The Silliest Savings Strategy I’ve Ever Tried

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.

Want help with your savings goals?

“How much should I save?” It’s an important question, and one I get asked a lot, but the answer is “it depends.”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer because we all have different incomes, goals and priorities.

Get help with my “Set Better Savings Goal” worksheet. It’s a 9-page worksheet will help you determine your personalized answer instead of having to use a rule of thumb. (Coloring sheet goals tracker included.)

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