Survey after survey shows that Americans spend more time planning a vacation or researching which refrigerator to buy than they do reviewing their investment options in their retirement plan. Spending more time understanding the investment options would be great, but it won’t solve the main issue. The primary driver behind the low level of retirement savings in America is the fact that so many people just don’t save enough. Where we need to spend more time is in planning how we spend our money, so we can spend less of it.
The personal savings rate in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2015, according the the Bureau of Economic Analysis, was 4.7%. That rate is well below the average of over 10% before 1990. The decline in the U.S. savings rate corresponds with the acceleration in the use of revolving credit, otherwise known as credit cards. In the decade of the 90’s, the use of credit cards, and other types of debt without a fixed repayment date, grew two and a half times faster than it had in the decade prior, and there has been no turning back.
Credit cards make spending money easy, all but eliminating the need for planning, because you can spend money you don’t have. Need a shot of caffeine in the morning, but don’t have any cash? No problem, put it on the card. Need new tires, but don’t have any savings? Put it on the card. It’s easy to find yourself at the end of the month with a big credit card bill, no money left and no savings. With planning you can reduce your spending on a whole host of things. If nothing else, you can avoid the over 15% annual interest on credit card balances you carry for what you bought. Here are a few ways to get started on a plan.
- Create a budget. Assign every dollar a job. Some dollars will do the work of your regular monthly expenses, while other dollars will work toward accumulating money for predictable but irregular expenses. If you need a tool to help you, try youneedabudget.com.
- Use lists when you are shopping. Whether you are grocery shopping, clothes shopping, holiday or birthday shopping, know what you will buy ahead of time, and know what you will spend. Having the list will help you avoid impulse buys and having a target spending number will help anchor your thought processes. Behavioral studies show that anchoring will make overspending at least thought provoking, if not actually uncomfortable.
- Use separate accounts to help you allocate your money. These can be paper or real accounts. Setting up separate accounts will help create a barrier, whether mental or physical, between the different uses for your money. This will make it harder to spend money differently than how you had it allocated. You can have separate accounts for your normal monthly expenses, expenses that are larger but don’t get paid every month like insurance or property taxes, and of course your long term savings goals, which, after all, are a kind of expense.
- Take advantage of automation. Your employer likely can automatically take money from your pay and deposit it into at least a couple of different accounts in addition to your employer sponsored retirement savings plan. Having the money automatically deposited takes it out of play for daily spending, unless you actively move it to another account.
These strategies will help you be more intentional with your spending. With greater awareness you will likely find some areas where you are spending money on things you don’t use, or where you could simply spend less. Let’s face it, for most it is possible to save. The median household income in America, according to the Census Bureau was $53,657 in 2014. If your household income is more than that, more than half the households in the country live on less than you do. With some planning I guarantee you will be able to spend less and save more.