I just saw an ad for Guaranteed Consumer Funding, which offers to sell electronics (they were hawking a computer) for cheap payments to people with bad credit. For the computer they were offering (worth about $400 on a good day, although it is easy to find a computer for $500 that is far superior), the consumer would have to pay $1569 over one year. This works out to a 400% APR. Ouch. The company hides this fact in its ads and mentions only the $30 weekly payment without saying how many payments are owed.
In comparison, buying a superior computer for $500 and then paying 30% on credit cards for one year would cost $650. Of course, my favorite method, saving the money in a bank account, would cost only $500. It would only take 17 weeks of saving at $30 per week to be able to pay cash for a superior computer than the one issued by Guaranteed Consumer Funding.
Some people wonder why many poor people are poor. Medical problems and job problems are often reasons, but the largest single reason is an unwillingness to delay gratification and save. While income matters, avoiding spending matters even more. I know a man who makes $200,000 per year as a financial adviser who has saved less for retirement than a woman who never made more than $30,000 per year (and who put a kid through college as a single mother).
The best way to save is to make sure you are not tempted to spend. If you get a raise or a better-paying job, increase the proportion of your income that you put into your 401(k) and IRA. You do not need a fancy house or a new car. As for myself and my dear wife, we are taking my advice. My wife will be putting 50% of her income at her new job into her 401(k) and I am putting 100% of my eligible income into a solo 401(k). We will also contribute the maximum to our IRAs. From income that we are not eligible to stick in a tax-deferred account we will have just enough left over for living expenses. That way we will not be tempted to buy unnecessary things such as my next car.
How can we afford that? We have a modest home, drive a 4.5 year old compact car, and because I work from home, we only need one car (that saves us about $5,000 per year). We still have plenty of money left for the good things in life, such as a 7-year old $60 bottle of Tokaji wine I just opened today (which is rated 95 by Wine Spectator; I find it to be marvelous).