How I Saved $50,000 By 25 While Making $15 An Hour

I’m going to eloquently start my first TFD piece with this: saving money gives me a lady boner. I get a little high out of seeing my accounts increase. Since I started working when I was a teenager, I would get a paycheck, take out enough for gas and a few froyo trips, and deposit the rest into a savings account. It’s just always been ingrained in me to have something to fall back on. When friends mention they have $2.73 in their checking accounts, it makes me squirm. What if something happened?! I never wanted to be stressed out about money, so I focused early on having an emergency fund. My initial savings goal was to have at least $1,000 in my account at all times. My goal-setting ended up snowballing and paving the way for new goals, and by the time I was 25, there was $50,000 in my account.

I devour articles and blog posts about saving large amounts of money — but they all seem to have some sort of major loophole. So, I’m coming from a place of no windfalls, no smart investing pre-recession, and no free college.

Here’s a little about my situation: during this time of extreme saving, I was never making more than $15 an hour. My underemployment is a story for another time, but I did want to show you what I was working with. It’s easy to save $20,000 a year when you’re making $70,000, but I was making about half of that.

No one’s story is the same, and I admit, I had privileges some do not. The ways I saved money may not line up with how other people want to live their lives. So this is just what worked for me, and I hope people can take some of my ideas and make it work for their savings goals. You may not be aiming for $50,000 — maybe just a wedding fund or a house down payment. Do what works best for you!

Put in the work

You might have been looking for some magic story of me just stumbling upon $50,000. But the formula for saving is pretty basic: Make more and spend less. I focused my energy on making more. As I mentioned, I was underemployed/grossly underpaid for my industry, so I looked for supplemental work anywhere I could.

My main money-maker during this time was babysitting. I took hours whenever I could — after work, on weekend days, and weekend nights. Other odd jobs I did included valet parking, catering, and office clerical work on weekends. If hanging out with kids isn’t for you, look into bartending, or find a freelance side hustle that aligns with your skill set. An upside to working a lot means there is less time to spend.

Do you really need that?

I know we’re all sick of hearing about The Latte Factor. It was kind of impossible for me to cut back on buying coffees when I’ve never bought one in the first place. But I do think you should track your spending so you can notice unnecessary habits. Take a look at your last 15 transactions. You’ll probably notice a pattern of what’s adding up, and what you can live without. For me, it was fast food. I easily cut out $150 a month by only going once a month instead of multiple times a week. I instead took to meal prepping and cooking at home.

Being mindful of your spending is so important when saving big. I avoided temptation by unsubscribing from brand emails, and I would not step foot into a Target unless I went in with a list. I would always wait a week when buying clothes online to make sure I still really wanted them.

During my savings journey, I got my nails done maybe twice. As for haircuts, I got those cheap $15 ones where they don’t blow dry it afterward. I even looked up YouTube tutorials on how to trim my hair to keep it healthy between visits. I also canceled my gym membership and found amazing workouts on YouTube or went hiking with friends.

I still vacationed, but stuck to weekend getaway road trips. (TFD has plenty of articles on how to travel smart!)

I still had a life

I know what you’re thinking. She probably had no friends, never left her house, and never had fun. But during this time I still stayed social, went to concerts, and even traveled a bit!

As for going out, you need to be smart about it. You don’t need to say yes to every invite, but you also don’t need to live under a rock. You can still have fun with friends without doing a $50 boozy brunch every weekend. And, not to sound like a college student, but when I did go out, pre-gaming played a big part in saving. I’d have a few glasses of wine before hitting the bar, and then limit myself to two drinks while I was there. I also stuck with cash at the bar, because it’s tempting to keep ordering drinks and food when you can just throw down your credit card.

Leave your ego at the door

A big hindrance when saving money is a sense of entitlement. Whenever I give people saving advice, someone always balks at the thought of getting a second job or a roommate. I need to stress that no one is ever too good for a second job. I had a friend who refused to go back to her bartending job for weekend shifts after she got her Master’s. She thought she was above doing service jobs anymore, despite barely being able to afford her rent. If you’re setting yourself up for a better future, there’s no room for a big ego when you’re saving.

I did mention loopholes before, and I guess I do have to admit to one that a lot of other people also have access to: I lived at home. This was probably the biggest key in how I saved so much so fast. Because of my income level, it was way too risky and irresponsible to move out during that time. I lived on a direct transit line, and my monthly commuting costs were $180 a month.

I know living at home isn’t an option for some people, but if it’s available to you, consider it! I didn’t take advantage of my parents; I still paid for my own food, and even gave them money for utilities. And since I was working so much, I basically only slept there. You don’t need some glamorous apartment in a city when you’re in your early twenties. You’re not a loser for living at home or in a neighboring suburb with four roommates. I’d rather do it when I’m younger than face some kind of financial hardship later in life, and have to come back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

Pay savings like a bill

Each month I had a goal to set aside at least $300 specifically for savings. My advice is to pick an amount that works with your budget, and pay that amount into savings as if it were a bill. Would you skip your car or utility bill? No. And savings is just as important. I paid into my savings goal, and then added whatever I had left over after expenses each month. And my expenses were pretty low. I was paying my student loans ($215), my transit ($180), food ($160), my phone ($50), and miscellaneous expenses ($250). Once I saw that my savings was quickly adding up, it became almost a game for me to constantly up my goal.

*****

Life is funny; when I was 25, I ended up getting laid off. Thankfully, I had the savings and the side hustles to hold me over until I found a new job. Once I got my new, higher paying job, I kept my savings habits the same, which helped me to live even more comfortably. I’m not as extreme now, and I have eased up on some of the side hustles. I’m so happy where I am with my savings, and am now focusing on investing and growing what I have even more.

By doing a bulk of my savings early, I don’t have to be stressed when I get more responsibilities as I get older. I have so much more freedom, and I’m still so young. Is my way going to work for everyone? No, but maybe something I did can help you hit some kind of savings goal of your own. You can find a balance that lets you enjoy life while still being smart about your future.

S.M.M. prefers to use a pen name. 

Image via Unsplash

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  • Laira

    Congrats on such a huge milestone! Question: Is all that money liquid/sitting in a savings account? I think it would be remiss not to mention that that much money in a savings account might be too much and is likey earning at best 1-ish percent. A portion of it could be best served in an investment account — maybe a traditional or Roth IRA — where it could be earning 7+ percent while compounding returns.

    • Maggie

      Totally agree. She talked so much about the advantages of saving when you’re young – the biggest advantage is the magic of compound interest! That money could be worth so much more in 10, 20, 40 years if it was invested now.

  • I think all of the advice in here is really solid and I agree with it! But as soon as I saw the numbers I was waiting for this line: “I did mention loopholes before, and I guess I do have to admit to one that a lot of other people also have access to: I lived at home.”

    That’s a huge loophole and I wish you had just addressed it up front instead of making it sound like there wasn’t a big loophole. And I’m not knocking it, it’s awesome for people who can take advantage of it. It wasn’t an option I had after college and certainly wished I could have (my parents would have welcomed me, but the area wasn’t great for job prospects). But really, my disappointment lies in the fact that at the beginning you say there’s no loophole when in reality, there is an extremely large one.

    An interesting update to this article would be for you to factor in some of these costs and figure out if this advice is really applicable to anyone who does have to take on the full extent of the bills you face when living on your own. Like, what would your savings account have looked like if you had to pay $600/month in rent, at least 50% of utility costs and internet access. I’d also be curious to know what “buying your own food” means. Are you actually not eating ANY food/drink available to you in your parents house? What would your grocery bill look like if you were exclusively buying food and drink for your household without it being somewhat subsidized by your parents? Maybe you are, but most people I know who live at home do eat several meals a week with their family and have a variety of soft and hard drinks at their disposal that are purchased by their parents. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it skews the numbers.

    I’d love to see this post by someone who didn’t have the privilege of living at home at their disposal. I know when I was doing this at about $13/hour after about 18 months my ex and I were able to save up about $2500. It wasn’t a luxurious nest egg, but it was at least available to us if we had an emergency or wanted to buy ourselves something nice.

    • LynnP2

      I had the same reaction. She literally says: “I devour articles and blog posts about saving large amounts of money — but they all seem to have some sort of major loophole. So, I’m coming from a place of no windfalls, no smart investing pre-recession, and no free college.” Not paying rent is a HUGE loophole, and it’s just sort of slipped in as if it’s a minor thing.

      • Nila B

        I agree, it was a bit disappointing to be honest. I understand that she contributed to the utilities and bought her own food, but it’s not the same. The whole rent factor aside(!), I don’t get to pay only a fraction of my internet, netflix, etc. bills because I am only one person. I have to pay the whole thing. I wish she had been up front from the start.

    • JB

      Liz, I think you ought to write an article for TFD! Tips from someone who made a crappy wage, paid for rent/bills/groceries, and still managed to save more than $20 would be incredibly helpful. I think a lot of people could identify more with your situation than with the author of this article.

      • sovotchka art

        I agree; I would.love to read that.

      • Thanks! I mean, to be honest, it’s mostly the same content as this article but at the end of the day there wasn’t a super impressive nest egg to show for it. We were frugal, we didn’t go out to eat a lot, I didn’t buy new clothes (which actually kind of sucked because a few years later I needed to buy a lot of new clothes so I looked like a grown up and not a college student so I don’t know how sound of a choice that was; if I had a do-over I would have invested in some basics), if we traveled (which was RARELY during that period), it was somewhere we could drive to and either camped or found a cheap motel.

        This was also about 6 years ago, so I’m a bit hazy on what our actual savings strategy was. I think it was mostly try to get at least 100 in the bank every month and more if it was available. The growth will be smaller and an emergency will set you back farther, but at least it’s better than credit card debt. (We both had credit cards that we paid in full each month so we’d establish credit.)

    • Kate

      I don’t have the option to live with my parents because they moved to the other side of the country. Admittedly, I make $16.50/hour in after tax take home pay (~$13/hour USD) in Toronto (I’m not sure how the cost of living here compares to the US). I aim to save ~$450 minimum a month but if I try hard I can save ~$950/month. Let me know if you’d be at all interested in my budget and I can break it down for you 🙂

  • AI

    Maybe I missed where she says exactly how long it took. She did say that she aimed for 300/month, but getting 50k at that level would take nearly 14 years. But then again she started when she was a teenager? So maybe she just started working around 15 or 16 and upped the amount she was saving later.

    Also, I agree with the other posters who said that living at home is a huge loophole. I lived at home for around a year after college, allowing me to make a huge dent in my student loans and save up enough for a car, but the environment around my family was really toxic and detrimental to my mental health. Now I work two jobs and go to grad school full time. I’m working my way toward getting a little bit of money into savings. It would be amazing to make more money and have more, but there are limits to what I can handle mentally. Maybe that’s not everybody’s situation, but I would love to read an article that touched on that kind of thing. I’m by no means perfect with money and I certainly have my laziness and impulse buying. But some life factors just get in the way.

  • Kayla Sweeney

    I agree with the other commentators here about the living at home aspect. When I read that, tossed in there as if it didn’t mean she was saving hundreds or thousands of dollars a month, it felt insulting as a reader. She wrote it like it was fine print when, let’s be honest, saving all that money in rent far far outweighs money saved from pre-gaming or the occasional babysitting gig.

    To put it into perspective for me—If I was able to take the money I pay just for rent each month and put it in savings instead, I could have $50,000 saved up in 3 years and 2 months.

    • Charlie Hogsett

      While you could consider this tricky , the point is that almost anyone could save if they really wanted to. She wasn’t really all that careful with her money at times.

      I had similar if not greater results at $12 an hour by carefully choosing living arrangements. Roommates, living in crappy places, and using a space heater, and finding someone accepting of my path were all choices I made to save large amounts in my 20s.

      How much you could potentially save at $15 (or any wage) will depend on your area’s cost of living. But making saving a priority in your life will have the most extreme impact.

      http://www.afullyear.com

  • Lava Yuki

    Nice advice and simple to follow. I find the whole world of investing in stocks and bonds etc very complicated l, so I prefer the simple way of just earning more and spending less.

    Living with my parents for me is impossible as I went at 18 to university 3 hours away from where they live, and after that I moved to a different country, so rent has always been a financial concern for me. I do go to the gym often though so I pay for membership as I’m not a fan of workout videos or outside. Food, groceries, clothes and other living expenses are where I really try to cut down on by cooking and buying supermarket branded stuff.

  • Emily

    Uhh, it’s quite easy to save a lot of money when you don’t have to pay rent. Nothing wrong with living at home, but author acts like she saved $50,000 while paying regular expenses. I think many of us could do the same if we didn’t have to pay rent. Click-baity headline and kind of pointless article.

  • Haranguatan

    Not having a home to fall back on gave me the drive to learn job skills and get a real job. I paid off my $50,000 student loans in less than 10 years, and my six figure job lets me avoid having to write clickbait articles about saving money while living with the parents.

    • Summer

      No offense, but this type of mentality is even worse than someone casually dropping the fact that they lived with their parents while saving all this money. Your “just learn enough skills and get a REAL job” mentality implies that everyone who isn’t making six figures simply isn’t bothering to work hard enough.

      I scoff just as loudly as anyone else when someone gushes about how they worked a bunch of jobs and saved up a ton of money only to casually disclose that, oh yeah, I also lived with my parents/ had a huge windfall of cash from wedding money or death in the family or a lucky lottery ticket/ fell in love with a super rich partner who agreed to pay my expenses while I saved/ [insert alternate unlikely scenario here]—but I scoff even louder when someone implies that it’s easy to make a lot of money if you’ll just sack-up and work for it. It’s not as easy as immersing yourself in various learning methods and then strolling into a corporate office to say “good day; one six-figure job, please.”

      • Haranguatan

        I’ll admit to trolling a bit, but it was not simple or easy. I had no meaningful relationships and did not have my own place until I was nearly 30. I was near bankruptcy twice while pursuing career changes.

        I taught myself Excel through the F1 key, as well found a couple of kind bosses who guided my professional education. I lived in five different states while upgrading from position to position. My career is what most would call boring, but I have facility with numbers and logic and it is well suited.

        Saving up money while living with the parents is not a skill. Not being complacent, choosing the harder road, and moving through life as if there is no one to catch you should you fail is the key to success.

        • Court E. Thompson

          I agree with your premise, but you also need to acknowledge the luck you had in getting to where you are. Finding bosses to guide you is not easy and doesn’t happen for a lot of people in their careers. You mention nearing bankruptcy but was that because you chose to change your career or because you were laid off (not through any fault of your own) and had to switch? Did you never have a health emergency that required a huge amount of your savings? There are so many factors that go into success (or just surviving) that come into play. You have made a career through hard work and luck. The luck needs to be acknowledged.

  • Kate

    I wish the author had mentioned the time frame in which they saved 50,000. Also, a goal to save at least 300 per month seems pretty low if you’re living at home.

  • newsqueen

    Wow, I really like TFD but this article really pissed me off. True: there usually is an “exception” or privilege revealed in articles like this 2/3 thru and that’s why this article was so outrageous! It misrepresented itself in the headline and then I scroll down and it’s written by an ANONYMOUS writer? Please do better TFD.

  • Rubi Torres

    Not applicable at all for a single parent with regular expenses such as rent. Boo! Be more realistic.

    • Charlie Hogsett

      I don’t think she claimed to be a single parent? Obviously kids complicate things. If you give making and saving money a priority savings can be accomplished.

      http://www.afullyear.com

  • Lex

    I thought that was pretty obvious from the title alone that she lived at home……get off her guys. That was a no brainer.

  • Shit, at this rate someone’s gonna post a “How I Saved $50,000 In a Year As a Single Mother With Three Kids Paying Off a Payday Loan I Needed For My Rent After Going Broke Because I Got Sick With No Health Insurance” and the comments section is STILL going to be, “Oh yeah, well how lucky that you had clean running water. Where are the tips for self-care on a budget in a war zone? Be more realistic!”
    Give the writer a break. If living at home in adulthood is normal in your culture, you wouldn’t think of this as a loophole in the same way you wouldn’t think of certain privileges you enjoy as loopholes.
    To writer: Good for you for handling your money responsibly and doing something productive with the time you could live at home.
    Awareness and context is important, but not every article has to be perfect for every single person’s situation. There’s already something that provides you with lessons and tips based on your unique life and situation. It’s called your memoirs, and unfortunately, you won’t find that on a blog. (1. A digital media company can’t predict your life and 2. IT’S JUST NOT SCALABLE, but I digress)
    Part of being resourceful is looking for what applies to you in a given article or tool and making use of it — especially when said article or tool is free.

    • Anon

      I don’t think people are slamming her for living at home; it’s for claiming there weren’t any loopholes until 3/4 of the way through and then dropping that she was spared the single biggest expense in most people’s budgets. I also don’t really see people complaining that the article is now useless, just suggesting that no rent is a really freaking big thing to skim over.

    • I praised her for her advice. It’s good advice. But it’s dishonest to use “There’s no loophole” as your lede in an article like this and then 2/3 of the way through the article drop a giant loophole. It’s exciting to see a headline that says “Save $50,000 While Making $15/Hour” with an introduction that PROMISES you there will be no catch when there is a pretty big catch. I was genuinely curious to hear about how she did it but was disappointed that she attempted to frame it as if living at home was not one of the reasons why she was able to save so aggressively.

      I think it’s awesome if you can live at home and save a lot of money, I wish I could have, but that’s not my problem with the article. The problem lies in how the information was presented and that’s a responsibility we assume as writers when we put our opinions and pieces out into the world. If I was the editor receiving this article, I would have asked her to revise the construction of the piece to address this inconsistency before publishing. A simple reorganization that included the fact that she was living at home in the introduction where she discusses loopholes would have sufficed.

  • Yo Siempre

    Very commendable that she saved all that money, yes, she didn’t mention that she’s living at home until the very end, and yes, that is definitely a huge advantage, yet, I know a lot of people living with their parents and saving nothing so, kuddos for being smart in saving her money 😊

  • Charlie Hogsett

    For posts I see like this, there are basically two responses.

    1. You worked hard. Congrats.
    2. You were lucky. Myself or no one else could replicate your success.

    In the end both are true. But the key factor 2. leaves out is the correlation between hard work and luck. Those whom dedicate themselves to something tend to have much more luck than the avg person at some point or another. Life is luck, good and bad. If you don’t try , you never succeed.

    Congrats on learning some valuable habits and money management skills that will continue to benefit you .