We all have dreams: buying a home, driving off the lot in a new car, taking a trip around the world. For every major life milestone, there are real people out there who've made it happen. In “How I Paid For It,” these financial rock stars share how they accomplished their most challenging money goals — and what they learned from the experience.
This time, contributor Zina Kumok explains how she and her husband saved $12,500 within a year to move to a brand-new city.
In late 2013, my husband (then-fiancé) and I started daydreaming about leaving Indianapolis. We loved the city, but he grew up in Indiana, and both of us had gone to college an hour away. We wanted a change of scenery before we grew too old.
We worked out that in order to move comfortably after the end of our lease, we’d need to save $2,500 for moving expenses and beef up our emergency fund by another $10,000. (I was planning to go freelance once we moved out West, so a cash cushion to cover six months of living expenses was a must.)
In other words, it wasn’t going to be easy.
A year later, we packed everything into a box truck and drove across the country to our new home in Denver. Here’s how we made it work.
We Downsized Our Space
Even though my husband and I earned about $60,000 combined, we were still able to save $12,500 within a year to cover our move and a six-month emergency fund. How? We lived as frugally as possible.
First, we moved out of our separate apartments (I was in a one-bedroom, he lived with a roommate) and into a cheap duplex with a friend for just $266 each in rent. It wasn’t the swankiest digs or in the greatest location, but for the price it was perfect. It also helped that we lived in Indianapolis, one of the most affordable cities in the country.
We rarely ate out, opting to cook at home instead. Though my husband worked at Whole Foods at the time, we shopped at our nearby Kroger for lower prices. Sometimes we’d make the drive to Aldi or the local scratch-and-dent grocery store for even better deals.
If I wanted new clothes, I’d try to hit up a thrift store first. Sometimes I’d go to the mall or Nordstrom Rack, but I always shopped the sale racks.
Even if you live on a low income, you can still find room to save if you keep your living expenses down. For example, my husband and I were able to lower our rent to account for just 14% of our budget (instead of the benchmark 30%), meaning we had extra money to stash away.
These lifestyle changes can be big — moving to a cheaper apartment, driving a beater instead of a new car, buying used when you can — but worth it depending on your timeline and goals.
I Paid Off My Student Loans and Ramped Up My Savings
One of the biggest reasons we were able to save so much so quickly is because I was already used to living on less. Around the time we decided to save for Denver, I finished paying off $28,000 in student loans within three years.
During the last year of my debt payoff, I was putting $950 of my $1,800 monthly paycheck toward student loans. My minimum payment was only $298, so the rest went to paying down the principal. I also avoided things that would cause me to take on more debt, such as upgrading my car or running up a credit card balance.
Once my loans were paid off, the money freed up from monthly payments went straight to savings instead of lifestyle upgrades. Being debt-free also made it easier to move out to Colorado in the first place. I didn’t have to worry about how I’d pay my student loans or the potential of defaulting. When I was deciding how much to save for an emergency fund, I didn’t have to factor in monthly student loan payments.
The author and her husband on their wedding day. (Kelly Jordan Photography)
We Chose Wedding Cash Over Gifts — And Then Saved It
My husband and I had been living together for a year-and-a-half when we got married, so we already had all the home goods we needed from our parents' hand-me-downs and Goodwill. While we didn’t love our plain white dishes and mismatched silverware, we knew sprucing up our kitchen could wait — but Denver couldn’t.
So instead of using a traditional wedding registry, we created a fund where guests could help pay for our honeymoon, and the money went directly into our bank account. Many guests chipped in, while others just gave us cash. We were lucky to have generous loved ones and ended up collecting much more than we’d budgeted for the trip. We saved the $1,000 we didn’t spend on the honeymoon and put it toward our emergency fund instead.
We Learned to Prioritize the Relationship
Living on a shoestring budget wasn’t without its personal challenges. My husband and I hadn’t been living together for long, and now we were trying to make it work while depriving ourselves of many luxuries we’d come to expect.
In the first few months, we argued more than ever. I knew I wanted to be self-employed when we moved out to Denver, so I was working to save a bigger emergency fund. At the time, I was mostly managing the finances by myself, so I often felt like I had to say “no” to things like eating out or going on vacation, while my husband was more lax in saying “yes.”
Eventually, we vowed to be more conscientious of how we were treating each other. I tried to be more relaxed about our money, and my husband worked to understand why I was trying to save most of our income. It’s become a habit that we continue to this day — prioritizing our relationship and our big goals over everything else. It wasn't easy, but ultimately, talking about our finances has brought us closer together.
The author and her husband hiking outside of Denver.