Easy ways to (really) save $400,000

Don't give up the lattes. Focus on bigger-ticket trade-offs that won't compromise your quality of life.

By Walter Updegrave, Money Magazine senior editor

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- You've seen those articles that claim you can boost the size of your retirement nest egg by eliminating trips to Starbucks and banking the money you would have spent on lattes.

But come on. Will you really stick to such a regimen? And even if you do, won't life be kind of grim without a few indulgences?

E-mail Walter Updegrave at longview@moneymail.com.
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Instead of obsessing over every little treat, try adopting a more realistic savings strategy. Start by acknowledging that funding retirement involves compromises.

You are probably going to have to give up something today for a shot at a better tomorrow. But by going about it the right way, you can often find tradeoffs that will allow you to sock away real money while still leading a rich, full life.

Drive less expensive cars during your lifetime: $180,000

Consider your car, for instance. While there's a certain pleasure in zipping around in a shiny StatusMobile, it's not worth sacrificing your retirement security for that thrill - especially when a lower sticker price doesn't have to mean giving up a lot in car comfort, looks or performance.

Say you're shopping for a moderately priced sedan. For $30,000 you can get a 2007 Acura TSX, a four-door number with a 205-horsepower engine, leather seats and a sunroof.

Or, if you're willing to sit on cloth, do without a sunroof and give up 39 hp, you could go with a 2007 Honda Accord LX, a comparable car that sells for $21,000.

Make that "compromise" several times over the course of a career and you could end up with an extra 180 grand when you retire.

Send your child to a public (not private) university: $164,000

Or try rethinking college savings goals. Sure, a sheepskin from Yale or Princeton would be nice, but it's not as if sending Junior to State U. will limit his prospects: Research shows that students with similar academic abilities earn the same whether they attend top schools or less selective ones.

But saving as if your toddler will go to a public school where tuition runs about $10,000 a year (after financial aid and tax breaks) instead of a private one that costs, say, $21,000 could free up $200 or so a month, which could go to a course both you and Junior can embrace: making sure you're no burden to him later in life.

What about taking vacations in the offseason or opting for Costa Rica or Mexico instead of pricier Europe? That can cut travel expenses by 40 percent or so, easily saving $1,000 or more a year.

And don't forget to look homeward too, asking yourself whether you might live just as well in a smaller, less expensive house.

Cut vacation spending by $1,000 a year: $122,000

Of course, the success of this strategy depends on the money you save finding its way into your retirement kitty. You could calculate your savings each month and send a check for that amount to a retirement account. But, hey, do you think you'll actually do that?

A better way: Estimate how much you'll save in a year, then increase your 401(k) or automatic IRA contributions by that amount, essentially forcing yourself to go through with your savings plan.

So keep the treats. Go to Starbucks, spring for a latte and come up with a savings plan that makes sense for you.


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