Living debt-free harder than it looks

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

I completed the Consumer Credit Counseling Services program a while back. A few years ago my bills got the better of me and started to drag me under. I reached out for a helping hand and CCCS grabbed it. When I was through I got a packet with a congratulatory certificate, a bunch of other stuff and a slide rule thingy.

The slide rule thingy was a handy-dandy retirement calculator. Position the thing over my age and it would show how much I need to set aside every week in order to have a nice nest egg at retirement. For instance, if I want to have $280,000 waiting for me at the finish line of my career I’d need to set aside $150 a week. Yeah, that ain’t happening.

I’ve always wanted to live debt-free and squirrel away some money for savings. But, life always seems to get in the way. The end result is my financial portfolio isn’t so hot.

I was introduced to the concept of saving money by my father. Actually it was my mother but my father liked to take credit for it. “Take the boy down to the bank and open an account with his birthday money,” my father said from behind his newspaper. My mom and I went down to the bank and opened a passbook savings account. That money sat there for a few years until I finally closed the account.

It was my brother who drove home the importance of saving and how to spend. “You need to save money,” he said. “Pay yourself first, 10 percent of your paycheck. Put it in savings or investments and don’t touch it. And live within your means, don’t go into debt for stuff you can’t afford.” I always try to follow that advice. Notice I used the word “try.”

One Christmas after I was first married, my parents paid off half of my credit card debt as a gift. Not long after that I came home to find my blushing bride in a state of merriment over all the stuff she bought at the local mall, purchases that ran our debt right back up to where it was before Christmas. “What are you so mad about,” she said. “I actually saved us money. All of this was on sale!”

There were a couple of bliss-filled months back in 1995 when I was debt-free. “Now,” I proclaimed, “We can begin saving for retirement.” But as fate would have it, life got in the way; a vehicle broke down, so did a refrigerator.

Having “big coin” tied up in mutual funds or stocks seems to be a lofty goal. I don’t know about this retirement thing anyway; I have a hunch I’ll keep working and working and working. But with a little luck, maybe I can nab one of those cushy greeter jobs at “Wally World.”

I’ll continue to try to save money for retirement. The Lady of the House tells me not to worry, by paying on the mortgage we’re actually working on having a home when that great retirement day comes. “And,” she points out, “we’re gonna have a really great garden.”

Maybe I won’t be retiring to the beaches of the Caribbean, reading great works of literature whilst lounging about in loose cotton clothing. But I will have a roof over my head and lots of zucchini.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: