How to save thousands of dollars starting with just one $5 bill

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When I was growing up, I remember saving spare change in a giant crayon bank, which was basically a piggy bank shaped like a crayon rather than a pig.

I recently found out that all of these years later, my parents continue to use that bank to set aside money.

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$5 savings challenge: Fun and easy way to save in 2019

My mom told me that one year she deposited $220 worth of coins into the crayon bank, but my stepfather has now taken it to the next level — saving dollar bills as well.

So I’ve decided to follow their lead with the $5 and Change Savings Challenge!

Mom’s crayon bank

Unlike many of the other savings challenges floating around on social media, this one doesn’t require you to start on a specific date or save a particular amount each week.

All I’m suggesting is that you avoid spending the $5 bills that end up in your wallet. Instead, whenever you come across a $5 bill, put it in your piggy bank along with your spare change.

I cut an opening in this old box to store my money for this challenge:

Save your $5 bills

$5 challenge success stories

I realize that this challenge is not new. Versions of it are already really popular with people who receive cash tips as part of their compensation — servers, housekeepers, cab drivers, etc.

In fact, I first heard about this simple trick when I was a 16-year-old college student waiting tables at a diner.

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At the end of our shift, the servers would take their stacks of $1 and $5 bills to the manager to exchange them for $20s, but one waitress never joined us.

That server told me she set aside $1 and $5 bills for her savings and only spent the larger bills. Pretty smart!

How much can you really save using this method? Blogger Marie Franklin made a game out of saving every $5 bill about 13 years ago and says she has socked away more than $40,000 since then.

Clark.com reader Connie is another success story. She accepted the challenge in 2018 and saved $600:

I primarily use my Delta American Express for expenses but also make a habit of always carrying some cash with me. However, this past year I simply refused to part with any $5 bills. Yes, I broke a whole lot of $20’s when I had the exact change in my wallet, but I wanted to see how much I could set aside. Per the attached photo, I deposited $600 in $5 bills into my savings account on December 31st. I held back $25 of the “overflow” funds as seed money and have already started working on my nest egg again for this year.

Connie's $600 in $5 bills
Connie’s $600 in $5 bills

Paying with cash has its perks!

You only need one $5 bill to get started, but to save a lot with this challenge you’re going to have to start managing your money the old-fashioned way: paying with cash.

Doing so may entitle you to a cash discount at some of the following businesses:

  • Gas stations
  • Restaurants
  • Doctors and dentists
  • Small retailers

RELATED: Budgeting with cash: How to make the envelope method work

If you don’t carry cash, try this…

Not convinced about going cash-only? I’ve been thinking it over and came up with a way for credit and debit card users to still participate in this challenge!

Let me explain how it works…

Every time you swipe your credit card, pretend that you’re paying with $20 bills and calculate the smaller bills the cashier would give you back as change.

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For example, if you spent $4 on a coffee and paid with $20, you’d get one $10 bill, one $5 bill and one $1 bill.

Jot down a note of these imaginary $5 bills and periodically transfer the amount to a savings account. To keep things simple, leave coins out of the equation.

Customize the challenge

The great thing about this savings challenge is that it’s totally customizable. If you don’t want to save $5 bills and spare change, try $1 bills instead. It’s up to you!

To stay motivated, just think of all the possibilities once you crack open the piggy bank:

  • Go on a vacation
  • Invest it
  • Prepay your mortgage
  • Give it to charity
  • Refresh your wardrobe
  • College fund
  • Car fund
  • Treat yourself to a nice dinner
  • Wedding expenses
  • Transfer to savings
  • Birthday celebrations

I’ve decided to wait until December 2019 to add up the money I’ve saved from the challenge so that I can use it to pay for Christmas presents. What’s your plan?

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