The 27-year-old saved up the $28,000 needed in nine months during the COVID-19 pandemic after her mother, Carrie Cheng, lost her job and was worried about making her housing payment each month.
The stay-at-home orders issued by the pandemic, according to Liao and her now-husband Greg Bollweg, made it simpler for them to cut out virtually all non-essential expenses in order to save money. She began signing up for credit cards and bank accounts in order to receive new account bonuses, and she began selling items around her house.
She also started walking dogs to make up for the fact that her main job as a senior financial analyst at a medical device company in Orange County, California, only paid her $100,000 a year. Liao considers it the least she can do to provide her mother with financial security.
“It was the best money I’ve ever spent because it made my mom so happy,” says Liao, whose mother now owns her two-bedroom condo in San Diego outright. “There’s no other fulfilling feeling for me than seeing my mom happy.”
It’s always been Liao’s goal to get a stable job in order to help her mom with her finances. Born in Shenzhen, China, Liao moved to the U.S. with her mother after her parents separated when she was 12 years old.
When they first got to Los Angeles, the two of them lived in a shed on a relative’s property. Their church gave them clothes to wear. Neither spoke English, but the Disney Channel became Liao’s language tutor over the next few years.
After two years of living in the shed, they rented rooms in other people’s homes until her mother, who was a college professor in China but sold sunglasses at a kiosk at the mall in the U.S., was able to rent an apartment for just the two of them in San Diego.
All the while, Liao excelled in school despite the language barrier, especially in math. She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, which was almost completely paid for with financial aid she received via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
She also qualified for work-study, allowing her to graduate in 2016 without taking out any loans. Her first few years in the U.S., especially living in the shed, were foundational to Liao’s relationship with money, instilling a fierce independence in her, she says.
Now, she makes six figures in a field she chose not just because of her aptitude for numbers but for the security it could provide her and her mother.
“I realized I never want to depend on anybody else,” she says. “I always want to have a sense of independence because I have the money to be myself and do what I want with my life.”
How she spends her money:
Investments: $2,680 ($1,221 in employee stock purchase plan; $733 in 401(k); $500 in a Roth IRA; $226 in an HSA)
Housing and utilities: $1,475 ($1,375 for her share of the $3,600 mortgage, plus $100 for utilities)
Liquid savings: $1,000
Discretionary: $350 ($170 for home improvement; $60 for gifts; $50 for entertainment; $50 for travel; $20 for dog food)
Food: $224 (her share for dining out and groceries, split evenly with her partner)
Transportation: $119 ($101.50 for gas and $17.50 for Ubers, split with partner)
Insurance: $80 ($66 for health; $14 for dental and vision)
Subscriptions: $35 (Amazon Prime, credit card fees, and Spotify)
Liao’s current focus is on building up her savings and investment balances. In addition to funding her own retirement, she also plans to continue helping out her mother. At the time of filming, she had around $23,000 in savings and $85,000 in investments.
Though shopping for her home is the one “non-negotiable” in her budget, she is able to save and invest so much because she is fairly frugal. Almost everything in Liao’s house was either bought secondhand on sites like Facebook Marketplace or handcrafted.
She puts $1,375 a month toward the $3,600 mortgage for the four-bedroom house she owns with her husband, who also pays $1,375 (a roommate contributes the remaining $850). The duo bought the house for around $800,000 in 2020 through a combination of $115,000 in personal savings and a $30,000 gift from Liao’s father, who still lives in China.
He plans to live in the house with the couple when he retires. Bollweg’s mother was their real estate agent and gave them her commission, which also helped them reach their 20% down payment.
Liao is aware of how lucky she is to have had help from her father. “Growing up, he didn’t really support us with everyday things,” she says. Big gifts are his way of showing up for her now.
Liao and Bollweg, who make similar incomes as engineers, split most shared expenses evenly and otherwise keep their finances separate.
“I always want to feel equal,” she says of the decision not to combine finances. “We do believe that our money is our own achievement, so we like to be independent and keep the money that we make to ourselves.”
The next chapter: —
At the end of the summer, Liao and Bollweg wed in the backyard of their Orange County home. It was an intimate 40-person ceremony, and, true to her frugal nature, the bride handmade most of the decorations and bought her dress for $350. She even did some of the alterations herself.
“It actually took a long time—way more time than I thought—to hem the dress,” she says. “But I got it done. I saved $150, so that’s all that matters.”
The biggest outlays were the $1,400 cost of the engagement and wedding photos and the $700 cost of the food served at a nearby restaurant. In total, though, they spent under $6,000, split evenly.
Now that the wedding has come and gone, Liao is focused on saving to buy a rental property and helping her mom save for retirement. She has around $23,000 in liquid savings, and her goal is to hit $27,000 by the end of the year. Retiring early is also a priority; she tries to contribute as much as she can to her 401(k) and Roth IRA each year.
As for her career, Liao plans to stay in accounting because of the stability and opportunity for advancement. She also plans to start teaching other people her age about personal finance. She has scheduled sessions with a few clients but has yet to make money from them.
Outside of work, Liao describes music as her “source of happiness in life.” She grew up practicing the piano in churches and at her elementary school. As an adult, she printed out the keys on pieces of paper and pretended to play before she could afford to buy a real piano. (She eventually found a used one for $600 on Craigslist.) Recently, she also taught herself the upright bass.
When she thinks of her future, she envisions one free of the kind of quotidian stress of managing money that she grew up with. Instead, she pictures her and her mother living carefree, no longer subject to anyone else’s rules.
“Maybe I could be a musician,” she says. “If I have the money, I can do whatever I want.”
Courtesy: CNBC Make it