How a Retail Worker Saved an Impressive $15,000 in 10 Months

Image: Money. Photo by Nick Ares
Nick Ares/Flickr

We’ve all read these headlines and thought, “Yes! I want that!”

But you usually skip to the next story without reading the details, right? You either think (a) it’s too good to be true, (b) it will probably be too much work, or (c) you’re afraid the link will take you to a German adult entertainment site.

But this is the real deal, folks! The true, down-to-earth story of how I managed to save $15,000 in just 10 months, told in the form of practical advice you can use to do the same.

The Moment I Realized I Needed to Become a Better Saver

Before my saving spree, I wasn’t particularly frugal. I’ve never been the kind of person who bought a lot of things, but I do value experiences, so I used to travel a lot, go out for dinner with friends, attend festivals and more. I saved some of the money I earned, but I mostly used it for whatever I wanted.

Then my husband and I began our search for a new home… and I realized the money we’d saved for a downpayment — just $5,000 — wasn’t going to cut it. Houses were more expensive in Oshawa, Ontario, than we expected — as in, $100,000 more! We weren’t prepared for such high prices, and we realized that if we wanted to buy a home, we needed to save more money.

Through a combination of working several jobs, being smart about how I worked and saving — plus a few other strategies you’ll learn in a moment — I was able to save a lot of money in a short period of time. In just 10 months, I significantly improved my debt-to-income ratio, which set us up for mortgage approval, and added to our downpayment fund.

Here are my tips for quickly pushing your savings into the five figures:

1. Find Flexible Jobs (So You Can Work More Than One)

From a young age, I worked multiple jobs; at 12 I was working on a horse farm everyday after school, plus weekend mornings. I didn’t make much, but I was able to trade the work for board for my horse. Beyond working off the board, I learned how to work hard, and I stayed fit and in shape (a bonus!).

Since then, I have worked a multitude of jobs: exercise jockey, house cleaner, tutor, retail work, lawn care, maintenance work and construction, among the more professional jobs of college instructor, manager, technical recruiter… the list goes on. How did I work several jobs at once? I only signed up for gigs that were flexible in terms of when I worked and sometimes where I worked as well. Making this your top requirement will ensure you’re able to supplement that income with earnings from other jobs.

2. Work Smart and Be Organized

I work five jobs, which I realize sounds like a lot. But it’s all about time management and organization.

My “day” jobs are working as a sales representative at a telecommunications retail store, where I make an hourly wage plus commission for any sales I make (limitless opportunity). I’m also a college instructor, where I’m paid a set amount monthly. I work an average of 28 hours per week at the telecommunications company and six hours teaching in-class, plus marking papers and planning at home before class.

Finding jobs that you can do at home is another way to work smart. Sometimes I even get to watch Grey’s Anatomy while I grade papers.

As part-time or “side” jobs, I work as a research assistant at the university where I’m a student, which requires 6-10 hours per week. I also clean houses every two weeks, which takes two hours per house, and I have a few freelance writing and social media management gigs (work from home or wherever I happen to be with my iPhone), which requires about 6-10 hours per week. That adds up to around 60 hours of work per week.

3. Learn to Market Your Skills

What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Yard work, animal care, house cleaning, sales, service?

Learn to sell yourself and those skills — so you can find jobs that are flexible and make your own hours, as we talked about above. I know, that seems impossible, but if you market yourself to the right people and in the right situations, you’ll be able to work small jobs here and there without investing a lot of time.

Approach small companies and come prepared with a pitch of how you can help them by offering your skills for flexible or sporadic work. One great way to do this is by seeking out sales jobs that pay an hourly wage and commission — so you’re paid for both your time and your skills.

I was offered more than minimum wage when I began working in retail. I was able to do this because I showed the store where I wanted a job that I deserved it with a short sales demonstration during my interview — a detail that was unprompted by them but made a huge difference for my earnings. That extra commission is a big bonus, icing on the cake. Since it’s variable income, I don’t rely on it for bill payments or add it to my budget. That means when I have an extra $400-$1,000 from commission in my bank account each month, I can pop it directly into my savings account or even go out for some fun.

4. Identify Your Priorities — And Stick to Them

The biggest obstacle everyone has with making more money is “finding” the time to work differently. No one thinks they have the time.

But I’m here to tell you that you do. The great thing about time is everyone, no matter your sex, race, social class or personality, gets the same amount of it. We all get 24 hours per day to spend as we choose.

Take note of how you spend your days, weeks and months. Are you watching TV, playing sports, working out at the gym, cruising the Internet? You are doing something. Determine whether making or saving more money should take priority over those other activities.

My choices about priorities, for example, have included deciding between saving money or loafing on the couch catching up on Grey’s Anatomy. The saving won. But it won’t for everybody, and while that’s OK, you need to be honest with yourself. Recording your favorite TV shows will save you 15 minutes of watching commercials, and you can watch those shows at a different time (just avoid those spoiler alerts). Skip one day at the gym, or find a 24-hour gym where you can work out after you go cut your neighbor’s lawn. Better yet, get a job at the gym and get a membership for free.

5. Pay Bills First

A year ago, I was surviving on just my sales job for my core earnings. It’s not a lot of money (it’s retail, folks!), but with the added commission, it gets the bills paid.

When I was offered the position at the local college to teach a course in social media, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only would I get to teach what I love, but I could make some extra money! Since my bills were already taken care of, I banked these new earnings.

6. Hide the Money

Don’t bury it in your backyard or anything, but be strategic about its placement. Since I was hired at the college, my paychecks have been deposited directly into a savings account, never reaching my daily checking account. So I never really see the money, which means I don’t use it and it accumulates in my savings account. Out of sight, out of mind.

7. Make Time and Money for Fun

The three side jobs provide just enough extra income to help me achieve an active and fulfilling social life with friends and my husband. They also pay for incidentals when they come up: car repairs, oil changes, birthday gifts, invite to drinks with friends and more. This frees up my earnings from my full-time gigs for all the necessities: rent, car payments, insurance, groceries… the usual offenders.

It’s important to balance your life so you don’t feel like your money or savings owns you — so set aside a specific amount each month for the “whatever I feel like” fund.

If you’d asked me a year ago whether I could save that much money in 10 months, I would have answered with an enthusiastic, but disappointed, no. I have always been fairly good with money (budgeting is fun for me), and I’d deposited maybe $25 from each paycheck into my savings account for the past 10 years… but $15,000? That’s a good chunk of change! And it’s going to help me live the life I want going forward.

Shannon Webb is a hard-working gal, trying to make a name for herself as an Online Marketing professional. When she isn’t working, she can be found walking her 130lb Bernese Mountain Dog, grabbing drinks with her husband and friends or kicking ass at Cranium!