All About Budgets

How I Easily Doubled My 20% Savings Rate

savings rate

5 Areas Of My Budget Were Shockingly Expensive

By: Des from Half Banked

One of the fastest – and safest – ways to reach your financial goals is to increase your savings rate.

I say that as a millennial who isn’t making the “big bucks”, so this is a widely applicable concept. Increasing your savings rate isn’t just for people looking to retire early!

Related post: A Beginners Guide To Early Retirement

Let’s say you’re saving $100 a month, and your goal is to build a $5000 emergency fund.

At $100 a month, it will take you just over 4 years to hit your goal, assuming you’re saving your emergency fund in a high-interest savings account that pays 1% interest, compounded monthly.

If you were to double that savings rate, and put $200 towards your emergency fund every month, you’d reach your goal in just over two years.

You’ve just slashed the time it will take you to reach your savings goal in half, just by increasing your savings rate.

You didn’t need to rely on any high-risk investments, and your emergency fund is good to go a lot sooner.

Why Did I Increase My Savings Rate?

As a millennial, I’m no stranger to feeling like I’m playing catch-up, financially speaking. As Bridget from Money After Graduation so eloquently put it, “your 20s might be the most expensive decade of your entire life”.

Not only are you going through school, but there are a ton of other expenses that come up in the course of the decade.

For me, that includes building a somewhat-respectable emergency fund, saving for a down payment on a house, starting my retirement savings, getting a pet, and funding my education.

Oh, and saving for a vacation now and then.

Since I don’t believe in carrying credit card debt, I’ve always been a big believer in saving up for things before I buy them.

However, with more and more things coming up on my To-Buy List, I realized my current savings rate of about 20% of my take-home pay wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go anytime soon, especially with 10% of it rightly earmarked for retirement.

So I set out to increase my savings rate.

As I mentioned earlier, it was the safest and fastest way for me to reach my financial goals.

Many of my goals include;

  • Buying a house in the next few years
  • Funding an emergency savings account
  • Creating separate emergency savings account for my dog. (It turns out what they say about pets being expensive is true.)

How Did I Double My Savings Rate?

Although a 20% savings rate is nothing to sneeze at, I knew that to have a hope of achieving some of my goals in my desired timeline, I’d need to get serious about saving – really serious.

I created an Excel spreadsheet where I wrote down all of my regular monthly expenses, including things like rent, food, coffee, car insurance, gas and the like.

If you’re looking for a template to get you started, Canadian Budget Binder has a great – free budget you can download today.

Once everything was in the spreadsheet, I started to play around with the numbers.

What if I could find savings in some of my current spending categories?

That question led me to cut these six items, one by one, from my monthly spending.

As I cut each one, I redirected the money I was saving into specific accounts I set up for each of my savings goals, which gave my savings rate a big boost.

#1. Takeout pizza

pizza delivery

  • Total Savings: $120 a month

I’m the one in charge of the grocery shopping and meal planning in our house, and for a surprisingly long time, I didn’t pick up on the fact that I always, without fail, forgot to plan a meal for Friday night.

The rest of the week was fine, but when Friday rolled around, I would realize we were out of food and had nothing for dinner.

Since Friday is the end of the week, and usually a quiet night in for us, it was the perfect situation to order a pizza from our local pizza shop.

That was all well and good once in a while, but when I went to look at our grocery spending, I saw that – gulp – we were spending about $30 a week on that one takeout pizza.

That’s $120 a month, or about ¼ of our planned monthly grocery spending!

When I got serious about my savings rate, I knew the pizza habit had to go.

Instead, now I keep a backup supply of pizzas from Costco in the freezer, and if I drop the ball on Friday night dinners, we’ve got a cheaper alternative to ordering in ready and waiting.

#2. Outdated recurring expenses

  • Total Savings: $96.26 a month

If I asked you to name every recurring payment that comes out of your bank account or your credit card every month, could you?

How sure would you be about the totals?

If I had tried to answer those questions, I wouldn’t have been able to.

Sure, I thought I knew roughly where my money was going, but that’s the sneaky thing about recurring monthly payments.

You sign up once, but it’s so easy to forget them when they’re not front and centre.

All of a sudden, there are multiple charges lumped in with your monthly credit card bill, and you haven’t even noticed.

To help with my savings rate goals, I reviewed my recurring monthly payments.

Sure enough, I found three services I wasn’t using anymore, and one service I could downsize by combining it with my boyfriend’s for a “family plan.”

In total, this exercise saved me $96.26 a month, all for about half an hour’s worth of work reviewing my monthly account statements.

#3. Wearing different outfits every day

Shopping

  • Total Savings: $135 a month (on average)

Minimalism is getting more and more well-deserved attention for the impact it can have on your life and your finances these days.

One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from minimalism is the concept of streamlining your wardrobe.

Some people go for a capsule wardrobe concept, but I took it a step further.

Just like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg and other high-profile people, I decided to wear the same thing to work every day.

Even with the initial “start-up costs” involved in choosing a work uniform, including buying multiples of the same shirt and pair of pants, this decision has saved me tons of money.

Previously, what to wear to work was my biggest clothing expense by far.

I really don’t care much about what I wear in my downtime, but at work, I need to look professional.

That’s what’s made me average $135 a month over the past two years on clothing: buying work clothes and keeping up appearances at the office.

Now, with my work uniform streamlining that process, I haven’t spent $1 on clothing since May 2015 – when I first decided to go for it and wear the same thing every day.

That $135 per month on clothing that I used to spend is going straight back into savings for goals that really matter to me.

#4. Expensive pet food

expensive pet food

  • Total Savings: $50 per month

It turns out, everyone who has ever said “You’ll save money if you do your research,” in relation to making a purchase was absolutely 100% correct.

That said, did I do any research before choosing the type of food we were going to feed our dog after we got him?

Um. Whoops. I did not.

After a bit of much-needed budget examination, I realized we were spending over $80 a month on premium dog food.

Instead of doing my research, I simply used price as a stand-in for quality and called it a day.

Luckily, when I looked up online, independent reviews of dog food, it was a good quality food – five stars, in fact.

But since I was already researching, I decided to look into whether I could find a comparably great dog food that would save me some money.

I found a four-star review for Kirkland’s Signature dog food and after a quick trip to Costco, I realized that a $35.99 bag of dog food would last my 75-pound labrador retriever mix almost two months.

Even if I was just looking at the month-to-month comparison, switching from the fancy-pants five-star brand of dog food to the perfectly good Costco brand is saving me over $50 a month.

#5. Buying books

book store sign

  • Total Savings: $42 a month (on average)

Buying books has always been near and dear to my heart.

I’m a dedicated bookworm, and cutting my book budget wasn’t something I ever really considered, even right out of university when my salary really wasn’t conducive to spending $50 or more every month on books.

It wasn’t until I got serious about improving my savings rate that I took a hard look at my book spending.

When I did, I had a long-overdue realization: buying books and loving reading are not the same things.

As soon as I figured that out, I went straight down to my local library and signed up for my first adult library card.

Since then, I’ve spent a grand total of $0 on books, down from an average of $42 every month over the past two years.

Even without spending any money, I’ve managed to tear through great books on topics ranging from business to personal finance, to fiction and more.

All free, and all in support of reaching goals that don’t include adding to my permanent book collection.

The Impact On My Savings Rate

These six items total an average savings of $443.26 a month, which accounts for more than half of the increase in my savings rate alone.

The one thing they all have in common is that with each and every cut I made to my spending, I was more and more focused on finding other areas to reevaluate my spending patterns.

Once I got into the habit of it, cutting back on spending became second nature.

These five key items, as much as they saved me by themselves, also turned saving money into a habit.

I’ve been able to use that habit to optimize my spending in almost every category, which is how I got from saving 20% of my take-home income every month, all the way to my current savings rate of over 40%.

My work isn’t done, however. Based on my calculations and my timelines for meeting my goals, I’ve got a bit more work to do to reach a solid 50% savings rate.

I’ll be taking a ruthless look at each and every spending category, and tracking all of my expenses as I go.

That’s the real key: beyond any single line item you could cut from your budget if you’re really serious about doubling your savings rate, it comes down to a mindset.

You’ve got to pay attention to the details, and frame every financial decision in terms of which goals are most important to you.

The savings rate gains will follow.

Post Contribution: Des is a millennial on a mission: save half of her income.

It turns out, it’s easier said than done, which is why she’s blogging about it every step of the way at Half Banked.

From frugal event attendance to optimizing her spending and more, she’s figuring it out along the other must-do personal finance steps in her 20’s.

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11 Comments

  1. I couldn’t wear the same thing everyday. It’s not really that practical and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg always looked like slobs to me. I’m all for minimalism and pragmatism but not wearing the exact same clothes everyday!

  2. Hey, Des. Great examples of how to cut expenses without sacrificing one’s quality of life. (Yes, a life without take-out pizza is still worth living!) But what about cable television? Getting rid of that can save another $50-$100 a month.

    1. Hey Mr. Groovy – thank you!

      I’m actually in a stereotypical millennial situation, in that I’ve never had cable! I rely on a combo of my Netflix subscription (which budget cuts will need to pry out of my cold, dead hands) and catching up on new episodes of shows on their respective websites. For example, here in Canada, Global TV and CTV both air most of the shows I want to see, and they post full new episodes on the web the next day!

      If it’ll keep money out of my telecom providers hands, I’m happy to wait that extra day, haha. I already pay them way too much for my cell phone service!

      PS. My best no-takeout-pizza hack: add some oregano and garlic powder to mayonnaise and it makes a STELLAR garlic dipping sauce for at home pizzas!

  3. Nicely done! I’m inspired to scrutinize my own spending for similar opportunities to waste less, save more. I think we should all do this exercise at least once a year–financial spring cleaning!

    1. Oh I love that! “Financial spring cleaning”. Kurt, I think you just inspired a few springtime posts, thank you!

      And I’m so touched that this was inspiring – let me know how it goes for you, I’d love to hear the results!

  4. Good for you! I’m a big fan of everything on the list, especially the library. My library card is saving me over $1,000 per year (no joke). Monthly recurring fees are a killer, aren’t they? It feels like death by a thousand cuts. I avoid them like the plague, except for utilities (we can never get away without those, unless we’re really hard core). The more say we have on our net take home pay the easier it is to pay ourselves first and pay ourselves more. It also makes it easier to deal with the unexpected.

    Congrats on doubling your savings rate! 40-50% is where we are now (more dependent on income fluctuations than spending fluctuations) and it’s definitely sustainable.

    1. That’s awesome – and thank you! Congrats right back at you for maintaining such a killer savings rate, you’re clearly well on top of your finances 🙂

      Honestly, if I had unlimited funds, I would have noooo problem spending multiple thousands of dollars a year on books, haha. They’re my one true weakness, which is why the buy-no-books rule worked so well. I do well with absolutes, so “no books” works much better than “some books.” That said, I keep a running wishlist of books for Christmas 🙂

  5. The meal planning is a big one. I don’t think many people realize how hard it is hitting the pocket book. Just by taking ten minutes before grocery shopping for the week to plan out your meals can save you tons of money. Our friends often comment on how we don’t have anything in our fridge or our pantry, but I really don’t see a problem with buying only what you’ll eat.

    Buying books is another one. I still like to have a hard copy of the books I read sometimes, but I am getting more and more into audio books from the library. If you have a decent library system, it could save you a lot of money, as well.

    -DP

    1. Oh man, I LOVE having a mostly empty fridge on Sundays before I go to stock up for the week! Meal planning is the absolute best. Your friends don’t know what they’re missing!

      As for books, I keep a running list now of the books I really want to add to my collection, and I use that list as my Christmas / birthday / other occasion wishlist. Even as I try to declutter, my physical book collection and I are never parting ways, haha. I’ll even do this for some books that I’ve read at the library, loved, and want to have around to re-read or lend out to friends! Ironically, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up was one such book.

  6. Everyone has their own personal money leaks where money just seems to slip away on things that don’t add value to their lives. for me, it’s eating out and beer/wine. Lewis and I are always on the lookout for great food and wine but those things are huge luxuries. I set them aside and indulge less frequently so that we can meet our financial goals. Being rid of $205,000 in debt is our priority right now.

    1. It’s amazing what we can find out about our own money situations once we start to track spending. That is what we did and what helped us to kill our debt and mortgage so fast. Do you budget? You will kill your debt in no time if you have the right motivation to do so. 🙂

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