When it comes to building your nest egg, these little moves can add up big.
Today I want to share a few pointers on how ordinary salaried folk with regular mid-level jobs can change their financial habits and accelerate their way into sizably higher savings, ie how you can save the most money, ever. As many of my regular listeners know, I am a big fan of the power of compounding, and my advice to everyone who wants to invest is “the sooner, the better,” which leads me to my first tip.
- Good savers start early. Many good money savers were taught as children to sock away for a rainy day, but “good savers” who weren’t lucky enough to have been taught this early money lesson know when to jump on an opportunity to save. As soon as they see they have an option that increases their savings, like a retirement savings plan through work, they take it. Good savers don’t procrastinate financial decisions.
- Good savers have retirement accounts. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly surprised by the number of middle-aged Americans that should—but do not have—retirement accounts. So if you don’t have one, I suggest you immediately get one and deposit at least 10 percent of your paycheck each month straight into a retirement account.
- Good savers know the difference between wants and needs. One of the biggest lies we’re sold by marketers today is that wants are actually needs. For example, while I may love Apple products, I often wonder if most people who buy a $700 iPhone really need one or could they do with a reasonably good, fully featured smartphone for less than half the price of an iPhone. I’ve also had so many clients tell me that travel, new clothes, and eating out are real needs, but they’re really not. Instead, good savers make a list of their basic needs, their wants, and their big wishes, and their frugal living helps them save big without really giving up on life’s pleasures. I think a lot of this has to do with training your mindset and self-discipline and while it’s hard to start doing so, good savers are committed to sticking to their needs, with only an occasional indulgence to their wants. Sort of like Warren Buffett, who still lives in the house he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Most people’s idea of wealth isn’t someone who has a million dollars in the bank; it’s of someone spending like a millionaire. Too often, people confuse the trappings of wealth with actual wealth. And Buffett is a clear example that you can’t tell what someone is worth just by looking at his or her house, car, clothes, and accessories.
Moreover, possessions don’t bring happiness. As Warren Buffett wrote in his Giving Pledge:
“Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends.”
- Good savers don’t use bill auto pay. This may be surprising to most of you. Now, I love technology. The Internet has been a huge boon for all of us; it’s raised our productivity on just about every dimension, helps us take advantage of fantastic online shopping offers, makes banking easier, etc., but there is a dark side to it. For example, the advent and convenience of services like auto pay make it too easy for money to flow in and out, without your really registering what’s happening. So good savers tend to use auto pay for fixed subscriptions such as payments for monthly health insurance premiums or fixed newspaper subscriptions, but opt to write physical checks or make one-time payments online on discretionary items such as credit card bills, streaming services, and the like. Intentionally paying bills makes your brain note the expenditures. Good savers also keep track of receipts and tally up their credit card bills against receipts for spending and things like returns because mistakes always do happen and good savers don’t want to be the ones they happen to. Even better, good savers write all these down in their budget. Which leads us to…
- Good savers have a budget. A real, honest-to-goodness written chart or spreadsheet that they update and balance regularly. And when I talk to new clients, my first clue that someone has a problem with money is when they can’t provide their monthly cash flow. Simply stated, it’s harder to save if you don’t even know how much money you have to begin with.
- Good savers use cash or checks. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but good savers often use physical types of money. And research shows that people spend 20 percent more when using a credit card because it makes purchasing feel less “painful.” Handing someone carefully counted notes or writing out a check provides enough of a mental speed bump to slow down many impulse buys.
- Good savers prioritize saving. It sounds simple but one of the best habits good savers have is simply making saving a priority in their lives. Before spending on anything else, they pay themselves first by putting savings into a retirement or other self-directed savings account to the maximum amount they possibly can.
- Good savers keep track of the little things. What’s a $4 latte here or a $0.99 app there… right? But, as we all know, little things can add up to big expenses fairly quickly, often before you even realize what’s happening. So good savers track even their tiniest expenses as yet another way of checking impulse purchases and focusing on needs, not wants.
- Good savers look for deals. Being frugal is a big part of saving money, and good savers are always happy to use coupons, hunt down the best deals, or research all possible options before buying. Good savers think through each purchase and research alternatives, like buying used versus new, comparing competitor prices, looking for coupons, and reading reviews in detail to make the best buying decision. For example, did you know that Wal-Mart.com often has lower prices on items that you get in the store, and they’ll honor that price difference if you show it to them on your smartphone. Most people don’t bother with stuff like this, but good savers do. Another thing—good savers also refrain from heading to online shopping sites when they are inebriated because data shows that “want-ful” spending goes up significantly when people are a little tipsy.
While life will have its ups and downs, a modicum of self-discipline, continuous learning, thinking for yourself, developing good habits, focusing on the long term, and having fun on the journey is what you need to set yourself up for success in life. It’s as simple as that.
Thanks to Charlotte Hilton Andersen for her well-organized article on this very subject.
Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. There are no investment strategies that guarantee a profit or protect against loss. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however, their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by the radio show.