Disclaimer: the prices, salaries, and culture may differ depending on where you live. However, the approach is useful for many locations.
Maybe the title doesn’t sound big, but for my husband and me it really was. The apartment we bought costs $35,000, while our initial income was only $10,000/year. In the beginning, it seemed an impossible task with the only option: taking a mortgage for 25 years.
I’ve met my future husband 5 months before my bachelor graduation, while he was working on his Ph.D. I was just 20 and he was 25. It was love at the first sight, we got married in a few months and by the age of 22, I gave birth to our first son.
We desperately wanted our own place to live, since renting was expensive and living with parents was frustrating (I can write a book about it, I mean it).
However, there were lots of obstacles:
- We had no savings. As I mentioned, I just graduated and only was working a few hours a day. My husband just finished paying back a huge debt so he had no savings left (on the bright sight, he managed to pay it after all!).
- I was a stay at home mom with the occasional side jobs until our son was 1 year 4 months old (the maternity leave in Russia starts from 30 weeks pregnant and stops when the baby is 3 years old, but there is almost no pay). In the beginning, we had only his salary, which wasn’t quite big (the truth about scientists: they are never rich).
- His parents are retired (equals broke) and my husband is their only child, so we have to support them. Luckily, my parents are younger, have a better financial situation and I have siblings!
Still, I mentioned that I had graduated and have a degree in Economics. Plus, my father (an economist as well) taught me how to deal with personal and family finance. So, my husband and I, we found an opportunity to buy an affordable apartment in the area we liked a lot, with payment by installments, which meant no interest rates! Anyway, when you’ve got no money at all, you don’t care if your dream apartment costs $70K or $35K, it’s still unaffordable for you, right?
Moreover, we needed a sustainable financial diet! It had to include a long-term healthy lifestyle for the whole family.
So that’s the tips, that helped us:
- Make a SMART savings goal:
- Specific – Be precise about what you are saving for.
- Measurable – Quantify your goal.
- Achievable – Are you attempting too much?
- Realistic – Do you have the resources to achieve the goal?
- Timed – State when you will achieve it.
- Write down all the expenses and try to make a budget. Even if you can’t create a 100% perfect budget, listing all your spendings makes you aware of them. It’s similar to dieting: when you know exactly how many calories you’ve already had today compared to your daily goal, you are less likely to overeat (at least, you can do smth to compensate it with working out or in our case – with side hustles).
- Set an amount you are willing to save from a paycheck and save it right away (whether in a special account or just an envelop). Believe me, when you literally don’t have money to splurge, you wouldn’t do it. Some months we were eating just plain oatmeal or rice for a day or two in the end of the month (including lunches at work), while hoping that a few drops of gas in the car will be enough to get us to the office and back home. Sometimes we’ve been awkwardly counting coins in the grocery store to make sure we can afford to buy a pack of milk and some eggs. But generally, it was OK, nobody starved or whatever.
- Make shop lists and stick to it. I mean it, don’t start any shopping without a list. At first, it was difficult for us. But then we got used it. Ones my husband met my parents in the grocery store and they suggested he added a pack of shrimps in the cart, because they know I love them. My husband stayed strong and didn’t buy it (don’t worry, he loves me a lot) – he knew that it could lead to other impulse purchases and it would have ruined our budget plan. And now even our kids realize the fact: I can’t buy some extra candy or a toy for them if it’s not on the list. So they are planning their needs in advance too, instead of crying in the store and making us buy them another superhero toy.
- Take a calculator to the store. Literally, hold it in hand and sum the prices while you add items to the cart. Your phone will work great for it too! It really saves you when you have a shopping budget (whether for home stuff from IKEA, clothing or weekly groceries) and an according limited amount of cash in your wallet. I’m sure you already know that hard cash keeps your spending under control.
- Visualise your goal! When the things get hard, you need a reminder to motivate you! In our case, we kept the plan of the future apartment on the kitchen wall. So every time we were having a meal we could see it and dream about living there, make renovation plans, pick the colors for the walls etc.
- Stay optimistic and look for opportunities! I totally agree with this article: http://thefinancialdiet.com/im-calling-bs-popular-saving-tip/
Giving up buying something to save more just isn’t working at some point. For example, we already switched to home-brewed coffee (my dear hubby got me a great coffee maker for that), we weren’t eating out unless it was a REALLY special occasion (like we found a friend to babysit or son first time in 6 months) and had all the equipment we need to workout at home.
So what can we do next? I guess the best option is to increase your income. At least in my case, having a family and a dream was a huge motivation: I wanted to make a career and become the breadwinner in our family. I suppose it showed a lot and when I started working I was promoted gradually from a junior to a deputy department chief in a year. Plus, I had a side hustle just in case.
What did it cost us:
Yes, we managed to do the payments on time and now we own an apartment we wanted.
However, it was frustrating AF. Somewhere in the middle of 4-year savings journey we said “screw it, we need a vacation!” and got away to a beach resort for 2 weeks. It was a low-end option, but we enjoyed it a lot! As they say, 1 slice of cake doesn’t ruin your diet and 1 splurge doesn’t ruin your financial diet. After the vacation, we felt refreshed and energized to continue the journey.
Sure, there were unexpected issues as well: like replacing the car when it broke completely, the mentioned vacation and a few smaller things. So we had to adjust the plan and move on!
Later I realized that the reason I am so thin (I dropped all the 50 pounds of baby-weight after pregnancy and even 10 pounds more) was also due to the constant worries about the money, not just the healthy eating & exercise.
Last year, when we finally reached our goal, our family had another shock: now we can start spending money on things we deprived ourselves all these years. We needed about 2 months to adjust and stop splurging around.
As a result, we figured out new goals, which included expanding our family! I was finally able to relax and take a pause in my career to focus on our kids: now we have two sons, a 5-year-old and a 6-month -old, and I’m working from home.
Also, I’m definitely planning more family vacations, since we know how to save for it and we need it to stay productive!