How I saved $15,000 in one year

In a brief pause from my Japan series, I’d like to detail how I accomplished another goal on my New Year’s Resolution list this year. While I focus heavily on travel detailed posts, there are other topics I am interested in achieving as well!

For some readers, $15,000 might not even sound like a drop in the bucket. But for me, based on my nonprofit salary and the amount of traveling I was doing, $15,000 was very ambitious. If you’d asked me if you thought I was going to succeed in the middle of the year, my answer would have been no. Around June, when I should have been halfway, I was only just over a third.

Before getting into the finances of everything, I need to first talk about how privileged I am. I was able to save so much money because of my fortuitous upbringing and the fact that I currently have no debt (edit: as of 2018, I now have debt lol). This is thanks to a variety of factors.

  • I’ve never had an emergency regarding my well-being and have generally always been quite healthy. I am so fortunate to not have any underlying condition or emergency that racked up medical bills. I realize not everyone is as lucky as I am.
  • I am grateful to have had a mom who nagged me to apply for literally hundreds of scholarships while in high school. At the time, I found having to meet her quota infuriating. But in retrospect, of course, I appreciate her for doing that to me. At the university I chose, I was able to secure enough scholarships and financial aid to cover my tuition. I never had to take out a loan.
  • I’m also incredibly privileged to have been brought up by people who cared for me, rooted me on, and supported me when I was younger.
  • My first credit card I ever reluctantly applied for was not until post-college and by that point I was already very frugal minded. I am thankful I was never successfully coerced into opening one before I was ready, or needed to open one for an emergency.
  • Despite my historically terrible driving record, my trusty vehicle Paul continues to chug along for me and I don’t owe any payments on him. I hope he lives forever.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

I realize not everyone is so lucky as I am, and I am so thankful for the variety of factors that have helped aid me in staying debt free.

If you are in a spot where you feel like you are in a financial pickle or that $15,000 is way out of your reach, my hope with this blog post is that it might still be able to offer some advice on saving money.

How I saved $15,000 in one year (and also just generally save money):

I took on side jobs.

This was key. Without having side jobs, I’d still have been able to squirrel away some money – but not nearly as much. I put all of the money I earned from my side jobs directly into my savings account.

Fortunately, my type-A, younger self was already quite entrepreneurial and I found my passion for photography early on. I built a small photography business at the age of 16 and it has grown ever since. Now, I am fortunate enough to be able to take photos for friends, and friends of friends and make money doing so (Thank you people for hiring me – I appreciate it!).

In addition to this, I also took on an online job as an administrative assistant. When I get off work at my normal job, I spend an hour or so each day responding to emails for a small company.

Lastly, I babysat any chance I can squeeze into my schedule!

These three income additions on top of my normal salary were the main boost needed to reach my $15,000 mark.

P.S. I also try to make money by writing this blog, but haven’t been successful yet because no one reads it 😉 . However, as I mention in each blog post, I do use affiliate links. If you click on them and do your Amazon shopping through the link you followed, I get a tiny bit of money. So if you’re wanting to support a blogger out, click here!

I tried to save $500 from each paycheck.

Sometimes it was more, sometimes it was less – but in general I tried to save $500 from each paycheck and put it into my savings account. I get paid twice a month, which made my monthly savings about $1,000. The idea then was that in 12 months I could save $12,000.

Sometimes life came up and this wasn’t feasible. Aaaand, sometimes I had to dip into this savings to pay for an unexpected bill. It pained me but hey, that’s what it’s there for.

I scaled back on what I purchased with my “disposable income”.

Math has never been my best subject (I was much better at English in school – clearly haha), so I’ve always ignored the financial calculations that tell me how much I should or shouldn’t be spending.

Because I am already so frugal-natured, this was never an issue for me. I have always budgeted groceries, social outings, and am borderline obsessive about saving while traveling.

However… I do have some weaknesses. Mainly kombucha, eating at restaurants, and coupons.

“Look, just because you have a coupon to Threadless doesn’t mean you need to buy $50 worth of graphic tees, Jenn. You’re not even going to be able to wear them to work.”

It’s been a struggle that I’ve not completely mastered, and my gut has seen the ebs and flows of my kombucha intake. But steps I have taken to cut back on these downfalls are:

  • I have stopped purchasing clothes that I cannot wear to work and are not of solid, long-lasting quality.
  • I have begun to ignore coupons for items I do not need, unless they apply to items I can keep in bulk (like cat food).
  • I have stopped drinking one purchased kombucha a day because I am fully aware that it is ridiculous. One day I will be brave enough to try and make it on my own. Today is not that day…
  • I have (tried) to cut back on eating at restaurants. This is definitely the worst of the offenses I continue to make. But from learning how to make home-made sushi and finding comparable corn salsa to my favorite restaurant at Trader Joe’s, I’m trying.

I sold & swapped stuff.

In both an effort to further minimize the things in my life and also satiate my need to snoop on Craigslist, I sold stuff.

Accumulating stuff stresses me out, and as such I love to purge household items whenever I can muster up the time and energy. Before dumping it at Savers, though, I try and find the items I am ridding of a good home. Unless it is trash, then I throw it in the trash (don’t give your trash/broken-beyond-repair items/old underwear to Goodwill or other social service agencies, IT’S RUDE).

Some options in selling, all of which I have used:

  • Craigslist.
  • Ebay (I just sold an old hot chocolate machine that I was gifted as a child for $31.00!).
  • OfferUp.
  • Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook.
  • Avalon Exchange (for clothes).
  • Garage sales.
  • And, I am also lucky to have a friend who enjoys throwing clothing swap parties. I almost always leave her house with something cool (last time it was a globe lampshade and some iron-on patches) and my box of donatable clothes is usually significantly lighter.

Then, if all else fails – donate it.

I live(d) with a roommate.

Does my boyfriend count as a roommate? I think/hope he does, because the main reason we moved in together (besides liking one another) was to save a butt ton of money. Splitting rent and utilities down the middle made a large difference.

We also are fortunate to live in a city where rent is super cheap, and our rent in particular is very reasonable.

I shopped where it’s cheap and ALWAYS HAD A LIST.

I try to abide by two rules when grocery shopping:

  1. Never shop when hungry.
  2. Always have a list.

If you tell yourself how much you want to spend before you set forth into the store, and you have a list with a general idea of how much each item will cost, you will save significantly.

Additionally, I am a big Costco and Trader Joe’s advocate. I think that there is a misconception that TJ is more expensive than the average grocery store, but I beg to differ. While I know some items are more expensive than other grocery stores, like meat, that doesn’t really affect me. TJ is also a terrible (probably more like impossible) place to buy items in large quantities or bulk, so I understand how it might not be the best place to shop if you are supporting a large family.

My personal preference, however, is to buy my bulk groceries at Costco to save (such as olive oil, beans, frozen veggies, coconut milk, toilet paper, etc.) but buy fresh produce, alcohol, etc. from TJ.

I cancelled subscriptions and memberships.

One of the biggest sucks of my income were exercise classes.

As much as it saddened me to cancel these classes and begin exercising at home, it had to be done. While it fluctuated, I was spending about $100 to sometimes $300 a month on my choice of niche work-outs.

While this saved me a significant amount, I also cancelled most of the subscription services I utilized, aside from streaming services, like Netflix, which I share with David.

I didn’t stop investing in my Roth IRA.

The max amount that one can contribute to your Roth (if under 50) is $5,500 annually. It has always been a dream of mine to hit that point, but alas this year was not the year.

However, I still contributed significantly and just below the suggested amount of how much I should invest based upon my salary. I believe that it is crucial to never sacrifice your retirement funds, no matter what you are saving up for (unless it is a dire emergency).

While the amount I put in fluctuated all year based upon the bills I accumulated (thanks cavities), I never stopped investing. 

In Conclusion:

While it was certainly a challenge, saving $15,000 was a New Year’s Resolution I succeeded at this year. And I am happy I accomplished it, because I am hoping to invest it in something even bigger next year

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave me a comment below!

One Comment

  • knurly

    Admirable goal for sure! I’m trying to save just 800 dollars and that’s a struggle and a half – so it’s amazing you saved 15! If you could do that for two years I mean hey, that’s 30 grand you’ve got just waiting.


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