Start Small and Keep Saving
Although Major James Kenisky only recently took the Saver's Pledge, he has been living by its tenets for many years: Start Small. Think Big.
I want this story to help others and I am certain I am not the only one who has achieved the level of success in the military that I have. I am just one voice. I started saving when I became a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I started with a mutual fund, but the key was I had formulated a plan without jeopardizing my lifestyle. I was determined to save a portion of my paycheck every month and live below my means. I started small and every year ratcheted up the savings. At one point, when I was a First Lieutenant, I was saving $1500 a month. I had $750 dollars automatically withdrawn from my account into a high interest-bearing account. I made some mistakes along the way, but the bottom line is I stayed with the plan.
When I was ready to go to pharmacy school after my first four years in the service, I had over $60,000 saved. The key is I did not use this at all for pharmacy school because this was my nest egg. I continued to save when I was in pharmacy school even though I was borrowing money to go to school. I knew that if I spent the money I had saved, it would be psychologically devastating if I had to start all over. When I met my wife, we both had the same ideas and were both savers. She had been saving for years and was debt free. We pulled our resources together and had over $100,000 at this point. We did not have a lavish wedding and were creative with our honeymoon.
Sticking With a Plan
The United States Army was a lucrative career choice for me because they offered to pay for about 95% of my pharmacy school tuition with a Student Loan Repayment Program. Needless to say, we paid off virtually all the low interest loans in four years thanks to Uncle Sam. When we left for our first duty station, we revised our plans again to match the increased income we both had. In the four years we spent at Ft. Hood, Texas, my wife and I were saving a little over $6,000 a month and my wife was only a nail technician. When I deployed, I saved even more and by the time my wife and I had left Fort Hood for Hawaii, we had saved over $450,000. No secret investments or get rich quick schemes, just plain old saving. When we got to Hawaii, we stayed the course, but we lived and traveled as well. We just did not live beyond our means and had a plan. Our savings went from $6,000 a month to over $7,500 a month. When we left Hawaii, we had accumulated close to $800,000. At this point, with all of our physical assets included, we were sitting at 1.2 million. When I made Major, we moved to Germany where we currently are stationed. My wife does not work right now, but we sat down and came up with a savings plan. My plan consists of 10% TSP plus $832 to two Roth IRAs plus $3,000 per month from my paycheck. In total our plan comes out to $4,552 per month that we save and we created a budget that does not crimp our lifestyle and our traveling plans. We will have saved $163,512 plus $33,750 in bonuses for a total of $197,262 dollars in the next three years.
Striking a Balance
I just turned 38 years old and my wife just turned 31 years old. We do not have any credit card debt or a car payment. We currently own two homes, one in Arizona is paid off and one is currently being rented out in Texas. Someone asked me if I eat ramen noodles every night and I can tell you the answer is a resounding "NO!" The bottom line, in my opinion, is that it doesn't matter where you are in life or what you do. If you start saving a little bit, then it will grow for you over time. Your significant other plays a critical role in your success. You may not be promised tomorrow, but plan as if you were and live as if you were not. It sounds contradictory, but it is called striking a balance. You can live and live well without spending everything you earn. In today's economic environment, I know it is hard for some to grip this subject since many feel why should they save if their dollar is going to end up being worthless. I tell those skeptics you should diversify your holdings to protect your wealth, so if that day does come, you will not lose everything. What you save you must also protect. It is the only prudent solution.