The Guide to Budgeting & Saving Aggressively


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“Unprecedented times.” How's that for a kick-in-the-pants to start saving? For better or for worse, the savings rate for Americans went up to 33% post-pandemic in May. (For context, this number represents the average percent of income Americans are saving each month.)

33% is the all-time high, but for most Americans, this tells me that saving 30% of take-home income was always possible.

Most just never needed a reason to do so until now.

For those who want to safeguard against whatever comes next, or if you're looking to save aggressively for things like buying a house, saving for a rainy day, emergency fund, or early retirement, here's a plan for how to build up your savings in a very short amount of time.

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First, Find Your “Why”

Millions of people have had less work, or been completely unemployed, because of the pandemic. It’s causing many people to think about what they’re doing money-wise, and how they can be prepared the next time something like this happens. Surviving unprecedented times is a perfect “why”, and lately it feels visceral and urgent.

But even pre-pandemic, I never had a super-strong savings muscle. It wasn't until I wanted to save up for something that meant a lot to me: like my wedding or maternity leave to be with my son that suddenly I was saving a lot of money in a very short amount of time.

So, my best advice for how to save aggressively is to first really zero in on your “why” and make it as personal and emotional as possible. Any time you have to give up something in order to sock away money, you'll come back to why it's more important to save than spend.

The rest of this article covers what aggressive savings is, the benefits you can expect, how to get the most from a plan like this, and some of the best ways to get started.

What is Aggressive Saving?

Aggressive saving is all about increasing the gap between income and expenses.

The more income you have compared to your necessary expenses (those bills you absolutely HAVE TO PAY), the more aggressively you can save.

Of course, aggressive saving is much easier when you’re earning more, but there are ways you can do it on a lower income.

For the purposes of this article, “aggressive savings” means saving 30 percent of your take-home income each month or more.

The Benefits of an Aggressive Savings Plan

The benefits of an aggressive savings plan are endless. Can you think of something you need a good chunk of change to achieve? Saving aggressively will help you reach it that much faster. The one I run into most often on my site are people trying to save up that 20% down payment on a home.

Many look to the stock market to build savings faster with higher returns than what is currently offered in a high-yield savings account.

After all, investing often has the possibility of bringing greater returns, as long as the market performs well.

However, aggressive account-only savings comes with a lower risk than investing.

You don’t have to deal with the ups and downs of the stock market or mutual funds. There are no unknowns. You know exactly how much money is going into your savings account, and how much you can rely on when it comes time to use it.

And depending on what you're saving for, investing your savings may not work. Typically we invest for things with a time horizon longer than five years. Meaning, if you're going to use that money at any point in the next five years, don't invest it.

Here are some other fantastic “aggressive savings” goals:

  • First, saving aggressively can also help you become debt-free: credit cards and student loans – DONEZO.
  • Only 19% of people working full-time will have enough money to retire. When you save aggressively, you’re setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement. You’ll have more than enough to meet your needs, and you won’t have to worry about working longer than you want.
  • Saving on this superhero level means you could pay off your mortgage within 10 years or less.
  • You can also pay for a car in cash, which means no car payment.
  • It also means knowing you can get through a serious emergency, like a layoff, a PANDEMIC, a sudden illness, or serious injury.
  • You could fund a child's college education in cash.
  • Medical bills won’t be so scary, and you can tackle large purchases with ease.
  • When we get there as a society again, saving aggressively will also allow you to travel wherever and whenever you want and do it IN CASH.
  • Having a good amount in savings can also help you start the business of your dreams, and give you a cushion to work from if you decide to start freelancing and quit your job.

Basically, saving aggressively is a serious protection against anything life can throw at you.

Or it can enable you to do things you never even dreamed of.

Easing into an Aggressive Saving Plan

There are certain steps you can take to get the most from an aggressive savings plan.

If you haven’t saved at all, you need to ease into saving aggressively. Starting with this type of savings may not be the best because it can be discouraging if you don’t get it figured out right away.

Baby, baby steps. It is one of our “Financial Best Life” core money beliefs.

  • First work on saving up $1000 before you work on saving up for a house or other large purchase.
  • Then, you’ll want to look for big and small ways for you to save money so you can build up your emergency savings, even if you don’t make much money.
  • If you’re addicted to spending money, you’ll also want to work on breaking the addiction. Spending money can be a legitimate addiction for some people, which means they have to work on it the same way they would work on breaking a substance addiction. Creating a distraction, or working with someone to break the addiction can help you get your spending under control.
  • Consider opening a savings account that’ll give you the most return, even if it means opening a long-term account that you don’t touch for a while.

Top Strategies For an Aggressive Saving Plan

There are several strategies you can use to contribute to your aggressive saving plan if that 30% each month is hard to reach. You’ll have to evaluate where you are financially before you can determine which one is best for you.

First, you decide to go for an aggressive savings plan, you’ll want to first make sure you’re out of debt. Instead of putting your gap between income and expenses in a savings account, you put it toward debt.

As my husband sees it, any amount you pay in interest is money that's not in your pocket. While unavoidable, we've been able to save more money by funding items in cash when we can. The only thing we currently pay interest on is our mortgage. (P.S. saving money on interest is an easy way to decrease what you're spending each month, you just don't think of it that way because of how interest is advertised!)

Then, once your debt is gone, there are two other ways to increase your savings contribution. You can spend less money, or earn more of it.

Most people find that a combination of the two works best for them. 

Here are some ways you can bring in more money to put towards your ambitious savings goal.

Increase W-2 Income

I say, “increase W-2 income” because I've always been a side hustler. But there are ways to ensure your salary is commensurate with what you're worth. More money in your paycheck is more money for you. While not super advisable in the current Coronavirus job environment, the tips below are helpful for increasing your income after things stabilize.

Wage equality is a serious issue and results in women and minorities receiving much less than their male colleagues.

Do some research on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Salary.com to see if you’re getting the right wage for your job. If you’re getting paid less than others in your field, consider talking to your manager about how to change it.

You are 100% entitled to ask for a raise, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve gotten one. There are tons of strategies for doing so without risking your manager getting upset about it.

Asking for a raise is the next step to take after you’ve done some research to see what other people are getting paid in your profession. If it doesn’t add up, take some of your research with you and let your boss know why you deserve a raise.

But also, if income is really an issue, the biggest increase in how much you're paid happens when changing jobs because the door for negotiations is wide open.

Start a Side Hustle

If you’re happy with your day-time job and don’t want to work somewhere else, you can always start a side hustle to earn more money for savings. The reach of the internet means you can make money doing just about anything.

Some of the best side hustles include:

  • doing freelance work, like writing or graphic design
  • meal delivery
  • Lyft or Uber
  • house sitting or pet sitting
  • teaching English online
  • launching a monetized blog
  • Get creative!

Here are 13 gig economy jobs that pay over $1,000 each month.

Create or Re-evaluate Your Budget

One of the best ways to determine where your money is going is to create a budget. Even if you already have one, it can be beneficial to re-evaluate and see where you can save money.

Tracking your spending will allow you to determine what your budget is now, and how you can make changes to your spending. There are so many types of budgets that you’re sure to find something you like.

Where are the pockets of excess in your budget? Could you save more by turning off streaming services or subscriptions? Here is how to do a large bill audit of all your expenses.

Plus, how to find more money in your budget.

Stash windfalls instead of spending

Everyone gets a little extra cash every once in a while: a bonus, a raise, selling items you don't need, the estate of a family member, or cash gifts for birthdays and holidays. While it is super difficult not to spend this money, putting it into savings ensures you can get to your goals as soon as possible.

Use Apps to Your Advantage

There are dozens of different money-saving apps that can help you change how much money you have in your savings account. These include automatic savings apps, money-saving apps, and bill cutters. I love these! They really helped me save up $1,000 in under 45 days in this challenge.

The TL:DR

Aggressive savings is saving more than 30% of your take home income. To do this, we increase the gap between income and expenses.

Saving aggressively is s a short-term endeavor, too. Aggressive savings aren't sustainable for a lifetime. Initiatives like the ones listed above are meant to be “short sprints” in order to get to where you want to be: into a house, fully-funded emergency fund, or through the first year of your new business.

I highly encourage you to try saving this amount because an aggressive savings plan can help you in so many ways. There’s no limit to what you can use your savings for once you reach your intended goal.

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