Retirement is a dream many people simply cannot afford, as savings rates are depressingly low. Half of adults age 55 and over have no retirement savings whatsoever, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and only 28% of American adults are considered financially healthy, researchers from the Financial Health Network found.
Of course, part of the reason why it's difficult to save is because there's simply not enough money to go around. The median income of those age 25 and over is roughly $50,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When you have a seemingly endless list of bills to pay, that money doesn't go as far as you'd like.
That said, even if you're on a tight budget, there are ways to stretch every dollar. And even if you think you have no money to save, there are a few common spending habits that may be harming your financial health.
1. Buying things just because they're on sale
It's easy to get caught up in a sale. When you see those magical "50% off" or "buy one get one free" phrases, it's tempting to buy something simply because it's on sale. If you really need that item, then there's nothing wrong with taking advantage of a good discount. But if you're buying it now and hoping you'll use it later, you're just wasting money.
The average American spends around $450 per month on impulse purchases, according to a survey from deal-sharing platform Slickdeals. That's around $5,400 per year, or $324,000 over a lifetime. Nearly two-thirds of those who shop impulsively said they do so because they got a good deal on the item, and 40% said they have purchased something on impulse simply because they had a coupon for it.
Again, if these purchases are items you actually need, there's no harm in hunting for a deal. But unnecessary purchases could result in a lot of lost potential. If you instead put the $5,400 per year you may be spending on impulse purchases toward your savings, that money could go a long way toward retirement. Say, for instance, you save $5,400 per year in a retirement account earning a 7% annual rate of return. Over 30 years, you'd have around $510,000 stashed away.
2. Not paying attention to the little things
You may justify spending money each month on "little" costs, thinking that $10 here and there surely won't hurt. But these costs can quickly add up, and before you know it, you're spending hundreds of dollars per month on "little" things.
These little things can include costs such as subscription services, takeout, a gym membership you rarely use, etc. Individually, they may not add up to very much. But combined -- especially when you consider how much you're spending over the long term -- they can make it hard to save for the future.
To figure out whether you're wasting money on these seemingly minor expenses, take a fine-tooth comb to your budget. You can either write out all your expenses the old-fashioned way or use an app to track your spending, but the important thing is to determine exactly where all your money is going. Next, cut out any costs that are not truly necessary (or at least try to cut back). If you absolutely love dining out, for example, you don't need to eliminate it altogether -- but do try to cut back so you're not spending as much as you are now.
Even if you can save just an additional $100 per month by cutting out the little things you're wasting money on, that money can go further than you think when you invest it in your retirement fund. By saving just $100 per month earning a 7% annual return on your investments, you can accumulate around $113,000 in savings over 30 years.
3. Spending extra money just because you have it
When you get a bonus at work or receive your tax refund, the first thing you may want to do is splurge on a fancy vacation or that expensive new phone you don't need but really want. While there's no harm in treating yourself once in a while, make sure you're not spending at the expense of your financial future.
When saving for retirement, you may tell yourself you'll save more once you start earning more money. But then when you do start earning more money, you might convince yourself you need to spend more because you deserve it as a reward for your hard work. As your income increases, it's easy to fall into the trap of spending more simply because you have more to spend.
A quarter of U.S. households earning $150,000 or more per year are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a survey from Nielsen Global Consumer Insights, proving that money doesn't necessarily solve all your financial problems. If you're not spending your money wisely, you may end up spending more than you can afford, not leaving anything for your retirement fund.
Saving for retirement isn't easy, no matter how much money you have. But if you're unknowingly wasting money on things you don't need, these bad habits could end up costing you thousands of dollars in lost potential. However, once you're aware of the problem and start taking steps to correct it, you'll be in a much healthier financial position.