You may believe that in order to have a secure future, you have to give up all the fun you have today. By looking at the way you structure your life, however, you might be able to live well both now and in the future.
I recently read Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek, and among other observations, I was struck by his focus on cash flow -- specifically, monthly cash flow. For Ferriss, the financial side of membership in what he calls the "New Rich" is all about cash flow. Want to drive a Lamborghini? You don't need to be a zillionaire -- just raise your income enough to cover the $2,900 monthly payments. Dreaming of an extended trip around the world? Figure out how much cash you'll need per month to cover the costs, and find a way to generate it while you're away. In his world, it's that simple.
He does have a good point, of course -- many dreams that seem unattainable are actually within reach, when reframed in the context of monthly costs (and when other priorities are juggled). But Ferriss -- who is young, smart, brash, and most of all, single -- doesn't worry about the future much, trusting that he'll always be able to get through any rough periods by falling back on bartending skills and the like. He says he does have a 401(k) and an IRA, but refers to them as a "backup plan" and is generally disdainful of the idea of putting a lot of effort into saving for retirement.
It strikes me that a lot of young people -- recently out of college and making real money for the first time -- might think along similar lines. There's nothing wrong with that per se; speaking as someone who bagged a corporate career to become a writer, there's a lot to be said for thinking outside of traditional life and career models. But it raises an interesting question: How does one reconcile the desire to chase dreams now with the usual Foolish advice to live below one's means and save as much as possible for retirement?
Easy answers ... and harder ones
The simple answer is to raise one's income high enough to do it all -- to afford the Lamborghini and fully fund all those retirement accounts. That's a great strategy for those who can pull it off, but for many, increases in income are infrequent and incremental. At the same time, saving for retirement shouldn't mean 40 years of hair-shirt self-denial. If you aren't up for radical lifestyle shifts but would like to realize some of your dreams before your 70th birthday, try these approaches:
- Examine your spending. Start by looking at what you are spending your money on every month, and consider whether those choices are giving you value for money in the context of what you really want out of life. I'm not talking about giving up your latte to save $3.78 more per day for retirement. I'm talking about big-ticket items. For instance, are you really getting your money's worth of happiness and satisfaction from that country club membership, expensive car payment, big house, landscaping service, or whatever else you spend your money on? Sometimes we do things because we feel they're expected, or because everyone we work with is doing them, or because we don't take the time to consider other options. Take the time to question everything, and look for ways to reduce your spending that won't significantly reduce your quality of life as you perceive it.
- Don't forget your "regular" brokerage account. I know lots of investors who keep their taxable savings in relatively tame, short-term investments while putting all of their investment management efforts into their tax-advantaged retirement accounts. That makes sense if you're thinking of the taxable account as an emergency fund, but what if you started thinking of some of it as a dreams fund? Keep a sensible reserve in conservative investments, but as you increase your savings via changes in your spending, don't be afraid to invest some of that money a little more aggressively. A few thousand dollars invested as recently as four or five months ago in Hidden Gems picks Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG-B) or LoopNet (Nasdaq: LOOP) would have increased by about 50% -- yes, that quickly. Investing your "dream fund" in aggressive stocks like these could put you in Lamborghini territory sooner than you might think -- or pay for a really nice vacation every year, or a summer cottage, or something else that might seem unattainable right now.
- Check out Motley Fool Green Light. Yeah, it's a Foolish sales pitch. But this one is worth your attention -- the Fool's Green Light newsletter service, run by veteran Fools Dayana Yochim and Shannon Zimmerman, specializes in helping readers find more money (and make better choices with the money they find) every month. They promise $450 worth of money-saving tips in every issue. Think about that: $450 a month could be a payment on a new car or boat -- or a terrific annual vacation, or one-on-one tennis lessons with the best instructor in your state, or any number of other life-enhancing things. Full access to the current issue -- and all back issues -- is free for 30 days.