Do you think about how much money you’re spending before every single purchase? Probably not. For most people, that Starbucks coffee is “only $5” and your Chipotle burrito is “only $7.” I would be surprised if the average person spent more than 10 seconds deciding whether or not either decision is worth the money.
The fact that some purchases are so costly now makes these small items seem trivial. Compare that $5 to a new $18,000 car, and that $7 to a $100,000 home, and both feel like pocket change. Unfortunately, many of us have become guilty of justifying these “small” purchases because we have so many other big ones to worry about. The problem is that these small ones add up. How often do you go to Starbucks? How often do you buy a car? Your answers probably aren’t even in the same ballpark.
Maybe instead you’re guilty of seeing a sale and convincing yourself that you need to jump on it so you don’t miss this great deal. Well, marketers understand that you’re guilty of this and use it to their advantage. That’s part of the reason they have sales, silly goose.
Or, maybe you’ve seen your parents (who probably earn more than you) spend their money on themselves and on you, and you haven’t been able to accept that you might have to lower your lifestyle expectations. There’s a reason people call Millenials the entitled generation. Many of us think our parents will continue to support our lifestyle once we’re on our own, but that’s not always the case.
Time to take control of your own finances. Recognize your spending habits and do something about them. Here is just one method to understanding the value of a dollar.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO YOU?
You’ve heard the cliché, “he/she needs to learn the value of a dollar.” While I hesitate to fully agree with something that sounds like something that a grumpy, old dad would say, I kind of have to in this case. If you can’t understand how much money affects you now and in the future, there is little hope that you’ll ever be able to retire.
Think about it like this: if your only source of income is your job, what do you do to earn that sacred dollar? Yes, work, but think harder. What does work mean? How much do you make to do whatever it is that you do?
Assuming you’re like the majority of America (according to THIS Forbes article), you probably dislike your job. We’ll also assume that you make the average hourly wage of about $25 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). After taxes, that will fall to somewhere around $19.
Every day, you stop at Starbucks on your way to work and then grab a Chipotle burrito on your lunch break. And what did you do to be able to buy these two things? You worked. Because of this, we’re going to look at how much things REALLY cost, in terms of how much you worked to be able to purchase them.
$5 / $19 = 0.26 hours, or 15.6 minutes (0.26 x 60 minutes)
$7 / $19 = 0.37 hours, or 22.2 minutes (0.37 x 60 minutes)
Basically, the first 38 minutes of your day at work are going towards your Starbucks and Chipotle. Do you value your coffee more than 16 minutes at the job you dislike, or your Chipotle more than 22 minutes? If you do, it’s probably worth buying them. On a small scale like this, it doesn’t sound awful. Instead, let’s look at how it adds up each month and each year
Since there are around 20 working days per month, this means that we need to multiply the costs by 20. So, each month you’ll be spending $100 at Starbucks and $140 at Chipotle. This translates to 312 minutes (5.2 hours) and 444 minutes (7.4 hours), respectively. More than 5 hours of work each month goes directly to Starbucks, and more than 7 hours goes directly to Chipotle.
You’re working 62.4 hours for Starbucks and 88.8 hours for Chipotle each year. Combined, that’s 150 hours per year, or essentially a month’s work. That’s a lot of time for coffees and burritos.
WHY DOES THIS IDEA MATTER?
I understand that these examples may not apply to everyone. Personally, I don’t drink coffee, and I definitely don’t eat at Chipotle 20 times per month. The point is that little expenses like coffee and lunch can add up.
Yes, we obviously need food, but if you cut your spending on food by 20%, that means that you’re spending 20% less time working to pay for food. Is your daily coffee worth working a week and a half for? Recognizing what you had to do to earn that luxury is important.
If you buy a $5 Starbucks coffee every day before work for a 40 year career, you’ll have spent 2,496 hours at work JUST for your coffees. That’s the equivalent of 312 eight hour workdays. That’s more than a year at work. Cutting out your coffee means you could cut that 40 year career to less than 39 years. Can you make that sacrifice to retire a year early?
Maybe you can’t, which is still totally okay. What can you cut, though? Spending $200 per month on clothes, shoes, and accessories is the equivalent of 126 hours of work per year. Almost a full month of work goes towards clothes.
Do you spend $30 per week on alcohol and going out? At $120 per month, that comes in at just under 78 hours per year. Two weeks of full time work each year goes towards partying.
My point here is not to cut out everything you enjoy. Quite the contrary. You should just prioritize what you want most. If your after tax income is $19 per hour, every $100 you can save each month ends up saving you 63 hours at work by the end of the year.
The best part of all of this is that we haven’t even taken into account the fact that we can invest any money saved and reasonably expect that it will triple over the next 15 years. That $5 coffee today could’ve been $15 cash for you in the future because of compound growth.
Sorry if I’m raining on your parade here, but if you want to be financially free, the best place to start is by cutting spending on unnecessary things. We all have 24 hours in the day, so decide if that coffee, burrito or purse is worth giving some of them away.
Like a squirrel, saving an extra nut now means you have one less nut to worry about saving before winter (or retirement, depending on your species).
How do you decide what you’re willing to pay for something? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!