DEAR BRUCE: Is there any way to know annual cost a year for a family of four? My husband thinks that a family of four could live off of $1,000 a month. I totally disagree. — Reader, via e-mail

DEAR BRUCE: Is there any way to know annual cost a year for a family of four? My husband thinks that a family of four could live off of $1,000 a month. I totally disagree. — Reader, via e-mail

DEAR READER: You ask a question with no definitive answer. There are people, as your husband says, who are living on $1,000 a month and surviving. There are others that are living on $200,000 a year and are barely getting by. It depends upon the standard of living to which you have become accustomed. The more important thing is to live within your means — don't use your credit cards for things you can't afford and for that fast food stop. But you shouldn't live at the poverty level when that isn't necessary. I wish I had a more definitive answer, but there really is none. Lifestyle is a very important part of this equation.

DEAR BRUCE: We were forced into bankruptcy last year because my husband lost his job. We were lucky that he was able to find another job but not before we had to file. Are we ever going to be able to get credit again? We always paid our bills on time, and this is just killing us. Is there anything we can do to improve matters and once again become respectable in the near future? — Sarah, via e-mail

DEAR SARAH: There is life after bankruptcy; however, it is difficult to get back into the mainstream of credit. One of the things I've discussed in past columns is the collateralized credit card. This means you put up a certain amount of money with a bank just for the card and you are given credit in that amount. It takes only a matter of minutes to tear down a credit reputation and sometimes years to build one up, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. I think the very first thing you ought to consider is the collateralized credit card. Obviously, you're not a credit abuser, so it's not necessary to go through the litany of what to do and what not to do. It will be slow but very certain, and let me reiterate, there is nothing that you have said in your letter to lead me to believe that you are not completely respectable today.

DEAR BRUCE: I have read your columns for years and have followed you on the radio since your days with Talknet. I have some old stocks from the 1950s that belonged to my parents and have no idea if these have any value anymore. Is there some way to find out what these are worth? — P.R., Illinois

DEAR P.R.: If you have access to a computer you can search out the companies to see if they are even in business anymore. You can also go to the Securities and Exchange Commission Web site www.sec.gov/answers/oldcer.htm for additional help. If you don't have access to a computer, here are some companies that you can contact to see whether your stocks have any value: Scripophily at 888-786-2576 or Financial Stock Guide Services at 800-367-3441. They will be glad to help you.

Send your questions to: Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, FL 34680. E-mail to: bruce@brucewilliams.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.