BEND, ORE. (CNN/Money) – Long before reality television started dominating prime time, MONEY magazine launched its "Millionaire of the Month" column in the October 1998 issue.
After a year of profiling actual millionaires, the magazine decided instead to write about people who were saving and investing but weren't necessarily millionaires. At least not yet.
Five years later, the "Millionaires in the Making" series is still a monthly column in MONEY, and it's now one of the most popular features on CNN/Money, as well.
Even personal finance writers and editors are inspired by the real-life stories. (This writer, for one, is still trying to make a Sunday routine out of planning the week's meals, a strategy borrowed from Bret and Shannon Wask.)
We decided to check up on some recent alumni. They told us about their new babies, new businesses, new investments and, if that's not enough, invitations to be on "Oprah."
Turning an art into a business
"My net worth is well in excess of $1 million now," said Todd French, a professional cellist and owner of String Works, a company that makes cellos, violins and violas.
We first spoke with Todd and his wife Heidi, both 32, in August 2002, at which point their net worth was $740,000. When we called for a 10-minute update on that story, Todd warned us that he'd need more than 10 minutes to tell us about everything.
|Todd and Heidi French with Ella
An hour later, he'd told us about how he bought more property, expanded String Works and started a few other instrument-related businesses. One of his new ventures, ISIS, is an identification system to help track lost or stolen instruments, not unlike a car's vehicle identification number.
Todd still manages to play for the Los Angeles Opera for part of the season, though he confessed that he sometimes crouches behind his cello to check his email during rehearsals.
Heidi, meanwhile, has quit her job as a human resources manager for Wells Fargo to help Todd with his companies and, best of all, stay home with their daughter Ella, now almost a year old.
SWM seeks love, nest egg with SWF
Keith and Georgina Meulemans, whom we profiled last January, have had an eventful year, too. In April, they welcomed a new addition to their family; son Ethan. His sister Alesia turned 3 in July.
|Keith, Alesia, Georgina and Ethan Meulemans
"Your story almost got us on "Oprah" as guests for a show they were doing on personal finance," said Keith, a 34-year-old computer consultant. Evidently, Oprah planned to feature the Meulemans as examples of financial responsibility. "But the day before they were supposed to film at our house the powers that be decided to change the format."
In any case, the Meulemans have had a successful year financially. The couple's net worth is now $320,000, up nearly 25 percent since a year ago. "We've continued pretty much with the same plan," said Keith.
In 2003, they saved nearly $30,000. They also sold a plot of land they owned near their home. They used the proceeds to pay off another piece of land, save $20,000 toward building a cabin and buy Georgina, now 31, a piano.
"She's played since she was six and has not had a piano since we moved three years ago," said Keith, who met Georgina through a dating service 8 years ago.
A steady march to retirement
Since we wrote about Mark and Trish Crochet in March 2003, the Baton Rouge couple has added $400,000 to their net worth, thanks primarily to gains in their 401(k) plans.
|Jason, Trish and Mark Crochet
Financial planners don't recommend actively trading mutual funds, particularly those earmarked for retirement. But, Mark – an analytical chemist who uses technical analysis to predict which direction the stock market is headed – has been doing exactly that for nearly a decade.
According to Mark and Trish's account statements, their 401(k) plans had investment gains of 49 percent in 2003. In October, Mark's 401(k) balance passed the million-dollar mark and is now at $1,130,000.
"I hit several of the goals I had for the year," said Mark, 49. "In the coming year I'd like to see my 401(k) grow to $1.4 million or $1.5 million."
Double income no kids (yet)
It turns out the Meulemans weren't the only Millionaires in the Making invited to be on Oprah. Chicagoans Matt and Christy Shebuski, both 32, were asked to be part of the show as well.
"We didn't go on because somebody didn't want to," said Christy 32, about her husband, a lawyer who says his friends still tease him about CNN/Money's story, which initially ran in May 2003.
"My friends now call me Joe Millionaire," said Matt.
|Matt and Christy Shebuski
After we first profiled Matt and Christy, a commercial banker, we received quite a few emails commenting on their high salaries. While their $250,000 combined income is more than twice that of the families we typically profile, we were impressed by how much of that money they save and invest.
In fact, since we talked to the Shebuskis about eight months ago, their net worth has increased by $100,000 and is now at $474,000, thanks largely to hefty contributions to their 401(k) plans and taxable mutual fund portfolio.
That figure doesn't account for any appreciation in the value of their property, which includes a primary residence in Chicago, two rental buildings and – as of August – a cottage in Michigan. "It's not the nicest place, but it's on a great piece of property on an inland lake," said Christy of their latest real estate venture.
Despite the couple's high income and growing net worth, Christy says she's still an avid coupon clipper. "It's my Sunday therapy," she said.
"She also does these stupid online surveys so she can get $5," said Matt.
"Hey, it adds up," said Christy.
Spoken like a true "Millionaire in the Making."