9 secrets of a millennial millionaire-in-training

Courtesy of Candace Ng

Take a close look at someone who’s firmly on the path to financial independence — on a schoolteacher’s salary.

Candace Ng, a special ed teacher who lives in Randolph, Massachusetts, is saving for retirement. She has an emergency fund. She has no student debt. She and her husband own a home. Together, they have saved just under $15,000 in retirement funds — in 18 months. At this rate, the Ngs could well amass that golden-ticket of $1 million well before retirement.

Candace Ng is 23 and in the kind of financial shape people twice her age would envy. Her secret?

Planning.

In college, Ng saw that whether she took 12, 18 or even 21 credits a semester, the cost was the same. She loaded up on courses and graduated in two and a half years. She went on to get her master’s in education.

When Ng was finished with school, she had just $3,000 in student debt – and she paid it off during the grace period before it started accumulating interest. These moves helped put Ng on a clear financial path.

Here are her nine top tips for financial independence.

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1. Hit the books

Ng reads up on personal finance, and she cites Dave Ramsey and Bankrate’s Greg McBride as solid sources. Ng says McBride was the motivation for paying 11 percent of her salary into her retirement plan at work, starting an emergency fund and contributing to an IRA.

2. Budget together

Creating a budget and having a purpose for money strengthens Ng’s marriage. “It’s improved communication,” she says. “I know that if anything happens, I have the means to take care of it.”

Some of the monthly budget also goes into a travel fund; she and her husband hope to go on a cruise later this year.

3. Eat in

Make cooking dinner fun. Turn on the music and do the prep together. Try a new recipe or a different cuisine on occasion. Various curries and sesame ginger chicken are frequent menu stars on Ng’s dinner table, courtesy of her husband’s homeland of Malaysia.

4. Shop sales and store ahead

Ng and her husband like chicken, for instance, and watch the grocery sale circulars. “When it’s $1.89 a pound, we stock up and freeze some for next time,” she says.

5. Brown-bag it

The Ngs have five live chickens, which means hardboiled eggs for lunch for Ng. Her husband prefers rice and chicken – Costco’s $5 rotisserie chicken is a week’s worth of lunches. Dinner leftovers are often turned into next day’s lunch.

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6. Cut down on cars

Ng and her husband decided to be a one-car family to save on gas, insurance, taxes and maintenance. When they worked different schedules, Ng’s husband drove her to work and picked her up. Now that they work at the same school on the same schedule, they drive together – for a savings of about $500 a month.

7. Prioritize goals

The Ngs want to have $20,000 each in emergency savings, retirement accounts and a post-tax brokerage account before they have kids sometime around 2020. “That’s our current short-term goal,” she says. “We’re still working on the more long-term goals, but we plan to max out our IRAs yearly.”

8. Use credit wisely

Ng says her mother always stressed the importance of avoiding credit card debt. The couple does use credit cards – “for the points,” she says – but they pay off the balance every month. And they don’t buy things lightly. “We do a lot of looking, thinking and planning,” Ng says.

9. Serenity now

Trimming dollars here and doing without there might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it gives Ng and her husband one enormous payoff. Meeting bills and making timely payments for insurance or their mortgage brings peace of mind. “I don’t stress about money,” she says.

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Jill Cornfield

I'm a reporter at Bankrate, talking retirement – my own as well as yours. Sign up for my free newsletter.