If you earn a decent income, but have trouble saving, the culprit may be the roof over your head and the car in your driveway.
According to a study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute and JPMorgan Asset Management, retirement savers who contribute more than their 401 (k) often spend less on housing and transportation than their peers.
Better savers also spend less on food and drink, but housing and transportation are larger expenses that are less flexible. Once you commit to a place to live and a car payment, you are usually stuck for a while with those expenses.
“It can be the decision that you are building your life that will eventually mobilize to save for retirement,” says Katherine Roy, chief retirement strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management.
The researchers divided the 10,000 families into three groups: 25% who contributed the least to their retirement plans, 25% who contributed the most, and “medium savers” whose contributions landed them between 50%. High savers, surprisingly, did not have higher incomes than the other two groups. Middle and low savers had similar incomes, but middle savers contributed about 5% at the beginning of their careers while lower savers contributed around 2%.
See: What if I am in my 40s and do not have a retirement fund?
Researchers found that the 3 percentage-point difference in contributions is largely due to fewer savers spending on housing, transportation and food and beverages. By retirement age, middle savers had accumulated savings equal to twice their salary. Lesser savers had accumulated nearly half.
A ‘beater’ truck and a fat 401 (k)
Driving older vehicles and minor homeowners ages 20 to 54 are the top two sacrifices cited in a study of major financial group customers who contribute the bulk of their income to retirement accounts.
One of those servants is 30-year-old Tigard, Oregon’s Oregon. For many years after college, the receivable coordinator lived at home and took out a “boutique” truck with his hands down to me from his father. By the time he agreed to replace the truck, he had saved enough to pay cash for a new one while maximizing his 401 (k) contribution.
Ross credits his mother – who drives a Honda Accord in 2002, previously owned by his father – with starting him.
“He said, ‘Well, you can either pay me $ 1,000 for rent, or you can put $ 1,000 in the index fund every month,” Ross says. He put the money in his retirement account.
Ross had recently purchased a house with his fiancée, and they chose a house that was about half of what their lender said they could afford. He came to know how much he felt comfortable spending every month and based his purchases on that amount.
“I don’t really need a million-dollar house,” Ross says. “I just want something that’s going home to the family.”
It’s not about choice
Both studies have their limitations. Perhaps the biggest is that the researchers studied only those who have plans for workplace retirement. Before the epidemic, 55 million working Americans lacked such access, according to the Georgetown University Center for Retirement Initiatives. There is a huge difference in access: AARP found that people are 15 times more likely to save for retirement if they have access to a payroll deduction plan at work.
See more: Has COVID-19 stopped Americans from pursuing early retirement? off course not
Researchers also did not factor in cost of living, which varied widely across countries. For example, living expenses are 46% higher in San Francisco and 86% higher in Manhattan than in Portland.
Along with the personal costs of people’s lives matters immensely. Someone with health problems and the possibility of poor insurance has more of their income due to medical bills, which is better than someone with excellent health. For example the number of people you have to support – children, elderly parents, – affects how much you can save. People with student loan debt have a lower discretionary income than those whose parents paid for college. And so on.
Income matters, of course. Some people save on small incomes, while others do not on large ones. But the more money you make, the easier it is to save.
Read also: Pros and cons of buying a certified used car
In other words, any number of factors – such as, say, losing a job during an epidemic – can affect one’s ability to save.
Choose wisely when you have a choice. The decision you make now about big expenses can have a huge impact on what you can spend on retirement.
“Often in our financial welfare programs, we lead, ‘You must have a budget’ or ‘Starbucks SBB,
Cup of coffee, ” says Roy. “I think it’s more fundamental than that.”
More from NerdWallet: