Retire Better: What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever gotten?

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Ron Dolde is my new hero. He retired at age 55 after spending his entire career at a telecom company. How did he do it?

“When I was a young man,” he writes, “I got promoted and was given a sizable raise.” An older colleague asked what he was going to do with the extra money. “I don’t know,” Dolde said. “He said, ‘Well you’re living on what you’re making now—why don’t you save it?’ I thought about that and not only did it but that’s what I did every raise after that. Retired at 55. I am now 75 and consider this some of the best financial advice I ever got.”

Excellent advice, indeed. Living well below your means remains one of the best things you can do to help ensure a more secure financial future. An extreme example of this is Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about managing money. He purchased a five-bedroom house in Omaha in 1958 for $31,500 and has lived there ever since. Talk about living below your means! (I’m guessing that Buffett BRK.A, +1.13% BRK.B, +1.04%,  worth some $82 billion, has no trouble swinging the electric bill.)

That being said, I think it’s OK, when given a raise, to up your standard of living a smidge. After, all, YOLO: You only live once.

Meantime, you might not consider eating better to be financial advice, but it is. Philip Pirello writes in to say “Don’t buy sugary food or drinks.” He points out that junk food and sugary-laden drinks not only cost a lot per serving, but “costs you at the dentist and costs you at the doctor.”

He’s right. Some medical experts have said that sugar is the new tobacco, meaning that everyone knows how bad it is for you. Sugar fuels obesity and diabetes—as of 2015, an estimated 114 million Americans were either diabetic or prediabetic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which contributes to higher health care costs for everyone.

But it’s not just sugar, of course. Eating well in general—watching your carbs, avoiding salt and putting more fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate—will contribute to better long-term health. This will likely result in huge cost savings down the road—from physical ailments that you avoided. Oh, and drink more water. Is this financial advice? You bet it is.

Read: These ‘super seniors’ are living longer, healthier lives

John Falcone of Punta Gorda, Fla., offers advice that you might not want to hear but here it is: Keep working. “I am 79 years old, still working, retirement is not in my vocabulary.” Falcone keeps in touch with six childhood friends: “Three of us are still working, vibrant, happy and mentally and physically on top of it! The other three are bored, and not very happy with their lives, although they each have hobbies etc. and are in decent physical condition.”

Working—if you enjoy what you’re doing of course—allows you to stay productive, energized and engaged with others. And having a paycheck and health benefits speak for themselves. Buffett is still working, you know.

But if you insist on hanging up your spurs and retiring, Rick Larson says road test your finances first. “Before my wife and I retired we lived on our expected retirement income for five years,” he writes. “This proved we could live on what we were expecting in retirement plus the rest went into savings, pumping up our nest egg.”

One piece of financial advice involves saying no to others.

I learned this the hard way myself many years ago, “lending” someone in need $400. I never saw the money again and the person later claimed they paid me back and I must have forgotten about it. It still bugs me today. It recalls a famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” said Polonius, “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” In other words: Loan money to a friend of family member and you may wind up losing both. When it comes to lending money to others, be careful. Jim, a friend from New Hampshire, offers this less-than-Shakespearean advice: “Just say no.”

A lot of other advice that came over the transom involved one of the basics: Avoid debt.

“A few years of tax preparation showed me that the people with the best retirements had their homes paid for free and clear,” writes Earl Chancellor. “I followed their example and sure enough it turned out great.”

“Get your mortgage paid off,” echoes John Bowser.

“No debt going into retirement,” adds Bill Setag.

Get the point?

Now for my next question: Health care costs are soaring. How are you holding your own health care costs down and what is your advice to others? Write me (Paul) at And thanks.