Understanding your true cost of living is one of the most commonly overlooked concepts. That’s because traditional planning does little to examine lost opportunity costs, much less offset them. But how can you reach your full financial potential when you don’t attempt to overcome one of the biggest wealth eroding factors you’ll encounter?

Lost Opportunity Cost

First, you have to understand just what I mean when I say “lost opportunity cost.” In relation to finance, it represents the actual amount of money you lose when making a financial decision. A great way to illustrate this is by using David Bach’s Latte Factor®.

Let’s say that every week-day morning you stop and buy a Venti Vanilla Latte from Starbucks on your way to work. This specific beverage will cost you $4.85. We’ll round that to $5 just for simplicity. This means that you are spending roughly $960 a year on coffee. Say you usually buy lunch three days a week as well, and spend about $10 every time. That’s $1,440 a year on lunches. Add this to the $960 you’re spending on coffee and you have a combined total of $2,400 a year.

So, what are coffee and lunches costing you? The answer isn’t $2,400.

What if you had invested that money instead?

Investing $2,400 annually earning 5% growth produces a gross value in 10 years of $30,351. In 30 years, it produces a gross value of $162,671.

THAT’S your true cost of living. THAT’S lost opportunity cost. See why you need to understand it, account for it and offset it?

3 Dangers of Ignoring Your True Cost of Living

There are three dangers that arise from ignoring your true cost of living:

1. Widespread wealth erosion. What we just examined is only one small area of your life. What about new technologies, goods and services that are created almost daily? I can barely keep up with having the latest and greatest in computers, smart phones and iPads. And now my kids are demanding the best when it comes to these gadgets. What about the planned obsolescence of everyday items, like appliances and cars? These products are made to break down so that you will have to buy them again. What about insurance premiums, investment fees, commissions and taxes? Add all of this lost opportunity cost to the previous totals and you can see your true cost of living.

2. The inability to recapture lost dollars. Two of the most common forms of lost opportunity cost are insurance premiums and financial fees/taxes. People have high insurance premiums because they want low deductibles. But if you were saving the ideal rate of 15%-20% of your income, you would have enough liquidity to cover expenses. Then you could raise you deductible and possible lower your premium costs. All fees associated with any investment account should be completely transparent, and justifiable based on the return and size of the account. Taxes can drastically reduce your net return as well; make sure that your investment accounts are tax managed to help control this erosion. Once you discover the areas where you may be spending money inefficiently, you can then recapture those dollars and put your money back to work for you.

3. Not reaching your full financial potential. Almost every decision you make can result in lost opportunity cost. This makes it one of the largest wealth eroding factors you will encounter and one of the biggest threats to your financial success, now and in the future. If you saw someone casually throw a $100 bill in the trash can, wouldn’t you think they may be a little crazy? Well, if you do nothing to mitigate this risk, you might as well join them. Doing nothing to mitigate this risk can result in you forfeiting millions of dollar over your lifetime.

How a Financial Model Can Help

This doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself from your favorite coffee, dining out, taking that dream vacation or purchasing things you want. But it does mean that you need to understand your true cost of living, which can be hard to do in traditional financial planning.

A financial model can pick up where tradition falls short. For example, our digital financial model, JB Wealth Builder, can allow you to see where your money is actually going. It can diagnose problem areas where you may be spending money inefficiently. You can then evaluate your degree of lost opportunity cost, and implement strategies to recapture that money and put it back to work.

This can help you remain in the proper financial position where you are able to enjoy the sweet indulgences of life, but also have a financial backbone capable of helping you reach your full financial potential.