Saving: the Most Fundamental Element of Wealth

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Money HotdogEverything in wealth management begins with savings. All wealth comes from producing more than you consume. Unfortunately, most Americans are better at consuming than producing.

Have you ever met people who always have enough money to do what they want? Their peace of mind and confidence is no accident. Nor is it luck. It comes by carefully planning their spending and savings. They deny themselves some desires now in order to enjoy financial security later.

The character Mr. Micawber from Charles Dickens’s novel “David Copperfield” offered a kernel of wisdom learned the hard way, now popularly known as the Micawber principle. He said (numbers updated), “Annual income $50,000, annual expenditure $48,750, result happiness. Annual income $50,000, annual expenditure $51,250, result misery.”

Surplus income is wealth. Deferred consumption is the textbook definition of wealth, which can be used as a capital investment to produce additional wealth. Although by itself money certainly does not guarantee happiness, wealth can enable us to accomplish many goals in life. Without such a surplus we experience Micawber’s misery.

Mr. Micawber is memorable for trusting that “something would turn up” to solve his financial problems. Americans are perennial Micawbers. The savings rate in America is abysmally low, and those who do try to acquire wealth are chastised by a punitive tax code. Micawberism, in contrast, has been rewarded so much, it is considered patriotic to shop until you drop simply to boost the economy.

Unfortunately, economics doesn’t really work that way.

Most families who become mired in credit card debt do so because they fail to plan for emergencies. These unexpected events swamp their cash flow, and they have to resort to plastic. But cars break down. Roofs leak. And children need braces. We recommend saving 10% of your take-home pay just to meet these unanticipated expenses.

Saving fuels the financial engine that makes the rest of wealth management possible. Whatever your life goals, saving is most likely required to achieve them.

Saving is the logical choice if you have upcoming major expenses. Some families need to save small amounts to meet modest needs. Others have elaborate and expensive plans that require more complicated strategies.

One of the most important purposes of saving is financial independence or retirement. There isn’t a simple dollar amount that will be sufficient. What matters is that you have saved enough to support your lifestyle. Having $1 million at retirement doesn’t help if your lifestyle requires $200,000 per year. Dying young is never a good retirement plan.

Saving too little or too late requires more extreme adjustments in savings or lifestyle later in life. Worrying about how to meet your financial objectives should not haunt you. You will know if you are on track only if you know what that track looks like and you adjust your course regularly as needed.

Saving is powerful, but it is only half the story. If you do not invest your savings, inflation will erode your purchasing power every year. In contrast, savings that are invested grow and appreciate.

You should know how much to save today to exceed the needs and priorities of tomorrow. At a 10% rate of return, your savings will double every seven years. So for every seven years you delay saving, you are cutting your ultimate lifestyle and net worth in half.

All of this wisdom about saving can be summed up by the suggestion to “Start saving now.” Beginning early in life is certainly the most significant factor in building real wealth.

Saving a million dollars isn’t so difficult. Investing just $16.20 a day at a 10% rate of return grows to $1 million in 30 years. This phenomenal rate of growth comes simply by having $16.20 more in income than spending each day. By saving $162 a day, you could accrue $10 million after 30 years.

The most successful way to save is to automate your saving plan. Make savings your default setting. Establish an automatic electronic funds transfer from your checking account to your investment account the day after each paycheck is deposited. You won’t miss what you don’t see.

Making these decisions explicitly is much better than failing to plan and then being forced to take whatever options are still available late in the game with little time left for course corrections.

Comprehensive wealth management comprises many different elements. But saving is the most fundamental. It is like hydrogen, the first and most basic element. By its energy the sun gives us light and warmth, making all life on earth possible. Harness the energy of saving and put it to use for your life goals.

Most families with significant investments are simply the millionaire next door. They live well below their means and save and invest the difference. They grow rich slowly and steadily. Wealth is what you save, not what you spend.

Take control of your savings today. It is the cornerstone of your wealth management plan.

Photo by Megan Marotta

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.