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Beware the $100,000 Cell Plan and $450,000 Car Lease

You would never be so, um, crazy, to spend that much on cell service or a car, right?

Not so fast.

If you're paying $100 a month for a cell phone service or $450 a month for a luxury car lease, the long-term cost of those outlays could indeed run you about $100,000 and $450,000, respectively, over a couple of decades.

That's the simple math Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Arends lays out in his new book Storm Proof Your Money. This is, of course, just a new twist on the tired latte-a-day budgeting bugaboo. But Arends smartly focuses on more expensive expenses than a daily Starbucks fix, and shows how those repeat outlays can have a substantive impact on long-term financial security. You don't need a CFA designation to figure out that reducing the ongoing cost of big-ticket outlays such as the cell or car examples and then directing the savings into your 401(k) or IRA could solve any anticipated retirement shortfall.

$1 Saved Today = $1,000 Tomorrow. What Storm Proof makes so clear is that the current sticker price of any good or service isn't nearly as important as the opportunity cost and repeat cost. If you're looking for some motivation to get yourself to save a bit more -- or perhaps get the family to get on the savings bandwagon -- you might want to clip and save Arends' Rule of Four and Rule of 1,000:

Every time we recapture a dollar that we were about to spend, and save it instead, we add about $4 to our future savings. Every time we capture a dollar a month of repeat [ongoing] cost, we add about $1,000.

Make $500,000 The Easy Way To be sure, Arends hasn't reinvented the wheel here, but he has effectively given us the tools to steer it a whole lot better. Using his Rule of 1,000 for repeat costs Arends points out that you can "Make $500,000 the Easy Way" by trimming your current monthly repeat costs by $500. I'm not sure $500 is exactly easy, but it is surely doable. And the book does indeed run through a litany of cost-saving steps that you're probably already familiar with. (Cut the bank fees, get the credit card rebate rewards, reduce your insurance premiums etc.) What Arends has done so well is focus on repackaging the message:

Old: Improve your monthly cash flow by cutting your spending, so you can save more. Eh.

New: Boost your retirement savings by $500,000. Now that's an attention-getter worth acting on.