The Year I Saved $10,000

all by myself...

I want to share stories from people who saved $10K in a year. Whether you do it every year or did it just once, it’s time to talk about serious saving. If you have a story to share, email me at

The year I saved $10,000, I didn’t do anything differently.

That’s not completely true.

For starters, I finally had a job that paid more than $50,000. In 2009, that was supposed to be the “magic number;” the salary at which you stopped having to worry about being broke and could start focusing on being happy. Additional salary increases weren’t supposed to make you more happy; they were just more money.

(It’s worth noting that the first time I read about the “magic number” was in 2004, when Penelope Trunk called it at $40,000; in 2010, Princeton did research to determine that the actual magic number was $75,000. Who knows what it would be today.)

So my salary was different. That’s really the determining factor here. But I also did a few things differently myself.

I was already familiar with the “broke student” lifestyle, so much of my life didn’t change. I cooked up to 95% of my meals at home, including the lunches I brought to work. This was proper cooking from ingredients: rice, beans, lentils. I baked my own bread. I walked everywhere, I didn’t buy lattes, I didn’t buy books. I knew how this type of life worked.

I invested in some new work clothing, as well as Ikea furniture for my new apartment, and then, once I decided I had the basics of what I needed, set myself a hard limit: $150 in spending per week, to include all non-rent spending (if I remember correctly, I even had to pay utilities out of this weekly $150). I wanted to pay off my debts and get an emergency fund, and that is what I did.

As Emily Kaye Lazzaro noted earlier this week, putting a hard cap on your spending is hard.

It helped that I didn’t have any friends. I was the person who made excuses about not going to happy hour, or the person who went to happy hour and sipped water. (At one point I was trying to explain it to a coworker and I was all “I can’t just spend $20 every time someone thinks it’s a good idea to go to a bar, okay? I’m trying to save!”)

I didn’t have any friends, and my lifestyle didn’t help me make any.

I spent most of my evenings at home, alone, reading library books or surfing the internet. I didn’t even pay to rent DVDs—it was at the library or I wouldn’t watch it. I read every single personal finance book or blog I could find, surrounding myself with proof that I was making the right decisions. I wondered if this would lead to early retirement. (I did the math. It wouldn’t.)

When I think of the year I saved $10,000, I know I did a very good thing and I was very glad to have the money when I needed it a few years later.

I also think of being lonely.

I probably could have figured out a way to save $10,000 without being lonely. I just didn’t figure it out, that year.



72 Comments / Post A Comment

chickpeas akimbo (#6,745)

Instead of drinking water at the bar, drink club soda + citrus of your choice, which looks like a mixed drink and is less likely to prompt invasive questions. Especially from people who have already had a few drinks.
This may cost you some money, so you might only save $9,900 over the course of a year instead of $10,000. Still pretty good.

chickpeas akimbo (#6,745)

@chickpeas akimbo also, I should add, it fucking drives me bananas when people hassle their friends about not drinking. I like drinking, I like bars, but I get it: not everyone wants to be drinking beers all the goddamn time. Even I don’t want to be drinking beers all the goddamn time! In addition to the club soda trick, I’ve also found that saying “oh, I’m not drinking today” in a sort of ominous tone will shut people up. “I’m going to the gym after this” (doing yoga, whatever) also works.
In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to have these excuses at the ready… but this is not an ideal world and I’ve found them to be very useful. (And if you do drink, buy yourself a cheap beer every once in awhile… you’ve earned it.)

cjm (#3,397)

@chickpeas akimbo “I’m not drinking today” sometimes also = I’m less than 3 months pregnant/ trying to get pregnant among my friends. So, we all pretend not to notice the one with the diet coke/ 7 up.

jquick (#3,730)

@chickpeas akimbo Or I have to get up early tomorrow for yoga.

andnowlights (#2,902)

What about people who paid off $10k in student loans in a year? I would have rather saved the money, trust me. Ha.

anne_bh (#1,778)

@andnowlights That is also a really impressive accomplishment! Unless, I guess, that was your minimum payment, but still! That’s a lot to bring your debt down in one year.

lemonhead3159 (#6,051)

@andnowlights THIS. I save and save and save and then every 6 months or so I throw all of my savings minus emergency funds at my student loan. Then I cry a little bit in the shower over HOW MUCH MONEY THAT IS (on pace to spend $12K this year, sigh). I will be happy when the cycle ends!

Vib G Yor (#3,566)

@andnowlights The only way I was ever able to save 10K (or around that) a year was BECAUSE I had no student loans. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m just re-stating the common knowledge that student loans are deeply limiting. It’s not something you can just go fix. I couldn’t have made many lifestyle changes that would have made a difference the way being debt-free did.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Vib G Yor @lemonhead3159 @anne_bh We went after them REALLY aggressively and the $10k took 4 months (I’m still not sure how we did that because our yearly COMBINED income is lower than the national average). We’re working on the $17,000 loan over the course of 2014 and we’re 63% done with it. I really wanted to have them done before my husband is out of grad school so we can actually live our lives after he’s done and making real money!

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Vib G Yor These loans were living expenses from when my husband was getting a second masters and I couldn’t find a job in the city we lived in to save my life. I really wish we hadn’t had to take them out, but he’s debt free otherwise because he’s gotten full rides to every (private) university he’s attended (we’re on #4 right now).

jquick (#3,730)

@andnowlights Seems like he’s comfy being a student and doesn’t want to enter the scary, Adult world and get a job.

Tax Token (#6,772)

@jquick Seems like you’re comfy being a rude commenter.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@jquick I’m genuinely curious… What brings you here? There must be more pressing things you could be doing in your early retirement (at under 45 all due to your STEM job as you so often remind us!).

I mean, you literally add nothing to the conversation, even when you’ve been directly welcomed by Billfold editors and contributors–Mike and Nicole, in particular–to do just that. Surely your ever growing smug sense of satisfaction is sated by now. Please advise.

Aconite (#6,401)

Seems like someone left their manners at the door. Again. For Christ’s sake. Once is funny, twice is silly, three times is a spanking. And you must be on at least the 456th time now, so I’d say the spanking needs to be administered with the “ban user” function.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Aconite @DebtOrAlive @Tax Token Thanks, y’all. I wasn’t going to dignify it with a response since nothing could be further from the truth (it’s normal in husband’s field to have multiple masters, he’s had a “real” job before, and currently works 3 part time jobs. You talk talk sense into people, thought). Appreciate you chiming in.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@andnowlights hope you get automatic alerts to see me say: being a grad student is a job. Trust. It just doesn’t pay much.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@andnowlights I’m of the mind that debt payoff = savings, so congrats! I paid off $10K in credit card debt one year and pretty much bragged to everyone I knew.

chevyvan (#2,956)

@theotherginger Agreed! I worked a lot harder/longer hours as a grad student than I do now in my “real world” job. Yes, I got “free” tuition, got to set my own hours for the most part, and work in coffee shops but my job NEVER ENDED and the pressure was INSANE…insane enough that my department had a reputation at my therapist’s office.

Goodie (#5,447)

Im on track to save $10k this year (saved $8800 so far), but I dont really think my story would be all that interesting.

RiffRandell (#4,774)

@nnlsbin You never know! And congrats that is awesome.

Goodie (#5,447)

@RiffRandell thanks :) I would like to save more but I am trying to pay extra on my mortgage to get rid of that as quickly as possible

ThatJenn (#916)

@nnlsbin Yeah, I wrote out the long story of how I got to consistent $10k+/year savings but honestly, the answer is always going to be “earn enough money so that you don’t miss $10k/year (or don’t miss it enough to ruin your life, anyway).” I wish there were a more heartening answer, but if you’re not earning enough to cover all your needed expenses plus $10k, nothing will get you there.

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@nnlsbin Congrats! Sounds like you’re doing a great job!

mado0205 (#6,779)

@nnlsbin I would actually be really interested in hearing more boring stories about saving $10,000 in a year… I think my partner and I have reached the level this year where we could/should be saving much more aggressively but there’s always craft beer and fun clothes to buy. hearing from other people who do it is great motivation.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@ThatJenn Maybe it’s not as common among Billfold readers (or commenters?) but you know there are shitloads of people in this country who make plenty of money and still spend it all and more!

I think the “boring” and/or “obvious” stories are still worth hearing!

baf (#5,342)

I managed to save $14,000 (Canadian) last year, for my half of a down payment on a house (get possession August 1st! Yay!), and I got it taken straight off of my paycheque so I couldn’t even see it and into an account that I couldn’t touch unless I wanted to get taxed/fined (an RRSP). It can be used however if you are first time homebuyer with no taxes/fees taken off! Definitely not being able to see the money really helped me to save!

Goodie (#5,447)

@baf yeah my savings coming out of my bank account the day i get paid. I can touch them when ever i want I suppose but it kinda just doesnt feel like money I ever had which most of the time helps me not spend it.

loren smith (#2,300)

My partner and I save about $20k a year, of the 80k gross we make, but like @nnlsbin says, it’s not very interesting. I think being a married couple helps, and being really compatible.

samburger (#5,489)

@loren smith HELLO TOASTIE fancy running into you here

loren smith (#2,300)

@samburger HI PAL! See you on Friday? I can’t think of anything good for our thread :/

shannowhamo (#845)

@loren smith I think my husband and I are too compatible…in our desire to spend money! We just like to eat out, drink, see shows, go on trips. We make similar money and would of course like to save more but there’s cool clothes and comic books and records to buy!

highjump (#39)

@samburger Toasties!

samburger (#5,489)

Ditto the boring stories! My wife and I are on track to save $35k for this 12-month period, but we gross like $100k and I feel like “I save $10k because I am a rich person” is too obvious maybe?

Goodie (#5,447)

@samburger yeah I am the same, as my mother points out “earning too much money doesnt mean you are good with money” so it wouldnt be an exciting story.
Also i am a horrible writer so it wouldnt be interesting at all

Aconite (#6,401)

I agree. I saved $15,000 over the last year, but this is not a particularly inspiring story because it’s just a case of earning more than I could spend. I do love saving and am naturally quite spartan (there is a bucket in my shower to collect water which is then used to flush the loo…) but it’s definitely true that you can’t save significant money without first earning significant money.

Goodie (#5,447)

@Aconite I love saving too. Though im sure if I put my mind to it I could spend more tthn I earn quite easily. Im just too stingy

@samburger We are saving quite a lot too, for the same reasons. We didn’t gradually work our way up to earning this much, our income more than doubled within 1 year due to finishing school/training, so lifestyle creep hasn’t really been an issue. We are still quite comfortable saving 25-30% of our income, in addition to pretty aggressively paying off student loans and buying a used car. We did move to a new area and we pay more for rent here than we did before, but other than that and having two cars instead of one, our lifestyle hasn’t changed much.

Aconite (#6,401)

Oh, with a bit of effort I’m sure I could spend more than I earn too, especially since I bought my own flat and want to furnish it with really nice things all at once. And I am definitely buying the nice things, I’m just spacing it out a bit…this did result in 2 months with no furniture except for a bed, but it was so worth it!

ECW (#2,765)

For all the people on here talking about how saving 10K by being rich is boring, first, its not boring, its still a nice accomplishment. And second, maybe we could approach it percentage wise instead? Nicole saved 20% of her annual income, so if you are doing similar things, then that could be your success story or strategy story or whatever we want to call it. Just a thought.

jalmondale (#6,721)

@ECW I think that still makes my story, at least, fairly boring – I save about 50% of my income, but I can live perfectly reasonably on the other half; I budget because I like data (and also I have career-changing plans that require a certain amount of savings), but I haven’t had to adhere to spending limits since college, and there’s a big difference between ‘I make frugal decisions because I kind of prefer a spartan lifestyle and also am saving up for this giant thing’ and ‘I do not have this money to spend’.

Goodie (#5,447)

@jalmondale saving 50% of your income is still super impressive though!

jquick (#3,730)

@jalmondale Yes, the key is “I have enough” and am content with my belongings. You don’t need to impress others with material items, cuz if you live that lifestyle, you will never, ever truly be happy. You will always want more. Gotta have the bigger, the “better” ….just to impress like minded others. NOT realizing there’s a whole bunch of us who don’t care what car you drive, what you’re wearing, your jewelry, what part of town you live in…

Aconite (#6,401)

Care to show us a photograph of the hand-built single room mud hut you live in, having renounced all material possessions? No? Then shut the fuck up and spare us all your judgmental crap.

samburger (#5,489)

@Aconite hey man take it easy! jquick studied STEM! she deserves her house.

jalmondale (#6,721)

@jquick I actually view not having to care what others think as a remarkable privilege of my line of work – if I were in another field, I would probably spend more, because the opinions of clients and bosses is actually very important. Striking it rich is called making ‘f*ck you’ money for a reason…

I think the one insight I could provide is that being able to avoid a scarcity mindset around money is actually really helpful for spending less – because I know I have the option to buy thing X later, it’s less important that I buy it now, which helps me spend less overall. The other, less-generally-helpful, motivation is that I have hoarder tendencies, and the best way to keep them at bay is to just not have things in the first place =).

siege91 (#1,738)

GF and I saved 10k each on salaries ~35k. It was the first year out of college, we didn’t have a ton of loans to pay off, etc. Mostly we just lived on the wrong side of MLK, so the rent was cheap. Just the gap between our Oakland rent and any place we could get in SF accounted for about 5k of savings for each of us. We ended up traveling around California and then South America for 6 months. Hella worth it.

Goodie (#5,447)

@siege91 that is an awesome effort, and sounds like a great 6 months

beastlyburden (#6,122)

@siege91 That’s amazing! Do you still maintain that kind of savings rate?

NoName (#3,509)

@siege91 Same here. Lived in an old in-law unit for 10 years in the Longfellow of Oakland, lived like a student, was lucky enough to sock away a lot during my high-earning years

“(It’s worth noting that the first time I read about the “magic number” was in 2004, when Penelope Trunk called it at $40,000; in 2010, Princeton did research to determine that the actual magic number was $75,000. Who knows what it would be today.)” Ahem! It varies by state, as we have discussed:

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

@Ester Bloom LOL and that just went up a week ago, too. :P

Crabtree (#774)

I saved a huge amount last year – about $15000 plus paid for a car $7000, but that’s because I lived with my parents for a year while my shaky contract in a small town kept on getting renewed. I had very few friends there. After a year and with the plan to actually live in the same xity as my boyfriend, I moved and since then I’ve had issues with keeping up large amounts of savings. At one point I was saving around 20% including retirement, emergency, future dreams of owning a home and travel but its caught up to me and I keep on reducing my automatic payments. I feel really bad about it but I seem to run close to debt when I save too much

Goodie (#5,447)

@Crabtree good work on the $15k plus buying a car. I am thinking of buying a new car(well new for me, second hand in reality) but i dont really want to eat into my savings so I am not sure what to do

Crabtree (#774)

@nnlsbin I went into about $5000 of debt when I bought the car because it was at the beginning of my job and I’d been a student before. I put it on my line of credit and paid it off as fast as I could since my contract could have been cancelled early. Some debt isn’t terrible if you have a plan to deal with it. Also, I ended up spending about $6000 when I moved to be with my boyfriend and he lost his job and it took us both 2 very long months to get employed and I’d needed to buy some cleaning supplies/furniture/food/moving things at the time. I’m not a money role model

Goodie (#5,447)

@Crabtree its still an amazing effort. Particularly to save that money and be paying off your car and with the costs of moving.
So I say again well done :)

kellyography (#250)

I have saved $10K on a $42K salary this year already, but I never have any specific savings methods, nor do I really have to scrimp. I have lived in the same apartment for 8 years, with 3 roommates, so my rent has only gone up $200 or so from what was already extremely cheap, as the neighborhood gentrified around us. I don’t go out every night and don’t really drink alcohol or coffee, so that helps, but I fly monthly to California to see my boyfriend, buy myself books at the cheapest book sale every week, have Netflix, and go out to eat with friends. Paid off the last of my $27K student loans last year. I’m not really sure how it happened, except that I am also pretty boring.

Edited to add: I just started my first brokerage account and am scared but hopeful.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@kellyography Cheapest book sale! So great.

ThatJenn (#916)

I’m saving a bit over $10k/year now (our household income, which is just my earnings since my partner is in school full-time and not working, is $62k). All told, I just did the math and my direct deposit is set up to deposit $13,808/year into my savings account, vs. $31,200 into my checking account, which I guess means my total take-home pay after insurance, taxes, retirement plan, and health savings account is almost exactly $45,000 and over a third of it goes into savings.

I realized a couple of years ago that I pretty much automatically adjust my lifestyle to live paycheck to paycheck based on what’s in my checking account (not spending down to $0 in the checking account every pay period, but consistently down to where I feel OK about the padding, which for me right now is $800-1000). I can largely ignore my savings account, though, unless there’s some kind of crisis or it’s time to pay my property taxes, which shouldn’t sneak up on me but always does anyway. But the bottom line is, when there’s less money in my checking account after everything that’s earmarked for bills, I spend less, without having to think too hard about it.

Luckily for me and my money habits, I work a job with consistent paychecks and direct deposit that allows me to set up automatic deposits to different accounts. I started out wanting to save 10% of my take-home pay when I was earning a bit less a couple years ago, and I was annoyed there was no way to set the two separate deposits based on percentages rather than absolute numbers… though later this would turn out to be good for me. I was taking home about $1400 per pay period then, so I set it to deposit first $140 in my savings account and the balance, usually $1260, to my checking.

Then I hit my first three-paycheck month. On those months, not only do I get three paychecks, but the third one is bigger than usual – there are nearly $200 in deductions that only need to come out twice a month, so I get most of that extra pay back. So that month, I got an extra $140 in my savings account but an extra $1460 in my checking account, which… disappeared pretty fast, honestly.

I decided it might be better to set up a budget, pad it nicely, and make the first deposit be “half of what I need for the month” and have the balance go to savings, instead of starting with the savings deposit at a fixed amount and putting the balance in checking. This is where I’m glad I didn’t have the option of picking a 90/10 percentage, because making this switch did actually boost my savings over time. I set it to deposit the first $1200 of each paycheck to my checking account and then put the balance into my savings account. So in a regular pay period, $200 went into savings, and in a 3-paycheck month, that third paycheck would deposit $400 to my savings account instead of $200 since all the extra went to the savings account.

Then, the best thing happened: I got hired for a newly-created position in my department, which came with a $8,000/year raise, soon followed by an across-the-board 3% cost of living adjustment that brought me to a total of almost $10k/year more than I had been making at the beginning of the year. I was concerned about lifestyle creep, but my system made it easy to avoid. Now, I still got $1200 per paycheck into my checking account, but $471 per pay period went to my savings account, accelerating my savings rate.

This also happened just before my partner quit his job to go back to school full time (making an emergency fund doubly necessary) and I swapped around my tax withholding to adjust to the new situation. The extra money I saved by upping my tax allowances is in my savings account, which means that if I turn out to be wrong about that and owe money at tax time, no harm done.

I hope we can continue doing this and even add to it after my dude has a job. Not to be all David Bach about it, but making it automatic was the only way it was going to work for me personally (plus the all-important factor of having more money than we needed to live on, of course!). My dude has another 18 months or so in school full time, but also, he’s always been great about saving anyway. Honestly, him quitting his job was one of the best things to ever happen to me financially because it made me seriously buckle down and think about how I was going to make sure we could provide for ourselves. I’ve always been pretty financially self-sufficient as an adult (thanks to a big head start in both habits and some concrete financial advantages due to my family – thanks, family!), but thinking about someone else depending on me to keep the lights on made me think about the way I spent money differently and helped me re-prioritize… I’ve never been great at saving or developing other habits just for myself, though of course that’s the best way to do it.

I should note that this is and has always been totally separate from my husband’s finances. He’s had $10-20k saved since well before I met him and is now paying for school out of that, and I’m just paying “living expenses” (he’s a cheap dependent, doesn’t spend much – him not contributing financially to our expenses costs less than $1,000 a month in “my” budget).

Goodie (#5,447)

@ThatJenn Thanks for sharing!

BornSecular (#2,245)

My husband and I saved about $10K the first year we got married. He was subbing part time, I was working full time for a measly hourly wage, and we were living in his parents’ basement. We had literally no expenses (his parents are very generous) & enough Target gift cards to buy necessities & some groceries for a while. Then we used it a few years later as a down payment on a house.

The end.

notnef (#6,019)

I am on track to save around $10K this year and pay off $12K in student loan debt on a $75K/year salary. I am basically broke all the time. My goal is eradicate $35K in student loans by the time I’m 30 (I’m 27). I also feel like there is no way I’m always going to make this much money.

I’ve been paid over $60K since early 2013 and only just started saving in February 2014 for the first time ever. After realizing I had been living paycheck to paycheck for over 8 years no matter what I was making, I kind of kicked it into overdrive. IMO, it’s worth being “broke” to see my savings account rise every week. It actually gives me anxiety to think about tapping into the savings account for any reason.

samburger (#5,489)

@notnefkat I think “broke” is probably the wrong word here! “Not able to roll in a pile of hundos” might be a better word.

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

Is this $10K supposed to be take home, or are we counting retirement, HSA, etc? Because I can’t save a dollar of take home, but I’m on track to save $8K through my 401k (11%, not counting the match), HSA (counting the match) and Roth IRA. I feel a little better now.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

I saved about 10K much my first year out of college. I probably made around $38K because I was working a paid internship and a restaurant job (hence the confusion about exactly what my income was.) I did it kind of accidentally; between working upwards of 70 hours a week, eating for free/very cheap at the restaurant, and generally maintaining my “broke college student” mentality the savings just added up. I used about half the money to pay off a car loan and invested the other half in an index fund. I guess I’ve also gone on several trips in the states and am coming up on a trip to Europe here in a month.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

These stories are awesome. Thank you!

Goodie (#5,447)

@HelloTheFuture My story:
I have direct debits that come out of my account once a month the day after i get paid. Last financial year (im australian so it runs July-June) I earnt a little over 100k. I save at least $600 a month though some months its more. And I also make additional payments on my mortgage, about $1000 extra a month though again often more. I am more focussed on getting my mortgage down than saving money at the moment.

I only started tracking my savings/mortgage in December 2013 (because of this site) and so far it looks like this

Mortgage Dec 2013- $272528.15
Mortgage Jun 2014 – $261350.63

Savings Dec 2013 – $20112.20
Savings June 2014 – $29582.88

My interest rate is currently about 5.13% I think.

I dont put anything towards retirement, and at the moment just rely on the employee contributions to my super.

antheridia (#2,995)

I just checked my net worth spreadsheet and I increased my net worth by just under $42k last year. Holy shit! That was a combination of paying down my mortgage, pension, RRSPs (retirement savings), and just straight up cash.

Goodie (#5,447)

@antheridia well done!

j a y (#3,935)

Seems there a theme: saving=boring. But paying off mortgage/student loans with extra payments of $10k counts… that’s kind of what I was referring to back when I didn’t make very much and was paying an extra $15k/year. (no travel, no furniture, no car, no eating out ExceptWithFriends, no drinking, no vacations)

But you know, it wasn’t that bad when I was living it and it was only 5 years.

Now I save more than that (no mortgage…) but it’s super boring because I make more money now. Back then, it took a bit of privation, which I’ve gotten used to actually.

My then-husband and I did this to pay off his student loans while living off my grad school stipend and his VISTA volunteer stipend! It involved a tiny apartment in Indiana, a $150/ month total food budget, taking the bus, and only $20/ month each in discretionary spending. Basically the two of us lived on a bit less than my stipend and threw his entire salary at the loans, which, along with the VISTA education stipend, knocked them out in two years.

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