Financial stability wasn't a trait handed down to Jim Christy. He made it happen through smart choices, hard sacrifice, and a will to never give up.
At age 18 and on his own financially, Christy decided college was important to him.
"Over the course of four years, I worked at a sporting goods store, the Gap, two different restaurants, and I did a few quarters of tutoring," he says. His earnings paid what scholarships and grants didn't cover for his Ohio State education.
When he graduated, he and his then-girlfriend Jess—who had $25,000 in college debt—decided they wouldn't get married until they saved enough to pay for their dream wedding and buy a home during their first year of marriage.
Jim’s Top 5 Savings Goals
- New home. “We just decided that it's the right time to start planning for a new place.”
- New vehicle. “We have to drive at least a couple hours to see family, so we'll need a bigger car to drag around all the baby junk.”
- Vacation. “We had planned a trip to Spain, but now that money goes to the baby fund.”
Jim’s Top 5 Savings Leaks
- Going out to bars and restaurants.
- Home improvements and maintenance.
- Entertaining, especially during the summer months.
For the next three years, the couple socked away every spare dollar, but it wasn't easy.
"The biggest challenge was telling friends that we couldn't meet them out at the bar four nights a week," says Christy, now 29 and a partner in a marketing company.
Christy says he and Jess used to have "pretty heated conversations" about their spending choices, as Jess often felt the couple was missing out on experiences they could never get back.
But as their savings accounts grew, Jess started to see things differently.
"The thing that really turned things around for her was when we started planning for a house and she realized what we needed to save in order to have all of the features that were important to her," he says.
That doesn't mean they didn't have "oops" moments, such as when Christy decided to buy a new car.
"I had planned on keeping my car until after we bought the house, but I broke down and bought a new one about a year earlier than I should have, which made me take about $3,000 out of savings," he recalls.
It was a setback, but in the end, their sacrifices paid off. In three years, the couple had enough for a $10,000 wedding, and another $25,000 for a down payment on a home. They moved into their first home about nine months after their wedding.
Today, they're expecting their first child, so the next round of saving has begun.
Their goal is to have enough for Jess to stay home with the baby for four months after the birth. Because she is a hairstylist, she doesn't have the same kind of paid benefits as some other occupations, Christy says.
"We'd like to have at least two months of her average pay saved for the baby, so that means we have to save about $8,000 in eight months," he says.
To Christy, saving is all about setting a goal, and then sticking to it—even if you sometimes make a mistake.
"If there's a goal, then it becomes so much easier to save," he says. "If you're holding up a pair of $200 jeans and asking yourself if those jeans are more important than your future house, then the decision is pretty easy."
Of course, saving can be very stressful if you feel you're giving up too much. But Christy says there are always expenses that can be cut without really changing your overall happiness, and to make it easier, he suggests you save money before it ever hits your checking account.
"I recommend having a certain percentage of each check go straight into a savings or investment account," he says. "If that account isn't visible on your main banking screen, then even better—you won't be tempted to dip into it."