Challenge Everything Complete! $5,484.07 Banked!

We did it!! 12 straight months of challenging our bills and stuff, and here we are now with a nice pile of change :) And $5,484.07 at that! Only $15.93 short of maxing out our Roth IRA – woo!

Here’s one last shot of our USAA account for proof:

total savings usaa accountWhat a ride it’s been too… From battling with cable companies, prying ourselves from our (once) beloved iPhones, hawking stuff on Craigslist every week, scooping up free change thrown on the ground by dummies, stashing away birthday money, slashing insurance rates and more.

And to think it all came out of one simple line of text from Mr. Money Mustache:

“Every permanent drop in your spending has a double effect: it increases the amount of money you have left over to save each month, and it permanently decreases the amount you’ll need every month for the rest of your life.”

I had been on the Earn-Earn-EARN! train for so long that I stopped paying attention to my monthly expenses and needed a kick to get back on track again. Thus, Challenge Everything was born and I started going over all major bills we had on rotation to try and get them lower, while still maintaining our same quality of life. And for three of them we won!

(Unfortunately I kinda stopped there as I got caught up with selling everything in our house and finding other ways to stash away money, but still – we got the main areas out side of healthcare done! (And don’t even ask about healthcare, ugh…)

Total banked by paying attention to just these 3 bills brought in $2,503.73 in 12 months. And two of them just required a single phone call to slash! (Verizon – when we moved our phones over to Republic Wireless saving $100+/mo, and USAA car insurance when we cut back on stuff we didn’t use. In fact, that call literally took us less than 15 minutes!)

But of course we didn’t stop there :) Once I got into the habit of re-thinking how we spend money, I started challenging all our “stuff” in the house too. Half of which just took up space and I didn’t care for, but another half I normally would have kept because I *do* actually like, but came to realize I much prefer the cash instead (and space freed up by de-cluttering too).

craigslist money lovers

So every week I did my best to list one item for sale on Craigslist and other places around town, which brought home another $1,027.67 on top. Then I started coming across other random money that would hit us throughout the months (found change, birthday money, refunds, etc) which brought us another $1,952.67 in realized savings. All totaling a whopping $5,484.07!

And since I separated out all this money into its own private account, I knew exactly what I was coming into each month which only motivated me to continue going further. I honestly can’t say enough about how instrumental that was. When you have an account that ONLY GOES UP every month because you’re only adding to it and NOT touching it, it because one of your favorite things to look at :) The only other thing I can compare it to is your 401(k) or IRA account that keeps building up over time since you’d never pull from it or you get penalized up the ass (built-in motivation right there! Haha…).

That’s really all I did! It was all rather simple:

  1. Cut bills, funnel the difference over
  2. Sell stuff online, funnel the profit over
  3. Don’t spend any “extra” money you come into, funnel it all over!

Here’s how it all broke down – for you visual nerds ;)

challenge everything savings chart

You’ll see my special column there for all the coins I found on the ground, haha… AND $20.00 bill last month too – that was quite the surprise!

In fact, look at that column for “Random money” – almost $2,000 that went through our hands totally unexpected. That was one of the biggest surprises of the whole challenge. I knew we got extra money here and there, but $2 G’s? Imagine where it would have gone had we not been dutifully setting it aside? Makes you wonder about your own $$ too, right? :)

Lots of interesting tidbits learned actually, but before we get to that, here’s the final breakdown of our last month worth of challenging stuff – August:

challenge everything - august

Of note are the 5 things sold online which felt great (I was in a drought earlier in the Summer), and two of which came from that OfferUp app. In fact, one of the items actually BROKE in my pocket as I was carrying it over to meet w/ the buyer – hah! I was so embarrassed and apologized profusely, and the guy actually STILL offered to pay me full price for it! I was like – “Noooo way man, I screwed this one up – why don’t you just take it for free?” But he wouldn’t have that either, saying he could glue parts of it back together (!!) so we settled on $10 instead of $15 and both came away happy. Though I was still pretty embarrassed and shocked at the same time :)

The other biggie ($180) came from Ebates with my wife apparently shopping through there more and probably recruiting some of her friends too, haha… or maybe from me linking it here too? (They pay $10/referral I believe) In either case, it was unexpected $$ and thus banked into the ol’ pot here. My wife, and others around town, do swear by them though – check it out ;)

Other interesting nuggets from the year:

  • Our savings account accrued a whopping $1.73 all year
  • I forget what it’s like to own an iPhone!
  • Our cable bill went from $170.77 to $131.45 then to $91.02 , $122.63 and eventually back up to $145.97! (Most recent bill we just got hit with)
  • SO WE CUT CABLE ONCE AND FOR ALL!!! (More here for those who missed it)
  • We won two lottery tickets (gifts) in the process worth $4.00
  • We randomly received a Toyota lawsuit check of $29.23 (hah)
  • And a total of $530 worth of gift money (birthdays, Christmas, other)
  • As well as $725.95 in refunds/re-imbursements
  • $237.23 in credit card rewards (we put everything we can on them, and then pay bills off in full)
  • The most I made selling something was $225 (for guitar + amp + accessories)
  • The least I made selling something was $5.00 (used dart board I had picked up at a yard sale)
  • The average I made per item was $33.15
  • The total # of items I ended up selling was 31
  • Which meant I was only successful 60% of the weeks I listed something (31 weeks out of 52)
  • The only month I didn’t sell anything was April
  • 3 of the things I sold were weapons: sword, knife, darts!
  • There’s only one thing I miss (but wouldn’t undo): my wooden dragon
  • And the only months I didn’t find any change on the ground were November, December, and January

And boy did I learn a lot in the process too.

Outside of the shock of how much *extra* money we come across in our lives, as well as how instrumental setting up that separate savings account was, I also learned the following:

I realized just how EASY it is to cut back when you stop and pay attention! And also that most of us still have plenty of fat we could cut from our spending if we really wanted to.

I also learned that I adapt pretty easily to changes as much as I’m sometimes afraid of doing so (like dropping our iPhone for $100+ savings every month, or cutting back cable which I still don’t miss yet after now being 2+ weeks without!). Or for that matter, no longer owning any of those 31 items above. As well as the boxes I’ve since donated and got a tax refund on too (ooooh I should have added that rough # to the savings! oh well…)

It’s also opened up my eyes on how much MORE I still have to go in cutting back and spending less too. While I did do good on those 3 major bills up there, I kinda slacked off from there and didn’t touch other bills I knew would be harder to deal with and more annoying. I also still have a house FULL of stuff I can most likely do without, and I haven’t even touched some boxes in the basement that would have been prime for the picking off/selling on CL!

I also came to the conclusion that some stuff just takes way longer to earn income from than others. For example, anything less than $10-$15 worth on Craigslist probably isn’t worth the time, whereas cutting back just 1 bill 1 time pays dividends every month going forward. Which means I should have paid much more attention to my bills than all that selling I got obsessed with! :)

This $5,484.07 also feels like FREE money!! I had to work for it of course and offload some stuff, but really if everything was status quo the entire year I would have had $5,500 less in my accounts and not even really known. Even if we ended up only at $1,000 by the end it would have been worth the effort!

And lastly, I learned I need to make it “a thing” in order to hold myself accountable :) Without blogging about it to y’all and telling my friends, there would have been an easier chance for me to give up and fade it into the background. Similar to the other habits and experiments I’ve worked on (and succeeded with) over the years. We suck at staying motivated sometimes when we don’t tell people! And y’all just kept egging me on over the months which helped even more – so thank you :)

What does the future hold?

money street

Well, I’m not sure I’ll be tracking and blogging about it so diligently every month, but you can bet your sweet cakes the challenge will most def. push on! How could I pass up so much extra money flying around like that? I’ve only gotten started! :)

And while it may look like I spent a lot of time accumulating this $5,500, I honestly didn’t notice it much outside of dealing with the dreaded cable company on and off… In fact, it probably took me more time to type out all 12 of these recaps than it did to earn the money! Hah!

So a mission well worth the effort indeed… And now I get the pleasure of dumping out all that cash sitting there and starting over – woo! If I hadn’t already maxed out my Roth IRA in anticipation of this beautiful day I’d be headed over to Vanguard, but filling back up my Emergency Fund will feel just as good too I’m sure…

I hope you’ll continue slashing and saving along with me! Do let me know how it’s going for those of you following along as well. Some of the emails you’ve sent over were downright inspiring, and I want others to be able to see how easy (and fun!) this stuff can be!

Let’s celebrate together!

PS: You can find all the recaps and more on Challenge Everything here.
PPS: As well as the list of everything I sold throughout the year on Craigslist here.

Thanks for following the series!!

[Photo creds: Jeffrey Rowland, @Saigon]

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  1. Ramona September 21, 2015 at 5:47 AM

    You’ve done a great job, that’s clear :)

    We have also tried to earn more, especially since our baby brought a new ‘set’ of expenses. It works OK, but we have been a bit too relaxed with our spending and savings, which is clearly not the way to go.

    I plan on selling some of the stuff we don’t use anymore on a local web site (similar to craigslist) and earn some bucks. I have already started to ‘redirect’ some money into a jar for my daughter’s Christmas presents. While we’ll fund her ‘fun’ from the regular expenses, if I keep up with it until then, something tells me we’ll have quite enough for her and maybe something left for her birthday (which comes in February).

    Anyway .. little things add up.

    Tracking expenses and setting up a budget will also get us back on the right direction.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 7:54 AM

      Boom! Do it! Babies sure are expensive, but wow do they add some awesomeness to your life :) Hope she’s nice and healthy and bringing y’all tons of joy!

      1. Ramona September 21, 2015 at 2:26 PM

        She’s clearly our treasure. More precious than the biggest diamond in the world :)

        We were expecting added costs, the only issue is that my small business revolves around me and I get few hours/day to work (very few in some cases). But it’s getting better.

        We do well though, right now we are not in debt, income is good, and she’s clearly making us happy.

        Thank you for your kind words ;)

        1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 2:40 PM

          I’m so glad to hear :) The hours will get better as time goes on! The first phase of babies are horrible for that, which is why they make them so cute haha….

  2. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer September 21, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    I have to say I am most amazed at the fact that you had the time to track all of this stuff. Obviously I have to learn to manage my time better as I can barely find the time to track our spending. :-)

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 7:55 AM

      well, it’s a LOT more fun tracking income than expenses, I’ll tell you that much ;)

  3. Mark@BareBudgetGuy September 21, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    Over $5K that is sweet! I like to think I am challenging things, but I’m definitely not tracking it to the penny. I definitely need to make it “a thing!”

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 7:57 AM

      yeah, you’re probably bringing home a ton of extra $$ here and there but don’t realize the sum of the awesomeness until you track it :) but fortunately for those who are good with $$$, like you, at least it’s probably being sent somewhere on your priority list which is good!

  4. Kalie September 21, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    I love that MMM quote (which I first read here), and your phrase “challenge everything.” You’ve inspired us to get back to selling on ebay. And I’m going to tackle my cell phone bill, which I’ve put off since it’s not very expensive, but I know I’m over-paying on. You grand total is awesome!

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 7:58 AM

      yayyyyy! that makes me so happy you’re gonna challenge around! so glad you’re enjoying the mission and it’s prompting you to take action :) that really is the most important part!

  5. Chris @ Flipping a Dollar September 21, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    I love the random money! We do two things with that money normally. First is that any gifts to our kids go right into a 529 (still need to set up the MD one for kid #2).

    Any other money though, we’ll put it toward the mortgage (assuming we don’t have a pressing need). We’ve kind of set up these “automatic” extra payments to our mortgage. 1st is our getting rid of PMI but still paying that extra money that month towards the mortgage (9972 per year). 2nd is using our dependent care (5k per year) money and putting that towards our mortgage too.

    All of this means that we have a lot less of the “random” money but we’re able to put saving on autopilot.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 8:00 AM

      Yup! Brilliant.

      We do the exact same thing too with any kid $$$ – it all goes to their 529s! And lately (unfortunately) it’s been the *only* amounts being deposited in there :(

  6. Dee @ Color Me Frugal September 21, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    I love that MMM quote. He’s also inspired me to get our fixed expenses as low as possible. I started working on lowering our fixed expenses over a year ago, and I’m still working on it! We just keep finding new places to cut, and I keep calling up billers I’ve already called and asking them to lower my rate again- and they do (sometimes)! It’s definitely worth the effort to get those fixed expenses as low as possible.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 8:01 AM

      Love to hear that :)

  7. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies September 21, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Change found on the ground totally makes me smile. This is a huge accomplishment. And something I’ll totally keep in mind now that I’m in the midst of my annual car/homeowners insurance “shopping.” It’s a bit of a hassle, but why would I just blindly accept rate increases?

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:29 AM


  8. Heather @ Simply Save September 21, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    Woohoo! That’s fantastic!

  9. Money Beagle September 21, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Fantastic work and very inspiring. That’s a good chunk of change and it sounds like you’re putting it towards great use. Congrats!

  10. Andrew September 21, 2015 at 9:36 AM

    That is fantastic! Just think about how much that will be over 10-20 years even at a modest interest rate! MMM got me thinking when he spoke about thinking about costs in decades instead of single years or months. When you make $$ decisions with a longer time frame in mind it seems you tend to make much wiser financial choices!

    I enjoy reading about people break out of consumerism and start to realize their potential and how much tougher they become in the process!

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:30 AM

      And the best part about it? Once you figure it all out it’s sooooo easy going forward too. Just a matter of getting the process/habits in place and then it sticks with you forever :)

  11. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life September 21, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    I’m with you in that when I’m in the EARN EARN EARN mindset I get a little less mindful of my spending. It’s kind of ridiculous how much money I’ve spent on food delivery in the past year.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:31 AM

      What’s more ridiculous is that I wasn’t invited over to eat any of it! *tear*

  12. Tawcan September 21, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    It’s pretty amazing that a small amount here and there do add up. This reminds of me that Russell Peters joke about getting something from a Chinese store… “50 cents here and 50 cents there and pretty soon you have money to buy something big.” or something along the line.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      that’s a good one :)

  13. Emily @ September 21, 2015 at 9:45 AM

    Good job. We are trying to make one savings change per month, and I’m hoping it will snowball. Last month was about cutting 2 subscriptions we don’t use ($20 a month, but absolutely painless). This month is about signing up for a Time of Use program with our power company. Got to start a spreadsheet to track the results, though.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:33 AM

      Yeah! Spreadsheets are fun!!

  14. Erik September 21, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    J, first off great talking with you at FinCon! With a kid on the way, my wife and have been wanting to get rid of some stuff to make room for Baby Sorro. I turned to this challenge to learn things and have sold a desk and tv that hadn’t been used in nearly 2 years. $105 later we now have half our crib paid for!

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 11:34 AM


      And your TV and desk are now being used by someone who needed them too – triple win :)

  15. Lisa O September 21, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    Nice Job! I feel inspired to continue the cleaning out of stuff I don’t want to put the cash away for another day. I am with you that if you write it down and watch where it comes from, it gives you a push. I have a book with all my extra money that comes in from rebates, cash rewards, found money, consignment and recycling. This years total to date is $440.41…I am hoping to hit $600 by December. Here’s to tax free money working for you :)

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 12:06 PM

      AWESOME!!! Best book ever right there :)

  16. Miriam September 21, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    That’s awesome! Very inspirational. We’ve already decided we’ll be switching me to Republic once we can pay for the phone, and keep the other one on T-mobile (because he uses a ridiculous amount of data. Like what even is he DOING with all that data?). AND…
    We’ve signed up for Simple. We’ve lost 300 bucks to USAA in fees in the past 4 months (some our fault, some NOT our fault) and I just can’t take the stress anymore. So we’re splitting the paychecks. “How I paid off $37,000 in debt using Simple” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 12:08 PM

      oh wow – sucks about USAA I’m sorry! I rarely hear anything bad about them at all so it’s quite surprising :(

      But yes – Simple is BLOWING UP right now from what I hear… people love them! So I’m sure you will too :)

  17. Hannah September 21, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Yesterday we ripped up the carpet in my office, and we found $1.27 in the process. My husband’s comment, “This remodel is practically paying for itself.”

    While that’s not quite true, I think found money is the best. One thing we’ve been doing this year is funneling unspent money directly to investment accounts. We’ve never done that before, and it’s yielded over $3K (in budgeted money that’s gone unspent). That’s not too shabby in my opinion.

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 12:09 PM

      Just incredible… imagine if you continue doing that over the years?? even if you don’t that $3k will turn into $30k+ over time alone!

  18. Fervent Finance September 21, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    Awesome! $5k is nothing to sneeze at, and it was mostly done by cutting bills and selling stuff you didn’t need!

  19. Steve Miller September 21, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    Congrats on over $5k in savings, you are the man.

  20. Kurt September 21, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    Congrats, awesome effort. I’m especially impressed with the wireless phone move. My wife and I are typically late adopters because we know once you move to a new technology or gadget, more than likely you’ve taken on an additional cost, for life. (We never had cable tv until 2009–just in time for it to become obsolete! ;) ) A big pat on the back to you for giving up those costly iPhones!

    1. J. Money September 21, 2015 at 1:06 PM

      Thanks man! It was something I would have NEVER done just a year+ ago. It’s even weird to type this since I thought I’d be buried w/ my iPhone!

  21. Mr. SSC September 21, 2015 at 1:10 PM

    That’s pretty sweet banking that much. Mrs. SSC has been going through our kids old toys, and slowly putting them out there on Craigslist and our neighborhood mommy and me page. when she was telling me how much she was making I told her, “Oh! Keep track of it, and I’ll add it into the budget update next month!” Haha!
    I did get one of our bills halved just by calling and asking. We’re even stuck in a contract for another year, and they still dropped it by half, saving us $420 for the year. Win!

    1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 2:48 PM

      You need to totally post up that spreadsheet of $$ wins next month – you know we love seeing that stuff!

  22. Ali @ Anything You Want September 21, 2015 at 1:23 PM

    This is awesome! Great illustration of how seemingly small lifestyle changes really add up over time!

  23. Jover2 September 21, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    Alternate title: How I maxed out my Roth for $15.93. :)
    I’d like to challenge you to Challenge Everything 2.0! Go all out and beat year one, and you’re already ahead of the game since you have the 3 recurring savings, EsPeCiAlLy now that you cut cable!
    Go after the big ticket items: homeowners insurance, healthcare, travel, etc.
    And/or get that travel hacking habit started! :)

    1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 2:49 PM

      You do make some tempting points :) I’ll consider!

      1. Jover2 October 8, 2015 at 11:55 AM

        Glad to see you considered and accepted the challenge :)

  24. Its All The Same September 21, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    I’ve been enjoying this series of blogs immensely. Over the summer I had mentioned it to my wife and daughter, accenting the “Found a Penny” portion that just makes me smile.

    This past weekend my daughter, who is in college, texted me….

    “Found a Dime”

    Made my day!!

    1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 2:49 PM

      Go daughter!!!

  25. Mrs. Crackin' the Whip September 21, 2015 at 8:00 PM

    It’s motivating how you’ve kept track of it. Look at all those savings from only 6 categories! We finally cut our gym membership this month! I’ve also found that if you go back and re-evualuate you can often find other things to cut when you thought there was nothing left. Just wait 3 or 6 months and you can start to see more glaring items in the budget! I get hung up on AC quite a bit because our normal recurring bills have tanked but I know there’s still potential savings out there. We just have to figure it out!

  26. Done by Forty September 22, 2015 at 1:04 AM

    Five grand is like, used Toyota money. And I love me some Toyota.

    I, too, have really not paid a lot of attention on my spending and where we can cut. Mostly because I don’t want to cut just yet. There’s always more waste to eliminate, but what if the waste is tasty restaurant food?

    1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 2:50 PM

      haha… used Toyota :)

      reminds me of a friend who used to measure units of time in cigarettes. he’d always tell me how long somewhere took by how many cigs he could smoke before getting there – hah.

  27. Michelle September 22, 2015 at 4:24 AM

    Nice tracking and management skills J. I am very much amazed with how you are able to do this task really well. And, I know it’s worth it especially after seeing what you have spent and the total of your savings. Congrats J Money!

  28. Christine @ The Pursuit of Green September 22, 2015 at 2:47 PM

    Wow!!! Great job on keeping track of this all year long and keeping it going! That’s a lot of money saved over only one year and it’s just going to get better since you set yourself up for success for the future.

  29. Kalen @ MoneyMiniBlog September 22, 2015 at 3:46 PM

    Congrats! It has been so fun watching you go through this challenge…and you had some outstanding results! My wife and I recently went a month without spending any money (other than rent and utility-type stuff) and it was a blast! We haven’t bought groceries in 3 months. I think the whole idea of a challenge is just plain fun!

    1. J. Money September 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM

      Woahhh – loving that!! It really is all about the challenge with this stuff. And then the longer you go, the more it becomes habit!

      Let’s see if you can go 4 months now w/ no groceries ;)

  30. BeSmartRich September 22, 2015 at 4:56 PM

    5K is a lot of money. Wow your challenge was extremely successful. Congrats~!. I have the exactly same mindset when it comes to money and sometimes I overthink which makes my wife unhappy. Well.. Deal with it wifey!

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. J. Money September 25, 2015 at 1:03 PM

      Haha… I was actually prompted to start the separate savings account because of my wife! I wanted to show her just how much it adds up over time so she stopped making fun of me! and it worked! :)

  31. EL September 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    That’s great J, 5K is nothing to sneeze at. Oh wait I did almost sneeze when I saw the total you saved. I guess I’m calling my car insurance provider today. Time to challenge them to save me money.

    1. J. Money September 25, 2015 at 1:04 PM

      I want a beer if you become a millionaire off it :)

  32. Portia December 30, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    I love the idea of tracking how much change you find on the ground. Anytime I see change on the ground I pick it up and tell myself, “that’s more than my savings account accrued in interest this month” which is true. It’s worth the effort, and now I’m inspired to track it as well.
    Thank you!

    1. J. Money December 31, 2015 at 11:23 AM

      HAH! That’s very true! Love that way of thinking :)