DEAR MARY: I do a lot of online shopping. My sister, on the other hand, refuses to buy anything online because of the extra charges, like shipping and handling. Her position does make sense, but I’m not ready to abandon the Internet forever. Are there ways I can be sure I don’t overpay? — Barbara, email
DEAR BARBARA: Always count shipping and handling as part of the cost. And your sister needs to count gasoline and parking in her costs. Then, know your prices. And always compare the online price with what things cost at stores in your area.
DEAR MARY: About 20 years ago, my husband was laid off from a big company. I went back into the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom. He started his own business, but it was a disaster, and we lost our savings and almost lost our home.
We sold our home, settled our debts and moved into a home we rented. My husband eventually found permanent employment with a company where he still works.
Throughout this, we raised three children, and helped with college, weddings and all the other events in life. As we are approaching our “golden years,” we would like to buy a small home.
We have saved for a down payment, and the only outstanding debt we have is a college loan for our son. We also qualify as a first-time buyer since it’s been so long since we were homeowners. Is buying a home in our best interest? I have always believed that the only way to retire in California is to have a paid-for home. We will be meeting with a financial adviser, but I so respect your opinion and would like to know your thoughts. — Sue, California
DEAR SUE: Buying a home is in your best interest, but going into debt is not.
My best advice is that you do not retire until you are debt-free and own your home outright. This guarantees you will have a rent-free retirement during the years that you will not have paychecks. Of course, I do not know enough about your situation to be any more specific than that.
How many years do you have before you stop working? What are your other investment and retirement account resources?
You would not believe the heart-wrenching letters I receive from people in their 70s and beyond who are trying to juggle credit-card debt, college loans and a mortgage payment on their Social Security checks.
You just can’t do that and also eat. The next step for these folks is to become a financial burden to their kids.
Unless you have time to catch up and get that home paid off before you stop working, I would not recommend that you buy, at least not in California. Rent instead.
Do you have a question for Mary? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of “7 Money Rules for Life,” released in 2012.
To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.