The 2016 Olympics in Rio are well under way. There are 11,494 athletes from over 200 countries competing in 42 different sports. They come from all walks of life and different corners of the globe, but they all have something in common. They all have a goal, and that is what has given them the strength to endure the long hours of training, the time away from family and all of the other sacrifices necessary to be an Olympic athlete. But you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete for goals to matter. If you want to do something, the only way to make sure it happens is to have a goal.
Specific goals work better than vague goals because they give you something to target and allow you to measure your progress. I’m pretty sure none of the Olympic athletes started out by saying “maybe I should exercise more”. Goals for saving money are no different. Making sure that you have enough to live on when you are no longer working for pay is a marathon. To make sure that you finish you will need a specific goal, and you will need to keep track of your progress. Just saying that you want to save for retirement won’t cut it.
Having a specific saving goal can be very powerful. Take Justin McCurry. Justin decided early on that he didn’t want to work into his sixties or beyond, and he chose a lifestyle that would accommodate that goal. Justin retired at the age of 33 in 2013 with just under $1.3 million in savings and investments. His wife continued to work for a few years, but left her job in 2016.
Justin and his wife made good money as professionals, but their combined income never exceeded $150,000. Their contributions to savings averaged $77,000 annually over the ten years they worked. The McCurrys live in a modest home, drive modest cars and eat at home for the most part. But they take fantastic vacations and plan to send their children to college. They are currently living on about $32,000 per year. Justin blogs about his experience and offers advice at www.rootofgood.com.
Or consider the journey of Jeremy and Winnie Jacobson. Both grew up in lower income households and put themselves through college with student loans. Jeremy had $40,000 worth of loans when he graduated. After working for sixteen years, they left corporate life to travel the world in 2012. They live mostly on their investment income.
How were they able to leave the corporate life so soon? They spent between five and six years getting out of debt. Then they spent ten years saving like crazy. They lived in a comfortable 900 square foot apartment in a walkable neighborhood of Seattle. They didn’t own a car. To get around, they walked, biked or took public transportation. They ate most of their meals from their own kitchen and took advantage of free entertainment. The result was they were able to save an average of 70 percent of their income. The Jacobsons now live on about $4,000 per month, and have visited 40 countries to date. Jeremy also blogs about his experience and offers advice at his web site www.gocurrycracker.com.
My husband, Jeff, never wanted to work beyond the age of 55, so we prioritized saving for retirement. Jeff left work three years ago, just before his 55th birthday, and I was able to stop working last year, a bit earlier than planned. We live in a nice neighborhood, but not the most expensive one. We have cars we enjoy for which we paid cash, but they aren’t high end luxury cars. We don’t have a second home, and we only have one child to put through college. These choices put us a bit ahead of the game. Our house is paid off, and we have money set aside for our daughter’s college education as well as enough money to maintain our lifestyle for the rest of our lives.
What are the common threads here? Having a goal and prioritizing saving over spending. The McCurrys and the Jacobsons wanted out of the rat race as soon as possible. Jeff and I wanted to have the freedom to leave the workforce in our fifties. We all had goals. Goals define your trade-offs, so you know what you are giving up or gaining with each choice. Therefore, prioritizing saving over spending doesn’t feel like giving anything up. It feels like taking a step toward your goal.
In order to reach your saving goals you have to be deliberate about how you spend your money. Both the McCurrys and the Jacobsons made very conscious lifestyle choices that allowed them to save. They didn’t live in the most expensive home they could afford, they made transportation choices that minimized their expenses and they ate at home for the most part. Jeff and I saved first. Before we spent any money we put our monthly savings goal into savings. That defined our lifestyle, and ensured that we were paying the bill for our financial freedom up front.
Your goals are likely different than mine or the other families mentioned here. You certainly do not need to have dramatic goals like retiring in your thirties or traveling the world. But you do need to set a goal. Knowing exactly what you are working toward and checking your progress regularly is the only way to assure that the race ends the way you want.
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