by Carmel on May 23, 2013 · 37 comments

This dream started nearly seven years ago, but that doesn’t mean we started saving seven years ago. In fact, I went through a brief period where I wanted to buy a house, but I also wanted to have a 20% down payment. That goal lasted for about a week. After a series of different “dreams,” we finally really started pursuing this dream in a financial sense around the time of our wedding in October 2010. We were able to get a good start from our wedding guests, but before we started our own savings, we had to pay off my credit card debt.

I’ll get into the whole credit card debt story another time, but that was our first goal in moving toward our dream. Oh right, I also had to get a job.

We paid off the last of the credit card debt in November 2011. While we paid off that debt, we also started a small savings for emergencies and things we knew we needed to save for, such as vacation (hey, this is a long process) or medical expenses.

In the process of paying off debt, we had quite a few major expenses come up – many (many!) car repairs, cat getting sick, gigantic tax bill (only our second year of marriage and first where I had a good paying job), last minute trip to LA for my aunt’s 75th birthday, etc. Of course, emergency savings didn’t quite cover all of that. We ended up pushing our departure date back by a few months, which in the end, has to turned out to be a good thing.


Stop looking at me pig!

Here’s how we do it…


One area where I’m not willing to compromise is with the quality of our food. We shop almost exclusively at our local natural foods store, New Seasons. For toilet paper, cleaning supplies, we generally go to a bigger store (where I can usually find e-coupons) like Fred Meyer. Anyone who has been to New Seasons before (similar to Whole Foods) will testify that it can be hard to get out of there without spending double what you meant to spend. There are just too many tempting treats there and it’s not cheap. I used to be guilty of this. Now, each week when the flyer advertising weekly sales comes out, I spend about a half hour creating a meal plan for the week. Since Shawn gets lunch at work, I only have to worry about my lunches, for which I usually bring leftovers. I rarely eat lunch out – it’s not really worth it to me anymore. There aren’t many good places to eat around the area and I work in a hospital, so the food at work is definitely not worth the cost. I generally cook most nights. Sunday is when I make our biggest meal and try to extend that into a lunch or two and at least one night of leftovers. All this planning has helped us in me in my biggest area of weakness….eating out.


This is a hard category for us because I stick eating out under this umbrella. It is entertainment for me and with all the new restaurants and carts popping up in Portland all the time, one of the hardest areas for me to cut back.

We also, once upon a time, would go to at least a concert or two a month. This isn’t a huge expense since there are plenty of cheap shows to see, but pair that with a couple beers each and suddenly we’ve dropped $50 in a night.

Here’s basically what’s covered under the title of Entertainment: alcohol (except for a six pack from the store each week and an occasional bottle or box of wine – don’t judge, it’s good now); meals out; concerts; records/music; clothing; yoga classes; sporting events – it’s a bit of a catch all. I do usually try to plan separately for our bus trips to Seattle to see my family, though.


Here’s where we made our biggest sacrifice – we sold our car. The one and only car. I went back and forth on this issue for, well, about the amount of time I owned the car. Cars feel like such a waste of money to me, but it’s hard living without one. Well, that’s what I thought until I actually did it. I get a free bus pass from work. Without that, we probably wouldn’t have done it. That saves us $100/month, which is what we pay for Shawn’s bus pass. We use car share programs like Car2Go (LOVE) and, rarely, ZipCar for times when we need a car, like taking the cat to the vet. We sold the car in October 2012 and while it’s had its challenges, overall, it was the best boost we could have given our savings. It was paid off, but I was able to sell it for $3,500, and even though my insurance was minimal and my gas expenses weren’t too bad, the impending threat of emergency repairs not only boosted our savings, but also brought my stress levels way down. I can’t tell you the hours I spent worrying over that thing.

The decision to sell our car became a bit easier once the Bolt Bus came to town. For those of you not in a Bolt Bus serviced area, let me explain. Basically, it’s an express bus service that started out with just service between Portland and Seattle. It’s now expanded to Bellingham and Vancouver, BC, with more plans to expand, I expect. Tickets start as low as $1. Granted there are few times when you actually get a $1 ticket, but I’ve gotten it before and generally our round trip tickets cost anywhere from $19-36. That’s right, round trip. So, if I’m riding solo, it’s so much cheaper than driving. It’s not a bad way to ride–wifi, relatively clean bathroom, and decent seats–although you have to be careful at what time you choose to leave. Traffic is traffic. It’s generally on time and the pick-up/drop-off location is in Chinatown in Seattle, so it’s always a good excuse to grab dim sum before I leave on Sundays.


Yes, MORE savings. We have a few different categories: trip savings; emergency savings; kitty savings; retirement savings.

The emergency savings became less important once we got rid of the car – those were usually the expenses we didn’t predict. So now we only stick about $50/month in there for things we can’t predict, but we haven’t touched it in months (knock on wood).

Shawn is still contributing about 5% of his paycheck to retirement savings. I reduced mine to 3% this year because the cash is more valuable to us at this point, but I wanted to still reap the benefit of the match program at my work. It’s tempting to forgo this contribution, but really, the tax deferment helps, the contribution is pretty minor, and who am I to turn down free money from my work? I also have been adamant about saving for retirement since I was in high school thanks to my mom who works in the stock market. I don’t have a lot, but it’s better than nothing.

What makes our savings an extra challenge is that we earn the highest interest rate on our checking account through our credit union – 2.25% up to $25,000. That means, we have to virtually save all this money. It’s all in one big pot, so I can’t just shove it to another account and ignore it. I have to manually keep track of every expense. I’ll admit, it gets overwhelming at times. I’m sure I make mistakes, but I usually round up when tracking our expenses, so I figure there’s a little leeway thanks to that method. It’s a bit like virtually collecting our change.

We also just got a travel rewards credit card. After a lot of research, we decided the best card for us was the Capital One Venture card. We get two points for every $1 purchased, plus 10,000 bonus points when we spent $1,000 within the first month (easy to do when you buy tickets to Mongolia). The $59 annual fee is waived the first year and the points are good for any travel-related purchase, so it’ll come in handy. It is a little daunting to make sure we use our checking account enough to reap the benefits of the interest rate and use the credit card enough to get points, but we’re managing.

These are just some of the ways we’re saving and I’m sure more of my little tips will pop up as I continue to blog…but the point is, we’re not rich. We’re not special. There’s nothing magical about how we’re driving this dream. Shawn does social work, I’m an executive assistant. We don’t make gobs of money. We are lucky to have options, but what we’re doing is just a choice. We just make different choices because this is what we want. It’s hard, for sure, but this is a part of our journey. As much as I’d like to deny it, we are currently living our dream. It’s not terribly glamorous, but we manage to live a good life while saving a big chunk of our money.

And it’s worth it.

What other tips have you found helpful for saving?


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda Schurr May 23, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Nicely done. You guys are inspiring in many ways.


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:46 am

Thank you, dear!


Peter Korchnak May 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm

“We don’t make gobs of money…what we’re doing is just a choice.” That is an argument I keep using with people who think Lindsay and I are rich because we can afford going on a world trip (less than a month away, yay!). It does help to have two incomes, but we both have nonprofit jobs that add up to less than six figures. What helped a lot more, though, was disciplined reducing and reorganizing our spending, along the lines similar to yours: no mortgage, no car, no frills like cable TV or internet, plus buckets for different expenditure categories, especially trip savings. I’ve been amazed at several people’s reactions when I give them the rundown, when they realize it’s all about focus, when I say, “We just wanted the trip more than the frills.”

As a result, we feel exactly like you do: “It’s not terribly glamorous, but we manage to live a good life while saving a big chunk of our money. And it’s worth it.” Amen to that.


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:48 am

Focus is a good word for it. Once we changed our focus to saving for this trip, we no longer saw buying new clothes, having a car, or cable tv as necessary items. I’m not saying it’s bad to want those things, it’s just a different mindset. I wish I had learned these things a little earlier in life and not spent so much money on stuff!


Kellie May 24, 2013 at 12:47 am

Couldn’t agree more, its not about being rich its about making a choice and then finding a way to make that choice a reality.
Kellie recently posted…Fear – The boy who was scared of everything!My Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:49 am

And it’s so good when the reality is right around the corner! Finally, the payoff…


Jade May 24, 2013 at 1:52 am

I have found that budgeting really helps on a weekly basis. I use the free weekly spend app as even though I do end up going over a little each week (and sometimes a lot!), overall it helps me remember exactly what I spend my money on- as I put in every single little purchase it makes you think that little bit more about why you are actually spending that money. It has definitely helped me save, even though I do go over!


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:51 am

My boss and I were talking about personal budgeting (thrilling conversation, I know) and he uses I had tried it out years ago when it was a really young app and wasn’t terribly impressed by it then, but he says it’s evolved into something very useful now. I should probably consider using something like that again to keep better track of all the moving parts. Right now I’m using basically an Excel budget worksheet and it gets hard to track every expense (which I do).


Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 24, 2013 at 2:33 am

Sometimes I think people overstate just how much sacrifice is necessary to “live your dreams” and save up for one of these trips, like if you haven’t cut out every ounce of enjoyment from your life and aren’t living just above the poverty line because all your money is going into your travel fund, then you’re doing something wrong and aren’t committed to this dream. I think that’s rubbish. Tony & I decided that we wanted to go on an extended trip probably about 4 years before we actually did, and it certainly prompted us to streamline our lives and cut back on unnecessary expenses, but… everyone’s definition of what’s necessary is different. For us, we didn’t see the point of scrimping and saving for years, living like paupers or constantly denying ourselves the things that made us happy, just so that later on we could live well. We made a conscious decision to live a life of moderation, because it seemed shortsighted to sacrifice a fun, happy life in the present for one one in the future; that’s not why we’re taking this trip, it’s about living the best life we can ALWAYS. Maybe this means that we had a slightly smaller travel fund than we might have if we had just eaten ramen every night of the week or stopped going to concerts or occasionally eating out, but we lived a good life in the process and so obviously have no regrets. It sounds like the two of you have taken a similar tact, and I applaud you for that.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Port Barton: The Town that Tourism Left BehindMy Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:54 am

Exactly. We gave ourselves a bit less time, but only because of our age. Not saying you can’t have kids on the road, obviously you can, but for us, we wanted to do this before we have a family. I turn 33 right before we go, so we had some time challenges. I don’t think we would have survived saving this long if we didn’t enjoy the process. Back in January, we tightened up the budget a little more and have cut back even further, but we still do fun things…just more of our date nights are spent at home making dinner and watching a movie. At this point, I realize those will be the little luxuries I miss, so it’s definitely a good idea to appreciate those nights in now!


Angela May 24, 2013 at 3:41 am

I was going to post a comment about how saving doesn’t mean you have to live like a total bum for a year or two but Steph already said it 10 times better than I can so, yeah. What Steph said!
Angela recently posted…Through our eyes // 04 : BangkokMy Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 6:55 am

She’s good at that, right?! 🙂


jill May 24, 2013 at 10:01 am

Jack and I made a commitment that we would maintain our college lifestyle even after we get full time jobs. And we did. And honestly, our life is relatively simple now without a mortgage/debt/or even a car that we can focus on what we love most: climbing and traveling. Traveling is a luxury affordable to those with disposable income – but it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice everything to afford it. Just a shift in life’s perspective is needed. My 2 cents.
jill recently posted…Canada Adventure: Ontario and QuebecMy Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

Smart transition. And I completely agree. It just takes a shift in perspective. It doesn’t feel much like sacrifice when you know you’re funding what you love most. Well, at times it does, but ultimately, not really.


Kim May 24, 2013 at 10:30 am

Yay for savings!!! I know how hard you guys have worked at this and how many sacrifices you’ve had to make. I can’t wait to watch you walk out that door 🙂


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 10:49 am

I try not to think too much about not reaching our goal, because we won’t, but instead think of it as a new financial challenge for us. It’s never going to feel like “enough” anyway.


Sarah Somewhere May 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Car-sharing is such a great idea, I agree cars are absolute money pits!!! It is amazing how much you can cut back when you really want something different hey? It’s not easy… but totally worth it 🙂
Sarah Somewhere recently posted…Skydiving in Playa: Writing a New Story for MyselfMy Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I think that’s how I know we really want this, actually. I totally wouldn’t commit if I didn’t want it.


Tyrhone May 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

You guys have really thought this thing through! Kudos to you. When I started saving I just made one decision, stop spending money. This meant hardly going out and putting every penny I didn’t need into my high interest savings account. And it worked! True I have no future plans regarding retirement or returning to work. But I’m sure if I just ignore all that stuff it will sort itself out. Right?

Keep at it, it’s all worth it when you get to take off. 🙂
Tyrhone recently posted…Holy F#*K I jumped out of a plane!My Profile


Carmel May 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm

You both saved for a much shorter period of time, right? There are definitely things we could have done differently–like moved into a smaller place that cost less–I just didn’t want to. I knew it would take us awhile to do it, especially since I didn’t have a job when we started this plan.

It’ll work out.


Rika | Cubicle Throwdown May 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Well done guys!! I worked two full time jobs for six months before I left, and that helped a lot because I never had time to spend my money on anything except feeding myself 🙂
Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…Could you live off a dive instructor’s wage on Roatan?My Profile


Carmel May 27, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I think since I had been doing the 60-hour work week up until our wedding (and barely making enough to live on), I decided I was done with that. That was a big part of why we chose to save as long as we did. But you do what you need to do to get the job done–there are many ways to do it. Feels good once you accomplish your goal though, huh?


Chris May 25, 2013 at 2:58 am

After reading your about section and this post you remind me a lot of my wife and I. I disliked my job, so I went and got my personal training certification too. After selling everything we owned, paying off all of our debt, and saving a bit we were finally able to quit our jobs and relocate from Virginia to Chiang Mai, Thailand permanently. Your story is very inspiring. We definitely can relate to how hard it is to cut back on new restaurants and food carts…they are both our weaknesses. Good luck to you both! We will be following closely 🙂
Chris recently posted…Thoughts Before I Quit My JobMy Profile


Carmel May 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Really love your site so far. Glad you stopped by! Hope to meet you guys sometime on the road!


Maddie May 26, 2013 at 4:01 am

“It’s not terribly glamorous, but we manage to live a good life while saving a big chunk of our money.” Totally agree with this, you can change huge parts of your life to save money but can avoid living off beans on toast every day. Eating out was our main splurge too but I actually really enjoyed the staying in and cooking. I was amazed by how much we saved just by consciously thinking about every penny we spent, if it wasn’t needed then it didn’t get bought.
Maddie recently posted…Our visit to elephant heavenMy Profile


Carmel May 28, 2013 at 6:48 am

We used to go over on our entertainment a lot more than we do now. Like with any discipline, it takes practice and now we’ve hit more of our stride and do a lot better. Although the trips to get travel-related stuff really challenge that fortitude!
Carmel recently posted…HOW WE’RE SAVINGMy Profile


Hannah May 28, 2013 at 12:23 am

My savings journey was pretty tortuous and I wish I had been kinder to myself throughout it, allowing the odd treat here and there as you are doing. It really is equally as important to enjoying the process of making this dream come, just as much as enjoying the end result. Good on you!
Hannah recently posted…From temples to tablesMy Profile


Carmel May 28, 2013 at 6:45 am

Your savings plans was pretty hardcore! But you did it and that’s what matters!


Carmel May 28, 2013 at 6:45 am

I know! I wish I could be happy eating the same cheap meal every day, but I know I would go crazy. I have a hard time even forcing oatmeal down my throat every day for breakfast. It will be worth it, though. And I remind myself that I’m going to miss cooking at home when we’re abroad.


Montecristo Travels (Sonja) May 28, 2013 at 11:21 am

Wrote about this a while ago and understand what you are talking about here. I am always amazed at how many people don’t get it, or say that they just could not do it. I always say it is because it isn’t a real priority.


Carmel May 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

I used to work on an Ad Council campaign (locally) for the Feed the Pig (TM) campaign. It was pretty simple–small changes add up. It really does work. We have our own little piggy bank, as featured on this post. It’s pretty full right now and I think I’m going to save it as our splurge for the last night of work when we take ourselves out to a nice dinner. It’ll probably be our last, but we want to celebrate. Like I mentioned in this post, I round up when reconciling our budget, so I virtually collect change all the time!


Montecristo Travels (Sonja) May 29, 2013 at 9:35 am

I love that idea. I think we are going to spend it on our farewell party! I know many of our friends and family are anxious about the 6 month sailing trip. It might help to have a nice big party and a chance to say “see you later!”. That or … bring back some art. Guess time will tell what we decide!

In our Feeding Piggy game – whoever saves the most gets to decide what is done with all the money! So the battle is on!


Kimmy @ AfterGlobe May 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I hear ya on the eating out part! It’s my greatest weakness, too. It’s just so hard in Portland with so many great places to eat. Just thinking about it makes my mind start wondering to wear I want to eat next…

Maybe we should forgo coffee and meet at a food cart. 🙂
Kimmy @ AfterGlobe recently posted…5 FREE Financial Tips to Stay on Top of Your FinancesMy Profile


Carmel May 31, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I am always up for that!


Trenton Fortes January 23, 2014 at 2:11 am

I do appreciate your work.

After all we are humans and we all adopt our own lifestyles. First of all we have to think why we are earning money? Why we all are putting so much effort to earn money?

We all are earning money to survive in this world. When we ask all these questions first thing comes in our mind is our basic needs, then thereafter all other things like transportation, entertainment, travel, and then savings. After working for long hours at different different work places when we are heading towards our home we feel stressed and we all want comfort. That is the reason we spend too much in weekends, but our life is not that easy. Till the time we are young enough to work hard, to earn money it is fine but we have to keep things in our mind that things will not remain the same. After completing 45 years we won’t be able to work hard as we are doing it at an age of 25 to 30. I am not saying that we’ll stop working after 45, but try to save money as much as you can. If you start earning when you are 25 years old then after 20 years you can breath easily. Because no one would going to help you at that point of time, not even your body and mind.

Carmel and Shawn set an example for us.

Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with us.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 2 trackbacks }