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Small Steps, Big Dividends
Dismayed by Washington? Disappointed? Dis-
How can you help trim the national debt? Skip the cookies.
gusted? Take your pick. The politicians have earned your
scorn honestly. They’ve been all but paralyzed trying to deal
with a $14.3 trillion national debt. Here’s another option: a
do-it-yourself kit bag of small steps you can take that will
actually have an impact on the federal deficit.
; It won’t be easy, given the enormity
of the problem. The cumulative
deficits will total around $10
trillion over the next decade. Congress directed a
“super-committee” to find
budget cuts of $1.2 trillion.
As a point of reference, at
$1 a second, it would take you
almost 32,000 years to spend
$1 trillion. So this is an enormous
ON THE COVER: LEF T: GE TT Y IMAGES; RIGHT: HAL MAYFOR TH THIS PAGE: PAULA HIBLE/GE TT Y IMAGES
task. ; Still, these are five steps you
can take that would trim the deficit.
1. Cut 150 calories a day from your diet. Skip the cookies. The cost
of health care is at the heart of the nation’s fiscal problems. Our
fiscal future depends on getting our health costs in line. Start by
eating less. The national eating binge has consequences, starting
with diabetes. Today, 28. 5 million people are diabetic, and another
66 million are prediabetic. Their medical bill, now $174 billion a
year, is projected to soar, according to a UnitedHealthcare study,
costing the nation $3.4 trillion in the decade ending 2020. More
than 60 percent of those costs will be paid by the federal government. Cutting calories cuts the risk of diabetes, which saves money.
2. Pay your debts. The fastest-growing item in the federal budget
today is debt service—the interest we’re paying on the $14 trillion
national debt. It’s rising from $186.9 billion in 2009 to $320.9 billion
in 2013. Household debt has exploded, too, as we turned to credit
cards to finance daily living, especially in an era when wages barely
kept pace with inflation. Household borrowing has doubled since
2000 to $11.4 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve—an estimated $36,514 for every man, woman and child. The situation is acute for
older Americans: The average U.S. family with a head of household
age 60 to 70 has saved 25 percent of what it will need for retirement.
Any new borrowing puts pressure on interest rates tomorrow. Conversely, trimming eases pressure on interest rates, which will reduce
the amount of interest to be paid on the national debt.
3. Walk a mile a day. Or bike or swim or try any aerobic exercise
that burns calories and strengthens the heart. Heart disease is the
nation’s leading killer. More than 40 percent of U.S. adults can
expect to suffer from cardiovascular disease by 2030, with medical bills exceeding $1 trillion. More than half of those costs will be
borne by Medicare. Extra exercise cuts the nation’s medical bill.
4. Plan to work an extra year or two. This has multiple benefits.
First, you’ll contribute to the Social Security trust fund. Second,
you’ll add to your retirement fund. Third, a delay in cashing out
will bolster the Social Security fund and increase your benefit.
5. Give Uncle Sam a gift. Others do. Taxpayers’ gifts to the U.S.
Treasury so far this year total $2,429,800.03.
Here’s the point. Everyone has a stake in this historic fiscal challenge, and the longer we ignore it, the greater the cataclysm awaiting us. This is not just a Washington problem. It requires a combination of common sense and forceful action. Citizens can lead
the way. —Jim Toedtman, Editor
AARP Bulletin October 2011, Volume 52, No. 8 (USPS Number 002-900; ISSN 1044-1123) is published monthly except February and August by AARP, 601 E St. N.W., Washington, DC 20049 (telephone: 1-888-687-2277). Internet site: aarp.org/bulletin, “The Newspaper of 50-Plus America.” Sales and
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