I heard something on the radio recently that got me fired up. It was a segment about tips on how to save more money. What came was a predictable list of "brew your own coffee," "buy generic products" and "bring your lunch to work."
I can’t stand these lists. I think they’re dangerous, because the average American’s dismal financial state has little to do with coffee, name brands or lunch. The people writing these articles mean well. But they’re the equivalent of telling a drowning man how to dry his clothes -- advice that seems helpful but misses the bigger problem.
Most workers reading this article earn enough money to be saving a lot of it. If you can’t, it’s likely because the gap between reality and your ego is larger than it should be. And if you dig into that gap, I think you’ll find just three things: Your house, your car and your education.
If you want to actually save money, start there.
n Your house: The average new American home now has more bathrooms than occupants. Nearly half have four or more bedrooms, up from 18 percent in 1983. While the median household’s inflation-adjusted income has been stagnant for decades, the median new home’s square footage has increased 38 percent since the late 1980s.
A lot of people I know think housing is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. What’s expensive is when your expectations outgrow your income. The average American could save a ton of money by realizing that their largest monthly expense is an inflated expectation of what a decent house is.
n Your car: The average amount borrowed for a car in 2013 was $27,000, according to Experian Automotive. For people with the lowest credit ratings --- typically lower-income families -- the average auto loan was higher, at $29,385. And that’s just the loan amount. The average transaction at an auto dealership is now $32,160.
Here’s your problem, Am-
erica: You need a car to get to work. You picked one that can tow a boat and consumes two-thirds of a year’s income.
Add in the cost of gas and this is probably where the average American can find the most savings in her budget.
n Your education: This mainly applies to young people, but there are a lot of you.
Unless you have generous parents or scholarships, almost no one should attend private college. It’s totally unnecessary. Four years of public university isn’t even necessary.
For most, there’s an adequate and much cheaper way to go to college: two years at a community college, two years at an in-state public university.
Prices vary by state, but most people can go this route for less than $25,000 total and obtain a world-class education.