Here’s what big savers are—and aren’t—giving up in their quests to save for retirement.

By Lauren Phillips
October 04, 2019

Most recommendations for ways to save money focus on small amounts—learning how to save money on groceries, for example, can save you $20 here or $5 there. Those small amounts alone won’t mean the difference between being able to buy a house and renting forever or retiring at 60 versus retiring at 70, but when you apply small pieces of advice and ways to save money to all areas of your life, those savings can really add up.

Unfortunately, many personal finance tips intended to help people save money focus on so-called splurges. Namely, avocado toast and a daily cup of coffee have been recently called out as being top culprits preventing people (especially millennials, according to some finance experts) from reaching their savings goals or saving enough money for retirement. A new survey proves those oft-repeated tips wrong, though.

Financial services company Principal recently polled more than 2,000 retirement plan participants on their retirement savings behaviors. The participants weren’t your everyday savers, though: Principal’s survey focused on groups it calls Super Savers and Pre-Super Savers. These elite retirement preppers save 90 to 100 percent of the max contribution, or 15 percent of their income (Super Savers), or 70 to 89 percent of the max contribution, or 13 to 14.99 percent of income (Pre-Super Savers). Essentially, they’re the ideal retirement savers: The people who literally save as much as possible (or close to it) for retirement.

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The vast majority of these elite savers feel somewhat or very comfortable with their current financial situations. (It wasn’t included in the survey, but these people almost certainly have financial independence and full emergency funds, too.) Contrary to many common beliefs, becoming one of them doesn’t require giving up all of life’s little indulgences.

Super Savers admit to paying for subscription entertainment services (46 percent); travel (46 percent); dining out more than once or twice a week (39 percent); getting coffee on the go (20 percent); and purchasing the latest technology (15 percent). Only 5 percent claimed to splurge on nothing.

So how do these Super Savers tuck away their money? The most common sacrifices, according to the survey, include driving older vehicles, owning a modest home, not traveling as much as they’d prefer, doing DIY projects instead of hiring help, going without a housecleaner, dealing with high levels of work stress, and more.

With these Super Savers as proof, it’s pretty clear that cutting back on those bigger picture items—type of car, home size, saving money on projects around the house—are better ways to save money than cutting out meals at restaurants or coffeeshop coffees. Avoiding excessive entertainment subscription services might save you $20 or $30 a month, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re driving a brand new, flashy car with an enormous monthly payment.

Ideally, you’d combine both types of saving (with room for little indulgences) to reach your savings goals. According to this survey, practicing moderation with larger purchases means smaller splurges are possible—not vice versa—which might end up being the key to successfully saving for retirement. After all, all those retirement app saving tips are only effective if you’re not already pouring all your money into a mortgage.