Would You Rather Save a Dollar or Make a Dollar?

by Katy on November 25, 2009 · 21 comments

I was driving to work the other morning when a story came on National Public Radio about carpooling and incentive programs.

This story was very interesting to me because the person being interviewed, (Cliff Winston of the Brookings Institution) said that a monetary incentive programs work well because:

“People are, in fact, more motivated to save a dollar than gain a dollar.”


I have found the opposite to be true.

People, (okay, my children) make fun of me for all the measures I go to in order to save money, but no one has ever mocked me for the money I have earned.

Whenever I have to point out to the clerk that I am bringing my own grocery bags and should get the nickel rebate, I try to think of it as five cents on the ground that I would bother to bend over for. Yes, it’s a little embarrassing, but ultimately worth it.

A bit of a mind trick, because even for me, earning a nickel may be more of an incentive than saving one. But on the other hand, I get such a thrill out of buying items for pennies on the dollar.

I know many people who are always picking up overtime shifts because their regular wages are not enough to cover their bills. If these people were to take that time to lower their expenditures, it would be a much better long term solution to their financial woes. But these people would rather earn a dollar than save one.

The words from the radio resonated with me as I found my mind exploring whether I prefer saving money or making money. As the Non-Consumer Advocate, I should prefer to save money, but I’m really not sure. I love coming across financial windfalls, but I also love it when I’m able to save a significant amount of money.

I think I’m just going to have to come to the conclusion that I love both saving money and earning money. (It’s like my children — how can I prefer one over the other?!)

How about you? Are you motivated more by savings or earnings? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Bad Hippie November 25, 2009 at 4:46 am

Hmm…it’s pretty exciting to come across a financial windfall – especially if you need it to cover a big expense (say, for a serious home maintenance issue) and you’re having trouble saving fast enough.

But it’s also pretty darn exciting to watch your savings account grow and know that you’ve been socking the cash away and still paying all your bills without gong into crisis each month!

I’m with you – both options are good. 🙂


Meg November 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

I’d rather do both, but if it comes down to it, I’d rather save a dollar.

First off, if we’re talking about $1 before taxes, then once you factor in taxes the $1 you earned is a lot less than the $1 you saved — especially if you’re self-employed.

Secondly, you usually have to *do* something to earn $1, whereas you can often save $1 by *not* doing something. Call me lazy, but saving a $1 just seems easier.


Angela November 25, 2009 at 9:37 am

I had come to the same conclusion by the end of the post- I like both!

I think maybe most people feel like they have more control over saving than over earning, especially if they’re on a fixed income or salary that doesn’t change. Since there’s no way they can pick up extra shifts or earn more, they CAN control their standard of living by saving more.

Interesting idea to think about.


chrisck November 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

I agree that a $1 saved is actually more than $1 earned because it’s not minus the tax. On the other hand, earning $1 adds to the size of your social security payments in the future.

As for personal satisfaction–I think both have their rewards. Thrift can be smart & creative, but doing wage-earning work you enjoy has its rewards as well.


Lisa November 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm

When I worked, I enjoyed earning a dollar. Now that I live on social security disability, I enjoy saving a dollar. Saving is more of a challenge when you live on a limited income, but it’s so satisfying when you come across a new way to save!


thenonconsumeradvocate November 25, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I do like how saving money is often from the simple act of doing nothing whatsoever.

“Today I didn’t go to a movie and a restaurant.”

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


fairydust November 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

I’m actually not sure! At first, when I started reading your post, I thought that I was easily in the save-a-dollar camp because I’m generally pretty lazy and not at all interested in working extra hours. I’d rather clip coupons (which is still work but in front of a TV – LOL!) to save some money so I don’t have to work more hours at the office. But at the same time, I’ve set up websites to draw in extra income, and I will indeed pick up change on the ground. To me, though, that’s still not extra work. So I guess it’s all a matter of what everyone’s definition is of “work” vs. “save”… Great article – thanks for posting this!!!


Judith in Ky November 25, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Katy. I also on Social Security and saving a $ is very important to me! Not much I could do to make a $ but I do quilt, crochet and knit all I can. So maybe it all works out.


Mary Bigger November 25, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I think the cost of earning has to be factored. To come up with a dollar; one has the prorated cost of earning it, and that means time, energy, investment in appropriate clothing, safe transportation, and all those mysterious deductions on ones pay stub before one has their dollar. Getting full value for that complicated transaction is very satisfying and part of what makes saving so sweet in my book.


Chi-Chi November 26, 2009 at 5:11 am

I guess in making the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, I decided that I prefer to save money than make it. Mary Bigger, I truly agree, it costs (money, time, energy) to make money. It doesn’t cost to save. At the same time, if you can make more and save more, that’s perfect!


Heidi November 26, 2009 at 6:06 am

I prefer saving a dollar, simply because it lets me spend more time with my family, not at a job.


charlie aka oldboyscout2 November 26, 2009 at 7:13 am

Meg has the ”right” idea. If you’re a business person , ya have to invest a lot more than a dollar to make a dollar.



Nienke November 26, 2009 at 9:42 am

I quite like saving money, but there’s one exception: when I sell my ‘old’ stuff on ebay, I get a huge kick out of earning any dollar from it. It takes some time and effort to put it on the internet, but it feels so good earning money from things you wanted to get rid of anyway!


amy November 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm

I love saving money. Have a savings separate from my husband, try to make it grow. Was brought up by yankee school teacher mom, very much make do, not by bread alone, philosophy. People buy crapola, if they would go outside and see nature’s real beauty they would not hunger so for possessions that just decorate. I adore it when I sell a painting (decoration) so maybe I am full of crapola too. cheerio


Tracy November 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Saving, definitely. I chose a career where that’s imperative, journalism, so it’s a good thing I feel that way!


Eleanor November 27, 2009 at 9:42 am

Like Heidi, I’d rather save a dollar than have to earn one, which means taking time from my family. Family time is much more fulfilling that working outside the home! Getting the best price on any necessary purchase has become a fulfilling hobby.



Susan Lee November 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I guess since I don’t earn any money (SAHM) I like the idea of saving money – more actually IN my pocket! Definitely less energy to save than earn, unless you cut coupons on the Lifecycle!! 🙂


Shana November 27, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I am enjoying your blog! I found you by the way of The Frugal Girl, who I’ve known for a bit 🙂

I work from home, so my earning a dollar does NOT take a lot out of that dollar. I have coffee and lunch at home, I don’t have the need for any special work clothes, I don’t have to spend money on gas and upkeep for a car.

I feel like I earn money to save money. The money that I earn – for the most part – goes into a savings account. Some of it does go to offset our family budget, however the majority gets saved.

I love saving money, and I love having money saved 🙂


WilliamB November 28, 2009 at 1:57 pm

So many interesting comments.

For me, it depends. I’ve already mentioned that I’d rather work an extra two hours and hire someone to clean my house. In addition to hating cleaning house, it would take me far longer than two hours to do the job well.

But I really love to cook, so – if I have the time – I’d generally rather make than buy. (I did run into an interesting dilemma the other day. Store sale + coupons = Oscar Meyer Deli Creations at $.25 per. Thats far less than the ingredients would cost me but oh! the excess packaging.)

Also, “saving” is a somewhat elusive critter. Saving means not spending money – how do you put your hands around money you *don’t* spend? It’s a little like the calories you don’t eat, when you pass up a piece of pumpkin pie. I see three different ways to do this: one, get something you need much cheaper so you can say “I spent X instead of Y.” Two, track your savings account(s). Three, think in terms of what else you could get; when I was dead broke I processed everything in terms of mass market paperbacks. “I’m tired of them, but if I get frozen chicken leg quarters again instead of breasts, I would save two books’ worth.” What ways work for you?

Happy Holidays from WilliamB who on this weekend, avoids stores like the plague


Anthony November 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Well if I make a dollar I can then save it. Whereas if I just saved a dollar it would automatically reduce my consumption. So I’d wind up with just as much savings and more networth if I gained one.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: