You can apply the principles of Richard Carlson's 'Don't sweat the small stuff...' to your financial life
Released in 1997, Don’t sweat the small stuff...and it’s all small stuff, by Richard Carlson, has become one of those iconic books that people who haven’t even read know about and can quote the title.
The self-help book genre has hundreds of thousands of titles, but none better known than Carlson’s and it’s difficult to think of one as good.
In it, Carlson points out how we get upset and spend too much of our time on things that don’t really matter, and he shows us how we can employ strategies that reduce our stress levels, how we can become more aware of our thinking and how it affects the emotions we produce and so on.
Some 25 million copies of the book have been sold. It’s inspirational and a classic and one I have read myself probably four or five times, so you might be confused by the title of this article, as it is the opposite to what Mr. Carlson says we should do.
But from a financial perspective, it’s not that different because one of the lessons in the book is that you can learn to put things into perspective by making small, daily changes to your life, and over time you will see progress.
I thought if you were to apply the same principles to your finances, what could happen? The answer is quite a lot.
The reason why is because if you pay attention to the small amounts you spend on a daily basis, you could save thousands of euro each year.
Bringing the packed lunch to work suggestion often gets the roll of the eyes reaction, but if you are one of those who brings their lunch to work every other day, I say well done.
Yes, you could take the easy option and get a sandwich or buy lunch from the shop around the corner from your office, but the fact is, people who bring their lunch to work, spend only a quarter of what the rest of us do to feed ourselves at lunchtime.
Back in 2013, Board Bia produced a report that showed we spent on average €7.77 at lunch time. If that was still the case now, over a 46-week working year, we would spend on average €1,787 every year at lunch time.
But those who brown bag their lunch, their annual cost is c. €447.
So, the next time you look at a co-worker in pity with their lunch in their plastic container or their sandwich wrapped in tin foil, don’t. They are spending 75% less than you are and will end up with €1,340 more in their account at the end of the year than you will.
And that €1,340 saving comes from after tax income, so a person earning the average salary in Ireland, it’s more like a pre-tax saving of €1,787.
By bringing their lunch to work, they are effectively giving themselves a 4% pay rise, because they are spending that much less than those who buy their lunch every day.
You might not immediately think that saving the cost of a sandwich will make any difference to your finances, but over the course of a year, the impact is good.
It might not be an immediate life changing amount but think of what you could do with that extra money and you might think differently.
If you saved €112 every month by bringing your lunch to work, here are some of the things you could do with it, and the impact they would have.
Reduce the term by four years six months on a €250,000 mortgage over 30 years, if applied as an overpayment
Save €30,664 in interest payments on a mortgage using the same term and amount as above
Add €130,220 to a pension fund over a 30-year period
I didn’t want to only focus on lunches, it’s really about being aware of what you are spending your money on each day and week, and sometimes your perception and your reality are poles apart.
So, it’s worth recognising there are a number of areas you could save quite a bit of money with not very much effort or much change to your lifestyle.
Finally, you’ve got to set yourself up for success from the outset when you start doing this.
You do this by capturing the savings you make, and you can do this, one of two ways.
If you decide to cut out the second cappuccino every day, you need to deposit the €3 or whatever it costs into a glass jar at home every day.
If you don’t you will end up spending the €3 on something else which you won’t be able to identify when you begin to wonder where the savings have gone.
Or, the day you are paid, have a standing order in place where €60 is transferred directly into a separate savings account and there’s that second coffees savings done for the month.
You then have to live off the rest of your salary for the month, and guess what will happen? You’ll be able to, no problem at all.
Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd,
based in Plassey. He can be contacted at email@example.com or www.harmonics.ie