Is it ever too late to start saving?

thLast week I participated in a Tweetchat with Liz Weston, J.D. Roth, MP Dunleavey and other personal finance geeks. One of the questions was, “I’m in my 40s and just started saving. What advice would you give beginners to make the most and try to catch up?”

A flood of 140-character advice poured in, but J.D. Roth summed it up best of all: “The best thing when starting to save late in life is to just DO it. Don’t worry about lost time. Just save.”

Easier said than done, to be sure. But necessary nonetheless.

I can testify, having run through my own savings in my 40s while waiting for a divorce to go through. At my lowest point I had $130 in cash and a boatload of lawyer debt on my credit card.

These days I’m debt-free and have rebuilt my savings almost to the point they were when I left my marriage. It was easier for me than for some because I no longer had kids in the home, and because my needs were relatively few.

But this rebuilding was also due to determination. I refused – and still refuse – to let current wants/needs overshadow future wants/needs.


A few strategies

That means saving. I’m funding an individual retirement account but I’m putting money in the bank, too.

One of the pieces of advice I gave in the Tweetchat was, “Stay focused on goal. Celebrate every deposit. Look for ways to trim budget, earn more money.”

Trimming the budget is rarely easy or fun, but every dollar you can coax away is a dollar you can keep. Whether that’s for an emergency fund, debt repayment or investing for retirement is up to you.

Not everyone can get a second actual job, but there are other ways to earn money:

  • Online surveys. Pick your spots, but these really can pay.
  • Swagbucks. You can cash in your points for PayPal or you for gift cards to use instead of cash at stores.
  • Microjobs. Short-term or one-time gigs that can pay surprisingly well.
  • Selling stuff online. I sold a little plastic baseball statue for $1,200. No, I couldn’t believe it either. If you don’t have any heirloom or special-interest items, maybe you can take clothes to a consignment store or put unneeded electronics on Craigslist.
  • Babysitting. No, really. I used to get paid $10 an hour or more, even when the kids were sleeping and I was doing my homework.
  • Odd jobs. Instead of going through a microjobs site, find out people around you need – or don’t want to do – and offer your services.


Getting started

Believe me, I know this is not easy. Being in your 40s with basically no savings is terrifying – and at times paralyzing. But nothing will happen unless you cause it to happen.

Put another way: I’ve talked with people about going back to school in midlife. Some have said something along the lines of, “I couldn’t do that. I’d be 55 before I finished!”

My inevitable reply: “Well, how old will you be if you don’t get a degree?”

It’s the same for saving. You might think there’s no point in trying if you can put aside only a few bucks here and there. I once interviewed a woman who, just out of graduate school in her early 30s, did a meticulous budget and found she could save, at the most, $10 per month.

Temporarily discouraged, she decided to go ahead – and to get creative. Among other things, she recycled cans and bottles, held garage sales, banked her coupon/rebate savings, saved spare change and dollar bills, and sometimes rented her condo or her parking space to weekend travelers.

Within a few years she had not just a six-month EF but also separate funds for vacations, retirement and a down payment on a someday home.

Don’t know where to begin? Use some of her tips. Or check a piece I wrote for Get Rich Slowly, “Stealth savings: Sneaky ways to fatten your account.” Maybe there’s something in there to get you started.

And you must start. Start now. Today. Even if all you do is throw your pocket change into a Miracle Whip jar every night, you’re taking charge. You’re making it happen. You’re taking care of the future you – and believe me, the future you will be glad you cared enough to try.


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  1. ImJuniperNow

    Pet sitting. Best gigs ever. Do a terrific job and through word-of-mouth you’ll never have to advertise.

    Consumer product testing = cash. It’s already been tested on everything else; some of it’s even on the market already. You’re just a human subject.

    Supermarket shoppers. Most markets now offer online shopping, but they still need a person to actually do the shopping in the store. Store Managers are especially attracted to mature women who know how to pick out a ripe melon and a pack of chicken legs.

    Office cleaning. Easier than house cleaning. Get a “key” job where you come and go on your schedule. The last one I had the office manager made me change the toilet paper rolls when they got near 1/4 full. Lots of free toilet paper.

    Realtors. Get up early on Sunday mornings and blow up balloons, put out Open House signs, whatever.

    Tis better to have saved late than to never have saved at all.

    • Donna Freedman

      All great tips. Thanks for sharing them. I used to get $20 from an upstairs neighbor to drop by once a day and pet her cat when she was away for the weekend. I’d just take a book with me and sit on the couch and read, while the cat purred in my lap.
      The toilet paper one made me smile, because DF was a member of the overnight cleaning crew at a department store for a while (only job he could get right out of college during a recession). He was told to remove the paper when it got low because people who ran out of paper would sometimes tear off the cardboard core and use it — which led to clogged toilets. So…free toilet paper!

  2. maria

    Change in the mason jar yields me about $20 a month. Take the change to the credit union, put it through their change counter, added to my small EF.

    The little things add up

    • Donna Freedman

      Precisely. If you can’t earn more right now, the answer is to spend less. That doesn’t necessarily mean going without, either; often it just means being smarter about the money you do have.

  3. Love these kinds of posts. It’s absolutely amazing what cash can be squeezed out…..and the psychological effect of actually having some security in the bank cannot be measured. It’s priceless.

  4. Katherine

    My sweet DH has absolutely no idea just how much money he has put into our EF with his change!! I also keep a piggy bank on the dryer to save the stray dimes and nickels that end up being washed and sometimes dried.

    Our CU has a “save the change” program with a higher interest rate than a regular savings account. It’s easy to roll up from $25.18 to $26.00 and never miss the difference. As Maria stated, little things do add up.

    Stay frugal, my friends!

  5. Donna

    I hide $$ in our checking, by rounding up to whole # and then deducting, also spend paper (money) save change, also saving $5 bills (they add up faster than singles and you don’t miss them as much as you would tens…also growing a sm. veg garden this year, but always looking for ways to dig out of debt and get our daughter some good ideas too.


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