If people want to be able to save more, there are basically three choices:  spend less money, earn more money, or some combination of the two. There’s also another option – granted, a more aggressive option – of aggressive spending cuts to achieve aggressive savings goals.

But why? Simple. Americans need to save more if they want to achieve not just wealth, but enough money to live off of and not work forever. 

According to the March 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey, 54% report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit (DB) plans, is less than $25,000.  This includes 26% who say they have less than $1,000 in savings. That’s not good news.

So, how to kick start saving aggressively – cut spending. Here are some tips:

  1. Conduct a spending audit with your personal/miscellaneous expenses.  I think most people have a good idea of how much they spend on food, shelter, transportation, and clothing but have no idea just how much they are spending on everything else.  A great place to find low hanging fruit is by conducting a spending audit on the places you like to go and the things you like to do.  From expensive hobbies, traveling, entertainment and gifts, these types of places where we spend money can add up very quickly.  Am I saying that you shouldn’t spend money on fun?  No, but I am saying that you need to identify just how much you are spending and then decide on where you can cut back.  For example, if you like to golf every weekend, consider going out every other weekend.  If you take two big trips a year, consider cutting it down to one.
  2. Cut your housing expenses by 15%.  It is the largest expense for most people.  It is also one of the broadest spending categories.  Mortgage payments or rent, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, utilities, phone, internet and cable TV are some of the expenses you likely have.  You may be able to save hundreds of dollars each month by shopping for a cheaper mortgage rate.  If renting, consider moving to a smaller, less expensive place.  Think about cancelling your cable TV, getting rid of your land line if you have a cell phone, and trading your cell phone plan for a prepaid plan if you only make occasional calls.  By just reducing 15 percent of household expenses, the average household could save approximately $3,700 a year.
  3. It’s OK to say NO to your children and grandchildren.  I have always joked with the younger wealth builders I have worked with in the past that have children, that as soon as their kids are out of the house, they will have this magic money tree in their backyard that will seem to have grown out of nowhere.  It is a joke of course, but truthfully, if you are supporting children, grandchildren, or in some cases both, it may be time to cut the umbilical cord.  I understand that I may have offended some by that statement, but if you are serious about wanting to save aggressively, you must be able to spend less.  Spending money, cell phones, car insurance, gas money and car payments are a few things you may be supplementing for a child or grandchild that you might consider cutting out or at least reducing.  Wanting our children and grandchildren to have everything we didn’t have growing up may make us feel better, but it could be hazardous to our wealth.

I have always said that spend, spend, spend may lead to the poorhouse and save, save, save may lead to resentment.  But if it is crunch-time and you are serious about saving aggressively, in order to save, save, save, you have no choice but to spend less, less, less!

Steve Repak, CFP® is a CFP Board Ambassador, financial literacy speaker and author of 6 Week Money Challenge For Your Personal Finances