How to Declare Financial Independence

 Arends Brett By BRETT ARENDS

You’ve eaten the hot dogs. You’ve watched the fireworks.

Now it’s time to declare another kind of independence — your own. If you’re like most Americans, you haven’t been free in a long, long time.

Instead you’re in chains. You’re manacled to dozens of monthly bills you can’t seem to escape.

Mortgage payments. Car payments. Credit-card payments. Cellphone, landline, cable TV. TiVo. You name it. Thousands of dollars.

Call them tribute. Or tithes.

Who’s really free here?

Our Founding Fathers probably would have thrown their cable boxes into Boston Harbor. But then, they ranked liberty ahead of the pursuit of happiness.

Take a look at the chart. Maybe it should become our new national symbol.

It shows how much more we owe than our parents did.

Debt burden chartIn 1976, around the time of the bicentennial, the average family of four owed about $56,000. That’s in today’s dollars, after accounting for inflation, and includes mortgage, credit cards, car loans and the like.

The figure now? Oh, about $185,000.

Gosh, it’s just amazing we have a credit crisis, isn’t it?

Of course it must be somebody else’s fault. Insert conspiracy theory here: [   ]

But instead of blaming other people for our problems, or looking to political candidates to solve them for us, maybe we could start by looking a little closer to home.

Do we really need the Super Duper Every Movie Ever Made cable package? All those meals out? The endless trips to the salon? The supersized caramel double iced latte with extra whipped cream every day on the way to work?

Really, how lazy we are. Could there be anything easier in the world to make at home than an iced coffee?

It isn’t just the big bills that are shackling us. It’s all the little ones. They add up. If we cut just one dollar a day from our budgets and saved the money instead, in thirty years we’d have…. about $26,000.

Yep. That’s assuming we earned about 5% after inflation on our investments – a reasonable assumption, but not a heroic one.

Twenty six thousand bucks.That’s in today’s money. If you’re not maxing contributions to your 401(k) plan, it’s even more because of the tax savings. Try $34,300.

That won’t buy complete freedom. But it can’t hurt.