rebelling against low expectations

“Helping Teens Do Hard Things–How I Saved $20K by Age 20


I saved over $20,000 in 4 years.

I was working full-time doing lawn care, while also playing football and finishing up my homeschooling. I was born into a family of eleven kids, and money was not always easy to come by. My siblings and I often had to work from a young age to help support our family, and when I was sixteen, I began working full-time when my dad became disabled.

When I started working full-time, I also started playing football for the first time. Learning to adjust to a new “normal” of waking up at six every morning to work a full day and then go straight to football practice after work was sometimes hard and stressful. Balancing school was hard as well. Though all of these things were a struggle to balance, they were all very exciting at the same time. I loved being able to earn money, do school, and pursue my other interests.

My starting pay was $10 per hour, and I often worked over 40 hours each week because I loved working – and my family needed help. I contributed $600 per month to my family while saving most of my income.

My experiences growing up poor and seeing people make poor financial decisions drove me to embrace extreme savings and financial responsibility. I loved learning to be responsible with my money while showing others that they can improve their financial standing more than they sometimes realize.

But even though I was on a strict budget, I was able to still do so much – attempt a summit of Mt. Rainier, go to church camp each year, travel occasionally, buy tons of soda (sometimes too much!), and give 10% of my income to charity.

During my first four years of working, my pay was incrementally raised from $10 per hour to $14 per hour, and my savings increased rapidly with my increased income. I saved $3000 my first year working, and each succeeding year, I saved roughly $7000 even though my senior year of high school, football, and work was cut short by an ankle break. By my 20th birthday, I had saved over $22,500.

The opportunity I had to balance work, football, and school enabled me to receive academic and football scholarships to Faulkner University and avoid many of the financial obstacles by which many in my generation have been burdened. For instance, I have been able to avoid all student loans, car loans, and credit card debt because of my savings – not to mention the stress of debt.

The circumstances that I was born into did not train me to become financially responsible, but neither do most people’s circumstances. Many people in our society have accepted life-long debt as a norm, and many people grow up being taught the same. It can be hard to live differently when our society trains us to live paycheck to paycheck and become dependent on debt, but, we don’t have to follow the financial path that has become a burden for so many.

We aren’t confined to the situation in which we were born. We should take what we have been given, imperfect though it may be, and use it to build something better.

To that end, here are four suggestions for young people who want to avoid the trap of credit cards, car loans, and student debt:

1. Find Meaning in Hard Work.

Become the best worker you can be, whether that means flipping burgers, mowing lawns, babysitting, or anything else. If you become an important worker upon whom employers can depend, you can demand higher wages and a more convenient work schedule. And there is more competition for your labor, leading to more work options.

To consistently be the best worker possible, you have to find joy in what you’re doing. So, find the work you can enjoy, and go full-swing!

2. Embrace Frugality

If you’re a low-wage worker, like most teens are, you need to learn to be extremely frugal to maximize the amount of money you have for saving or investing.

For example, during long summer workdays, I liked to stop and get drinks. So, to save money, I bought a large refillable mug, and I was able to cut the cost of my drinks roughly in half, saving me about $360 per year. Or when a group of friends went out to eat, I would eat at home beforehand and just go to hang out afterward.

3. Focus on Saving for Future Goals

Maybe your goal is to get through college without any debt, pay cash for your car, or make early ventures into the world of investing. If you make a goal to do something big, you will likely get discouraged along the way. But don’t give up – this should be seen as an opportunity to grow, which is something you should embrace. Besides, everyone will encounter struggles and discouragement throughout life – you just need to keep pressing on with your eyes focused on the goal.

4. Don’t Neglect School for Work

My schooling was super flexible, so I could do it whatever time of day, week, month, or year I wanted. This enabled me to sometimes work as much as 60 hours in a week. But most people aren’t in the same situation. Maybe you can only reasonably work 10 or 20 hours a week. That still enables you to do so much! But, don’t take on so much work that it causes you to neglect school. It doesn’t make sense to work for $10 an hour all the time as a teen if you’d otherwise be able to go to college and get a much higher paying job.

By adopting these principles, we can avoid many of the obstacles that trip up so many people in our society.

Through hard work, diligence, and frugality, we can build a foundation for continued growth, and be an example to the world around us of how to live freer, more joyful lives.

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About the author

James Redding

is a preacher’s kid from a home-school family of eleven kids, of which he is the tenth. He is now a student-athlete playing football and studying accounting and business administration at Faulkner University. James has a passion for traveling, helping people overcome their financial struggles, and extreme sports.

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rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →