Small Savings Add Up and Here’s The Proof

coin jar

Some people are “pound wise and penny foolish.” That is, they focus their savings efforts only on big items while letting small amounts of money slip through their fingers. Having tallied up my “penny savings” from last year, I can tell you that small amounts of money can quickly add up to big savings.

Last year I decided that I would keep track of the small amounts of money I made or saved during 2007 to determine if these “money savers” were really worth my time or if I should be focusing my time on other things. I tracked coupon savings, rebates, certain discounts, money made from online surveys, and spare change. Each category had some ground rules, which I’ll explain below. First, here are the savings in each category (rounded to the nearest dollar).

  • Coupon Savings: $1,100
  • Rebates: $80
  • Discounts: $700
  • Surveys: $300
  • Spare Change: $250
  • Total Savings: $2,330

Let me elaborate on the ground rules for each category and how I calculated my savings. You’ll see I did nothing special or tricky. Anyone can do this.

Coupons: The majority of coupons that I clip come from the Sunday newspaper and are for groceries, toiletries, paper products, and pet items. However, these are not the coupons that save me the most money. I don’t live near a store that doubles coupons, so I only get face value for my coupons. I’ve also stopped using as many grocery coupons because I’ve been actively experimenting with store brands and find most of them to be quite good and cheaper than the national brand, even with a coupon. I also don’t use coupons for items I wouldn’t normally buy, unless it’s for something I’ve wanted to try. I don’t buy things just because I have a coupon. Even though grocery store coupons aren’t my biggest money saver, they still save me an average of $10 per grocery trip.

I save the most money by using coupons for online merchants and travel, coupons that I receive in the mail or email, and coupons that I find “off the beaten path.” Coupons for online merchants are easily found by doing a Google search for the merchant or using a site such as or I’m can usually find a coupon for my online purchases, either a percentage off the price, free shipping, or a set dollar amount off. Some sites will let you “stack” coupons and use two or more on one order. I also make sure to sign up for special deals from my favorite merchants. Some send coupons in the mail, others send email coupons. These are usually high dollar or high percentage off coupons which, if I have a need at the time, save me big money. I also use coupons when I travel. I find coupons for rental cars, hotels and restaurants, either at the above mentioned sites or by visiting the website of the travel provider. I’ve also signed up for offers from my preferred hotels and rental car agencies.

Coupons are everywhere if you keep your eyes peeled. I get a magazine from my insurance provider that contains coupons for its partner merchants. I find coupons for local merchants and restaurants on pages of the newspaper other than the Sunday inserts. There are coupons in mainstream magazines and trade publications. Coupons come in the ad packs that you get in the mail. A lot of these “off the beaten path” coupons are high value and good for things you wouldn’t necessarily think of. For example, our veterinarian puts a coupon in the local coupon mailer good for 50% off a routine examination and it’s good for existing customers. I’m able to use one every year for our dog and it saves me quite a bit. Just keep looking and you’ll find coupons everywhere.

Rebates: I didn’t save as much in rebates this year as I have in the past, largely because we didn’t buy many big ticket items this year with rebates attached. But I still sent in the ones I came across and saved $80. The key to getting your rebates is making sure you follow their directions exactly, write legibly, and keep records of the items you submit and whom to contact if the rebate doesn’t come.

Discounts: This category is made up of two types of discounts that I primarily use: Rewards card discounts and membership discounts. Rewards card discounts are those that I get by using loyalty cards are grocery stores, pet stores, office supply stores, restaurants, etc. It seems like every store has a card these days. Most have certain items each week that are discounted for card holders, although some offer a flat percentage off the price of your order. (Incidentally, holding a rewards card for a merchant is a good way to get coupons for that merchant.)

Membership discounts are those that I receive for being a member of certain organizations. Automotive clubs, professional organizations, insurance providers, and other organizations offer discounts if you use their partner merchants and present your membership card. Although I have to pay to join some organizations that offer discounts, I don’t subtract the membership fee from my savings because I would have joined the organization anyway. I don’t join any organization just for the discount. In most cases, it’s not worth it. I join because they provide information or services that I need. The discounts are gravy.

Surveys: I wrote about this in my article about “Get Paid To” sites. There are some legitimate online companies that pay you to do surveys. keeps a listing of which companies are the most reliable and actually pay out. There are also local research companies that might need your opinion because you work in an interesting field or you use their products. Most of my survey money comes from focus groups that I’m invited to because of my job, but I do make a bit of money from the online companies. These don’t take much time to do and pay between $2 and $20, depending on the length and the company involved.

Spare Change: I don’t spend change. If I’m given thirty-five cents back from a purchase, I keep it and put it in my change jar. I also keep any change that I find. When the jar gets full, I roll the change or take it to the bank and use the coin sorter. The key to making the most of this is not to pay to have your change counted. Many banks will let you use their coin sorter for free if you have an account with them, but some won’t. In that case, you’re better off rolling it yourself and hauling it to the bank. Don’t use the machines in grocery stores because most keep 10-20% of your total as a usage fee. I was able to increase my change savings this year by not spending most of my $1 bills and adding them to the jar. I never missed the dollar bills.

To some people, $2,330 might not seem like a lot of money. But to me, it’s almost three mortgage payments. That’s huge to me and well worth my time. I’ve always saved money wherever possible, but seeing it on paper proved to me and my family that watching these pennies really does add up. Sure, it doesn’t equate to getting a second job. If we were really in debt or in a financial crisis these savings would help, but another source of income would be required. In that case, maybe clipping coupons, hunting discounts, and doing surveys wouldn’t be worth my time. I’d need to be out making “real” money. But given our current financial picture, saving the pennies stretches the money we earn quite a bit further and gives us more money to have fun with.

Image courtesy of Johnny Huh

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13 Responses to Small Savings Add Up and Here’s The Proof

  1. Teri says:

    It’s true.

    I think the only issue for me is when it comes to time trade-off. I find if I have to spend an inordinate amount of time to make a few pennies, it just isn’t worth it. Particularly when I make a pretty good wage. (When I made minimum wage, obviously it would be well more worth to save a few pennies).

    For one, I was trying to do surveys, and the hassle just wasn’t worth it. $300 for the year wouldn’t have been worth the time I imagine. (For me). I could have put that effort to overtime or something far more rewarding, and avoided all the endless spam.

    Coupons, rebates, discounts, those are all usually pretty worthwhile. I mean open the paper cut a coupon, save a $1. That is easy money. Not very time consuming. & this is all stuff we do. We easily save thousands every year.

    So for the most part I agree. $2330 is no chump change!

  2. poundwise says:

    I believe more people are “penny wise and pound foolish.” They scrape pennies together, coupon, and run all over town for the best deal on deodorant, but they buy a new car, don’t bother to check rates on savings, their mortgage, car and/or home insurance; they don’t shop around for pricing on major home or auto repairs, etc. One pound mistake will wipe out a lot of penny wisdom.

    While I believe in frugality and tending to all things large and small, I prefer the “big rocks first” mentality. The idea is that you have a bucket and you have a lot of rocks to put in the bucket. If you put the small rocks in first, you may find that you can’t fit all the big rocks in. If you put the big rocks in first, then you fit the small rocks in around the big rocks.

    Pound wise is the way to be, just don’t couple it with penny foolishness.

  3. Shannon says:

    I too keep track of my savings on these types of things, and over one year I generally save almost as much as I make with freelance writing and editing 5-10 hours a week.

    The time I spend doing the tedious jobs of clipping coupons and filling out rebate forms is just as valuable to our family’s accounts as the time I spend freelancing, which is my paying job. (My full-time job, parenting, has benefits but no salary.)

  4. Ivan Cadena says:

    Something that might turn out to be useful and easy: keep track of the savings in an Excel file or the like.

    Nice post, yeah!

  5. Data Babble says:

    Very encouraging. I will start keeping track as well.

  6. viola says:

    I use my coupons whenever I can, but I nere go out of my way. I have saved HUNDREDS….and also the spare change, sometimes I have

  7. Hilary says:

    I feel like the “Spare Change” way of saving is different from the others, because unlike the first four categories (which literally let you spend less money), the “Spare Change” category just rearranges your resources(unless you are a person who usually throws change away). I have a nice change purse and I try to pay in exact change whenever I can. So, I have no spare change savings, but I have more money in my bank account because I am not breaking 20s all the time.

    Maybe I am misinterpreting this, though…

  8. Debbie M says:

    Wow! I love seeing these hard numbers. Thanks for gathering all this data and sharing.

    I’m not so good with coupons because I don’t buy much that comes with coupons, but I have taken to pouring over the coupon book at my grocery coop and sales fliers for my favorite places and local drug stores, signing up for e-mails from my favorite places, and searching online for coupons when I’m planning to buy a bigger-money item.

    Hilary, even if you discount the spare change, her total is still over $2,000. I did once keep track of change I found on the ground, but it didn’t add up to much at all.

    Most of my best savings come from just not buying stuff. It’s hard to calculate that figure!

  9. Minimum Wage says:

    A small savings here, a small savings there, it all adds up to a lot of savingses.

  10. Aleta says:

    I am impressed with your total yearly savings. That is about $194.00 a month. I remember when the IRA’s contribution was $2,000. and most of the model scenarios used and some still due the $2,000 figure.

    I think there is a difference in which big ticket items some here have commented on. A big ticket item that is paid monthly such as health, car, and life insurance by shopping around should be the first items that you try to save on. Sometimes by increasing deductibles
    alone can save one a lot of money.

    If you buy a TV for $2.000 and you won’t buy another one for 10 years or so and you’re saving $50; it isn’t worth your time to run all over town. You can price shop on the internet.

    What really stuck with me was an article that talked about the consumption items such as you were listing that you spend on everyday as a real source of spending. I try to save at least 20% on items that I purchase and more if it has a coupon.

    I enjoyed your atticle and all of the facts that you gave us.

    The question is: How much would you have to earn in order to bring that much home. I apoproximate around $3,000 in a 15% bracket and social secutity; not counting transportation costs, lunches, clothing, dry-cleaning, child care expenses, gifts at the office, and etc. There are many costs involved when one earns money.

  11. Pingback: Her year of small savings equals 3 house payments - Smart Spending

  12. Colleen says:

    The other day I got $235 worth of groceries (all food we normally use) for $93. I used a combination of store sales, store coupons and coupons from the Sunday paper. I saved $140

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