It's the Little Things That Kill: Small Expenses That Add Up Fast

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Everyone is somewhat familiar with the economics of the latte: $5 isn't a lot of money. But $5 a day, every day adds up quickly: "A latte a day is going to cost you over $1,000 per year," explains Renee Harrison, a private wealth advisor with Ameriprise. Still, if your only indulgence is a daily latte, you'll probably say to yourself, "I earned it."

The problem is that it's probably not. In fact, you probably have a number of little things that add up quickly -- and are killing your budget.

Beyond the Latte

Harrison calls things like the daily latte "discretionary cash flow raiders."

"If you eat lunch out every day that can easily cost over $150 per month, per person," she explains. It gets worse if you opt for a sit-down restaurant over a fast food joint.

Ellie Kay, America's Family Financial Expert, explains that it's not just about the money that you spend -- it's also the impact on your health. "Pack your lunch the night before and you're set up for success," she says.

Harrison advises one way for couples to save money when they head out: rather than getting an entrée, two appetizers and two desserts, instead get an entrée, appetizer and dessert to split between the two of you, or better yet, have the dessert at home. There's an added health benefit. "Couples who do this find that they don't feel overstuffed after a meal," Harrison said.

Cut the Cable

What's your cable bill? Kay and her family's is zero, instead using Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix at a fraction of the cost. Still, she cautions people against à la carte buying.

"If you're getting Downton Abbey and other shows every week, that's going to add up quickly," she said.

This extends to Redbox. "They're incredibly cheap," she says.

However, if you don't return them on time, that's going to add up quickly.

 

"You end up paying double than what you thought," she says. If you don't return your Redbox movies on time, your late fees can become your latte -- and without the hot, creamy goodness of the latter.

Fueling Up

Are you wasting money at the pump? Probably, and not by opting for gas that costs 10 cents more than the next place, says Harrison. "People run errands in their cars, even if it's just down the block." Rather than this, she advises people plan their routes out before they get in the car. "That way you're not backtracking and doubling your mileage," she says.

The Bottom Line: Seeing Retirement as a Need

Nick Givogri, the director of Merrill Edge in the Orange County market, thinks the fundamental problem is that people don't see retirement as a need.

"A comfortable retirement isn't a want, it's a need," he says. "If you actually save the money from your latte and get a 7% return on your investment, that's going to be $130,000 over the long haul." While that won't provide for the whole of your retirement, it will help you to make a big step toward it.

Toward that end, Givogri recommends that people track all of their spending.

"See where your money is actually going," he says. After that, you can decide where you're spending too much and too little -- both relative terms. Maybe you decide that spending $1,000 a year is worth it, maybe you don't. The point is that it needs to be intentional spending, rather than just blowing money and not thinking about it.

What's more, Givogri recommends that you make specific, measurable goals. "Don't say 'I'm going to save more,'" he said. "Make it specific. Say that you're going to save an extra $150 per month."

Likewise, Kay says to not have unrealistic expectations. "Making your life a series of rules can take all the joy out of life," Kay says. "It also increases your chances of failure."

An exercise for the month: set a certain percentage of your income for savings -- 20% is a great target. Put that aside and forget about it.

Once you've done that and paid your bills, you can spend as much as you want on whatever you want.

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet

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