Little amounts can make a large difference to your finances.
As gasoline and food prices continue to rise, the squeeze to make family budgets balance each month becomes more of a struggle. After the big savings have been found and taken, smaller savings have to be found to make ends meet.
This can be frustrating as it can feel like everyone is being nickled and dimed to death. That's why it's important to realize how these small amounts can make a huge difference in your overall financial health.
You've likely heard about the little ways to save money a million times. Money-saving advice includes standards like packing your lunch instead of buying it at work, skipping the Starbucks and making your coffee at home and watching videos at home instead of going out to the movies. While you may have grown tired of hearing them, they are still as true as ever and even more important when the economy is struggling.
Saving small amounts of money is good advice for everyone, it's not as essential for people that are currently living well below their means. If you spend $5 on a cup of coffee each day, but you're still able to put away five times that amount toward your savings, that coffee splurge isn't going to hurt as much as for someone who isn't saving anything. For those that are barely making ends meet, spending small amounts of money can be the difference between deep debt and a nice retirement account.
When you are faced with a budget that isn't balancing, you have two main choices: earn more money or cut more expenses. Unfortunately, many turn to a third alternative. When they can't seem to make their budget balance, they decide that it's acceptable to place the difference onto a credit card. Even though the monthly shortfall in the budget is small, placing it onto credit cards is one of the worst financial moves that a person can make. The result will be a downward cycle that will not only keep you in debt, but also create a tremendous amount of stress.
There is often a false assumption that saving $10 and spending $10, although opposite, are relatively the same. For example, if a person saves $10 a day, after a month their account will have $300 while if a person spends $10 a day, that will result in a debt of $300. While on the surface this makes perfect sense, the problem lies in that these numbers fail to take into account the interest that can be gained or charged on this money. It is this failure to understand the concept of compound interest and the dramatic effect it can have that greatly changes these results.
It's important to understand that it takes very little to start sinking into debt. For most people, spending $10 a day would not be considered extravagant spending by any means, but $10 can result in tens of thousands of dollar of debt. It's simple to see when you compare the results of what happens when one person saves $10 a day while the other spends $10 a day that he doesn't have.
If a person were to save $300 a month (approx. $10 a day) and invest it to get a 5% yearly return, that person would have $20,402 in the bank after five years. On the other hand, if a person ends up spending $300 a month more than he has and puts it onto a credit card that he doesn't pay off over the same 5 year period, that person will owe $36,259, assuming a 26% credit card interest rate. After five years, the difference between saving $10 and spending $10 each day results in a $56,661 gap in net worth between the two.
Add another five years to the same patterns, and the results are even more dramatic. After 10 years, the person who saved $10 a day would have $46,585 in the bank, whereas the person who spent the $10 he didn't have would be $167,470 in debt, resulting in a net worth difference of over $210,000.
Of course, there are many other factors that could alter these calculations. The interest you can earn and what your credit card interest rates are will vary from this example. There is a minimum amount that the person would need to pay on a credit card each month. If debt to this extent began to occur, the person would have their credit cut off long before this amount accumulated and would likely need to declare bankruptcy. The point is that over time, small amounts added to debt can result in far more debt than most people realize.
Once you learn that saving a small amount and overspending a small amount aren't simple opposites, you understand the importance of having a budget and strictly sticking with it. If you are able to fight through the hard times and keep your budget balanced, then you set yourself to reap great financial rewards when the economy finally turns around.
Jeffrey Strain owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.