How To Save Money Without Really Trying

This isn’t a typical post for me, so if you’re not interested in the subject, come back next post and I’ll have something nice and snarky for you.

Ok, there’s still a little snark in this one…

Let me start my saying, I’m not a financial planner and I’m by no means an expert on this subject. This is purely based on my experience.

I think about retirement. A lot. I’d love to make my own schedule, go to the gym when I want, and run races at travel destinations. I try to prepare for my future as well as I can with the money that I make. I don’t want to be in debt and I don’t want to pinch pennies once I am retired. I don’t need to live in a castle, but I would like to maintain my current lifestyle.

First, I’ll start with the obvious advice: Open a Roth IRA or a 401K – or both. Both are great ways to save for retirement. Roth IRA contributions are pre-taxed, so you’re not taxed when you take the money out. 401k contributions are usually matched up to a certain percentage by employers, which means free money. (I have both.)

Just make sure you don’t take that money out prematurely, or you’ll pay hefty fees. You’ll want all that money to buy frivolous things once your old and wrinkly and can’t get a date.

Pay Off Credit Cards

Make payments over the monthly minimum and don’t charge new things. Credit card companies tell you how long it will take to pay off your debt on your monthly statement. If seeing, “it will take you 15 years to pay off this credit card by making the minimum payment” isn’t enough to make you want to pay over that minimum when you know your card is just an accumulation of late night pizzas, porn, and music from iTunes, I don’t know what is.

If you know who that is, shame on you.

Pay Off Your Car

Pay more than the monthly payment. Even if you can only afford to pay $10 or $20 more each month, you will pay the car off early and in turn pay less interest. The last car I bought, I paid off 9 months early making more than the minimum payment. Now that sweet set of wheels is allll mine.

When I first moved to Orlando, I had a $318 car payment that I was having a hard time paying (not the car I paid off 9 months early). I got a credit card offer in the mail from my bank with lower interest than what I was paying on my car loan. So, I called my bank and asked for a specific limit on the card. After a “no” on their part and a little begging on my part, I got the card with the limit I wanted. I paid off my car loan with my new credit card – and in turn my payments were over $200 less a month and I saved a ton on interest.

Open a Savings Account…and Don’t Touch It

When I started my savings account 9 years ago, I was making 27k a year, had a car payment, and was living with my best friend. I didn’t have a lot of extra money. In fact, I was just making all my monthly bills, so my bf and I became connoisseurs of all the “ladies nights” in Orlando so we could drink for free.

I knew I could save $20 a paycheck. Not a lot, but it’s all I could part with and it was something rather than nothing. So, I split up my direct deposit into two accounts. $20 went into my savings account and the rest went to checking for bills. Because the $20 went directly into savings, I didn’t “see” it, so I didn’t miss it. Even if you can only save $20 a check, you are saving over $500 a year.

Each time I get a raise, I raise the amount of money that goes into my savings. I was living without it before, so I don’t technically need it. Usually I split the raise and keep half for spending and the other half goes to savings.

Buy With No Interest

If your credit is good enough to be able to open more credit, buy items with no interest. It builds your credit and allows to you pay off big items over time. BUT, keep these things in mind:

  • Have a plan: Figure out how much you need to pay each month to have it paid off by the time the interest kicks in.
  • Make monthly payments: Just because you don’t need to make payments doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Credit cards that offer no interest anticipate that you will forget about the charge so they can slam you with interest later. Keep making those payments.     Every month.
  • Make sure you can afford it: If you calculate the monthly payment of a new flat screen TV is $300 a month and you can’t afford that each month until it’s paid off…don’t buy it.
  • Buy only 1 thing at a time: You want that flat screen TV and a new living room set. Buy one and wait on the other until the first item is paid off. You don’t want to be buried in payments.

Hubs and I buy everything we can on no interest – our electronics, our furniture, our flooring. We buy one thing and pay it off before the interest kicks in. Then we buy the next item we want. Right now, I’m paying off the new flooring in our house. But we have items we want lined up after that.

Go Manual with Your Checking

If you can’t do any of the things I mentioned above, you can do this. I learned this trick from my old roommate, Danielle. Once she told me about this, I was mesmerized by her wisdom, and have done it ever since.

I have kept a manual checkbook for about 7 years now. When I charge something on my debit card, I deduct the money from my checkbook but round the total up. So, if I spend $12.71 on a hot dog at the mall, I deduct $13.00 in my check book, which means I “saved”  .29 cents. I do this with everything I buy with my debit card and every bill I pay with a check.  I also round down with my paycheck. If I get a check for $105.00, then I add $100 to my check book. I see the money written in my check book as the only money I can spend.

After the first 7 or 8 months of doing this, I had $700 more in my account than what was written in my checkbook. So, I was able to “save” all that money without doing anything. Like this:

Every 6-8 months, I use my “check book money” to pay off my credit card or pay for insurance. Also, it works great as overdraft protection. Or vacation money. Or money to blow on new hats.

Now, I just need to become an expert on making money.

Do you have any money saving tricks? (Besides the making it disappear trick.)


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36 responses to “How To Save Money Without Really Trying

  1. I know who that is, Paula. That’s Katie Holmes in 2024.

  2. I really love that last tip about rounding up or rounding down. I also keep a manual checkbook so I am definitely going to do that!

  3. That is an actor with incredible talent and range.

  4. I really like the manual check book idea! I’m going to have to try that.

  5. Great tips Paula! I’m a total math dork so I keep all sorts of spreadsheets for watching bills and debt… I can’t manage to keep track of a manual checkbook mainly because I lost them!! (Now can you give some tips on how to keep your hubs from spending all your money?)

  6. Sara

    Hot dogs are expensive nowadays. LOL

  7. Katie G

    The round up/down idea is great . . . I just wonder if I can let go of the OCD enough to not have my checkbook balance.

  8. This is a great post! The manual checkbook idea is really interesting. I’ve never heard of it, but it makes total sense.

    My tip: don’t develop a drug habit. Those are expensive to maintain.

  9. I am awful at this stuff, so I’m going to bookmark this post forever and ever. I’m hoping to get better at it very soon!

    My bank has the “way to save” program where it puts a dollar from my checking into my savings for every credit transaction I do with my debit card. Those dollars rack up fast! Unfortunately, when things like bachelorette parties and broken teeth come up and I have no dough, I grab some from there. :/ Bad me.

  10. I’ve heard of the manual checkbook idea, but I’ve also heard that the problem with that is that you never know how much money you really have. And if you forget to add something, it could screw things up.

    Either way, I wish I was as good as you. You make it sound so easy!

  11. David

    If you’re going to use a credit card anyway and you’re good about paying it off each month, use one that earns you something. I have an Amazon Visa card that earns points that you can use for Amazon gift certificates. I buy stuff on Amazon anyway, so it’s like fee Amazon money!

  12. Love these tips!

    … I have honestly been using a piggy bank to save for my move. It really helps my 12 year old self SEE the money going into savings for some reason. lol

  13. I plan a weekly menu every week and only buy those groceries. This keeps me from buying what we don’t need and keeps us from eating out.

  14. Mz. Teri

    You forgot the tip about not having kids. Those little suckers will bleed you dry! 😉

  15. I love this post. I’m a freakshow when it comes to money, so I like to keep a spreadsheet. We have a specific amount that we put into savings and then if either of us (my husband owns his own company and I’m in sales) makes more than the alloted amount for that month, we put it in savings as well. We’re currently paying more than what is owed on our car payment, so once that is paid off, then we will take the money we used for that payment and pay it towards another bill. The only debt we have is the 1 car, our house payment and my student loans, so it’ll probably go towards the loans.

    the one thing I don’t do is use my debit card. We actually use our credit card and pay it off at the end of each month. The reason we do this is because we get cash back for using our card. But, I have a spreadsheet that keeps track of our monthly budget for eating out, groceries, gas, etc. So, i know when we’re reaching our limit for each of those categories. Then, we pay the credit card off each month and get cash back with no interest. You have to be super disciplined to do this, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless your’e good at staying within an alloted budget. i recalcalate the budget each month based on non monthly bills such as car insurance which we pay every 6 months or the water bill which we pay quarterly, stuff like that.

    • Wow! And I thought I was good.
      I’ve thought about doing that credit card thing too and skipping the debit card. But I need a card where I earn something first (like you have.) Now that I’ve heard about this Amazon card, I’m totally interested. I would cancel one of my cards to open a new one, but I hear canceling cards isn’t all that great for your credit.

  16. Although this wasn’t one of your typical posts, I loved it all the same. Love saving (and spending!!) money. I really like the checkbook idea. I do the same thing in a GoogleDoc, rounding up, but then I end up spending the balance anyways bc I’m an idiot. I like the whole rounding down on your paycheck idea – brilliant. Def something I need to do.

    And saving the money from your raise – totally was on board that train until dumb bf lost his job. Money from raise changed into money for bills. BOO. Being a grown up is sososo lame.

  17. Have you heard about the Dave Ramsey approach to saving money (Financial Peace University). I REALLY like his ideas. Some of the stuff you’ve mentioned above is part of it.

    One thing I can add is buy your stuff with a credit card for points and then pay it off immediately. This will get you rad things like gift cards, airfare, and even more money. Yes. I wrote rad.

    Oh – and another tip to saving money is not having kids. I love my kids and they are worth it – but they are $$$$. Hee. I really don’t know what we did with our money before we had them!!

    • William

      Hey Michelle,

      I was going to mention Dave Ramsey. The ideas really are simple to follow. I’ve got his books if you or Paula would like to read them. My better half and I went through his class back in January and we are sold. You can get most of the information from the books without going to the class, but the class added an accountability factor for us. When I get the first pay check in July it will be used to pay off our car and we’ll be Debt Free (except the house, which is the only kind of debt Dave is okay with in his plan, although he’d prefer there be no home debt either). My wife, kids, and I look forward to calling his radio show and screaming we are DEBT FREE.

  18. The checkbook. Freaking GENIUS.

  19. Your paychecks are $105? Ouch. Hope you get paid every day. (:

    I suck at money. I’m working on that though. (:

  20. what works for us is creating an excel spreadsheet. In the 1st column write out everything you have bills for (eg; Mortgage, Car Payment, Student Loan, HOA, Electric Bill, Water Bill, Auto Insurance, Home Insurance, Property Tax, My Credit Card, Husbands Credit Card, JCrew Credit Card, etc etc etc) Then in the next column headers make for each month of the year and start filling in your payments – some you can fill in for the whole year if its a fixed payment (mortgage, HOA, car payment) Others you have to wait until you get the bill (Credit Cards).

    For us by having to look at how much a credit card payment was helps at being more conscious about the next to decrease spending and then to really look at the statements and see what we are buying because you’d probably be surprised.

    Then if you really want to get crazy – add up by month everything you spent and compare to what you actually bring home each month.

  21. Pam

    Those are really awesome tips! I appreciate this type of post. Thanks for being helpful, and I’ll also appreciate the snarkiness 🙂

  22. Awesome post dude. Thanks for the tips.
    I have a debt payoff planner on my Android that’s really helpful. I should probably use it.
    One thing I DO do is when I buy things that I don’t “need” or impulse buys i.e clothes, flip flops, hats, or anything at Ikea, I hold on to it for 72 hours with the receipt. If at the end of the three days I still feel like I have to have it and can actually afford it, I keep it. But usually I end up realizing that I didn’t need a $50 areal view of Manhattan and take it back.
    p.s. shame on me

  23. Good post! I’m not very financially savvy and need all the help I can get.

    Now, if I just had some monayyy.

  24. Hey, I sent this to Michelle too…quite a few Track Shack runners are going to be going to Paula Deen’s restaurant after the marathon in Savannah for dinner that night…are you interested in joining? We’ve made 3-14 people reservations right now (so we don’t have to pick off a big group menu), so if you’d like to join, just let me know and I’ll make sure there are enough spots, just tell me how many you need!

  25. Awesome awesome post!! One that a lot of people really ought to read…

  26. Great post! I do similar things – max out our 401Ks, save a small percentage of our checks each month, focus on paying down our house, and not running up credit card balances. Basically, for us, having big goals to work on makes it feel less painful to give up some of the frivolous things.

    I would describe our budget as “mindful spending.” I’m fine with having a cleaning lady, but that better be our top “frivolous” item to spend on. As a result, we choose to give up Starbucks (90% of the time, anyway), getting my hair done more than 3x/year, etc. I want to spend my money on the things that mattter, and if you’re not tracking or paying attention to where your’e money goes, it’s hard to be mindful.

    • I’m the same way. I never get pedicures or manicures. Rarely get my hair done. I don’t buy expensive purses. But I do like going to concerts, so that’s my frivolous thing. 🙂

  27. Stefanie@RUNON

    Love this! 🙂 You are so so wise. I think it helps to have a savings account that isn’t super easy to access. Like seperate from your checking, so your you can’t really see the balance every day. That way, it makes it easier for me to leave it alone. If I can’t see it, it’s not really there, right?

  28. I know I’m late to the game (sue me, I was on vacation), but I LOVED this post! excellent tips!

  29. Pingback: My 7 Links | Eat:Watch:Run

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