12 Strategic Steps to Save an Extra $5,000 for Retirement in 12 Months

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Saving for retirement sounds overwhelming.

Whether you’re just getting started in your 20s or you’re in the final years of your career, setting aside enough money to live on after you leave the workforce is hard to imagine.

The best way to save is little by little over time, as countless experts will remind you.

But if you’re already past that point and looking for ways to save money in a hurry, here’s a 12-month strategy for injecting your retirement account with extra cash quickly.

Month 1: Invest Your Digital Change to Save $420 This Year

Ways to save money
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If you want an insanely simple way to save and invest your money, try Acorns. You’ll be amazed by how much money you can set aside without even thinking about it.

Acorns is a smartphone app that connects to your bank account, credit and debit cards to save your digital change. It automatically rounds up purchases with your connected accounts and invests the difference in your Acorns account.

This Penny Hoarder accidentally saved $116 — about $35 a month — by connecting one debit card to the app and forgetting about it.

At that rate, you could spend 10 minutes setting up your Acorns account in Month 1 and put away $420 this year.

If you use your credit cards more frequently, your round-ups could amount to much more.

Month 2: Write a Blog Post for $100

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One commonly-overlooked way to earn extra money is to put your skills to use doing freelance work.

Even if you don’t want to turn this into your full-time gig, a freelance writing, design, photography or other creative gig you’re qualified for can be a simple way to earn money when you really need it.

Do you have a special story to share or a unique insight into a particular industry? Pitch an article or blog post this month to make money off of it!

Here are seven blogs that pay at least $100 per post. Write about everything from technology to traveling to finance.

Month 3: Earn an Extra $180 by Joining an Online Focus Group

Ways to save money
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We know you’re not going to get rich taking paid surveys, but our founder Kyle says he’s able to pocket an extra $10-$20 a month this way, and that adds up.

Start in Month 3, and that be could up to $180 this year!

Our favorite survey sites are Swagbucks and VIP Voice. Sign up for both to start receiving invites to surveys matching your profile.

Survey sites typically pay in credits for each survey you complete. For Swagbucks surveys, you can cash these in for gift cards to major retailers like Amazon, or even PayPal. 

VIP Voice gamifies survey-taking, so you can use your credits to enter sweepstakes and auctions to win gift cards, electronics and free vacations.

Month 4: Sign Up for a Clinical Trial to Earn Up to $900

Ways to save money
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Do you live with a chronic condition like psoriasis, arthritis or migraines? They’re a serious pain in the neck… or wrists… or head…

But they may also make you eligible for clinical studies that can really pay off. These studies help medical professionals learn how to better treat chronic conditions.

Payment varies by study, but we found some that offer pretty killer compensation:

  • Migraines: If you’ve never had a migraine, be glad you can just take my word for it: They really, really suck. Local research studies may offer payment/compensation up to $625 (learn more here). These studies help doctors discover better ways to treat — and hopefully eliminate — migraines.
  • Back pain: If you suffer from chronic back pain, you could qualify for a study that offers up to $900 compensation for sharing your opinions. (Read more here.)
  • Crohn’s disease – Have you been diagnosed with this chronic gastrointestinal disease? If you’ve had Crohn’s for at least three months, you may qualify for one of the local studies that may offer payment that varies by study up to $750. Plus, you may also receive no-cost study-related care for the length of the study. (Learn more here)

Month 5: Rent Your Place for a Week to Make $400-$600

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Vacation rental can be an awesome solution for empty nesters or retirees with spare bedrooms or an unused home office that could house guests for a night or two.

List your space on Airbnb during high-demand times in your area.

Are there concerts, conventions, sporting events or other popular events happening in your town this month? Though there may be demand year-round, you’ll get the most out of your rental if you list it at the right time.

Even if you don’t make Airbnb a regular income stream, these occasional visits can be just as rewarding for you as it is for them.

Nightly rates vary by location and demand, so check similar listings in your area. You could make around $400-$600 for a week’s stay, but the rate could be much higher in larger cities and during major events — or lower if you’re way off the beaten path.

Month 6: Use Your Car for Ride Sharing and Earn More Than $500 a week

Ways to save money
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Need a fun, flexible way to earn money while also meeting lots of new people?

Try driving with Lyft!

Demand for ride-sharing has been growing like crazy, and it shows no signs of slowing down. To be eligible, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old with a year of driving experience, pass a background check and own a car made in 2007 or later.

We talked to Paul Pruce, who’s been driving full-time with Lyft for over a year. He earns $750 a week as a driver.

Best of all, he does it on his own time. You can work days, nights or weekends — it’s up to you!

Month 7: Automate Your Savings to Set Aside $210

Ways to save money
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The best way we’ve found to save money is automating it. When you don’t have to think about it, that money can add up fast.

This month, connect your account to Digit, an auto-savings app that withdraws small amounts from your checking account into an FDIC-insured Digit savings account. The app monitors your balance and spending to set aside only what you can afford.

So, the more money you keep in your checking account, the more you’ll save with Digit.

For example, one Penny Hoarder saved almost $2,000 in 10 months — the app set aside about $7 a day.

At that rate, you could save $210 this month without even trying!

When you’re ready, move the money into an interest-bearing savings or retirement account to turn it into even more over time.

Month 8: Start Investing — With Just $5

$5 bills in a back jean pocket
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It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to make money.

Sometimes, though, it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.

But Stash is different. This app lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000. (The first month is free.)

Stash curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money — but it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it.

You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

Bonus: Right now, The Penny Hoarder is teaming up with Stash to fund your first investment — so you’ll get a $5 bonus to get started!

Month 9: Sell Something on Ebay or Craigslist

Ways to save money
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If you need money now, find something you can sell for cash.

You’d be surprised what people will pay for on Ebay!

You might be able to gather unique supplies where you live, like driftwood, sea glass or seashells from the beach; or pine cones and dried leaves from the woods. Sell them in lots to crafters.

For furniture and larger items that cost too much to ship, sell them locally Craigslist. And if you have absolutely nothing you’re willing to part with, browse Craigslist freebies for something you can flip.

How much you can earn will vary wildly, depending on what you find to sell.

Set a goal to make an extra $50 decluttering your place this month, and add it to your retirement account — every little bit helps!

Month 10: Sell Unused Gift Cards for Cash

Ways to save money
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Check your purse, wallet, pockets and sock drawer… you’re bound to have an unused gift card or two lying around.

Instead of going on a shopping spree, sell your gift cards online to turn them into cash you can grow in a retirement account.

For example, you might have a gift card for $100 to a store you don’t love as much as the well-meaning benefactor thought you did.

List it on a gift card exchange site at a discount — say, $90. The buyer gets $100 to spend at 10% off, and you get, basically, free money you can actually use!

Invest that money in the right place, and it could grow more than you might expect!

Month 11: Babysit — Overnight — and Earn $800+

Ways to save money
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If you already have child care experience from your own children or grandchildren, you could be a valuable babysitter.

Look for babysitting gigs on a site like Care.com. Or, when it comes to connecting with families, word of mouth may be the smartest way to spread the word, so stay in touch with friends or colleagues with young kids.

If you want to kick it up a notch, consider becoming a night nanny to bank some money this month. You’ll be responsible for caring for a newborn overnight — feeding and comforting them when they cry.

Pay varies, depending on your region and who you work with, but your infant-soothing skills should net you $100 or more per night.

Offer the service a few nights a week to give busy parents a break without overwhelming yourself. Do it two nights a week for a month, and you can put away $800.

Month 12: Make and Sell Holiday Crafts

Ways to save money
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Do you enjoy making creative treats or crafting decorations? You could make money selling them!

If you’re just getting started, it may take some time to gain traction. However, holidays are a great time to supercharge a craft-based business!

Try these 12 winter holiday crafts to sell online and at craft fairs or (indoor) farmers markets this holiday season.

If you find a good deal on pumpkins this fall, try some of these pumpkin-based crafts and treats around Halloween and Thanksgiving.

How much you can earn depends entirely on what you produce, how you price it and where you sell it.

Set a goal to earn, say, an extra $200 over the holidays, and add that to your retirement account!