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Camille Reeves has managed to perfect the art of being a grown-up. I don't know how she does it, but she maximizes her money, unlike anyone I've ever known. She's always impeccably dressed and coiffed. She just bought her dream-house and decorated it perfectly. Plus, she and her husband are always cooking and eating the best meals (no ramen and PB&J) and traveling on the best trips. But what boggles my mind is how effortlessly she does it, within budget.
"I somehow have always found a way to live within my means," Camille says. "In my early 20s, I had this unwritten rule of "$30." I basically would buy NOTHING that cost more than $30, when it came to clothes—relying on Target, J.Crew, Gap, and Madewell for basics, and adding in Zara for fast-fashion. I think people assume that you have to have excessive money to travel and curate a space and wardrobe that you're proud of. I've found that I can get most anything I need/want within budget by asking for a discount, researching for the best deal (being patient for it), and keeping a savings balance available to cover the cost when you go over budget."
Now in her 30s, Camille seems to have the in's and out's of budgeting figured out. The more Camille talked, the more I wanted to know. So I asked her to give me the blueprint on how to handle finances like a grown-up.
"We’re buying a car this year," Camille said. "So we’ve started putting that monthly payment amount away. We will use that savings for the down payment and to get us used to spending that money now. We did it with our house too. We actually started saving for it four years before we bought it. I was introduced to the American Express High Yield Savings Account (member FDIC) by my financial advisor a few years ago. Its flexibility—no withdrawal fees, no maintenance fees, and no minimum balance—has been the foundation for my saving successes of the past few years.”
Training yourself (and your budget) in advance of a big-ticket purchase helps provide the discipline for taking on an added expense. It also helps you realize whether you're eyeing something that may be outside your means before you sign on the dotted line. Here's a great resource from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to help budget the true cost of your car loan and make sure you're saving the right amount.
A huge part of Camille's financial success is her organizational skills. "We have four savings accounts," Camille explained. "We each have our own, an emergency one, and then a slush one we can use for saving for the car, or paying for trips, and all that. The individual ones are the best. I use it to cover the costs of things that I really want, but feel bad about splurging on out of our regular checking. The fun stuff—Botox, trips with my mom."
Setting up multiple savings accounts is also a great strategy to help budget for big-ticket items and ensure you keep a healthy rainy day fund. “There is no way having four accounts would make sense with the traditional fee-laden savings accounts. That’s why using the American Express High Yield Savings Account has been so crucial to the system we have in place.”
Camille has truly mastered the art of the deal. “One common theme in my purchase habits is research. I'm determined to get a deal on anything, no matter how expensive it is to start. I do this through countless internet searches. I also rely heavily on promo codes, asking friends for promo codes that I might not have access to, or a quick internet search usually offers some too. I also ask for discounts or deals if I'm shopping in person/over the phone. I've never paid full price for a Christmas tree—ever. I pick a slightly less-than-cute one in the expensive group and ask them to charge me for a cheaper one. It never hurts to ask," Camille says.
Camille will "stalk" her big purchases for months, always waiting for a sale. When she's identified what she wants to buy, she'll put it in her cart and sit on it until it has gone on sale. Almost everything goes on sale, and usually in a predictable way. If you're planning a big purchase, check out this calendar of when you should buy based upon sales cycles.
If you want to travel like a Kardashian on a normal budget, a spreadsheet will be your best friend. Camille typically maps out her vacation days and the big trips she wants to take each year. "I budget for time (vacation days), airfare and/or gas, lodging, food and drinks, and shopping," Camille said. "Up until 2020, I was doing three to four long-weekend trips a year and two week-long trips. We budget around 10% of our income on travel. Some years it's slightly higher. Last year it was much lower."
When it comes to lodging, Camille says she generally won't spend more than $200 a night on a hotel or Airbnb. When booking hotels, she stays loyal to one brand so she can accumulate points and free stays in the future. And, again, she never hesitates to ask for a discount.
"Most hotels have ways of giving you discounts that they don't advertise, or not obviously," Camille explained. "You have to ask. Call and talk to a person and ask them if there are any specials they are running. If you don't qualify (like it's for the next week or whatever), ask them to make an exception for you. I ask for a lot of favors. I'm always very kind and friendly; I know that I'm likely going to be asking for something, so I lead with a smile, even through the phone, before asking for a free upgrade to a suite."
For more help on how to improve your finances and achieve your other 2021 resolutions, check out Oola's 31 Days of Resolutions.