Justin Hall and Tina Hanisch, both 29, invested a lot of time in their education.
Hall received a bachelor’s degree, two associate’s degrees, and a master’s degree, while Tina earned two bachelor’s, an associate’s, and is slated to complete her master’s in two years, which will up their degree count to eight.
Their education came with a hefty price tag of $US206,000. They whittled that sum down to $US68,000, and paid it without taking out any student loans.
What’s more, through diligent saving and creative strategies, Hall and Hanisch — who are not married — have saved enough money that they could choose not to work for the next five years. Their impressive savings were an indirect result of living below their means and keeping expenses at a minimum.
“Neither of us can sit still, so not working is out of the question,” Hall, who works in financial services, tells Business Insider. Hanisch is a registered nurse and works when she’s not taking classes or studying. “Being financially responsible is more about the opportunities versus not having to work. We want the ability to take more risk, to try new things, and to experience life in ways you normally couldn’t.”
Here’s how they covered $US206,000 worth of education and set themselves up for several years of financial independence.
1. They took advantage of company programs and scholarships to cover tuition.
While their education amounted to $206,000 total, they only had to cover $68,000 out-of-pocket. The remaining $138,000 was paid for in scholarships ($65,000) and through company programs offered by their employers ($73,000).
“There is so much money available to students who take a proactive approach to finding it,” Hanisch tells Business Insider. “Being proactive was one of the key factors to my success. Every night I religiously sifted through online scholarship websites and local college funding programs for opportunities. I also stayed in constant communication with my [undergrad] school adviser, as they have up-to-date information about new or upcoming scholarships that you can apply for.”
2. They made smart investments.
One of Hall’s smartest investments was a home he purchased in 2008 with three partners. They proceeded to flip it later that year and earn a profit. At the time, he was completing his associate’s degree from Mesa Community College.
While a risky investment, he had the funds to invest in flipping the house because he was working two jobs while in school.
“You always have a little fear in the back of your mind about potential risks,” he tells us. “But in reality that fear is actually a tool that keeps you on your toes; it helps you stay on budget during renovations and it helps you overcome problems.”
Another major investment vehicle for Hall is the stock market. “I usually focus on five to 10 stocks for long-term investing. Since I do not trade for a living, I try to manage a smaller portfolio,” he explains. “One of the benefits of being young is that you are able take more educated risks and still have time to secure your financial future if you fail,” he says.
3. They didn’t drain their savings to buy a house.
In 2011, Hall and Hanisch opted out of buying a new home together, and purchased a $60,000 fixer-upper in Mesa, Arizona instead. They’ve since put in $20,000 of renovations and completely remodeled the home without hiring a contractor and relying on help from family instead.
They estimate they could sell it today for more than double the amount of money they put into it — for roughly a 125% return on their investment, Hall says.
They were strategic when it came to buying their home. They bought it at a good time, when prices were still fairly low following the market crash of 2008, and they paid all cash. Not having a mortgage and interest payments provided emotional and financial freedom, Hall says. They were able to spend money on significant renovations to make the home their own, and never felt financially stressed about making payments.
4. They created a joint account and maximized credit card rewards.
Right before buying their fixer-upper, the couple created a shared account and opened a credit card to split joint costs like utilities, food, and other necessities. “All costs are run through our credit card, which gives us 1.5% cash back, so we basically get paid to pay our bills,” Hall tells us.
One month, he explains, they had to pay several thousand dollars on home and car repairs, but it resulted in about $550 cash back, which they will either put back into their joint account or use towards a vacation.
While they set up a joint account for certain costs, Hall and Hanisch also maintained their own accounts, which has allowed them freedom to spend their own money as they please and prevented financial disagreements.
They each put 10% of their earnings into the joint account, 10% into their 401(k)s, and 5% towards charitable donations. Hanisch allocates 30% of her earnings for personal expenses and 45% for savings, while Hall puts 20% of his monthly earnings towards personal expenses, 40% towards investments, and 15% towards savings.
5. They made sacrifices in order to live below their means.
“Tina and I both lived below our means throughout school,” Hall tells us. “There were times when we did not go on vacation, nor go out with friends or family. Instead we worked, studied, and saved. We really took the concept of ‘live a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t’ to heart.”
Some of the bigger sacrifices included working throughout college and post-grad programs, and living with family until buying their fixer-upper.
They’re reaping the benefits today, and have exciting opportunities on the horizon. “We have an opportunity now where we can decide where we want to go,” Hall explains. It will likely be California, where Hanisch could finish her master’s online, but they’re still deciding. “And I want to start my own business,” Hall says. “With this financial freedom, I’m choosing to go that route.”
“We’re going to take more risk now, step outside of our comfort zone, and travel more,” he continues. “We’re going to try to experience things differently. Instead of just saving, we’re going to invest, experience life, and enjoy it now that we’ve put in the hard work.”