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How to Save for Retirement When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Too broke to contribute to your savings plan? These sisters say you’re wrong.

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AARP, Sisters, Retirement, Money
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Black women make less than other groups, leaving us with less to save and, often, less to retire on . In fact, white households had on average $130,000  more in retirement savings than Black households in 2016, according to the Urban Institute.

But sisters do have one thing in our favor. We know how to stretch a dollar. A girlfriend once bragged that she made a week’s worth of family meals for less than $25. I asked other money-savvy sisters to share how they’ve managed to find more money for retirement — especially when the budget is tight.

“I launched my own savings challenge.”

Bola Sokunbi, 36, of New York; blogger at

“I was earning $54,000. To some people that's not a lot of money, but to me that was a huge deal. At the time I had never earned that much in my life.

I didn't max out my retirement contributions at first, but I read the book Smart Women Finish Rich and educated myself. Then I thought, How can I save more? I thought, I can look at my budget, and I can get really frugal.

I would try not to go out to eat. Basically, I was like, every dollar that I designate in my budget for eating out, if I don’t spend it that's another dollar I can save. It was like a game. There was even a time where I had $1 that I didn't need for my budget, and I drove to my credit union to deposit that dollar.

The other thing I did was, every time I got a raise or a tax return — even if it was really tiny — I would save all of it or most it. Taking those actions was a way to stay motivated.”


“I rethought costly habits and took advantage of discounts.”

Dana Branham, 45, financial adviser in Lexington, Ky.  

“We all could spend money differently, but we have to be aware of where we're spending it. This morning, I was thinking, I'm going to get some coffee from 7-11. Once in a while that’s no big deal, but I thought about what that would cost me over time. So even though I’m not spending $5 at Starbucks that's still $2. If I did that every day, that's 14 times 4 or $56 a month. Fifty dollars a month can add up to some good compound savings for retirement.

Once when I was preparing to move, I called to change my car insurance and the service person said, ‘Oh, you're going to be excited,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘Because your car insurance is going to be $1,100 cheaper.’

I learned that you don’t have to move to save on insurance. You can get discounts based on where you went to school, where you work, affiliations you have and all kinds of things. You just have to call your insurance providers and ask questions."


“I turned kids’ castoffs into spare change and put savings on autopilot.”

Samantha Gregory, 47, Atlanta; financial blogger at

“When you're single, you have extra money to put in your bank account. When the kids come, everything goes toward them. I did have times where I didn't feel like I had the money I needed.

I would sell items that I never use, whether it's clothes or shoes. Electronic items sell very well. I'd bundle items together to sell for a higher price especially around the holidays. Anybody can sell a Kindle, but I bundled it with a cute little cover, a screen protector and a Firestick and sold it for 100 bucks.

I invest through [apps like] Stash or Acorns. I think Acorns is really good because it takes your change and applies it to an investment. When you're spending money, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and that's what's deposited. That's kind of a no-brainer way to invest and make your money grow.”