TO INSPIRE YOU to kick off a new financial you for 2016, I want to share two online exchanges I had recently.
First, there was a testimony: "In 2009, knowing we were [getting married] the following year, I told my fiance that we had to leave the wedding day with no debt, and I told him about your idea of various 'pots' of money," a reader wrote. "So we started the 'First of the Month Club,' in which we each put $100 in an envelope every month. At first he thought it was silly, but boy did he stop laughing when, on our wedding day, 12 months later, we had $2,400 in cash that was used for tips and other last-minute purchases, and we left our wedding reception with zero debt."
I was really impressed by what she wrote next: "We also waited 15 months to have a honeymoon, which I called the 'first anniversary-moon' because I heard you in my mind, saying we shouldn't have debt for that. So we saved up and paid off the credit card in full when the bill came. But why am I so grateful for your consistent hammering about savings? Just last month, we started a special savings account to save a little each month in preparation for when we will need a new car in two years to replace my husband's 2006 Accord."
She said her parents, both born during the Great Depression, instilled in her a useful financial mantra: "Save for retirement because no one else will do it for you."
She went on to write: "People used to laugh at me for living below my means and not having the latest and greatest whatever. But now, at 50, I'm not so scared about retirement. OK, I'm still scared, but not terrified. I love reading your columns and your chat because it reinforces to me that my parents were right."
With testimonies like that, I'm encouraged.
And speaking of encouragement, one reader needed some uplifting advice: "I'm very blessed. I'm on track with retirement savings. Emergency and life-happens funds are good to go, but I have more debt than you'd be happy about. I've paid off over $65,000 in student loans from law school. But I have another $50,000 to go. It just seems like, in the last year or so, expenses are just one after the next. I have a rental house as the result of a divorce, and that costs money. It feels like every social engagement is rather expensive. One wedding commitment alone in 2016 is going to cost over $1,000 between travel, lodging, gifts and related events. I'm not sure I have a question. I just need some encouragement."
Following is my response to the reader, but it can also help you handle an overwhelming financial situation.
Breathe. In slowly. Out slowly.
I'm sure a lot of the stress comes from you wanting to be done with the debt soon. The pressure you put on yourself can be a great motivator. But life has unexpected twists and turns, and they can slow down your debt repayment. And believe it or not, I don't want you to miss out on everything.
If you have an aggressive and realistic plan to pay off your debt, I'm OK with you going to the wedding (as long as you have the cash and would not be piling up the expenses on a credit card).
I recently talked to a stay-at-home mother at my church following service. She was also stressed out about student loans. She's got a newborn and two elementary-school-age children. She and her husband decided that she would home-school the kids. What I told her may shock you.
I said not to worry about the debt for now. I recommended that she just make the minimum payments because there isn't much left for a more aggressive plan since they are living on just one salary. It may take her 10 years before she can really go after that monkey on her back. And that's fine. She's got a more important priority right now.
That's not to give some of you permission to slow down on your debt plan. But I could see that she was extremely anxious and feeling guilty, and that's not what I want for you guys.
I want to push you, but I also recognize that you can only do what you can do. So if you have a plan, you got this.