Living Debt Free

Living Debt Free
Where do you stand in the whole retirement scheme? Are you already retired, close to retirement, or is retirement a distant glow on a faraway horizon? I am hoping I am only ten years away from retirement. Whether I retire at age 65 will depend in large part upon what the Federal Government does over the next ten years. Given the current economic nightmare we live with, our senators and representatives in Washington are trying to find ways to reduce the nation’s debt. Unfortunately, I do not think seniors will be immune from the pinch when taxes are raised and other cost-saving measures being batted around Congress take effect. Talk of raising the retirement age has been another possible solution offered.

For me, I know several things are going to have to happen before I can retire. The first and most important is being debt free. I have paid off all but one of my debts and am blasting away at the last one like a jackhammer on concrete. The second most important thing is ramping up my 401(k) savings. At age 55, you might think it’s too late to do anything about these things. However, ten years is a considerable amount of time if I stick to my plan. The main reason I am so far behind in my retirement planning is that I was a single parent, raising two children by myself from the time the children were 8 and 10 years old. The child support I received was laughable and in no way covered the living expenses of two children. I continued to support my children even after they turned 18 as neither was in a position to live independently (although I tried to prepare them). With most of my money funneled to children for a good portion of my life, very little was added to my 401(k). I did contribute, just not as much as I should have contributed. The reason I still have debt is that I chose to get my Bachelor’s degree. I started college at age 46 and graduated at the age of 50. In order to obtain my degree, I had to rely on student loans for my tuition. Student loans are not the kind of debt you want at my age, although I have made significant progress in paying them down.

So, for all of you who are wondering if you’ll ever be able to retire, or if you are the child of a senior wondering if you will ever be able to retire, I’d like to pass on a few tips. If you can learn from my experiences, maybe you will be in a better position financially.

1. Any good parent wants to take care of his or her child. However, beyond age 18, you really need to weigh your choices carefully. Once your children are grown, you’ve done your job. Now, you need to take care of yourself. My significant other and I have done our share of helping our children financially beyond age 18. However, we are now focused on saving as much money as we can for our retirement so we will not be a burden to our children. If Social Security does not exist in the future, will you be able to support yourself? I don’t know if “no Social Security” will be a reality, but it is a scenario I do not want to guess about. I want to be able to afford my healthcare and living expenses. If you do not have a retirement savings, why? Put every available dollar you have into an IRA or any other retirement saving mechanism to which you have access. Also, encourage your children to start saving for their retirement.

2. By the time you decide to retire, you should be debt free. Debt-free includes no mortgage, no car payments, no credit card balances--you should have no outstanding debts. Once you retire, your income will be limited. If you have no retirement savings, your income will be VERY limited. If you go into retirement carrying debt, chances are good that you will never be debt free. Your available funds will shrink and you will probably only be able to make minimum payments. If you are unable to make extra payments against the principal of the debt, you will be stuck treading water. Make every sacrifice you can to shed the debt. Evaluate your debt and start with the one charging the highest interest rate. Once you get rid of that one, move on to the next until you have all debt wiped out.

3. Seek the advice of a financial advisor. I don’t know about you, but managing money does not come easy for me. I received no education from my parents on managing money, nor did I receive any instruction in school. A trusted financial advisor has the necessary education to look at your financial picture and tell you how to plan effectively. Even if you’ve already retired, a financial advisor can still be a significant help for you. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a financial advisor, then learn everything you can about investments, the stock market, saving options, and taxes. Do-it-yourself finances are not an option for me, but maybe DIY is something that appeals to you.

4. Don’t ever think it’s too late. Giving up and giving in to hopelessness is not the answer. No matter how old you are and no matter what kind of work you do, you can still plan for your financial future. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Find a way out that works best for you and gives you the most peace of mind. You can be financially solvent no matter your age.

Living debt-free may seem a daunting fete. However, setting your goals and staying the course will reap the rewards you seek.

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