What your savings is NOT

Your savings is not EXTRA money! I’m very fond of the concept of a “paradigm shift” – a fundamental change in our underlying belief about the way things work. I love the way a slightly shifted perspective can make a huge difference in the way we see the “reality” around us. This, in part, is what makes life such an interesting puzzle.

Shifting your perspective on the famous drawing to the left is a perfect illustration of what can happen just by looking at something from a different vantage point. Do you see the young woman? Can you also see the old woman?

Too often, we get “set in our ways” – especially our ways of thinking. This can be the result of what we’ve been taught to think, or what we’ve just assumed to be true for a long time, or what we’ve found to work for us most of the time. And sometimes we believe a paradigm to be true even when it doesn’t work for us.

For instance, if you are waiting to start a savings account when you have some “extra” money that you can set aside without missing it, you will probably never have any savings at all. Extra money is like extra time: there’s no such thing. That’s because there is no end to the things we can purchase, and human beings have unlimited wants.

The trick is to shift our paradigm and think of savings not as extra money, but as one of our most important purchases – and we should “buy” some savings at every opportunity. Just like any other purchase, it will require giving up the purchase of something else. Always.

Instead of buying a brand new car, buy an adequate used car and put the difference away. All you really need is to get from point A to point B safely! Take the difference and buy yourself some savings.

Instead of spending $85 on a pair of designer jeans at the mall, check out your local thrift and consignment stores. The very same jeans will be there at some point, and they’ll probably be about 90% cheaper. And you’ll know they’re not going to shrink anymore! Then buy yourself some savings.

Instead of forking out $10 for lunch, brown-bag it with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some cookies. They made you happy in the third grade, and they can make you happy now! Take the $10 and buy yourself some savings.

Put the savings aside and leave them there! If you save money on one purchase only to spend it on something else, you haven’t “saved” anything at all. You’ve only spent the same amount of money and gotten more stuff for it. You have to purchase only the “stuff” that’s absolutely necessary – and the rest of your money should be used to purchase savings.

You’ll be buying peace of mind, security, insurance, and – most importantly – choices in your future. You can work all your life if you want to, and if that “stuff” is really that important to you. Or you can invest in yourself and your future freedom from the 9-to-5 grind by buying some savings – as much as you can as often as you can.

And one day, you will find that you are really rich – because you will own the rest of your life, and have the freedom to live it exactly as you want.

Social Security

In a few years, I’ll be dependent on Social Security (if it still exists) and will have to live on a little over $900 a month. That’s not much money, given the current cost of living (and the fact that I worked and paid into the system for 40 long and mostly miserable years). The average monthly benefit was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012 – which I could probably get if I were willing to wait a few more years – so lots of us will be in the same boat. There are plenty of people out there who live on less.

But consider this: according to the American Housing Survey, the median monthly rental housing cost in 2011 was $845, including utilities and trash collection. That doesn’t include internet, cable, Medicare Part B, prescription drugs, clothing, or any type of transportation or entertainment.

Oh, or food.

This figure is not broken down by apartment size, so it’s higher than the median rental cost of a studio or one-bedroom apartment. But after spending a lot of time living in the real world, I have to assume that the median monthly rent on even the tiniest of apartments is going to eat through most of my monthly Social Security check.

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