This Couple Saves 70% of Their Incomes — Here’s Exactly How They Do It
This is the tale of two frugal people who met and decided not to spend money together.
Dripping in romance already, right?
In college, Jason Williams lived at home and worked three side jobs to pay tuition and save money.
A mutual friend set him up with M.K. after she confessed to living in furnished, off-campus student housing to save on rent and furniture — even though she wasn’t, nor had she ever been, a student at that college.
Needless to say, it was a match made in frugal heaven.
When they started dating seven years ago, Jason, who works in finance, and M.K., a marketing manager, cut their spending and threw all their extra income at debt. Within two years, they were debt-free.
But what happens
if when you conquer your debt?
How do you spend your money after years of mastering frugal habits?
And where does the money go now that you’re not chasing the adrenaline rush of becoming debt-free?
The Williamses, who live in Tampa, Florida, and have now been married for four years, realized they could keep embracing their shared penchant for saving to achieve an even bigger goal: financial independence and early retirement.
How Frugality Helped Them Become Debt-Free in 2 Years
Jason, 34, has always been debt-averse. His parents lived off one income. He got scholarships and lived at home while attending a public university.
At 23, he used his savings from working throughout college for a down payment on a three-bedroom house in a quiet, suburban neighborhood with a $145,000 mortgage. It was 2007 — right before the housing market crashed.
“That was the thing to do,” he said. “The housing prices dropped a little, and they’re like, ‘Oh, now’s the time to buy.’”
Then, he lost his job in finance.
He made it work by renting out two bedrooms in his house. At one point, he rented out his home office, too. He eventually found another job that came with a 40-minute commute.
He concluded that eliminating debt was the only way to protect himself from a future crisis.
M.K., 29, also grew up with frugal habits. She watched her mom spend almost two decades paying off debt from a divorce, plus the student loans she used to put herself through law school. They often talked about the importance of paying what you owe, and how they couldn’t do all the things M.K.’s friends were doing because of debt.
M.K. graduated college with $20,000 in student loans. She wanted to pay them off as quickly as possible so she could do all the things that debt held her mom back from.
“I felt like that debt was such a huge burden on me,” she said.
When she and Jason became a couple, they traded fancy dates for dinners at home. They did puzzles instead of going to movie theaters.
Within two years, they’d paid off his house and her student loans. They celebrated by going to Campbell’s Dairyland in Brandon, Florida.
“It has little $1 sundaes and $1 hot dogs and burgers,” M.K. said. She ordered the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sundae.
Why They Kept Living on Less
The Williamses were used to not spending money to get out of debt. But when they’d finally paid it off, they wondered how to use their non-spending superpower for good.
They starting traveling more, but eventually they’d visited most of the places they wanted to go. They wanted a goal that was bigger than just saving for their next trip.
A month before their wedding four years ago, and a year after they’d paid off their debts, Jason discovered a blog called Early Retirement Extreme. The author, Jacob Lund Fisk, lived off $7,000 per year for over a decade. He blogs about how to achieve your retirement savings goal early by reducing your living expenses, instead of increasing your income.
M.K.’s frugality had some limits. In the midst of wedding planning, she wasn’t about to cancel the caterer. She still wanted to enjoy modest pleasures, including bacon at their wedding.
But when they got back from their honeymoon, they revisited the frugal lifestyle and DIY methods that helped them get out of debt.
They had a higher-than-average income, but they were already living on way less than the average American. They became intentional about saving as much as they could while still living a comfortable — but frugal — lifestyle.
Before they knew it, they were putting away 70% of their income. Every. Single. Month.
The Brilliant Ways They Maximize Their Savings
The Williamses’ apartment is cozy, but it’s nothing you’d see adorning the pages of Pinterest. Most of the furniture is secondhand. They eat and do puzzles on a card table they got for free. They consider their used $8 breadmaker the best money they’ve ever spent.
Most of their clothes, minus Jason’s work clothes, are also secondhand. They love grocery shopping at Aldi.
They’re frequent visitors at their local library, where they borrow all their CDs, DVDs and books for free. They have no subscriptions or cable, and they use the gym at their apartment complex.
One day, M.K. was craving Chick-fil-A. Instead of hopping in the car and heading to the drive-thru, she took a little extra time and found a copycat recipe online.
Her first attempt was OK, but on a second attempt she read that for best results you should brine the chicken in pickle juice. She did, and after lowering the sugar to 2 ½ teaspoons, the results were just like the real thing.
“I like to make it on a Sunday just to be really ironic,” she said.
They’ve made other restaurant copycat recipes since, including sweet-and-sour chicken, French onion soup and Pizza Hut pizza.
By questioning a habit she couldn’t justify, M.K. found a life hack that will save her time and money in the long run.
And the things they do prioritize?
Travel is No. 1. They’ve been to Italy, Switzerland and Hawaii with help from credit card rewards.
They also enjoy the occasional beer with friends, and they’re season ticket holders to University of South Florida football. Jason knows all the players on the field and the bench, plus his family gets tickets, so he gets to spend time with them.
Still, every year before USF football season tickets go on sale, Jason debates whether the tickets are worth it. M.K. always assures him they are.
When they do go out to eat, they use Groupons. Jason waits for an email with a $10 off coupon, then he buys an $11-for-$20 Groupon for a burrito place near M.K.’s work. He’s figured out how to get the check to exactly $20.
It’s a lunch well worth $1.
What Will Frugality Do for Their Future?
Because what’s the point of saving a huge portion of your income if you don’t have a plan for it?
With all their savings, they max out their 401(k)s, health savings accounts and IRAs. These moves won’t just allow them to retire early; they’ll lower their tax liability every year until then.
A few years ago, they paid off the house Jason bought in 2007. They moved to an apartment closer to their jobs and rented out their house. They opted to sell it after a bad experience with a renter, and they invested the profit.
Then the Williamses started saving in regular taxable accounts. They expect to be able to retire long before their retirement accounts are available to them.
If any job or financial situation comes between them and their happiness, they have the savings built up to prioritize their life over their income. By not letting lifestyle inflation creep in and only spending on what they value, Jason and M.K. have lifestyle and career flexibility that some people never get.
But don’t worry, boss. They don’t plan on leaving their careers any time soon.
“We both have jobs that we really love, and if we kept working for another decade, I’d be fine,” M.K. said.
Jen Smith is a personal finance expert and the creator of Modern Frugality. She and her husband paid off $78,000 of debt in less than two years on two less-than-average salaries. She gives money saving and debt payoff tips on Instagram at @modernfrugality.