9 strategies to save a fortune, from real people who bank half their income

Grant of Millennial Money
Courtesy of Millennial Money

A lot of ordinary people have managed to save extraordinary amounts of money. Take early retirees Justin and Kaisorn McCurry, who banked more than $1 million in a decade, or "The Money Wizard," a Minneapolis-based 26-year-old who has accumulated $150,000 in savings.

They've shown us that you don't necessarily need a Wall Street salary to reach financial independence at a young age. At the McCurry's peak earning period, they were making a combined $138,000, and "The Money Wizard," who goes by the pen name Sean, started with a salary of $70,000.

You do, however, need the discipline to keep a large chunk of your paycheck, which is exactly what the McCurry's, Sean and other super-savers do.

Here are some of the best lessons we've learned from people who save at least 50% of their income.

Automate everything

In just five years, Grant Sabatier of "Millennial Money" went from having $2.26 in his bank account to $1 million. During his five-year journey to seven figures, in addition to focusing on earning, he saved 50% of his income.

The key to saving half your income, he says, is to make things automatic: "Automation is essential. When I first started saving and investing, I was a little more old school — I was trying to invest as much as possible into the online savings accounts I had set up and it was a pretty manual process. Now, one of the biggest recommendations I make is to automate as much of your savings as possible."

The reason it works is because you'll never be tempted to skimp on savings since you'll never see your money going automatically from your paycheck to your savings accounts.

Go homemade

"This one was the biggest 'aha' moment of the year for me," writes Matt of "Distilled Dollar," a Chicago-based CPA who saves 60 percent of his income with his fiancee and plans to be financially independent by age 35.

Matt estimates that they save about $5,000 a year by going out less. "Not only did we start to cook more, but we found creative ways to save money at the grocery store," he says. "Plus, we are eating much healthier now, too."

Check out more tips on how to trim your grocery bill.

Focus on cutting the "big three expenses"

Keep the "big three expenses" — housing, transportation and food — as low as possible, says early retiree Justin McCurry. "Look at those top expenses and see if there's any negotiating room." Doing so helped him and his wife save up to 70% of their income and build a $1 million portfolio in a decade.

They stayed in the starter home they bought out of grad school and paid off their mortgage in 2015, meaning that, on a monthly basis, they only cover utilities and maintenance. In terms of transportation, "we kept the cars that we bought brand-new in college for 16 years and just replaced them last year," says Justin.

And they only budget $500 a month for groceries. You can read more about how they feed a family of five for $500 a month on their blog, "Root of Good."

Go car-free

One way to cut transportation costs is to go car free. Of course, this may be more feasible for some than others, but if possible, trade in your car for public transportation, a bike or your own two feet.

By moving to a place within walking distance to work, Matt estimates that he and his fiancee save nearly $9,000 a year. "This single decision has made me healthier, happier and wealthier over the past year than nearly any other decision," he writes.

If an active commute is completely out of the question for you, check out other ways to cut back on commuting costs.

Keep fixed costs low

"A minimalist mindset is simply realizing that more is not always better," says Sean of "My Money Wizard," who built up $150,000 in savings by age 26.

"It means becoming aware of the things that you own, becoming aware of the burden 'stuff' can create, and carefully scrutinizing items before bringing them into your life."

Living minimally has allowed him to keep his expenses at bay. "If you look at my spending compared to most people, the two main areas I save the most on are rent and car payments," says Sean, who keeps his monthly fixed costs between $900 and $1,000. "I drive a 13-year-old truck that's completely paid off and I split rent with my girlfriend in Minneapolis."


A simple way to lower your fixed costs is to "live big in a tiny home," recommends Matt. "We live in a neighborhood where most of our neighbors are paying a higher percentage of their income towards rent. Of course, we could pay the same percentage and upgrade to a nice two-bed/two-bath, but we're more than happy with where we live today."

He and his fiancee pay less than 15% of their income for their 700-square-foot condo in Chicago. They estimate that they save about $12,000 a year, "seeing as how we could easily afford paying an extra $1,000 a month," says Matt.

Bank your raises

Start thinking of money as something to invest rather than something to spend, says Justin. Anytime he or his wife earned a raise, the extra money went straight to their accounts.

You can apply the same strategy to a bonus, birthday check or small windfall. Instead of planning trips or grabbing gadgets, consider directing at least some of it towards lingering debt, a retirement savings account or an emergency fund.

To resist the temptation to spend any surplus money that comes your way, send it directly to savings. That way you'll hardly even register that it's there.

The McCurry family
Source: The McCurry family 

Distinguish "wants" from "needs" by tracking expenses

Matt and his fiancee easily saved a couple thousand dollars by cutting back on things like dry cleaning, massages, Starbucks and going to the movies, he says.

To cut back on "wants," start by evaluating exactly where you spend your money. Try recording each and every purchase you make for a couple of months, whether that means writing expenses down in a notebook or using an app that will track your spending, such as Mint, Personal Capital or Level Money.

After all, you can't save until you know where your cash is going.

Resist the temptation to keep up with the Joneses

"Question the things you're spending your money on," says Sean. Thinking through your purchases will keep your spending in check and help you refrain from shelling out more than you should to "keep up with the Joneses."

"Just because your friends enjoy spending lavishly on clothes, doesn't mean that's for you," Sean writes on his blog. "Don't waste money on things that aren't important to you."

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