[photo: grandma picking tomatoes]

American Families

Thirty-four and thinking of retirement

Rob and Kelly Seiler
Austin, Texas

"Our ideas of emergencies are different," Kelly Seiler said of her husband Rob. "When I had a c-section and we had to pay for it, Rob felt that we should just eat less that month. The money did not come out of the emergency fund."

Having the family cut back on food spending after Kelly's c-section rather than dip into their emergency savings may sound a little stringent. But when it comes to saving and making their money work for them, the Seilers are squarely on the same page.

Kelly and Rob, both 34, first got the idea to actively save when they met with a financial planner two weeks after they got married. What they imagined would be a half-hour meeting lasted five hours and left a great impression on the couple. They started their savings plan by putting away $50 a month. Today their savings strategy has expanded to include a variety of financial instruments: Roth IRAs, a 401(k), a rollover IRA, mutual funds, stocks, real estate, money market accounts and basic savings accounts.

Their strict savings acumen and a decision to remain at the same standard of living despite income gains have set the couple up for success.

Rob, who works as an engineer, said, "Everything I make pays the bills and actually funds a lot of the investments, and we have reached a certain level and quality of life that we like. So every time I do get a raise, we don't increase the quality of living, we just put more away, we save more. Maybe more goes to our emergency fund, definitely more goes to the college funds, or more goes to our retirement funds."

Kelly said the couple saves for everything, not just emergencies or retirement. When they are planning a vacation for themselves and their two children, they'll set up a vacation fund a year to a year and a half beforehand. They don't ascribe to the "charge it and pay it off" philosophy, and Kelly believes that saving enhances their enjoyment of things. When the couple went on their first cruise, they ate dinner with other couples who voiced their stress about having paid for the vacation with credit cards. Kelly said she and Rob were so relieved that that they could enjoy their vacation without worrying about how they would pay it off when they got back.

"Money is a big stressor in a marriage, and I don't want us to retire and be fighting all the time over money," Kelly said. "That is the number one reason why people get divorced, and so our goal really is so that we are not depressed about it."

Saving has allowed the Seilers to indulge their love of traveling, cruises and staying in hotels. Rob would even like to spend four months of every year of their retirement traveling. Keeping that goal in mind is another reason the couple saves. "We don't want to be of retirement age and not have anything. We don't want to enjoy all these years at the cost of our future," Kelly said.

The couple is working to instill the significance of saving into their five-year-old daughter, Jordan, who receives birthday cash from her grandparents. If Jordan gets $10, Rob has taught her to put $2 in savings, give $1 to church and then spend the rest if she chooses to do so.

Kelly and Rob explain some of their money decisions to Jordan to help teach her about saving. When they choose not to buy something, "We are careful to not say 'we can't afford it' because it's not that we can't; it's that we are choosing not to spend our money that way. So we say to her, 'Jordan, we don't want to spend money on that because we are putting it aside so we can buy our new house,'" Kelly said.

For the Seilers, teaching their children about saving includes teaching them about giving and sharing. They started supporting an underprivileged child in another country who is Jordan's age, so that she could relate to someone with fewer advantages than she has.

Kelly said, "I wanted Jordan to grow up knowing that we are trying to help someone else pay for school and pay for food. We are trying to instill in her that we are saving, but it is just as important to give to people and make it as tangible as possible."

Though retirement is far off for the Seilers, together they're continually planning their path to comfort, security and their dream retirement. Even if they can't agree on what constitutes an emergency.

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