Meet the Winner of the January 2016 Call to Action!

Meet the Winner of the January 2016 Call to Action!

Woman smilingEveryone knows that setting a New Year's resolution is easier said than done. After all, it's the whole "mapping out a plan to make good on your goal and actually follow through with it" that's the hard part. So how do you break down lofty aspirations into realistic benchmarks to meet throughout the year?

That was the gist of our January Call to Action question: Now that you’ve established your 2016 money resolutions, how are you staying on track with them in the new year? 

We received a wide range of motivating responses, from the college grad who's working to become more financially independent, to the couple documenting their savings efforts with a new blog, to one reader who went as far as locking her credit cards in a filing cabinet to curb frivolous spending—talk about dedication!

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And a huge congratulations to January's Call to Action winner, who will receive $100 to help her achieve her financial goals: Megan Brohawn, a graphic designer from Baltimore.

After experiencing one too many renter's nightmares, Megan set her sights—and savings—on reaching the American Dream. Here's her story.

"I've been a renter for the past 10 years. Over time I've realized that while it's nice to have some things taken care of for you, like appliance and building repairs, it can be just as frustrating when you don't have control over them.

My big turning point happened last year when my boyfriend and I were renting a condo in the suburbs. After a big snowstorm, our roof had multiple leaks. Due to a disagreement about the repairs between our property management company, the condo association and the condo owner, the roof was never fixed.

After that terrible experience, I began saving up for a house. On average, I saved $400 per month, which led to a down payment fund of about $5,000 by the end of 2015. If I kick that up to at least $650 per month this year, I can reach my goal of saving almost another $8,000 by the end of 2016.

Our plan to reach that goal is to spend less on fixed monthly expenses. One way we've done this is by moving out of the suburbs and into a small rowhome in Baltimore. Although rent is a little higher than our previous condo, our cost of living overall has been lower—especially for transportation and utilities.

I have a steady income as a graphic designer but also make extra money on the side with freelance design work. An average month can mean an extra $200 from freelancing, but there are also months where I make five times as much. That gives me the opportunity to set aside much more into my savings.

I also make a conscious effort to keep my budget manageable: I bring lunch to work, don’t shop unless I actually need something and drive a used car. I also consolidated and refinanced my private student loans a few months ago, which saves me about $100 in interest per month.

One thing that had prevented me from saving more last year was the $250 per month in medical expenses that I had. But I've been steadily paying those off, so if I stay on track to earn what I did last year and continue to spend just a bit less, my expenses will total about $300 less per month than they did in 2015. This means I can far exceed my savings average from last year.

I am lucky that my mom is a real estate agent—she knows how tired I am of renting and put me in contact with a broker to go over my finances and see what home-buyer programs I am eligible for. Once I spoke to the broker, I was able to see how close to my dream I am! I narrowed down my price range based on what my ideal mortgage would be, and plan on buying a home in the area between $200,000 to $275,000, putting down at least $12,000. I want to buy a home within the next two years—it really comes down to finding the right place at the right price.

One month into 2016, I am doing great! Last month, I met my goal and contributed $650 to my down payment fund. This month, my budget has allowed me to contribute $450—so far.”

Thanks for sharing, Megan!

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