The Savings Habits of the New Rich: Why You Should Be Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Marisa Torrieri

paycheck to paycheckDavid Sapper, a car salesman, and his wife, Tina, a real estate broker, live on a set budget of $2,500 from their two paychecks that must cover all groceries, health care bills and extracurricular expenses.

Even in their home in greater Las Vegas, where the cost of living is far lower than it is in other parts of the country, the Sappers have to budget carefully to make it work.

They rarely go out to dinner, they shop at discount chain stores and many of their recreational decisions are dictated by Groupon.

Such a way of living gives one the illusion that the Sappers are poorer than they actually are—yet in reality, they make an annual combined income of about $500,000.

“We put over 90 percent of our income into savings or investments,” says Sapper.

He and his wife decided to make the transition to a more frugal, savings-oriented lifestyle when they wanted to save up enough money to go into business for themselves. Today he runs his own car dealership in a niche market, for people with poor credit who want to buy cars.

After nearly seven years of living strictly within this budget, the Sappers have accumulated $50,000 in emergency savings, maxed out their IRAs each year, paid off their house and hit other key financial milestones.

According to a 2013 Bankrate study, about three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

But while that term traditionally means living off exactly what you earn with little or no savings to cushion a financial blow, a new breed of workers like Sapper are redefining the term to mean something different: the act of reallocating your actual paycheck so at least 20 percent, if not more, of your earnings is set aside for long-term financial goals.

The catch? It takes discipline to prioritize, say, saving for retirement over the instant gratification of buying whatever catches your eye.

RELATED: The 20% Question: How Much of My Pay Should I Save?

“We cook at home almost every day,” says David Sapper. “We are huge on using coupons or Groupons when we do eat out. We shop mainly at stores like Ross or Nordstrom Rack to save money on clothing.”

RELATED: 14 Smart (and Easy!) Tricks for Cutting Costs in 2014

But while the Sappers aren’t driving Lamborghinis or rolling in Prada, there’s something to be said of their lack of stress from living on less.

  • ana

    I’ve been doing this for years, I thought it was just called living below your means and paying yourself first.

  • erica

    kudos to these couples! That’s great inspiration to save like you mean it! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Jamie Voorhies

    Also important to note that you can do this even if you don’t make $500k a year. Sure, it’s hard. But way easier than having to dig your way out of an unrecoverable amount of debt someday.

  • DC

    $500k would put them in the 1% and I can’t even relate.

    Maybe they should just spend their money a bit more. They can’t take it with them and are ripe for a lawsuit or divorce to quickly remove those liquid assets.

  • Sara

    My husband and I make considerably less than $500,000 a year and still do this. We are currently saving almost 40% of our income and have no debt other than our mortgage. This is something that is manageable even with a more modest income, but the key is really taking a look at your spending.

    • Edster

      I like when people say I have no debt other than my Mortgage and Car payments, cell phone, cable all those basics LOL….You are in Debt, until that mortgage is paid off, you can’t put it to the side like it doesn’t exist.

  • KT

    They make $500k but it took them 7 years to save $50k? That doesn’t add up, where else did it all go?

    • Maritorri

      they needed to save money to open up a car dealership — that’s where some of it went.

    • mlk

      they also paid off their house, maxed out their IRAs, and hit other financial milestones…

    • Maureen Mimi Jung

      They paid off their house it says.

    • kevin

      I’m with you. Assuming they pay 40% in effective taxes, that leaves $300k a year, That leaves $5700 a week after taxes. If they budget on $2500 a week (which is plenty more than you need for groupon shopping and leftovers 3 nights a week), they should have an extra $170,000 a year!!!

    • Scott_D

      Read the article. It’s just $50k in emergency savings, which doesn’t factor paying off their house, starting a business, maxing out their retirement accounts, and probably having some taxable accounts too.

  • Karen

    how sad to make that much money and live so unglamorously! I think its wrong. What about the actual people who HAVE to use groupons and shop at Ross. This isnt wisdom. its greed. Im ALL for savings and investing but putting yourself first also includes ENJOYING your money and living beautifully and NOT in fear.

    • CrankyFranky

      if you are not a troll (I’m not sure) then fear is more likely what people experience when they contemplate retirement with insufficient savings BECAUSE they put themselves first enjoying their money and – oh – didn’t save enough.

      I have lived frugally for 50 years – I enjoy saving money, not wasting it on rubbish – I seek out free pleasures and enjoy the beautiful cloudless blue sky and gentle cool breeze today – no money could buy that.

      Now considering retirement, friends call me frugal – they also call me rich – because I have enough savings for a comfortable retirement with all the overseas travel I want, and they don’t – because they spent their money and didn’t save it.

      If you imagine having money requires spending on glamour – then you are perfect fodder for the marketers of hedonistic pleasures and consumer goods – how’s your credit card debt – maxed out ? – I pay mine in full each month – no consumer debt, only carefully monitored growth investments which are doing very well indeed, as they have done for the last 35 years.

      • kevin

        And if they died tomorrow it was a waste. There is no need to be that frugal especially when they make as much as they do. If everyone lived like that that made that money the economy would go and never come out of depression. His car lot would go out of business since Noone was buying cars and her real estate would die. When people don’t spend their money then someone else loses down the line because one persons spending is always another person’s income. Sad

        • CrankyFranky

          good logic – now – how’s your retirement plan looking ?

          • kevin

            I don’t really plan for retirement by just saving. Saving money seems, at least to me a complete waste. I do have a couple of forced retirement accounts a 401a which just took a big hit and a state and national pension. I’d rather have had that money to do what I want with but I get the need for them and for some people they are probably necessary since they won’t even buy there own house.

            As for my well being. I eat out almost every night. Go on at least 2 big trips a year and smaller ones every few weekends. I live my life in the now.

          • CrankyFranky

            great – enjoy the now – that’s what I do – every moment is a treasure to be enjoyed

            as for money, most people who spend it without thinking end up wondering why they can’t retire as they don’t have enough

            not a problem for you if you have plenty – as do I

            ‘live as if you will die today – plan as if you will live forever’ ?

            ‘The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit’

            or maybe this one –

          • kevin

            I dont really plan on retiring but im in my 30′s and could retire now. So I don’t want people thinking that they should just blow all their money im saying saving it is not the way to get to a secure point. The amount the people in the article are putting away is rediculous when they are making what they are.

    • GK

      I believe they are ENJOYING their money and not buying into the trap of a “glamorous” lifestyle. In fact, they have redefined the “glamorous” lifestyle. That term is all relative anyway. It’s far more glamorous to have a paid for house, maxed out retirement, maxed out savings, and your own business. Having financial peace of mind is more glamorous any day. Now their friends are realizing this and are trying to be more like them. This is wisdom that I wish more people would welcome. It’s never to late to learn a lesson. When you know better, you do better.

    • Rob

      Living beautifully? lol. Do you know what it actually takes to retire now? Look up sandwich generation. If you aren’t there already you could be before long and it’s precisely because of this type of thinking..

      Also, I’d call having a paid off house in the greater Los Angeles area, a significant emergency fund, and covering your basis on retirement far more glamorous than new counter tops, expensive meals, or other ridiculous things that don’t actually enhance your life.

  • anon.

    God this article makes me depressed. My take home check every month is $2200. That’s not my budget – that’s my actual paycheck! And I do actual work with a lab trying to find treatments and a better quality of life for people with terminal illnesses – not something like selling CARS. My budget is around $1650 per month and I am STILL able me to max out my IRA. Sheesh! $500,000 a year? I wish I were that financially stable – I make less than 10% of that!

  • Guest

    It sounds crazy at first but it acsolutely can be done with relative ease. It didn’t happen overnight. We started with small changes that became normal over time. We drive old cars and have jobs and make over 100K combined. We don’t dine out much but we do have some luxuries. Good beer, nice wardrobe, cable, iPhones, etc. My family lives on 30% of our take home. We will pay off our house this year on our 5th anniversary. All it takes is a paradigm shift. Do you really like how you are spending 8 or more hours a day and do you want to sell your life to a company for 40-50 years? We are saving for our freedom.

  • ksgirl73

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate what these people have accomplished, but sometimes I wish Learnvest would publish articles about people that are a little more relatable. I doubt many of the readers here are making $500,000 a year and although going to extremes like this is interesting, it’s just not possible for a lot of us.

    • Lilith Rayne

      Agreed… we make less than $20,000 a year in our house. Considering the way we live, $500K a year would probably mean no trouble at all for us.

      • tokenadult

        Because Learnvest wants to be a position to sell this site/brand to people with that kind of income.

  • Rosa Caldwell

    You cannot take your money with you when you die. Although they are young, I am wondering what they are doing to prepare for catastrophes. They may find theirselves unable to work and bring in those terrific incomes. I don’t believe this is a realistic sampling of the average consumer.

    • Scott_D

      Huh? Did you even read the article? It sounds like they’ll easily be able to recover from a catastrophe with their frugal living and massive savings rate.

  • Katie Wong

    If you are living paycheck to paycheck then you are poor regardless. It doesn’t matter how much income you have coming in. Wealth is about assets you actually have not what you make. It’s not the rate you accumulate income it’s how much you retain. See that’s why you have so many high earners in this country that are not financially independent. They could save a huge portion of cash if they lived significantly below their means but the American way encourages you to spend it all keeping you dependent and living paycheck to paycheck.

    I graduated with my MBA last year and got a job making 55k . I drive a 1996 Maxima with over 200k miles, I get bare minimum $25/month insurance (from Insurance Panda), I carry my lunch to work, have 0 credit card debt, invested heavily in my 401K, over 20k in my personal trading account and over 25K in my savings. All because I only buy what I NEED and not want. Everybody wants, wants, wants…then they still want more. What’s wrong with just the basics? I go out to eat occasionally, go to bars with friends, vacations, etc. people just don’t have respect for their finances, they just swipe the card and keep walking. Everytime I got a check when I was younger I’d always go and put 10% into my savings account. I guess working hard all my life and growing up on a farm helped me appreciated the simple things in life rather than the materialistic.

    • BrandonesJazzy

      I also lived on a farm I’m 29 and basically starting all over again from nothing… I only make about 1500 take home from both of my jobs (causal restaurants), I rode a bicycle for the first three months and Im about to close in on a deal on a 91 Honda Civic CRX (I’ll work on it turn it to my new hobby) which is really good on gas mileage is under 200k and both of my jobs are very close to my apartment. I cook my own food getting used to shop for my groceries around my slow-cooker and healthy sandwiches. One of my jobs I get free meals both I can get those expensive meals discounted. I’m working very hard to maintain saving 50% of my paycheck every month.
      I’m new to the town I live in so I don’t know anyone so I don’t go out at all, single, no children, DVDs, one pc game, gym, walk down the park, and home cook meals are good for me as far as entertainment is concerned. Later this year I hope to either finish my BA or go to this tech school I’m looking at.

      Many people around me can’t even do what I do because they go out all the time and ride an expensive car, expensive phone plan, expensive clothes. Heck I have clothes that I’ve own for 10 years and still fit. But living on the farm I acquired some nice cheap clothes. I dress simple and country.

    • mona

      Hi folks ! Panda insurance is a scam…Be careful.

    • Edster

      Your life depresses me, just wanted you to know.

  • Rob

    Does $2500 include rent or a mortgage? There’s no way it could in the greater Los Angeles area.

    • Edster

      No, they own their house and their cars. They act like it’s tough to live off 2500 a month with no debt and combined yearly income of 500k.

  • mama rw

    Not impressed. Their combined spending budget is more than what I gross in a month. How shall the rest of live? A one-income, family of four and barely getting by. I notice no one publishes articles to advise about that.

  • Edster

    Once you pay off the Car and House, which these two have done, living on 2500 is essentially like living off 10k a month…It isn’t hard at all, basic bills cost at max around 1000, all you have left over is food and gas….I’m sorry their struggling to survive with 2500 and no debt, must be a hard life.

  • J.T. Smith

    How do you all feel about generosity? I feel strongly that at least some portion of earnings should be given away to charity.

    As a whole, charitable giving should improve the economy and reduce taxation (theoretically).