How Diet Coke almost stole my retirement dreams

I still remember the day I realized that my daily diet coke habit was stealing my retirement dreams.

At the time, Coke was running a promotion using a code from a bottle cap to get prizes. You would save your cap, enter the number on a website and points would add up for something fabulous. I kept these caps in a desk drawer and it did not take long for these to really pile up since I had a long time frequent habit of visiting the machine at work several times a day. There was the before work Coke,mid-morning Coke, lunch Coke, mid-afternoon Coke and usually something towards the end of the day.

One afternoon I looked at the pile of caps wondered how much in cost that represented. Next, I began to think about cost over time and if I continued this pattern what it would mean in the long term. The final kicker was when I plugged in my average monthly diet coke spending into a savings calculator and considered how much $5 a day applied to retirement could mean if saved for the next 20 years.

The result was mind blowing. Over the course of 20 years these drinks would cost me $59,307 in opportunity. That is real money and a real chunk of change.

I decided at that moment to dig deep into my spending habits to find savings anywhere I could and then apply that savings to my get out of debt, save for kid college and retire comfortable plan. That was close to 20 years ago and I bet I have not visited a coke machine more than a few times at work. The savings redirected over this long period of time have made a real difference in the direction of my dreams.

We all have our cap pile and most people put little thought into how these seemingly minor everyday expenses can add up to steal our future. This can be retirement, college for the children and more.  

Here is a typical pile for the average person in a month during a month:
  • $100 sodas or fancy coffee ($5x20) 
  • $160 lunch ($8x20) 
  • $80 Snacks ($2x20)
  • $50 Gym Membership
  • $12 Netflix
  • $10 Spotify 
  • $12 Premium cable channel upgrade

 =$424 a month

These small charge items if instead invested with an average return over time:

Would equal $251,463 total saved in 20 years at 8%
Would equal $622,495 total saved in 30 years at 8%
Would equal $1,423,526 total saved in 40 years at 8%

Notice that on this list I am not including things like expensive vacations, dinners out, designer clothes, new cars, weekend fun or any other items many people tend to overdo. For many, these are just the basics.

If you are in your 20’s and 30’s listen to me now and wake up! Your small choices here and there to ensure you are saving will compound and open doors that only a savings calculator and your mind can imagine. You must start now if you want to have the freedom to do what you want as you get older and not live in poverty at retirement.

My journey to the golden exit is coming quickly and I am thankful for that day so many years ago when a pile of Diet Coke caps helped trigger a dream.  

You can do it too. You just must educate yourself, write down where you want to be financially in the future and start today.

Take action
What is one thing this month you could give up and then re-direct to saving opportunity? Even a 1% increase to your 401K or IRA will make a huge difference over a long period of time.




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