something fairly stable and low-stress, unless you have some experience in business and in whatever niche you'd choose. If you like the idea of starting one, I'd try to get either paid or volunteer work at a small business; probably look for classes on accounting, relevant regulations, etc.; and gather much more information about what it takes to start a business, evaluate a business plan, get a loan, and so forth. You could check to see if there are any volunteer or government-run organizations to help people get the knowledge they need and be able to make more educated evaluations of their plans.

If you're not set on starting a business, though, I agree with the suggestion above to get training in some field with good job prospects. Your country probably publishes statistics about this, and you could also talk with well-respected programs (that you don't think are going to tell you whatever it takes for you to enroll with them) about their success placing graduates at your age, the pay scale you could expect, and their opinion on future job security.

There are also other alternatives besides retail. If you enjoy working with children, there are a lot of options both as an employee and self-employed, and you've certainly got experience and could get some training to differentiate yourself and command higher pay. You could tutor in your native language, or in something related to the field you studied. You could charge to cook a week's worth of meals for people at their home, or teach technology skills to people who are intimidated by it all and would love to learn from someone who's not a young whippersnapper. You could develop a program to teach podcasting, whether at schools, businesses, or retirement homes, or offer a service where you conduct interviews on good equipment, edit the audio, and present it in a way that seems more useful or professional than what the people paying you could do for themselves. Or, if you do want to try retail, you might look for small shops that sell things you're knowledgeable and excited about (like equipment for your hobbies), which might make it more enjoyable and more successful for you, and give you some insight as to how the business is run.

(A lot of the suggestions in the last paragraph have some of the same drawbacks as starting a business, like uncertain and potentially uneven income; a need to find, maintain, and interact with clients, etc. A difference is that they have low overhead. Another objection to them is that they might not seem high-status (childcare, or any other type of care work, especially); my own feeling is that doing work that you feel is tangibly helping people gives a lot of satisfaction.)

Again, I'd go for training in some vocation with excellent prospects. But if that doesn't appeal, there are a lot of options between retail and putting all your savings into a business.

(Caveats: I have never run a business, get stressed out by paperwork, and have low tolerance for high risk.)

(Also, I'd like to second that multiple degrees and raising kids is not even close to what it takes to be a fuckup.)
posted by trig at 9:30 AM on November 20, 2016

Can you focus on overcoming the language barrier? That is going to be your biggest problem in finding somewhat skilled work. Unless you are very skilled in an area where there is a skills shortage people won't be willing to hire you and make everybody else work harder (by making them speak English) to work with you. So do whatever you have to do to become fluent.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2016

Volunteer work is a good way to get some experience and make connections!

It's one of the things I am doing after a mid-life career change.
posted by Melsky at 11:11 AM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a business owner and a business consultant, I can say that starting your own business when you don't know what you're doing is one of the easiest ways to lose a lot of money quickly. Please don't do that.

Work on your language skills and do some job training in whatever career your area has the most need of. Does your graduate degree mean you're allowed to teach? Substitute teach? Tutor?
posted by ananci at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

You mention non-native language skills--is there a market in your region for tutoring, proofreading, copyediting, or even translation in your native language? Even if there isn't a large market, is there a university in your area where students study your native language? Tutoring and proofreading written work might be something to consider. How well you'd be able to support yourself with this kind of work is going to depend a lot on the market for your language in your area, but it's worth looking into.

If your native language is English, look up TESL, TEFL, or CELTA certifications. These are all relatively short programs which result in certification as a teacher of English as a second- or foreign- language. With a certification like this it might be possible to find work in a language school setting.
posted by snorkmaiden at 4:47 PM on November 20, 2016

Go to where you want to work and tell them you would like to intern for them for free for a while. Make friends. They'll offer you a job after a year or so. This works.
posted by xammerboy at 8:55 PM on November 20, 2016

I think it'd be a far more sensible and much more bounded use of your capital to spend it on firstly, yourself (in the form of therapy) and, following that, your career (in the form of training for whatever career you think is suitable, once you've got to know yourself).

Because I don't read this and see someone with no potential, I see someone who's frustrated they can't use their potential. If you know who you are, what you've got to offer and how to fit a job to that, you'll be in a good position for an employer. This is what therapy can offer you. Quite possibly you'll need training once you've worked out who you are, whether radiographer, programmer or teacher (or possibly small business owner). Use a fixed amount of your capital to provide for yourself while you do this.
posted by ambrosen at 10:50 PM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

This money is already buying you a future: 400€ per month of future. You could end up spending it all, working 24/7, just to be earning 400€ per month.

If you don't know what business to start, just start with something that doesn't require a 300K€ investment up front. You'll see how it goes and learn from your experience.

I also want to second everyone else re: language and skills.

If you intend to stay in this country after the (probable?) divorce and children leaving the nest, please learn the language very well. It will help you build connections that you'll need in your future.

Also, if you're currently not working or spending too much time taking care of kids, you have plenty of time to invest in learning some skills. No job history, but fresh certification and an energetic, "back to work after being a SAHM" attitude (no need to bring up details) might look good to employers.
posted by gakiko at 5:06 AM on November 21, 2016

It sounds like your life and options may dramatically change when your kids finish school, only a few years away. I would consider holding onto the money until then if possible, to let you get a new start elsewhere. (Depending on how housing works in your area, it might make sense to rent rather than buy an apartment until then as well.)
posted by metasarah at 7:43 AM on November 21, 2016

No, do not blow all your money on a business you literally have no idea how to run.

First, get an entry level job. In retail if you have to. There's your stream of income. Retail, however gruelling, will certainly firm up your customer service skills, which you would need in order to run a business. But in any case, you need that stream of income before you can do anything else.

Enrol in an accounting course that gives you a certification at the end, and ideally one targeted for small businesses. You will then have the most fundamental skill required for running a business, should you ultimately choose to do so.

Probably by the time you've done your job for a while, and gotten your accounting certificate, you'll have some idea what kind of business you could start, if any.

At that point, you will probably want to start small. Do not sink your entire net worth into any business at any time. Instead, do something outside of your day job, and once you start making progress from that you can grow it further.

The most important skill you can learn is to stop seeing yourself as one big miasma of I Can't Do It, with a side order of Therefore I Should Probably Destroy Myself Because That's Just Me.

Because embedded in the miasma of I Can't Do It, Therefore Maybe I'll Destroy Myself you have done a very good and lucid job of breaking down the elements of your problem and listing them one by one. You applied that to the analysis, now do that with the action plan.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You're proposing to try to swallow it whole, despite knowing you can't do that. Instead, figure out whether to eat the ears first, or the tail.
posted by tel3path at 8:29 AM on November 21, 2016

Also, you need to get a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute and work through the exercises.

I don't know about the latest editions, but earlier editions placed a lot of importance on the Informational Interview. Many people have said they are annoyed by requests for informational interviews and, for that reason, I wouldn't risk it. I've met people for informational interviews and found them very time-consuming for me, with no obvious benefit for the other person. So I personally would really suggest that you NOT follow that part of the book's advice.

HOWEVER here you are on MeFi, I for one would be more than happy to MeMail with you about my job if you ever decide you want to know more about it. That probably goes for others too!

Apart from that, I think you'll find the exercises in the book very useful in terms of not being so dismissive of your own abilities, discovering what you're able to do and would reasonably like to do, and finding ways to word your applications. I follow their recipe for cover letters and - in the right markets - have a very high success rate that way.

I also recommend looking into government schemes in your country that exist to help women return to the competitive workforce. These may turn out to be very helpful to you, even if you're not sure you fit the profile.

2nding that volunteer work can be a good start.
posted by tel3path at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2016

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