When my husband and I got engaged, we each had about $2000 dollars in our savings accounts, an amount that, for me, had held roughly constant for years. Despite my best efforts to save more, I never had more money than that, and sometimes I had much less. It was true that I sometimes put $1000 per month towards my student loans, and that I was living in Manhattan on a salary of $35,000, and that nearly half my take-home pay went to my rent. But I still felt that I could be doing better. My husband made the exact national average income each year we lived in NYC.
After we were engaged, we started planning a wedding on a very strict budget, and we started saving to buy a house at some distant time in the future. Our wedding and honeymoon ended up costing about $16000, which seems like a large amount, but we felt it was great for a medium-sized, traditional wedding held in a very expensive city, and is much less than an average cost wedding in the USA. We were able to pay for everything without using credit cards, and without help from our parents. After the wedding, we had about $12000 in our now combined savings account, an amount that continued to increase to the point that we were able to make a down-payment on a house less than three years after our wedding, even though we had a baby and I stopped working. So how did we do it?
We made a budget. We realized, for example, that we were spending nearly $40 per month on organic milk from the little grocery under our building. We started buying regular milk at the grocery, and the cost went to more like $10.
We mostly stopped eating out. Our budget showed that we had been spending about $400 each month at restaurants. We decided not to eat out except occasionally, and that amount dropped to $60. We didn’t want to be too hard on ourselves, so we still went to our very favorite restaurant sometimes. I hardly missed eating out because we were also cooking more.
We planned our wedding on a strict budget, doing everything possible ourselves. For example, we had a meeting with a florist, who estimated that our budget for flowers would be about $1800. We both thought that was ridiculous, and decided to do the floral arrangements ourselves. I ordered the flowers from a store in the ‘flower district’ and arranged them myself. The same arrangements were about $200.
We bought everything together. We both vetoed a lot, and it saved a lot of money.
Breaking with tradition, we asked for money as wedding presents, to go towards a down-payment on a house. This helped jumpstart our savings, which would have been very small after our wedding otherwise.
We took a ‘free’ honeymoon to a friend’s lakeside cabin. Our only expense was a rental car to get us there, and it was a wonderful week for us.
We dropped cable TV, and focused on free activities. We went for walks in the park, to museums with suggested donations or free days, and read library books. We stopped buying clothes and anything else that wasn’t really needed, but we did buy some more furniture after our wedding.
When we had a baby, we kept everything simple, and probably spent less than $1500 for baby stuff during her first year. I stopped working and we further economized. More on this later.
When my husband got a new job in a small town three years after our wedding, we had enough money to buy a house, thanks to saving as much as possible. We are now trying to pay off our mortgage as quickly as we can as well, so that we can begin buying rental properties in the college town where we now live.
I have never missed all of the little things we gave up in order to save. Giving up small things for a reward in the long-term is always worthwhile.