Housing may be the key to bigger savings.
Earlier this week, a Reddit post — from a 48-year-old woman claiming to be a millionaire despite having only low-paying jobs until about age 30 — went viral, and in it she details some extreme frugality. She says she saves tea bags so she can make multiple cups from one bag, only eats out a couple of times a year, dilutes her dish soap with half water so it lasts longer and almost exclusively wears dark clothes as light colors stain too easily.
But she says there are two things on her long list of frugal habits that research shows really are the key to getting rich: Buying a very affordable home (hers, she says, was just $135,000 and in an excellent neighborhood) and driving an old car (hers is a 12-year-old Subaru, she says).
Indeed, research from TD Ameritrade — which looks at people who save 20% or more of their incomes, called “super savers” — shows that the single biggest difference between what super savers spent less on, as compared with the rest of us, was housing. Super savers spent just 14% of their incomes on housing, while regular folks dropped 23%.
What’s more, research released Monday by The Principal found that more than four in 10 people who fully funded or were very close to fully funding their 401(k) accounts said that one of the sacrifices they made to save so much was that they lived in a modest home. This — along with owning older cars — was one of the two top answers.
One reason super savers may scrimp on housing? “They may see expensive mortgage payments as a liability. Our data shows that they value freedom to do what they want as well as financial security and peace of mind,” explains Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.
In some ways, it may be easier to cut housing or automotive costs than make smaller conscious choices all day to cut out the things you love, like those lattes. After all, you move once and buy a car infrequently, and your monthly mortgage, rent or auto payments are slashed every month following.
Meanwhile, making choices frequently can lead to something called decision fatigue, which research shows can impact our ability to make the “right” choices as the day goes on.
And because housing is the biggest part of most Americans’ budgets, it’s extra important to save on it. Indeed, the average American household spends a total of roughly $60,000 a year; nearly $20,000 of that spending is on housing, government data shows.
Of course, it’s often easier said than done. Households often pay more for housing so they also get into a good school district or because an area is safer. And, it’s also possible that many of the savers interviewed in the TD Ameritrade study had lower housing costs because they put more down on their home when they bought.
Still, it’s important to note that there’s plenty of room to downsize: New homes built in America today on average have 1,000 more square feet than they did in the 1970s, and living space per person has doubled.