3 Unconventional Ways to Super-Charge Your Savings


Saving money isn't difficult. If you've been slow in making progress, you need these 3 tips to super-charge your savings so you can get ahead quicker.

Finish the following sentence:Three Easy Ways to Save Money

“My dream is _____.”

Maybe you want to buy a house, or backpack Europe, or retire early.

No matter what you want, having a Big Ol’ Heap of Savings makes each these goals a million times easier.

“Gee, thanks Captain Obvious,” you’re probably thinking. “Easier said than done.”

Do you think saving money is hard? You might be listening to the wrong advice.

If you’re trying to nickel-and-dime your way into savings, then sure, you’ve got a grueling slog ahead.

Imagine all the mental bandwidth that it takes to stack 50-cent orange juice coupons on top of 75-cent manufacturer coupons, tracking the expiration dates and appropriate stores for each item on your grocery list.

“Okay, we’ll get bread and milk from Store X, but yogurt and meat from Store Y. We have to go to Store X sometime between Sunday through Wednesday, and we can hit Store Y anytime between Tuesday and Friday.”

“Oh yeah, and let’s stand in the snow at 3 a.m. on Black Friday to save $80 off a plasma TV.”

That’s as appealing as running a marathon in flip-flops.

If this is “saving money,” count me out.

Fortunately, there’s a better choice.

What happens when you toss out conventional wisdom and focus on the actions that pack the most powerful punch?

Let’s explore.

Quit Trying to Budget

What’s the single most overplayed nugget of financial advice?

“Make a budget.”

You should also floss, wear sunscreen daily, and drive exactly the speed limit. And avoid that extra slice of cheesecake at the holiday party.

Yeah, right. (She says with a mouthful of cheesecake.)

We all know what we should do. Lack of knowledge isn’t our problem.

But that doesn’t mean we’re going to act on this great advice. Humans are busy/lazy, and when we’re presented with two options, we’re prone to taking the easy route.

Some people suggest that willpower – “just do it!” – is the most effective solution. “Force yourself to budget! Don’t eat cookies! ”

But decades of data show that willpower sucks at changing our lives.

If you want to moralize, you can admonish people for lack of willpower.

But if you want actual results, you should work with human nature, rather than fight against it.

In other words, embrace your inner sloth. 

Please click "Display Images" to see this photo.

Your inner sloth is going to have a tough time typing with those claws …

So – back to budgeting.

If you’re already in the habit of sticking to a written budget, awesome.

If you’re struggling to maintain a budget, though, here’s an easier path: Just shave your savings off the top. Spend the rest.

I call this the 80/20 Budget, since I recommend that people save at least 20 percent of their take-home pay. That’s enough to protect you against succumbing to credit card debt the next time your car’s engine explodes.

If you want ditch-the-cubicle, become-a-millionaire, party-in-France money, morph this into the 50/50 Budget. Shoot for a 50 percent or greater savings rate.

Don’t bother tracking every cent. Just trim your savings off the top. Stick it in your Escape Fund. Go wild with the rest.

Left Jab: Earn More

I can hear your objections already.

“But I only make $40,000 a year!” you might be thinking. “There’s no way that I could save 50 percent of my income on that type of salary!”

I agree. You should earn more.

Pick up extra “gigs” during the evenings and weekends: freelancing, consulting, babysitting, home renovating, tutoring, lawn-mowing, snow-shoveling, dog-walking, pizza delivery.

Earning extra money, and saving every dime of that excess income, is the single fastest and best way to super-charge your savings rate.

Why? In one word: Habit.

It’s hard to break habits. And you’ve adjusted to your current standard of living.

But you’re not used to earning extra money. It’s easy to pour every dime of this into savings. You’ll never miss it, because you’ve never experienced having it in the first place.

How massive of a punch can this make?

Let’s assume that during your 9-to-5 job, you earn:

Take-Home Income: $35,000/year

Savings Rate: 20 Percent

Total Savings: $7,000 per year

Next, let’s imagine that you pick up gigs as a web designer or babysitter or French tutor.

You earn $20/hr and work an extra 20 hours per week: from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday-Friday, plus 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Gig Money:

Gross Income = $20,800

Taxes (28 Percent) = $5,824

Extra Net Income = $14,976

You save every dime.

Total Savings: $21,976

Boom. You’ve more than tripled your savings. That’s the epic power of earning more.

Right Punch: Find Earth-Shattering Savings

Wait, can you take this a step further?

Let’s see if you can cut back on your biggest-ticket expenses.

Take the cost of your housing, for example. Can you stick a roommate in there?

“No way! I hate living with roommates. They leave dirty dishes in the sink. And they never vacuum. And besides, I need a guest room for when Aunt Millie comes to visit, which happens twice a year.”

Riiight. Okay, let me rephrase this:

Do you $500 per month hate living with roommates? [Insert cost-of-renting-a-room-in-your-home into that sentence.]

Do you $6,000 per year hate living with roommates? [If you’re buried in credit card debt, multiply $6,000 by the interest rate on your loan. At 14 percent APR, you’re paying $6,840 per year for that vacant guest room.]

Sounds different now, doesn’t it?

Let’s try again: Can you and your spouse consolidate into a one-car household? Can you carpool to work?

“No way! What about the weekends? I want to be able to go out with my friends while he’s at the gym.”

Okay, let me rephrase: Do you $300 per month want that flexibility? Would you be willing to get paid $3,600 per year to coordinate your schedules?

Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with keeping a vacant guest bedroom or maintaining multiple cars – if you’re willing to pay the price.

The pricetag may be higher than you expect.

Willing to fork over those funds? Great. But if you’re trying to save a Big Ol’ Heap of Cash, remember: You must ruthlessly slash everything that doesn’t matter. Especially the big-ticket stuff.

Let’s imagine that you get a roommate. You also make some small-scale changes: you grow some veggies in your backyard, replace your halogen lightbulbs with LEDs, negotiate your insurance rates, and wear the same few outfits again and again.

How strong of a punch does this pack?

Extra savings:

Roommate: $500/mo

Veggies: $30/mo

Energy: $30/mo

Insurance: $30/mo

Clothes: $20/mo

Total Savings: $610/mo, which is $7,320/year

The vast majority of that — $6,000 per year out of that $7,320 – came from the big-ticket item.

Add this to your $21,976 savings rate, made possible by extra income.

Your New Total Savings: $36,784

You’re saving more money than your base take-home salary, thanks to the one-two punch of earning more and cutting back on the big-ticket items.

With those type of turbo-charged savings, you can escape the cubicle / buy a house / backpack Europe sooner than you might expect.

Thanks to Flickr / Carol Schaffer for today’s photo of a sloth.


  1. says

    Love this post, Paula! We are currently saving about 38% of our income and I’m working hard at bringing in side income so we can boost our savings even more. Hopefully we’ll both be free of our soul-crushing desk jobs in just a few years!

    • says

      That’s awesome, Kali!! A 38% savings rate is going to help you escape your soul-crushing desk job in the blink of an eye. (And when you finally quit that job, everyone will say, “How can you afford it?”) :-)

  2. says

    Hi Paula, thanks for your influential post. I’ve been tackling the idea of a roommate too. Is it worth the risk/reward? It seems having a roommate is ONE YEAR closer to my goal (as per all my calculations).

    My dad was a hippie yet now he is eager to work till oblivion. I’m the counter cultural person he can’t understand lol. Oh well. You can’t buy youth.

    Also for people looking for online work you can write articles for textbrooker.com for like $7-10 an article. You will be helping others make money but it also is a way to earn some extra income. Hope the best and thanks for your awesome posts Paula. I’m a fan :)

    • says

      Thanks Drew!! Honestly, if you’re the type of person who could deal with having a roommate or two, I highly highly recommend getting one. I share my home with two roommates, who each pay $850 per month. That’s an extra $1,700 per month, every month, that goes towards paying down my mortgage. Thanks (in part) to their rent money, I’m on-track to have the house paid in full within 3 years — by the time I’m 33.

      So yes, I definitely recommend the roommate route. :-)

      • says

        Hi Paula,
        I’ll probably get a roommate soon. While I like my privacy having a roommate could help me get closer to my goals quicker. I’m introverted and will probably feel like I’m “the host” but having a roommate is much easier than writing $3 articles :) That can’t be too enjoyable.

        • says

          @Drew — That’s a great idea. Every time I think, “Hmm, I might be tired of having roommates,” I ask myself: Would I rather have an extra $1,700 per month? Would I be willing to pay $1,700 per month for the extra privacy? Since my answer is no, then I stick with having roommates. :-)

  3. says

    What a great piece! I’ve read this advice before but you have some specifics that really hit home. I like the “Do you $300/month, $3,600/year want that extra car?”

    Speaking of cars, commuters can save big by moving closer to work and walking, biking, or taking the bus. Less $ spent on gas, less maintenance costs and depreciation of cars. They can ditch the car altogether to save even more — bye bye insurance, registration, parking.

    I started budgeting earlier this year using ynab and I’ve never had my finances running smoother, but I am just beginning to improve my finances consciously. In my experience, budgeting helps a lot. At least when starting. Now when I read blogs related to finance I feel like I’ve come this far budgeting and I can take it further as suggested in what I read.

    • says

      Thanks, LL!! I totally advocate budgeting for people who can stick with it — and it sounds like you can. That’s awesome!!

      Yes, housing and cars are two of the biggest expenses that people face. I save a ton of money by working from home, and back when I had an office job, I lived in walking distance of work. I had a $400 car, (negotiated down from its asking price of $450), which I rarely used.

      I personally do a bit of a “reverse budget,” in which I review the previous months’ spending and — if there are any glaring spots in which I’m spending too much — I stay conscious of that. I don’t set limits for the month ahead, I just review the prior month and get a feel for whether or not I’m happy about how much I’m spending.

  4. says

    Like others have said, fantastic post. This one got to me, as it reframes the typical decisions we justify in terms of their opportunity costs. It’s rare that people see hypothetical income/savings (from renting a room, ditching a car, or even a side job) as clearly as the hypothetical pain they imagine will be associated with it.

    Of course, I am biased since we rent out a room in our house and only have one car. (But two scooters!)

  5. says

    Awesome post. It really is the combination of saving and making more that can supercharge your finances. I got lucky last month I got rid of my gym membership and will work out at home, found new car insurance (for MUCH less than what I was paying dunno why it took me so long to switch) and was able to negotiate working 1 extra day per month. This combo of savings/earning more will bring in a little over $600/month from now on! Like you said this is money I didn’t need before so it’s going straight to my student loans/emergency fund.

    It’s really fun finding more ways to save and earn more. My cable and cell phone contract is up soon so I’m currently looking at ways to save on those. And who knows while I’m having all this fun, I might be able to retire earlier than planned!

    Thanks again for the post.

    • says

      @Syed – That’s great! An extra $600/mo, or $7,200 per year, can REALLY move the needle in some major ways. That’s enough to max out your Roth IRA plus still have an extra $1,700 leftover, or to accelerate paying off your debt ultra-fast, or to pursue whatever other goal you want.

  6. says

    Great post. My wife and I have been using the 80/20 budget technique for many years, and it works wonders. Indeed, the 80/20 rule works in many aspects of life.

    After deciding how much we want to save and invest (based on expected gross income for the year), we live off the balance. We’ve increased our level of saving and investing over the years as our income has increased, and next year we anticipate saving and investing about 35% of our gross. I expect to retire early from full-time wok in about four years.


  7. says

    Hi Paula,
    Great post! I wrote a post about it and linked back to you. Check it out…


    I totally agree with you about getting a roommate. I had roommates for years. When I first bought my house,after I got it in livable condition, I had a couple of roommates. With the additional money I got from them, I was able to pay off my house in only 7.5 yrs. That allowed me to later start buying other houses to rent out for extra income.
    I don’t have any roommates now. If I could find one I could trust to leave alone here for months at a time while I was at sea, I would definitely get one! Too bad I don’t know how to go about finding one like that when I’m not home long enough to get to know them.

    Hey, I really loved the sloth!!

  8. says

    Awesome post. I was reading a similar post at MMM’s blog. He discussed insurance. I figured I had really shaved my insurance to the least I was comfortable with…fast forward about one hour. I had saved $50/month (about 35%) off home owners and car insurance. Now, I have that amount directly invested (saved) each month through Sharebuilder in dividend stocks.

    It’s amazingly easy to have the ‘savings’ directly invested immediately when I receive the paycheck, so I don’t really feel the ‘missing’ savings.

  9. says

    I agree with you that budgeting really isn’t the best way to go. The major changes come about when you’re able to change your mentality to find happiness from free things vs. stuff you have to pay for.

  10. says

    I love this post!!! This is what we’re doing right now. We don’t really have a budget but 15% of my husband’s income is automatically taken out for his 401K. We live off his one paycheck and his 2nd paycheck we deposit to our savings. In essence, we are saving 65% of his income.

    I bring in income from my home based business which we use to supplement that one paycheck we live off on. Things get a little tight on months when there’s car insurance, life insurance, car maintenance, etc. and we have to be really careful with our spending to avoid dipping into our savings. But, it will be sooo worth it 10-15 yrs from now when we’re free to do whatever we want to do!

  11. says

    I totally agree. I don’t have the patience for coupons or budgets. There’s no point wasting time on teeny tiny savings when you can eliminate a lot of expenses by focusing on the big-ticket items instead.

    Last month, I wrote a post about focusing on the 3 biggest household expenses when saving. These are housing, transport and food. There’s no hope in hell that I’d have enough discipline to save on food. (She says while dialing a sushi restaurant to make a reservation.) But housing and transport, I can do.

    I get around with public transport and I rent a room, so I guess I’m the “roommate”. People think it’s weird if you live in a share-house after you graduate college. But seriously, if you don’t upgrade your lifestyle after college, there’s tons of savings to be made! And since you’ve never upgraded, it’s not like there’s anything to miss anyway.

    • says

      Deia, you sound just like me!! I’ve kept my housing and transportation costs ultra-low. I’m 30 and Will is 34, and we both still live with roommates. I drove a 15-year-old car until a few months ago, when I “upgraded” to a 5-year-old Honda Civic. And I rarely drive, because I live in a pedestrian-friendly area where I can walk almost anywhere I need to go.

      I love great food, and I won’t hesitate to spend money on an exquisite sushi restaurant. (I also won’t hesitate to fly to Paris or Aruba on a whim.) But I’ve made space in my budget for these indulgences by choosing to live with roommates and have almost-zero transportation costs. That’s a trade-off I’d happily accept.

      It’s all about ruthlessly slashing the costs that don’t matter, so you can spend lavishly on the things you love most. :-)

  12. says

    I’m a big fan of the zero-sum budgets (I think thats what they’re called). We utilize automatic savings into our money market accounts and Roth IRAs, and then we know exactly what is in our checking account is what we have to live off of (of course with a cushion for emergencies). Earning more and spending less is definitely a righteous way to live below your means!

  13. says

    Great advice to actually save some big dollars. Side gigs are great and probably will provide the biggest bang for misc. skills. How’s your veggie garden going? Looking forward to affording a garden, when I get a home.

  14. says

    Great post!! I am not into budgeting either but I know how to save money. I think if one wants something bad enough, they will do anything to achieve it. Always follow your dreams. It may require some short term sacrifices but the long term gains always win.

  15. says

    Hi Paula,

    I love your blog. This is a great post, but one thing bugged me. I like that you’re encouraging people to save more money, but balance in life is super important. I take freelance jobs to earn extra money, but I am careful not to let it take over my life. You’re advising people to work seven days a week. And while, yes, you can maximize savings, when do you have time to live?

    That’s a dangerous pace and not one I would advise to keep up indefinitely. It’s great if you’re working toward a goal and have a finish line, but I caution people about overworking. It leads to burnout. Slow & steady wins the race!

    • says

      @Dee — Great point. My advice to work 7 days a week is a temporary measure. If there’s a short-term goal that you really want to hit (e.g. being debt-free or traveling the globe), you’ll need to work extra-hard for a short period of time to achieve it. Here’s my favorite analogy: It’s like running sprints. You can’t sustain a sprinting pace forever. But you can “interval train” — alternating sprints with walks or slow jogs.

  16. says

    Definitely loved the post the most … for me its really really important to change mine shopping habits as I am extravagant while doing shopping… but now I have come across to know about the usage of on-line shopping coupons and these are saving a lot for me specially for my clothing shopping… retailmenot rocks..

  17. says

    I really enjoyed this post. I use coupons and internet savings to help when I need to purchase items. Samples are an excellent way of seeing if an item is going to work for you.

    Saving’s has always helped us when in a tight pinch. An life loves to pinch.

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