Our net worth finally ticked past a million dollars this year, at the ages of 33 and 34.
You might expect us to say that we had to “grind it out” with hard work and grit, but the truth is — it was actually pretty chill.
If you’re a middle-class American, and you’re wondering how to save a million dollars without generational wealth, a six-figure salary, or any form of self-torture, we have great news: It’s totally doable, and you can have lots of fun adventures along the way. We know from experience.
Getting Extraordinary Results with Ordinary Jobs
Let’s start with the boring part (saving money), and then we’ll get to the fun stuff (taking multi-month vacations and never needing to work again).
The math behind getting richer is simple: Subtract the annual amount of money you spend from the amount of money you make, and that’s how much wealthier you’ll be in a year. All of our financial success has come from manipulating those two numbers. Here are our tips…
- Live in a low-cost city (and don’t do it alone). Moving to cheap towns like Gainesville, Florida, gave us access to low rent and eventually allowed us to pay cash for our first home. We also split those housing costs with each other and with roommates. Having a whole place to yourself might sound luxurious, but in your early saving years, it’s financial suicide. Remember, these choices don’t have to last forever. Today, we live at the beach in another mortgage-free home — without any roomies.
- Drive a cheap, used car (and share it with somebody). The average purchase price of all our vehicles to date has been $4,950. We’ve never had a car payment, and we’ve always shared one car between two people (bikes help a lot). Keeping as little money as possible tied up in these depreciating assets allows more of our money to grow in investments instead. We could easily afford a newer vehicle, but we’d rather spend more time on road trips and less time at work!
- Eat at home (and avoid traditional grocery stores). Dining out — even at “cheap” restaurants like Chipotle or Subway — can be ten times more expensive than making food at home. We cook about 90% of our meals, and by getting our groceries from stores like Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, and ALDI, we save another ~25% compared to our local grocery store (Publix). There’s no sacrifice, either: Cooking at home is healthier, tastier, and costs us less time than traveling to restaurants.
- Delay having kids (and pets). If you know you want to have children, consider getting your finances straight in your early 20s and shifting your timeline for having kids into your late 20s or early 30s*. You’ll be more likely to have a higher salary by the time you have extra mouths to feed, and front-loading your cash-stacking years will allow compound interest to do more work. On top of that, the extra savings buffer will afford you more time away from the office to show up for your family.
Using the strategies above, plus a few small extras like cord cutting, menu hacking, and eBay shopping, we kept our combined annual spending between $18k – $26k per year during the full-time working era of our 20s.
As a result, we were able to consistently save 60-80% of our net incomes (and sometimes even more). This was true even in our lower-earning years, when we made ~$40k/yr per person. You can look at the detailed numbers elsewhere on this blog to see exactly how that’s possible.
- Go to work (at least sometimes 😅). The majority of our first million dollars was saved directly from full-time salaries. We took more than our fair share of time off, but we couldn’t have done it without the initial money from our jobs (physics teacher and marketing manager). Any job will do, but developing a hard-to-find, unique skill set gives you more leverage to negotiate for higher pay and long sabbaticals. Don’t be afraid to job-hop for more money, too! It often results in much higher pay boosts than loyalty to a single employer.
- Develop more skills (and turn them into money-makers). We’ve always loved photography. It’s something we would have done even if it could never make us any money at all. Fortunately though, it’s possible to turn a profit doing almost anything in this world, and our passion became a fun side business for us. Do what you love, and don’t be afraid to get paid for it**!
- Invest all excess cash (and save a little for a rainy day). When your income exceeds your expenses, you can use the difference to rapidly pay off all of your debt and develop an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account. But beyond that, every extra dollar should be directed into a simple, passive investment portfolio, with set-it-and-forget-it investments like stock market index funds. It doesn’t have to be complicated. While most of our first million dollars was simply saved, a large six-figure chunk of it came from effortless investment gains, too!
You’ll notice that none of the above involved complicated strategies, crazy risks, or 80-hour work weeks climbing a cutthroat corporate ladder. We are millionaires today because we lived simply and frugally, with regular jobs. You can be too.
Taking a Ridiculous Amount of Vacation Time
Saving a million dollars sounds cool, but it’s important to step back and remember why accumulating a bunch of money is so great in the first place. For us, the reason was very clear: We wanted to be free to do what makes us happy.
While we always took 100% of our allotted vacation time at work, those little one-week vacations never felt like enough. Our goal was to travel for months at a time.
Banking our first few years worth of expenses made us realize that we weren’t beholden to our employers any more. We could ask for months off work and simply quit if we didn’t get approval from the boss!
The first time we tried this, we wanted to take a 6-month honeymoon in Hawaii. We had about $153k saved at the time, which was equal to 7 years worth of our annual expenses then.
As a public school teacher, I couldn’t really take a 6-month chunk of time off, so I simply quit my job at the end of a school year — knowing that I had plenty of savings to back me up.
Lauren told her employer about our travel plans and gave them a choice: allow her some part-time remote work from Hawaii, or lose her altogether. They took her up on the part-time offer, and she was able to earn some extra money while we were living the island life.
If you go back and study the chart at the very top of this page, you’ll notice something weird: Our net worth never went down while we were on these long vacations — we never spent any of our savings to travel.
By negotiating remote freelance work, collecting passive investment income, renting out our home while traveling, and keeping costs low with cheap camping and outdoor entertainment, we actually got richer while taking extended vacations!
If you’re interested in doing something similar, you can draw some inspiration from the financial details of our adventures in these blog posts:
- How We Took a 6-Month Hawaii Honeymoon for $0
- You Spent How Much?! Our Cost To See Every National Park (And How We Paid For It)
- How to Take Months Off Work and Travel for $36 per Day
- Our 65-Day Canadian National Parks Road Trip (& Its Cost)
- We Took a 3-Month Vacation and Came Home $26,000 Richer
Recently, we haven’t needed to bother negotiating for time off work when we travel. That’s because we quit our last full-time jobs around 4 years ago and entered into a phase of semi-retirement, doing freelance work and side projects whenever we felt like it.
Today, the continual gains from our investment portfolio alone are enough to pay for all of our low living expenses for the rest of our life, according to the 4% rule for early retirement. For us, work is completely optional.
We’re bragging about our success online for a slightly ironic reason though: We want you to know that there’s really nothing special about what we did.
If you’re a middle-class American, then you have the means to do something similar. Your path won’t look exactly the same as ours, but if you spend less than you earn and invest the difference, you’ll become richer and freer. It’s really that simple.
* Personally, we’re considering the possibility of adopting or fostering later in life — or just skipping kids altogether. We haven’t made a decision yet, but one thing is certain: We’re financially ready for children, and we have absolutely no regrets about that!
** You may be wondering how much of our wealth came from running Trip Of A Lifestyle. Did we get rich by writing about how to get rich? That’d be cool, but the answer is no. Since we give all of our content away for free on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and this blog, Trip Of A Lifestyle has only made us a lifetime grand total of around $5,000 (mostly from ad revenue), after subtracting expenses, taxes, and the portion of our profits that go to charity, as of December 2023. We really just do this for fun and to inspire others.
*** We calculate our net worth using cash balances, investments (including retirement accounts), and real estate. We like to be a little conservative with our numbers, so we only use 90% of the Zillow Zestimate for each property we own. Mortgage balances and other debt would normally be subtracted from our net worth, but we paid cash for all of our real estate and have no other loans outstanding. Our net worth calculation does not include the value of personal possessions, collectibles, vehicles, etc.