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A Penny Saved Is More Than a Penny Earned

We've all heard the expression, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” When it comes to saving money, we don't think much in pennies anymore, unless you're a kid with a piggy bank. We think in dollars, or tens of dollars, or hundreds of dollars. That's part of the problem for many people who have trouble saving money. They feel that it's not worth saving a few cents or a few dollars, so they don't. They spend a little here and a little there, not realizing how quickly those little bits of money add up.

Dollars and Sense

If you spend a dollar a day for a soda or coffee, think about this: Investing a dollar a day earning an average 8 percent return for 40 years would give you over $100,000 at the end of that period.

Think about the money you spend each day on incidentals: a cup of coffee and a bagel at the Dunkin' Donuts on your way to work, a sandwich and a Snapple at the deli at lunchtime, and a bottle of shampoo at the drugstore on your way back to work. Your friend calls after dinner, and you meet at Starbucks for a caffè latte. No big deal, it's just an ordinary day. When you add it all up, though, you'll see that this ordinary day cost you more than $15 in incidentals.

Multiply the expenses for a typical workday by five, and you're spending $75 a week on incidentals. By the end of the week, you have nothing to show for your spending but half a bottle of shampoo and a caffeine habit, and the weekend is just beginning.

Of course, nobody is telling you to cut out all incidental spending. You do need shampoo, and coffee drinkers might argue that even shampoo is secondary to the Starbucks blend. But what if you cut that incidental spending in half? For instance, you could make your coffee at home and carry a sandwich to work. Would saving $25 a week make a difference in your long-term savings? You bet it would! If you saved that $25 each week, at the end of a year you'd have $1,300.

Yeah, $1,300 is a lot of money, but maybe you're still not convinced to cut back at Starbucks. If you invested the money at a 10 percent return, you'd quickly see that a penny saved is much more than a penny earned:

  • Investing $25 a week in a mutual fund with an average after-tax annual return of 10 percent (the historical stock market average) for 5 years would give you $8,400.
  • Investing $25 a week in a mutual fund with an average after-tax annual return of 10 percent for 10 years would give you $22,300.

It's hard to imagine that cutting out a cup of coffee and a sandwich each day can make that much of a difference to your savings, but it does. Interest, especially compound interest, can give you big returns on small investments. What's the difference in types of interest, you ask? Let's have a look.

Dollars and Sense

Some financial advisors suggest paying for every purchase with dollar bills, and saving all the change you get. At the end of the month, take all the change to the bank for deposit. You'll be surprised at how it will add up.

Show Me the Money

Simple interest is a method of calculating what you earn on your money by applying the stated rate on only the balance on deposit for the exact period of deposit. Compound interest is paid on an initial deposit plus any accumulated interest from period to period.

Simple interest, which is what we normally just refer to as interest, is a method of calculating what you earn on your money by applying the stated rate on only the actual balance on deposit for the exact period of deposit. For instance, if you invest $2,000 in an account for one year at 5 percent interest, the bank would pay you $100 at the end of the year. Not bad, huh? You get $100 just for letting your money sit there. But if you were earning compound interest on your $2,000, you'd be in even better shape.

Compound interest is paid on an initial deposit plus any accumulated interest from period to period. Compound interest gives you interest on your interest. It's definitely the way to invest. Compounding interest at 5 percent over a year wouldn't make a great difference on a $2,000 deposit, but it still would give you a couple of dollars more for your money. When you get into big investments at higher interest rates, compounding interest really becomes significant.

Interest is generally compounded in one of several ways: continuously, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. The more often it's compounded, the better off you'll be. Look for banks that compound interest continuously or daily. When your money starts growing, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? This is the power of compound interest and why a penny saved is a lot more than a penny earned.

More on: Family Finances

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s © 2005 by Susan Shelly and Sarah Young Fisher. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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