Why Every Financial Decision Matters
Most of us think we can "afford" something if we can acquire it in a socially acceptable way. As long as we don't steal it or run up debt we have no intention of repaying, we can "afford" it. If the monthly payment can be made to fit into our budget, borrowing money rather than saving for what we want is how we manage.
We also tend to make financial decisions based on what the people around us decide. We buy clothes, vacations, cars, even houses based on what our friends – or the people we want to hang around with – choose. We don't always give a lot of thought to long-term financial freedom or happiness.
David Cain, author and creator of raptitude.com, has a job in construction. He has noticed that most of his colleagues drive full-size pickup trucks because "it's just altogether more manly and awesome to be able to drive over curbs onto muddy new developments" than it is to park your small sedan on the street and walk to your work site.
The other benefits of driving a full-size truck (having a big engine and big tires, sitting up high, hauling your expensive toys out to the lake, etc.) seem frivolous to him, but he realizes they may be more valuable to others.
But how much more valuable are they, really? The extra monetary cost is huge. Not only does the truck cost $30,000 to $40,000 more to purchase than, say, a 3- to 5-year-old Toyota sedan, but it also costs more to finance, insure, and repair. Tires and oil changes cost more. And every single week, you're going to use a lot more gasoline to go the same number of miles (and gasoline keeps getting more expensive).
If all of that additional money was invested instead, over the next six years or so (the life of a typical auto loan) it could amount to $60,000 or $70,000. That's quite a chunk. It could go a long way toward getting out of debt, providing a down payment on a house, financing a college education, adding a goodly amount to retirement savings, or something else that could bring long-term value and peace of mind. It could even pay for a full-size pickup truck.
And that's just one financial decision. Imagine if you applied this type of awareness and rationality toward every area of spending.
I say this with no judgment, because I've made plenty of stupid money decisions in my life, and I don't always make the smartest decisions now.
But consider a $20 per week Starbucks habit, or book-buying habit, or tee-shirt buying habit, or junky-snack-food habit. I know it's quite easy to waste this much money every week (or even more).
That $20 per week comes to $1,040 per year. Saving and investing that amount at a 7% annual return (pretty realistic, historically speaking, on the U. S. stock market) for six years amounts to $8,111. Over 20 years, it grows to $46,007. (I used the investment calculator at nerdwallet.com.)
And that's just one small habit.
I realize that there are many levels of income out there, and that some of us have more means than others. But all of us, whether high- or low-income, debt-free or underwater, still make decisions every day about how to use our money. The financial philosophy that allows some people to be able to retire early is the same one that leads others out of consumer debt and toward a more secure financial situation.
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, "But I want to enjoy my life! I don't want to deny myself every pleasure and become a miser!"
There is a fallacy in our culture that in order to be happy we need to spend as much or more than we currently do. We fear that giving up even a small part of our luxuries will make our lives barren.
Why not give it a try?
- Give up expensive lattes and switch to coffee with a little milk. Are you really less happy? Or do you get all the benefits of caffeine and maybe even lose a few pounds?
- Limit yourself to one drink. Are you less happy, or do you enjoy no taxis and no hangovers? Maybe you even learn how overrated alcohol is as a fun-maker.
- Stop buying new clothes every week or month and see how creative you can be with what you already own. Are you really less happy without something new, or do you feel greater confidence as you figure out what you like wearing and what looks good on you?
- Sell your boat or your RV, get an immediate windfall, and maybe even lose a load of invisible stress. See if simply walking along the beach or hiking through a forest gives you just as much pleasure as using those vehicles.
We need to redefine what we mean by sacrifice and deprivation and think instead about what we might be gaining. Every financial decision matters because they all add up to something much bigger.
Like this post? You might be interested in my book Simple Money: Achieve Financial Peace and Abundance with Minimalism (paid link).
Photo by Visual Stories/Micheile on Unsplash