Last year, my husband and I saved $72,000, or about 60 percent of our combined income.
It’s pretty crazy to be able to say that, so it must be crazy to read, too. But we did it, even while raising two kids and living in Southern California.
I’m a firm believer that crazy things can happen when you have a reason, and each member of my family had one for saving so much. For me, it was the desire to take a year off work to just be Mom, as well as the idea that perhaps we could all take off 2017 to travel as a family. My husband was motivated to save in order to visit his family more in Michigan and Colorado. And our 2-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son were excited by the idea that Mommy would be home for a whole year.
With these goals in mind, my husband and I set a savings plan at the beginning of 2015, which consisted of three main strategies: First, we front-loaded our 401(k) contributions, with an aim to save $18,000 each. This ended up being a particularly good move because by the time I got laid off on November 1, I’d already saved $17,220.
Then we automated our IRA withdrawals and online savings transfers, guaranteeing that the first dollars we pulled from our bank account each month went straight to savings. Finally, we maintained our practice of having enough cash on hand for a one-month cushion, meaning, for example, that we used money earned in October to pay November’s bills. So even though I didn’t earn anything the last two months of the year, we only had to make adjustments for December because November was covered.
We were already accustomed to living lean—we don’t spend money on coffee, new clothes (we get them second-hand), gym memberships or cable, for instance—for a variety of reasons. The previous year, we’d saved $35,000 in our 401(k)s, and, up until July 2014, we allocated $2,000 a month toward paying off debt. After freeing up that cash, we rolled it over to savings. I also scored a $5,000 raise in December 2014 that we never factored into our spending in order to save more in 2015.
Still, we found even more ways to save last year, like riding our bikes to limit money spent on gas, switching phone plans and limiting junk food at the grocery store. But our biggest tradeoff happened in March: When our child care situation suddenly changed, my husband and I decided to tag-team full-time care ourselves. So I took the second shift at my quality engineering job—getting home each morning at 1a.m. to then wake up at 6 a.m. to take my son to school. It was tough, but I knew it was temporary. Plus, every dollar saved moved us closer to our goal: more flexibility and time together. And on the bright side, taking the night shift allowed me to negotiate another raise, netting $500 extra every month.
But here’s what we never cut out or sacrificed in order to save: having fun.
In fact, when I think about last year, what stands out the most isn’t that we made a few sacrifices—it’s that we had a great time. For example, my husband wanted to spend a lot of time at the beach in the summer, so we did. I think we only missed one weekend, and we had so much fun. We packed lunch, showed up early to find free parking and hung out in the shade of the pier. Our kids loved playing in the sand and water.
We also made room in our budgets for “extras” that made life more enjoyable. We spent about $100 a month on dining out and participated in one of those expensive, but very fun, mud runs. In December, my husband even bought himself a new commuter bike. We also allocated $100 a month for each of us to spend as we wished. My husband used his to pay for his tea habit and weekly lunch out at work, and I spent mine on an online course and website.
The most luxurious thing we sprung for was travel. In April, we went to Denver for eight days to visit family, hike and relax together. In September, I went off on my own for four days to Charlotte, N.C., to attend a conference. And we finished off the year by traveling to Michigan for 13 days. The kids played in the snow, and we celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with family. All in all, we dedicated about $3,050 to travel expenses—and that was money very well-spent. Exploring new places and spending time as a family is something I highly value.
And that’s the whole point. Being disciplined about hitting a money goal doesn’t mean you have to give up things you love, so long as you work them into your budget. For us, enjoying life was just as important as saving.
By December, we’d saved $72,000: $35,000 in our 401(k)s, $11,000 in IRAs and $26,000 in our savings account. Truth be told, our original goal was $77,000, but my unexpected layoff set us back a bit. Yet we were still thrilled, and in awe of how much we’d achieved.
These days, I’m enjoying my year off, and the entire family is loving being able to spend more time together. Though my husband was never really sold on the year of travel, I am in the process of planning an international family trip from October through December 2017. I’m sure that with another well-thought-out plan in place, he’ll be happy to jump on that plane.
*Name has been changed.