What are you willing to give up now to save for retirement? Principal asked this question of its retirement plan participants who fall into the “super saver” category — those who saved 90% to 100% of the 402(g) IRS max contributions or had a deferral percentage of 15% or higher in 2018.
Find out what these savers have sacrificed in the name of a sound financial future and see what the experts say actually makes a difference in meeting your long-term savings goals like early retirement.
Last updated: Aug. 31, 2021
Cars, Homes and Travel Are Where Super Savers Make the Biggest Sacrifices
The Principal survey found that among super savers, 43% drive older vehicles, 41% own modest homes and 41% travel less than they prefer. Another common sacrifice made by the savers is taking a DIY approach to projects and repairs, with 40% saying they opt to do things themselves instead of hiring outside help.
Super Savers Still Make Splurges
Just because you’re focused on saving for retirement doesn’t mean you have to live without little luxuries. Among super savers, 46% subscribed to Netflix, Hulu and other subscription entertainment services; 46% still splurged on travel and 39% said they dine out more than once or twice a week. As for making a daily Starbucks or Dunkin run, only 20% of super savers said they splurged on coffee on the go.
What Should You Sacrifice To Save For a Healthy Retirement?
To find out what you should actually give up — and what’s OK to splurge on — GOBankingRates asked financial experts what sacrifices people should be willing to make to save for the future. Here are the expenses they say you should cut out ASAP.
Your Daily Coffee Shop Drink
Although financial experts are divided over the issue of giving up your daily latte to save for future costs, some are firm believers that every little bit does count.
“You should be willing to give up [having] coffee at the coffee shop instead of at home,” said Ed Snyder, president and co-founder at Oaktree Financial Advisors, Inc., who views this expense as an “extra.” “You only need what you need. People today have a difficult time understanding the difference between needs and wants.”
Snyder explained why he believes giving up small things like coffee shop drinks, going out to eat regularly and shopping for things you don’t need is worth it in the long run.
“One dollar of expenses forgone today will grow to $7.60 in 30 years at [a] 7% [return rate],” he said. “For every dollar you waste today you are costing yourself almost $8 in retirement. Put another way, if these extra things cost you $100 a week, [that’s] $5,200 a year. That would grow to over $38,000 at retirement.”
Massages and Other Luxuries
You can certainly treat yourself every once in a while, but unnecessary luxuries shouldn’t be a regular part of your spending.
“Some of my clients get two to three massages per month,” said Delano Saporu, founder and financial advisor at New Street Advisors Group. “For someone still in a wealth-building phase, letting go of some higher-priced luxuries and supplementing with other items like a low-cost gym membership that has a spa might be a better answer.”
Forty-three percent of super savers said they have driven older vehicles to save for retirement — this is the most common sacrifice super savers have made to save. Craig Kirsner, author, speaker and president at Stuart Estate Planning Wealth Advisors, believes that this is a smart sacrifice to make.
After the first 12 months of ownership, you can lose more than 20% of the car’s value due to depreciation. “If you buy a two-year-old car with an extended warranty, you save 30% to 40%; over a lifetime that can add up to having substantially more retirement assets at age 65,” Kirsner said.
Regularly Upgrading Your Car
Not only should you buy used cars, but you should also drive them for longer, said Mark Wilson, founder and president at MILE Wealth Management.
“Extending your car ownership from five years to seven years will free up a lot of cash for retirement savings,” he said. “Let’s say your average car payment is $400 a month. If you can go two extra years without that car payment and you stash away those funds for those extra years, that frees up $9,600 towards your nest egg.”
Having a Second Car
If your family has two cars, Holly Andrews, managing director at KIS Finance, recommends getting rid of one to cut auto expenses in half.
“The cost of running a car is very expensive when you take fuel, insurance, tax and maintenance into consideration,” she said. “Work out what the second car would have cost you over the course of the year and save that amount [for retirement].”
Andrews acknowledges that this sacrifice might take some adjustment, but the long-term payoff could be worth it.
“You will need to sit down and work out who needs to use the car when and for what purposes, and you may need to look into public [transportation] or carpools, but if this is a sacrifice you can make, it will save you a lot of money.”
Read More: Is Now a Good Time To Raid Your 401(k)?
A Bigger Home Than You Really Need
After driving an older car, owning a modest home was the most common sacrifice super savers made to save for retirement, the Principal survey found.
“The easiest way to lower your expenses and save more for retirement is to buy a cheaper house,” said David Ruedi, financial advisor and vice president at Ruedi Wealth Management. “If you buy the biggest house you can afford, the mortgage will eat up most of your income. Frugal home purchases are one-time decisions that will significantly improve your cash flow forever, and will leave room for retirement saving and discretionary spending in other areas.”
Ruedi also notes that if you buy a large house, the satisfaction of owning that home wears off quickly.
“Research shows that people take their materialistic purchases for granted after some time passes, so you’re not actually sacrificing your current happiness by cutting back,” he said. “If anything, a frugal home purchase will enhance your current happiness because you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re in good financial shape.”
Cashing In Your Bonus Check
When you get an unexpected bonus, your first instinct is probably to spend it on a splurge you wouldn’t normally pay for. However, Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group, said it’s important to change this mindset to save for retirement. He believes the key to retirement planning is to automate your contributions.
“This means implementing strategies like sending bonus monies straight toward retirement and setting up automatic 401(k) contributions at work,” said Hopkins. “The more we can automate our savings the better off we are because we do not feel the pain of losing out on short-term consumption today. If every time I think about saving for retirement I have to make a conscious decision to forgo a current need, it will be much more difficult.”
Nickolas R. Strain, senior wealth advisor and wealth advisory committee chair at Halbert Hargrove, said you don’t need to go cold turkey and give up all splurges, but it is important to cut back on these expenses when you can.
“Find little ways to save a little more money,” he said. “Go on vacation, but don’t go on an international trip — go within the U.S. where you’ll save on airfare.”
If you save $200 a month on travel, you’d save $2,400 per year, which would add up to $60,000 over a 25-year period — before interest.
“These kinds of sacrifices are doable for most people,” said Strain.
Among super savers, “not traveling as much as I prefer” was tied with owning a modest home as the second-most common sacrifice they made in order to save for retirement.
Giving Into FOMO
Leslie H. Tayne, founder and head attorney at debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group, said that buying something or doing something because of “fear of missing out” can wreck your retirement savings goals.
“Whether you’re over your ‘fun’ budget, you catch yourself falling prey to the latest fashion ad or you’re feeling the pressure to go out and spend all weekend, learn when to cut yourself off and just say ‘no,'” she said. “Sometimes you just can’t do it all, and saying no could be the best thing you did.”
Among super savers, 15% reported that they told their friends and/or family “no” to common expenditures in order to save for retirement.
Although nearly half of the super savers surveyed by Principal said they splurged on entertainment subscriptions, Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos, principal and founder of LifeManaged, said you should be selective about the number of subscriptions you’re signed up for and cut any that you can live without.
“This day and age it is very easy to get signed up [for many] subscriptions because they are ‘only’ $14.99 per month — Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, gym memberships, food delivery services, apps on Apple devices, iCloud storage, etc.,” he said.
Panagiotakopoulos said you should take the time to think about each subscription and whether or not you are really using it.
For example, “How often do you actually go to your gym? Is it part of your daily routine or do you just walk with your spouse and go on hikes?” he said. “[This is a] perfect example [of a suscription] that can be eliminated while still enjoying today.”
Going Out for Lunch Every Day
One of the best ways to save money is to avoid spending money wherever you can, said Ryan Guina, founder of The Military Wallet and Cash Money Life.
“Bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out is one of the easiest ways to avoid spending money,” he said. “Finding those chances to save money and put it towards your retirement will make you a winner in the retirement game.”
Monthly Nights Out to the Bar With Friends
It’s important to have a social life, but going out drinking can be an expensive habit.
“If you get a drink with friends once a month, that can be as much as $100 per night — totaling $1,200 in a year,” said Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. “By cutting out this habit and putting that money in a savings account, you can add significantly to retirement. And it doesn’t have to be that you never do these things, but they should be splurges, not regular events.”
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Outsourcing All Your Tasks
The Principal survey found that 40% of super savers opt to do DIY projects themselves instead of hiring outside help and 37% don’t have a housecleaner. Andrews said that this is a good move to make to save more for retirement.
“Having a housecleaner or getting your car valeted are luxuries in life and things that you could sacrifice if you really want to make a difference to your retirement savings,” she said. “Anything that you can do yourself, you shouldn’t pay somebody else to do. If you have friends or family with certain skills, consider trading and doing things for each other for free.”
Buying Premium Brands at the Grocery Store
Opting for store brands could save you a lot in the long term, said Andrews.
“When it comes to grocery shopping, it can be very easy to get stuck in the habit of buying the same products and brands over and over again,” she said. “However, if you are prepared to do a little bit of experimenting and research, you could probably cut your shopping bill in half by sacrificing your premium brands for those that are half the price, but just as good.”
Taking Ubers Everywhere
Taking a cab or Uber might be faster than taking the bus or train, but it’s much more expensive.
“Little things like taking a cab when public transport is just as easy or eating out five or more nights a week can add up over the course of the year,” said Caleb Silver, editor-in-chief of Investopedia. “While it’s nice to be able to treat yourself every now and then, just cutting those two splurges in half could save you $1,000 or more every year, which is just $83.33 a month. But $1,000 invested in the stock market over 10 years, assuming a 5% average annual return, turns into $1,629 in 10 years. That’s the magic of compound interest, and it only costs you $83.33 a month.”
Spending More Than You Need To on Rent
If you’re not quite ready to buy a house but have enough money to rent your own place, living alone is certainly an appealing option. However, Logan Allec, CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right, said that extra rent money is better off going into a retirement fund.
Designer clothes and shoes are unnecessary luxuries. The money you save from buying lesser brands can be easily funneled into retirement savings instead.
“Designer clothing may cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a single item,” said Robert Gauvreau, CPA and founding partner of Gauvreau & Associates CPA. “There are great ‘designer-like’ options available that could substitute for these purchases, and can save you a significant amount.”
Credit Card Purchases You Can’t Actually Afford
Before swiping your credit card (or inputting your credit card number online), make sure your purchase is something that’s actually within your budget. Spending above your means will put you into debt, and with the high-interest rates on credit cards, it’s hard to get out of it.
“So many people make excessive purchases on their credit cards that they can’t currently afford, forcing them into paying interest on a balance they can’t pay off,” said Gauvreau. “With interest rates in excess of 20% annually, you can quickly put yourself in a costly situation where you are in debt and can’t find a way out.”
Jill Bradley, a Louisville, Kentucky-based financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, said cutting back on expensive salon services like manicures, pedicures and hair coloring can make a big difference when it comes to retirement savings.
“Consider less frequent visits to the nail salon — women can spend thousands on this annually and not realize it,” she said. As for hair color, Bradley said, “To stretch the time between visits to the hair salon, purchase a box of root touch-up color and in 15 minutes, you can delay your salon visit another week or two.”
Why It’s So Important To Sacrifice Now To Save For Retirement
“One very important reason to save now and spend later is the ‘time value of money,'” said Gauvreau. “The time value of money is the idea that money available now is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its potential earning capacity. This means that if you save and invest your money now, you will accumulate greater wealth and retirement savings due to earning investment income and continuing to invest and earn money off of these investments. Thus, saving now and spending later will allow us to create greater retirement savings that can ensure we are prepared for our retirement when that day arrives.”
And once you reach that day, your future financial health is going to be completely reliant on your past behaviors.
“Keep this in mind the next time you want to splurge on something: You can borrow money to put your kids through college, but you cannot borrow money for retirement,” said Bradley. “You must have saved those funds yourself over the years. This is precisely why you should get into the practice of saving for retirement versus splurging on unnecessary things.”