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Personal Finance > Millionaire in the Making
A beauty, her beau, and their budget
They are working hard, and a lot, to reach their dreams.
September 14, 2004: 1:45 PM EDT
By Deshundra Jefferson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Michael and Maria Beall are living a good life that's well within their means.

The Bealls: beauty queen Maria and hubby Michael  
The Bealls: beauty queen Maria and hubby Michael

The entrepreneurial Michael, 40, formed his most recent business -- his third -- earlier this year, a part-time software development firm, while maintaining his current job as a full-time computer consultant.

Maria works part-time as the fitness director, personal trainer and aerobics instructor. That takes up about 15 hours a week, plus another five to 10 hours a week she does beauty pageant coaching. She's also a full-time mom to three very busy boys, aged 12 to 18.

"I try to stay part-time so that I can take care of the kids because they are so active," Maria says.

Fortunately, the family's $193,000 annual earnings allows her to more spend time with their children as well as plan for the boys' future, something both parents list as their most important financial goal.

From sweethearts to the sweet life

Michael and Maria, now 39, married while studying at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond where she majored in theater and he was an information systems major. Living on a student's budget was tough, especially with the arrival of their first son.

"I can remember having $25 a week for food," Maria recalls. "We walked to work and to school." Still, they managed to get through it.

"We really didn't have much and we really didn't do much," says Michael. "We just lived within our means. We were both in our early 20s, we were both going to school, and I just started working."

Yet they were able to tuck a little money into their 401(k) plans and bought a starter home for $52,900.

Michael and Maria, however, continued to struggle until Michael's second business took off, nearly doubling his salary.

That put them in a position to buy more goodies in past few years, such as a bigger house and nicer cars. But even then, they showed some restraint.

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Michael had bought a 1999 Mustang Cobra shortly after he sold the business as a reward for all the work he put into it. But he didn't just walk onto the lot and pick the fastest car. He found his car on the Internet and flew to Ohio to inspect it before buying. And the car was hard not to love: at two years old it only had 7,000 miles and was garage-kept.

"I went for the gently used," Michael stated. "I'm into having nice things but not spending too much."

Boosting the bottom line

The couple also made some smart money moves to slash their debts and boost their net worth, including paying off approximately $58,000 in car loans for his car and a 2001 BMW for her (a girl needs new wheels) in less than three years.

They also refinanced the mortgage on their current home to 5 percent from 7 percent, and pulled out $9,000 to knock out their PMI. Outside of their monthly mortgage payments, the couple has no debt.

Their home is now worth about $295,000 versus the $212,000 they've paid for it. With $191,000 left to pay off, the Bealls have built up $104,000 in equity. They hope to finish paying for the home in seven years.

They've also beefed up their retirement savings by maxing out yearly contributions through his full-time job, where he earns a healthy 3.75 percent match. Maria also sets aside 10 percent of what she makes as a fitness director in a 401(k), but does not receive a company match.

Their most immediate goal is sending the boys off to college. Their oldest is a high school senior who is thinking about going to the University of Virginia next year.

Mom and Dad were originally hoping that their investments in technology would pay his way through, but the bust . . . well, you know the rest.

The Bealls have enough cash to pay his way but are thinking about picking up two years of tuition and letting him pay the other two years. But that decision is still a year's away. In the meantime, they've set up a more conservative college savings plan for their two younger boys, now worth $14,533.

Michael and Maria also own $20,000 worth of artwork -- including a $12,000 painting given to them by her brother and pieces made by Michael's mother and Maria's sister -- and Maria has another $20,000 in jewelry given to her by Michael.

Despite the occasional extravagance, the Bealls are thrifty. Michael is in charge of routine car maintenance and does most of the repairs around the house. They do cookouts for special events such as birthdays instead of dining out, and they almost always eat at home other times.

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They try to plan their vacations around Maria's pageant schedule (she's won more than six national and international titles thus far) in order to get the most around their travel budget. Mike, for instance, treated the boys to a week-long vacation in Hawaii after Maria won a two-week trip to Hawaii to compete in the Mrs. America competition.

Pageant competition can be expensive so Maria recycles her gowns by using them in different competitions. She also writes for an international pageant magazine in exchange for free advertisements.

And if you're wondering who's the bigger saver, it's actually the beauty queen.

"She's my financial adviser. She likes to read financial books and will pull the reins in on me," Michael said. "That's why we are a good team."  Top of page

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