I always reflect during the holidays. While I often assess – the holidays are a time where I look at where we stand as a nation and do a self-assessment as to personal and business goals. I watch some of my favorite movies; Dave, The American President, Remember the Titans, and Shawshank Redemption. I also caught CNN’s special on Linda Ronstadt, The Sound of My Voice.

These shows invigorated me with one word – CHARACTER. Strength of conviction and pureness in pursuit.

I do recognize that other than Remember the Titans, the movies are fiction – and the characters – as much as I feel invigorated by their display of “character”, are the creation of their writers. Linda Ronstadt, however, is real. Her career, shortened in 2009 by Parkinson’s Disease, and her persona demonstrate everything right about how people should live. The drugs, the “superstar persona” and all the ancillaries accompanying an entertainer didn’t touch her – for a simple reason. She pursued her career for a love of music and singing, and nothing more. It wasn’t about being “the greatest” or “being #1” – it was about doing something she loved.

I merge Linda with Dave (the fill in for the president, played by Kevin Kline in Dave), Andy Shepard (the President, played by Michael Douglas in American President), Andy Dufresne (the bank vice president, wrongfully convicted of murder, played by Tim Robbins in Shawshank) and both Coach Boone (played by Denzel Washington) and Coach Yoast (played by Will Patton) in Remember the Titans – and after merging them together, I say we need to find leaders that demonstrate character like these individuals. Whether this will happen…who knows? I’m going to begin the new decade as an optimist – keeping my eyes open with hope that someone will emerge again to give us words such as, “Ask not what your country can do for you… “and “Lead us to the Promised Land . . .”

If you don’t look to the positive, you will not find it.

As the decade that brought us the Great Recession ended, I also asked myself, has America learned the financial lessons stemming from the Recession and steadied their ship toward the goal of having ample resources to enjoy retirement? The answer is ,“No.” Consumer credit card debt exceeds the level it was at when the Great Recession began. Beyond that, auto loan debt is at disastrous levels to the extent they are now wring about being underwater on your car in the same manner as underwater on your home. Student loan debt in 2008 was at $600 Billion and today it is at $1.3 Trillion.

We face two generations of disaster – Baby Boomers now and Millennials in the years to come. The disaster is reaching the age to retire without the resources to cover the costs of living – housing, medical, food and transportation. Staggering numbers of people find themselves at age 65 – as renters or owning a house that is not paid for, two car payments, $50,000 – $100,000 of credit card debt and virtually no savings. While working, they have the income to service the mortgage, the car loans and the credit card debt, but if they retire and want to live off of social security and small savings – they fall $5,000 short per month! There is a solution – and it is to eliminate debt and make sure that at retirement time – you own your home free and clear, have no car payments, and no credit card debt – and some savings. If you do this – social security can cover your essential needs (property taxes, utilities, medical, food and clothing) and the savings can provide cushion and sources for fun.

I read an article in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL last week, “How to Get Out of Debt.” The article failed to give any real advice on how to effectively eliminate debt, but there was a great message that I want to share:

“The longer you procrastinate making a plan to get debt-free and just make the minimum payments, especially on high-interest rate debt, the more brutal the buildup,”

This statement is 100% spot on and critically important. The availability of credit today is incentivizing people to continue to amass debt and delay the time to eliminate the debt. The longer you keep paying the interest on the debt – the more money you have wasted that could be going to pay off that home and build savings. Though the article failed to address how to eliminate the debt – we have that one covered. Call or come in to see me for a free consultation and learn what your opportunities are to eliminate your debt and let your money work for you.

As Andy said to Red in Shawshank, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”