Catherine Stolfi is a frugal spender and an avid traveler, enjoying sharing tips for saving money and spending it where it matters most.
How I Saved $3,000 in Three Months
With some changes of habit and discipline, I was able to save $3,000 in three months. Here, I share what I did in the hope that my experience will help you save money, too. I will first discuss how to identify your specific savings goals. In this article, I detail the importance of the following:
- How to save money, even when you don't make a lot.
- How to make a budget.
- How to identify and track your spending habits.
- How to cut out hidden costs and unnecessary luxuries.
- How to reframe your mindset.
- How to save on grocery bills.
- Tips on staying disciplined.
1. How to Save Money Effectively
It can be tough to save money when you are barely making enough to pay your bills as it is. As a matter of fact, most Americans don’t contribute to a savings account. There was a tough hill to climb when it came time for me to decide to save. Just like any worthwhile action, saving gets easier when you have goals and a plan in mind. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to identify areas in your life where small changes of habit can help you build up your wallet and your peace of mind.
Why Is It Important to Save Your Money?
Recognizing what exactly you want to do with your money in both the short-term and long-term can help bring your goals to life. Most people with short-term savings contribute to an emergency fund in case of a loss of employment or an unexpected expense like a car repair. Other people may want to upgrade an area of their life or plan a vacation.
Long-term savings goals involve a more global perspective. Consider saving for things like retirement, a college fund, or a home. You need to have a clear vision of what your priorities are when you begin your savings journey. This image will help keep you honest when temptation strikes.
Examine Your Income
You need to identify how much money you have coming in before you can effectively monitor what is going out. Some easy ways to do this involves:
- Connect your checking account, credit card and savings account for a big-picture look at your spending habits.
- Take a closer look at your income by checking a breakdown of each of your transactions.
- Set alerts that’ll let you know when bills are due, when you’ve hit a spending threshold or when you’ve, though hopefully not, overdrafted.
I will discuss budgeting and monitoring your expenses in more detail in a section below.
Don’t Ignore Your Credit
It is important to take into account your credit obligations while beginning your journey up the financial ladder. There are plenty of free resources that will allow you to view your credit report. Credit is a part of your overall financial health and is pivotal to obtaining loans in the future that may help with purchases related to your goals. Your credit can also impact your employability with specific companies as well as your ability to start a business.
2. Get Organized With a Budget of Your Expenses
I think the first rule of saving is organization through budgeting. This basically means two things:
- Knowing what bills you have due each month/week.
- Knowing how much you spend a month outside of your bills.
Open up an excel spreadsheet to start your budget list. You can create your own by following the instructions in the video below, or you can download free budget templates for Microsoft Excel. Make sure your budget includes these expenses:
- Credit cards
- School loans
- Car payments
- Health insurance
You should make a list of the bills that you can set up an automatic payments for if you haven’t done so already. Many of these utilities and credit card companies will have penalties if you miss payments, so set up auto pay directly from your checking account for the withdrawals. Then, organize the payments by week, and try to spread out your payments where possible.
For example, most rent is paid on the 1st or the 15th of every month. Depending on that date, create credit card payments accordingly so that it is evenly spread out. You can usually do this easily online at the card companies’ website or by giving them a call. Then, you will have extra money each paycheck rather than having to roll over that amount to the next week to pay the big bills.
Once this is complete, sum up the total of these bills and see how much is left over. Most people are surprised by what they find and are thinking, "where did all of my money go this month?"
3. Identify How You're Spending Your Money
The next serious money saving tip is knowing how you spend your money. Like most people, I use my credit card for practically every purchase. That means that a perfect history of my spending habits are right on my bank statements.
Print out the bank statements for your credit card for the last 3 to 6 months, and add up the following categories for each month:
- Eating out
- Personal hygiene purchases
- Shopping for luxuries
I was shocked to find out that one month I spent a staggering $350 on eating out alone. I couldn’t understand how my account wasn’t in the negative hundreds of dollars.
That money could have been in my savings account. It was time for a big change, so I opened an online savings account where I could deposit money directly from my checking into my savings.
4. Cut Out Hidden Luxuries
Very few people think of the word “luxuries” when they think of being “young” and “broke,” but it’s important to identify this category if you’re serious about filling up that savings account. In fact, I would even place eating out under the luxury category. I recommend purchasing only what you need to survive. Here is a list of items that will destroy your budget if you aren't looking for the best deals:
- Textbooks: Take advantage of rental programs and resellers before you go to the bookstore.
- New Technology: Do you really need a newer model with with a couple updated specs when yours does what it needs to?
- Expensive Coffee: Brand name coffee shops have high prices. Consider making your own coffee or lowering your standards.
- Full-Priced Items: Shop clearance, and stay alert for seasonal deals.
- Entertainment: Instant streaming is cheaper than your 200 channel cable plan!
Luckily for me, I started my money saving experiment the 1st of January right after the holiday season. This is the time when you’ll have gifts (that can be returned) and gift cards (that can be traded for cash or spent.) I sold most of my gift cards on Gift Card Granny for cash or saved them to spend over the year. Again, this is where the organization comes into play. Create a list of your gift cards and trade-in the luxury ones, and keep the ones you can spend on necessities.
For example, sell the cards for stores that just sell clothing, but keep the big department store cards so that you can still buy the socks, underwear, and other essentials that you might need throughout the year. Sell any items you don’t need at the moment on eBay. You can always use the money later when you break a plate, need shampoo, or encounter any other minor expense.
5. Ask Yourself: Do I Really Need This?
Another great tip that I would like to offer is seeing how long you can go without buying personal hygiene items. Use your eyeliner to the nub. Use all your blushes until the bristles are coming out. Basically, don’t buy anything you already have in your closet. Resist all urges, and use up everything!
I was also able to save a large chunk of money because tax season came and went. A lot of people use their tax return to pay off some bills or book a great vacation. The vacation is a luxury and, I'm sorry to tell you, most of your credit card bills will still be there next tax season. The trick is to take every penny from your tax return and put it into your savings account. Then, set up automatic payments on your credit cards so that you can pay them off sooner. Every credit card statement will tell you the amount you need to pay in order to pay off your balance in three years.
6. Save Money on Your Grocery Bills
As I said before, eating out is a luxury, so avoid it at all costs by eating at home. This is why your grocery shopping needs to be organized and rigid. I don’t suggest clipping coupons at all. Coupons are usually only for expensive brand name items where the generic or store brand version is even cheaper than the discounted amount of the brand item.
My huge tip for grocery shopping on a budget is to not make a list of items but rather make a grocery list with the days of the week.
This way you can shop optimally to reduce the amount of expired foods in your home and know you will have enough food until the next shopping trip. Also, become a member at your local grocery store and use any coupons they may give you at the register there (again, no clipping.)
Let’s say you go food shopping every Monday night, you will write on your list:
|Sample Shopping List|
4 Weekday Dinners
4 Lunches at Work
1 Snack for Work
2 Snacks for Home
7. Stay Disciplined
Self discipline is the only difference between someone who is financially successful and someone who isn't. I want to leave you with these encouraging suggestions for maintaining discipline:
- Stop Making Excuses: Making excuses is easier than following through. Recognize your loses as life experiences, and continue to chip away at your goal.
- Stick to the Plan: We have our goal, and we have identified the necessary sacrifices. Celebrate the accomplishments of mini goals, and never give up. Stay strong for the first few weeks, and you’ll find that following the plan gets easier.
- Get Support: Find someone close to you that can keep you accountable. You two may be able to learn something from each other or you may end up turning money saving into a friendly competition.
You're probably wondering how much money I was up throughout the journey. By the end of February I was already at $2,000. All that by staying on top of my excel spreadsheet and avoiding luxury spending—I even avoided $1 cones from the ice cream truck!
The savings add up. When you feel the urge to go shopping take a look in your pantry, clothing closet, and bathroom cabinets and ask yourself: how much money can I put into my savings account today?
Questions & Answers
Question: How much did you save per week being young and broke?
Answer: It varied because when I was near the 1st of the month, the amount I could save was significantly less due to needing to pay my monthly bills. Other than that, it was consistently from 200-400 a week.
Nicole K on August 22, 2019:
Thank you so much for sharing! This has definitely inspired me to get back on track with saving money for Christmas and also for our debt payoff. Kudos to you for sticking with it and doing the hard work of staying disciplined!
Reet on January 02, 2017:
Amazing Article. I will definitely work on this. I do need to save for my medical bills and house and also a lil loan for to pay my friend back. Thank you.
Kierstin Gunsberg from Traverse City, Michigan on August 16, 2016:
Great tips! We're saving a down payment for our first home and the two things that have been the most helpful for us is grocery shopping and using up everything we have. I used to buy things before we ran out and something they would expire before I could even get to them. Yikes!
I also find shopping online to be an easy way to pinch pennies. At the store I'm prone to whip items into the cart so I can get out of there but shopping from home, it's easy to stick to a list, especially as I look around and see all that I already have.
Frank on March 12, 2016:
Yup. Me too. I will follow what you said. I need a holiday,
Dre on July 17, 2015:
Good article. Thanks for sharing
RichFatCat from Texas on June 04, 2015:
acounting 101 on September 15, 2014:
Spreadsheets helped me in accounting class and in saving money.
Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on May 02, 2013:
It's amazing how much those small extra purchases can add up throughout the month.
Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on May 02, 2013:
Very impressive. It does take discipline to save. I definitely need to follow your example. Voted up and useful.