Life is so busy. It seems like we never have enough time for the important things like taking care of
the people and organizations we care about. There is the house payment, the second mortgage, a
car payment and repairs. Money is tight and credit cards help us make it month to month. Many Americans feel like they are being stretched from both sides; the bank and credit card company on
one end, and a job that doesn’t pay enough on the other. We take out a loan and treat ourselves to that ATV, or that vacation; after all, we deserve it as hard as we work. We will pay for it later.
Sound familiar? This has become standard operating procedure for too many families. The savings rate in America has been in the negative for the last 14 years. As a country we spend more than we make, we don’t save and we buy what we want on credit. This is the reason our economy is in this mess.
Folks are beginning to change. I was in the back yard grilling some chicken and I noticed my neighbor was grilling as well. “I’ve got chicken, what have you got?” I asked him. My neighbor, who is a butcher, said he was having chicken. He mentioned at the meat counter he had been cutting quite a bit more chicken lately and that he hadn’t seen beef in a while.
Consumers are changing their spending habits. The 14 years of negative savings rates was broken this year. Americans have started tightening their belts. Folks that grew up during the dirty 30’s remember what that feels like. They learned from their parents how to buckle down. As a country we have lost that skill. The vast majority have not been forced to be frugal to the extent that we see today. The economy has been a catalyst for change. Americans are being forced to make prudent financial decisions and it is a painful process.
We need to use this ‘opportunity’ to create a permanent change in our lives. Here are a few ideas that we must cling to if we want to avoid this mess in the future.
Don’t blow every dime. We have gotten accustomed to spending every penny that comes in. When the
paycheck hits the bank, it is already gone. Thank you credit cards! We need to get serious about being frugal, planning meals, clipping coupons, and resisting the urge to spend, spend, spend.
Stop digging! Who knew that you could dig your own grave with a tiny plastic shovel? Now is the time to cut up the credit cards and stop paying with plastic. Stop the debt fiesta. Be systematic and put everything extra you can toward your smallest credit card. Pay it off and move on to the next line of credit with a vengeance.
There is no easy road out of debt, no quick fix. Filing bankruptcy or pulling out of the 401k to pay debt off doesn’t fix the problem. Folks that do this destroy their retirement assets and don’t learn the lesson of being diligent. This is like posting your own bail and returning as a repeat offender.
It is said that if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. Put a plan on paper describing how you will get out of credit card debt and pick a date you hope to be debt free. Make it a priority and work at it with a passion. Once you slay the plastic beast, begin saving. Save enough that if the unexpected were to happen you would have a nice cushion to carry you. Once you have a savings get serious about getting closer to retirement. Pay off the house and save a hefty portion of your paycheck.
Hold yourself together man! Make sure that you are keeping your emotions in check. As Americans we like to do three things; keep up with the Jones’s, buy high and sell low, and live for today without planning ahead. Make it a point to avoid doing any of these things.
We see infomercials on television and advertisements showing beautiful, rich people drinking margaritas telling us how they bought a DVD set and now they make up to $100k per month. Someone in these ads is making money; it is the company selling the DVD set. Building wealth is not a get rich quick scheme. It is about doing the right thing consistently. It is about saving money where others wouldn’t think to. It is about communicating and working together with family and friends to save
money together. It is about making small, seemingly unimportant decisions every day to save instead of spending, to look for cheaper alternatives, and to stop owing the bank.
We see people every day that have made the decision to spend and rely on debt. They are retired and they have nice houses and nice cars, but they often have bags under their eyes because they are up at night worrying about their finances. On the other hand, we see clients who learned early on to make good decisions every day. They have debt paid off and they are living a great retirement, enjoying the fruits of their labor.
As we move out of the recession and there is no longer a catalyst pushing us to be frugal, some families will forget. They will go back to their old habits and spend until their wallet hurts. Others will remember these times and prepare. They will save and they will build a sustainable future for themselves and for our nation.