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Real People:
SWM seeks love, nest egg with SWF
The Meulemans' financial strategy: Save before you spend and take advantage of every tax break.
March 24, 2003: 4:22 PM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

New York (CNN/Money) - You might say that Keith and Georgina Meulemans made their first investment together 7 years ago.

"We met through a dating service," said Georgina, now 30. "You usually pay for 12 dates but I was so poor I could only afford four dates."

Keith, who is now 33, was Georgina's fourth and final date and exactly the kind of guy she was hoping to meet. "A man with a plan," is how she describes Keith, who was working as a computer consultant and already a homeowner of three years.

"I was exactly not what Keith was looking for," Georgina recalls. "He wanted someone who was short, with dark hair, and who specifically was not in college. What he got was a tall redhead who was still in school, knew nothing about money and had credit card debt."

Now in their third year of marriage, proud parents of an 18-month-old daughter, Alesia, and six months pregnant with their second baby, this Wrightstown, Wis. couple has accomplished quite a bit together, both personally and financially.

Other than their mortgage, Keith and Georgina have zero debt, and their net worth is more than $250,000 and growing. In fact, at the rate they're saving, they'll be millionaires by the time Georgina turns 40.

Save first and foremost.

"Keith really taught me to think about the future and be patient," said Georgina, who's had some positive influences on Keith as well.

"I was a tightwad when I met her," he admits. "We've both made some changes in how we think about money."

With college and credit card debt long behind her, Georgina works in human resources for a company that makes financial software, and Keith continues to work as a computer consultant. Together, they earn $105,000 before taxes.

While they share financial goals, they do not share a checking account. Instead, Georgina pays Keith a set amount each month which he uses to pay bills and save. (See "Marrying your money") They also don't follow a budget, which Georgina likens to a diet -- not effective over the long run.

"We save everything first and whatever is left is what we have to spend," said Keith.

Keith and Georgina's saving plan begins with squeezing every bit of pretax money they can out of their monthly paychecks. They contribute the maximum amount allowed to their companies' 401(k) plans, which together is about $20,000 a year.

And unlike most working Americans, Georgina and Keith take full advantage of their flexible spending accounts, which allow them to deduct pre-tax money from their paychecks. Keith sets aside $5,000 a year again, the maximum to pay for Alesia's daycare, while Georgina puts away $1,500 a year for medical expenses. In doing so, they effectively "earn" $1,755 in money that would otherwise go to taxes.

Even with all of this money coming directly out of their paychecks, they still manage to pay their bills, put $3,000 each in Roth IRAs, and stash another $750 in a "rainy day" fund each month, which they use to pay for big-ticket expenses.

Good things come to those who don't procrastinate.

When Georgina was just three months pregnant with Alesia, Keith started researching the best way to save for his daughter's college education. The month she was born he opened a 529 college savings plan through Wisconsin, setting it up to invest $125 in the plan each month. Not only is this money exempt from federal taxes, it's deductible from Wisconsin state income taxes. (They'll be doing the same for their second baby, due in May.)

And whereas other families earn frequent flier miles with their credit card purchases, the Meulemans "earn" contributions to a 529 savings plan equal to 1 percent of all charges. The credit card is part of a college savings program called Upromise, which gives its members education-related rewards for doing business with certain companies. For example, when the Meulemans buy diapers at Toys "R" Us and use their credit card, they get a reward worth 3 percent of the purchase deposited in a 529 plan. Hey, it all adds up.

(For more information on rebate programs like Upromsie click here.)

When it comes to saving outside of their retirement and college funds, Keith says he and Georgina have become more conservative in the past couple of years.

There was a time when Keith's computer-related career led him to invest in technology companies, but today the Meulemans own just a handful of individual stocks, with $6,000 in Pixar Animation Studios (PIXR: Research, Estimates) accounting for about half of their taxable portfolio.

In fact, in 2000 the couple sold a lot of their individual stock and used the proceeds to buy a duplex they live in one side and rent the other side out for $720 a month and two different plots of land.

One of these properties, which is in Wisconsin's Door County, is an important piece of the Meulemans' plan for the future. Once daycare expenses (which will be almost $18,000 a year for Alesia and the new baby) are behind them, the couple hopes to build a small cabin on the property to use for family retreats and, eventually, retirement.

"When our kids are off on their own we're thinking we'd like to slow down, maybe change our careers and just have a simpler life," said Keith.  Top of page

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