Striving for financial freedom: 5 men share how they changed their personal finances

The topic of money and personal finances is taboo (and kind of boring) at a cocktail or dinner party. So where do we learn about new strategies that work for managing our personal finances?

I tend to believe hearing someone else’s positive experience is powerful — it worked for me. We changed the way we use our credit cards when a friend shared how she and her husband fly with reward miles earned with credit card purchases. Since we shifted to charging monthly expenses to credit cards connected to an airline, we’ve flown multiple places with our miles. We pay the credit card balance off each month.

Of course, experts such as Rich Dad, Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman offer books, websites and apps to help us through the process. But someone’s personal story can often have a greater impact on us. Their success can be an inspiration, the Washington Post’s finance columnist said.

In early March, 5 Charlotte women shared the one thing that changed their personal finances. Now we asked 5 Charlotte men the same question.

Here’s what they had to say:

(1) George Acheampong

Pictured at top. “I set up automated savings to different accounts for different goals as soon as I get paid so that I don’t have to rely on good intentions to save money.”

Age: 31

Lifestyle: Married

Occupation: Financial adviser

Splurge: “I splurge on a really good dinner date with the wife, travel and an occasional update to my suit collection.”

Item he lives without: “A car. I live uptown, so I gave up my BMW to walk to my office and save money.”

How does he make it work: “I am crystal clear on what I want most out of life. I made sure that my lifestyle supported that instead of going against it. The one major thing I do is automate my savings, and I also only deposit a fixed amount of money into an account for variable spending like shopping, food and entertainment so I can control that spending.”

(2) Mike Claudio

Courtesy of Mike Claudio

“I started doing weekly check-ins to compare actual money spent to the budget.”

Age: 32

Lifestyle: Married with two children

Occupation: Sales consultant and recruiter

Splurge: He spends extra cash on food and wine.

Items he lives without: He avoids eating out.

How he makes it work: “I plan out all the expenditures and income for the month. I put the smaller items like food, gas, small purchases and incidentals into a weekly overhead bucket. Once a week, I check if the money came in and went out as expected.

“Meal prep on Sunday is one of the biggest things that helps us save money as a family. Cooking the main protein and some of the sides that take longer to cook, like roasted veggies and rice, so that dinners are easy to heat up instead of stopping at the food store every day for something.

“My wife and I created a small fun budget of a few hundred dollars per month so we can get smaller things we want without stressing about every dollar. It helped make it more manageable.”

(3) Brian Cromwell

Brian Cromwell Photo by Morgan Cromwell

“After reading ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ by Thomas Stanley, we started focusing on the differences between wants and needs. When we stopped buying stuff just because other people had it, we found we saved a lot more.

“We typically drive the same car for up to 10 years. We live in a neighborhood and carry a mortgage well within our means. We do not buy expensive clothing or jewelry and do not pamper ourselves. Our vacations are to U.S. National Parks, which are more fun, provide great exercise and are less costly than some more commercial vacations.”

Age: 54

Lifestyle: Married with two children

Occupation: White collar criminal litigation attorney at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP

Splurge: “Russell Stover Pectin Jelly Beans, subscription tickets to the Charlotte Symphony and Broadway Lights series and my annual boys trip to Las Vegas.”

Items he lives without: High end clothes, furniture, wines, art, home decorations, stuff.

How he makes it work: “Quicken, Quicken, Quicken! We record every purchase in our Quicken software so we can create an annual budget, plan our expenses and track our investments.

“We have a separate designated account for every major expense and put money into them on a prearranged schedule directly from our paycheck for things such as vacations and college tuition. We even have accounts for weddings when our kids are older and one for any medical emergencies. When we were pregnant with our first child, we aggressively put money into a 529 Plan and paid extra on our mortgage so the house would be owned free and clear when she started her first day of college.”

(4) Kris Steele

Kris Steele, credit Stephanie Pulliam

I’ve changed multiple times over the years. I read and re-read many books on finance and the different approaches you can take. I’ve found that saving first is the most important step for me to be successful. That way it’s saved and I’m then penalized for taking it out, which makes me avoid taking money out of retirement.”

Age: 33

Lifestyle: Married and two children

Occupation: Loan officer in a mortgage finance firm and owner of Crown Town Compost

Splurge: Gardening stuff and clothing

Items he lives without: Cable, a new car, eating out each day

How he makes it work: “I bike often but also drive due to the needs of my job. We have check-ins. For example, my wife and I meet to discuss the ins and outs of our budget and plan for the next month.”

(5) Sander Walker

Sander Walker

“Except for the house, we don’t purchase anything we can’t pay cash for. We live within our means.”

Age: 57

Lifestyle: Married with two children

Occupation: Co-owner of Walker PR Group

Splurge: “Not much … but if we do, it’s on the kids.”     

Items he lives without: New cars, anything trendy and overpriced

How he makes it work: “We make a detailed budget and stick to it. We are all expert bargain hunters and even make it fun sometimes. We also get the highest reward-points credit card and use it to pay for everything. We create a vacation fund each year with the proceeds. We also switched to a 15-year mortgage six years ago, saving tens ofthousands in interest and will have the house paid off at the same time we plan to retire.”

What’s the one thing you’ve done to change your financial situation? Add it to the comments below.

Responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.