How I Saved $1 Million

  • By Jeannette Bajalia (as told to Erinn Bucklan)
  • September 04, 2013

I pinched pennies to have more to save in my 401K, and I learned a few things:  

  • Set up a consistent monthly budget and live by it. If there were added expenses in an upcoming month, like if I was going to be in my friend’s wedding, then I cut out other things in my budget. Charging to a credit card to accommodate a lifestyle was not an option for me.
  • If you buy something on sale, put the savings from your purchase into a savings account. Let’s say I saved $10 off a blouse. I would put away that $10 into a savings account immediately. And, I learned never to pay full price for anything—not clothes, shoes, food, cars, furniture, absolutely NOTHING. I still go for the BOGO (Buy One Get One free) offers at grocery stores!
  • Socialize frugally. I hung out with a group of friends who’d get together and take turns preparing food instead of going to high-end restaurants. Even on shopping trips, we always hit up sales. We’d never buy anything full-price and even traded clothes with one another. This always kept me with a fresh wardrobe without cost.

Looking back, I’d have to thank my mother for showing me how to stretch a dollar. In my family, we never had our own cars, for example. When my mother shopped for us and my nieces and nephews, she would go to “basement” department stores. I’d often wear shorts for 10 cents, pajamas for 50 cents and any kind of items that were being closed out.

Vacations, too, were nearby, like Clearwater, Tampa or Orlando and only by car. To be honest, I didn’t feel deprived. We didn’t care where we were going as long as we were together as a family. We often stayed four—and many times more!—to a room. And if we traveled further, then we stayed with relatives to save on lodging costs. 

I guess one of the main things I learned from the corporate world about saving for retirement was about sticking to things. I realized early on that I had to stay in my career regardless of how challenging it became. Bouncing around to different jobs does not give you the opportunity to vest into pension plans. I stuck it out many times because I knew the grass may not be greener if I left. I just kept my focus on the goals. Money follows sound decisions.

Jeannette Bajalia left the insurance world and wrote a book in 2012 called “Wi$e Up, Women! A Guide To Total Fiscal and Physical Well Being.” It’s geared to women like her with a unique set of challenges to face, like fewer assets, longevity and long-term healthcare costs.

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