To the befuddlement of my millennial peers, I’m a huge fan of cash. Personally, I blame growing up in Japan and China where cash not only was, but still largely is, king. I use my credit cards a lot (hello, reward points!) – but I will always have at least some cash on my person and routinely will do a cash diet for a week or two just for a little reboot. I give you all this context because I’ve been trying out the silliest savings strategy ever for about 3 months.
For the last 3 months, I’ve been saving all my $5 bills.
How it works
Anytime I make a purchase and I receive a $5 bill with my change, I come home and put that $5 bill into a candy tin. Yes, an actual candy tin, which is a habit I’ve had since childhood.
You can imagine how I will sometimes try to game the system now when I’m paying with cash. I go to purchase a $5 latte and look in my wallet to see a $20 bill and a $10. You bet I’m using that $10 because I hate getting three $5 bills back as change these days. Or, when I just have a $20, you’ll see my trying to telepathically communicate with the cashier to please give me a $10 and either one $5 or, depending on the day, five singles!
Getting three $5 bills makes me cringe.
In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure which blog post or tweet inspired this strategy, but I’m always down to check out the equivalent of a personal finance fad diet. Not to mention, I wanted to try a manual way to play around with my savings now that I disconnected from Digit after the platform started charging.
What’s the point?
I’m generally a pretty good saver, but things have been a bit more volatile as a freelancer. I put aside 40% of every freelance paycheck to cover taxes and some retirement savings. Then I generally like to save an additional 10% to 20% for savings goals, assuming I’m earning enough that month to save 50% to 60% and still be able to cover all my living expenses. This $5 challenge makes me feel like I’m doing just a little bit more.
There’s not quite as much structure to this version of cash savings compared others like the 52-week challenge where you add a dollar to how much you’re saving each week. You start with $1 and then in week two you save $2 (so $3 total), week 3 you save $3 (so $6 total) and then $4 ($10 total) and you get the point until you’ve reached week 52 and you’ve managed to save $1,387.
I’ve saved $185 in three months. That’s not a ton of money by any means, but I’m going to keep this up for a year and then decide where to put my cash. Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve mentally already got it earmarked for the honeymoon fund! It’s on track to pay for a couple of fancy dinners or to splurge on an indulgent experience.
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19 responses to “The Silliest Savings Strategy I’ve Ever Tried”
What an interesting strategy! I personally don’t often have cash, it is WAY too easy to spend all of it at the farmer’s market in one go! But it seems to work for you. Good observation that it does change your spending habits though, re: which bill to choose. Have you noticed any change in how often you need to replenish your cash? Like, if you have been withdrawing $100/mo, and now need twice a month? Could impact overall budget that way. But a honeymoon fund is an awesome goal!! You always end up spending more in cash than you think you will (tips, knicknacks, souvenirs, food, drinks, transportation, etc). So to be able to spend freely without that guilt and anxiety while you’re supposed to be having the time of your life is a worthwhile pursuit. Good for you for planning ahead.
I love this idea. I already have a lot of automatic savings that happen when I get paid, but I’m often wary about increasing the amount more than it already is, but this could be an easier way to add some extra savings!
This reminds me of my dad’s coin jars. When I was a kid my dad would have vases filled with coins. I liked to pick out the quarters to buy mountains of gumballs and eclairs from the ice cream truck. Every few months we’d roll the coins and take them to the bank for cash. I operate almost completely by plastic and online payments nowadays but your savings strategy sure brings back memories.
Also, saving 50% of your income is absolutely incredible. #Goals
That savings strategy is pretty hardcore – I couldn’t do it, but I wish you luck in your quest to save that way!
I did this with $10 bills and it was fun. Those seem harder to come by than 5’s and 20’s. Now I do it with 100’s 🙂
Oh great money saving strategy. Yeah its silly but looks interesting. Itsa a different way to increase savings.
Good post! It’s worth a try. It reminds me of those checking accounts that round up and take the excess change of a transaction and put it into a savings account. I also remember “Christmas clubs” from years ago, where you would get a book full of weekly coupons to remind you to deposit a certain amount, and you would usually get a toaster or something from the bank. If it works for the individual, then it’s worth it. Otherwise, I usually just try to really tighten spending and monitor the cash flow between account very closely.
I tried this for about 2 years while I was in high school, and since I used cash for almost everything, I had a LOT of $5’s saved up! Now I work and save more purposefully since I no longer live at home, but that strategy worked out exceptionally well for me. That savings made my life much less stressful when I got married and moved out. Thank you for sharing this!
This idea is great! I already get direct deposit into my savings when I get paid. I like this idea though because when you have cash and you’re buying whatever, and you get a five or ones back, you can just save them. If you did this for like a year or two, you could save up a lot. Another silly thing I do, is when I find a penny or when I get change from a purchase I just put it in my little change container that I have.
I feel like this strategy could be hard for some people just because normally when people have cash, they spend it. I know I do, but if I put it away and just forget about it, then I won’t spend it. Especially with change. If you think that you don’t have it, you won’t spend it. This will be something that I end up trying to save more money! Such a great post!
I do this (with English fivers, hello from the UK!) but more because I’ve always loved collecting £5 notes. Strange I know haha.
is there any value in using some of these smart phone apps the help you manage you personal finances like Bill karma or money clarity?
I know some people find them helpful. I personally like to kick it old school and do things on my own, but it totally depends on your needs.
Since I’m getting paid once a month from my first job and twice a month from my second job, I recently came up with a savings plan that makes more sense to me than saving something every week, sacrificing 5 dollar bills when I have so little to spend, or an arbitrary percentage every month or paycheck when I really want to throw as much extra money as possible at debt. When I get paid on the first of the month, I save $30 or $31 depending on what month it is, and when I get paid every two weeks, I’m setting aside a dollar for whatever day it is (so this month I’m saving $2, $16, and $30). I’m hoping this way saving won’t feel like so much of a burden, but I’ll at least be saving something!
The psychology behind this is powerful because you are conditioning yourself to enjoy saving and have a specific trigger which makes you save.
For me personally, I just have my paycheck split into 3 accounts. I rarely deal in cash.
Can’t miss what you never had am I right?
Yup, I loved splitting that way when I worked a traditional job. My freelance paychecks get similarly split with the first chunk going to the Uncle Sam account!
This is a great savings plan. It sounds silly, but if you stick to your guns and do it for a while it really works out. I am self-employed, so I have learned how to split up my money in a very effective way. Saving for taxes is a pretty good chunk of it. After that, of course, comes rent and food. I try to save to put away at least $100 a month into a savings account.
I love your silly way of saving! And I feel like it is such a simple and fun way for people that maybe aren’t good savers or just aren’t ready to commit to saving a certain percentage of their income. Shoot maybe I should give this a try to save some extra money where I can!
First rule: it’s not silly if it works.
My wife and I saved for my wedding EXACTLY this way. (Ours was a Jelly Belly jar with a slit cut in the top so the money could go in.) We paid for my dress, her outfit, our venue, our luncheon, and the fees to get our friend ordained as a secularist minister. All with $5 bills in a jar.
This is a great strategy. I have been doing this for the last few months and thanks to kids karate lessons, getting $5 notes every week is easy. I keep mine on hand though for events throughout the year such as a school pizza party or fundraiser, that way I know when a last minute event pops up, I’m already covered.