Saturday, August 15, 2009

Venture Capitalists and peanuts that add up to a quarter of a million dollars.

With the kids at the in-law's Iowa farm for a few days, I had an afternoon free and attended a presentation by a pair of venture capitalists starting a new fund in the Midwest. Their pitch is that the Midwest is an under served market with lots of start-up ideas that are beyond the angel investor stage, but still falling far short of stirring interest in the big funds. Those big funds, according to Judy Owen of Calumet Venture Fund, see only "peanuts" in these small companies. But what they may fail to realize is there's a "LOT of those peanuts lying on the ground all around."

Driving home I thought about how this is so true for the average middle class American. So many of us fail to realize all the "peanuts" we are leaving on the ground. And if we took some time to pick them up and invest them, we might well be shaving years off the quest for financial independence.

Like the big venture capital funds, we take the time to analyze the big acquisitions - mortgages and vehicles. But then we spend little time running the numbers on the day to day stuff that will have as much if not more impact on our net worth.

Let's look at an average day and assess the impact of some peanuts.

Peanut #1. You wake up in the morning and shower and shave. Many use a palmful of shampoo, a palmful of conditioner and a palmful of shaving cream, among other products. This is despite the fact it is better for your hair to use much less, a dime or quarter size is actually recommended. And when you throw a load into the washing machine did you know you should be using only 1/2 cup at most according to Planet Green, thereby helping the planet and reducing skin irritations among other things. And if you run a dishwasher cycle in the morning, the company I just bought mine from insists most people use way too much and it is not necessary to fill the cap. So let's just start with the assumption you're able to halve your use of these five products with no investment of extra time or money.

Peanut #2. All cleaned up, it's time to get dressed for work. You scan your closet and decide you really need to go shopping as you've got "nothing to wear". According to the Department of Labor's April 2009 Consumer Expenditures report, the "average 2.5 member household" spends $1881 on clothing.

For purposes of ease, let's make it a family of three and that gives each $627 spent per year on new clothing. If most of your clothing items cost in the $25 range, that's twenty five new items joining your closet each year. Basically, two new things per month per family member.

Now I suppose it's possible that there exists in America people who actually need new clothing, but from the overstuffed closets I've seen in friends' and relatives' houses, to the piles of clothing I see at most garage sales, to the glimpses into strangers' closets on shows about decluttering, I have to believe those "need new clothes" people are in the minority.

So let's say you cut this expenditure in half, and each family member gets one new item per month and finds a way to creatively mix and match the other items to create some new outfits with the existing clothes.

Peanut #3. As you dress, you note that pile of dry cleaning on the floor and mentally calculate whether you have enough time to drop it off before work. As you look at the pile of 12 items, you realize that if you simply took better care of your clothing, you could have skipped cleaning at least two of those items. You commit to taking off your suit jacket the minute you come in the back door, seconds before your two year old comes to give you a sticky hug. And you commit to hanging the jacket and pants up in the bath for a few days to let the steam of the shower take out wrinkles and air out the items.

Peanut #4. Morning coffee at Starbucks four times a week is reduced by just one, to three days. The other days you use a thermos cup and feel green all day.

Peanut #5. You decide one day a MONTH, you will ride your bike to work, carpool with someone or work from home. You live 12 miles from work, with a 24 mile round trip. At the average of 50 cents a mile, that's $12 a day on commuting.

Peanut #6. You decide you no longer want spend your weekend running errands, so you carefully plan the week to hit the grocery store, dry cleaner, Walmart, and the pharmacy after work as you drive home. This saves a typical 30 miles of driving on Saturday each week.

Peanut #7. At work, you decide Mondays will be no vending machine days. You continue to go all four other weekdays. Each trip to vendo lands costs you about $1.50.

Peanut #8. And maybe rather than going out to eat every Friday, the first Friday of each month, you eat in, not feeling deprived since you know you get to eat out every other Friday.

Peanut #9. Similarly, you decide drinks or a movie once a week could be easily reduced by one week a month.

Peanut #10. You get home from work and realize the lawn is looking a bit shaggy. Now that you've freed up Saturdays, you take over mowing your own lawn, lose a few pounds, and are about $50 richer each time you finish the lawn yourself.

Peanut #11. You've mowed the lawn and head in for dinner only to realize you're out of milk. Your new mental frugal calculator tells you a "milk run" of about six miles round trip, will cost you $3. You decide the kids can just drink water and pick up the milk Monday night on the way home from work. You get in this habit and drop at least one previous errand run per week.

So let's look at how these peanuts add up.

By cutting shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, washing machine and dishwasher detergent in half, you save about $13.50 per month or $162 annually.

Getting only one new item rather than two each for a family of three saves $75 per month or $900 annually.

Dry cleaning two fewer items a month saves $10 per month or $120 annually.

One fewer Starbucks a week is $20 a month or $240 annually.

Not driving one day per month saves $12 per month or $144 annually.

No 30 mile round trip Saturday errand day saves $60 per month or $720 annually.

One less trip to vendo land per week is $6 per month or $72 annually.

Eating in one Friday a month saves $50 per month or $200 annually.

Skipping the drinks/movie once a month saves $30 per month or $360 annually.

Mowing your own lawn saves $200 per month (four months a year for cold climates) or $800 annually.

One less "milk run" per week saves $12 per month or $144 annually.

These simple peanuts add up to $322 saved per month or $3862 annually. If you started picking up these peanuts at age forty and investing them at 6.5% interest till age 65, you would have squirreled away $241,130 or about a quarter of a million dollars. If you started these habits at age 30, you would have $515,311, more than half a million dollars. And that IS a whole lot o' peanuts!

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