Can’t get ahead? Try a “savings challenge.”

thYears ago I moderated MSN Money’s Smart Spending message board, on which people would post frugal hacks, recipes and other tips to stretch a buck.

The boards went away some years before the Smart Spending blog did; when that happened, some of the most loyal commenters created an alternative universe.

Not MSN Money Proboards” is a place for veterans of Smart Spending and other message boards to stay in touch and keep sharing the wealth. Or, rather, the road to wealth.

One post I checked in on today, “2014 Savings Strategies,” brought up the old custom of “savings challenges.” Those were popular during the worst of the recent recession; you couldn’t swing a virtual cat in the PF blogosphere without running into someone’s post on challenges.

Stuff like:

  • Spare Change Challenge – Every night put all your coins in a jar
  • Dollar Bill Challenge – Like the above, except with paper instead of specie
  • Five-Dollar Bill Challenge – Pretty ambitious, but a little too rich for some bloods
  • Random Number Challenge – Pick a number and every night check the bills in your wallet; if one has a serial number ending in the chosen digit, into the jar it goes

But the Proboards posting also mentioned a couple of new ones.

A reader posting as “Coffeegrl,” who’s apparently living close to the bone, plans a weekly challenge. Every Wednesday she’ll put aside “the amount that correlates with the number of week it is” — $1 the first week, $2 the second week, etc. In other words, $10 to $15 per month.

“Better than nothing,” she notes.


More money moves

Another poster, “Chiver78,” is doing a much more ambitious version called the “Calendar Challenge.” Starting in January you put in $1 the first week, $2 the second week, etc. This adds up to a cool $1,378 in a year’s time.

Or you could start doing this tomorrow and just keep it going for 52 weeks. Your call.

I’ve never stopped putting change in a piggy bank. Every so often I’ll have a visiting nephew wrap it for me. Currently there’s $12 wrapped and at least another $30 waiting to be sleeved.

(Yes, sometimes I count the coins myself. It soothes me. But the younger boy likes counting and wrapping, so I leave the chore for him.)

My partner has done the Dollar Bill Challenge off and on for a couple of years. I don’t know how much he has but I expect it’s time to make a deposit. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a cash cache on hand in case of emergencies, such as a natural disaster or the Girl Scouts swing by with those Thin Mints.

The challenge of a Challenge

Our society’s move toward plastic makes these challenges a little tougher, though. You can’t empty your wallet of ones or change if you haven’t broken any twenties lately. Those of us who work at home and rarely have occasion to spend don’t do quite as well at these, either. (Although personally I consider “not spending” just as good as a savings challenge.)

I must say I’m intrigued by the two calendar-themed challenges, however – so much so that I brought them up to my partner. As I expected, he was also interested.

But for the very reasons noted above we’ll probably do the transfer(s) electronically. Instead of dropping bills in a jar we’ll shunt that monthly $10 to $15 into a sub-account at the credit union or online bank.

The money will probably go toward our “New Washing Machine” account. There’s nothing wrong with the old one yet, but eventually it’ll need replacing. We’re already saving for it by putting $2 in a jar every time we do laundry. Coffeegrl’s challenge will just plump the account up that much faster.

Readers: Have you ever done a Savings Challenge? How did it turn out?

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  1. I do toss change in a jar, whenever the pocketbook gets too heavy. Wrap & roll when jar gets too full.
    The rest of these “challenges” are just too fiddly. My paycheck is electronically deposited to, and my bills electronically paid from, an account at one bank. Every month, just like a bill, a set chunk of money is sent electronically to a different institution. I deliberately kept that account difficult to access. To withdraw money, I must make a physical trip to the bank, present my ID, and request the cash. It’s been working for me for quite a while!

    • Donna Freedman

      I once interviewed a woman who put her “someday” fund in a bank halfway across town and declined an ATM card for the account. As a result, that money’s been pretty safe.
      Whatever works, I say.

  2. Linda G

    Great idea but I almost NEVER have cash…..

  3. Terri M

    I am a strong proponent of having cash on hand. Emergencies happen, power outages, etc. where you may not be able to use credit or ATMs. I save all my change and have been doing the calendar challenge since November 2013. I also save “found” money (pennies in the parking lot/sidewalk). All this adds up over time and if I ever need cash at a moment’s notice, I’ve got it! I also keep some cash hidden in my vehicle just in case I see a yard sale!

    • Lisa O'Brien

      I also pick up “found” money and save it for a rainy day! We just started the calendar challenge for 52 weeks. Looking forward to taking a vacation next winter with it 🙂

      • Donna Freedman

        My found money goes into a vase. At the end of the year I round it up and write a check to the food bank. In other words, being willing to pick up those grimy dimes means I can stretch my giving dollars even further.
        Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • paula

      I agree with having some cash at home for emergencies. For instance, this winter was a bad one. A storm was expected and I was all stocked up on food, toilet paper, water, etc. And the car was full of gas. I was ready.. EXCEPT the amount of snow that fell was insane and I could get out of my house. The first day, after it had been snowing all night and there was at least a foot, a few teenage boys came to the door and wanted to shovel.. awesome! EXCEPT I had no cash. And being new to the neighborhood (only a few weeks in) I didn’t know the boys or anyone. No cash, no one knew me (to lend?) and so I got very snowed in.

      Lesson learned!

  4. I’ve been following your advice to transfer all of the “You have saved XX” amounts from my grocery store receipts into my savings account. I am constantly surprised at how much that adds up to on a monthly basis.

    I’ve been in the habit of transferring all of my raises into my retirement fund (i.e. keeping my paycheck at the same amount, but putting more into the retirement). I may or may not be able to do that this fiscal year, though. It seems like the price of everything is really going up!

    We’ve been so many years without raises, though, so I guess that I should just be grateful to get one at all.

    • Donna Freedman

      Good point about raises. A lot of my friends either aren’t getting them or are getting 1% or 2%.
      It’s smart of you to transfer such increases as you do get into retirement, although as you note it’s harder and harder to do so. (This is when all the frugal hacks come in handy.)
      Thanks for the good example.

  5. Insurance Gal

    Similar to what Donna mentions above, I opened up a savings account last month (I feel so grown up, LOL!) and set up auto transfers of a minute amount, but can add additional funds to it during the month. I already have $300 saved! I also keep a piggy bank at home, which I put found and extra coins into. DH and I also have an EF stash. 🙂

    Seeing the online savings account grow is a larger thrill than I ever hoped, and knowing the other pots of money are there is a comforting feeling.

    • Donna Freedman

      Those auto-transfers are great: You get so accustomed to them that you learn to live on what’s left. For those who are living close to the bone but want to start saving, try a weekly or monthly auto transfer of:
      –One hour’s hourly wage
      –Your birthday, added up (“Aug. 19” = 8 + 19, or $27)
      –The sum of your children’s ages, which means that each year it goes up by a dollar per kid; for young families this works especially well because it reminds you why you’re saving, i.e., to create a more secure future for your family
      –A date that represents some kind of goal; for example, if your kid will go off to college in 2022 you could save $6 per week
      Obviously the goal would be to save a lot more. Until that’s possible, though, little drops of water will continue to add up.

  6. Like Cathy R above, I write down what we’ve saved whenever we go shopping (or out to eat, etc) and at the month it gets split between two savings accounts that Hubby and I use for whatever we want. I also save dollar bills with H’s on them. My dad started it (that’s my Christmas present every year) and now I do it out of habit. I first put them in a cookie jar, but when I get to $50, it goes into my savings account.

    My “found money” goes to the animal shelter where I adopted one of my cats. I figure it was never mine to begin with and the shelter always needs money.

  7. Coffegrl (mentioned in the blog) here! I started 2014 with literally $0.40 in my savings account. Saving a little bit here and there, I now have $487.40 in that savings account! I have also been saving my change. Going to using cash anywhere I can has really helped. I’m hoping to have $100 or so in change by the end of the year to add to savings.

    • Donna Freedman

      Welcome, Susan/Coffeegrl! Thanks for sharing your slow-but-steady example. And have you noticed that once you’re spending mostly cash you’re more likely to think things over, e.g., “Do I really want to break a $20 bill for a soda, or could I just get a drink of water from the fountain — or wait 20 minutes until I get home?” (Or maybe that’s just me.)
      Here’s another idea: If you are a Swagbucks member, cash in for $5 PayPal cards instead of gift cards. And if you’re not a member, hope you’ll join with my referral link:

  8. Every Jan 1st I start saving my change. Then on Dec31 I count it. You would be surprised how much you save. My highest was $157.00 and the lowest was $101.00. That along with mail in rebates and savings each week from the grocery store (I give myself a certain amount to spend each week and then try to find coupons and sales and save the savings)have saved over 2,000 dollars in a few short years. also using a points credit card for everything you buy and pay it off each month nets me some gift cards that I give at Christmas. Every Tuesday evening I walk the neighborhood and check the recycling bins for Coke bottle caps. I use these points for gifts also. You could also pick soda cans out of your neighbors recycling bins.

    • Donna Freedman

      That’s some serious saving. Well done you.
      I pick up My Coke Reward codes as well. Yesterday on a walk to the post office I found two caps and, near a Dumpster, a torn-up box that included the 10-point code. Although I’ve turned them in for gifts (T-shirt, cap) I now focus on getting movie tickets for my daughter and her husband.

      • I use the points to get magazines for the patient area of the hospital library where I work. Our vendor no longer offers regular magazines and my budget is basically nonexistent, so it’s a win win all around.

  9. I use a change jar. I hate sorting the coins, so I use the Coinstar and get Amazon credit so I don’t pay the fee.

  10. When I get home from grocery (or other) shopping, I immediately transfer all my “club card” and coupon “savings” from my chequing account into the savings account. It’s surprising how quickly those savings add up when you actually do save them!

  11. Donna, I’m really glad you equate “not spending” with “saving!” We don’t always make regular savings deposits, but we almost never touch our savings account, either. We’ve decided to start saving 10% of DH’s take home pay, so wish us luck. DD is doing the 52-week challenge, and DS — well, we’ll just have to set a good example!

  12. Hi Donna, I’ve always saved my change. When the kids were younger we would choose a place to use it, such as the State Fair. Now that they are grown and do this for themselves, I have kept doing it and put it towards something special for myself. This year it’s going towards spending money for a trip to Kodiak.

    Late last year I read about the calendar challenge and started it in January and have kept up so far. :o)

  13. I’m doing the 52 week challenge. But I can’t seem to follow the rules. LOL
    I see how much I have leftover and pay that amount. Sometimes, I pay an amount that would come up towards the end of the year. Sometimes, I’m broke and only save a few dollars like it was the beginning of the year. My thinking is that money is always tighter at the end of the year so I want to have that paid off.
    Sigh. Late into last year, I had to spend all of the money that I saved on car repairs. Mind you, I was thankful that I had the extra money but I so could have done without all the repairs.
    I’m hoping that I can use that money for the emergency fund. And I have a plan about how to use the 52 week money to make more money! Chase keeps sending us info on opening an account with $1500 and getting $150 free. That would make it so that I didn’t touch the money because I am too cheap to pay the monthly fees. But I think that I am getting ahead of myself and I need to finish the challenge before I start “investing” it. I count my chickens before they are cooked. ;p

  14. I’ve been doing my challenge for almost six years. As each of my 3 grandchildren were born, I decided to save a dollar a day for them. I have a $93/month auto debit from my checking to an online bank where it is divided into each child’s account. When the accounts got to a certain amount, I opened a brokerage account for each and bought them a safe dividend stock that pays around 5%. Two of the kids will be six this year and one will be four. I figure by the time they are ready for college, they will have quite the little nest egg.

  15. donna

    Hi Donna,
    When I used to work at store, every day I would buy the pennies
    in the give one/take one container. Pennies may not seem like much
    but I would them in a very large water container and I had it nearly
    to the top. I made two car payments out of that jar. Not too shabby. Now that I don’t work I have to ask the stores if I can buy theirs. Usually they let me but sure is a lot slower.
    I don’t use a lot of coupons because most of the store brands are just fine w/ us and if I buy the name brands they are still more expensive even with the coupon.
    Donna, I love your Blog and all those that write to you. I get some really neat ideas from you & them. Thank you & keep it up.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thank you, Donna. (Nice name, by the way.) I, too, enjoy the reader comments because I’m always hearing something new.

  16. I have a collection of little piggy banks and I only save quarters. Once a pig is full, I move to the next one. When they’re completely filled, I will empty and haul into the bank and put into my emergency savings fund. Rest of the change goes into DH’s change bottle to be used for whatever we need it for.


    I save quarters to donate to Birthright. The very BEST charity (?) ever. Actually, a SERVICE to preserve GOD given human life. Thank all of you for great ideas!

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