How We Saved Over $100,000 By Age 26

Hey everyone! Today, I have a great savings story to share from a reader named Nichole. She will be talking about how she went from -$20,000 to a six-figure savings by 26 years old. The following will be outlining my experience getting scammed and how it catapulted me into learning about how money works. I…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 5, 2024

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Hey everyone! Today, I have a great savings story to share from a reader named Nichole. She will be talking about how she went from -$20,000 to a six-figure savings by 26 years old.

The following will be outlining my experience getting scammed and how it catapulted me into learning about how money works. I will divulge all the things I’ve done to earn a six-figure savings, pay off over $20,000 in debt and stay consistent with saving for a home to pay cash. I will go over the importance of knowing your “why” and how it has a large part in saving money. I believe we all have the ability to be successful with our finances and sharing my story hopefully encourages you to stay motivated during your own journey.How We Saved Over $100,000 By Age 26

Since I was a little girl I’ve always yearned for independence and responsibility. My mother tells the story like this:

“It was your first week of kindergarten and I walked you to the bus stop to drop you off. You didn’t even let me drive you that first day! When I met you at the bus stop after school at 2pm you look at me and say “mom, you don’t need to pick me up from the bus stop, I can walk home without you”. I had to explain to you that wasn’t allowed because you were only five years old and the school didn’t allow that.”

The moral of the story is, if I could do it on my own I did.  This included making money so I could buy my own stuff.

Throughout elementary and middle school I sold things to make money: lanyards, bracelets, candy, even offered to do peoples homework for $5 in 6th grade!

Earning money gave me more independence to pay for the things I wanted, so I always stayed motivated.

My parents never talked much about money, I just knew we had everything we needed and more. We were very middle class.

I was taught to avoid debt but to always have a credit card just in case an emergency happens. Oh, and you’ll always have a car payment, so get used to it

It wasn’t until sixteen years old that I learned my parents were always one catastrophe away from losing everything.

In 2008 my parents lost the home they custom built because they took out a no interest loan that they couldn’t afford once it ballooned.

This changed something in me, my world was shaken and I never knew it had a weak foundation to begin with.

I started to view money a different way.

I wanted it but didn’t know how to keep it safe from others that could take it away from me, like what my parents experienced. I didn’t want to repeat their money mistakes.

Fast-forward to 21 years old, I got married to my husband and best friend, yes so young, I know!

The following two years were spent finishing up my Bachelors in Communication and attempting to pay off our debt, we had about $20,000 wrapped up in student loans, credit cards and a car accident.  We didn’t know much about money and we were still living with parents to try and save for a down payment for our first home.

This is how it’s supposed to work right? College, marriage, buy a home and have a baby. In that order.

In 2018, my husband and I put an offer on a home, 2 bed 1 bath fixer upper with a nice backyard and workshop in the back for $230,000.

We were excited for our new adventure but when it came down to our offer and one other, we lost. When we got the news our agent said, “yeah, they offered all cash, you didn’t have a chance”. We thought to ourselves, who the heck has that much money to pay cash for a home?! We brushed it off and figured it just wasn’t our time to buy. Little did we know the irony of this.

I started to really spend my time researching about money and how to leverage it and get rich! My goal was to find the secret sauce to success and wealth. I embarked on a downward spiral of YouTubes algorithm of financial videos and advice. Then I came across a very well-known financial expert that offered FREE courses about how to get rich, how could I pass that up? I signed up for the next free course.

Once there I was greeted with excited faces and tons of energy, oh yes, this was my moment to find the secret sauce! The lady speaking talked about all the homes she owns, the money she makes and extravagant trips she takes, I was hooked. I wanted that life, not my own, I needed change.

By the end of the presentation I was willing to do anything to continue my knowledge on financial freedom, or so I thought that’s what I was going to learn. I was the first person to stand up and run over to the tables full of iPads and “We accept credit” signs. I whipped out my credit card and signed up for my 3-day seminar. I don’t mind paying for education! I already had $13,000 in student loan debt anyway so who cares?!

The day of the seminar comes an I am elated, I am OVERLY ELATED. I couldn’t wait for my husband to share the same excitement I experienced at the last meet up.  I was again, welcomed by excited faces and high energy. We had our notebooks, pens and open minds ready to learn how to get rich.

To no one’s surprise, we were let down.

Within 10 minutes of the presentation my husband looked at me with eyes saying “we got duped”. He didn’t have to say anything. Let me paint the picture for you.

The presenter had on a gold and diamond link bracelet and a fancy suit. He yelled and poured water on the floor for dramatic effect, handed out cash and even had us stand on our seats in unison shouting the same corny lines “we are warriors”. He informed us that he was going to teach us to buy homes with a credit card and leverage our credit for the best. He promised for the small price of $15,000 that we would learn all about the secret sauce to the rich *can you hear my sarcasm? *. He said we would have mentors along the way to help us buy these homes on credit. He told us not to come back the next day if we weren’t willing to pay for more classes. And we didn’t.

You get the point, it was a 3 days sale pitch to get us to buy more courses.

We walked to our car, now an extra $600 in debt and feeling like the most gullible people in the world. Christmas was only four days away and we were more broke than before we showed up. We had to sell personal items to have Christmas that year.

A switch went off in my head, I was angry. I was so angry that I fell into this scam, I was angry we didn’t get our home, I was angry we were broke, but ultimately, I was angry for not knowing how to manage my money. This stung extra because I hated the fact that in that moment I became my parents, I made a huge money mistake.

Anger is a funny thing, it can ignite the most creative sides of our brain. I decided I was going to get my money back.

What email did I send them?

A short summary of what I experienced and that they had 48 hours to get back in contact with me before I went to social media to expose them and my experience. I received a full refund the next day, with no response, even to this day.

Scorned is a nice way to put it.

I was now on a mission to learn all I could about how money REALLY works.

And so, I went back to my faithful teacher…YouTube of course!  I searched and watched hours of videos until I came across one that made sense to me. A lot of financial jargon can be thrown around with no explanation, I don’t like that. I believe if someone can’t explain it easily then they don’t know enough about the subject to begin with.

Then I found the video that made sense: common knowledge and nothing you haven’t heard before (funny how that works).

I acknowledge that everyone has a different stance on money management and I take the view of, “to each their own”. I don’t think there is one “right” way but I found that following this new plan I was able to save more and feel good doing it than I ever did before.

These are the principles I followed, and they worked!

To put them simply they are:

  • 1: $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
  • 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  • 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
  • 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  • 5: College funding for children
  • 6: Pay off home early
  • 7: Build wealth and give

And then there is 3b – Save up for a home. This step is after you save your 3-6 months emergency fund and the current step I am on.

I had an epiphany, if I am in $13,000 worth of debt, and then add another $230,000 of debt for a house and a new car, then I’m going to be in some serious trouble with my monthly bills and interest I’m accruing. MOST Americans live like this. Banks don’t pay Trillions of dollars toward advertising if it didn’t work. Yes, I said “T”.

We paid off my student loans in full that day. I wish this was the end of our debt story but it is not.

My husband, who at this point in our journey is a new real estate agent, started to use a secret credit card to pay for real estate fees. We could have budgeted for these expenses but the shame of using the money I earned and him not contributing got the best of his ego. He bought a $200 chair for his new office, accrued office fees, all new clothes, etc…

Meanwhile I thought we were debt free and his parents were being nice by supporting his new venture! It is important for him and I to mention this part in our story because many people can relate to these feeling surrounding money: shame, guilt, and failure. It is a team effort.

Our social stigmas can convolute our ideas about money within a marriage. We are taught that the man makes the money, but sometimes the story doesn’t work like that and that’s ok!

The good news is, we’ve grown from this experience. We now work so closely with our money that we are each other’s cheerleader and in it to win it!

Since our journey has started we have:

  1. Paid off my student loans— $13,000
  2. Paid off all our credit card debt and consumer debt— $7,000
  3. Paid off my car— $4,000
  4. Paid for TWO cars CASH: A 2007 Volkswagen Jetta and then a 2012 Jaguar XF Portfolio to replace it when it died (quite a step up!) This is how we saved and bought our Jaguar cash summing— $14,400
  5. Bought new appliances and toilets for my mother in laws home— $4,000
  6. Given away money with a generous heart every.single.month (it’s part of our budget)
  7. Accrued a six-figure savings and are on track to buy our first home cash in 2022!

How did we do it?

First, I’d like to mention, we are very normal people with normal jobs. I work in education and my husband is a real estate agent.

We didn’t invest in a stock that suddenly went up, win the lottery or get an inheritance.

We worked our butts off to get to this point in our journey and we still are.

Many people can do this and it starts with visualizing it and then believing you’ll get there.

We found out through our process it is exactly that, a process.

How we saved over six figures:

  • Following steps 1-7 about saving, investing and giving
  • Staying consistent! I can’t mention this enough, even if we go over our budget one month, we hop right back onto the savings wagon the following month
  • Side hustles—we have done it all! I was the cleaning lady at my job for 5 months, I baked cakes (and got quite good at decorating them), I made epoxy key chains, sold items we didn’t need, took on EVERY OT opportunity at work including working an extra 4 hours on top of regular work hours with students to help them during COVID, the list goes on. We take advantage of all extra earning opportunities
  • Cut down on spending—believe it or not anything outside of our bills and expenses we only allocate $200 a month for. This includes: toothpaste, if we need clothes, going out to dinners/lunch/with friends, medications, etc… Once the money is gone, its gone! Yes, I shop at Goodwill a lot and coupon hunt!
  • Cut out streaming services and use a family members account (one day we will get it back)
  • Use cash envelopes—We use this for bills that aren’t online to avoid going over our budget
  • Use a zero-based budget—We practice a zero-based budget approach with our money—all the money left over after our bills and expenses goes straight into the home savings.
  • Switch phone companies—we saved over $50 a month that went toward our home savings! We gave ourselves a raise!
  • Start a blog. My cousin and I started a blog and sell financial sheets on Etsy
  • Start giving to others every month. This is a part of our budget and the most fun you will ever have with money. Sometimes it’s to a waitress, a mother in a store buying food for her kids, a super awesome pet groomer, someone in a restaurant we want to get the bill for and most of the time its anonymously! Giving does something to the heart and is a huge part of our bigger picture of “why” we are doing what we are doing.  This keeps us motivated to do more and stay the course. Having a bigger reason for why you save is a key factor for staying consistent
  • Stay diligent—we take every day as our opportunity to put extra into our savings
  • Meet with an accountability partner— We meet weekly to do a budget overview—this is important because we are each other’s accountability partners.
  • Practice putting out into the world what you want to receive, for example, a positive attitude! It’s amazing what happens when you attract positive outcomes, they come right back.
  • Visualize your goals and set intentions for them—this plays a large role in our success. We have charts around our room showing us our progress and how far we have come. Starting with the image in your head while also setting intentions for that goal will turn into real results! I suggest looking into videos or books on the Law of Attraction.
  • Open a Money Market account to help with depreciation and earn a little interest as you save. This is also good because the money isn’t as easily available as a checking’s would be. We get about $50 every month for FREE from interest
  • Attend a financial class—We’ve done this FIVE TIMES to be around likeminded people trying to get out of debt and follow the same plan. We know the information like the back of our hand but it is not about the knowledge, its about the behavior

Know your why

When you have a big enough “why” for the goal you are setting it becomes almost like second nature. You find ways to make it happen.

A good example (but a sad one) is if you have a sick child and not enough money for the surgery or appointment. Because your why for saving is so strong you are going to do EVERYTHING in your power to raise that money and make it happen, no matter what.

Without your why, the process is going to be daunting and drag.

You need motivation behind your goal, so find it.

Why are we saving like crazy anyway?

We decided we want to create generational wealth for our families. Money does not make you happy in life but it does clear up a lot of problems and make it possible to help others. We want to be able to take care of our family for generations.

We also want to be able to give to others. We give with open hands, not clinched ones. If you picture an open hand for a moment, palms up and open to receiving and letting go, vulnerable, not clinching, willing. Having an open hand allows money to flow freely in and out. Being open and quick to give to others rather than holding it tight allows you to see the miracles that money can make in another person’s life. We want to fill our cup to the top so that it pours over and we have enough to fill others.

Our plans for the future to become millionaires:

  • Buy our home cash
  • Up my work investing to 5% into my 403b for the complete company match
  • Put the max amount of $6,000 into each of our ROTH IRAS (as of 2021 that is the max amount allowed) We will set up automatic payments every month of $500 into each account to ensure we are hitting those highs and lows of the market every month
  • Save for a commercial real estate property
  • Save for rental properties. Because my husband is a real estate agent we are very interested in investing our money into real estate and handling rental properties in our area, specifically rehabbing trustee sales
  • Open a real estate brokerage account. This is one of our long-term goals and will one day be an investment we pay cash for to open
  • Earn income from the Elizabeth&Inez blog
  • Give to others so that their lives can be touched by the good in this world

Our journey is far from over but the successes along the way are proof of our bigger picture becoming a reality. We went from -$20,000 in debt to over a $100,000 savings from the beginning of 2019 to June 2021! Follow my blog for financial insight and more updates on our journey!

Do you have any questions for me? Ask away in the comments below.

Author bio: My name is Nichole Yanez and I am a financial blogger at Elizabeth And Inez. I talk about my experience as a millennial living in Southern California trying to buy my first home cash! I work in the field of education but my passion is money management and inspiring others to start their journey to financial freedom. I hope my story brings hope to others that they are capable of changing their family tree with three things: consistency, hard work and diligence. This is my story about financial deception and how it landed me into learning about money and how it works.

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Irene Marie Ferguson

    Absolutely motivating!!

    1. nichole a Yanez

      Thank you Irene! It has been a tough journey but the outcome will be well worth the wait!

      1. Christopher Gravitter

        Thank you for sharing your story! Inspiring! Would like to get on the same path myself if possible?

        1. Nichole

          Christopher that is an awesome goal! You can find more information on the details of how I started my money journey on my blog Elizabeth&

  2. To have that kind of money at such a tender age is a beautiful feeling. 🙂

    1. nichole Yanez

      Yes it is a beautiful thing! I hope to encourage other young people to do the same and change their family tree for generations to come!

  3. Ambrósio

    Hi Nichole, it was a real recommendation to be followed carefully! It is nice to see a story like yours to be motivated!

    1. nichole Yanez

      Thank you Ambrosio! It’s been quite a journey and continues to be.

  4. Wow! This is great! Thank you for the tips on side hustles too.

    1. nichole Yanez

      Thank you for reading Stephanie! Those side hustles have really helped jump start my savings and give me those extra boosts of encouragement along the way.

  5. mp

    This is Dave Ramsey’s Total Financial Freedom plan.

  6. Bridget Selph

    Where did the $13,000 come from that you paid off first? Did you already have that saved?

    1. Nichole

      Hi Bridget 🙂
      That came from saving money for a year (which I thought I was going to use for a down payment on a home) but after learning more about how money works I used it to pay off my student loans. You can get the full story on my blog

  7. yay congrats! My husband and I hit it at age 25 and 28 with 2 kids on one income! the next 6 digits come faster and faster!

    1. nichole Yanez

      Wow Jen! This is so encouraging!!