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When Natalie Breen was a teenager, she made a conscious decision not to go into debt.

That meant lots of sacrifices along the way. But today, at 26, she believes those sacrifices were worth it.

“The decisions I made in college allow me to spend freely now,” says Natalie. “After I put away a portion of my paycheck into my 401k and other investments, I don’t use a budget. I go on about ten trips per year, I eat out and I stay in nice hotels. I attend concerts and get seats up front.”

Check out Natalie’s money journey:

What is your current net worth? 

“I am an Account Manager for a large commercial real estate firm. I manage the accounts for roughly 140 local clients in the Greater Boston area.”

“My pay varies because I work on commission. But I recently hit $100,000 a year on my W2 for the first time which was a money goal I had since graduating college in 2014. My first job out of college was at a downtown ad agency where I made $37,000 per year. So this is a big jump for me.”

“My current net worth is $250,000 with $0 debt. This is made up of a mix of savings, stocks, and a 401k.” (Our net worth definition is simple: it’s the value of what you own minus what you owe.)

How did you avoid going into debt? 

“The fact that I have no debt is the result of being intentional and making an informed decision when I was a teenager.”

“When I was applying to colleges and was accepted into a number of them, my dad took a scrap of paper and wrote down each school with four columns.

The column included: the total market cost, any financial aid or scholarship that would be applied, what my parents planned to contribute, and finally how much debt I would be in when I graduated.”

“I stared at that scrap of paper for a week. I wanted to go to Northeastern University. But staring at the six figure debt number next to it I ultimately chose the school that would leave me with no debt.”

“I got my degree in marketing from Suffolk University. It was not my first choice, but I thrived. Looking back, it has allowed me to jumpstart my adult life. I do have a credit card, but I never carry a balance and only use it to help build my credit score.

“I moved back home and commuted to college to save money on rent and I have never bought a new car.”

“Some may look at this as big sacrifices but these decisions allow me to spend freely. After I put away a portion of my paycheck into my retirement account, I don’t use a budget.

I splurge on experiences, always. This past Saturday, I brought my brother to see The Lion King on Broadway. I paid $600 for our two tickets but it was a memory that will outlast the time it takes me to earn that $600 back.”

What is the best money book you’ve read?

“The best money book I’ve ever read is You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero. I realized my mentality about money was limiting me. I also used to listen to Gaby Dunn’s ‘Bad with Money’ podcast religiously.”

What is the biggest money mistake you’ve made? 

“My biggest money mistake, which I am in the midst of right now, is letting $100,000 sit in my 0.2% interest savings account when it should have been invested in a portfolio given my age and ability to see a long term return.”

What is the best money decision you’ve made? 

“The best decision I made was opening a 401k when I was 20 and learning to live within my means.”

Do you have a side hustle? 

“I don’t have a side hustle, but even with my full time job I have never turned down a babysitting gig. And I still do those market research surveys where they gift you money for participating.

Every dollar matters to me because I know the more I save and invest now the bigger the dividends will be later.”

Strategies for Building Wealth

Ready to start growing your net worth? Build your cash reserves quickly by saving your money in a high interest savings account like this one at CIT Bank or BBVA. Both have interest rates above and beyond regular banks.

Next, you’ll want to grow your income. Maybe you want to create a passive income stream, start a business, land a new job, or take an online class that will help you command a higher salary. Whichever you choose, the right tools will help you get on the right track in your money journey.