I am often asked what someone can do to improve their finances. The simple and practical answer is to spend less. In other words, cut the crap spending!
If I were to look into the bank statement of the average person who says they want to improve their finances, I will most likely see a lot of money going toward restaurants. McDonalds, Chick-fil-a, Chipotle, Olive Garden, Subway, PF Changs, the local pizza joint, etc. And this doesn’t even include the beer and margaritas for happy hour on Friday or Saturday evenings with friends. For 1 person, a meal at a fast food restaurant will run nearly $10. Much more at a higher-end restaurant. Dining out twice a week will cost the average person at least $100/month. What most people don’t realize is that $100/month can make you a millionaire over the course of a lifetime, if you include the earnings on that money. Buying groceries yourself will cost about 1/10th the amount you spend dining out. Prepare your own meals and save/invest the difference.
If you do dine out, order water to drink. It’s free. Most restaurants will charge up to $2 for a drink, costing a family of 4 an additional $10, including the $2 tip.
Cut The Cable Bill:
Do we really need a triple play, 700 station TV, with 14 different movie channels that offer the same movies? And Netflix too? All for the “low” price of about $150/month! When I was a kid, we had three channels; ABC, NBC, and CBS. And you had to adjust the antenna to get each one. TV was free. What most people don’t realize is that TV still is free! Go to your local electronics store and get a $59 HD antenna. Then tell the cable company good bye! I do agree that internet is a necessity in today’s world. But a fast internet connection can be had for as low as $30/month.
Smart phones give you internet access everywhere you go. You can watch YouTube videos to your heart’s content, but at a price. Those data plans add up, and often cost an additional $25 to $30/month over and above the basic voice and text communication capabilities. Because of smart phones, the average phone bill has risen from about $25/month in 1980, to nearly $150/month. You can still get a basic phone with unlimited voice and text for about $15/month.
Gaming Consoles (Xbox & PS4):
These are completely unnecessary. However, there is a flip side to those who play consistently. For $60, you can purchase a game, and get 100+ hours of entertainment over the course of a year. Considering this, where entertainment costs 60 cents an hour, versus a movie out that costs $20 for 2 hours, that’s not a bad deal. The consoles usually run about $300, and if you skip generations (don’t buy every new one that comes out, but rather buy every other new one), you can lower that cost as well. Where people get into trouble with video games is they don’t stop with just one game. 10 games will cost you $600.
I like to call Starbucks, “5-Bucks”. You can’t get out of there for less than 5 bucks! It is so tempting, with a Starbucks on nearly every corner no matter where you go. It seems like there is a Starbucks in the bathroom of every Starbucks! Four cups a week at $5 each is $20/week, or $80/month.
Want a caffeine fix? Get a case of soda instead at Sam’s Club. It’s only 20 cents for a can of diet Coke. Better yet, learn to drink water. It’s free and better for you.
You don’t need a gym to work out. Simple running, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and a couple weights at home will suffice just fine for most people. If you are a serious body builder, the gym might make financial sense. But to pay $25/month to $100/month to have what you can get free at home makes little sense.
Shop on Craigslist; Buy Used Where It Makes Sense:
There is a lot of used merchandise that is in very good condition being sold on websites like Craigslist. A new washing machine will cost you $500-$600. You can purchase a good used washer for around $100-$150 on Craigslist. The goal is to get the clothes clean. The last I checked, nobody was trying to make a fashion statement with their washing machine!
Avoid Buying New Cars:
Cars lose about 1/3rd of their value the second you drive them off the dealer’s lot. A better strategy is to buy a used car that is about 2 years old. A 2-year old car is often quite clean, the paint is still good, the mileage is usually low, and the price is far lower. I am not a fan of leasing a car, as that is just another form of debt.
One exception to the general “don’t buy new” rule is if you intend to own the car for at least 10 years. By then, you can usually recoup your money, and you get the satisfaction of the new car smell for the first year! (I have owned my current new purchase for 16 years now!).
With just these items, the average household can save nearly $500/month. $500/month over 20 years is $350,000, and over 30 years it is worth $1 million. With a little effort other savings can be achieved to get there faster.
The main obstacle is that people seem to prefer a few cups of coffee at Starbucks over having $1 million in their pocket. To me, this doesn’t make any sense!