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The way we see it, wealth is simply having more than you need, and poverty is having less. Many folks with little money and few possessions are far wealthier than high-earners who are in hock up to their eyeballs.
We know that you can live better on less --- without feeling deprived, without making drastic life changes, and without having the black cloud of debt over your head for life. All you have to do is become a Pocket Change Investor. Here's how:
1. Cultivate a simple attitude. You and your family don't have to live like monks --- Nancy and I sure don't. Having cut back voluntarily, we find that we can get by comfortably (indeed happily) with less and less, and still set aside a few bucks for "sunny days" (or rain). Although we may never be rich, we're financially free. You can be too!
2. Turn your debts into golden investment opportunities, by using what we call The Banker's Secret. To wit: there's a big difference between what banks pay savers --- a piddling 4% or so --- versus what they charge borrowers. These days, 17% on credit card balances is typical. Every little bit extra you send in with each credit card payment will save you 17% --- tax-free, risk-free and absolutely guaranteed. For someone in the 28% tax bracket, that's the same as earning 23.5% before taxes.
Investing just one thin dime a day will save you up to $3,268 in interest on a $2,000 credit card debt. Does that sound incredible? Then consider this: most homeowners buy one house, but pay back enough for the bank to buy three. By investing what I could in my mortgage, I owned my house free and clear by age 27. Since Nancy and I have no debts, we automatically save the fortune that everyone else wastes on interest.
3. Saving is better than earning. Every $1,000 you don't spend --- be it on a fancy car or jewelry, fast food or greeting cards --- means more than $1,400 that you won't have to earn. That's because no income tax is due on money you don't spend. (But keep this secret quiet, or those Beltway Bandits will find a way to tax the money we save by being smart shoppers.)
4. Develop an "Ace in the Hole" a teeny, tiny business. Without forcing you to burn any bridges, it will protect you should "the you know what hit the you know where." A little time spent now, putting an Ace up your sleeve, may be the best investment you can make in your family's future. For my Aces, I've chosen "portable careers" --- skills I could put to work any place, any time --- to earn money at a moment's notice. Et tu?
5. Price check on everything! It's worth the time to comparison shop. Nancy and I don't buy much, but whether it's insurance or oatmeal, we check around for the best price.
Sorry Wilford, but rolled oats are FAR less expensive in bulk at the health food store --- especially when they're on sale --- than in that pretty, round Quaker Oats container. Those boxes do make excellent birdhouses, however, but that's another story.
6. Second-hand is often first-rate, and always our first choice ... for cars, appliances, clothes ... you name it. We get great stuff at terrific prices. If you always buy new, you won't believe how much money you can save by letting someone else break in the jeans.
7. Free is the best price of all. I rarely turn down a usable item that's offered to me gratis, or that I can barter for or scavenge. You'll find me at the local recycling center most Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Nancy says it's my hobby. I say it's a great way to get dozens of current magazines and who knows what else, for free.
8. It always pays to ask: "Can you do better on the price?" "Is there a less expensive way to do this?" Sometimes there isn't, but often I get a great bargain or invaluable information. There's nothing to lose. After all, not asking is an automatic "No!" If you're nice about it, the worst you'll get is "Sorry, Charlie!"
9. Do what's truly important to you. There are 24 hours a day, 168 hours in a week, 52 weeks in a year, and an unknown number of years in a lifetime. Do you really want to spend your allotted time scraping for gold?
Nancy and I chose to leave the fast track years ago for a life in the country, doing something we think is meaningful --- changing the way Americans manage their money. Even though we work long hours, being our own bosses allows us all the time we choose for doing what we love best --- being with family and friends, gardening, taking our canoe out into the marsh, walking a desolate beach.
10. "I'd rather do it myself!" can be a very profitable attitude, especially if you apply it to big ticket items. For example, how'd you like to save $10,000 or so by selling your house without a broker ... in 5 days?! (See page #7 to order a book that'll show you how.)
I've saved us a fortune by figuring out how to repair most of the mechanical and electronic gizmos that we've acquired, even while living the simple life. Broken cars, computers, washers, TVs, VCRs, fax machines, furniture ... they've all been my patients.
More often than not, I can come up with enough spit and glue to get our woeful widgets working. If not, I can still take them in to be serviced. Each time I try, I learn a bit more, and feel better about myself.
Do-it-yourselfers end up with more money to bank. Give it a try!
11. Get advice and give consent. Don't take it for granted that the "experts" know everything. While it would be easier to just rely on whatever "the" doctor, lawyer, or mechanic says is best, money ... and lives ... can be saved by being an informed patient, client, or customer. Sure, we ask for advice, read what we can, get second and third opinions ... but then we make our own decisions.
12. Don't take truisms for granted. While some houses have been or may be great investments, many are not. In either case, the tax benefits to owning a home are grossly exaggerated. Nancy and I now choose to rent, which lets us save a fortune, and live on a 350-acre piece of paradise that we could never afford to own. (For how to compare your rent vs. buy options, see our issue #5.)
Similarly: "You get what you pay for" is true only sometimes. "The bigger box is cheaper." Often, but not always. "IBM and the Post Office hire for life." No more.
13. Don't confuse the message with the messenger. You don't have to cut expenses to the bone, raise your own organic crops, or live our spit and glue lifestyle to benefit from our Pocket Change Investor advice. Whether you drive an old Chevy, or a brand new Rolls, you can save money. But remember ...
14. Crash diets simply don't work. Over 90% of Americans who take some weight off, put it back on again. Why are so many folks overweight? They take in more calories than they expend.
When it comes to money, millions have the opposite problem: they spend more than they take in. We're a nation with more waist (and waste), more debt, and less wealth than anyone could have believed possible a generation ago.
The solution? Stop pigging out, but don't go overboard. Don't cut back to such an extreme that you feel deprived.
15. If it sounds too good to be true ... it probably is. But it may not be! This has been a problem for Nancy and me. When we've tried to advertise our Banker's Secret book and software on how to save money on your debts, they come off like get rich quick schemes.
Fortunately for us, a few hundred thousand people have discovered that they're not, that if you regularly invest pocket change in your mortgage, you'll save a fortune. Say your loan is for $100,000 at 8.5% for 30 years. Pre-pay a mere $25 a month, and you'll save over $26,000 in interest. Astounding, but true.
On the other hand, schemes, scams, and deceptive sales pitches abound. Always retain a healthy dose of disbelief.
16. Painless penny pinching pays. Nancy's favorite tip involves carrots, onions, and potatoes.
While we grow much of what we eat, sometimes we run out and have to buy pre-packaged bags of produce. Nancy always weighs a few before tossing one in the cart. For example, a 5-pound bag of carrots must weigh at least 5 pounds. But packers don't have the time or patience to find the perfect weight vegetable, so they invariably put in extra. That means we can get a bonus half pound, or more, for free. It's painless, takes a second, and invariably earns us at least a 10% return.
17. Invest in supermarket stock. When your staple items are on sale, really fill 'er up. The profits to be had at your local commodities market are incredible.
Say your favorite apple juice normally costs $2.29. On sale, at $1.50, you're guaranteed to save 34%, tax free. But the "yield" is actually over 52% --- because $1.50 will buy what usually costs $2.29. Where else could you get a 52% return on a measly $1.50 investment?
In fact, you'd have to earn some 70% before taxes to beat the profit in that bottle of apple juice. At $1.50, buy all you can store!
Or perhaps you prefer herbal tea at the health food store, or hazelnut decaf at the gourmet shop. No need to give up the luxuries ... just buy them smarter! Really stock up when your favorites are on sale.
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Copyright (c) 1995-99 Marc Eisenson