By Marie Ardiito
Co-founder, Massachusetts Retirees United (www.retireesunited.org)
Many times over the years I have written about debt; in particular warning about credit card debt. Those who attend my Preparing for Retirement Seminars are often given a homework assignment that has to do with using credit cards that carry a balance. For their assignment, they must take a credit card out of their wallet, put it in a drawer, and keep it there until the balance is completely paid off, irrespective of how many years it takes. Once this is done, they can take it out and put it back into their wallet. If they should fall back into their bad habit and start carrying a balance again, they are told to perform what I like to call “plastic surgery” and to actually cut the physical card in half. Often, those in attendance laugh at this idea, and I am frankly not sure how many do the assignment. However, just as there are people who should not drink, smoke, or gamble, some cannot and should not have a credit card. They simply do not know how to use it.
Debt is a frame of mind. It is often learned early and, through the years, can become a way of life. It is a mindset in which a person does not learn such statements as, “I can’t afford it,” “I don’t need it,” “I don’t want it,” and “I’m content with what I have.” No matter when or how it arises, however, it is a serious problem that must be dealt with responsibly.
As someone who grew up with parents who lived through the Depression, frank statements about what we could and could not affford and what we did or did not need were often used without apology or embarrassment. I remember when I was going to give a big list to Santa one year because I thought gifts were free, my mother promptly told me that Santa sent a bill to my father at work for anything above a couple of items. The list was promptly discarded.
Things are so much more expensive today than years ago. One could buy a house for less than a car costs today. I remember articles being written when I was young about how many bags of groceries you could get for $5. You could fill your tank up with what one gallon of gas costs today. I remember thinking the last course I took before retiring for PDPs cost me more than my entire Master’s Degree program. As luxureis and even necessities become more expensive, debt has been rising as well. Many people spend as much as two years (if not more) paying off a two-week vacation that they initially put in a credit card. The problem can easily get out of control!
No matter how much you make or how much you are able to save, it is important to know how to budget for what you truly need and then how to decide what more you can truly afford. One of the first bills to pay is to yourself by saving. Even if it is just a few dollars a week, savin gnot only helps you budget and prepare for the fututre, it also teaches you the importance of doing it. There are numerous books and websites that can help you preapre your budget. No matter how you go about setting it up, however, the most important part of a budget is learning to live by it.
No matter how much you may have saved or spent in the past, you cannot afford to go into retirement in debt. Not only should you be debt free as you begin your retirement journey, but you should have at least six months worth of savings to cover all your monthly expenses. After all, you never know what may come up between now and when you retire and how expesnes may add up afterwards.
Should you wish to gather more advice concerning this topic, please come to one of our seminars. The information is free and will help you be free from debt.