How to Save Money: Even Your Milk Money Counts

Do you find yourself saying that you don’t have enough money? Is it hard to find the pennies necessary to pay the bills? Saving money can be difficult at times for a lot of reasons. Whether it is because you are stuck in contract to lease a car or can’t stop yourself from buying the latest, greatest item, it can be hard to save money. The simple fact is that it is hard to postpone gratification when you get a “high” right now.

It isn’t always the consumerism or the impulse purchases that keeps people from saving money. In fact, it was just recently that a reader commented that it’s hard to save money when they barely make enough money to pay the bills. Do you have to make a ton of money to be able to save any significant amount? While it may be easier to save money when you have more of it, having a low salary does not discount you from saving money. The important principle in understanding how to save money is that every little bit helps… even your milk money.

How to Save Money


How I Learned to Save Money

When I think back to my childhood, it makes sense why I am already saving for my retirement in my mid 20’s. When I was in elementary school, my older brothers were middle school and even high school. Like any youngest child, I wanted to be just like them. One brother had a real job and another a few baby sitting gigs. I was too young to have a job, but old enough to know that I wanted to buy things. With no allowance, I was left with one option: milk money.

Everyday I was given $.40 for a carton of milk. Over a standard week, that equated to $2. While that may not sound like a lot to you (or me now), to a 10 year old child, that’s a lot of money, especially for something that I didn’t need. While I still love chocolate milk to this day, I made a decision that saving the money and buying something bigger was more valuable to me than drinking milk every day. I never did tell my parents this because I was afraid they would stop giving me milk money. Slowly, but surely, my piggy bank filled up and I could buy my own toys. I know what you are thinking…”Didn’t your parents buy you toys?” Sure, my parents would buy us things, but they also wouldn’t spoil us. Certain things we were required to buy.

Excuses Why People Can’t Save Money

There are many excuses that people give when they say they can’t save money. Here are the top 10 excuses that I have heard, in no particular order:

  1. I don’t make enough money
  2. I have to pay off debt
  3. I have too many expenses
  4. I really needed this or that
  5. We live on one income
  6. I pay too much in taxes
  7. I’m in college (which is kind of a combination of #1 and #3)
  8. I have kids (the implication is similar to #3)
  9. I’ll earn more in the future and be able to save more
  10. I didn’t start saving early enough

I could continue on, with numerous variations of several of these excuses. Many of these I have heard over and over again. In some sense, I understand people’s situation. My wife and I both work and don’t have any kids, so it is easier to save money than others. Or, at least that’s what I am told to believe. My wife and I also have our own obstacles to save money. I don’t make very much money and we live in one of the most expensive areas in the country. A great example of the higher cost of living is this: I pay more than twice the amount in rent (for my 1 bedroom apartment) that my in-laws pay for their mortgage payment on their 3 bedroom home.

save money quote

Everyone has obstacles to save money. While I recognize that there are legitimate reasons to prevent people from saving money, there are also many decisions that you can make to save money. If you find yourself saying to yourself that you can’t afford to save money right now, you are lying to yourself. Most of our obstacles to save money are not forced upon us, but are based on decisions that we have made – whether those are decisions we made yesterday or years ago. I think when we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we can choose to save more money. It’s just that we don’t value saving as much as whatever else we would have to give up.

  • If you are the one that can’t save money because you have too many expenses, get rid of your expenses. Whether that means moving to a cheaper apartment or home, using one car instead of two, eating out less frequently, etc. We all have places where we can save more.
  • If you are in college, consider getting another job in college to help pay your way through college. Or, consider lowering your expenses. Live with a couple roommates, eat cheap food, etc.
  • If you find yourself saying that you really needed a new computer, smart phone, or an I-Pad, think again. These are luxury items. You can get by without them. It just means that having the best technology means more to you than saving for our future.
  • If you have kids and can’t find a way to save any money, you might be spoiling your kids. Spending all of your extra money on your kids is not only bad use of your finances, but teaches them a horrible lesson.
  • Choosing to have one adult stay home, whether it is to take care of children or another reason, is a just that: a choice. Many families still prioritize saving even though they have one income. It’s just a matter of increasing your income and lowering your expenses.

The “Secret” to Saving Money (or Saving MORE Money)

While I could go on and on, about different situations of saving money, the “secret” to save money is to make it a priority. I’ve already discussed what it means to establish financial priorities, but it really does start with that. Anyone who wants to start saving money needs to begin with understanding the value of saving money. The old phrase of “delayed gratification” is true in this instance.

Benefits of Saving Money

The value of saving money comes in what is offered – or the benefits. While you could summarize it to be “financial security”, that is pretty vague and doesn’t fully illustrate the true benefits of saving money. Here are some of the popular ones:

  • Protection from expensive emergencies
  • Early retirement
  • Other flexibility in your career (the option not to choose the highest paying job)
  • Less stressful upbringing for your children (i.e. paying for their college, etc.)
  • Peace of mind
  • Ability to stay at home with children

How Value Saving Money

It may be as “simple” as placing more value on the future benefits of saving money, sometimes life gets busy and it’s hard to focus on the benefits of saving money. It’s hard to convince yourself that it’s better to save the money for the future than enjoy a new car. Here are some tips to keep you on track in the busyness of life:

  • Set Financial Goals – This is a great way to keep you working towards something tangible. You can review my financial goals if you need inspiration.
  • Reward Yourself for Saving – A small treat can be a great way to motivate yourself to save money
  • Review Your Budget Monthly – Keeping up with your monthly budget, including tracking your expenses can help keep you accountable. Before you know it, you may enjoy evaluating your success each month. I know that I do!
  • Track Your Net Worth – While a lot of people place a lot more value on this than I do, it is a great indicator of whether you are saving or not. It can also be fun to track your progress.
  • Visualize Retirement – Another great way to motivate yourself is to visualize your retirement or future financial security. Post a picture  that captures your ideal retirement, like a picture of the beach or a golf course. This will help you focus and maintain that priority.
  • Don’t keep a wish list – I’ve said this before, but the worst thing you can do in regards to saving money is to think about things you are going to buy someday soon. If you are looking at the items, you may convince yourself in a time of weakness that you “need” it now.

Learning how to save money is just one of the many life lessons that responsible adults need to embrace. It will not only offer you the much needed financial security later in life, but will ultimately mean distancing yourself from the consumerism that drives our society. No matter how much you buy, it won’t satisfy you. The earlier you learn this and the earlier you start saving, the better off you will be.

23 Responses to How to Save Money: Even Your Milk Money Counts

  1. Wow, this is a huge post! I agree with pretty much everything you say here. Having one person stay at home is a tough choice if you have multiple children. The cost of daycare is so high that it’s difficult to make enough money to overcome. If you make the choice of having multiple children, you’ll have to be prepare to pay…

    • Thanks! Yes, it’s never the same decision for anyone. I would hate to think what daycare would cost me where I live.

  2. Great Article! Seriously. Writing down financial priorities–not holding them in your head as an abstraction–has made a huge difference in the way I spend. It helps me resist the urge to buy an Ipad or a fancy tv, when I don’t really need it, and has allowed me to put aside a little money for investing.

  3. Consumerism is definitely my biggest obstacle when it comes to spending/saving. I think I’m addicted to having the newest electronics whether it be smartphones, ultrabooks, etc. Although, I always sell my old gadgets on eBay to recoup some of the cost.

    For the last few years, I’ve automatically transferred money from my bank account into an interest bearing savings account when I get paid. After a while, you learn to live on the smaller amount.

    • It’s true. If you can find a way to trick yourself into believing your money is tied up with other priorities, it often keeps you from spending it.

  4. i try to consider every cent that i spend… vending machine runs, snacks at the gas station.. buying a coffee out instead of making at home… eating out for lunch instead of bringing…

    i know that i will need to get a hold of all of these if i am going to truly put debt behind me.

  5. I agree with everything above. We are definitely in a place where our (bare minimum) expenses are more than our income. We have to tap savings a little (luckily we have a lot of savings) every month, but replenish it when I do make extra income.

    “Whether that means moving to a cheaper apartment or home, using one car instead of two, eating out less frequently, etc. We all have places where we can save more.”

    ^ We have made a choice to put our house as a priority above saving at the moment. We are not willing to move to save money, so i am working my butt off to get my income up. Obviously, if it came down to food on the table vs. home, we’d move, but saving a little every month does not motivate me enough to sell the home.

    BUT, I believe savings is definitely up on the list, infact, probably near the top. When we do start making enough to cover the bills and have extra, there will be no lifestyle inflation, it will all be debt payoff, then savings.

    So my short-term plan is to start making enough in 2013 to pay everything, and EVERY EXTRA PENNY GOES TO KILL THE STUDENT LOAN! After that, it’s time to up the retirement (I am current investing 3%), and start a college fund for the little one. Once those are funded, it’s operation KILL THE MORTGAGE!

    ^ after that wall of text, I think you gave me my next blog post idea. 🙂

  6. This is great and I think it’s amazing that you were saving your milk money at such a young age!! That’s pretty impressive. I agree with everything you said but I do love to keep a list of my goals haha. It’s like my little fuel to keep going and keep saving. For example, I picked Smarty Pig as a bank because they let me label my savings accounts so I had “macbook computer” for about 4 months and I’m buying it next week. So it’s exciting and it works for me but I can definitely see why having a list could tempt others! Anyway, great post and can’t wait to read more soon!
    Budget Blonde

  7. I think balance is the key. Saving & investing & cutting costs are all great…but you do have to allow at least some expenditures, and targeted savings accounts are great for this. We actually have a “fun fund” so we can feel a bit better about spending on some things for ourselves and have funds to go visit family.

  8. Bullshit. Try making minimum wage with bad credit, no college degree and no outside resources. That means no mommy and daddy. You’ll change your tune.

  9. […] in the position where you’ve run out of all that money you were going to put safely away in a bank account for a rainy day.  So, if you feel like you’re struggling to make ends meet, here are some every-day saving ideas […]

  10. I also think of that excuses way back when I was a student. But like what you said, even a student can save and it came to my mind the possibility of saving money even milk money! The only key that I did to make it possible is self discipline and contentment.

  11. As someone who is in debt, I find it hard to prioritise what I should be saving versus paying off debt. To me, paying off debt seems really important ‘now’ but I also realise that I need to save for the future too. What sort of savings / debt payoff ratio would you suggest? I’m compromising by putting a little away each money for retirement whilst paying off debt.