One of the fastest ways for us personal-finance writers to annoy our readers is to raise The Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) Issue.
You've read this one a dozen times. It's the one where we say, "If normally you buy a $4 latte every morning, and you stop buying it and instead invest the money in an index fund in your retirement account, you'll have $553,396 after 40 years," or something like that, and it's usually in an article with a title like "The Half-Million-Dollar Cup of Coffee." Sound familiar?
The thing is, though, it's true. If you invest $4 times five days a week times 52 weeks a year annually in an index fund returning 10%, you will have more than $500,000 in 40 years. The math doesn't lie. What you won't have is 40 years' worth of the pleasure of breaking your morning fog with a delicious beverage. And if too many people adopt this strategy, Starbucks' stock might suffer, and depending on how your retirement funds are invested, that might slow down your wealth-building a bit. But I digress.
If you're determined to build wealth, living below your means is the key. And enough little savings -- like cutting out the morning cappuccino -- can add up to a significant difference in your monthly spending. But there are tradeoffs, and like the coffee, they can seem trivial and hugely annoying at the same time.
You've probably already made the painless cuts from your spending -- or, at least, if you haven't, you shouldn't need my help to find them. Here are more ideas that may seem annoying or unreasonable at first glance but are actually worth some consideration.
- Move to a smaller house. Heresy, right? Downsizing one's digs is a sign of economic failure in America, I hear you say. Except ... it doesn't need to be. How much space do you really need? Can you get buy with less space -- and lower mortgage and utility payments? If you spend a portion of the savings on new furniture, would it really be less nice? How much would you save?
- Telecommute. I work from home. My wife works from home most days, too. We drink great coffee, eat whatever we want for lunch, and save a bundle -- on gas, clothing, car maintenance, food, and those $4 lattes. And you can't beat my commute: It's one flight of stairs! It isn't for everyone, but if your workplace will let you try it, give it a shot -- you might never go back.
- Lose weight. Sure, joining Weight Watchers (NYSE: WTW ) or a gym isn't free, but do you know how much being overweight costs? Getting into shape (and eating well) can save you lots of money on medicines, medical copays, life insurance, and lost work time, and improve your life in a whole host of other ways. Your weight loss efforts don't have to be expensive -- think about it.
- Relocate. Go one step further than a smaller house -- move to a less expensive part of the country. If you're living in an East Coast metro area, northern California, or another high-priced region, think about the tradeoffs involved in moving to a nice but less-expensive community elsewhere. You might get more house -- maybe much more -- for less money. Costs for things like food and entertainment might be cheaper, too. You might make less money, but how much would you really be giving up? And if you're already telecommuting, you could keep your current job.
- Buy stuff used. I'm a big fan of buying good used cars, as I've said before. But you can get all sorts of other good used stuff cheap or even free. I suspect that nearly every community that includes families with young children has a thriving underground exchange of used kid clothes, baby accessories, strollers, and the like -- even wealthy communities. If you have kids, get access to it. And consider trying local secondhand places -- or even eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) -- for clothes for yourself or furniture. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Brown-bag it. Do you buy lunch every work day? Is it usually good enough to justify the $7-$8 you spend? How much of a pain would it be to bring something simple from home? Bringing lunch even once a week will save something, and you might find that the brown-bagged stuff is tastier -- and healthier, too.
See what I mean? Most people react to ideas like these with a roll of the eyes. But give them a second look. One or two might make sense for you -- and could help you save a lot more money over time.