I wrote the following three years ago. As I reread the article it seems even more relevant now with high inflation and interest rates. Today it is more important to be prudent how we spend our limited dollars.
Prices for some of my examples are much higher, gasoline in higher. Even my $12.00 haircut has disappeared, the barber retired and my new one charges $24.00 and eliminated the senior discount. 😱
Farewell Money Richard Quinn | May 7, 2019
FROM THE LOFTY perch of old age, and after a lifetime of thrift, I declare that I am qualified to comment on how not to waste money. We’ve all heard the reports: Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a large number can’t come up with $400 for an emergency, and there’s no money to save for retirement and other goals. Most of that data comes from surveys where people are, in effect, saying they don’t have enough income. My curmudgeonly reaction: Stores, fitness centers and entertainment venues are packed with shoppers, many of them buying unnecessary goods and services.
If three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, how can they afford to spend like this? It’s a funny thing: I have yet to see Warren or Bill in one of the many local spas.
Most Americans live like no other people on earth. We have more and bigger stuff: Larger houses, bigger vehicles, more shoes. And, in my not so humble opinion, we can’t tell the difference between needs and wants, between necessities and desires—and we sure can’t defer gratification. All this leads me to one conclusion: We’re unable to control our spending or manage our money.
Here are 16 things that this 75-year-old considers big money wasters:
1. Tattoos. They’re an admitted obsession of mine. What will they look like when you’re my age? From what I’ve heard, a good tattoo artist charges $200 an hour.
2. Vacations. Hey, everyone needs a break. But you don’t need to go into tuition-level debt to have a good time. Your kids will survive if they never visit the Magic Kingdom.
3. College. Picking a college involves many factors. Affordability is one that’s often overlooked. If the cost of the school you choose will land you in debt, you’d better have a plan for paying it off. Don’t mortgage your future, just so you can have a prestigious decal on your car window.
4. Restaurants. Eating out, or buying $4 designer coffee, is expensive and—wait for it—it’s also a luxury. Skip that daily $4 coffee and after 30 years you’ll have more than $121,000, assuming a 0.5% monthly return.
5. Opportunities lost. We do it every day by failing to grab the employer match on our 401(k) plan, not investing in a tax-free Roth IRA, failing to fund a flexible spending account to pay medical costs with pretax dollars, and withholding too much from our paycheck, so we’re essentially making an interest-free loan to the IRS.
6. Transportation. You don’t “need” an SUV or $40,000-plus pickup truck to get from A to B. My four kids grew up riding in our 1972 Duster. Now they, too, all have trucks or SUVs.
7. Credit cards. When people say they live paycheck to paycheck, does that include purchases put on credit cards that aren’t paid off that month? In that case, they’re spending more than their paycheck—and what they buy will cost them the purchase price, plus a hefty interest rate.
8. Lottery. The lowest-income groups spend the most on lottery tickets, wasting hundreds of dollars a year—about the same as that $400 emergency fund they don’t have. Not to worry: 60% of millennials think winning the lottery is part of a wise retirement strategy.
9. Clothing. My new condo has two bedrooms and three walk-in closets, two of them larger than the bathroom in my old 1929 house. The average adult spends $161 a month on clothing. We are obsessed with keeping up with the latest fashions and ensuring nobody sees us in the same clothes twice.
10. Shoes. Surveys suggest the average American woman owns more than 25 pairs of shoes, which they admit they don’t need. So why buy so many pairs? It seems shopping and wearing trendy stuff makes us feel good.
11. Tchotchkes and stuff. Clean out a house after many years—which my wife and I just did—and you often hear the words, “Where did we get that?” Though relatively inexpensive per item, tchotchkes and similar stuff cost money—and it all adds up.
12. Failing to look ahead. Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.” I still marvel that people spend so little time thinking about retirement. After working 30 to 40 years, they reach retirement with no plan and are shocked they can’t live on Social Security alone. Planning for retirement early in your career is essential for financial security—and it isn’t that hard.
13. No backup plan. I like to think ahead about “what ifs” and how I’ll deal with them. In my head, I have backups for the backups. I recently took out a large mortgage to buy a condo. Now I’m thinking, “What if I can’t sell the house to cover the mortgage? What if I must do some upgrades to sell the house?” I temporarily stopped reinvesting my tax-free bond interest, so I can build up more cash—just in case.
14. Holidays. Somehow, every December, financial caution goes out the window and we pay for it the following year. But my pet peeve are those inflatable characters on lawns that cost hundreds of dollars. Talk about blowing money.
15. Toys.One study shows that U.S. parents spend $6,500 on toys during a child’s upbringing. The spending is even higher for millennials, who favor “smart” toys—toys that do the thinking for the child. There’s something wrong with this picture. Hey, I’ll challenge anyone to a contest dropping clothespins into a milk bottle.
16. Haircuts. The average reportedly costs $28.30 in a barber shop. Many men pay a lot more. Nowadays, nearly a third prefer a “salon.” I pay $12 at my local barber. But I’m still annoyed: My hair is disappearing, but the price is inching up.
Source: Farewell Money – HumbleDollar
Jersey shore – avg haircut is $20.00 for a man or boy – Now called a zip in 2 min you are done. Unionized barber shops are history now mostly female barbers. Cheaper to use 2 mirrors at home and do it yourself!
I am past age 75 and have 2 tattoos from long ago. They tend to fade and blur with age. Mine are small, picked up while in the military. I don’t know what these total body styles will look like in 69 years. By the way, mine were $9 a piece back in the day. I must be in my second childhood but I like to see Christmas decorations splashed all around in December. Be it lights, blow ups, wire sculpture, whatever. The tchotchkes are a huge expense and it never stops. I look in the kitchen junk drawer, on book shelves, on the desk, and everywhere else and I think that all this cost dollars and it never ceases. It collects even though we have intentions of not adding to it. Just my 2 cents.
All good advice for the individual. But what would happen to the economy as a whole if everyone, or even a third of the population heeded it? How many jobs did you just eliminate? May be “paycheck to paycheck” is the logical alternative. Like the hunter/gatherers back when.
And, my barbers (the last two, going back about thirty years) are one man shops, charging $20, in today’s dollar, cutting average two heads per hour. With overhead, that sounds like about $20 hour take home pay. How can they do that?
I asked a cynical friend, and she said, “side hustle, either drugs or bookmaking; they all do it.”
I’m thinking the economy would adjust and the cost of living would be lower and different.
As far as the barber goes, you forgot the “tax-free” tip income. 😂
Dick Richard D Quinn Blogging at Quinnscommentary.net and HumbleDollar.com Twitter @quinnscomments
When I first went to my barber, haircuts were $16. I gave him a twenty. When I turned sixty, with discount, the cut was $12. I gave him a twenty. I’m older now, I can “afford” a bigger tip.
It’s a small shop, but it would seem that just the heat/AC would eat up 10% of his pay (including tips), never mind rent, insurance, supplies, etc.
B/C (covid) he might cut 3 heads an hour IF he had a steady stream of walk-ins. Now he does 2 an hour, appointment only.
My previous occupation now pays about $30/hr. Plus benefits, roughly $10/hr. And I don’t have nearly the overhead he does.
Of course the economy would adjust, downward. We would all have less “stuff”, and… still not save for retirement.
Yes your article is still relevant. I laughed when I read about the barber retiring – same thing happened to my husband only there was no warning. Just a closed shop! Took a while to find another good barber at twice the cost and an hour drive!
You are not a lone in preaching to those living pay check to pay check. A Jim Cramer headline caught my eye the other day. In the article was this: “In one example, Cramer says the younger customers at the New York restaurant he owns spend money “as if it grew on a tree.” He’s seen countless young professionals buying round after round of $14 margaritas after a workday, despite hearing their complaints about student loans, or not having enough money to put aside for retirement.”
I too miss the $10 haircut. After I moved, I couldn’t find a haircut under $20. When I would visit my son, I would go back to my old barber where I used to live. This year they raised their prices to $12. The problem now is that the cost of gas is starting to make it a push. I might as well spend the money locally to get my haircut than to pay for gas to get to my old barber. But when the stars align and I can visit my son, I get my haircut near him. There is just something about paying $20 for 10 minutes worth of work that bugs me.