Your Money > Millionaire in the Making
Double income no kids (yet)
Matt and Christy Shebuski defy the "Dink" stereotype. They spend little, save big, clip coupons.
May 27, 2003: 10:17 AM EDT
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

New York (CNN/Money) - To say that Christy and Matt Shebuski's first home together was in great disrepair is an understatement.

"It was gross," said Christy, 31, describing what she called "the dungeon," a first-floor apartment in a hundred-year old building that Matt bought about a year after they started dating. It had a hole in the ceiling over the bathtub, no real kitchen to speak of and no heat. "We had a giant space heater we had to carry around from room to room."

It wasn't that Matt, a real estate lawyer, couldn't afford better. With $10,000 saved for a down payment and a salary near six figures, he could have easily bought a place in one of Chicago's more polished neighborhoods. "I just thought there was no reason for me to have a brand new condo at that point in my life," Matt, 32, recalled.

Their apartment was in bad shape, but the building itself had quite a bit of potential. Not only was it located in an up-and-coming Chicago neighborhood, its second-floor apartment, which had been renovated, was already generating enough rent to cover most of the mortgage payment.

"We debated about living in the rehabbed unit but decided to suck it up and live in the crummy one," said Matt adding that, to her credit, Christy was a really good sport about it.

"When my dad saw it he cried," she said.

The couple lived in "squalor" for exactly one year, up until two weeks before their wedding. Then they bought a three-story town house 10 blocks away, renovated the dungeon and watched their rental property nearly double in value as the neighborhood, Wicker Park, developed into one of the most sought-after addresses in the city.

"They filmed 'The Real World' four blocks away from our building," said Christy, referring the MTV reality show that puts its roomies up in only the hippest locales.

Now, nearly three years into their marriage, Matt and Christy have built a net worth of about $375,000. At the rate they're saving, they'll be millionaires by the time they reach their mid-30s.

Starting off

The Shebuskis' personal balance sheet wasn't always so impressive. When Matt graduated from law school six years ago, he had a negative net worth of about $90,000, thanks to student loans. Like many recent college graduates, Christy had accumulated about $10,000 in credit card debt and hadn't saved a cent.

"It took me a while to tell him about the credit card," said Christy. (She paid it off using a small inheritance from grandmother before she and Matt married, giving her just enough to pay off her credit card debt and pay for the wedding.)

Initially, Matt was the driving force behind a strategy of saving more and spending less. But, having "wiped the slate clean" of credit card debt, Christie soon got caught up with saving. In fact, she now devotes about an hour every Sunday to cutting out coupons.

"Our friends make fun of me for doing that, but why should I pay more than I have to?" said Christy, who is a commercial banker.

Considering that she and Matt have a combined gross income of $250,000 and no children, yet, it is a bit unusual that Christy clips coupons. Then again, the couple has an extremely aggressive savings and debt-reduction plan, one that allows for only modest spending.

First of all, they max out on their 401(k) plans, which adds up to $24,000 a year in before-tax savings. Then they contribute another $2,000 to a basket of taxable mutual funds each month. They also pay $1,000 toward Matt's student loans, more than five times the minimum payment.

While their rental income is almost enough to cover the costs of their two rental properties (They bought a second rental property two months ago.) the mortgage payments, taxes and insurance on all three of their buildings add up to a whopping $8,500 a month.

All told, they now have $260,000 in real estate equity and another $150,000 in investments and cash savings.

Still saving

Despite these impressive figures, Matt says he's always thinking about ways to save and invest more. It's not that he's hyper focused on retiring early or sending his children to top colleges, though those certainly are some of his goals. "I guess it's partly that the more you have the more fun it is to keep saving."

For Christy, the goals are a little more concrete. "You work hard and you save hard so you can do the things you want and not have to look back."

Indeed, while Matt and Christy seem to enjoy looking back at their first year living together, they are also happy knowing that their days in the dungeon are a distant, if comic, memory.

Looking forward, they hope to start a family soon. "I've already looked into 529 plans," Matt said. "We just need the kid now."  Top of page

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