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Patricia Washington and her sister Regenia have fond childhood memories of trips to the bank with their mother. In their hometown of Marshall, Texas, those weekly trips taught the sisters a lesson about saving money that has lasted a lifetime.
“It was normal for us to make the trek to the bank and put money in our savings accounts,” says Patricia. Getting into the habit of saving early would pay off for the sisters years later.
Patricia, 42, is a clinical expert in oncology at the pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc., where she works with doctors and nurses on advancing cancer drugs. She joined Amgen a year ago after getting a doctorate degree in nursing. Regenia, 28, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is a hepatology specialist for the pharmaceutical company Roche. The two sisters were able to obtain their degrees and increase their earning potential after deciding to move in together in 1994. They wanted to share living expenses while continuing to work and attend school. The decision allowed Patricia to map out a financial strategy to forgo student loans as she pursued her doctorate from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “I planned everything down to the penny, putting the tuition, the dorm, and even the cost of putting my things in storage on paper,” Patricia says. “Then I used all of my savings and my retirement fund to go back to school.”
After Patricia graduated in 1999, it was Regenia’s turn. Living with her older sister allowed Regenia to get her master’s at Texas Woman’s University in 2000 with less financial strain.
“We shared the costs of rent, food, and just about everything else,” says Regenia, who was able to pay off $28,000 in student loans less than two years later by working overtime and using $10,000 from her savings. “There is no way I could have saved money and paid off my loans if I were living by myself,” she says.
Now that the sisters have completed their education, they are planning for the future. Following DOFE principle No. 1: to save and invest 10% to 15% of my after-tax income, both sisters put 5% to 10% of their paychecks into stock options and savings plans. And they’ve also exercised DOFE principle No. 5: to engage in sound budget, credit, and tax management practices. Since their jobs provide them with new cars every two years and pay most of the insurance and gasoline costs, they’ve placed money they would’ve spent on those expenses into savings as well. That paved the way for Patricia to purchase a home, allowing the sisters to stop leasing their town house for $950 a month. She bought a 3,600-square-foot house in a Houston suburb for $155,000 and Regenia contributes a moderate amount toward the mortgage and other costs.
The Washington sisters’ frugal ways also allowed them to help out a family in need. After one of Regenia’s cancer patients died in May 2001, leaving four small children, the sisters gained power of attorney