Every time Jody Avirgan, a podcast producer at website FiveThirtyEight, and his fiancée receive a crisp, green $5 bill — whether getting back a five in change, finding it on the floor, whatever — they put it into a seemingly innocuous coffee can.
"For the last year and a half or so, I have undertaken a project, along with my fiancée, to not spend any $5 bills. Every $5 bill that we come in contact with, we've been putting aside. We don't spend it, and we put it aside in our apartment. And we're saving this money for our wedding party."
After two years of socking away every $5 bill he received, it was time for the big day. No, not quite wedding day, which happens this weekend, but Jody was willing to pop open the two coffee cans filled with fives and show us how much money he saved.
$2,930 in $5 bills.
"The main thing is that it is very simple and very tangible. And the main thing I think for me is that it adjusts an existing behavior, instead of trying to add a new behavior," Avirgan said about his unconventional saving method.
"There was that Charles Duhigg book, 'The Power of Habit,' and that was kind of the underlying argument of that book, which is that if you want to change your behavior, the best thing to do is change something you're already doing," he said. "Alter something you're already doing, as opposed to trying to adopt something entirely new. So the notion of, 'spend less money,' is this big kind of new behavior that would be really challenging for me or maybe a lot of people. Where as, I was already getting a lot of fives. To just divert those fives felt a lot easier."
The other thing Avirgan noticed was that it affected his other behavior as well.
"This was a small effort, but it started trickling up to the rest of my behavior. Simply by doing this, I did see myself being more conscious of how much money I was spending. I saw myself doing the things I've been trying to do for years, like cook from home and just like spend less when I go out for dinner."
While Avirgan was able to save his way to nearly $3,000 one five at a time, it might not work as well for you.
"There's a finance expert that I spoke to, Tim Maurer, who has this notion that the most important notion in personal finance is personal. Meaning that it's really about what works for you. A lot of finance experts come from this place of 'this worked for me, it must work for everyone.' So I want to caution against that a little bit, and not say everyone should try this $5 trick. It worked for me. I think the larger lesson on why it worked for me — which was pick something simple, change your default — I think are applicable to a lot of people."