Many personal finance gurus preach that consistent spending on small non-discretionary items can derail your ability to retire. Instead of wasting it on these items, they say the money should be invested in the market and compound over time. I’m personally “guilty” of violating this guidance every Friday when I splurge on four or five herrings for Shabbos. This minhag unquestionably enhances my family’s Shabbos, but, in my mind, I hear the gurus reprimanding me. Curious to hear your thoughts.
Shua Statman, Brooklyn, N.Y.
This is the Jewish version of the classic personal finance question “Should I buy a latte or save the funds and invest for retirement?” I always find it interesting how much guilt people feel over their small financial outlays. A daily coffee, weekly herring, or getting extra guacamole on your sandwich won’t derail your finances. This misconception actually points to a much larger problem with the way people view their financial decisions. Many families are so focused on pinching pennies on small purchases that they neglect the much larger, and far more important, money decisions. Let’s explore some of those more important money decisions that will have a far greater impact on your life.
Home Purchase: Home ownership is romanticized as the American dream that everyone should pursue. However, owning a home is the biggest financial outlay many Americans will make, and it should be considered carefully. When deciding on a house to buy, many focus on the upfront expenses like down payment and closing costs. It’s also important to be mindful of the ongoing costs associated with owning a home.
Besides mortgage and insurance payments, there is a myriad of costs associated with maintaining a home. It’s important to factor in these annual upkeep costs to ensure you are purchasing a home that you can actually afford. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with renting for longer or buying a smaller home to get into the market. It’s far better to take your time with this decision than rush into the “American dream,” which may turn into your own personal financial nightmare.
Automobile Lease or Purchase: After a home, one of the most important and largest purchases for many families is an automobile. The average American household has two cars, making this decision even more significant. Fortunately, there are many choices when it comes to obtaining an automobile to help manage costs. This includes buying a used vehicle, avoiding luxury brands, and not getting the fully loaded version of any model. It’s important to keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of a car is to get you and your family from point A to point B. Thankfully, this can be accomplished without breaking the bank.
Credit Card Debt: Every financially literate person understands that credit card debt is a cancer to one’s net worth. This type of debt grows exponentially and becomes increasingly harder to manage. There are many legitimate benefits to utilizing a credit card, including rewards programs, discounts, safety measures, such as fraud protection, and building your credit score. However, credit card balances should be fully paid each month.
The average credit card interest rate in the U.S. is over 16 percent. Working through the math makes it very clear that, with such high rates, even a small level of debt will become insurmountable in just a few years and should be avoided at all costs.
Student Loans: While education is an important part of a person’s development, one must not overlook the financial implications of the choice. Schools market the college experience to the public in an effort to justify their price tag. The less glamorous reality is that college should put someone on track to enhance their earnings potential without burdening them with a pile of debt. It’s not uncommon for me to meet with successful young couples who have over half a million dollars in debt. In some instances, these individuals will finish paying off their student loans only a few years before their own retirement.
If you are deciding on college or counseling a student who is in the application process, one of the best pieces of advice is to view education as an investment. Students who take on too much debt with no game plan on how to repay it may feel the negative financial impact of that decision for the rest of their lives.
Automate Your Savings: The important financial decisions are not only related to what you should avoid. Families should also proactively set up a process to “pay themselves first,” which emphasizes the importance of saving regularly. This can be done by signing up for your company retirement plan, where money is seamlessly taken out of every paycheck and invested. You can establish similar automation through your financial institution, where money can seamlessly move from your checking account to your investment portfolio on a regular basis. Automatically saving and investing before any expenses will allow you to spend on many of the small items guilt free since you know that you are preparing for your financial future.
Avoiding the weekly herring purchase, daily Starbucks indulgence and other penny-pinching gimmicks may make great sound bites, but it really won’t have a meaningful impact on someone’s ability to achieve their financial goals. In fact, these small indulgences should be encouraged among prudent investors since they make life more fun without having a meaningful impact on their finances. Individuals should instead spend more time focused on making the right big money decisions. Doing so will allow investors to take solace in the fact that they can enjoy their weekly herring and retirement too!
Readers are encouraged to ask their personal financial questions, which may be quoted from and addressed in a future column, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.