What they're doing: "A million dollars is not the goal," says Chris Stacey. "For me it's $2.5 million." The Honda salesman figures that's what he and his wife, Amy, a part-time dental hygienist, will need for a comfortable, worry-free retirement.
Chris started saving diligently the moment he sold his first Accord 18 years ago, even going so far as to fund a Roth IRA for Amy before they were married. Over the past five years the couple, parents of a 16-month-old daughter, have been socking away an average of $35,000 a year -- or about 23% of their gross income. That savings level is even more impressive given the steep drop in car sales during the Great Recession. (Chris works 100% on commission.)
How do they manage it? By living below the lifestyle they could afford during Chris's good years. That's illustrated by the fact that, while Chris gets a loaner car through work, Amy drives a 2004 Pilot with 71,000 miles.
Their philosophy, says Chris: "The more we can save now, the better off we'll be in 25 years."
How can you do it?
1. Spend as if it's a down year. Baltimore financial planner Tim Maurer suggests you take the income for the worst year you've had and divide by 12. Then construct a monthly budget -- that includes saving 10% of income for your retirement accounts -- around that figure.
2. Bank the bounty. When you have a good month, save all your extra money. If you're in a rush to get to a million, Maurer says, you'll want to be putting away 20% to 25% of your pay (good advice for people with steady incomes as well).
3. Save in the right spots. Start by maxing out your 401(k) and Roth IRA, then put the rest in a brokerage account, where Maurer suggests allocations of one-third apiece to cash, fixed income, and equities. While that may sound conservative, it's especially important for people with erratic incomes to keep a year's worth of expenses on hand, in cash and cash equivalents, for emergencies.