Wealthy or Not: Live Debt-Free, Retire Rich

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LANCASTER, Pa. -- It's a brutal fact that only 25 percent of baby boomers will be able to afford retirement by age 65, and thousands of them turn 65 everyday.

One of the country's leading financial advisors is trying to make sure couples don't share that fate.

Rick Rodgers' financial counseling firm, Rodgers & Associates, occupies a humble, one-story abode in a middle-class neighborhood in Lancaster.

Its appearance reflects Rodgers' philosophy that people need to live and buy under their means.

Despite the unimpressive digs, Rodgers and his fellow counselors handle more than $800 million of their clients' assets.

They believe just about every couple could live a good life and have a good retirement by following just a few simple rules.

Spend Less than You Make

"Here is the secret to becoming financially independent -- spend less than what you make," Rodgers told CBN News.

"It's never how much money that you make. And if you're still thinking, 'If I just made more money, it would solve my financial problems,' you are on the wrong track," he added.

The Keeners, a mid-50s Lititz, Penn., couple with three grown children, and the Krushinskys, a 30s-something Lancaster couple with two small children, attended Rodgers' seminars on financial planning and came away ready to tell the world.

"You should be living under your means so that if something should happen, you have some savings," Clint Krushinsky said. "So you can just flow through life more easily."

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 One saying is, "Don't buy a house you can't afford."

Krushinsky's wife Emily goes even further, advising to buy a house that's definitely less than what you can afford.

"And don't feel like you have to keep up with your friends. You don't have to start out with a gigantic house," she said. "You don't have to have two really nice new cars and car payments."

"We bought a house that we could afford on my income, not on the combined incomes," Clint said. "Because we both wanted Emily to be a stay-at-home mom, which she is."

That was the same goal for Kathy and Ken Keener.

"We did everything to get that mortgage paid off and that was a priority for us, because of family," Ken Keener recalled.

"We wanted our kids in a Christian school. We wanted to do that, and we wanted Kathy to be a stay-at-home mom," he explained.

Saving Your Marriage

The Keeners lived super-frugally and in seven years were debt free.

"We didn't need new things. We drove old cars. We walked everywhere we went," Ken said.

"We vacationed by going downtown and doing window shopping. We did lots of casseroles," he said.

But Kathy Keener says it was still a rich life.

"We live in a consumer society. You don't have to buy into that," she explained. "If you buy into it, then you work to have the stuff."

"What's there for eternity? The material stuff will not be," she said.

Rodgers said living this way can relieve so much stress, it can literally save your marriage.

"Eighty-four percent of people say that money is a source of irritation in their relationship with their spouse," Rodgers said.

"Of people who get divorced, 57 percent say it's because of money -- it's the major reason they got divorced," he said.

Clint Krushinsky speaks from experience, having once lived deep in debt and now debt-free.

"Everyone has the potential to live better if you don't have that debt load along with you," he said. "I don't believe that the Lord wants you to have that burden."

Saving Your Money

However, one of the main reasons to live below your means is so you can save, something Rodgers believes everyone should do every time they receive any amount of money.

The first thing he advises couples to do is save an emergency fund that will prevent unforeseen circumstances from suddenly plunging them into debt.

Rodgers said it needs to be pretty big, "usually three months of your budgeted expenses."

Then you can concentrate on saving for a good, long life. You can start small if you start early, but if you wait too long, watch out.

Million Dollar Path

"If you save $100 a month at age 20, you'll have $1 million by the time you're age 65," Rodgers pointed out.

"But if you wait until you're age 30, now you've got to save $300 a month. If you procrastinate until you're 40, now you've got to save $800 month to get to a million by age 65. And if you wait till you're age 50, now you've got to save $2,500 a month," he explained.

How much do you need? Say you wanted to live on $40,000 a year in retirement. Social Security will likely give you $20,000, so you'll need $20,000 more from your investments.

A conservative estimate of the interest you can make on your savings by investing is about four percent a year.

"You need to have $500,000 to have $20,000 worth of income, forever, increasing with inflation every year," Rodgers said.

If you want $40,000 a year from your investments, you'll need a million dollars. For $80,000, you'll need $2 million.

The Keeners agreed that doesn't happen by accident.

"The future is coming and you need to prepare for it," Ken warned. "You need to get your house in order."

"You need a guide. You need an able counselor," Kathy added.

Smart Investing

A financial counselor can point you to smart investments and to make sure your savings don't get eaten up by taxes.

That goal is actually Rodgers' specialty. He's written a book about smart tax strategies for your retirement years titled, "The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach to Retirement Planning."

In it, he shares hard-earned wisdom. For instance, if you have all your assets in just one 401(k), you could get hit with much higher taxes than if your savings were spread around.

When it comes to investing, Rodgers recommends you have both stocks and bonds, and that you get stock mutual funds, which automatically give you wildly diversified stocks.

He especially likes investing in companies because he points out they're likely to grow in value.

"They're going to come up with products that they haven't invented yet," Rodgers said. "They're going to find new markets, they are going to get more efficient at what they do."

Investing in Each Other

Along with a financial counselor, Rodgers, the Keeners, and the Krushinskys all insist what you need most is each other and much communication.

"You both should be aware about what's happening with your kids. You both should be communicating about work. And you should be communicating about your finances," Clint Krushinsky said.

Rodgers said couples need to realize God puts opposites together. That means one of you is likely a spender and one a saver.

So you have to have a budget, and then you need to talk and compromise about it all the time.

To live free of financial worry, Rodgers always advises working it out, "and it starts with communication."

--Originally aired July 15, 2011

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.