That was our net worth when my wife and I got together in 2010: negative fifty-thousand dollars. We owed more than we owned.
This number was quite surprising to us when we calculated it for the first time because we actually thought we were rich. Combined, we were making around $130,000 per year.
When we wanted to buy things, we did. If our friends invited us out to dinner, we went. Outside of our wedding, we didn’t think about money that often.
But the truth of our financial situation was that we weren’t rich. We were in student debt, car debt and we owed more on our house than it was worth. Our retirement investments were less than $20,000 combined and we had about $2,000 in the bank.
At first, this financial realization was a bummer. But shortly after, we got excited about improving our situation. After all, we were going to be parents in the next couple of years and we wanted our children to have the best lives possible.
So we decided to make a plan and change our negative net worth situation into a positive one.
Over the next 10 years, my wife and I partnered together to increase our net worth to over $1,000,000. Here’s how we did it.
1. Write Down the Numbers and Track Them
One of the first things we did to improve our situation was to physically write down our income and our expenses and put it into a budget. This practice allowed us to see how much we had coming in and how much we had going out.
With this information, we started to become in control of our money instead of our money being in control of us.
We started to track our net worth as well. Personal Capital’s free net worth tracking tools weren’t around then, so I used a spreadsheet and tracked our progress over time.
It’s amazing how much progress we were able to make as a couple by simply seeing our numbers laid out in front of us. It’s the difference between using Google Maps on a road trip and just winging it. The more information you have, the better off your financial journey will be and you won’t get lost along the way.
2. Set Goals as a Couple
Laying out our numbers was important, but without a goal, the information was kind of pointless.
My wife and I decided to set some goals that were important to us. I was more excited about the financial goals like becoming debt free or increasing our net worth to positive territory. She was less motivated by those “numbers-focused goals” and more motivated by emotional goals.
For example, she wasn’t loving her job at the time, and she was excited about finding a way where she could work less and eventually become a stay-at-home mom to our children.
After a lot of conversation, we decided that would be our collective goal. We would improve our financial situation to the point where my wife could eventually raise our children at home and leave her 9-to-5.
Now, that goal may not be for everyone. A lot of people love their careers. Here are some other goals to consider as you’re finding your “why” for improving your money situation:
- Eliminating debt to reduce stress
- Funding a small business venture
- Going on stress-free debt-free vacations
- Being able to help out family members financially
- Saving for adoption
- Buying a home
- Giving back and donating more to charities or causes you care about
Everyone’s situation is different. Taking the time to find your financial motivation can be a great way to bond with your spouse and work on a common goal together. It definitely was for us.
3. Execute the Plan
After we set our goal to transition my wife from full-time employee to full-time stay-at-home mom, it was time to get to work. We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but by breaking it down into steps it became a lot easier.
Eliminate the Debt
If we had to eventually live on one income, we needed to be able to practice it beforehand. A great starting point for us was eliminating my student debt (around $30,000) and my wife’s car debt (around $20,000).
Since we were making a little over 6-figures, we decided to just live on one of our incomes and use the rest to pay off our debt. This required some sacrifices on our part.
For a period of time, we had to start saying “no” a bit more than we were used to.
It was difficult to say no to family who wanted us to join them on vacations or friends that wanted us to go out each weekend. Ultimately, we knew the short-term sacrifice was worth it.
During this debt pay down period, we found ways to increase our income as well. Outside of selling things around our house we didn’t use anymore on Craigslist (Facebook Marketplace is better for this nowadays), I worked hard to increase my income at work.
Because I worked in sales, increasing my commissions became my go-to plan. I was motivated!
Eventually, our plan worked.
We paid off $50,000 of student and car debt in about 12 months time. We were so excited that we went for a beautiful fall drive in my wife’s paid-for car to celebrate.
About 5 months later, our daughter was born. Nicole started working part-time at her job and eventually she was able to stay-at-home full-time when our son was born in 2014.
After our couple’s financial victory, we were hungry for more. This wealth-building stuff became a passion.
4. Build Wealth
After experiencing that win, we worked together to build wealth even more. Giving our two kids an incredible life was at the top of our family to-do list.
Here are some of the ways we boosted our net worth and built our wealth.
Max Out Retirement Options
In 2013, I started a new career and my workplace benefits offered a 15% match on my 401k contributions. From the moment I started to the moment I left, I maxed the contributions on this wealth-building investment option. By the time I left in 2020, my balance was around $200,000.
Outside of the 401k, we also invested in IRAs and a Health Savings Account (HSA). These two tax-advantaged retirement options helped us grow our wealth as well.
Pay Off the Mortgage
For the longest time, I hated having a mortgage. It always felt like a gigantic pain in the neck that I just didn’t want in my life anymore.
My wife and I partnered together the same way we did with our original $50,000 of debt, but this time we did it with our $200,000 mortgage. Within the next 4 years, we were mortgage free. No payments ever again for this family.
Buy Rental Properties
After we became mortgage free, we started to dream bigger. I loved the idea of creating passive income through real estate. My wife loved the idea of transforming homes and making them a beautiful place for people to live.
We partnered together to save as much money as possible to make this dream become a reality.
After saving for a couple years, viewing potential investment properties and learning more about what it takes to become a rental property owner, we decided to abandon this idea.
With two kids at home and a busy schedule, we decided that “less might actually be more” for the next chapter of our lives.
5. Continue Dreaming Together
As we approached the $1,000,000 net worth mark in the 10th year of our marriage, we continued to dream together.
By this time, my wife was ready to rejoin the workforce after years dedicated to her role as stay-at-home mom. The idea of checking email and sipping coffee at a desk without kids yanking at her pant leg sounded like heaven to her.
Our next idea was to figure out a way for us both to work part-time doing work we love.
And that’s where we stand today: We’re both on a mission to figure this out. We’ve saved plenty for retirement already, have about a year’s worth of expenses in savings and a mortgage free home.
The next part of our lives together we want to dedicate to creating a schedule we love and look forward to. We’re excited about figuring it out together.
Seeing the progress we’ve made from a -$50,000 net worth in 2010 to over $1,000,000 in 2020, we’re confident we’ll be able to do it — as a couple.
Personal Capital compensates Andy Hill (“Author”) for providing the content contained in this blog post.