It's not just about penny-pinching
Kevin Rose is the kind of Internet Entrepreneur that many of us want to be like when we grow up. He’s a millionaire many times over and responsible for many successful startups (and some that were less so). His net worth is into the tens of millions of dollars.
What a guy.
I’ve only ever encountered him on ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ podcast — he’s a recurring guest and seemingly a close friend of Ferriss. Their conversations are usually entertaining, occasionally drunken, and always full of nuggets of wisdom.
My biggest takeaway had nothing to do with Bitcoin in the end but came during a discussion around Spotify.
Rose was eager to share his excitement, having discovered that Spotify offers a new Duo plan (aimed at couples) as an alternative to the Family plan (for families of up to 6) — saving him a princely $3 per month.
His excitement at such saving was palpable. The mocking tone from Ferriss in response to Rose’s glee was thinly-veiled. But the lesson was clear.
If someone who’s worth tens of millions can be excited and motivated by a saving of $3, what right have we mere-mortals who aspire to a tenth of his success to being flippant?
However, you look at it, achieving wealth and financial freedom can only be achieved by two methods:
- Spending less
- Earning more
To earn more seems preferable, but it doesn’t come easily. Cutting expenditure and using our existing income more smartly thus becomes the place where most begin.
It doesn’t have to come down to penny-pinching and coupon-clipping our way to financial freedom. Instead, it begins with a philosophy of respecting the value of each dollar earned and then optimising its role in getting us where we want to be.
For some, that’ll be a seven or eight figure bank balance and a Ferrari on the driveway. For others, it’ll be the freedom to ‘stick it to the man’ and live a simple life with enough put aside to sustain them to the grave.
In either scenario, many of the same principles apply.
The Latte Factor vs. Your Rich Life
Most books on personal finance incorporate the same basic message — that by cutting out the seemingly trivial daily expenditures like a few dollars on your daily latte and investing the money saved in a stock-market tracking fund, you’ll eventually enjoy financial freedom.
‘The Latte Factor’ by David Bach is based around that very principle, and this article on Forbes summarises it well.
I understand the principles and agree with a point. But the immediate tension is between choosing ‘survive’ for a few years, sacrificing every non-essential expenditure in the interest of your future wealth, or whether you try and find more balance and enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
Ramit Sethi is another guru of financial freedom. Instead of stripping our lives of joy, he advocates that we should instead dial-up expenditure on the things that contribute to our ‘Rich Life.’ Spending on things that don’t enrich our existence is correspondingly reduced. In this way, those who delight in their daily latte don’t need to live a life of deprivation and denial. Their rich life is also not deferred to some point in the distant future.
That philosophy sits better with me and seemingly with Kevin Rose too.
Needlessly spending an additional $3 per month on a Spotify subscription won’t enrich his life if nobody is going to use the additional logins. The $3 itself won’t make that much difference to his monthly budget either.
What matters is eradicating expenditure that won’t enrich his life. The $3 can be spent or invested where it will make $3 worth of positive impact — crucially, he (and his wife) can still enjoy Spotify, which presumably he does value.
Penny Wise, Dollar Stupid
When we contemplate our path to financial freedom, many of us focus on the additional millions that we need to make to get us there. We overlook the small stuff that’s right before us and believe it’s not worth looking into.
Celebrating a $3 monthly saving doesn’t equate to penny-pinching. It’s part of being mindful of the utility of each dollar spent. I’ve been guilty in the past of overlooking the details and belittling the savings that could be made in my life by paying attention to the innocuous and mundane expenditures.
When grocery shopping, I’ll delight in finding a bargain. I’ll often go to a couple of supermarkets to get what I need where it’s cheapest. The monthly savings might amount to $40 at best. And yet, I’ve let the car and home insurance policies renew annually with progressively higher premiums my reward for loyalty.
I’ve assumed that my cell phone and internet contracts remained competitive. I’ve stuck by utility suppliers out of laziness. These things have cost hundreds more over the years than they could or should have.
When I eventually took the time to check, I made savings on each contract. The sums aren’t life-changing, but I’ve released money that can be put into a savings account, invested in a fund, or staked on a bit more Bitcoin in alignment with a simple, balanced investment strategy.
Saving $20 per month on your utility bills may not seem worth the hassle, but consider what that $240 per year might become with 10 years of compounded interest?
I bet you’d also be delighted if you saved $20 each month on your favourite brand of coffee — what’s the difference?
Contemplate the Opportunity Cost
The principle of opportunity cost is that spending your money (or time or energy) on one thing denies you the opportunity to spend it on something else.
$3 wasted on unnecessary Spotify logins is $3 that can’t be spent on a coffee, invested in Bitcoin, or used to buy a sandwich for a homeless person. Every expenditure comes at the cost of others.
I’m not suggesting that you paralyse your every choice with endless debates over what you’re foregoing by choosing x over y. But it can help to flush out doubts from within you that might otherwise have been missed in the enthusiasm of the moment when contemplating buying a new gadget or gizmo.
Aussie blogger Tim Denning goes a step further and suggests that we consider future purchases for the amount of extra time they’ll delay us from being financially free. As he puts it in this enlightening piece on micro-choices:
“See every purchase as another hour of work you have to do”
Upgrading to the latest iPhone may seem appealing at $200 upfront and an extra $20 per month for 2 years. It may even be affordable in your current budget.
What if that choice represents another week of work tacked onto your working life before you can retire — not now, but at the tail end?
How many additional weeks of work have you already added to your life by buying things that you really didn’t need and which have long since been lost, forgotten, or abandoned?
Maybe that new phone doesn’t seem quite so appealing or essential now?
Would you rather have the thing you’re about to buy or the additional free time without having to work to pay for it?
Buy Cheap, Buy Twice
Another trap I’ve fallen into regularly.
Taking the cheaper option or buying the unbranded item can be a smart move financially when it comes to toilet paper or a garbage can. I don’t care if I throw my kitchen waste into a bin that was designed by Porsche. I don’t need to, er, blow my nose on toilet paper that has a puppy logo embossed upon it.
But when it comes to items where quality, durability, or technology are involved, there’s usually a good reason to opt for the more expensive option. Technology, tools, sportswear, footwear, camping gear — all are things I buy where I’ve gone for the cheap option in the past, only to regret it.
Saving money by scrimping is unlikely to contribute much to your long-term financial freedom if you have to then buy multiple replacement items — it’s a false economy.
Manage costs in your business ventures
Many will have dabbled with new projects alongside their day job as a way to make money. It takes guts, determination, and commitment — they’re called side-hustles for a reason.
A few years back, I took steps to create such a business. Seduced by the notion of a passive income from a largely automated online business, I did what I could to make it work.
I engaged a mentor. I built an infrastructure with sales funnels, payment processing, landing pages, and email lists. I held webinars. I built digital products, marketed them, and tried to sell them. I worked hard.
The net result in sales terms? $0. Zilch. Nada.
I don’t regret the experience nor the time I spent — it taught me a lot. I know I helped some people in the process too.
But I could have done all that with virtually zero outlay (apart from the mentor, perhaps) by bootstrapping, making do, and using free or low-cost equivalents of the software, platforms, and services.
Instead, I invested in the best of breed enterprise solutions used by the great and the good of online entrepreneurship. It cost me hundreds of dollars per month, which I had to pay out of income from the day job I was trying to escape.
I now use the free versions, which are more than adequate. I still have an email list, landing pages, and digital products for sale. I may receive a smaller share of sales through hosting them, but it’s better than a 100% share of zero.
When trying to boost our income, it still makes sense to watch what our spending and to value each dollar equally. Cost-of-sales is a common metric in business for a reason.
Don’t overlook $3 as part of a bigger picture
$3 may seem a trivial sum when your net worth is in the millions. For Kevin Rose and many others who enjoy a similarly rich life, it’s clear that such sums aren’t considered inconsequential.
It’s about finding a balance between frugality and extravagance. More importantly, it’s about valuing each dollar equally in its potential to bring about your financial freedom.
It’s about being careful with your money to an appropriate degree — not sweating the microscopic stuff, but not ignoring the relatively small stuff either — at least not where multiple small things can combine to become something significant.
It’s about being sufficiently generous and indulgent that you enjoy living, but not so much that you forsake your future interests. We’ve no guarantee of living to a ripe old age, but it’d be careless and irresponsible to live each day as though it were your last, only to live to regret years of self-indulgence and meaningless spending.
It’s about considering the opportunity cost each time you’re debating spending money on something where it could have a far greater impact elsewhere, invested in your future. I’d encourage the same practice in regard to your time and energy too.
If a multimillionaire can delight in saving $3 that can be put to better use, then maybe we should all do the same.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered Financial or Legal Advice. Consult a financial professional before making any major financial decisions.