Sometimes I wonder if financial planners are out of touch with reality. Because I have read so many articles in magazines, online, heard it on the news—the best ways to invest, to save money, to cut back. Now I know they’re educated, I know they’ve been trained in what to say, and most of them have a good deal of experience, but I’m sick of reading the same old things.
The one that bothers me the most is: put money into savings first, and then pay off debts. That makes no sense to me. Why should we let debts add up, along with their ugly interest rates, and not eliminate them as quickly as possible? The same thing applies to their advice about mortgages (the biggest debt of all, right?). They always say to save money in Roth IRAs, 401Ks, or other retirement accounts, and then save six months’ salary, before paying extra on the mortgage.
I get the retirement thing, I do. I realize how important that savings is, and how quickly it will disappear having seen many of my grandparents’ generation foot the exorbitant bills in assisted living homes. What I don’t understand is how the average family has enough money to sock away six months’ worth of living expenses. Really?
For us, that’s $3100 a month. We can barely pay our bills after I have money set aside for retirement, let alone SAVE money. And I mean it. We don’t have many debts other than our mortgage. Every year at this time we’ve piled up some debt on our credit card that we must use the tax return to pay off. The rest of our tax return goes into savings, but it quickly depletes in the ensuing months. Can we live a little, just a little, please?
I have figured this out time and again. It would take us, saving every remaining penny from our tax return, more than six years to save six months’ worth of living expenses. That is absurd. Are we supposed to stay locked at home, never take our kids swimming or roller-skating or on the inexpensive family-visit road trips our family takes, just to have this little safety net?
What makes more sense to me, and what I have seen both sets of grandparents and my parents do, is to pay extra on the mortgage. We may not be able to pay that much (only $50 for us right now), but I bet it will add up. The previous generations of my family may not have been highly educated financial planners, but they all paid their mortgages off early and reaped exemplary rewards from this: early retirement for one set, selling one house and paying cash for another for the other two sets. Doesn’t that make more sense than socking all your money away? Your home is the most accessible investment of all.
It’s not that I spend all my time reading financial advice from people I usually don’t agree with. But as a one-income family in a world of doubles, I’m a “frugalista” who’s always looking for another way to pinch pennies. The way I see it, I’ll stick with what I know we can afford, and what I have seen firsthand success with, rather than “investing” in the advice of strangers who seem to have no idea how anyone could actually live on what we live on. (Side note: the one time a financial planner did come to our house, he about shit his pants, after driving up in his Mercedes, when we told him we had no car payments. Is this really the person I need to be listening to?)