A Penny Saved Is Nearly Two Pennies Earned

Corey —  November 19, 2009

       Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “a penny saved is a penny earned”. And others have discovered that a penny saved is more than a penny earned. But did you know a penny saved can be worth nearly two pennies earned? Before you dismiss money-saving activities as “not worth your time”, you need to consider just how much of your earnings goes to taxes.

If You’re Not Self-Employed…

       If you’re not self-employed, you’ll pay your marginal federal income tax rate, 7.65% for FICA, plus any applicable state or local income taxes on any money you earn. Add all of these up and you’ll get a total tax rate anywhere from 17.65% up to 51.65%. You may also have to pay sales tax on the things you buy (as opposed to making or doing them yourself).

       The chart below shows just how much a dollar you earn is worth after taxes depending on your marginal federal tax rate, FICA, and state and local income and sales taxes. I only went up to the 25% tax bracket on the federal side, and I used the national average rates for the state and local income and sales taxes.

Not Self-Employed Tax Rates

       Most people will probably fall in the 15% federal tax bracket. If you’ve got state & local income taxes and sales taxes and you’re in the 15% federal bracket, then every dollar you can save is equal to $1.49 if you had earned it. You lose $0.29 to taxes from every dollar you earn, and then you’ll pay another 6% sales tax (on average) when you spend the money. In this case, a penny saved is worth 1.5 pennies earned.

If You’re Self-Employed…

       Entrepreneurs have the extra burden of the self-employment tax to pay on their earned dollars. However they do get to take a tax deduction for one-half of the self-employment (SE) taxes, so their SE tax rate works out to 14.13%. So a self-employed person could automatically lose anywhere from 24.13% to 58.13% in federal, SE, state, and local income taxes for every dollar they earn. And they’ll still have to pay any applicable sales tax on top of that. The high-earning self-employed people can easily say “a penny saved is two pennies earned”.

       I put together a chart for self-employed people similar to the one above. The only difference is the substitution of the SE tax for the FICA tax.

Self Employed Tax Rates

       As you can see, a dollar saved is almost worth two dollars earned for someone in the 25% federal bracket who has to pay state and local income and sales taxes. They’ll lose $0.45 to taxes on every dollar they earn, and then they’ll pay another 6% sales tax when they spend the money that’s left over.

Why This Matters

       Realizing how much you pay in taxes is key in figuring out if it’s worth it to do something yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. You’ve got to know your after-tax hourly rate to be able to compare it to how much you’d save by doing it yourself.

       For instance, let’s go back to the first chart for people who aren’t self-employed. If your federal tax rate is 15% and you have state and local income taxes of 6%, you’re going to lose almost $0.30 to taxes (including FICA) for every dollar you earn. That means if you’re getting paid $20/hour you’re only taking home $14/hour after taxes for each extra hour you work.

       Now let’s say you can pay $25 to have your oil changed, or you can do it yourself for $13 (a savings of $12) plus your time. If it takes you 15 minutes, your hourly rate for doing it yourself is $48/hour. If it takes you 30 minutes, you’re saving $24/hour. And even if it takes you 45 minutes, you’ll still save the equivalent of $16/hour. Now compare that to your after-tax hourly rate from your job ($14/hour), and you can easily see that it makes sense (by the numbers) to change your oil yourself.

       You can apply this logic to any number of money-saving activities to see if it makes sense to do it yourself. In the case above, anything that saves you at least $0.23/minute you spend doing it is worth your time. So taking 10 minutes to make an extra stop at a different grocery store can be a smart financial choice if you’re going to save at least $2.30.

       Understanding that saving money can be more effective than earning it will also help you realize the importance of being frugal. I’m not saying that being frugal is better than earning more money, but it’s a powerful tool and you’d be foolish to refuse using it. Combining frugality with earning more will help you get out of debt, save more, or give more.

How Much Is a Dollar Saved Worth to You?

       Because this greatly depends on your tax rates, I’ve created a little calculator below that you can use to figure out how much a dollar saved is worth to you. Try it out and let me know your results in the comments!

*Note: Click the ‘Click to Edit’ button to use the calculator with your own numbers.



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

5 responses to A Penny Saved Is Nearly Two Pennies Earned

  1. Excellent article, and one of the best I have read on this topic! The power of saving vs. spending is also compounded by interest and investing. Over time, that dollar you saved will be worth hundreds of “earned dollars.” :)

  2. Thanks, Patrick! Glad you liked it! You’re right – if you invest your “savings” from doing something yourself or finding a way to be frugal, then the power of compounding will greatly increase that amount.

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