Photo: Marc Royce
Q: My husband and I are currently paying off debts from overspending and a failed business. I'm so happy we are finally able to do this. But now that we're in better financial standing, I'm starting to get excited about shopping for new clothes, having some painting done around the house. These are the same kinds of ruinous thoughts I had before, and I'm nervous about how easy it would be to repeat our mistakes. My husband and I are in our late 50s and looking forward to working less than we do now. When do we get to enjoy spending money again?
A: I see this all the time: As soon as people dig themselves out of debt, they seem to develop amnesia about what it felt like while they were buried in it.
You can fight the urge to spend what you don't have by keeping your "ruinous thoughts" front and center in your mind. Those are your words, not mine, so listen to yourself. When you feel excited about shopping, stop and ask, "Will buying this item now be a mistake down the line?" I bet you know what qualifies as a mistake—credit card balances you can't pay off at the end of the month; spending money that should be set aside for an emergency; shortchanging your retirement accounts. When you focus on what you need to do to ensure your well-being (saving and investing) versus what you'd like to do (spend, spend, spend), making the right choices becomes easier.
I want both you and your husband to check with all past and present employers as well as Social Security (log on to SocialSecurity.gov/estimator) to see what retirement benefits you will be eligible for. Add up all your sources of income, then compare that figure to 150 percent of your living costs today. Why so much? The current rate of inflation is around 4 percent; over 10 years, that works out to costs that are 50 percent above their current levels. This exercise probably means you will find that you need to tuck away more money. If you want to buy something today, let it be your future security.
From the November 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine