I've always liked the idea of saving money, but it's a skill I never really developed.
Marie C. Franklin was in almost the same situation as me when her two daughters entered college.
Franklin and her husband had to set money aside for their daughters, but the journalism professor didn't want to track expenses or pinch pennies.
Instead, she came up with her own daily saving trick, and over the last 13 years it has paid off nicely.
The $5 Trick
Franklin's savings plan is just this simple: any time she gets a $5 bill in her change, she sets it aside.
By saving all of her $5 bills, usually one bill per day, Franklin started building a nice little nest egg for her children.
“It was, simply, the only way I could manage to save even a small amount of money while shouldering, along with my husband, the responsibility of financing their college educations," Franklin wrote on her blog.
When she got a bill, Franklin hid it in a separate part of her wallet and "refused to spend it under any circumstance."
As her savings grew, the bills moved from her wallet to an envelope, then to a new bank account.
“Within weeks, I had a nice little stash, more than $200. Then $350. Then $500," Franklin remembers.
"By the end of the first year, I had saved almost $2000.”
The Power of Five
Seeing her impressive savings made Franklin realize she had stumbled onto something big.
“The power of five was with me," she said. "With time and patience, I could build a fortune this way.”
In fact, over the last 13 years, Franklin says she has saved up more than $50,000 using her daily challenge.
And she says the small daily amount - just one $5 bill - is the key to her success.
It's just "easier to put away smaller amounts of money," she explains, although some of Franklin's readers are now saving $10 and $20 bills.
How to Copy Her Success
Thankfully, Franklin is happy to share her money-saving wisdom with the rest of us, and revealed tips and tricks to mastering her system.
First, a little discipline with your money will make stashing those $5 bills easier.
"Take out enough cash to cover the basic expenses you expect to face in the next seven days," Franklin advises.
Use a $10 or $20 bill on any purchase under $5 to get your daily bill, and stick to cash purchases as much as possible.
"Only cash will do the trick," Franklin warns, since it's both easier to keep track of and easier to hide from yourself.
That may be why Millennials are in such dire straits these days, Franklin guesses. They lead a "mostly cashless existence."
Finally, stick with the daily challenge for at least two months before you call it quits.
"Turning chores into habits is an easy way to save," Franklin says, "and research has shown that it takes the average person 66 days to turn a new behavior into a habit."
The Savings Add Up
If you're still skeptical about Franklin's saving plan, the math does add up.
Put away one $5 bill a day for a year, and you'll have an "extra" $1825.
“Save five bucks a day until you turn 75 years old, assuming you’re 25 years old today," Franklin explains.
"That five dollar account, without adding in any compounded interest if you kept the money in a piggy bank, would be worth $91,250."
And Franklin has proof that the challenge works for other people. Her fans have shared their own saving stories from stashing $1 and $5 bills.
Still, the thrifty mom admits her scheme is not for everyone.
"Only you can decide. My hunch is, if you give it a try, you might get hooked. Because who doesn’t like to stash away a little money for a rainy day."
And just imagine the possibilities:
"If a 21-year-old decided today that she wanted to have a child in five years, and began saving two $5 bills a day until the baby’s birth, $17,600 would already be set aside to help with the child’s expenses."
More Ways to Save
If you're interested in saving money, but not ready to start tucking away every $5 bill that hits your wallet, there are even easier saving challenges to try.
The classic 52 Week Savings Challenge is popular on social media. It encourages you to save $1 the first week, $2 the next week, and so on for a year.
I actually found this challenge very punishing towards the end, when I was setting aside $45 one week, $46 the next, and so on.
But it pays off by the end, when you have a sweet $1,378 saved up. If you already survived this challenge, next year try doubling up (start with $2 a week) for an even tougher savings plan.
You can either fast by skipping that vice (for a day, a week, or a month) and put the savings into your bank account.
For a more interesting challenge, tax yourself for every vice. Each time you buy a $3 coffee, put $1 in your savings. You'll be surprised how quickly you break those bad habits.
To save money every week, study these Walmart shopping tips from a former manager.
These 11 crafty tips from the Great Depression will also help you save cash.