How an App Helped This Guy Save for 2 Vacations He Couldn’t Miss
For the past three years, Monday through Friday, Jeremy Kolodziej clocked into his job at 6:30 a.m. and commenced his daily 18-mile walk.
The 27-year-old worked as a meter reader for an electrical company in the greater Chicago area. Each day, he’d trek yard to yard, gate to gate and deal with dogs, the weather — a little bit of everything unexpected.
“It wasn’t quite big-time bucks,” he says of the entry-level job.
He also worked a handful of part-time jobs here and there, as a bartender and a Pizza Hut manager.
“I was living comfortably,” he explains. “I make more than some people, but I’d start spending as soon as I made more money. Then you’re still living paycheck to paycheck.”
When Kolodziej committed to taking two vacations in July 2017, he started backpedaling, thinking there was no way he could afford both trips. He’d have to either disappoint his long-time buddies, who were planning a cruise as a last hurrah before getting married and settling down; or his mother, who wanted her son to finally attend a family reunion after missing the past two.
Kolodziej resolved to make a financial change — to start saving his change so he could take both trips.
He’d heard about Acorns through The Penny Hoarder, so he downloaded the microinvesting app and began both passively and actively saving money.
How This Guy Afforded Two Vacations in One Month
For some, scheduling two vacations in one month sounds like a dream, but Kolodziej knew he wouldn’t be able to afford both trips. He didn’t know how to decide which trip to take, and he dreaded breaking the news to one of the parties
“I got to the point where I was like, ‘maybe I can do both if I really buckle down and get serious about saving and just see how much money I can put away,’” he says.
He set a goal. If he could save $1,500 in about a year, he could comfortably afford to take both trips.
Using Acorns in conjunction with a savings account, Kolodziej easily met his goal. At the time of the trips, his Acorns savings covered nearly half of the $1,500 total costs — which meant he didn’t have to choose one vacation over the other.
Continuing the habit, he’s saved a total of $2,087 with the app since downloading it in July 2016.
Saving $2,000 Was Effortless With Acorns
Backing up real quick, Acorns is a microinvesting app. It allows consumers to invest small amounts of money into exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which is basically a grouping of stocks with something in common.
Acorns offers a round-up feature, which appealed to Kolodziej. When selected, purchases made on his connected debit or credit cards would be rounded up. Once the digital change added up to $5, it’d be deposited into his Acorns account and invested.
“So many people use plastic and debit cards,” he explains. “Not a lot of people carry cash, where you can have a coin jar at home. It’s a virtual coin jar. You don’t even think about it.”
In the 20 months since downloading the app, Kolodziej has saved $1,076 in spare change through round-ups.
He also made an effort to deposit $10 into his Acorns account each Thursday. If he worked overtime, he’d boost his account with $20 using the one-time feature.
Acorns isn’t just a way to save, though. Kolodziej is investing his money, too. Because he was investing small amounts into ETFs, the return wasn’t huge. He’s earned about $46 since opening his account. However, he counts that as free money — money he otherwise wouldn’t have made.
He also referred his friends and family members to the app, which earned him another $40 in bonuses, $5 for each.
“Saving can be overwhelming,” Kolodziej says. “[Acorns] is just all set up for you. You don’t have to do anything.”
Acorns’ Downsides (at Least for Some People)
When asked about Acorns’ cons, Kolodziej paused to think. He personally hasn’t found any downsides, but he notes the $1-per-month fee that some people have a problem with.
For him, $1 per month is nothing when put into perspective. The app has helped him save money, take two vacations he thought he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford — and has even earned him money.
He did the math: He’s earned $46 in returns and $40 in referral bonuses. Over 20 months, he’s paid Acorns $20. He’s still made $66. Plus, he’s saved more than $2,000.
Another downside that hasn’t affected him but that his friends have noted is the potential to overdraft.
When you make a purchase of $5.10, for example, 90 cents isn’t just automatically dumped into your Acorns account. You have to build up to $5 in round ups first. If your checking account frequently runs low, you risk overdrafting because you never know when the change will add up to $5 and trigger a withdrawal. Then you might be stuck paying something like a $30 overdraft fee.
You also can’t immediately withdraw your money. Like all things banking, the transaction takes a few days to complete. For Kolodziej, this acts as a safety net.
“I see it as an accountability thing, because you can’t have an impulse weekend and just take money out of your Acorns account,” he says. “It won’t be there. You won’t get it in time.”
The Acorns of His Labor… (Get it?)
With the help of Acorns, Kolodziej was able to go on both vacations.
The first one was the cruise. He road tripped down to Port Canaveral, Florida, with his friends and boarded the ship. They spent four nights aboard and had two stops in the Bahamas.
Even now, nearly a year later, he still gets excited talking about the getaway. “It was like a dream,” he says. “Being out on the ocean in beautiful Caribbean weather with some of your best friends — and a 15-drinks-a-day alcohol package… just so much fun.”
After the cruise, they road-tripped back to Illinois, stopping in Atlanta and Nashville along the way.
“It’s pretty cool that money I spend driving down to Florida and stopping in Atlanta and Nashville on the way back ended up going into my Acorns account for the family reunion I was taking just a week later,” he explains.
The reunion took place in Sevierville, Tennessee, where 30 of his family members (he has a lot of cousins) stayed at a cabin in the mountains. There, they zip-lined, explored caves, drank Tennessee whiskey and bounded down hills in zorb balls, which are basically giant hamster balls for humans.
“Everyone at the family reunion was asking me how I went on a cruise one week and then I was there [in Tennessee] the next, so I told them about Acorns,” he says.
Acorns actually helped him exceed his savings goal for the trips by $150. He used that money at the Lodge Cast Iron store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Cooking is one of his favorite hobbies.
Since last summer’s trips, Kolodziej has continued to save money using Acorns.
In December, he once again emptied his account — this time to pay for Christmas presents. Three months later, in March, he’s back up to a $500 balance in the app.
Now that Kolodziej has implemented strategies that help him save, his next conquest is to tackle his debt.
“I’m definitely on the right track,” he shares.
When we chatted on the phone in mid-March, Kolodziej was in his car, headed home from work. He’d just graduated from meter-reading, an apprenticeship, and he’ll now be working as a helper at a substation — a big promotion.
“They’ve already got me working overtime tomorrow,” he says. “No time to celebrate.”
In the meantime, Acorns will keep rounding up the change on his purchases. Maybe he can’t celebrate now, but he’ll eventually have enough money saved to take another cruise with his buddies in July.
If you’re feeling like you need to take a cruise, sign up for Acorns and pocket a $5 bonus when you invest your first $5.
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She could use a cruise right about now…