Five Things We'd Give up Before We'd Give up Lattes
(MONEY Magazine) – Are Americans really drowning in a sea of double-shot mocha lattes? Professional skinflint David Bach seems to think so. At the heart of his best-selling The Automatic Millionaire is a seductive notion: Cut trivial everyday expenses--like that $5 you spend on a latte and muffin at Starbucks--and you'll save enough money over several decades to make yourself a millionaire. "A latte a day," he quips, "keeps retirement away." Bach is so convinced "The Latte Factor" is a force for evil that he has trademarked the phrase and sells mugs emblazoned with the slogan. But is it really fair to blame the poor little latte for our financial woes?
Well, no. You have to spend something on food and drink. And while lattes make an easy target, they're not the reason so many of us have trouble saving. The authors of The Two-Income Trap note that today's families spend about 20% less than their parents did on food and drink. In fact, fixed costs--mortgages, child care, health insurance, taxes--account for 75% of the average two-paycheck family's income.
Besides, innocent little pleasures are a part of what makes life worth living. Here are five things we'd give up before dumping lattes:
1. Poison plastic. "The High-Interest Debt Factor" doesn't look so hot on a mug. But if you pay only the minimum on your credit cards, you'll be writing checks until doomsday. (For more on debt relief, see Jean Chatzky's column on page 143.)
2. That new car smell. Nothing depreciates faster than a new car. If you're really looking to pinch pennies, you can find gobs of them without crimping your style by buying used: The average used car goes for $12,600, less than half the price of new.
3. Overpriced mutual funds. Cheapo index funds have expense ratios of less than 0.2%, while actively managed funds (most of which won't beat index funds in the long term) typically cost you more than 1.5% a year. With a $100,000 initial investment, an index fund can save you up to $30,000 over 10 years. Now that's a lot of lattes.
4. Cutting-edge gizmos. That cool tech toy you covet will be much, much cheaper a year from now. Entry-level DVD players cost $500 when they were first introduced; now they're practically given away with Happy Meals.
5. The Automatic Millionaire. The insights in this book can be boiled down into a sentence: Daily expenses add up, and it's easier to save if you automatically deduct money from your paycheck. Don't waste 20 bucks on the book, much less the $100 Bach charges for his home-study course. --DAVID FUTRELLE