Saving to 100: 9 Questions for Remar Sutton

Gallup-Healthways’ most recent poll of over 2 million Americans has found that poor financial management can actually cause obesity (not just a correlation). So, I’ve asked my good friend and personal finance advocate, Remar Sutton, to weigh in on some strategies people of all ages can do to relieve financial stress and thereby lose weight and live longer.  

Remar is the FoolProofMe chairman and author of over 250 Washington Post columns and five fiction and nonfiction books, including the self-help bestseller, Body Worry.

 1. What is the biggest financial mistake most people make? 

They impulse buy (and “they” includes the person reading this). If you’re the proverbial “average” person who has 30 years left until retirement, you’re going to burn half million dollars in impulse buys, throw it away without thinking. The money you burned, invested even modestly, would have added more than a million to your retirement.

The unquestioned culprit when it comes to impulse buying is the credit card. If you haven’t paid off your credit card debt — and sworn to keep those cards paid off — you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re smart with money.

2. What’s the best way to save to 100? In other words, what should I be doing now if want to live to 100 and not outlive my resources?

Adopt this one habit, and make it lifelong and relentless: become a skeptic when it comes to anyone or anything that wants to touch your money or your welfare.

Right now, your brain has been tricked into thinking of spending as an all-you-can-eat banquet. You are submerged in marketing messages that are constantly trying to get you to salivate to the banquet’s offerings, whether you are hungry or not. And here’s the problem: when you’re salivating, you aren’t thinking.

By becoming a habitual skeptic, you can build a firewall between your money and your natural inclination to make impulsive money decisions. And get this: you are going to be confronted with literally millions of spending provocations over your lifetime.

3. What advice to give to people who are approaching retirement age? 

Money always runs out faster than you hope it will.

First, get rid of your credit card debt. Consider downsizing your living space.

Then, start looking for an emotionally meaningful way to make extra cash now. Despite what you might have heard, the experience and wisdom older people can bring to the most youth-oriented business is cherished by many companies, especially smaller ones.

4. In your book, Don’t Get Taken Every Time, you give great advice on how to not blunder one of our biggest purchases — our car. Can you give any advice on how to not get ripped off when buying a car? 

Don’t believe anything you hear at even the best and most honest car seller — or car leaser.

If you’re in the car business (as in just about every business), the job of the sales person isn’t to worry about your welfare. The job is to sell you now, and at the highest price possible. Learn More.

5. In your book Remar Sutton’s Body Worry, you famously converted yourself from a flabby middle-aged man to hunk.  What lessons can you give middle-age people if they want to transform their health?

I set up healthy nudges: using smaller plates for meals, and putting fruit in line-of-sight, not sweets. I started placing my shampoo and soap on my shower floor rather than a shelf, making the physical effort to bend down easier than reach across.

Secondly, when you’re tired, force yourself to take a walk or do something active rather than sit and have a drink.

Thirdly, don’t compare yourself to others. I encourage people to walk a block, and increase that walk a block a week for a year. How fast you walked doesn’t matter.

6. You’re coming up on your 75th birthday, what have your learned over the years about what doesn’t work when it comes to health?

“Fast” does not work. Whether it’s dieting or exercising, “fast” equates to “failure” in my mind.

7. You live a fairy tale life, splitting your year between Denmark and a seaside house in Tortola. What advice can you give us about achieving our dreams?

I have always tried to focus on other people’s lives, not on my own life. This is so damn corny, but we as individuals are cosmic dust. But if our motion through life energizes others, we have more value, and — at least in my case, life seems to work out pretty well. And I’ll guarantee you, happiness comes a lot easier when you are thinking about others rather than yourself.

8. Some of your best friends in life have been Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Winthrop Rockefeller, George Plimpton, Kurt Vonnegut, and lately, Lady Gaga. What have they taught you about living longer?

That’s an easy one! Every one of those people were fearless, and 100 percent forward-thinkers.

At 91, Walter Cronkite was thinking about a new vacation home. At 75, George Plimpton was still riding his bike around Manhattan, looking for his latest adventure. Win Rockefeller, at 52, when he was fighting his losing battle with cancer, was still planning a fishing trip the week before he departed. When Peter Jennings knew that the chances of his surviving were virtually nil, his comment to me was “I’m spending my time getting my hands around this thing.” Vonnegut till the day he died was searching for a perfect sentence.

9. The Common Ground Book: a Circle of Friends asked 20 amazing people the same 20 Questions. What was the most surprising insight you learned interviewing those people? 

We have all been shaped by early moments and people we’ve nearly forgotten.


 

Remar is currently the guru of FoolProofMe, an initiative that teaches skepticism and caution in everyday life. He is also one of our best Certified Blue Zones speakers and frequently delights older audiences. For information, contact [email protected].

You can take this Gullibility Test to see how much money you’re needlessly burning.

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