Is Saving Money Easier for Some People?

Is saving money easier for some people?Is saving money difficult for you? The average American family doesn’t save much. The US personal saving rate was 6.2% in September 2018. That’s not too bad by historical standards, but at this saving rate, FIRE (financial independence/retire early) is way out of reach. You need to save
30-50% of your income to achieve financial independence in a reasonable timeframe. Saving that much consistently isn’t easy. However, we haven’t had much trouble with it. Why not? Is saving money easier for some people?

Saving money is not that hard

I’ve been lucky most of my life. For me, saving money is the easy part of wealth building. The formula is simple. For the most part, we made good income and lived a moderate lifestyle. This combination enabled us to save 30-50% of our income for 20+ years. Both of these factors are important, but being frugal is the first step. Luckily, Mrs. RB40 and I are both naturally frugal. We don’t like spending money. Now that we have a son, I wonder if our frugal trait will pass down to RB40Jr. Let’s take a look at our saving history and then see how our son is turning out.

Joe’s saving habit

Was I frugal as a kid? I don’t really remember. I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand until I was 12. In Thailand, I didn’t feel the need to spend my own money because my parents provided for us. I had an allowance, but there wasn’t much to spend on. I remember buying some lemon preserves, Coke, and other snacks. That was it. Kids just ran around outside and invented games to play.

After we moved to the US, my parent started over and struggled financially for many years. Money was tight. During my teenage years, I rarely purchased anything and became very frugal. This habit stuck even after my parents’ finances improved. My parent remained frugal as well. After all, they had to save for college educations for their three sons.

After I graduated from college, I became a computer hardware engineer. I had a stable job and generated good income in my 20s and 30s. Over the years, I relaxed a bit and lived a more moderate lifestyle. I didn’t watch every little purchase anymore, but I knew I had to save for the rainy days. Saving a large portion of my income was never that hard for me. I knew the savings would come in handy someday.

Mrs. RB40’s saving habit

What about my wife, Mrs. RB40? She was a very frugal kid. As her grandmother used to say, “She’s the tightest kid I know.” Her family struggled financially when she was young too. Her dad has a degree in agriculture, but he struggled to find a good job in that field that provided some kind of work-life balance. Eventually, he found work with the county and their finances stabilized. Her mom was a stay-at-home mom, but she went back to school and became a teacher. (The law degree she earned overseas was essentially useless here.) That helped their household finance as well, though there always seemed to be one more major expense (car broke down, heater needed fixing, roof leaked, etc). Her parents were also DIY-ers and that helped a lot as well.

So, her financial history is similar to mine. She was cheap when she was a kid and the habit stuck. After college, her income started low as she found her way in the world. In 2006, she earned a Master’s degree. This opened doors and her income has been good since. While she has loosened up in recent years, she is still relatively frugal. This is probably due to my FIRE journey.

FIRE Journey

In 2010, I discovered the FIRE concept and got us onboard pretty quickly. My engineering career was starting to implode and I needed to get out. I retired from engineering in 2012 and became a stay-at-home dad/blogger. In theory, we were financially independent, but Mrs. RB40 doesn’t trust theory. She needs more security than that. It’s understandable because our AGI dropped 75% from 2012 to 2013. That’s not very reassuring. We made enough to support our moderate lifestyle. That was mainly due to Mrs. RB40’s job. We could withdraw 3% of our investment portfolio and it would cover our cost of living. However, Mrs. RB40 doesn’t like drawing down. She’d rather work a bit longer and put off withdrawal for a while.

It took a few years, but our finance improved tremendously since I retired from engineering. I made more money online and worked to increase our passive income. Now, Mrs. RB40 doesn’t have to work anymore. She could retire tomorrow and we’d be fine financially. Our passive income + my online income are enough to cover our living expenses as long as we continue living a moderate lifestyle. If we live it up and increase our spending, the numbers wouldn’t work out. Currently, we spend about $60,000 per year. That’s a comfortable level for us.

Anyway, saving money hasn’t been too difficult. We are used to this moderate lifestyle now and I don’t really need to spend more. Mrs. RB40 has relaxed a bit recently. She told me she’ll keep working longer so she can buy nicer clothes and eat out at nice restaurants. I think that’s fine. She’ll need to cut back once she retires, though. Maybe she can figure out a way to make some spending money after her retirement. We’ll see how it goes.

RB40Jr’s saving habit

Now, let’s look at RB40Jr’s saving habit. Our son is 7 years old and he is already frugal. He loves counting his stash of money. His grandparents send him cash for his birthday and various special occasions. Now, he has $392 and he doesn’t want to touch it. The only thing he thinks about spending money on is Lego. Occasionally, I’d bribe him with a 50% match to buy a small Lego set. Other than that, he doesn’t want to part with his savings. He is like his mom was when she was young.

He’s also picking up my frugal shopping habit. If he sees something on sale, he’d tell me to get it. Conversely, if he sees something expensive, he’d say – “What a ripoff!” That’s great. He’s starting to become a frugal guy. I’m so proud, hahaha.

Halloween candy saving experiment

Check out RB40Jr’s Halloween candy stash.

Halloween candy

This year, I told RB40Jr he can do whatever he wants with it. Surprisingly, he wants to make it last until next Halloween. Wow, that’s ambitious! I don’t know if he can do it, though. He got a nice haul, but I don’t see how it will last a whole year. However, I forgot that he’ll get more candy. Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter are all opportunities to add to his treasure hoard. Last week, he picked up some candy at his friend’s birthday party when the kids broke open a piñata. He also gets chocolate from Trader Joe’s occasionally when I need to bribe him.

Here is his stash after a week. That’s still a whole lot of candy.


His stash at Thanksgiving, about 3 weeks after Halloween.

candy at Thanksgiving

Wow, he’s doing better than I thought. The candy stash is dwindling, but there’s still plenty left. It looks like he’s saving the full-size packs for later. That’s smart. I don’t think it will last until next Halloween, but who knows? Good luck buddy.

Is saving money easier for some people?

Yes, I’m pretty sure it’s easier for some. Saving money has never been a big issue for me. The pain of making money eclipses the pleasure of spending. I’d rather save than spend if I have a choice. I have a lot more problem with overeating than overspending. Most of this is probably genetic, but the environment plays a big part too. If we grew up in a typical middle-class family that bought whatever they wanted, Mrs. RB40 and I probably wouldn’t be as frugal.

Hopefully, we can pass on our frugal mindset to our son. Life is a lot easier if you can save some money for the rainy days.

How about you? Do you have a difficult time saving money? Do you think frugality depends on genetics and/or childhood environment? How are your kids doing with their Halloween candy stash?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

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62 thoughts on “Is Saving Money Easier for Some People?”

  1. This might be a dumb question so I will say that in advance. When people say they are saving 30-50% of their income, is that assuming gross income or after tax? Not asking because it really matters, just trying to see if we are on track to hit those numbers.

    Currently we are maxing out two 401Ks and 2 Roth IRAs and combined that is about 32% of our gross income. So would that be the number everyone is using when saying they save X percentage of income? Obviously it would be better to use gross income rather than net to try and save more.

    • It should be gross income. My numbers here is actually a bit screwed up. This has my gross income and Mrs. RB40’s take-home income. I’ll get her pay stub next year and make it more accurate.
      32% of gross income is pretty good. I’d try to increase it to 40%. You need after-tax accounts too. Good luck and happy holidays!

  2. Hey Joe,

    I love the candy stash 🙂 Saving is definitely easier for some people!

    I know for me it has depended a lot on how I was brought up and starting to pay for most of my expenses at age 16. It’s part of how my parents raised me and I’m thankful to them for that. We’re currently not saving 50% of our income yet but will start and I’m excited to start investing that into index funds and real estate.

    Part is culture, part is childhood environment, and I would agree that even a little is genetics and personality!

  3. “His grandparents send him cash for his birthday and various special occasions. Now, he has $392 and he doesn’t want to touch it..”

    Wow! That’s impressive. I guess kids learn by seeing what their parents do, so both of your frugalness and ability to delay gratification has rubbed off on him. Well done parents!

    The Halloween candy experience is interesting…I never realized how useful that is for seeing whether a kid would be good at delayed gratification and frugal. Would love to see your future updates on whether his candy can last the whole year! (he deserves more candy just for that accomplishment if he can do it!)

  4. Savers save and spenders spend. Neither can understand the logic of the other.

    My Dad used to say I was tighter than a sharks backside and that was water tight. I blamed my mother! I remember an early argument in my early twenties with a good friend over credit card debt when such cards were fairly new inventions. He just could not see the logic of paying the full balance off every month. We remained friends but agreed to differ on how to use credit cards.

    My teenage daughter told me 5 years ago she needed an iphone. Had to be an iphone as all her friends had one. My reply to her “need” was that she would have to ask for money for Birthday and Christmas from all the family and friends if she really wanted one. To be fair to her she did exactly that. Three years later a replacement iphone was needed. Again I said she would have to fund it herself and again she did. That second iphone just fell apart and guess what she just used her weekend job to fund? Yet another iphone! I tried and failed to explain that if she bought a £1,000 iphone every two years from now on then that was about £40,000 over her lifetime so why not get a much cheaper phone and then have use of all that saved money. Whatever Dad – its my money and I use the phone lots so it is worth it to me…

    The irony is after recently leaving my job I now have her original iphone with a PAYG sim! Cost of phone zero – average spend roughly £2 a month so far.

    Savers gonna save, spenders gonna spend!

  5. saving is a habit that we can try to cultivate. still self control is a discipline that is inbuilt. If you have this inbuilt discipline cultivating this habit becomes easy. Otherwise it is okie to start experimentation as habit change is always possible

  6. That’s so great Junior is frugal already! My husband and I were both frugal growing up. I think he might be more frugal than me though. When I first met my husband and saw his broken car’s sunroof, and DIY bug screens for his windows I laughed because he seemed so frugal and not the ‘image’ that I had for him initially because he’s a high income earner.

  7. “What a ripoff!”

    RB40Jr made my day.

    I’m very fortunate when it comes to spending. For most of my life, I largely spent whatever I made. But that’s just because I embraced standard American spending habits. In other words, I didn’t know any better. But as soon as I discovered the personal finance community, my spendthrift ways disappeared overnight. Great post, my friend.

  8. I noticed that my friends who grew up in very frugal households tended to spend full price and overspend a lot more than their parents ever did – an overreaction? I LOVE saving but I haven’t figured out how to instill that in JB yet. The idea of money is too abstract, still, but I’m sure it doesn’t help when I take it all away and put it in zir 529.

  9. It’s definitely easier for some. Frugality has been ingrained in my head by my parents growing up. Although I have friends who grew up similarly who are not frugal because they felt like they were deprived growing up so need to make up for lost time. So it’s probably both genetics and environment.

  10. I certainly think that your upbringing and experiences in life will impact how you save.

    If you grow up in a family that struggles financially and your parents are frugal then its pretty natural for you to grow up to be frugal too.
    If you’re born into a rich family where they can/do spend whatever on whatever then you’re probably not going to be frugal.

    Of course people differ and someone who grows up poor may end up a spendthrift because they hated not having money to use in the past and when they get it they use it. If they don’t have an optimistic view of the future they might not feel that saving something like an extra $100 for the future will benefit them more than the short term enjoyment of blowing that $100 at the mall.

  11. i grew up with rural frugal parents, but we didn’t talk about that or much of anything. i didn’t save much early in adulthood due to a low income and then came dating in my mid-20’s. that’s when all the stuff i didn’t do as a kid became available. i got some decent clothes, some airplane tickets, a few hotel stays in nice places. i was just figuring it out and once i knew how the other half lived i became a saver, but i had to see/do that stuff for myself. all in all things ended up just fine.

    “good luck, buddy.” i like that experiment with your son. it’s hilarious and makes me want to mail him a few snickers bars for jan/feb/march.

  12. Saving has usually been very easy for me. I’d save my Easter candy until I forgot about it and it went bad ;-). A lot of it was probably taught from my mom as we often calculated the grocery shopping deals we could get.

    It’s getting a little more difficult with kids because it’s easy to tell myself that I’m investing in their education, which can get expensive. It’s always hard to say what kind of value you get out of it too.

  13. I’m sure that some people naturally find saving money easier than others. However, I’m equally certain that saving is a learned behavior, and it’s always possible to learn to improve the saving habit whatever age we are.

    My aim is to be balanced in my spending, rather than frugal. But since I retired early, I’ve reduced my spending (which ought to equal increased savings) without impacting my quality of life in the slightest. I’d certainly think that many others could do the same, and this would seem a good place to start to increase savings.

  14. Great post Joe!

    My wife and I are not great at being frugal! We tried several times to follow a budget but that really didn’t go too well. What worked for us was to automate our savings. We saved 50% of my wife’s income, increased the mortgage payments every year to coincide with our salary increase, put our year-end bonuses in our registered savings and used the tax return as a lump sum mortgage payment. We also used a few more tricks that helped with the savings. This way we were free to spend the rest guilt-free. These tricks along with a solid investment plan have helped my wife and I retire early from the rat race.


  15. The experiment with your son is such a creative idea!! He’s honestly doing really good and it shows how “frugal” he is. I think the reason why saving is important/easier for some people is due to the way we grew up. I think many immigrant families children have an easier time saving due to seeing our parents struggle. We see the hard work that they put in and how money can be scarce . That is why we try to save as much of it as we can.
    I think it’s important to put that idea into your son as well early on (which you are doing). I read somewhere that wealth doesn’t last more than 3 generations and that is because the children don’t see the struggle and hard work that is required for their parents to make money.

    • Thanks for your input. I’m starting to be afraid for his teeth, though. Eating candy every day is not good. You’re right about the struggle. I didn’t want to spend money because I know it’s hard earned. Lots of kids don’t see that now. They just see the parents going off to work in the morning and come home in the evening.

  16. Great post Joe

    I think, while family plays an important role, what really determines your saving habits is your intelligence (in strict term) and humbleness.

    If you don’t understand you cannot afford that 100$ dinner while you are 10-20K$ in debt on your 17% credit card, you are definitely not so clever…

    Same for the folk who buys the 50-70K$ car while he makes 100K$/y

    But still the majority of people (especially in the USA) acts in that way => that’s why mostly they are in debts with few/no savings)

  17. Hi Joe, this is a great topic. Thanks a lot for sharing the stories. That’s glad you and your wife share the similar frugal habits.

    Growing up poor, I was used to spending only on the necessities. My parents’ frugal lifestyle affected me a lot. But after I started working, my spending was inflated in some way. I guess, once a while, I had to rein in my lifestyle. It’s easy to let spending get out of control. Saving is always hard work, as it means sacrifices.

  18. Haha, I love the candy experiment you’re doing! That’s actually really good! Our daughter agreed to do a cruise and skip Halloween this year, so she only ended up with a few pieces this year. I was surprised she went with this option, but she still had a blast with all the Halloween parties on the ship.

    We’re very frugal as well and I’m curious if our daughter will carry that trait just like you’re wondering… fingers crossed!

    — Jim

  19. I love the candy frugality! Very comparable to the famous marshmallow-delayed-gratification experiment. I think your kid’s on a very good path.

    There sure does seem to be a common thread of frugality through almost all of the FIRE folks I know. It’s the foundation for these plans, for sure. I do appreciate that you acknowledge the income side of the equation as well.

    Our posts today dovetail pretty nicely, Joe. 🙂

  20. Savings has come as 2nd nature to me so yes it’s easy for me. I think this has a lot to do with how I was brought up and how I grew up. Being able to discuss money openly at home got me off to a good start I think.

    Looks like RB40Jr’s got the savings gene for sure lol!

  21. Yes, saving is definitely easier for some people, and I suspect that it has everything to do with 1) parents’ spending habits during formative years, and 2) social circle/”lifestyle”.

    My parents really didn’t talk about money when I was a kid. Looking back, my family was “middle middle” class. Not a lot of frugality needed, but we didn’t have any luxuries, and a big toy was a major purchase.

    I live in a big city, and spending here is out of control. I still haven’t figured it out – everyone seems to spend like they make 50% more than I do. My friends gamble, rent bars for holidays, go out 3x per week, and are constantly shopping. Honestly, I don’t know how they afford it. I can’t.

    Personally, I have two weaknesses: quality liquor, and music gear. It’s embarrassing how much of my disposable income goes toward those two categories.

    • Really? You don’t think genetics has anything to do with it?
      Thanks for sharing. People here spend like there’s no tomorrow as well.
      Liquor and music gear, huh? At least, you’re having fun. 🙂

  22. I’m actually shocked that the US savings rate is currently so high. Must be the average not the median? I’m with you on the savings bit; we’ve always been pretty good with saving our money, but with more moderate incomes this far, it still has not been easy shooting for that 50% mark even now that we’re tracking closely. Obviously frugality helps a ton, but so does that income 🙂

    • I think it’s still coming down. The savings rate increased quite a bit during the last recession and it’s taking a while to drop. The income is a huge part of it. If you don’t make enough, it’s a lot more difficult to save.

  23. I think the frugality definitely depends on childhood environment. My dad always encouraged me to save ever since I was a kid. For example, my parents let me choose between a bit higher allowance or a bus ticket, since the school was only a few kilometers from my house. So as a frugal kid, I walked even when it was negative 25 degrees celsius during the winter.

    I would not be able to save much either if I didn’t do it automatically right after payday since it’s really easy to find something interesting to buy if you have too much extra money in your bank account.

  24. I think frugality is easier for those who have to adopt it to survive at one point or another. It’s like a survival mechanism that you get used to and want to stick with to not have to worry about an unstable future. My family didn’t have much, so I knew saving money was a must.

    My sister, on the other, doesn’t see the point of saving money all the time and wants to enjoy life a little. My mom said it’s her personality. But I think it’s also because she grew up when my parents were doing better financially, so she doesn’t feel the need to save as much.

    It’s great you and Mrs. RB40 are on the same page financially. 😀

  25. I love how your son is picking up the mantle and carrying a great financial habit with his ambitious candy plan. That is a concept that deserves a post in itself in future. It will be even more impressive since he doesn’t earn on his savings (perhaps you can rectify that by adding some percentage of candy each month automatically based on what’s left).

    Wonderful that your wife and you are on the same page and have similar financial background growing up. It helps tremendously when both are on board.

    I find that especially in the later stages it is easy to have a high savings rate as your passive income grows and you maintain spending level

  26. Hey Joe,

    I think saving is something taught or observed from others. Some folks come by it naturally due to the “saving for winter” mentality but I suspect most stems from observed behavior. For you, it seems like you needed to be frugal early in your life when moving to America and this shaped your mindset for life. Likewise with your wife. Forced frugality on modest means is a sticky habit which persists in most cases even if incomes dramatically increase. Lifestyle creep certainly plays a part of you’re not careful, but I think the habit of saving and delaying gratification are learned from observing other people’s behavior and experiencing circumstances where saving is necessary.

    • I used to think the same. However, I’m changing my mind a bit because I hope our son will be frugal. He doesn’t have to deal with “forced frugality.” He’s a privileged kid. We’ll keep teaching him to be frugal without forcing it. Thanks!

  27. “What a rip-off.” Hah! Almost spit out my coffee on that one!
    Often we learn from our parents’ behavior and then we choose to be like them, or do the opposite. But saving also depends on whether you have a need for instant gratification or not. If not, it’s easier to get pleasure from saving. And finding saving enjoyable is the key to sticking with it.

  28. Hi Joe, I was tight as a kid like your son. Saving in my 20’s was the hardest. Seemingly unlimited wants versus a fixed amount of income. It got easier as my earnings grew and my desire to buy stuff was either satisfied or diminished. My guess is many people struggle to achieve that final state that propels savings and wealth building into one’s 30’s and 40’s Tom

  29. Definitely easier for some!! I think to a point (sometime earlier this mid-year) I decided to stop preaching saving money and frugality to deaf ears because…it just doesn’t work. Not with my friends, not with people who aren’t already frugal.

    I am probably not too convincing with my SCORCH EARTH expense cutting style. It’s just something that I keep to myself. Our expenses are still the same and will always probably be around the same.

    I think some people think we’re boring but they really need to redefine superficial consumerism as exciting. I know that I have one of the twisted minds and a level of internal creativity that keeps me stimulated (for free!!!) Ha!

  30. Good post Joe!
    This is is a topic I contemplate often. For me and my wife, it wasn’t so much that we grew up frugal, as much as we grew up poor. I was never hyper-frugal as a child. I remember making a quarter to run an errand and spending it all on baseball cards. I was smart enough to take care of my investments, and did a recent post on how my “collectibles” have grown as part of my portfolio.

    As life has moved on, the lessons were consistent: “No one is going to GIVE you anything.” or at least we learned not to count on that. That has provided a 2 pronged attack: 1. Make as much as possible. 2. Save and/or be frugal as much as possible.

    It’s not for everyone. I know my neighbors could Air BnB their home, or rent out their driveway for hundreds per month, but they aren’t interested in that.

    I do think saving is easier for some people, but it comes down to answering the honest question of “how bad do you want it?”.

    • I’m not sure about “how bad do you want it?” I was already saving and living frugally when I didn’t have a big goal in mind. It’s just a way of life. I think that’s where most people went wrong. They don’t have a financial goal so they don’t save for it. By the time they realize they like financial independence, they wasted a lot of time. Being naturally frugal gave us a big head start.

  31. My son’s stash has five candies left. But it was not him – my husband and I are most of them 🙂
    He is saving them to give it to five friends who come to our house every weekend – we coach them for First Lego league.

  32. Yes, if the habit is formed early on in life, it is easy. If impulsive buying is a habit of the parents, then it will that of the child and that same child will have maxed out Credit Cards in the future.

    It has been relatively easy for me since like the RB40Jr, I used to love getting brand new notes from my Dad for whatever event / occasion, and he knew my passion very quickly and worked hard to get me new notes from the bank. THAT helped a LOT. I kept stashing the new notes, laying them flat in my secret place and TO-DATE, I still love collecting new notes. My kids and my wife does not get, and I would have stacks of the $1, $5, $10, $20 and $100. I have finally learned to keep just $100o to $3000 in cash and give away the rest to a savings / bank account.

    Back to the point……It is the learning of sacrifice that makes the ‘collection easier’ and once it is done a few times as a child, it grows on you. I believe in this. It is of course, a little harder with the millenials today and the next gen that comes after that like RB40Jr. Even with those habits, the attraction of a $1000 phone is going to wipe away months of savings as a teenager. But, if that desire continues and the teenager works while getting great grades, then it will work great. But, working without getting great grades is NOT worth it, since you are just giving up the earning potential of the future, unless the child is a genius, which is not common in most families.

    So, be careful out there since there are some gotchas in the road, and too many pot holes to fall into as a parent. It is that savings habit that has allowed me to buy rental buildings in the midst of 2009 to 2018, when foreclosures are still in vogue and impulsive buyers are giving up homes to gain the next shiny toy of today.

    Not much one can do in the world of ‘quick fixes’ on everything, and ‘showing off the latest shiny toy’ which leads to thinking about what I wanted yesterday, that I will get today, to compromise on the tomorrow (< Read that again, please!).

    More later in other articles since we have a blizzard condition that is taking my electricity in the area down and I don't want all this typing to be lost!


    • Thanks for sharing. That’s really neat about the new banknotes. I’ll see if I can get some for RB40Jr. Nice job picking up some rentals. There might be some more deals coming up soon. 🙂
      You’re right about the new generation. There are so many more things to buy now. We didn’t have as many temptations when we were young.

  33. I grew up in a frugal family too, so saving money wasn’t that hard for me either.

    Part of saving money comes from not needing everything to be perfect either. I don’t mind owning used things. It doesn’t bother me.

    On the flip-side, I have friends that always need to have everything perfect — the best cars, the best house, the best school for their kids. Basically everything has to be perfect and they have piles of debt as a result.

    The price of perfection is very high. 😉

    • Coming from a frugal family sometimes helps, sometimes it’s the opposite. My father for instance can’t save for his life, even if his mother was very frugal. My husband is the same and my MIL is one of the most frugal people I knew. Probably they’re sick of all this saving thing, don’t know. I grew up with my father and his parents (they raised me) and I’m more like my grandma, it’s easier for me to save than for him, even if we lived in the same house for almost all my life. 😀


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