Are You Flushing One Million Dollars Down the Toilet?

Suze Orman

Every money-spending decision you make today has a huge impact on your future finances and the sad part is you probably just don't get it. Most of you are flirting with financial suicide and you don't even know it.

Let's say you're 30 and your friends have asked you to join them on a two-week trek in Tibet that will set you back $3,000. Yes, that trip sounds amazing, but let's understand the impact of forking over the $3,000. If it had instead been invested in a solid low-cost mutual fund such as the Vanguard Total Market Index fund within your ROTH IRA, and your investment earns the long-term average return of about 10 percent a year, you're looking at having $84,300 by the time you hit 65. And what if you keep making that $3,000 investment each year? You will have an incredible $978,690 by 65. That's nearly $1 million, folks! And if it's in a Roth, it's tax-free. Now while you may enjoy trekking through the Himalayas, and meditating on the silence of the wind, I can almost guarantee that when you are 65 and sitting on $1 million tax-free dollars, the view from atop your massive retirement mountain will far surpass your faded memories and frostbitten toes from the highest peaks.

Now don't get smart with me and think you can put off being a responsible saver until you are 40 or even 50. If you start making those $3,000 Roth IRA investments at 40, you will have just $357,000 when you hit 65. And by waiting until you are 50 your retirement stash is going to be an even paltrier $117,380. By the way, for any of you responsible 25-year-olds out there, the same example as above will grow to $2.6 million by the time you hit 65. Think about that the next time you drop five bucks at Starbucks for a coffee and muffin. (Five bucks five times a week is $100 a month. Which is $1,200 a year-or nearly half of what you need to make the $3,000 annual Roth IRA investment.) Or let me be a bit more blunt: a Starbucks a day for the next 40 years, at an average rate of return of 12 percent, is the same as flushing $1 million down the toilet. And that's the end of this retirement story.

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