BenefitU logo - color.

How do I budget and save money?

Getting your records in order

An important step in managing your finances and your benefits is to get your records in order. This includes Social Security records; your financial records, such as bank statements and wage stubs; and personal records, such as information about your disability.

A woman putting together her records.

What records should I keep?

As an SSI recipient, you will receive a lot of letters from Social Security. You will also have personal and financial records which are important for your eligibility for benefits.

We recommend you keep these records. Social Security may request information about your past and current finances or about your disability. If you have this information organized and available, it will be easier for you to respond to their request. Also, if you ever have a problem with your benefits, you or a benefits planner can look at these records to understand your situation and plan next steps.

A thick stack of organized files.

Here are examples of records you will want to keep:

How do I organize this information?

You could put all your records in a box; however, it will be hard to sort through them later and find what you need.

Instead, you could:

Keep a notebook to write down conversations with Social Security and other events. A record of past conversations can help you if you appeal a Social Security decision. You can also use this template and store it in a binder or scan it to your computer.

Some notebook or folder names you could use to keep paperwork organized include:

A calendar flipping through the months.

How long should I hold on to records?

You should hold on to records for at least 7 years. We recommend not throwing away any records, if possible. Scanning documents to a computer is a way to manage a lot of paper records.

Budgeting

To create an accurate monthly budget, you will need to understand how income affects your SSI. You can find that information here. You should also understand when you can expect your SSI amount to change due to your income.

A man working on his laptop at his desk.

Social Security is at least two months behind

Social Security is usually two months behind when calculating your SSI cash benefit. This delay is called “retrospective budgeting.” When budgeting your monthly income, you will need to look at your income two months ago to know how much SSI you will get in the current month.

Tuma

Tuma has SSI. He received $800 gross wages in July. Tuma reports the wages at the beginning of the next month: August. Social Security does a calculation based on the wages and adjusts Tuma’s SSI in September. Tuma’s SSI benefit in September is based on his gross wages in July.

A young man smiling with his arms crossed.
A barista working behind the counter.

Changes in your work

When you start a job and receive your first paychecks, you will report your wages to Social Security. It will take two months for your SSI to be reduced, based on your gross wages. For those two months, you will receive earnings and a full SSI check.

You may want to set some of that money aside in a savings account, ABLE, or Trust as a safety net, in case your job ends, or your hours are reduced later.

If you stop working or reduce your work hours, you will lose income from your job. It will also take Social Security two months to catch up and give you the correct SSI cash amount. If you have savings, it can help you during those two months when you have reduced wages and a smaller SSI benefit.

My SSI is not the amount I think it should be

The SSI cash benefit is supposed to go up and down each month as income goes up and down.

In practice, this does not always happen.

When Social Security estimates income or makes a mistake, they will catch up later and figure out the correct SSI amounts you should have received. They may find that they owe you money, or they may want money back (overpayment).

If you think your SSI amount is not being calculated correctly, you should reach out to Social Security and make sure they are using your actual income information.

When you help Social Security have the correct information, you will have fewer surprises, like overpayment notices.

Saving Money

Understanding Resource Limits

To be eligible for SSI, you are limited in the “resources” you can have. For individuals, the resource limit is $2,000. If both spouses of a married couple receive SSI, the couple has a $3,000 resource limit.

A resource is more than just savings. It includes cash, bank accounts, stocks, 401k funds if you can access the money, and certain things you own which could be sold and changed to cash to help pay for your food and shelter. (Some household goods, like furniture, and personal effects, like a wedding ring, are not considered resources.)

Your resources are looked at on the first day of each month. If you have over $2,000 in resources on the first moment of the first day of the month, you will not be eligible for SSI for that month.

An Asian couple smiling together.
A young woman in casual country clothing.

Kawtar

Kawtar received a bonus on January 24th, which increased her total cash-on-hand to $2,250. Kawtar purchased a dining room table on January 30th for $450, bringing her total resources down to $1,800. On February 1st, her resources are below $2,000, so she is eligible for a cash benefit for the month. When Kawtar went over the resource limit, it happened in the middle of the month, not on the first day. Her SSI was not affected.

If you work and receive a paycheck every two weeks, sometimes you will be paid near or on the first day of the month. You will need to prepare for these situations, so that when you receive the paycheck, it does not put you over the resource limit on the 1st day of the month.

What things do not count as a resource?

There are things you may own or may want to buy that do not count as a resource. Some of these include:

Buying items which do not count as a resource is one way of planning for your future without risking your SSI. For example, if you want to bring your resource below $2,000, you could buy a burial space (worth $1,500 or less). While you may not need a burial space for many years, investing in one now allows you to plan for your future and maintain your SSI.

A young person in a wheelchair while at home.

Is there any way to save money beyond these limits?

Yes! There are a few ways you can save money, and that money will not count as a resource for the SSI program. Each of these programs has its own rules, advantages, and limitations.

You can use some or all these saving programs at the same time. By using more than one savings plan, you will have more flexibility in how you save and manage your money.

With each of these, it is important to keep good records. Social Security may want to see these records to make sure you are following their rules.

1. Achieving a Better Life
   Experience (ABLE)

A Washington State ABLE Savings Plan allows people with disabilities to save for their everyday needs and prepare for their future.

To be eligible, your disability must have started before age 26. (This will change to age 46 in 2026.)

In 2024, you can deposit up to $18,000 in an ABLE account, plus $14,580 if you are working.

2. A Special Needs Trust

A special needs trust is a legal arrangement. Money held in a trust can help pay for your needs and services (such as recreation, therapy, and clothing) which are not covered by other benefits.

You can have a first-party (self-settled) trust, where only you contribute money, or a third-party trust, where anyone but you can contribute. You can have both at the same time.

If you have a developmental disability, you or your family may be eligible for the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Endowment Trust Fund. This pooled Special Needs Trust offers certain advantages and may cost less to set up than if you use an attorney. It is managed by the Arc of Washington State.

3. Plan to Achieve Self-Support
    (PASS)

A PASS is a Social Security Work Incentive. With PASS, you write a plan which describes a work goal, all the steps it will take to reach your work goal, and the services and items you need to get there successfully.

If your plan is approved, you can set aside resources and income to pay for those things you described in your PASS. Money set aside for PASS expenses does not count as a resource.

PASS does not work for people who have SSI but do not have other income or resources.

4. Property Essential to Self-Support
    (PESS)

PESS is a work incentive where you can own items you need for work, and those items will not count as a resource.

If you are self-employed, PESS also allows some people to have money in a business account, and that money will not count as a resource. This only applies if your business is structured in a certain way.

We recommend you speak with a benefits planner to understand more about PESS.

Do you have questions about your benefits?

Scroll to Top