USA Today article series
microdollar industry, savings, budget
retirement, debt, bankruptcy, consumer credit
Frugal Living Tips
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April 21, 2005 Issue

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Vol. 11, April 21, 2005

Here is the latest issue. Enjoy.
Editor, Rick Doble

    A Debt And Retirement Crisis In America
    Small Expenses Add Up To Big Losses
    Do You Have To Change Your Lifestyle?
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A Debt And Retirement Crisis In America

In a major series of articles on family spending which started April 15, 2005, USA Today began to explore the financial health of households and budgets across America. For the next six weeks on Monday and Friday, USA Today will highlight aspects of what has turned into a national finance crisis. The remedy is that many people need to go on a financial diet to bring their expenses, debts and savings back into line.

The news is not good. Savings are down from 10% in 1980 to 1.2% of disposable personal income in 2004. In the same period consumer credit has climbed by a factor of 6. And non-business bankruptcy filings are up by a factor of 5.

During this same period personal income (per capita) has climbed from about $9,000 in 1980 to almost $30,000 in 2004.

So although income is up, retirement savings are down plus debt and bankruptcies are up.

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Small Expenses Add Up To Big Losses

Part of the problem is small expenses. USA Today identified a "microdollar industry" in which a lot of little charges during the day add up to a huge expense over time. This used to be called nickel-and-diming. For example, banks, credit cards, cell phone providers, local phone companies and long distance companies are well known for adding a charge here and a surcharge there.

The other problem is that we are constantly tempted. We are often convinced to spend a few extra dollars each month for extended protection warranties for new electronic products, for example. At restaurants the waiter will often "suggest" appetizers, drinks, and a larger dinner plus dessert. During a typical day, most of us are tempted to spend just a bit more than we meant to. Businesses are experts at convincing us to do this.

This "microdollar industry" spending leads to another even less obvious problem. Most of us have no idea how much we have spent during a day. A coffee here, a magazine there, a impulse item at the supermarket check out, a roaming or overage charge added to the cell phone bill, a small monthly charge automatically added to our credit card bill does not seem like that much.

Yet it can easily be $5 to $10 a day. As USA Today points out this same money saved in an IRA and invested over time would make a handsome retirement fund. $7 a day saved, for example, would yield almost half a million dollars in 30 years (at the average stock market return of 10%) or 1.3 million in forty years or 3.6 million in fifty years.

I believe the problem has suddenly made itself known because the price of gas is about a dollar a gallon higher than it was just a while back. A family with two SUV's, for example, could easily be spending $100 - $200 more a month on gasoline. This added expense has forced people to look at their budgets and decide where they need to cut.

Do You Have To Change Your Lifestyle?

See our list of ways to cut your budget with no extra work or change in lifestyle
Cut budget 5000 dollars a year

In a survey in USA Today consumers identified the following categories as areas where they could cut back on expenses. At we encourage people to make simple effective financial changes that do not affect their lifestyle. So we will add out own unique suggestions to the following list put together by USA Today.

As we all know, the problem with any diet, especially one that requires a major shift in lifestyle, often fails. When the pressure is off, we all tend to go back to our bad old financial habits. At we suggest that you get into the habit of controlling many of these small expenses while keeping your current way of life.

== About 80% said that skipping one dinner out was the best way to save money.
At we suggest that instead you *EAT LESS* when you go out. This means that you can continue your habits, but spend less money and gain less weight. For example, splitting a dinner is a smart way to save 50%. Avoid fattening appetizers and desserts. And when the waiter "suggests" that you buy more than you want, just say no!

=== About 30 % said they could save by buying one less take-out dinner.
At we suggest that you combine a smaller take-out order with leftovers from your refrigerator. American's waste about 25% of the food they buy, so using yesterday's side dish with today's take-out is a smart way to finish up food you already have and cut the expense of take-out.

=== About 20% said that cutting cell phone costs was important.
At we suggest that people use the cell phone for really important messages, and then use a low cost prepaid long distance provider such as Tel3Advantage which allows discount calls from any phone in the USA for longer conversations. This will reduce overage and roaming charges.

The above suggestions illustrate how saving a substantial amount of money while keeping your lifestyle is not all that hard.

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