Financial Fitness

Financial peace is where a paid-off home mortgage has replaced the BMW as the status symbol of choice. -Dave Ramsey

Being old and poor is much worse than being young and poor. If you make a mess of things while you are young, there is still time to make up for your mistakes. Seniors don’t have that luxury. As Tennessee Williams said, "You can be young without money but you can't be old without it."

In my youth, I overspent and got into debt. It was hell. But I recovered. Later, while still a young man, I took charge of a business that was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. In those days, the government didn't give other people's money to failing private enterprises. Of course they don't do it now, either, unless they decide you are "too big to fail." Climbing out of those holes was tough going, but it taught me valuable lessons about financial fitness.

The economist-lawyer-actor, Ben Stein, said the following, and I agree with him:

"I have been pondering what advice to give about money. What I keep coming up with is this: Do not act like typical Americans. Do not fail to save. Do not get yourself in debt up to your eyeballs. Work and take pride and honor from your work. Learn a useful skill that Americans really need, like law or plumbing or medicine or nursing . . . " —Ben Stein

Mr. Stein was offering solid advice to young adults. However, his smart thinking should apply to all of us at any age, particularly the part about "Do not get yourself in debt up to your eyeballs."

Yet many in government urge consumers (us) we need to spend more to get the economy going. Yes, I understand. But watch out. It was easy credit and buying things people really could not afford that had gotten so many in trouble. That is the opposite of financial fitness. Does anyone believe government will rescue them if they once again buy things they really cannot afford? Fat chance. Unless you are personally, in the eyes of government, "too big to fail" you had better . . .

Protect yourself

Here are six things that my years have taught me personally about financial fitness:

  • Live somewhat beneath your means and you’ll sleep well at night.
  • Beware of too many trappings bought mainly for appearance sake. My stepmother called it “putting on the dog.”
  • If you are an entrepreneur, invest in your business. Invest in things that will actually make it better, more competitive.
  • Always put a predetermined percentage of your income aside, some for growth and some for a rainy day. The earlier people begin this in life, the better off they will be later on. 
  • Never buy on time (credit) personal items that historically depreciate in value. Never, never, never. Save and pay cash.
  • Do not charge anything on a credit card that you cannot pay for in full when the first payment is due. If you are unable to discipline yourself, get rid of the credit cards.
  • One of the most satisfying feelings you will ever experience is being debt free.

I have found the following people to be honest and reliable financial fitness sources. Each may have a different approach to money management, but all offer solid financial information. I do not get paid or receive any compensation for recommending them.

Clark Howard: In my opinion, the best consumer advocate around.

Eric Tyson: A good book to have at hand is Tyson's Personal Finance for Seniors for Dummies. Whenever he updates the book, I get the latest edition.

Dave Ramsey: His books and radio program are strong medicine to cure money ills.

Bob Brinker: His long running "Money Talk" radio program is a good one for investment advice.

Of further interest to mature adults . . .

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