When you work for yourself and don’t have the option of living paycheck to paycheck, you’re forced to start learning how to take better care of your money.
There are some tricks that can help you out with that. Writing down every dime you spend for a month or using websites like Mint.com can give you a clearer perspective on where your money is going. Setting back enough cash to cover six months of expenses with no income coming in can also give you a lot of peace of mind. It’s great to know that if you have a major car repair or your income dips unexpectedly for a few months, you’re not going to be struggling to pay your bills.
But the real key to socking away the dough is to think incrementally. The big checks help a lot, but as often as not, it’s the small savings you make over the long haul that really pad your bank account.
Think about it like this: You’re likely to work five days a week for at least 40 years, probably even longer than that for people under 40. So 40 times 260 working days a year equals $10,400. In other words, if you can find a way to save a dollar a day, that’ll amount to an extra $10,400 dollars over the course of your working lifetime — much more if you invest the money.
Here are some ways to start putting more money back. Although most of them won’t seem like huge difference-makers at first, over time they’ll really add up.
1) Buy used cars: The average cost of a new car in 2009 was $28,400. In most states, $28,400 is more than half the median household income for an ENTIRE YEAR.
So, let’s do a little comparison. One person buys a new car every five years. Another person buys a used car at half the price, takes care of it, and keeps it for a decade. After a 10 year period, the first person has spent $56,800 on transportation. The other person? He’s spent $14,200. What could you do with an extra $42,600?
Let’s take those numbers 40 years out. $42,600 x 4 = $170,400. That alone is bigger than the nest egg most Americans have saved up when they retire.
Not really a good choice for a first car.
2) Lunch and soda: Back when I had a day job, I’d often go out with friends on my lunch break. Then I started doing the math on what it cost. I was spending $7-$8 on lunch and then buying 3-4 sodas over the course of a day. Add it all up and I was spending roughly $10 a day on food. Cut that in half by bringing your own lunch and sodas from home and you’re saving $5 a day. That’s $1300 a year and a stunning $52,000 over the course of a lifetime.
What do you mean bring food from home tomorrow? And miss lobster day at work?
3) Pay yourself first: If you want to regularly save money, the best way to do it is to decide ahead of time that a certain percentage of your cash is going in the bank. Then, when you deposit your check, automatically put the money in your savings account before you start paying any of your other bills. Once you get used to it, you won’t even feel the pinch most of the time. That’s because mentally, people tend to find a way to adjust to however much money they happen to have available.
Problem #1: She didn’t pay herself first. Problem #2: There’s a tiny, evil clown in the bag
4) Buy used: My car? Used. My stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher? Used. Living room table and recliner? Used. Watch? Used. My gun? Used. Almost all of my video games? Used. Books? Most of them are used. That’s not to say you should buy EVERYTHING used. In fact, I recommend being particularly careful about buying used electronics. But we live in a wealthy society where people are constantly upgrading the quality of their belongings. That means there are some great deals out there. Moreover, there are lots of places to buy used goods: eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, yard sales, church sales, flea markets — it goes on and on and saves you lots of money.
Don’t buy used from this guy.
5) Starbucks: Is gourmet coffee really worth $3.50 a cup or more? Especially when you can buy a coffeemaker and brew it up for roughly 50 cents a cup? Three dollars per day may not seem like all that much money, but it adds up to $31,200 over the course of a working lifetime. That is a hell of a lot of money just to spend on coffee.
The sign wouldn’t lie to you, would it?
6) Groceries: For a lot of people, groceries are their biggest monthly expense behind housing and car payments. Yet we often don’t realize how much we can save on groceries because each individual item isn’t all that expensive. However, unless you’re already working hard to save money at the grocery store, you can easily save $10 a week.
Buy larger sizes of food that you eat in large quantities. You nearly always get discounts for buying larger sizes. Buy generic instead of name brands. Look for cheaper substitute items or items on sale. Buy steak or hamburger on the right day, just before it expires, and you can get a significant discount. Same goes for buying fruit in season. The cost of a particular fruit may be $2 or $3 higher depending on what time of year you buy it. Also, coupon clipping isn’t for everyone, but the stores have gotten to the point where they often give you coupons for things you actually buy when you check out. Just put the coupons in a box and bring them back the next week. That’s another few bucks every week. If you can’t save $25,000 over the course of your lifetime just by making a few changes in your buying habits at the grocery store, then you’re not trying very hard.
Ok, about the buying in bulk thing…
7) Phone follies: I’m a little bit unusual in that I don’t use a cell phone day-to-day. I use a pay per minute from Tracfone for events and traveling, but otherwise I prefer for people not to be able to get in touch with me while I’m out- and-about. That saves me roughly $600 a year and it should add up to $24,000 over the course of a working lifetime.
Granted, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are other alternatives. Do you really need a cell phone AND a landline? Can you replace your landline with a voice over IP alternative like Skype or Vonage? Either option could easily save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime.
A cheap rotary phone was good enough for him to use to call another planet.