You may know what you need to do to reach your money goal. But seeing how someone else did it successfully can give you the insights or inspiration to help you actually achieve it.
So we rounded up three money bloggers who’ve hit serious money milestones and asked them to spill the details of how they got there—and the lessons they learned along the way.
Nine years ago, “J. Money” bought a house with no money down at the height of the housing bubble—an experience that ultimately underscored how much he had to learn about smart money management. So he set out to master budgeting and hit an ambitious goal: up his net worth from $58,000 to $1 million. He’d always been frugal, and knew that achieving his goal would come down to finding ways to make his money work harder for him.
He started by maxing out his 401(k), recouping a generous match, and a Roth IRA. (He’d later transition to a SEP IRA after becoming self-employed in 2010, which has a higher maximum contribution.) Then he made sure to funnel all windfalls—from tax refunds to “reclaimed” 401(k)s from old employers to a small inheritance—into his investment accounts. He also focused on increasing his income: Over the years, J. Money has started and sold a few personal finance websites, earning an extra $70,000 in profits, which he invested as well.
The results: J. Money’s timing couldn’t have been better. Since he started ramping up his investments during the height of the Great Recession, his investments have grown considerably. Thanks to market returns, consistent investing and his side hustles, his net worth now sits at more than $630,000 (and growing).
Lessons learned: “Saving money isn’t actually that hard when you put things on autopilot. The more it’s automated and out of sight, the better,” he says. “You just need patience to let it grow—and know that the earlier you start, the larger your account can grow with barely any effort at all.”
His advice: Let technology help you. “Whether you want to invest, save or budget, there’s an app that can help.”
Cait Flanders, 31, CaitFlanders.com
In 2014, Cait Flanders was struggling to save just 5 to 10 percent of her $72,000 editor’s salary each month. “I knew I could do better,” she says, “so I decided to try a shopping ban from July 2014 to July 2016 to help me boost my savings and travel more, which is a long-time goal of mine.”
She made three lists: what she could buy (necessities like groceries and gas), what she wouldn’t (new clothes, books or crafting supplies) and a short list of exceptions (a new pair of boots, an outfit to wear to multiple weddings). From there, shopping was easy: If something wasn’t on the “approved” list, she didn’t buy it.
The results: By the end of the experience, Flanders increased her savings rate to 31 percent and even paid for a number of vacations in cash, including a road trip from Boston to D.C. “I had been talking about wanting to travel since I was a teenager, but never seemed to have the money to do so until then—because I was always spending it,” she says.
Lessons learned: “Thanks to years of being marketed to, we are hardwired to buy things so that we’re prepared for every situation,” she says. (Think about the unused appliances collecting dust in your cabinet right now.) “Wait [until you actually need] something, and you can save a lot of money—and reduce clutter.”
Her advice for anyone trying to save more: Find accountability partners to help you stay on track. And if you feel compelled to make an impulse purchase, pause and inventory your current belongings first. “This shows you how much stuff you once wasted money on, which serves as a reminder that you don’t want to make that mistake again.”
Bobby Hoyt, 28, Millennial Money Man
After graduating from college in 2011, Bobby Hoyt, then a high school band director earning $53,000 a year, found himself $40,000 in debt. “I wanted to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible because I knew it would give me more freedom,” Hoyt says.
So he got extreme—moving in with his wife’s parents to cut his rent by nearly $400 and spending next to nothing on nonessentials like new clothes. In fact, he says he had to be careful with his outfit rotation so his students wouldn’t make fun of him for repeating the same outfits multiple times a week.
The results: In less than two years, Hoyt was debt-free—and he didn’t stop there. He continued to “pay himself” the same amount he’d been putting toward loans (setting aside about $1,300 bi-weekly), which eventually gave him a large enough nest egg to quit his job and run his blog full time.
Lessons learned: Hoyt’s biggest takeaway is that, while sometimes painful, short-term inconveniences are worth hitting an important goal. “Living with my wife’s parents was embarrassing at times—and very cramped,” he says. “But in the grand scheme of things, 18 months of being uncomfortable isn’t really a big deal.”
His advice for anyone paying off student debt: Even if you’re still within the grace period, start paying your student loans ASAP, Hoyt says. “Most people don’t realize how quickly interest still accrues on their loans when they aren’t making payments. Anything you can do will help keep interest at bay.”
Also, make debt the first line item in your budget. “When I received my paycheck every two weeks, I immediately made a loan payment so I couldn’t spend the funds elsewhere,” he says. “Hard to waste money if Sallie Mae already has it, right?”