Outside the Box: These 16 money wasters are why so many Americans can’t save for retirement

From the lofty perch of old age, and after a lifetime of thrift, I declare that I am qualified to comment on how not to waste money.

We’ve all heard the reports: Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a large number can’t come up with $400 for an emergency, and there’s no money to save for retirement and other goals.

Most of that data comes from surveys where people are, in effect, saying they don’t have enough income. My curmudgeonly reaction: Stores, fitness centers and entertainment venues are packed with shoppers, many of them buying unnecessary goods and services. If three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, how can they afford to spend like this? It’s a funny thing: I have yet to see Warren or Bill in one of the many local spas.

Most Americans live like no other people on earth. We have more and bigger stuff: Larger houses, bigger vehicles, more shoes. And, in my not so humble opinion, we can’t tell the difference between needs and wants, between necessities and desires—and we sure can’t defer gratification.

All this leads me to one conclusion: We’re unable to control our spending or manage our money. Here are 16 things that this 75-year-old considers big money wasters:

1. Tattoos. They’re an admitted obsession of mine. What will they look like when you’re my age? From what I’ve heard, a good tattoo artist charges $200 an hour.

2. Vacations. Hey, everyone needs a break. But you don’t need to go into tuition-level debt to have a good time. Your kids will survive if they never visit the Magic Kingdom.

3. College. Picking a college involves many factors. Affordability is one that’s often overlooked. If the cost of the school you choose will land you in debt, you’d better have a plan for paying it off. Don’t mortgage your future, just so you can have a prestigious decal on your car window.

4. Restaurants. Eating out, or buying $4 designer coffee, is expensive and—wait for it—it’s also a luxury. Skip that daily $4 coffee and after 30 years you’ll have more than $121,000, assuming a 0.5% monthly return.

5. Opportunities lost. We do it every day by failing to grab the employer match on our 401(k) plan, not investing in a tax-free Roth IRA, failing to fund a flexible spending account to pay medical costs with pretax dollars, and withholding too much from our paycheck, so we’re essentially making an interest-free loan to the IRS.

6. Transportation. You don’t “need” an SUV or $40,000-plus pickup truck to get from A to B. My four kids grew up riding in our 1972 Duster. Now they, too, all have trucks or SUVs.

7. Credit cards. When people say they live paycheck to paycheck, does that include purchases put on credit cards that aren’t paid off that month? In that case, they’re spending more than their paycheck—and what they buy will cost them the purchase price, plus a hefty interest rate.

8. Lottery. The lowest-income groups spend the most on lottery tickets, wasting hundreds of dollars a year—about the same as that $400 emergency fund they don’t have. Not to worry: 60% of millennials think winning the lottery is part of a wise retirement strategy.

9. Clothing. My new condo has two bedrooms and three walk-in closets, two of them larger than the bathroom in my old 1929 house. The average adult spends $161 a month on clothing. We are obsessed with keeping up with the latest fashions and ensuring nobody sees us in the same clothes twice.