Most of us would love to be rich, but achieving meaningful wealth generally takes significant effort. Yes, you might get there with a very lucky lottery ticket, but don't count on that. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are about 1 in 292 million. (The odds of winning just $100 are worse than 1 in 14,000.)
So chase that dream in a more realistic manner, using a tried-and-true route: living below your means.
Those four words are a critical key to achieving all kinds of financial goals, such as saving a down payment for a home, sending a kid to college, or being able to retire comfortably, with minimal worries about your financial security. The words can even help you become wealthy.
The power of living below your means
It's all a matter of simple math, really: Spend less money than you take in. That leaves you with a surplus regularly, which can be saved and invested to help you reach your financial goals.
For example, if you collect a paycheck of $5,000 each month, aim to save at least $500 of it -- that's 10%. That may not get you to what you need to retire with, though, if you haven't been saving and investing for much of your working life and if you're not too young anymore. For many people, a 15% or even 20% savings rate is more necessary.
The idea of socking away that much might be extremely unappealing, but consider what it might achieve for you: The table below shows what you might accumulate over various periods if you sock away various large sums and your investments grow by an average of 8% annually. (The stock market has averaged annual gains of close to 10% over long periods, but over your specific period, it could be much less, or more.)
Growing at 8% For:
$10,000 Invested Annually
$15,000 Invested Annually
$20,000 Invested Annually
A little deprivation now can yield massive dividends later. Better still, you needn't suffer while saving a significant chunk of your income. There are lots of relatively painless ways to save.
How to live below your means
Here are a handful of ways you might save money regularly:
- Eat out less often. Sure, you can save a lot if you stop going to restaurants entirely. But just cutting your dining-out habit in half might make a big difference, too. If you eat dinner out twice a week, spending an average of $50 each time, that's about $5,200 annually! Cutting that in half can yield $2,600.
- Cut that cable cord. You don't have to wince every month, paying a cable bill that keeps rising and often costs you more than $100 for a host of TV channels (many of which you never even watch!). Switch to just streaming and you might save half of that. Popular streaming options include Netflix, which recently cost between $9 and $16 per month, Hulu, which recently cost between $6 and $12 per month, and Amazon's Prime Video, available to Prime members, most of whom pay $119 per year (that comes to about $10 monthly).
- Shed one vehicle. This won't work for everyone, but if your household can manage to get by with one fewer car or truck, you could save a bundle -- on gas, repairs, maintenance, and insurance -- not to mention parking, tolls, and even traffic tickets.
- Take on a side hustle to generate extra income. If you think creatively, you may hit upon some ideas that are actually attractive to you, such as trying to sell photos through online sites or doing freelance editing or selling sweaters you knit.
Millions of Americans are living beyond their means, which leads to debt and lots of financial stress and struggling. Don't be one of them. Live below your means -- and if you do so aggressively, you can amass significant wealth.
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