That ham-and-cheese, bag of chips and diet soda you bought for lunch during work is no big deal, right? It’s just $11. Nothing more than a rounding error in your personal finances.
Or is it?
Let’s phrase the question another way: Is eating lunch out two times a week worth losing out on a potential investment windfall of $88,000?
Turns out the average American forks over $11.14 twice a week for lunch, according to a Visa survey, but if they skipped that meal and redirected the $1,043 spent each year into an investment account earning 6%, they would have an estimated savings of $88,500 thirty years later.
This personal finance math lesson shows how seemingly inexpensive, everyday indulgences can add up to a big hit to your net worth without you even knowing it. It’s akin to the so-called “latte factor,” or the long-term cost of parting with cash each day for a high-priced coffee. Or stopping at the food truck for a roll and butter and container of orange juice. Or regularly spending a few dollars on new apps for your phone.
“Small changes in your life can add up to a bigger nest egg,” says Francis Kinniry, principal at Vanguard Investment Strategy Group. “The key when it comes to saving is most people are thinking about the big things, like not going on vacation or not buying a new car. But it is really the little daily things that you do on a regular basis that can really add up.”
And the amount of money Americans have spent eating outside the home has been on the rise. U.S. households spent $3,008, or about $8.35 a day, on average, eating out in 2015. That was up nearly 15 percent from 2013, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eating out accounted for 43% of the average $7,023 households spent on food in 2015. Investing $3,008 each year in an account earning 6% would add up 30 years later to an account balance of more than $250,000. Similarly, investing $3.50 a day for 30 years instead of buying a latte would add up to savings of nearly $107,000.
The annual savings grows thanks to the wealth-building concept of compounding, or compound interest. In short, the value of an investment can increase each year at a faster rate. That's because an investor gets a return on the money they first put aside, plus the return on any gains from previous years.
As great as that sounds, it’s still hard to break old spending habits, especially those that don’t appear to pose a threat to finances, or that fill emotional needs or make a bad day seem less bleak.
Here are tips to help modify wealth-killing behaviors:
Give up less by spending smarter. Instead of buying a large Mocha Caffé Latte each day at Starbucks, consider buying the same coffee in bulk via a 36-count K-cup package for $28.95, which nets out to 80 cents a cup. That’s a daily savings of about $4.
“It’s different than giving up a dream vacation or passing on a new car," Kinniry explains. "Each person needs to figure out what their daily comfort purchase is. That is really what we are talking about. Something that could easily be cut out or that you wouldn’t miss. Is there a substitute or alternative?”
Examine your spending motives. There’s a psychological dimension to spending, too, says Tony Ogorek, founder of Buffalo-based Ogorek Wealth Management. “It’s helpful,” he says, “to examine the motivation behind your spending.”
Are you stressed at work and spending simply to give your spirits a lift?
“You need to look at all those things,” Ogorek says. “You need to find out to what extent your spending is based on real needs or simply based on a need to feel better about yourself or your situation.”
Once you identify your spending triggers, maybe go for a walk instead of heading to the corner coffee shop. “It’s basic human wiring to want to enjoy ourselves today rather than defer enjoyment until tomorrow or a later date,” Ogorek says.
Do a spending audit. Review a few months worth of credit card, checking or savings statements. Go through them purchase by purchase and find out where your money is going, says Mark Lamkin, CEO and chief market strategist at Lamkin Wealth Management.
“I go through my clients' check register and highlight how many times they went to McDonald’s, how many times they went to Starbucks and how many times they spent money on frivolous things,” Lamkin says. “Two things happen: They have no idea they are frivolously blowing $500 to $600 per month. Then you see their face drop.”
Once Lamkin shows the client how much cash they are squandering, he tries to get them to cut their discretionary spending by two-thirds, and set up an automated investment plan to put the newly found savings to work in the markets.
“If they don’t commit to that, they won’t change” their spending habits, he says.