A few years ago, my husband, Earl, surprised me for my 40th birthday. He offered to take me anywhere in the world — no expense spared. The gesture was sweet. I’d long had my heart set on a romantic vacation in the South Pacific. Yet all of a sudden, presented with the chance to go, I got cold feet.
There was a time when I would've jumped at the offer. But being a bit older and I like to think a bit wiser, I couldn’t justify spending many thousands of dollars on a trip to Bora Bora. Not with three children, a mortgage and a pile of other bills staring me in the face. All I kept thinking was, "This money would be better spent invested in my kids' college funds or in my own retirement account."
While I didn't make it to the South Pacific, I also didn't rack up credit card debt. Not again, at least. You see, I’d been married before — Earl is my second husband — and lived through the experience of going into debt. Deep into debt, in fact.
A decade ago, I owed $100,000 on my credit cards before I turned around my financial life and paid off the debt in just three years. Ever since, I’ve been on a bit of a crusade, teaching others about the pitfalls of excessive borrowing and about personal finances in general. That's how The Money Coach was born.
I’ve tried to help others as a journalist, working for The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, as a financial blogger and as a commentator on radio and television. I've even shared my story with Oprah and Dr. Phil. I've also written several books, including Zero Debt, that aim to educate people about managing money wisely.
Now, I’m thrilled to have the chance to share with AARP my experiences about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to obtaining financial peace of mind. Believe me, my husband and I are dealing with many of the same issues as you are. We're paying ridiculously high health care costs (health insurance is our biggest expense after our mortgage), pondering our own retirement and worrying about aging loved ones (our parents are in their late 60s and early 70s, and Earl’s grandmother is in her 90s).
I’ve learned from first-hand experience that while setbacks such as divorce and downsizing have huge economic implications, they don’t have to be financial deathblows. In the coming months, you’ll be able to read online advice columns such as this one and watch my new Web video series, The Money Minute. I'll answer your questions about everything from budgeting and investing to estate planning and retirement.
I'll be talking about the issues that matter most to anyone 50-plus who wants to thrive financially, not just make ends meet. Most of you won't be surprised by the fact that Americans 65 and older who are carrying a credit card balance owe an average of $10,235. Or that people 55 and older are in the age group most likely to file for bankruptcy protection. These sobering statistics speak volumes about why we all need to do a better job of safeguarding our finances.
Bora Bora may not be on your bucket list. But in due time, and with proper financial planning, we can all reach our personal goals, whether you aspire to have a comfortable retirement or just want to take that vacation of your dreams.