NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Ryan and Danielle Quilling are hoping to be the millionaires next door.
The pair could afford to trade in his 1997 Ford Ranger and her 1996 Saturn for newer models. Their two-bedroom home in middle-class Blaine, Minn., is also nice, but there are ritzier homes nearby.
It's not that living well isn't a priority. Financial independence simply ranks higher than status. Much higher.
"My biggest financial pet peeve is when people try to buy status," Danielle, 25, said. "They buy the fancy cars, the name brand clothing. Just overexerting what they can afford."
Not so for Ryan, 27, and Danielle. They prefer to plan their weekly menu around the Sunday circular, clip coupons, and tailor their buying habits to fit the sales. It's hardly a typical twenty-something lifestyle, but one they hope will pay off with an early retirement.
"As a younger person, I don't have money on my side, but I have time and that is more important," said Ryan.
Money was something Ryan didn't have, or couldn't hold on to, during his first few years at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He worked full-time as a manager at Wal-Mart during the summer. But reading Thomas Stanley and William D. Danko's, "The Millionaire Next Door," sparked a new interest.
"I just jumped into any financial magazines or publications out there," he said. "Constantly looking to improve or get new ideas."
Coincidentally, Ryan also met the former Danielle Dahlin during the summer of 1998 at Wal-Mart as she was working there while on a college break.
Danielle, now a telecom consultant, learned about personal finance growing up in a "budget conscious" environment. Her mother held a part-time retail job while her father ran a small business.
Ryan's mother is an accountant, and he says that he picked up a little bit of advice from her. But "The Millionaire Next Door" changed his thinking.
"That set me on this course," he said. "Really hammered home the point that it's not what you make, but what you do with what you make."
One of the Quillings' strategies is to save most of what make by setting aside 31 percent of their $108,000 a year earnings for savings and investing, on top of the 20 percent they each contribute to their 401(k) accounts.
Ryan, a sales supervisor at a financial services firm, does most of the research. He has access to Morningstar.com's professional site through his job and "scours that thing each month" to check fund ratings.
He dabbled in stocks in order to "turbo-charge" his retirement accounts, but called the move a gamble that backfired. Among his holdings: Fidelity's Equity-Income II Fund (Research), Longleaf Partners' Fund (Research), and Morgan Stanley's Institutional International Equity Portfolio (down $0.06 to $21.65, Research).
Managing debt and spending wisely
Neither Ryan nor Danielle have any credit card debt, but they are still paying off their student loans.
Ryan graduated in 2001, owing some $21,000 for his education. Since then, he has knocked that down to $14,000. He says that the return he is generating on other investments exceeds the interest on his loans.
Danielle graduated from Colorado College the same year with approximately $11,000 in debt. She's since managed to trim that down to $4,000.
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Their biggest liability, however, is their mortgage. They opted for a traditional 30-year loan, but a summer 2003 refinancing lowered their interest rates from 6.875 percent to 5.375 percent.
Living below their means is relatively easy, Ryan says, because neither likes to shop. When they do, they hunt for bargains.
"I am very conscious of price and doing price comparisons," Danielle said. "I design all my shopping trips around what is on sale."
Need clothes? Danielle does her shopping at the end-of-the-season, through the Internet, or at a discount store such as Target or Old Navy.
Entertaining costs are easy to contain, too. They eat out once a week -- their Wednesday night dates -- and normally choose a restaurant based on the coupons found in the entertainment book and gold cards local high school athletes sell to raise funds.
Ryan says that Danielle is a bit more of a saver and it is easy to see why as her practicality also extends to gift-giving.
"Even when we are exchanging Christmas gifts or something, I'll get mad if he buys something I don't need or can't use," she explained. "I'm one of those people, if the blender broke, and he bought a new one, I wouldn't get mad -- that is, if he bought it on sale."