Money Mic: The Secret Behind How I’m Saving 40% of My Pay

Lauren Bowling

Credit: Stacey Bode Photography

In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman shares how she went from being a spendthrift to saving nearly half of her income—each month.

I’ve never been very good at saving.

I’m a spender—shoes, trips, nights out, you name it. It’s a fact that became especially apparent to me when I found myself saddled with $10,000 of credit card debt after graduating from college.

Despite this fact, I decided to move to New York City a year later to pursue a career as an actress. The only problem? The minimum payments on my credit cards were so outrageous ($300 a month) that I had to put auditions—and my career dreams—on hold and get a steady, full-time job just to keep up.

As it turns out, I’m great at paying off debt.

I found a job as an administrative assistant at a hedge fund, making $45,000 a year. Between sticking to my budget and putting 30% of each paycheck toward my debt, it only took me 14 months to pay it all off.

I celebrated the feat by printing out a screenshot of my zero balance statement to display on the fridge. Having that measure of quantifiable success was empowering, but the truth is that I still hadn’t gotten the hang of saving—the one thing that could help keep me out of debt.

RELATED: Life After Debt: What To Do Once You’re Finally Debt-Free

  • ana

    I love this article! You should be so proud of yourself. I save 33% of my income every month, I don’t think I could save anymore than that but I’m slowing working towards my goal of paying for my next car in cash and then paying off my mortgage as soon as possible. Good luck, keep up the good work!

  • mostlywentzel

    Great story! I like that while you gave us real numbers, it’s really about the percentages. Focus on what you really need, then set a goal to save. And I agree – don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your goal one month. Things happen. My husband and I decided to make 2014 “The Year of Austerity!” We’re giving ourselves a bit of a break from mid-June-mid-July because of a planned family vacation as well as some other family events, but otherwise, we are united in paying down debt and saving with a clear plan. And you know what? It’s kinda fun!

  • Liz

    This is definitely one of the better articles I’ve read on here! I’ve even tried saving every other paycheck to get to that 50% savings and live off one paycheck for double the time — a challenge but doable!

  • Carrie

    What a great article! Hard work pays off and it’s so wonderful to see how far you’ve come! Thank you for being an inspiration to so many women, LB. :)

  • mara

    I love this!!! – thank you for sharing. This is our goal after our wedding which we are cash flowing by saving big time for the past few months. I found out it was possible when I saved aggresively to buy my car cash, then cash flowing the wedding while still growing the emergency fund. AW (after wedding) we hope to finish the EF and reroute everything to save for a down payment and invest. Thank you for the motivation!!!

  • Heather

    These are great tips… for people who make a reasonably comfortable income. My entire income for the month is basically the equivalent of what the author puts away each month, and I live in a high-cost-of-living city (Miami). Right now I’m not feeling like my financial goals are any more attainable!

    • Lauren Bee

      I agree, Heather. One year ago I was making 34k annually and barely cracking 2k each month in take home pay. It’s hard to save aggressively when you do not make a lot of income, which is why I doubled my freelancing efforts, which I was then lucky enough to keep after I got a better paying job. I hope the one thing people take away from this piece is that it’s important to just save something even if it’s $20 here and there. Thanks!

    • Dylan

      I agree it can be hard, Heather, especially when you know there is not a lot you can do to increase your main paycheck – but there are ways to earn extra money if you’re willing to put in extra effort and time. I was able to save up enough money for a down payment for a house on a very modest income while still paying off school loans, and I don’t live in a cheap area. I sought out opportunities to make extra money, and jumped at every chance to make some extra money I could.

      Once I finally got the opportunity for some consulting work, I was persistent (but polite) with following up, which eventually turned into a semi-reliable extra $3k each year. An added benefit of the consulting work was the connections I made with people well-established in my industry.

      I also sought out money-making opportunities online – doing surveys, reviewing products, gift card sites – these take some time, but I usually make an extra $2k a year in gift cards (Amazon or PayPal), which is great because I can use them to buy necessities or fun splurges, which means that most of my paycheck can go towards bills and then savings. The amount of money I make with these are directly related to how much effort I make – so if I’m feeling burned out, I simply scale back for a month or two.

      If you are working about 40 hours a week in your job, that actually leaves a fair amount of free time to pursue additional work – either something related to your field or maybe in an interest/hobby you have. Even small jobs add up and really make a difference.

      Good luck!

  • Alison

    Great write up – I love the inclusion of percentages and the inclusion of real numbers. I’ve also been way better at paying off debt than saving, but articles like this one keep me motivated. I’m really looking forward to reading more on your blog!

  • Tesse

    I was definitely inspired to start saving more and to start looking for a part time gig. I just started my first job out of college and I have no major debts so i am just trying to save as much as I can. Thanks for the advice!

  • holly

    Love this article! i also live in ATL and its so hard to save money. I’m about to start my last year of college and live by myself (bad roommate experiences recently). I have been freaking out about how I can save any money in the process. I’ll be living off ramen for a while longer but it’ll be worth seeing that student loan number go down!

  • hdavis

    I make $52k/year and spend about $13k. Per month, rent is $655 and food is around $300, phone is $20, Electricity is $20, fun is $20, (heat, water, internet is included in rent). I might have a few hundred in miscellaneous expenses over the course of a year. I don’t need cable since watch TV online, don’t need a car since I ride a bicycle. I live in MN. My savings is $385k. I’m 34 years old.

    • jerry25

      Impressive!! But $655 in rent! Maybe I need to move haha mine’s $1690 for a 600 sq ft one bedroom in Southern California and utilities aren’t even included.

      • hdavis

        Lovely Minnesota. Come for the summer, and stuck over the winter.

  • Michelle

    This gives me hope. I would love to be saving that much of my take home income!

  • Anne @ Money Propeller

    Great write up Lauren! What a change in savings, I am really impressed. Congrats on increasing your income so much, too.