Change The Way You Save

Why Does It Feel Like I’m Saving When There’s No Money In My Savings Account?

In the 1970’s, the Personal Savings Rate in the United States peaked around 14%. Over the last 40 years, thanks to an increase in consumer spending and a decrease in personal accountability, the Personal Savings Rate in the United States has been trending downward. In 2013, the Personal Savings Rate in the United States sits at a very unhealthy 2.7%. If an American worker is receiving a weekly paycheck of $1000, (s)he is only saving $27.

To compare, the Personal Savings Rate in China is around 38%. If a Chinese worker is receiving a weekly paycheck of $1000, s(he) is saving $380. In other words, an American worker will work 3.5 months in order to save as much money as a Chinese worker saves in 1 week.

How is this possible?

Obviously there are cultural differences, but how can one human-being require so much more money than another human-being?

This phenomenon is often explained in 2 ways:

1. In economics terms:

  • The Great Recession was caused by over-consumption (and a severe mis-allocation of resources in residential real estate). Since the Great Recession, prices and taxes have risen at a time that wages have fallen.

2. In psychological terms:

  • There is a gross misunderstanding of what is needed to survive. This is commonly expressed as a battle between “wants” versus “needs.”

It’s impossible to argue against either of the above reasons. But, I want to add a third reason – a reason you haven’t read about elsewhere. A reason that explains why we aren’t saving more.

False Advertising

Every time we go shopping, we are constantly seeking deals. We are constantly seeing offers such as:

“Buy 2, Get 1 free!”

or

“Spend $100 to receive 20% off!”

Advertisers have successfully convinced the American consumer that, in order to save more, we must spend more. I know you have seen the message, “the more you spend, the more you save!”

But, this slogan is entirely false. It’s not only misleading, but it’s destructive. Spending more does not lead to saving more. Spending more leads to less savings.

By definition, saving is:

“money that is not spent.” It can also be explained as “deferred consumption.”

It is this mixed message that is partially causing consumers to save less and spend more. We spend A LOT of time looking for opportunities to save. But, the act of saving rarely involves setting money aside for a rainy day (as the definition suggests). Instead, the act of saving is usually just less money spent.

After every purchase, we pat ourselves on the back because we saved X amount.

I went to the grocery store and saved $20. I went to the mall and saved $150. I got my car wash, chose the $10 option  instead of the $15 option, and saved $5.”

These purchases cause our brains to rejoice because, in total, we saved $175.

But, our savings account still shows a zero balance.

What Can We Do To Change This?

Automate your savings.

1. Increase your 401(k) contribution

Increasing your 401(k) contribution by 1% will not negatively affect your current standard of living, but it will significantly improve your future. Also, the money is much more difficult to access in your 401(k) versus a savings account or brokerage account.

2. Divert a percentage of your paycheck to your savings account…and don’t touch it

Start setting aside 10% of your income into a savings account. If you find yourself tapping into it, try separating your checking account from your savings account so that it’s no longer convenient to transfer back-and-forth.

Remember, if you’re spending, you’re not saving!

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Change The Way You Invest, Change The Way You Save

What If I Increase My 401(k) Contribution By 1%?

I was 23 years young and I was working my first “real” job (post-college). I still remember the day when my Manager dropped the big binder on my desk labelled “Benefits.” Once I selected my health insurance (hardly knowing what a deductible is), I shuffled through a section titled “401(k).”

I knew the gist of what a 401(k) is,  but I wasn’t sure how it operated. To make matters worse, I’m pretty sure it was written in Chinese. The entire experience was overwhelming.

I was asked what I wanted to invest in, what my risk-tolerance is and when I wanted to retire. I remember thinking, “This is my first day of working and they’re already asking when I want to leave? How does tomorrow sound!?”

Once I filled-in the required fields, there was one last section: Contributions.

What percentage of my paycheck do I want to contribute towards my 401(k)? In other words, what amount of money can I give up now, so that I will have money when I stop working?

Yikes! What a tough question. I don’t want to give up anything now. That’s so un-American!

Without doing any math and without looking at any budget, I concluded that I could sacrifice 3%. How did I settle on 3%? Easy. It’s in the middle of 1% and 5%.

1% felt too low and 5% seemed too high.

This was an extremely irrational justification. If I actually did the math, I was concerned about losing $28 each month. At the same time, I was nonchalantly dropping $400 each month at the bars.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish I would’ve contributed more. Contributing an additional 1% to my 401(k) would NOT have changed my current standard of living, but it would drastically affect my future standard of living.

If you continue reading, I’ll do the math and tell you exactly how much.

How Much Will a 1% Increase of 401(k) Contributions Impact my Retirement Savings?

A lot.

In order to do the math, there are a few assumptions that must be made. We will name our subject: Jack.

Jack is 25 years old and earns $52,000 per year. This breaks down to $2000 per pay-period because he gets paid bi-weekly (26 pay periods).  Jack’s employer matches 100%, up to 4%, and he is receiving a raise of 3% each year. Because Jack has decided to invest in the stock market, he expects an average annual return of 8%. Lastly, Jack would like to retire at the age of 65.

100% Match

1% Contribution (compared to no contribution)

  • Effect to paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $399,793 compared to $0

2% Contribution (compared to 1% contribution)

  • Effect to paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $799,539 compared to $399,793

3% Contribution (compared to 2% contribution)

  • Effect to paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $1,199,329 compared to $799,539

4% Contribution (compared to 3% contribution)

  • Effect to paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $1,599,093 compared to $1,199,329

Don’t Understand These Numbers?

For every 1% increase in 401(k) contributions, Jack will have $14 less in each paycheck, but will have roughly $400,000 MORE in retirement savings! If Jack goes from contributing nothing to contributing 4%, he will receive $56 less each pay-period, but he will accumulate roughly $1.6 Million by the time he is 65.

So…if I asked YOU to save $112 each month, do you think YOU could do it? What if I told you that, by doing so, YOU would easily become a millionaire?

It’s pretty enticing, isn’t it?

But…

What if Your Employer Does NOT Match Your Contributions?

Well, the first thing you should do is smack whoever is in-charge and ask, “B*tch, why you ain’t matchin’ this $h!t?”

I am not going to argue whether you should contribute to a 401(k), an IRA or a Roth IRA. They are all extremely useful and I could make a strong argument for each. In order to be best prepared for any tax environment, you should probably have all three. But, since this article is already focused on 401(k) contributions, let’s stick with that.

No Match

1% Contribution (compared to no contribution)

  • Effect on paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $199,896 compared to $0

2% Contribution (compared to 1% contribution)

  • Effect on paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $399,769 compared to $199,896

3% Contribution (compared to 2% contribution)

  • Effect on paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $599,665 compared to $399,769

4% Contribution (compared to 3% contribution)

  • Effect on paycheck = $14
  • Impact on retirement savings = $799,547 compared to $599,665

What Do These Numbers Mean?

By removing the employer match, the effect on Jack’s bi-weekly paycheck is going to be the same. For every 1% increase of contributions, Jack will have $14 less in each paycheck. This equates to roughly $28/month and $364 annually. But, by setting aside $14 each paycheck, Jack is able to have an additional $200,000 in retirement savings.

Summary

Whether you are receiving a match from your employer on your 401(k) contributions, I would still recommend contributing as much money as you can. A very small sacrifice NOW will have a very BIG impact later. In the above scenario, a sacrifice of $14 every 2 weeks, will add an additional $200,000 to $400,000 to your nest egg, come age 65.

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Borrowing, Change The Way You Spend

Buying A Car Is Not An Accomplishment

I logged into Facebook and, surprisingly, was not bombarded with baby pictures. What I saw was much worse.

One of my “Facebook friends” (in other words: we met once) posted a picture of the 2013 Toyota Rav4 that she just purchased. This baby looked brand-spankin’ new! Obviously, a new mommy is going to be proud of her beautiful baby and will need to show her off. I’m not the least bit upset about the picture or the purchase.

What upsets me is the collective response from those that commented on her photo.

Awesome!!! SOO PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT!!!

I actually had to scroll back up to the picture because I wasn’t sure we were all viewing the same image.

I was thinking, “Wait…did she  just graduate with a Master’s Degree?”

I quickly transformed myself into Detective Elliot Stabler and this poor girl’s Facebook wall was my crime scene. After carefully reviewing her recent photos and statuses, I can confidently say that there was no evidence of a major life event. The only “accomplishment” to speak of was this car purchase.

She was not a victim of the SVU. She was a victim of the SUV.

My amazement continued as I read further…

CONGRATS!!! Ugh, I’m so jealous!

Jealous of her new car payment?

OMG! I love the color! Is it red?

Um…it’s clearly black, so do you no longer love it?

(I was contemplating whether or not I wanted to include this last comment. Although it has nothing to do with the car purchase being an achievement, I couldn’t believe someone asked if the black car was red. The picture was taken in broad daylight.)

Five comments and 27 Likes later, I found myself thoroughly confused.

Do people really consider buying a car to be an accomplishment? Is buying a car a sign that you’re growing up, getting wiser, or moving forward? Am I crazy or is everyone else crazy?

(The last question should not be answered.)

I cannot understand how a new car purchase is IN ANY WAY an accomplish and an achievement.

I invite you to join me through this discovery process so that, together, we can decide if congratulations are necessary when a friend buys a car.

Is It Difficult To Buy A Car?

If it’s difficult to buy a car, then I could understand why buying a car would warrant congratulatory remarks. Since I used to approve people for car loans, I can confidently say that it is extremely easy to get approved for a car loan. For instance, if you have a credit score of 640 and your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is below 50%, you will likely be approved to finance a car. Therefore, if you make $15,000 a year, you can (somehow) buy a nice car (depending on other debts).

Is it difficult to buy a car? No.

Is Buying A Car A Sign Of Growing Up Or Growing Wiser?

Kids can’t buy cars. In that sense, buying a car shows that you have at least hit a certain age. Also, showing your ability to repay borrowed money (establishing credit) shows some level of maturity. But, you can achieve this by responsibly using credit cards. Therefore, I do not think that unnecessarily spending $20,000-$30,000 shows signs of growing older. Furthermore, I recall my college finance professor driving a beat-down car worth less than $1000. He understood the value of money better than anyone I have met. I also recall my father’s good friend who is a brain surgeon. He is arguable the smartest person I have met. He has LOADS of MONEY and drives a mini van that is 30 years old.

Is buying a car a sign of growing up or growing wiser? No.

Is Buying A Car A Sign Of Moving Forward?

I suppose that, physically, you may be “moving forward” after a car purchase. But, you will be taking a step backwards in every other aspect of life if you purchase a new car. If you are making a $300 monthly car payment, then you must make a sacrifice of $300 elsewhere. If you were setting money aside to advance your education, you now must set aside less money. If you had high hopes of paying for your child’s education, that dream is driving away (all pun intended).

Is buying a car a sign of moving forward? No.

Conclusion

STOP TREATING CAR PURCHASES AS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT!!!

I would go out on a limb and say that MOST PEOPLE (I could make up a percentage to sound more credible) know that buying a new car is one of the worst financial decisions you can make. If you notice, I purposefully didn’t use the word “investment” as people rarely buy cars thinking that they’ll appreciate in value.

If MOST PEOPLE know that buying a new car is a horrible decision, why do MOST PEOPLE continue to treat buying a car as an accomplishment?

Apparently, (to answer my last question) I am crazy.

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Change The Way You Save, Change The Way You Spend

If You’re Spending, You’re Not Saving

“The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.” – Kin Hubbard

One of my biggest pet peeves is the oblivious overuse of the word “saving.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard:

“I bought 2 pairs of shoes and saved $50!”

OR

“If I buy it now, I can save $1000.”

OR

(when the cashier hands you the receipt) “Today, you saved $12.”

I blame advertising and marketing experts for brainwashing us with this language. How could you possibly be saving if you’re spending? It sounds impossible when you think about it. Unfortunately, we never think about it.

When we do give it thought, we feel great about the purchase because we’re not thinking about the money lost. We’ve been programmed to focus on the savings.

How Do We Fix It?

Let’s rethink the above and see how else we can view it:

“I could spend $150 on 2 pairs of shoes. But what else could I do with $150?”

OR

“I am about to spend $2000. Do I really need it now?”

OR

“Today, I am spending $80.”

How Much Am I Saving Spending?

All you have to do is change your mindset before purchases. Shift the focus from “how much am I saving?” to “how much am I spending?”

This psychological shift will cause you to spend much less than you have been.

If this simple “word replacement” is not effective for you, then try asking these two questions before checking out:

1. Can I do without it?

2. What else can I get with this money?

Readers: Try this tip today and share your success story.

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Change The Way You Live

Who Wants to be Fat Free?

Welcome to Fat Free Personal Finance!

“Wait, I don’t get it.” – Cheerleader

If you’re new here (which you have to be) then be sure to read a little about me and why I started this blog.

If you’re too lazy to click the About button (look up a few inches and to the left) then I’ll give you an idea of why I’m here.

Let’s look at two common goals:

How To Lose Weight

  • Burn more calories than you take in

How To Get Rich

  • Spend less than you make

Do you see the parallels?

It’s easy to lose weight. And It’s easy to become rich. So why is everyone’s belly bigger than their wallet?

Why I’m Starting This Blog

I’m here to better understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it (and to help you understand as well).

How To Lose Weight Example:

Everybody wants to lose weight and be fit. Amazingly, there are thousands of ways to achieve both. Unamazingly, most people are still obese. Why?

For some reason people choose not to follow these proven methods to get in shape.

  • No one wants to go to the gym.
  • No one wants to put in the time.
  • No one wants to give the necessary effort.

Instead, we would rather eat something “fat free” because that’s somehow going to get us the figure we’re searching for.

Enough already. Your transformation starts here.

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