There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to surpassing the $1-million mark, but growing up in a wealthy family or coming into a windfall of cash certainly isn’t a prerequisite. In fact, these three couples prove that sticking to a budget and investing wisely is a surefire way to grow your wealth over the long haul.
After all, it’s not about where you started, but where you’re going.
“FI Girl,” 35, and “FI Guy,” 36, anonymous bloggers and IT specialists in New England
“My husband and I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in a single-parent household; he was raised in a blue-collar family that budgeted every penny. Our paths crossed when we were two broke college kids working part-time jobs.
We graduated and entered the tech industry in 2003 after the dotcom crash, with around $65,000 in student loans—and gratefully accepted jobs in the $35,000 to $42,000 range. Still, we made the commitment to max out our 401(k)s, which required serious frugality. We continued living like college kids, opting for small apartments that were priced well below the norm, cutting cable, buying generic brands and rarely splurging on non-necessities.
Over the years, we’ve hustled and negotiated our way up the corporate ladder, and now earn healthy salaries—but you might not know it from our minimalist lifestyle. Every time our salaries increased, we kept our spending low and automatically invested the difference into our retirement plans, HSAs and regular investment accounts. Our investment strategy is simple—we stick with low-cost index funds and, as long-term investors, ignore market fluctuations—but it’s helped us gradually build wealth.
By 2012, we had enough banked to buy our first home outright. No mortgage frees up cash today, since we don’t have a regular housing payment, and will come in handy later. Our big picture goal is to eventually retire early, sell our home and travel the world.
Our current net worth is around $2.2 million. We’re still chugging away at our 9-to-5 jobs, but keeping our eyes on the prize of getting out of the rat race by age 40!”
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Michele Moore, 50, and Michael Moore, 50, a certified marriage coach and a federal contractor in Albuquerque, N.M.
“Michael and I have always stretched our dollars however we could—from shopping at discount stores and meal planning to avoid food waste to buying used cars in cash. When we first got together, we'd exchange stories about how our parents inspired these habits so we could start saving for the future early and benefit from compounding returns.
By the time we got married in 2005 (and were in our late 30s), we’d each saved about $200,000 in tax-advantaged retirement plans. Hitting $1 million wasn’t actually our goal—or even something we thought we’d achieve. We were simply trying to be as retirement ready as possible and knew that slow and steady wealth-building wins the race.
So we continued investing diligently through all the market’s ups and downs (and enjoyed many years of big returns). I always contributed at least 10 percent of my income to my retirement accounts, until recently when I opened my own business and stopped taking a paycheck. Even though we’re solely living off Michael’s income now, he religiously contributes to his 401(k) and recoups a 6-percent employer match.
Another net-worth booster was a condo I bought in 1999. After our wedding, I sold it for a $100,000 profit that I put toward our next home. We’ve moved several times since then, always selling our homes for more than we paid, which has helped pad our savings.
Our net worth recently hit $1 million, and it feels surreal. With our eyes on retirement, we’ve re-financed our mortgage to pay it off sooner, so we can continue growing our nest egg more.”
Gerry, 54, and Zena, 51, a blogger and former teacher in Douglas, GA
“In September 2016, Zena and I officially joined the millionaire’s club—a pretty impressive feat for two teachers who’ve never cracked six-figure salaries. We kicked off our careers in 2002, earning about $40,000 each. By 2016, we were earning a combined $135,000, which we maximized by keeping our expenses in check. The more cash we free up, the more we invest.
We keep our eyes on the big three: transportation, housing and food. In 2004, we bought used cars to avoid big payments, and drove them for 12 years until they gave out. We even sold our oversized home three years ago for $150,000 and bought a much smaller house for $68,000. We mind our food spending and cook budget-friendly meals most nights.
We keep the rest of our spending pretty simple, too: Zena has a no-frills phone plan for $12 per month, while I get free calls over WiFi using a Google Voice number. We cut the cable cord a long time ago and stick to a basic Netflix account.
For the past 14 years, we’ve fully funded our 403(b)s and IRAs, and eventually started hitting our HSAs and 457 (another retirement account available to teachers) plans hard, too. Of course, along the way, we’ve benefitted from big market gains—which finally pushed us across the $1 million line. Today, our net worth sits at about $1.1 million.”