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Living within your means will pay off

This is for all of the people who run their households better than Wall Street runs its business.

This is for everyone who did not buy more house than they could pay for. This is for everyone who pays off their credit cards every month. This is for those who put money in the bank, who feed a retirement account, who save for their kids' college years.

I know you are out there. A lot of you.

You are not feeling good today. You are not feeling good because whatever financial bailout Congress decides on will come partly out of your hide. You will do penance for the sins of other people -- from a government that failed to rein in Wall Street, to investment banks that went crazy with high-risk loans, to everyone who lived large on a too-small paycheck.

The bill has come due.

You will pay for the bailout with your tax dollars. You will pay as credit markets tighten on everything from car loans to college financing. You may already have paid with a battered 401(k).

It is not right.

On Tuesday, the day after the stock market free-fall, I called Amherst-based financial planner Tony Ogorek. I wanted to hear that folks who pay their bills, but will get stuck with the bill for Wall Street's follies, have a right to be angry. I wanted to hear that people who live between the lines should not get stuck holding the bag.

Ogorek gave me all of that. Then Ogorek, who manages people's money for a living, gave me more than that. He gave me reasons why people who play by the rules, who pay as they go, have a reason to feel good, even on days like today.

There is a bigger picture. And it has a silver lining around it.

"This is the time," said Ogorek, "when the responsible person can say, 'I am glad I've managed my life the way I have been.' "

The market's free fall has left most folks in pain. But the folks who are way out on the debt limb are in agony.

"The market will come back over the next five years," said Ogorek, citing historic precedents. "People who have been responsible [with their money] are in position to take advantage of that."

It is like going to a holiday sale the day after Christmas. The folks who have money in their pockets can buy at sale prices, or simply watch their investments reinflate.

It goes beyond the stock market to day-to-day life.

People who bought more house than they can pay for have to sell at a loss. They move into a tackier neighborhood or into a smaller place or into an apartment. They pillage retirement savings to pay monthly bills.

Folks who maxed out credit cards in pursuit of Caribbean vacations, flat-screen TVs, new cars and hot restaurants now stare reality in the face. Reality means a second job, or a stay-at-home spouse going to work, or turning in the keys and taking a hit on a car lease.

"Over the course of the next few years, a lot of people will realize that there is no free lunch," Ogorek said. "Their lives will dramatically change."

It is not just about the money. The deeper the bills get, the higher the stress climbs.

"It means more fatigue, less free time, more strain on a marriage," Ogorek said. "Then you get an emergency -- the car repair, the medical bill -- and you're in deeper trouble."

I am not writing this to gloat. There is no pleasure in anybody else's pain. A lot of people got caught up in a have-it-all mind-set. It was fed as much by Madison Avenue as by Wall Street. Now the bill is coming due.

We will all pay a share. Even so, the folks who lived between the lines are in better shape than the ones who ran wild. In the coming years, the consolation will grow.


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