I Tried the "100 Envelope" Method for Budgeting and Here's How I Saved $1,600

<span>Credit: Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images</span> <span class="copyright">Credit: Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images</span>
Credit: Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images Credit: Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

I’ve always been a saver. When I was a kid, counting my change on a sunny Saturday counted as a recreational activity. I’d dig into my giant plastic Coke bottle bank, empty the contents, and tally up how much I’d amassed. Fast forward to today, and saving money is still my jam — but it’s gotten tougher. With rent, food, nights out, and a fluctuating freelancer’s salary, sometimes what’s left to stash isn’t as substantial as I’d like.

So, when I heard about the 100 envelope challenge during a WW meeting (not sure how they digressed from food to finance), I was immediately intrigued. When I saw the plan again, profiled in my 401K provider’s newsletter, I decided it was time to try out a new approach to saving.

The 100 envelope challenge is a saving system where you label 100 envelopes from 1 to 100. Then every day for 100 days you pick a numbered envelope and put the amount of cash inside that matches the number on the envelope. At the end of 100 days, you’ll have saved a total of $5,050.

What Is the 100 Envelope Savings Challenge?

The 100 envelope challenge is different from the envelope method where you create envelopes for your spending categories (fun money, groceries, grooming, etc.) and allocate a cash amount to each. In the 100 envelope challenge, the goal is to save $5,050 over 100 days. Here’s how it works: You label 100 envelopes from 1 to 100. Then every day for 100 days you pick a numbered envelope and put the amount of cash inside that matches the number on the envelope.

So, you’d put $5 in envelope 5 and $99 dollars in envelope 99. You can either go in order from 1 to 100 or skip around. Keep in mind that if you choose the consecutive approach, from day 90 to 100 you’ll be contributing $1,045, so you may what to sprinkle in the larger amounts throughout the 100 days.

Regardless of the challenge’s name, you don’t need to go out and buy a bunch of envelopes if you don’t already have them. You can put the money aside in a baggie, big manila envelope, or even a plastic Tupperware container, and log what you’re saving. The vessel isn’t integral to the process. You could also open a savings account and transfer money into it each day. That way, you’d also get interest — even if just an inkling. Hearing the relatively short time frame and the substantial sum had me daydreaming of effortlessly acquiring a new Chanel bag without feeling the financial hit.

Take a couple dollars out of a purple wallet, with purple purse, keys in the background, on a dining room table

My Experience with the 100 Envelope Challenge

Because I like to accessorize everything, I bought an envelope kit off Amazon to gamify my experience. It came with envelopes, a dropbox for the envelopes to discourage early withdrawals, and four sheets of scratch-off stickers to make each day’s number a surprise. In the end, I didn’t make it to the goal of $5,050. But the good news is that after 42 days of actual saving, I did squirrel away $1,627 without really feeling the burn.

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I started strong. I’d take $300 or so out from the real bank in varied denominations each week. Using the kit correctly and rotating between the scratch-off sheets ensures that you won’t exceed $250 in four days. But when I had to prioritize expenses and bills, I’d often skip days. Then, I’d scratch off a few stickers until I found a number that felt comfortable.

If you’re attempting the challenge, my advice would be to be as consistent as you can and to set up a system that makes it easy on you, whether that’s getting a kit or setting up automatic transfers into your 100-day account. If you’re using cash, be sure to have enough on hand. And maybe get some friends and family in on it — every challenge is more doable with a squad of support.

Real talk: You do need a decent amount of disposable income to get to the goal sum. For my pride and the purpose of this article, I wanted to hit the $5,050 mark. But who says the 100 days need to be consecutive? Completing the challenge may take me 200 days, and that’s OK. Money saved is money saved. My kit tells me that if I do three envelopes a week, I can get to the goal in 34 weeks (five envelopes weekly would take 20).

As for what I plan to do with my savings, I may put what I’ve accumulated thus far toward a birthday girls’ trip, downgrade my Chanel bag dream to a wallet, or just keep my cash squirreled away in my cardboard vault from Amazon until I’ve reached my final goal. But I’m for sure going to keep on trucking, determined to get to that $5,050 even if I have to revisit my childhood tactics and count my quarters, nickels, and dimes to get there.