I love reading about personal finance journeys. Nothing excites me more than reading about people overcoming their struggles with money and turning it into something positive. What I don’t enjoy reading are stories about people who have managed to save a ton of money while appearing to do very little.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some of these people worked hard, but sometimes their stories can be quite vague or their numbers questionable.
Back in 2016, my wife and I bought our first home in Toronto with a $226K down payment which was a 52% of the $432,000 purchase price. While we were saving, we still travelled on a regular basis; here’s how we did it.
We had a budget
Having a budget is one of the essential tools when it comes to financial success, so my wife and I created one early. As soon as my wife and I got engaged back in 2008, we started a wedding budget. We knew our wedding was going to cost about $30K (we still can’t believe we spent that much) and it was 18 months away, so we set up a plan. Since the math works out to about $1,100 a month, we made sure we saved at least that much.
Of course, having a budget is much more than just saving for a wedding. We had other expenses to factor in such as rent, groceries, a down payment, retirement savings, vacations, etc.
Travelling was a big part of our lives. As a result, we decided to budget more than the average couple for it. By setting this money aside, we’ve been able to visit some amazing places including Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, England, and much more.
More importantly, we saved as a couple. We had common goals and made sure all our savings went towards them.
We avoided lifestyle inflation
After the wedding in 2010, we were up $25K. We had received about $30K in combined gifts, but we spent $5K on our honeymoon in Italy. We went to Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice where we had the best pasta, pizza, and gelato in our lives.
After returning home, we realized that we no longer had to budget for our wedding anymore which freed up that $1,100 we were saving every month. Instead of blowing all that extra cash on more vacations and eating out, we just put it towards our joint savings account.
During this time, we had also been getting promotions and raises at our jobs that allowed us to save even more money. We earned more than the average Canadian, but it’s not like we were pulling down a six-figure salary. The key for us was continuing to save to reach our goal of homeownership.
Since 2008, we were saving roughly $500 – $2,500 a month (or a rough total of $180,000) towards joint savings which were meant for our down payment.
We managed our expectations
That number may sound insane, but we were in a dual income situation with no kids. Instead of saving every penny, we made smart financial decisions and enjoyed our lives.
When we decided to buy a car, we bought one used for $18K. We didn’t NEED a car, but we wanted one for convenience. Despite the fact that we had enough cash to buy a car brand new, we opted for a 3-year old car since the savings was significant.
To be honest, we did up our vacation budget somewhere along the way(I don’t remember when). Since, our yearly budget for vacations is $7,800, we put aside $650 a month. We agreed that we could travel as much as we want in a year as long as we don’t go over our total budget.
When you’ve got a hard number in mind, and you love to travel; it’s surprisingly easy to make that dollar stretch. We chose some budget friendly locations such as Jordan and Hungary. We also visited destinations where we had friends and family that we could stay with to cut back on costs. Simple math shows that we spent about $40K on vacations over the years, but since we budgeted for it separately, it didn’t affect our ability to buy a home.
Finally, we kept our living expenses down. We lived in a rent controlled building where our rent was considered “cheap” by Toronto standards. We planned our meals which helped cut back on eating out, but we also kept a separate budget for restaurants and entertainment so we could spend guilt free.
We took advantage of any extra income
I already spoke about saving our raises, but we also made an effort to save any extra money that came across our way. Our tax refunds every year helped a little bit, but we also received cash gifts on a regular basis. It’s not like these cash gifts were huge amounts, but they did help.
I also started freelancing as a writer which allowed me to save an extra $20,000 over the years. When we were ready to buy, I sold all the shares in my company stock plan which was worth about $30,000.
We were also fortunate enough to have $30,000 gifted to us by our parents. We didn’t ask for or need the money, but they generously gave it to us anyways.
We didn’t get obsessed with real estate
Admittedly, had we bought years earlier, we would have been in a better position, but there was no way we could predict how hot the markets would be in Toronto. When we finally decided to buy, we set a max purchase price and bought within our means.
If you’ve been keeping a running tab, you’ve probably noticed that we had more than the $226K we used for our down payment saved. The extra money went towards our emergency fund, closing costs, furniture, other investments, and of course travel.
Saving a large sum of money is nothing special. It just takes time and discipline.