Living the Abundant Life

Norris and Reneau Curl are seeing the rewards of proper money management. One smart money move they’re proud of is faithfully squirreling away 20% of their income each paycheck. “We’re savers by nature,” says Reneau, 50, who has been married to Norris for 12 years. “We ask ourselves why we’re making a purchase and whether it’s something we need or want.”

The Carson, California, couple has a household income of $137,000 in addition to $30,000 in rental income. Norris teaches seventh grade world history and Reneau is a credit union manager. The Curls bought a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a swimming pool in 1996 for $175,000 that today is worth approximately $530,000. The home is now used to generate rental income. Two years ago, they decided to downsize to a home that required less maintenance, so they purchased a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in a gated, resort-style community for $440,000. Norris, also 50, has $106,000 in his 403(b). Reneau has $72,000 in her 401(k) and a $155,000 pension. They also have an emergency fund of $30,000.

What’s their secret? “We live below our means. It’s given us an edge,” says Norris, whose wardrobe is mostly khakis and white shirts. Reneau shares his spending sensibilities. “I don’t buy anything that’s not on sale. We haven’t ever paid full price for anything, be it a house, a car, or whatever. We have a set price that we will pay and we don’t pay more than that.”

They both had frugal mothers. “I watched my mother. She started as a classroom aide and eventually became a teacher, but she never changed her lifestyle,” says Norris. For recreation, the Curls engage in low-cost activities such as bike riding, taking a walk on the beach, or visiting museums. They occasionally splurge on tickets to a concert or sporting event.

While the couple pays their credit card bills in full each month, they still have some debt. There’s nearly $30,000 in car loans and a home equity line of credit with a balance of $136,000 that they used for the down payment on their condo. Then there’s Reneau’s $28,000 personal loan that was used to consolidate credit card debt that she amassed before the couple was married.

The Curls realize their accomplishments. “We’ve been able to set savings goals and meet them,” says Reneau, but they are far from satisfied. “We have a financial vehicle, but not a financial engine. I want to build something that empowers us financially,” says Norris.

“We want our financial legacy to be that of an abundant life, one that we can leave to posterity.”

The Advice

Gwendolyn V. Kirkland, a certified financial planner and managing principal with Kirkland, Turnbo & Associates, reviewed the Curls’ finances.

Shore up risk management. Kirkland says the Curls have tremendous exposure on their rental property. “I suggest they consult with legal counsel and discuss the benefits of having the property placed in a limited liability company, since it will provide some protection from personal liability,” says