Latte Bad Advice!

Dagen McDowell
Every article on saving money seems to start with the same recommendation:

Stop buying lattes at Starbucks.

Are all these writers lactose intolerant?

The argument is that spending $3 or $4 every day for a fancy cup of coffee will suck up your savings and wreck your retirement.

Yes, saving is vital if you want to have plenty of money later on in life. But this is the wrong way to think about it.

Tell me to stop drinking Starbucks, and I automatically think: The brewed coffee around the office is awful. And I like — no — love my iced coffee with sugar-free vanilla syrup.

Do I have to give up every little luxury and live the life of a miser?

No. And if you tell people they do, you could scare them away from saving altogether.

A better way to think it: Save first, spend second.

Pick a percentage of your income and make sure it automatically gets invested before you can get your hands on it.

T. Rowe Price estimates that you need to save at least 15% of your pre-tax salary to replace 50% or more of your current income in retirement. If you're starting late, that amount goes up to 25% or more.

The best way to hit that target is through your 401(k) plan. This year the maximum contribution allowed is $15,000. And with a 401(k), the money gets invested before you ever see it. Plus, many people get a company match on contributions, which is free money.

If you need to set aside even more, make regular automatic contributions from your checking account into a mutual fund.

Once you're saving enough, it doesn't matter how you much spend, as long as you don't go into debt to do it.

And when financial writers and advisers list all the goodies you should stop buying, they can miss bigger maneuvers that can save you more money.

For example, move any excess balance in a low-or no-interest checking account into a high-yielding one at, say, an online bank. If you're earning 0.5% one place and can make 5% at another, the difference can add up to hundreds of dollars a year.

And if you do have high-interest credit card debt, try to lower the rate you're paying. You try to negotiate with your current credit card company or roll over your balance to a new card. The average credit card balance in this country is close to $10,000. Reducing the interest rate on a balance of that size by just five percentage points will save $500 a year.

And that's a lot of lattes.

Dagen McDowell is a business correspondent for FOX News Channel. She appears regularly on "Your World with Neil Cavuto," and "Cashin’ In."

Dagen McDowell joined the FOX Business Network (FBN) as an anchor in September 2007.