I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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I saved 10,000 dollars in a year…working minimum wage jobs. I know, right? How?

Before we go into the steps on how I was about to save $10,000 in just 52 weeks, I would first like to point out that I do not come from a wealthy – let alone a middle-class family –, and I saved $10,000 by steadily and diligently putting aside my extra funds into a separate saving account each week. You don’t need to have a high income job in order to do this. You don’t need to have a family that supports you financially to do this. And you can absolutely save $10,000 in a year earning minimum wage. You just need the will to do it.

Now that seems easier said than done, but believe me, when you have a specific need and a strong desire, it can be done. I believe wholeheartedly – and have experienced it in my own life – that unless you are in a situation that actually physically prevents you from being able to follow your dreams, you have the power and the potential do it. That is if you have the grit, the persistence and the belief to do it. You can truly do anything.

unless you are in a situation that actually physically prevents you from being able to follow your dreams, you have the power and the potential do it.

A little backstory…

After a 4-month trip writing and photographing around France, California and Bali, I came back to New York City to meet up with my boyfriend before we shlepped all of our furniture in a U-Haul to Old Town Alexandriaour new home for the next year. At that time I had $1,200 left in my savings account after my expedition through Bali. Just enough to buy furniture – which after splitting the house costs with him, I was left with  $600. My rent was $800 a month, and that didn’t include all of my other bills.

So, here I was at $600 in my bank account. Now, here’s how I got to $10,600.

How To Save $10,000 a Year Working Minimum Wage

Figure Out Your Why

You need a strong, emotional reason to want to save x amount of money. Where is this number going towards? Why do you need it? Would you be happy without it? If the answer is “no”, then you’ve got a strong enough reason to start putting away those dollars every week. You have to want it badly. Don’t be desperate or thirsty for it, but know that without this x amount to be used for x specific thing – you’re got to stay diligent. The reason I was able to save $10,000 was that I was unhappy where I was living. (Maybe that’s a bit dramatic – I was happy where I was, but I knew that needed to be somewhere else.) If it was the last and only thing I do, it was this. This intense desire fueled me; It fueled me to keep running and working and saving. You can do anything, but you need to ask yourself why you need it.

Everyone needs a why before they can begin. I share more about the importance of starting with why here.

Cook at Home

One of the most important steps to saving 10,000 in one year was that I cooked every meal at home.

After I decided what I needed and why I needed it, I broke it down into easy, manageable steps. First step? No more eating out at restaurants, cafes and ordering deli sandwiches to go for lunch.  While I am a major foodie, traveling and pursuing hobbies means more to me. Everyone has their own priorities, values and things that bring them the most joy. While I love a nice meal with friends, I’d rather buy a plane ticket. That’s just me and my values. Time is my most important currency, and getting clear on how you want to spend your time in life is paramount.

So, I prioritized it. Trader Joes every week. My boyfriend and I cooked romantic dinners together and made it a fun experience – there is truly nothing more fun than slow dancing and making out in the kitchen while your pasta is cooking, am I right? . We went out for Christmas dinner, our birthdays and anniversary – but 95% of our meals were at home.

I just wouldn’t have saved $10,000 in a year working minimum wage jobs if I grabbed lunch at chipotle once a week.

Remember that you’re going to have friends pressure you to accompany them out to a restaurant. Your friends will ask you to meet them at the bar for a drink. There are alternative ways to hang out, ways that don’t include spending money. I found that being communicative and kindly stating your values and intentions for the year helps. 

Note: If instead, your goal is to save $10,000 for the freedom of being able to eat our with loved ones, skip this step.

Tip: When you’re debating on whether or not to splurge at a fancy restaurant or getting that burrito to go, ask yourself: “what could this x amount get me while traveling/doing _____” A $25 dinner out x 6 = a paragliding experience in Germany. No thank you.

Shop Around

I have a bad, bad love affair….with books. Real, quality, nice-smelling, hardcover books. Does that mean I go to Barnes and Noble every few weeks? No. Not when I’m earning minimum wage and have a goal to save $10,000 in a year. Instead, I thrift. I buy the cheapest, used book on Amazon. I hop around garage sales. Sometimes I find free vintage finds on the street. I get hand-me-down clothes from my friends and roommates (some of which I still totally have and wear often!)

Point is: don’t buy the first great thing you see. Look around. Ask for it. Thrift.

Strategize and Earn Passively

Instead of putting your savings in a checking account like at Bank of America, where I used to be at for years, go put your funds in a high APR interest savings account.

Do a quick Google search and find the highest APR interest high-yield savings account with no annual fee! Personally, I love Synchrony, and I earned about $300 in a single year. For doing nothing…except having my money sit there.

Put your savings in a high APR interest savings account. Not a checking account.

There are other ways to earn passively: monetize your blog, begin an Amazon affiliate (you can shop all my favorite books and things here!), sell stock photos on Shutterstock, become a Virtual Assistant on Upwork, create a course and sell it online. The income streams are endless.

Hustle in Alignment 

I normally hate the word “hustle”, but I’m gonna use it here. Last year, I worked 6-7 jobs a week. Literally. I’d wake up early and walk my neighbor’s walk dogs. Then I’d have fun teaching pre-schoolers in the early afternoon. Then I’d go back to walk some more pups at lunchtime. Then I’d hop on my bike and race to my retail job late into the evening. Then, sometimes I’d go babysit! All the while, I was running my part-time photography business and photographing families on the weekends. Aside from 30% self-employment taxes, federal taxes, etc – I was able to save a lot of money. And I enjoyed every second of it. I loved all of my jobs, even the $12-an-hour (before taxes) retail jobs. In fact, these were my favorite day-jobs ever. Yes, I was working 7 days a week, but when you find things you love doing, it doesn’t feel like work. I would go back to teaching and working a boutique as a side-gig in a heartbeat! It was so much fun for me! What can I say, I enjoy the simple things in life. 

Buy What You Need

This is the part where you say “Aww, Helena – you have no life!” Look, unless you’re rolling in the dough and making a steady salaried income, and a nice one at that, focus on your goal. While saving, I lived in a small town that was easily walkable, have plenty of bike lanes….and yet, everyone drove a car. Instead of car payments and the stress of car ownership (I personally love financial freedom), I bought a bike! And I biked everywhere, even through rain and snowstorms and thunderstorms – you name it, my good ol’ bike “Jane” took me there. If you live in a city that has a metro or tram, opt for that! Even UberPool can save you loads of money than if you purchased a car. Simplicity is the name of the game!

When you buy only what you need, not only will you live more frugally but life will be simpler and thus more peaceful. 

I hope my personal story of how I saved $10,000 in one year earning minimum wage can help you on your road to financial freedom. I have found ways that have worked for me, that society and my peers may sometimes reject, but it is for these reasons and my persistence and diligence that I am able to live the life I always dreamed of. I hope you can also live the life you always imagined.

Much love and joy,

Helena

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How I saved $10,000 in one year earning minimum wage

How I Saved $10,000 in 1 Year…Earning Minimum Wage

September 25, 2018

  1. Christine Boris Esteban says:

    You never cease to amaze me, Helena!

    • helenawoods says:

      aw thank you Christine!!! <3 🙂 I hope you are doing amazingly and that retirement from teaching is treating you so so well!

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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