Here’s a sobering reality: Most Americans are struggling to save just 5 percent of their disposable income. While putting away any money is smart—and it’s okay to start small—this savings rate won’t cut it over the long term if you’re aiming for big money goals, like buying a home or enjoying your post-work life.
Whether you’d like to save an extra $50 per month or another $1,000, these super savers can inspire. Here’s how they’re tucking away at least half of their take-home pay.
“I never pass up free food or entertainment!”
Kaitlyn Tessmer, 25, a marketing and technology specialist in San Jose, Calif.
“I graduated college with $15,000 in student loans in 2013, which felt really overwhelming—especially since I was only making $30,000 at my first full-time job. I wanted to be debt-free, so I created a budget and put all my extra money toward my loans.
That meant saying no often—to everything from happy hours and vacations to even Internet and TV in my apartment. Instead, I focused on taking advantage of anything free, like WiFi, DVDs and books from the library and food from work. My first year, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at work, thanks to my company’s fully stocked kitchen.
I know that sounds boring—and that level of frugality probably isn’t sustainable long-term—but it set me up for success and helped me wipe out my loans entirely within the year. Even though my income has doubled since my first job, I’ve resisted lifestyle inflation in order to keep saving (though I’ve allowed myself a few luxuries, including Internet at home). Now, I have a nine-month emergency fund, a well-stocked retirement account and have started saving for a condo.
The biggest benefit of saving 50 percent of my take-home pay has been the peace of mind. Last month, I was laid off from my job, and haven’t stressed about it. I know that my frugal habits and emergency fund will carry me until I find a new gig I love.”
Her advice for others: “Learn that it’s okay to say no to yourself and others. You probably don’t need that candy bar from the CVS checkout line. Your friends will understand if you want to have them over instead of going out. The power of saying no today is that you’ll get to say yes more down the road.”
“I don’t deprive myself, but I scrutinize every purchase to make sure it’s worth it.”
Krystel Calubayan, 28, an event coordinator in Saint Paul, Minn.
“I began saving half of my $70,000 salary early this year, when I realized how much my debt was holding me back from financial independence. I did the math to see how much I’d need to put away in order to pay off $50,000 of student loans in four years—while still saving for the future—and learned it’d be exactly half of my take-home pay: 40 percent would go toward debt repayment and 10 percent toward retirement savings and an emergency fund.
It took a few months of trial and error to fine-tune my budget, but scaling way back on eating out and entertainment went a long way. Even little budget tweaks add up. For example, I went in with four friends on a Spotify family plan, where we each pay $3 per month instead of $10.
Before, I wouldn’t think twice about spending an extra $84 on a music subscription, dropping $50 for dinner or booking an expensive vacation. But now, before I buy anything, I ask myself: What value does this item add to my life? Is this truly a need, or am I falling into the convenience trap? I still splurge occasionally, but opt for the budget-friendly option when I do.”
Her advice for others: “Seek out others with the same money mindset. Saving 50 percent isn’t the norm, so it’s very easy to fall back into frivolous spending if you’re surrounded by others who do that. Even something as simple as listening to a podcast about financial independence and thinking about my goal for 15 to 20 minutes every day keeps me on track.”
“We don’t keep up with the Joneses. They might have great stuff, but their finances suck!”
Rich, 43, and Eileen Carey, 44, U.S. Air Force officer and stay-at-home mom currently in South Korea
“I credit Eileen for our savings success. She’s from Taiwan, and grew up in a family, and, to an extent, a society that frowns upon debt. She freaked out when we were in college after learning I’d run up credit card debt and taken out $32,000 in student loans that I didn’t actually need because I had a full scholarship, and insisted we pay it off as soon as possible. So we did—before graduation.
At the time, I was earning $30,000 from two customer service jobs and Eileen made $50 per night in tips from her waitressing job, so we focused on living as frugally as possible and putting every free dollar toward debt. Basically, we focused on choices we knew would compound over time. By avoiding certain unnecessary expenses early in life, like cable, new furniture and eating out, we’d never miss it—and be able to put our money to work for us in other ways instead.
It’s been 16 years since we paid off that debt, and we’ve never slowed down our savings; it’s always exceeded 50 percent of our take-home pay. As our household income has grown to $100,000, our aggressive savings has enabled us to pay off our $280,000 mortgage in six years and purchase investment rental properties in cash in Alabama, which generate $3,000 every month in passive income.
Our secret is that we don’t derive happiness from big houses, new cars or expensive electronics. Basically, we’re totally against keeping up with the Joneses. They might have great stuff, but their finances suck! Nothing brings us more joy than watching our kids’ sports games, going to the beach, running and watching Netflix together.”
Their advice for others: “Small changes certainly add up over time, but don’t forget about high-impact wins, too—like keeping your housing costs low, living close to work or public transportation and focusing on investing, which is how your money works hardest for you.”