Monday, September 16, 2013

Setting Your Budget: Trim Daily Expenses or Don't Sweat the Small Stuff?

How often do you see articles containing money saving tips? Make dinner more often and eat out less, rent movies rather than going out, bring lunch to work rather than visit a restaurant, take advantage of coupons, and brew your coffee rather than driving-through Starbucks.

Are these tips worthwhile? If we spare the $8 expense of a lunch five days per week, 50 weeks per year, we could save $2,000 – nothing to scoff at! However, what’s the cost of these savings? Eating at our desk everyday removes our ability to get outside and away from our work for that important hour, and prevents us from spending time, talking to, and laughing with friends. Is there a better way?

According to a new study released by the Department of Labor, the average U.S household earns $65,132 per year before taxes, and spends an average of $50,631 on annual expenditures (excluding taxes and savings). Of that spending, $20,093, or 39.7%, goes towards housing expenses. Additionally, $11,211, another 22.1%, goes towards transportation and automobiles. Combined, those elements make up 61.8% of the average household’s spending! By comparison, only $10,835, or 21.4%, of our spending goes toward food, apparel and services, and entertainment combined. If we are going to explore ways to reduce spending, shouldn't we start with the elements that are costing us the most?

For instance, most financial professionals say only 28% of our gross income should be committed to housing costs. Of the average $65,132 gross income, 28% would mean reducing our housing spending from $20,093 to $18,236, saving us $1,857 per year. Assuming a 250-day work year, this savings could allow us to spend nearly $7.50 per day on lunch, enjoying our friends, and taking a break from the office. More dramatically, reducing our mortgage payment by $500 per month, saving us $6,000 per year, pays for a whole lot of dinner and movie date nights.

Similarly, assume we spend $4 per day enjoying our morning coffee at Starbucks with friends five times a week, for 50 weeks a year. Annually this would cost us $1,000. Now suppose we purchase a nice used automobile for $15,000 rather than a new car for $25,000. This saves us $10,000 or 10 years worth of coffee breaks with friends (plus interest!).

Of course, everyone has different priorities. I suggest spending your money on what you are passionate about. For the occasional car fanatic, perhaps spending more on a car that makes you happy each day is preferable to other spending options. Likewise, if homes happen to be your hot spot, heavy spending in this area makes sense. However, I’d suggest that for most people, the experience of constantly eating with friends or spending a night out with your spouse is more likely to bring happiness than the possession of an expensive home or car. After all, would you rather eat out with friends or clip coupons in a large kitchen alone?


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