My biggest financial achievement was saving $17,000 in a year and a half after graduating from college. I was lucky enough to have parents who paid for half of my college. When I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002, I was only $2000 in debt to them. I moved into a shared house where I paid only $300/month rent, got two jobs, and paid them back in 2 months. I worked an entry level job at a non-profit and then moonlighted catering weddings. For the last 7 months, I lived in my sisters’ basement for $200/month. I wasn’t living too austerely; I actually took a 2 week trip to Central Mexico that winter. But, I was careful with my spending. In March, I bought a one way ticket to Argentina and stayed abroad for the next 13 months, traveling all over South America and Central Europe. I returned with $5000, enough to set myself up while I job searched again.
Now I’m saving for my next extended foray abroad. So far I have $22,000 saved. But again, it's not like I'm sitting home counting my pennies. Last year I was in Central America for 6 weeks and this winter I’m going to India for a month. Oh, and I just returned from a two week trip in Istanbul, Bulgaria and Romania. People wonder how I can take such extensive vacations when I make so little at my non-profit and service jobs. The trick is to keep my expenses low, of course. My car is paid for and I drive it as little as possible. I buy clothes for cheap when I’m abroad. I don’t go out that much and when I do I don’t spend very much. Living simply and consciously allows me to splash out internationally. Plus, when I’m in developing countries everything is put in perspective. I don’t feel the need to keep up with the typical American lifestyle because I see how richly I live in comparison with a lot of the rest of the world. I know many compulsive spenders but I’m almost a compulsive saver. Every dollar I save here is worth a lot more literally in many other countries, but also figuratively to me as my memories are much greater shopping in a bazaar than the mall. I find it more interesting to be creative about spending less and getting more out of what I do spend.