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Millionaires in the making
Marc and Alesya Greenberg know that making money isn't the same as having it.
January 14, 2005: 4:24 PM EST
By Deshundra Jefferson, CNN/Money staff writer
Note: Their outstanding mortgage principal is excluded.
Note: Their outstanding mortgage principal is excluded.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Marc and Alesya Greenberg draw a clear distinction between making money and having it.

Their $180,000 combined annual income may lead you to assume that earnings alone put them on the path to a $1 million net worth. Marc disagrees.

"The income is just one part of it," he says. "The other part is having other assets that appreciate and building them up so that the money works for you."

For the Greenbergs, that other part is a diverse investment portfolio consisting of cash savings, retirement and taxable accounts, as well as a newly acquired investment property.

Leaving something behind for their 12-month old son helps fuel their push towards the $1 million mark.

Having their cake...

In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, the couple decided to leave pricey digs in New York City in favor of a more moderately priced Washington, D.C. suburb.

Marc, 34, briefly lived in D.C. after college and thought the local real estate market was undervalued. They were also looking to start a family, which he says would have been a stretch in New York even on their income.

Alesya, 36, kept her job as a marketing manager for a global communications firm, transferring to the D.C. office while Marc accepted a job as a director for a non-profit.

The couple had been saving $4,000 a month while they were in New York, before using it for a 35 percent down payment on their $385,000 three-bedroom home. To finance the rest, they took out a 30-year mortgage with a seven-year adjustable rate, currently at 4.75 percent interest rate.

The Greenbergs also became landlords last June when they bought a two-unit rental property in a neighboring suburb, in order to further diversify their holdings. The bulk of their investments were in cash savings a few years earlier, but they have since shifted money towards stocks and mutual funds.

The pair is more heavily invested in mutual funds than stocks, with Vanguard's Total bond market index fund (Research) and Extended market index fund (down $0.07 to $29.88, Research) among their largest holdings.

"I have lost money on every stock I bought," Marc laughs. "If I just dollar-cost-average and keep investing [in funds], it seems to grow."

Marc and Alesya have also been steadily building up their retirement savings, currently at $182,707, by maxing out their employer-sponsored retirement savings accounts each year.

Neither has any debt, excluding their two mortgages, and Marc paid off some $12,000 in student loans four years after graduation. Alesya, on the other hand, graduated from college in her native Belarus debt-free.

They haven't set up a specific college savings account for their son just yet, but Marc feels that the way they are heading they will have more than enough to cover college.

with only a nibble or two

Marc concedes they spend more on their day-to-day living expenses, in part due to the latest addition to their family, but they still love to shop around.

"We are not so good at clipping coupons, but we are really good at the sales stuff," he notes.

Alesya says the key to bargain hunting -- even you're a Brooks Brothers boy or Ann Taylor girl -- is not to follow your impulses. Avoid shopping as a form of entertainment too.

Big-ticket items snare most people, she says. She and her husband both realize that it is important to negotiate on the higher-priced goods. Dream houses do exist, for example, but if making that monthly mortgage is painful then it's time to let go of the dream.

"When people fall in love with something, they stop thinking," Aleysa states. "You have to stick to your guns. Sometimes you lose, but that is okay."

The Greenbergs determine how much they want to save each month, usually $1,500, before they decide what they need to buy. Most of their purchases go on their rewards credit card, earning them a 1 percent cash-back bonus. They make sure that balance is paid in full each month.

They acquired most of their personal finance knowledge through reading, particularly the books, The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and magazine.

If any one lesson stuck with them, it's that what you save matters most.

"A person can work their entire life and still have nothing," Alesya says. "Instead of striving for a job that would pay me $1 million, it's more doable to figure out how to hold on to money."  Top of page

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