Extend Your Car Warranty for Free

When it comes to saving money, there are two expenses which will make or break your budget: your home and your cars. If you keep those expenses below your means, you will have a surplus to save and invest. That’s how you generate wealth. 

Unexpected car repairs are the worst. You can spend thousands and it feels like you are just flushing your money away. That’s why we love car warranties: they help extinguish our fear of repair bills. For a lot of people, when their car warranty runs out, they want to get a new car because they can’t stand the thought of a catastrophic repair bill. 

But buying a new car every three or four years exposes you to the steepest part of the depreciation curve. Most cars will lose 50 to 60 percent of their value within five years. Owning new cars is trading the mere possibility of car repair bills, which might not happen, for the certainty of significant depreciation, which is inevitable.

Of course, car dealers would love to sell you an extended warranty. It’s one of their most profitable areas. That alone makes me think they are not worth it. You are spending $2,000 to buy a $1,000 warranty. And the insurer probably only pays out 50 to 80 cents in claims for every dollar in premiums it receives. It seems like you would be betting against yourself. 

I don’t usually endorse products or services here in my newsletter, but I came across a benefit which I think many of my readers might enjoy. It’s a way to provide protection against unexpected car repairs. This might allow you to keep your vehicles for longer and then direct more savings into your investment portfolios. (Selfishly, I will make more if my clients have larger investment portfolios, but hopefully that’s a goal we can both agree on!)

There is a company called BG Products which makes fluids for cars and trucks. They make motor oil (including synthetic), transmission fluid, brake fluid, anti-freeze/coolant, steering fluid, etc. BG offers a Lifetime Protection Plan that when you use their product regularly, if that component breaks down, they will reimburse you for the cost of the repair, up to a specific limit.

Best of all, they will cover your car, even if you don’t start using their fluids until 50,000 or 100,000 miles. That means that if you have a car with 80,000 miles, past the manufacturer’s warranty, you can actually add protection to your vehicle today. They offer double the protection if you start before 50,000 miles, so you might want to start sooner if you can. 

There is no limit on miles. As long as you continue to change the fluids within the specified number of miles, your car will be covered. You could keep your car for 300,000 miles and it would still be protected.

Here are the service intervals required for the Lifetime Protection Plan. If your manufacturer suggests more frequent changes, I would follow those instructions. To stay under this protection plan, you need to replace fluids before reaching these limits.

Engine Oil: 10,000 miles

Coolant: 30,000 miles

Transmission Fluid: 30,000 miles

Power Steering: 30,000 miles

Brake Fluid: 30,000 miles

The BG plan will reimburse repairs if these components break, but not for normal wear and tear. You would have to get the repairs done and then submit your receipts for reimbursement, which are subject to the following limits:

Plan 1, started before 50,000 miles: $4,000 coverage

Plan 2: started between 50,001 and 100,000 miles: $2,000 coverage

Full details of covered components HERE.

BG Products are not available in stores, you have to find a shop which uses them. Here in Dallas, I have used M2 Auto Repair, near Love Field. I’ve had a great experience there and can recommend them. If you talk to Eddie, the owner, please tell him I sent you.

If you’re not in the Dallas area, you can find a BG Dealer here. I have not filed a claim with BG, so I cannot vouch for that process, but obviously it is going to be very important to be able to document that you did have the services performed within the mileage limits and that the repairs required were on the specific parts covered by the protection plan. 

It doesn’t cover electronics, which is an increasingly large component in modern cars, but can give you some peace of mind over mechanical failures. If you’ve used BG and had a claim, please send me an email and tell me about your experience. 

I am aware that other fluid makers offer warranties, including Mobil 1Castrol, and Valvoline. In reviewing their warranty pages, they may offer similar benefits, but I think it may be more difficult to document proof of eligibility, and they don’t cover all of the systems that BG Products covers.

I’d also love to hear from you if you have ever filed a claim with another oil company and what result you received.  Regular maintenance is an important part of keeping your car healthy, and it’s great to see a company stand behind its products. I’m no expert on cars, but I have spent a lot of time looking at spending behavior. Any techniques which can help us spend less over the life of our vehicles will help you achieve your other financial goals. So, even if you don’t end up using the Lifetime Protection Plan, just knowing you were covered may provide you with the extra confidence to keep you car for 150,000 or 200,000 miles.

You CAN Invest in a Taxable Account

I spend a lot of time talking about retirement accounts, and for many Americans, the only stocks they will ever own are in their 401(k) and IRAs. I don’t know why, but many have never even considered investing outside of a retirement account, and a few have even thought it was not possible.

It is a GREAT idea to invest outside of your retirement accounts. Why? Because the contribution limits are so low for IRAs ($5,500) and 401(k) accounts ($18,500). There are a lot of people who put in that amount and then think they can’t do any more investing or that they don’t need to. There’s nothing magical about these amounts. No one is promised that if you save $5,500 a year into an IRA that you will have enough to retire (especially if you are getting a late start). And if you have ambitions to be wealthy, it may take you 30 or 40 years of 401(k) contributions to break the $1 million mark.

While we often talk about the tax benefits of retirement contributions, let’s actually run through the math of an IRA investment and making the same investment in a taxable account. The results may surprise you.

Let’s say you put in $5,000 to a Traditional IRA this year and also deposit $5,000 into a taxable account. In each account, you buy the same investment, such as a S&P 500 ETF, and hold it for 20 years until retirement. Assuming you get an 8% annualized return for those 20 years, in both accounts, your position would have grown to $23,304.79.

At the 20 year mark you withdraw both accounts. What taxes are due?

From the Traditional IRA, the entire withdrawal is treated as ordinary income. You may be in the 24% tax bracket, in which case you would owe $5,593.15 in taxes. That’s pretty painful and the reason why so many retirees hate taking money out of their IRAs and limit their withdrawals to their Required Minimum Distributions.

What about for the taxable account? You started with a $5,000 cost basis, so your taxable gain is $18,304.79. It is a long-term capital gain (more than one year), and will be taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%. Your tax due is $2,745.72. That’s less than half of the tax you’d pay on the withdrawal from the retirement account that you did for the “tax benefit”. Is that IRA a scam?

No, because you also got an upfront tax deduction for the IRA contribution. If you were in the 24% bracket, you would have saved $1,200 in taxes for making that $5,000 contribution. If you subtract the $1,200 in tax savings from $5,593, you still see that your net taxes paid was quite high: $4,393.

However, that is ignoring the time value of money and getting to save that $1,200 now. If you actually invest the $1,200 you saved that year, and have it grow at 8% for 20 years, guess what it grows to? $5593.15. (If you invested this in a retirement account, you will owe 24% in taxes on this gain, or another $1342.)

The key to coming out ahead with doing an IRA versus a taxable account is that you need to actually invest the tax savings you receive in year one. If you just consume that tax savings, instead of saving it, you actually might have been better off instead doing the taxable account where you could receive the lower capital gains rate.

The best solution is to maximize your retirement accounts AND save in a taxable account. If you want to become a millionaire in 10 years, save $5,466 a month. People have ambitious finish lines, but don’t set savings goals that are in line and realistic with their goals. The short-term activity has to match the long-term objectives. Once you are in retirement, it is a great benefit to have different types of accounts – IRAs, Roth, and taxable – to manage your tax liability.

My point is: Don’t be afraid of a taxable account. Retirement accounts are good, but mainly if you are going to save the upfront tax benefit you receive! Today’s ETFs are very tax efficient. While you will likely have dividend distributions of about two percent a year in a US equity ETF, when you reinvest those dividends, you are also increasing your cost basis. If you’re looking to invest in both a retirement and taxable account, let’s talk about how you can do this in the most effective way possible.

The Cost of Waiting from 25 to 35

I am on a mission to get people in their twenties saving and investing. Why? Because an early start on good financial habits creates an exponential difference later. The solution to the next generation’s retirement crisis of a bankrupt Social Security, underfunded pensions, and increased longevity will require people get an early start.

Let’s compare two investors, both of whom will earn an 8% return over time. Smart Sally starts a Roth IRA at age 25 and contributes $5,000 a year through age 35 (11 years). Then she makes no further contributions.

Late Larry starts his Roth at age 35, also contributes $5,000 a year, and makes this contributions all the way through age 60. He will end up contributing for more than twice as long as Sally.

At age 61, both Sally and Larry retire. Who has more money in their Roth IRA? Sally has $615,580. Larry, although he contributed for longer, never caught up to Sally’s early start. He has only $431,754.

Of course, if Sally had contributed all the way through age 60, which is what I hope she would do, she would have the sum of both amounts: $1,047,334. If you can start a Roth IRA at age 25, you could have a million dollars by retirement. But if you wait just a decade, until age 35, you will likely lose more than $600,000 from your retirement.

It’s that first decade of investing that is so important. At an 8% hypothetical return, you are doubling your money every nine years. The early bird will likely finish with at least twice as much money as someone who starts a decade later.

If you are a recent college grad, please sign up for your 401(k) and put in at least 10%, preferably more if you can afford it. Most of your friends will only contribute up to the company match. Do better, contribute more. If you don’t have a 401(k), determine if you are eligible for a Roth IRA, a Traditional IRA, or a SEP IRA.

But most of all, just do it now and don’t wait. Because when you wait one year, one year has a way of turning into 10 years, and then you are the 35 year old with no retirement savings. I know you have student loans, are saving for a car, house, wedding, etc. You may have kids of your own. No excuses, you just have to find a way to get started. Even if you can only start with $100 a month, get going, and then increase your contributions when you can afford it.

The truth is that there is never an easy time to save and invest. It will always require planning and maybe even a little sacrifice. At 25, you have student loans and credit card bills. At 35, you may have a big mortgage and young kids. At 45, you might be trying to figure out how you are going to pay for your own kids’ college. So don’t think that it will be easy to save later. That day may never come!

For the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles reading this, you have the opportunity to help your twenty-something young adults get a leg up and make a positive impact on their whole life, even after you are long gone.

  • Talk about investing and the importance of starting early. Ask about their 401(k) and IRAs. Forward this article. Kids are NOT taught to be financially savvy in school. If parents don’t teach this, young adults are likely to miss the opportunity of an early start. (And thank you to my Mom and Dad for their wisdom.)
  • Send them this book: The Elements of Investing. It’s short and an easy read, but contains essential information for becoming wealthy.
  • Hire me to be their financial advisor. I love helping young investors, to teach them the ropes and help establish their financial foundation at an early age. See our $99/month Wealth Builder Program.
  • Instead of leaving a lump-sum inheritance when your children are middle aged, you might establish better money habits by funding their Roth IRA at an early age and involving them in the process. If a 16-year old has earned income, they can contribute to an IRA, or you can let them save their money and make the contribution for them. (Note that a student’s IRA is not reportable on the FAFSA, although some colleges will count the account as a part of their expected contribution.)

Good habits last a lifetime. While it is never too late to invest, there is an enormous cost to waiting from age 25 until age 35. It’s potentially the difference between having a million dollars or $431,000. You can’t control what the market is going to do, but the real game changer could be getting an early start. Of all the levers we can control, an early start is going to make a bigger difference in your lifetime outcome than anything else.

5 Steps to Boost Your Savings

The key to financial independence is your commitment to saving.

The market has captured our attention in the past quarter, as volatility spiked and concerns have risen about everything from interest rates to North Korea. While everyone is fixated on how the Dow is doing or how much the S&P 500 is up or down each day, we all need a reminder from time to time that the only way you accumulate money is by setting it aside. Saving is the real growth engine for investors, not rates of return.

It’s not that returns don’t matter. It’s just that we have no control over what the market does, and worrying about those short-term gyrations is a waste of your time and energy. Volatile markets often make people not want to invest, preferring to wait until there is more clarity.

Uncertainty is always going to be part of investing; long-term investors have done very well by ignoring what they can’t control and concentrating on saving as much money as possible.

Here’s a guarantee for you: if you save $2,000 a month, you will accumulate ten times more money than if you had saved $200 a month. If your plan is to reach $500,000 or $1,000,000 or $5,000,000, the sooner you save, the faster you will accomplish your goal.

Saving is the most difficult, simple thing in the world. There is nothing complex about saving money, but actually doing it is quite challenging. Let’s break it down into five steps:

Step 1. Update your attitude about saving. Thoughts become actions.
Do You Hate Saving Money?

Step 2. Create an ambitious goal.
How To Become a Millionaire in 10 Years

Step 3. Find ways to reduce your expenses.
23 Ways to Save Money

Step 4. Create a Financial Plan.
How Some Investors Saved 50% More

Step 5. Stick with the program.
How Exercise Can Make You A Better Investor

Want more evidence?
Study: Deferral Rates Trump Fund Performance

A lot of financial advisors only want clients who are already very wealthy. They can charge more fees that way. For me, I love helping investors who are at all points on their financial journey and my purpose in life is to lift others up to achieve the American Dream. That’s why we have no investment minimums at Good Life Wealth. I can help you the most if you are committed to saving and recognize that saving is the key to your financial future.

How Exercise Can Make You a Better Investor

There are a lot of parallels between getting in shape and being a successful investor. Both take time and consistent effort to achieve results. We’d love to have overnight, instant results, but that isn’t how life works!

Here are five key factors to an effective exercise program that you can apply directly to helping you achieve your financial goals. If you are already doing great with your workout program, why not apply that same process to getting your finances in shape?

1. One pound at a time. Your goal may be to lose 30 pounds, but you can’t lose 30 pounds at once. You have to take it one day at a time and lose the first pound, then the second, and so on. In investing, everyone wants to be a millionaire, but you have to save that first thousand dollars, then the next thousand and so on. You can’t just wish for it, you have to work for it.

2. Set a goal. Having a specific goal such as “lose 20 pounds by March 1” or “achieve a BMI of 15 by January 1” is better than a vague goal such as “get in better shape”. Otherwise, how will you know if you achieve your goal? How will you know if you are on track? What is your motivation and sense of urgency?

A long-term goal creates short-term steps. If you want to lose X pounds in X weeks, you might use an app like myfitnesspal to calculate how much you need to workout and how many calories you can eat in a day. Your goal determines a path and mileposts. For investing, if your goal is to have $500,000 in your 401(k) at retirement, how much would you need to save from each paycheck to make that happen?

3. Make good choices. When you have a fitness goal, some decisions, like eating half of a cheesecake for dinner, will put you further away from your goals and negate all the hard work you have been doing. Similarly, if you have a financial goal, spending $15,000 on a European vacation may be inconsistent with that goal. When your goal is more important than the eating or spending, you learn to make better choices.

That’s not to say that you can’t indulge from time to time, but you can’t let those choices derail your progress. If you view these choices as a sacrifice or as deprivation, you will resent your fitness or financial goals. You may find it easier to stick to the plan when you observe and celebrate the positive results you are achieving.

4. Create new habits. For a workout program to get results, you have to stick to it and have it become an unchangeable part of your routine. Maybe you workout Monday through Friday at 7:30 am before work. Or maybe you spend your lunch hour on Tuesday and Thursdays at the Gym and then workout on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Maybe you learn to watch TV without eating food at the same time!

The point is that you create new habits that will help achieve your goals. For investors, people are more likely to be successful when they put their saving on autopilot. Have that money come directly out of your paycheck into your 401(k). Start a Roth IRA and establish a monthly draw of $400 from your checking account. Set up a 529 college savings plan and even if you only start with $50 a month, get going today!

5. Human support. You are more likely to succeed in your fitness goals if you are part of a group or have a coach to make sure you actually get to the gym! They can motivate you, applaud your progress, and help you regroup after the inevitable frustration of temporary set-backs. When you go it alone, your weekend choices may not be as good as someone who has a weigh-in on Monday morning with their trainer. Having someone who supports you, who can lend an ear, and can also provide objective guidance will help you get there faster.

When it comes to investing, many people make the same excuses as they have for fitness: I am too busy, exercise is too expensive, it’s so boring, my career/family/hobby is takes all my time… And yet, many of the busiest, most successful people I know manage to find time to workout and stay in shape. When it is an important priority, you figure out how to make it happen.

If you want to get in better shape financially, apply what you know works for exercise. We can help you identify realistic goals and put into motion new habits to help you achieve your objectives. You will learn about finances and you might even find that you enjoy yourself! But most of all, you will know that you are doing the right thing today and that your future self will thank you for not waiting another year to get started. You can schedule your call online here.

How Much Should You Contribute to Your 401(k)?

Answer: $18,000. If you are over age 50, $24,000.

Those are the maximum allowable contributions and it should be everyone’s goal to contribute the maximum, whenever possible. The more you save, the sooner you will reach your goals. The earlier you do this saving, the more likely you will reach or exceed your goals.

At a 4% withdrawal rate in retirement, a $1 million 401(k) account would provide only $40,000 a year or $3,333 a month in income. And since that income is taxable, you will probably need to withhold 10%, 15%, or maybe even 25% of that amount for income taxes. At 15% taxes, you’d be left with $2,833 a month in net income. That amount doesn’t strike me as especially extravagant, and that’s why we should all be trying to figure out how to get $1 million or more into our 401(k) before we do retire.

I’ve found that most people fall into four camps:
1) They don’t participate in the 401(k) at all.
2) They put in just enough to get the company match, maybe 4% or 5% of their income.
3) They contribute 10% because they heard it was a good rule of thumb to save 10%.
4) They put in the maximum every year.

How does that work over the duration of a career? If you could invest $18,000 a year for 30 years, and earn 8%, you’d end with $2,039,000 in your account. Drop that to $8,000 a year, and you’d only have $906,000 after 30 years. That seems pretty good, but what if you are getting a late start – or end up retiring early – and only put in 20 years of contributions to the 401(k)? At $8,000 a year in contributions, you’d only accumulate $366,000 after 20 years. Contribute the maximum of $18,000 and you’d finish with $823,000 at an 8% return.

I have yet to meet anyone who felt that they had accumulated too much money in their 401(k), but I certainly know many who wish they had more, had started earlier, or had made bigger contributions. Some people will ignore their 401(k) or just do the bare minimum. If their employer doesn’t match, many won’t participate at all.

Accumulators recognize the benefits of maximizing their contributions and find a way to make it happen.

  • Become financially independent sooner.
  • Bigger tax deduction today, pay less tax.
  • Have their investments growing tax deferred.
  • Enjoy a better lifestyle when they do retire. Or retire early!
  • Live within their means today.
  • 401(k)’s have higher contribution limits than IRAs and no income limits or restrictions.

Saving is the road to wealth. The investing part ends up being pretty straightforward once you have made the commitment to saving enough money. Make your goal to contribute as much as you can to your 401(k). Your future self will thank you for it!

My Used Car Adventure, Part II

Some people in Dallas pour more money into new cars than they do their investments and financial future. They get a new luxury car every three years, but tell me they cannot afford to put $5,000 into an IRA. I think their priorities are backwards! To sink our hard-earned cash into a depreciating asset will keep us poor and stressed, rather than allowing us to enjoy the peace of mind of financial independence.

Last night, a friend was asking me whether he should fix up his 10-year old Toyota (facing a $400 expense) or buy a new car. Previously, I have written in this blog about my real costs of buying a high-mile used car. Three years ago, I purchased a 2002 Toyota 4Runner with 179,000 miles for $4,500. Seems like an invitation to disaster and disappointment, right? Well, here’s how things turned out…

I sold the 4Runner last fall, after two years of ownership, with 197,000 miles on the odometer. During my ownership, it never broke down and always started on the first try. It was completely dependable and there were no unexpected repairs, only routine and preventative maintenance. I sold it for $4,150, my full asking price on a (free) Craigslist ad, to the first person who looked at it.

That means that over the two years, my total depreciation was $350. I cleaned the car meticulously before selling, and you truly can polish money into a car. If it looks great and you can show detailed maintenance history, you will do well.

While my depreciation was very low, I had maintenance expenses over the two years. The biggest expense was a set of four new tires, $744.84. (Those are some big tires, 265’s!) The rest of the work I performed myself and included: four oil changes, replacing the rusty radiator, hoses, and thermostat, changing the differential oil, steering fluid, and brake fluid, wipers, air filter, PCV valve, two indicator bulbs, and one headlamp. Sounds like a lot, but most of those are 5-minute jobs. My total spend on maintenance over two years was $574.33.

The average car on the road is over 11 years old, but many of us still hate older cars. It is definitely a headache when a car breaks down and leaves you stranded, but that can happen even in a new car. From a behavioral perspective, the inconsistency in our thinking is that we have such a strong aversion to paying for unexpected repairs but are so willing to accept the known and inevitable loss of depreciation.

Why is spending $1,000 on a repair so much more painful than losing $4,000 in depreciation over a year? Depreciation is the bigger expense. Almost every new car will lose 50% of its value in 5 years. By 10 years, you will have an 80 to 90 percent loss.

The reality is that today’s cars are more dependable than ever. When you trade in your 8 year old car with 100,000 miles, chances are that someone else is going to drive that vehicle for another 8 years and another 100,000 miles. But you will have paid 80% of the depreciation!

Now, I realize that a sample of one (my experience with one 4Runner) does not prove a statistical case that all used car purchases are going to be effortless and inexpensive. It is entirely possible that I was just lucky. The car could have blown up the day after I bought it and I’d have lost my $4,500 investment. Fortunately, it did not, but that is a gamble I can afford to take.

My advice remains that the least costly course of action is to keep your current vehicle for as long as possible so that you can spend years on the flat end of the depreciation curve. Maintenance costs should not be unexpected, even though the timing and amounts are always unknown. The key is to remember that your repair costs are still likely to be a fraction of the depreciation costs of a new car. When you have to get a new vehicle, consider a used car and let someone else pay the steep depreciation of the first 3, 5, or even 10 years of the car’s life.

I know rationally that keeping cars for 10+ years is the best option, but truthfully, I get bored with cars. If you are fine with the same vehicle for a decade, that is fantastic. You are undoubtedly being very smart to keep one vehicle for 10 years. But I’d rather get a different vehicle every couple of years, a habit which could get very, very expensive. Luckily for me, I don’t really care if a car is new or used, just that it is new to me.

When I sold the 4Runner, everything still worked and I could have kept on driving it. But I just wanted something different. I purchased a 2006 Mercedes E350 sedan with 123,000 miles for $5,300. Now I am not only flouting the conventional wisdom of avoiding older, high mileage cars, I am doubling down by going from a dependable Toyota with cheap parts, to a luxury car with very expensive German parts.

I’ve had the Merc for a few months and have already put on 5,000 miles, with zero issues. The engine seems quite strong and everything on the car feels very well made. Fingers crossed that it holds up! We’ve had a number of BMWs in the past and I always wanted a Mercedes. I’ve gotten a number of compliments on it, but I think people would be very surprised if they knew how little I paid for it! I expect that, unlike the Toyota, I will not do all the work myself and that my maintenance costs will be higher. I will continue to keep a spreadsheet and report back to you, my readers, and let you know how it turns out – good, bad, or ugly!

23 Ways to Save Money

A penny saved is a penny earned. I write often about how much you might need to invest for retirement, college, and other financial goals. While I can help with the financial planning strategies and investment advice, it’s up to each client to save the cash required to meet these goals. And this crucial first step is often easier said than done!

There is some amount that each family is comfortable saving. Unfortunately, for many of us, the amount we need to save is often much larger than the amount we’d like to save. Here are 23 ways to save money, hopefully with little or no sacrifice on your behalf.

1. If you pay off your credit card monthly, use a cash back rewards card rather than a debit card, cash, or check. I put everything I can on the credit card – and have gotten back $907 so far this year.

2. Drop your landline and use your cell phone as your one and only phone. You still have a landline?

3. Drop cable or satellite for Netflix or another streaming service. We probably watch too much TV as a society, myself included. Read a book instead.

4. Buy used items online, from Craigslist, or at local sales.

5. Sell your unneeded items on Craigslist. Cash is better than a tax deduction of the same amount.

6. Wait to buy items on sale. Never pay full price. There are a number of apps that scan barcodes and will show you reviews and prices of that item.

7. Get a programmable thermostat. For every degree you adjust the thermostat, you may see a 3% change in your utility bill.

8. Replace light bulbs with LEDs. Prices have come down quite a bit in the last three years. They use a fraction of the electricity and will last for years. I’m a fan of the Cree floodlights.

9. DIY Home Energy Audit. US Department of Energy instructions here.

10. Compare your Texas electric rates at PowertoChoose.org. These tend to creep up after your initial guarantee period is over.

11. Shop your home and auto insurance every three years.

12. Save money on pets: 5 Ways to Save Money When Adopting a Pet.

13. Volunteer. Looking for something fun and interesting where you can make the world a better place? Find an organization doing great work and volunteer! You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have an interesting and satisfying weekend.

14. Prepare meals at home or eat at home. If you are going to eat at a restaurant, lunch is usually much less expensive than dinner.

15. Shop at Target? Get the Red Card for 5% off and free shipping. Sign up for the Cartwheel app for additional discounts.

16. Shop at Walmart? Download the Savings Catcher app. You scan your Walmart receipt and if they find a lower price elsewhere, they refund the difference to you.

17. The car advice I always give, the short version: Keep your current car for as long as you can. When you must buy your next vehicle, buy used and pay cash.

18. You don’t save much by doing your own oil changes. But if you are mechanically inclined, you can save a lot of money by doing your own brake jobs and other routine maintenance and repairs. Check YouTube for video instructions.

19. If your car is out of warranty, find a reputable independent mechanic rather than having all work done at the dealership. Develop a relationship with one mechanic.

20. Cheapest local gas prices: gasbuddy,com.

21. Do you need two cars? How often? Could you get by with one car plus using a Taxi or Uber a few days a month?

22. Don’t want to spend hours tracking a monthly budget? Read my tips about Reverse Budgeting and putting your savings on autopilot.

23. For inspiration, I subscribe to a number of frugality blogs which share ideas, frugal fails, and a chance to read about others’ journey. Media bombards us with a message of consumption, but not everyone buys into the materialism they’re selling. We all need a reminder from time to time that “more stuff” or the “latest and greatest” is neither the source of happiness nor financial independence! Make your goals the top priority for your cash flow.

Do You Hate Saving Money?

Take your medicine. Make some sacrifices. Prepare for a rainy day. Tighten your belt.

Does this describe how you feel about saving and investing? Is it some sort of cruel punishment? Do you begrudgingly invest just enough dollars to get the company match and say that you “have a 401k”? You’re not alone. A lot of Americans feel the same. We are a nation of spenders, not savers.

The US household savings rate was 5.057% for 2015, according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation. Compare this to other developed countries: 8.563% in Australia, 9.668% for Germany, or 20.130% for Switzerland. The savings rate is estimated to be over 25% in China.

While the “average” household savings rate is 5.057% in the US, that average consists of a small number of people who save a significant amount of their income, and the majority of Americans who are living from paycheck to paycheck and save exactly zero. According to one study, 62% of Americans don’t have the ability to cover an unexpected $500 bill today.

I wish I could change people’s attitudes about savings. For some, saving money means buying an $80 sweater when it’s on sale for $40. But that is still spending money, not saving! Saving is setting money aside and having it grow. When you view saving as a negative – a chore that keeps you from having fun – your attitude may be the biggest roadblock to your own prosperity.

Saving and investing is the path to financial independence. Even if you don’t want to retire, we should still aim for financial independence, so you can work because you want to and not because you have to. Saving isn’t just for retirement planning, it’s developing a plan for financial security to free you from worry.

How can we make saving easier? What steps make you more likely to succeed?

1) Put your saving on autopilot through automatic monthly contributions. Whether it is establishing an emergency fund, contributing to a 401(k) or IRA, or creating a 529 college savings plan, making it automatic is the way to go.

2) Set goals. If you don’t have a finish line – a target amount for your nest egg – it’s hard to feel any sense of urgency to saving. When I was 30, I knew where I wanted to be at 50, which also meant I could determine where I needed to be at 35, 40, and 45. Those specific goals have helped me stay on track through the years. Without long-term goals, short-term actions often lack direction and a clear purpose.

3) Think big, not small. How many times have you read that you can fund your IRA by giving up your daily coffee fix. Forget that! If you get the big decisions right, the small stuff takes care of itself. Instead, be very smart, calculating, and objective on just two things: housing and cars. Those are the biggest expenses for almost everyone, and we have tremendous discretion in choosing how much we spend on these two categories.

If you want to jump start your saving, take a close look at all your recurring monthly costs: insurance, utilities, cell phone, cable TV, and memberships. Comparison shop, look for savings, and drop items you don’t use or won’t miss.

4) Focus on maximum saving. There is an oft-repeated rule of thumb that you should save 10% of your income. I am guilty of saying this one, too, especially as a “realistic” goal for new savers. However, there is nothing magical about the number 10%, and there is no guarantee that if you start saving 10% today that you will have enough money to accomplish all your financial goals. Instead, try to contribute the maximum to your 401(k): $18,000 or $24,000 if over age 50. And if you are also eligible for an IRA, fund a Traditional, Roth, or Backdoor Roth IRA. If you have self-employment or 1099 income, you may also be eligible for a SEP-IRA.

If it helps you to increase your saving, then let’s calculate each need separately and contribute to:
– Employer retirement accounts
– IRAs
– Health Savings Accounts
– 529 College Savings Plans
– Term life insurance policy
– Taxable brokerage account
– Savings for a first or second home down payment

Regardless of whether the market is up or down in 2016, I will have done my part by funding my accounts and accumulating more shares of my funds and ETFs. Over time, the returns will average out, but I accept that I have absolutely zero control over what the market does this year. What I do have control over is how much I save, and that’s more important.

I know a lot of millionaires who were great savers and invested in generic, plain mutual funds. But I have yet to meet anyone who has turned $5,000 into a million through their brilliant investing. Investing decisions matter, but you are likely to reach your goals faster if you can figure out how to save 50% more rather than spending your time trying to increase your returns by 50%, because it is not possible over any meaningful measure of time.

I feel great about saving and you should, too. It is empowering to see planning pay off when you have been diligent and consistent about saving. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear right now, and even as the market makes new highs, investors are very wary. If you want to become wealthy, divorce your feelings about today’s market from your feelings about saving. If you’re serious about getting to your goals sooner than planned, save more today!

Should You Get a New Car to Save Gas?

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I applaud frugality and will be the first to tell you that it doesn’t matter how much you make, but how much you spend. Wealth is created by the surplus between those two numbers. So, it would definitely make sense to get a more fuel efficient car, and save money at the gas pump, right? Let’s find out.

Cars are much more fuel efficient today. Electric cars and hybrids are at the forefront of this improvement, but so are diesel engines and small turbo engines. Many car makers now offer a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine as their base engine. And this isn’t just for economy cars – the base engine for the BMW 5 series, Mercedes E Class, Jaguar XF, and other midsize luxury cars are all 2.0L turbos.

Coincidence? Not a chance! The world’s largest auto market – six years running – is China, at 23 million vehicles a year. To try to slow the growth of greenhouse gases, China imposes an excise tax on the sale of all cars, based on the size of the engine. At 2.0L, the tax is 5%, but if the car had a 2.1L engine, the tax would be 9%. For an engine over 4 liters, like many V-8s, the tax is 40%. This is a significant incentive for car makers to create small engines that offer more power and improve fuel efficiency.

Given the nice gains in fuel economy for today’s cars, does it make sense to trade in your current vehicle for a less thirsty model? Let’s run the numbers for a couple of different scenarios.

1) According to the US Department of Transportation, the average American driver logs 13,476 miles per year. Let’s consider a significant improvement in fuel economy, from 20 to 30 mpg.

At $2.25 a gallon for gas, the 20 mpg vehicle would consume $1,516.05 in gas per year. The 30 mpg vehicle would require $1,010.70 in fuel, a savings of $505.35. That sounds pretty good! Who wouldn’t like to save over $500 a year?

The problem is how much did it cost to save that $505? If you spent $25,000, it would take you 50 years to make back your “investment” in the new car. The gas savings is a 2% return on your money. In terms of opportunity cost, it seems like a very poor return to spend that money rather than keeping it invested. If you could make just 6% on your $25,000, you’d receive $1,500 in annual gains. With compounding at 6%, your $25,000 would become $50,000 in 12 years, $100,000 in 24 years, and $200,000 in 36 years.

So while it is alluring to “save” $500 a year on gas, you are likely to be better off by keeping your current vehicle and keeping your cash invested. Most people don’t think this way, because they don’t pay cash for their cars. If you start to pay cash for your cars, as I do, it will definitely change your perspective. However, don’t think that just because you take a loan or lease a vehicle that this math doesn’t apply to you. Instead of having an opportunity cost on your cash, you are paying interest on a loan or a lease. Either way, there is a decrease in the future value of your wealth, and whether we look at opportunity cost or interest expense, the decrease in wealth is going to be larger than just the $25,000 price tag on the car.

People are not logical about their car purchases. Cars may be a necessity for most of us, but they are a poor use of money. Most vehicles lose 50% of their value in the first five years. People decide they want a new car and then create a rationalization as to why they “need” it. It’s okay to buy nice stuff you want, especially if you have met your savings and investing goals. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that spending $25,000 on a new car is a way to “save money”.

Let’s consider a more extreme example of high mpg, using actual car models:
2) What if you drive a lot of miles, say 20,000 highway miles per year. And let’s say you are thinking about trading in your 2011 Toyota Camry for a hybrid, a 2016 Toyota Prius.

The Prius is estimated to get 50 mpg on the highway, versus 33 for the 2011 Camry. At $2.25 for gas, the cost savings is only $463.64 a year. Surprised it isn’t more? Our intuition fools us here – even though the difference in fuel economy is 17 mpg and we are driving more miles than in example #1, the actual cost saving is less. The difference in fuel consumption in this example is 206 gallons: 606 gallons for the Camry versus 400 gallons for the new Prius.

For a base 2011 Camry in clean condition and 100,000 miles (20,000 per year for 5 years), your trade in value would be only $5,744 according to Edmunds.com. For the 2016 base Prius, the MSRP is $25,095. Is it worth spending $19,351 (plus tax) to save $463 a year? No, it is not!

My recommendation: if you are genuinely interested in maximizing the utility of your hard earned dollars, drive your current car into the ground. If you have a 2011 Toyota with 100,000 miles, you’ve already experienced most of the car’s depreciation. Try to keep it for another 100,000 miles. Keeping one car for 200,000 miles will save you a ton of money versus having two cars for 100,000 miles, or worse, four cars for their first 50,000 miles.

The fuel economy question is a distraction. Looking at the total cost of a new vehicle, depreciation is your largest expense. Don’t get a new car to try to save money at the pump. Get a new car – or better yet a used car – when your current car is all used up. When it is time to get your next vehicle, by all means, consider fuel economy along with the other costs of ownership. Until you have to get another vehicle, it is likely going to be more cost effective to stick with your current car, even if it means spending more money at the pump.