You might think that only coupon-clipping, rice-and-bean-eating super-savers need to be concerned about budgeting. Not the case! Even some of the highest-paid people in the world should be tracking their spending a little more closely.
I’m going to highlight a variety of people you never want to emulate, as well as some behaviors that could be killing your finances. If you’re the sort of person who engages in any of these habits, it could be a good time to start budgeting.
Budgeting can help focus your spending on the things that are really important in life. Once you know exactly where you’re spending your hard-earned cash, you will be more likely to cast a critical eye toward money-wasting behaviors.
Let’s take a look at 10 types of people whose actions can cause serious setbacks as they strive to achieve their financial goals.
People Who Let Their Cars Idle
This one is very personal for me. When I was 15, I read “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck’s opus about a family moving from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. There is a passage early on in which a character lets his tractor idle: “The exhaust of the tractor puttered on, for fuel is so cheap it is more efficient to leave the engine running than to heat the diesel nose for a new start.”
I kid you not when I say I let my car idle instead of turning it off for my first 10 years of driving because of that passage. I took it as gospel. I recently learned that is not the case. Idling your engine wastes tons of fuel and is horrible for the environment.
Lesson: Don’t live your life based on information provided by a fictional book written decades ago about life in the Dust Bowl.
People Who Toss Their Old Computers Too Soon
Many people will encounter a battery problem or a slowdown and decide their computer has had enough. I used to take it a step further, in that I would actively hope my computer would start to lag a bit so I could justify buying a shiny new machine.
That all changed when I realized that older machines aren’t very hard to upgrade. I was scared to go the DIY route at first. I’m so non-handy that I ask my girlfriend to hang all the pictures. Yet, I was able to install new RAM and a solid-state hard drive on my 2010 Macbook Pro without much effort. For around 300 bucks I had something that was performing as if it was brand new.
Lesson: Don’t turn your back on DIY options to fix electronics. They’re not as scary as you think.
People Who Buy Islands
Thought I’d throw an actual person in here, just to shake things up. Cristiano Ronaldo is a superstar soccer player who recently made headlines when he bought his agent an island as a wedding present.
Ronaldo earns insane amounts of money, dates supermodels, and is arguably the most popular player in the most popular sport in the world. That doesn’t change the fact that unless you are a nation state, there’s really no need to be buying islands. I’m sure the recipient would have been thrilled with some nice cutlery off his registry.
An island is an impractical, gaudy, and irresponsible gift. No one is immune to going broke, not even the highest-paid pro athletes.
Antoine Walker was a professional basketball player who made $110 million over his 13-year career. He lost all of it due to bad investments, overspending, and a gambling problem.
I crossed paths with Walker a few years ago. We were both working out in Las Vegas, hoping to get recruited by D-League basketball teams, which play in locales like Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fort Wayne, Ind. They pay about $30,000 per year. If Antoine Walker can go from being worth millions to dreaming about playing basketball in South Dakota so he can make about as much as a Burger King fry cook, it can happen to anyone. Cristiano, please get yourself a budget.
Lesson: Buying an island as a present can be detrimental to your financial future and may not even make the recipient that much happier.
People Who Need the Most Expensive Sneakers
The new LeBron James sneakers sell for $250. Despite what Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Michael Jordan, or your friends tell you, your sneakers will not make you good at basketball. As a lifelong basketball player who played at the college and professional level, I can attest to this firsthand.
I once had a pair of fancy, brand-name sneakers literally explode when I was making a cut. I had to try to play with my sole flopping off my shoe. Furthermore, I’ve been schooled on the court by guys who wore beat-up sneakers that looked like they should be used exclusively for yard work. That helped put things in perspective.
Lesson: Buy some basic shoes with good grip and ignore the hype.
People Who Need the Most Expensive Suits
I once had an office job that required me to wear a suit and tie every day. In preparation for this new position, I bought three suits. One was very expensive, one was slightly more affordable but still pricey, and the third was a dirt-cheap suit from an outlet factory that was having a sale.
Over the year and a half that I worked at this company, I never got a single compliment on the expensive suits. Almost every time I wore the cheap suit, I got compliments. People wanted to know the brand and where I got it. It was a conversation starter in the elevator.
- Related: The Deceptively Tiny Wardrobe
I started thinking about why, and I realized it was all about fit. While I had all the suits tailored, the cheap one clearly fit me the best. If I could do it over again, I would have saved a lot of money with this knowledge. At least I can be grateful I lost an eBay auction for a Burberry suit that would have set me back two grand.
Lesson: Fit matters infinitely more than price when trying to make a good impression.
People Who Don’t Use Clotheslines
Dryers are expensive. The one in my building is $1.50 a load. An average family of four does eight loads per week. That’s $624 a year just to dry your laundry if you rely on a coin-op machine, but even homeowners with laundry hookups pay about $150 a year in electricity to run their dryer.
Using a clothesline for three-quarters of the year can have an impact on your wallet. As I type this I am looking at yoga gear drying on my clothesline. This is mid-October in Madison, Wis., and I live in an apartment. No excuses, people! You don’t need acres of land and your own home to do stuff like this.
Lesson: Using a clothesline or dryer rack may take a little more time, but it’s worth it.
People Locked into Expensive Cellphone Plans
I recently ran the numbers on what I was paying for my Verizon iPhone 6, and it was jaw-dropping. I started searching for cheaper plans and stumbled into the beautiful new world of pay-as-you-go cellphone providers.
I’m now with Ting, and have dropped my monthly bill from $75 down to $30. I can’t leave my GPS running 24/7 anymore unless I want to run up my data bill, but that’s a small inconvenience for what will end up saving me $540 this year.
Lesson: Unless you absolutely, positively cannot live without the newest subsidized smartphone, consider other options besides the main carriers.
People Who Smoke Cigarettes
At my brother’s bachelor party, we were walking from one bar to another late at night in downtown Chicago. We got lost, and asked a guy sitting outside of a liquor store for directions. He happily obliged. My brother insisted on compensating this guy for helping us out. The guy asked for a pack of cigarettes, so we went inside to buy him some.
We picked out the brand he wanted and I saw the price: 10 bucks! People can feed themselves for half a week with 10 bucks! As a nonsmoker, this astonished me. I feel ignorant for not knowing that cigarettes were that costly.
Lesson: Smoking is an expensive habit that only gets more pricey as health care costs start to add up. Do your best to cut back or quit altogether.
People Drinking Top-Shelf Liquor
I had a friend in college who would pour low-priced vodka into a Grey Goose bottle before a big party. He would then walk around the party offering people drinks of this fancy, expensive vodka. People would flip out. “This guy is so generous, giving away this free, premium vodka. It’s distilled like, 37 times! It tastes so good!” Little did they know that it was just a generic brand.
This experience taught me that a lot of people are wasting their money just to buy something with pretty packaging. It’s possible that the most experienced liquor connoisseurs can tell the difference between brands, but the rest of us can just stick to basic, low-cost options.
Lesson: If alcohol consumption is a part of your life, you probably won’t notice a difference by drinking low-cost varieties.
People Buying Brand-Name Drugs
As a former conspiracy-theory nut who once spent way too many hours reading about how Stanley Kubrick staged the moon landing, I empathize with those who don’t trust the Food and Drug Administration. Still, I don’t think the FDA is misleading us by claiming that generic drugs are as good as brand-name versions.
Studies show that brand-name and generic drugs have the same efficacy, but brand-name pharmaceuticals still make billion of dollars. It’s time we fight back against the incessant Big Pharma advertising and start to look at the alternatives.
Lesson: There will always be the foil-hat-wearing crowd screaming, “The FDA uses the water supply to exert mind control on the population!” But for those of us who are more trusting, it’s clear there is no reason not to buy the generic version of drugs when they’re an option.
If you’re part of the human race, chances are you have a problem with will power. It’s natural to want new things, and it’s natural to be influenced by the $200 billion advertising industry.
Do yourself a favor and make a budget to help keep you focused on what’s most important to you — every extra dollar you spend on high-end booze or a designer suit is money sucked away from the goals and passions you hold dear. Mint, You Need a Budget, Personal Capital, and other services all make it really easy. Pick one, use it, stick to it. Your future self will thank you.