"Fluff" gets a bad rap.
What makes your comforter so comfy-cozy on a chilly autumn evening? Fluff. What makes your trusty kitten, Mittens, so adorably cuddly? Fluff. And what's the source of today's valuable life lesson on how to live below your means? The entertainment fluff bible for couch potatoes everywhere -- TV Guide.
I admit it. I read TV Guide regularly. And like 17 million other Americans, I also watch Lost on ABC regularly. (Along with Desperate Housewives, Lost is one of only two dramas from the Disney-backed network to consistently place on the top 10 list of most-watched TV shows, crucial to supporting the network's ad revenue.) And so when the Oct. 2, 2006, issue of TV Guide featured an article on Lost actor Josh Holloway, you just know that I turned right to it. And what did I learn? That Josh Holloway is a Fool.
That's not very nice.
Sorry. No offense intended -- I meant that in the best possible sense: As revealed in the article, Josh Holloway practices the same kinds of sound financial decision-making that we advocate at the Fool -- and in particular, in one of the most popular niches of Fooldom, the Living Below Your Means discussion board.
You see, the primary aim of The Motley Fool is to help individuals invest better. But before one can invest, one must have money to invest with. As the saying goes, "you need money to make money." And to get money in the first place, you must learn to save -- to "live below your means."
Greedy is good. Stingy is better.
Of course, "your means" are by definition relative. Few of us enjoy the kind of wages that television stars at Holloway's level can command. With a salary reportedly in the neighborhood of $80,000 per episode (times 24 episodes per season, and the guy's pulling in close to $2 million per year), Holloway earns far more than even the average Hollywood actor. According to the Los Angeles Business Journal, 90% of actors earn less than $100,000, with wages averaging less than $25,000. Simply put, Holloway is well off. And yet, he doesn't really act (pun) that way.
TV Guide used two examples to illustrate how Holloway's spending today, at the height of his career, reflects his youth. Growing up in rural Georgia, sharing a trailer with his parents and three brothers, money wasn't always flowing freely, and Holloway learned the value of a buck. So when he decided to treat himself to a few luxury items now that he's "made it," the decisions didn't come easily.
Bitten by the flat-screen-TV bug, Holloway recently splurged on a 61-inch plasma set. A quick scroll through Amazon.com confirms that one of these can be had for as little as $5,000 to $7,500 -- or in Holloway's context, one or two days' wages. Yet he still suffered buyer's remorse over spending so much, so quickly.
On a slightly larger scale, Holloway says he "agonized for weeks" before finally committing to buy a 26-foot Boston Whaler fishing boat. Price tag: approximately $75,000, or less than a month's salary for the Lost star. In the end, it seems he has taken some solace in his ability to fish for mahi mahi from his new toy. He sells the fish he catches to a local restaurant, and is paid in meal coupons -- which he uses to eat for free!
Lesson: No matter how much you make, there's no shame in taking free money. If a millionaire TV star can do it, you can, too.
L.A.? No way!
How much do you spend each week commuting to and from work? Whatever the amount, chances are that Josh Holloway would have outspent you had he chosen to commute from his home in L.A. to his job in Hawaii. But in contrast to many stars who famously jet-set from location to home and back again -- such as co-star Emilie de Ravin ("Claire") -- Holloway isn't using his salary to subsidize the airline industry. Rather, he made the sensible decision to buy a "surprisingly modest house" in Oahu, just minutes from his place of work.
Lesson: Commuting doesn't just waste time; it wastes money, not to mention fossil fuels. If you can afford to live near your work, then take a quality-of-life upgrade and smile. (Hint: Especially if your job's in Hawaii.)
The cheaper the college, the better.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: There's no reason to overpay for college. Ninety percent of S&P 500 company CEOs never set foot within an Ivy League school, and what's true in business is at least as true in show business -- you can be plenty successful without spending plenty of money. Holloway, for example, saw no reason to follow fellow actor Brooke Shields' path to a Princeton degree. He did just fine at his local state school, the University of Georgia. And he didn't even stay the whole four years, instead dropping out before graduation to do something more interesting (modeling).
Lesson: Successful people will be successful wherever they do -- or don't -- get their college diploma. In education as in life, don't overpay for what you don't need.
Speaking of which, at the Fool, we recognize that not all of our readers want, or need, year-round instruction on picking stocks. Some of you just want common-sense advice on how to minimize your expenses and maximize your wealth. For those who want to learn how to save money, without spending a lot of money for the knowledge, we offer the Motley Fool Green Light newsletter. At the rock-bottom price of $49 per year, it's our most economical offering. Buy it now, or just try it out for free on our dime, by clicking here.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article. If he did, The Motley Fool would require him to tell you so. We're sticklers about things like that. Disney is a Stock Advisor recommendation.