It may sound difficult, if not downright impossible, to follow the classic advice of setting aside 10 to 15 percent of your earnings month after month to save or invest. Yet recent Fidelity data found that a good chunk of people—13 percent, in fact—are setting aside 20 percent of their incomes for their post-work lives. And many of these proactive “super savers” are millennials.
“Starting early allows you the ability to make changes and be better prepared for issues that happen along the way,” says Certified Financial Planner Richard E. Reyes. “Plus, many of the safety nets [provided to other generations may] not be there for millennials, and they will have to have their own funds. They must plan smarter, better and earlier.”
Want to boost your own balances? Real super savers from across the country share their tried-and-true tricks anyone can adopt.
1. Seek out bargains and budget-friendly neighborhoods.
One of the simplest ways to save is to incorporate budget-friendly choices into your normal routine. “Living below your means is a very simple formula that, if you grasp early, will always lead you to financial success,” Reyes says.
Career coach Kallen Diggs of Austin, Texas, who’s saving a whopping 75 percent of his income—50 percent for retirement, 25 percent for emergencies and other goals—has figured out how to do just that. “I live in the cheapest area of the city on purpose,” he says. “I don’t view saving as a sacrifice. It’s just a way of life that I enjoy.”
Though the 29-year-old could afford a splurge or two, he prefers hunting sales and clipping coupons. “I enjoy shopping at [Texas-based grocery chain] H-E-B because they have a great clearance section, which is the first place I go,” he says. Using this tactic, he’s found staples from soup to oatmeal for 50 to 70 percent off.
Courtney Manders, 28, a PR professional in Union County, N.J., hits her 20- to 25-percent monthly savings goal, thanks to similar shopping habits. She loves bargain-hunting, weighing costs and buying only what she needs. “If strawberries are $1.99 a package, I buy two, instead of grapes at $4.99/pound,” she says. “Or if there are two shirts I like, I’ll tell myself I only need one and buy the one that’s less money.”
2. Stick with your starter home and car.
As your salary and savings grow over time, resist the urge to inflate two of your biggest expenses: housing and transportation.
That’s how Bryan Clayton, 35, of Nashville, Tenn., says he’s been able to save 10 percent of his income ever since starting a lawn-mowing business 15 years ago—a habit he’s continued in his current position as CEO of a tech startup. “Over the years, my business was doing very well. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to upgrade and live in the same neighborhoods as my customers,” he says. “But I kept my modest, starter house for 12 years.”
Clayton says not burdening himself with a higher mortgage allowed for enough wiggle room to not only comfortably maintain his savings rate, but to also invest in his business and real estate, so that by the time he turned 30, all his personal expenses were completely covered by passive income streams.
Danny Kofke, 40, of Hoschton, Ga., and his wife Tracy tuck away at least 15 percent of their income for retirement every month. One way they’ve managed to do this—even when Kofke was the sole breadwinner—is by sharing one car for three years. Even now that Tracy is back at work and drives her own vehicle, Kofke’s yet to upgrade.
“I look at a car as something to get me from point A to point B,” he says. “We still have that car we bought 14 years ago, and I haven’t had a car payment in 12 years!”
3. Make it a joint effort.
Whether you’re sharing financial obligations with a spouse or partner, or you have a friend you’re comfortable confiding in, working as a team is critical to super-saving success.
“We didn’t make any real headway with our goals until we started sitting down and paying bills together every week,” says Gretchen Lindow, 25, a blogger and marketing consultant in St. Louis, who, along with her husband Matt, saves 42 percent toward their goal of retiring by 40. “It’s sometimes hard to make this bill-pay session happen, but when it’s done, we’re much happier.”
Lindow says she and Matt also encourage each other to resist spending temptations: “Going camping, hitting up free local activities and doing household projects are a great way to distract ourselves when we want to spend money on something we don’t need or isn’t budgeted for.”
4. Go back to basics.
Little savings acts can make a big difference when you’re trying to tuck away a significant portion of your income. And some months may be tighter than others—so if you start to struggle, Lindow recommends boosting your progress with these simple tactics: “Turn down the heat or air conditioning, and make sure to only turn lights on when you’re in the room. It’s easy to let those little things fall by the wayside, but the savings really add up,” she says.
John King, 23, who runs an SEO company in Bloomsburg, Pa., agrees. He and his wife, Brianna, save 50 percent of their earnings—20 percent of which is dedicated to retirement—and have made some small, but financially significant changes around their home. “We reduced our Internet speed, which decreased our monthly bill by $30,” he says. “We also invested in energy-efficient light bulbs, which conserves electricity, and agreed to do all dishes by hand, which kept us from using the dishwasher.”
5. Maximize your tax savings.
When it comes to savings accounts, Reyes recommends first maxing out a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged retirement plan like an IRA that allows pre-tax contributions in order to maximize your efforts. And don’t forget to take advantage of tax credits and deductions, which can add up to thousands back in your pocket.
“Between both my wife and me, we spent $3,100 dollars on books alone for school, which turned into a 100 percent tax write-off,” King says. “This part of our refund went straight back into our savings.”
6. Have fun for less.
Finally, just because you’re saving doesn’t mean life revolves around pinching pennies. “We don’t sit around and transfer money to a savings account,” says Manders, the New Jersey PR professional. “I always am looking for fun things to do. [My fiancé] and I go out to dinner once a week; I look on Groupon for savings or use my college ID for a discount.”
Trevor Ewen, 28, a New York-based blogger who saves 40 percent of his income, adds that even travel is possible when you’re on a budget. For big trips, like to Zambia or Canada, he and his wife plan far in advance, so there’s plenty of time to save up.
“For smaller trips, we always let the budget decide on the location,” he says, noting shorter getaways they’ve taken to Savannah, Philadelphia and Raleigh. “The Flight Deal is great for flights, while Priceline ‘Name Your Own Price‘ is amazing for cars and hotels. Naturally, we use AirBnB quite often as well.”