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Once you reach your 50s, you're generally at or near your peak earnings years. If making ends meet is a challenge now, it's one that's not likely to get any easier as time marches forward.

Even more than for your younger counterparts, cost control and debt reduction will be key parts of your plan to avoid spending more than you make. Right now is your last, best hope of structuring your life in a way that lets you cover your costs and enjoy your life's journey.

With help from these five tips, you can improve your chances of making ends meet in a way that minimizes the impact on the rest of your life.

Tip 1: Negotiate your interest rates downward. Interest rates on everything from car loans to credit card debt are negotiable, and if your mortgage is at a higher interest rate than the current average, you can even try to refinance it to a lower rate. Refinancing a home loan will cost you a bit up front, but negotiating lower rates on other debt might not. The less you pay in interest, the more cash you can put toward paying down your balances.

You can begin the process with a few simple phone calls. If you've got a great history of paying your debts on time, your creditors will be willing to work with you in order to keep you as a customer. If your payment history is not so strong, it still might be worth your while to make those phone calls and ask for lower rates. If your creditors are concerned that high interest rates may force you into bankruptcy, they might be willing to reduce your rates to help keep some cash flowing to their coffers.

Tip 2: Snowball your debt payments. After you've negotiated your interest rates as low as you can get them, line up all your debts in order from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate. On every debt except the one with the highest interest rate, pay just the minimum. On the debt with the highest interest rate, pay as much above the minimum as you can, until that debt has been completely paid off.

Once that first debt is paid off, take all the cash you had been paying toward that debt and put it toward the debt that now has the highest interest rate. Repeat the process until all your debts are paid off. Since you're in your 50s, you may want to include your mortgage in that list of debts to include in your snowball. While mortgage rates are low and mortgage interest is federally tax deductible, it's still a principal and interest payment that represents cash you can't do anything else with.

Each time you pay off a debt, you free up a little bit of cash that gets you closer to being able to reliably make ends meet from the income you have.

Tip 3: Prioritize and cut back your spending. Write down where every penny of your hard-earned income is going. Use a spreadsheet, pencil and paper, or personal finance software like Quicken or Mint.com to get a clear picture of your spending.

Once you've got that information, go back and look over each expense and mark it as a "have to have," "want to have," or a "can live without." If you've marked an expense as a "can live without," stop buying it. That simple move alone can free up a decent amount of cash, without cutting back on anything you need or really want.

For your other expenses, figure out if there are ways to reduce your spending. For instance, if your 50s brought you new medical conditions, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether generics or older brand-name medicines can treat your condition as well as the newest branded drug. Likewise, we all have to eat, and buying in bulk, cooking for leftovers, and using every bit of food are great ways to keep your costs low while still allowing you to eat the foods you enjoy.

Dropping the costs you decide you can live without and getting more efficient on your other expenses will get you much closer to being able to make ends meet.

If that's still not enough, then it's time to start cutting back on the things you want but don't necessarily need. Even then, see if it's possible to keep some entertainment in your budget, as it's a lot harder to keep a budget with no fun in it than one in which you give yourself a small reward for your thrift.

Tip 4: Put your dependents on a financial diet, too. In your 50, you may well be part of the sandwich generation -- taking care of both aging parents and not-quite-yet-independent children. Continue to love your family and care for them, but do so in a way that doesn't break your bank.

For one idea, consider having all the people who depend on you live with you. Multigenerational households aren't all that uncommon and can keep the total cost of living per person lower.

Additionally, if your dependent adult children are capable of working -- even at a job that's "beneath" their education and experience -- they should be working or actively searching for work. Even if it takes a while to get them a job in their chosen field, it's easier to get a job when you have a job than when you're unemployed. Employers like to see experience, dedication, and consistent performance, not just academic credentials, and a degree with a job says far more than a degree alone.

Tip 5: Use your expertise to your financial advantage. The reason you're near your peak earning years is because you've become an acknowledged expert in your chosen field. A great way for a 50-something-year-old to earn a bit of extra income is to hang out a shingle as a consultant. If going it alone doesn't seem like a good fit, companies like Your Encore are designed around helping experienced professionals find second careers and may be able to link you up to opportunities.

Get Started Now

Following these five tips can get you to the point where you're reliably making ends meet today and well on the path toward financial freedom for the rest of your life. Perhaps best of all, you'll quickly notice the improvement. Once you're reliably making ends meet, you'll feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders as the financial stress melts away.

Chuck Saletta is a Motley Fool contributing writer.

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12 Comments

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itsmegp46

I would add a few more tips. By your 50's you should already own your home outright, no more mortgage payments. Don't trade in your car every few years, keep the one you have now. If you lease, unless your employer pays for it, stop! Never lease a car again, it is by far the most expensive way to drive a car. Cars today are built so well, they are easily capable of attaining 250,000 to 300,000 miles with regular maintenance. Switch to CFL or LED lighting, you'll save 80% on your electric bill that is used by those bulbs. Is your frige older than 10-15 years? Consider buying a new one that is much more energy efficient. Downgrade your phone service, ditto your cable tv. Eat more meals at home rather than eating out.
These are real world savings (just a few) that will keep thousands of dollars in your pocket.

September 16 2013 at 10:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to itsmegp46's comment
mac2jr

Absolutely ... right on.

September 17 2013 at 2:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
betty_brock

Just use some common sense.

September 16 2013 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to betty_brock's comment
mac2jr

Pennies or ....

September 16 2013 at 9:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mac2jr's comment
betty_brock

Sense not cents.

September 16 2013 at 10:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
drich104@aol.com

Our needs are few, our wants are many.

September 16 2013 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
geoffandmarie418

This is great advice if we live in dreamland. Not pratical in real world!!!

September 16 2013 at 6:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Todd

Absolutely right mac2jr !!
Well said!!!

September 16 2013 at 3:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Todd's comment
mac2jr

Thank you.

September 16 2013 at 6:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mac2jr

Hogwash.. Try telling a bank or mortgage company you want them to give up a few percentage points. Try telling a doctor that you expect him or her to give you a 15% discount. Try telling you parents or kids how to live and spend money, even if the money is yours. And, keeping a diary of your expenses, only works if you are 100% in charge of the cash and credit cards.

Want to cut cost of living, then downsize, you do not need a 20 room house, you do not need the most expensive vehicle, you do not need to vacation in Europe when there are things yet to see in your state, you do not need the latest 'communications' device, you do not need 2,000 television channels, you do not need to have the AC running 24/7, you do not need to go to Broadway when there are dozens of community theaters that have excellent shows for under $10.....

Just make a list of the Do Need, and the Do NOT Need items and then get rid of the Do NOT Needs; cut up the credit cards, and use cash, and find better ways to live your life, preferably in harmony with nature.

September 16 2013 at 2:59 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mac2jr's comment
betty_brock

Malarkey

September 16 2013 at 8:59 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
eatzdzert1st

I agree mac2jr... you nailed it. Except the part about the AC. You've obviously never experienced hot flashes :(

September 16 2013 at 9:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to eatzdzert1st's comment
mac2jr

Now that is funny.....

I live in Arizona, 100 plus every day... Well built and insulated house, AC only needed for half-hour each late afternoon.

September 16 2013 at 9:04 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down