I Filed Bankruptcy. I Moved in With Mom. I Drive for Uber. It’s Not Enough

A tired woman in a car at night leans on her steering wheel.
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Dear Penny,

I am 44 and a full-time ride-share driver for Uber and Lyft. I live with my mother because I can’t afford to pay rent. I filed for bankruptcy almost a year ago to reorganize my finances, but I am underemployed and having a hard time finding a real job.

I barely make enough to pay my various recurring bills, from a car note and cell phone bill, to a payday advance.

Can you please help a damsel in distress?

Damsel in Distress,

Filing bankruptcy is a pretty brave move. It’s a huge opportunity to, as you said, reorganize your finances and give them a second chance.

But not enough people talk about the emotions involved: fear, shame and guilt are commonly part of this long process. And when it’s all over, you’re left grappling with those emotions as you try to rebuild your credit and work toward a healthier financial future.

I’m sure recovering from bankruptcy at the same time you’re experiencing underemployment doubles the amount of stress you’re feeling.

Ride-share driving is a reliable source of income for many, but it’s not as easy as turning on an app and raking in cash. The Rideshare Guy blog surveyed 863 Uber drivers last year and found that 32% of them make between $10 and $15 per hour before expenses. Another 25% said they make $15 to $20 per hour.

But those expenses can take a big chunk out of your earnings: Gas is sort of nonnegotiable if you’re driving, and ignored maintenance can leave you — and your passengers — in the lurch. Make sure you’re keeping receipts for your car expenses, tolls and mileage. It won’t help you weather the day-to-day expenses, but it will help you make the most of deductions when you file your annual tax return.

In the meantime, you might consider using an online tool to compare car insurance options to make sure you’re not overpaying. If your phone bill seems high, a bill negotiation service can ask for a discount for you — a huge help if you just don’t have the energy to talk to customer service.

Beyond individual bills, financial counseling may be able to help you get on a stronger footing. The Financial Clinic works with local organizations in 10 states to offer financial counseling to people who may not be eligible for public assistance but are still struggling to make ends meet.

You may also be able to contact the credit counseling service you used during your pre-bankruptcy process. If it doesn’t provide other financial counseling options, it may be able to refer you to a service that can.

If you get stuck as you seek resources, call the United Way. The organization runs the 211 resource hotline and website for people looking for assistance for all kinds of challenges. The programs vary by location. For instance, in Tampa Bay area of Florida, where The Penny Hoarder is located, there’s an adult emergency financial assistance program that offers temporary help to people struggling to pay their bills.  

As I mentioned, it takes energy to work toward financial recovery. Be kind to yourself, and remember that you can’t fix your finances or job outlook overnight. Don’t forget to celebrate small wins, like negotiating a bill or getting a job interview, as you focus on your larger goals.

The inbox is open. Submit a question or send your worries to [email protected], and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Disclaimer: Chosen questions and featured answers will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. I won’t be able to answer every single letter (I can only type so fast!). We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. Don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. I don’t have a psychology, accounting, finance or legal degree, so my advice is for general informational purposes only. I do, however, promise to give you honest advice based on my own insights and real-life experiences.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.