Saving money can be the difference between stressing to dress and dressing to impress. It can help you retire younger to see more of the world sooner. It can mean building that dream house. And more than anything, it can mean having the money when you need it, and resting assured that you have it even for those times you don’t.
Question: What money-saving advice can you offer?
Put away the credit card
Credit cards can sabotage even the best of savers, according to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “Credit cards are the worst investment that you can make,” the billionaire told Business Insider. “The money I save on interest by not having debt is better than any return I could possibly get by investing that money in the stock market.” On top of high-interest rates on credit card debt, paying with plastic could also trick you into spending more money. In a study published in the journal Marketing Letters, MIT researchers found that shoppers spend up to 100 percent more when paying with a credit card—and were even willing to pay twice as much for an item as those who paid in cash. Here’s what three different billionaires have to say about the most important life skill.
Track your progress
Keeping tabs on your progress can both boost your motivation and hold you accountable as you save. Don’t just take our word for it, though; Microsoft founder Bill Gates shared this tip in his 2013 annual letter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “In the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improve the human condition,” he wrote. “You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.” Whether you use a budget app or a simple paper list, tracking your savings can bring you that much closer to achieving your dream nest egg.
The person who coined the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” might have had the right idea. Though business CEO Warren Buffett has been one of the richest people in the world for decades—and has an estimated $88 billion net worth—he still uses a flip phone and lives in the house he bought in 1957 for $31,500. Similarly, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens only stocks his closet with the basics. “People are always surprised that I don’t have a closet full of suits,” Pickens told Kiplinger.com. “I buy three suits every five or so years and only own ten total. That’s all I need.”
Invest in yourself first
There’s no question that investing your money is key to accumulating wealth fast. But according to Tucker Hughes, who became a millionaire at the age of 22, the first (and most important!) investment you should make is in yourself. “Read at least 30 minutes a day, listen to relevant podcasts while driving, and seek out mentors vigorously,” he wrote in a blogpost. “Consume knowledge like air and put your pursuit of learning above all else.” Doing so will guarantee a hefty return on your investment—no matter which way the stock market goes, Hughes says. Buffett agrees: “Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet,” he told Forbes magazine.
When self-made millionaire Chris Reining grew disillusioned with his standard 9-to-5 job in IT, he decided to start putting more than half his income in savings. By age 35, he had saved $1 million and retired two years later. His secret? Eliminating small, unnecessary purchases. “I know there are some people out there that say you shouldn’t worry about the $5 latte, but the more I think about it, cutting out the $5 latte was a good place to start,” Reining said in an interview with CNBC Make It. In the end, he said, “the small changes will lead you to be able to make the big changes.”
Aim big—and then work backward
Though cutting down on small expenses is a great place to start, millionaires also recommend dreaming big when you set a savings goal. “The single biggest financial mistake I’ve made was not thinking big enough,” Grant Cardone, a self-made millionaire by age 30, wrote in a blog post. From there, Brian Lim, millionaire and CEO of INTO THE AM and iHeartRaves, suggests developing an action plan by working backward from your target amount. “Figure out a specific financial freedom number as a goal,” he said in an interview with Santander Bank. “Then calculate backward on how much you need to earn to make it hit that goal.”
Earn income from many baskets
A five-year study of self-made millionaires discovered that the majority of them have multiple streams of income, ranging from real-estate rentals to stock market investments to side businesses: 65 percent of millionaires had three streams, 45 percent had four streams, and 29 percent had five or more streams. “The more income streams you can create in life, the more secure will your financial house be,” the study author wrote. Even comedian Jay Leno, whose estimated net worth is $400 million, has earned two sources of income since early in his career. “I’d bank one and I’d spend one,” usually spending the smaller amount, Leno told CNBC. It isn’t just your income that’s affecting your finances, these money-saving myths are actually making you poor.
Purchase things that bring you joy
Spend passion, cut junk. That’s the mantra that helped wealth coach and lawyer Adeola Omole turn her $70,000 debt into a seven-figure net worth in less than three years. “In a nutshell, it means that you need to start spending your money on things that bring you joy and that you are passionate about,” Omole told Business Insider. Any extra expenses that don’t add value to your life should be downsized or eliminated altogether, she says. While Omole chooses to prioritize books and investing, you may prefer to set aside money for traveling or education.
Automate your savings
Ryan Stewman, a millionaire and best-selling author of Elevator to the Top, says his No. 1 savings trick is having money automatically withdrawn from his paycheck and placed in a savings account. “When I was young it was $25 a week. Now it’s about $1,000 per week. I never miss the money, and I can’t see it in the savings account without logging in,” he told Santander Bank. Odds are, you won’t even notice the money is gone, Stewman says. And as your savings grows, you can use it to invest in stocks or make an extra payment on a mortgage or other loans.
Keep a close circle of successful friends
The sum of your savings could depend on the company you keep, millionaires say. Steve Siebold, the author of How Rich People Think and a self-made multi-millionaire, recommends surrounding yourself with people who share your monetary goals and motivate you to achieve them. “In most cases, your net worth mirrors the level of your closest friends,” he wrote for Business Insider. “Exposure to people who are more successful than you are has the potential to expand your thinking and catapult your income.”
Follow the 50-30-20 rule
Forget complicated budgeting or uncomfortable belt-tightening; the secret to saving big might boil down to three simple numbers. Kyle Taylor of The Penny Hoarder told CNBC Make It that he made millions in a matter of years thanks to the “50-30-20 percent” rule. Using this formula, he put aside 50 percent of the money he earned for savings and necessities such as rent and groceries, 30 percent for lifestyle purchases like-new clothing, and 20 percent for fun activities like concerts or eating out. Need more money-saving ideas?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, nine-time New York Times bestselling author David Bachrecommends forgoing a budget. “You’re too busy, and you will just get frustrated and fail,” Bach, the founder ofsays. “Instead automate your financial life. When it’s automatic you can’t fail.” That includes having your paycheck automatically deposited, along with a regular 401(k) contribution. He also recommends automating all your bills, including car payments, mortgage payments, and credit card bills.
Avoid “want spending”
The term “want spending” is something Tom Corley, an expert on wealth creation, highly advises you to avoid. “According to Census Bureau data, there are approximately 30 million people who make more than they need, but who are, nonetheless, one paycheck away from poverty,” Corley explains. “These individuals engage in something called want spending. Want spenders spend more money than they make on their wants.”
Are you a want spender? Some of the biggest indicators, according to Corley include:
Surrendering to instant gratification, forgoing savings in order to buy things you want now, be it 60-inch TVs, nice vacations, expensive cars, or a fancy pair of shoes
Spending too much going out to eat or ordering in
Incurring debt in order to finance your standard of living
Essentially, “want spenders” create their own poverty by rationalizing their desire to spend in various ways, whether it be making more money in the future or relying on the economy improving down the line.
Don’t lend money to friends or family
Your love for your family and friends shouldn’t be measured by your generosity, but sometimes that’s exactly what it comes down to. If you don’t do it, there can be tension, and if you do do it, you may never get the funds back and find yourself resenting them. “You will lose both your friend and the money, and you’re not a bank,” advises Bach.
Say you do lend them money. Did you come up with an agreement for a timeline for repayments? When it comes to friends or family, setting such boundaries can be difficult, but it’s even more awkward to continuously ask for the money back.
If you absolutely must lend money to someone near and dear, make sure the loan isn’t open-ended. Come up with a timeline, and stick to it. You can also take advantage of companies that specialize in peer-to-peer lending, like Virgin Money US, which formalizes loans between family members and friends.
Be a smart spender
It goes without saying that stupid spending is a thing. We’ve all done it and likely felt guilty about it. No, you didn’t need the trucker hat at the gas station on your long, boring road trip. And yes, stuff like that, when made a habit, adds up. Corley dug deep into the idea of smart spending in his Rich Habits Study and found that there are specific strategies that can ensure you fall into the smart spending category.
In his research, he discovered:
- It’s best to buy in bulk. “If done properly, and with the right items, buying in bulk can save your household money and reduce waste,” he says. Toilet paper, soap, laundry detergent, paper towels, and shampoo are items proven much cheaper when bought in larger sizes. Prioritize food items like applesauce, canned goods, or yogurt, which can be portioned into glass jars and saved for future use.
- Get on a meal plan. “If you can sketch out a menu for the week that utilizes similar ingredients, you’ll have a more focused trip to the grocery store and you’ll end up throwing less away weeks after it’s been shoved to the back recesses of the refrigerator,” says Corley. “Making a conscious effort here saves you money and it keeps food waste out of landfills.”
- Reduce energy costs. “Lowering your energy consumption is low-hanging fruit when it comes to cutting monthly expenses,” he explains. This can be as simple as swapping incandescent bulbs for CFLs or LEDs to lower your utility bill.