I love days like today when I get to open the “Everyday Cheapskate” mailbag, read all the letters from our growing Debt-Proof Living family, and attempt to answer your questions about everything from an easy way to make great compost (I’m still working on that one) to just about anything else you can imagine to do things better, faster and cheaper.
Dear Mary: We made a big mistake co-signing for our children’s college funding. Now, years later, we owe so much on their loans. And the worst part: They didn’t even graduate! We are trying to survive on one income. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — Anna
Dear Anna: The sad truth is that you are not alone. Much of the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is being shouldered by parents, and it could be affecting their retirement. I assume that your children have defaulted on these loans, and now the lender is coming after you, as co-signer, for payment. I hate to sound harsh, and I truly wish I had better news, but only the death of the student for whom you co-signed will make this go away. Not even filing for bankruptcy will relieve you of these debts.
My best advice is that you don’t give yourself the option to live on one income. Whichever of you is not working needs to get a job — any job — and devote that entire paycheck to paying down these loans until they are paid in full. Putting off payment will do nothing but make matters worse.
Dear Mary: You really spoke to me the other day when you said, “When are you going to stop what you are doing and take action to get out of debt?” It is going to be a long haul but worth it, I’m sure. I have had a lifestyle of spend, spend, spend, and now I will have to pay, pay, pay until everyone is paid off. I hope I will never do this again. It is a terrible way to live. — Miriam
Dear Miriam: As painful as it might have been, thank goodness you had that wake-up call. The best time to get started turning your financial life around is today. One step at a time, one day at a time, you’ll make it — possibly much sooner than you could imagine.
Dear Mary: We know a young couple in dire financial straits, but when presented with a gift of money from our Sunday school class, they were embarrassed, prideful and resistant. They didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for them or give them charitable gifts.
What is the best way to present a gift to someone in need? I am aware of the “pay it forward” theory, but can you suggest some wording for a card that would be acceptable to the person on the receiving end? — Cathie
Dear Cathie: Give quietly and anonymously — no fanfare, no presentation, no opportunity for misunderstanding or embarrassment.
I don’t know how you made this presentation, but I can understand their discomfort if you spread the word of their dire straits. I can’t think of a way to make an open presentation without them feeling like the scum of the earth and you appearing to be financially superior. In my worst financial season of life, I would have probably reacted the way they did.
Bless you for helping others. In the future, please do it in secrecy.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”