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How Two Navy Pilots Saved $500,000

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I’ll continue to sing the praises of Twitter for as long as I live. It’s allowed me to connect with so many like-minded people and learn about some truly interesting stories.  The latest one comes from Dan and Don of  These two Navy pilots saved $500,000 combined on government salaries.  I asked them to guest post to share their story with us.  I appreciate them being willing to do so.  Without further ado, here’s Dan and Don.


navy pilots saved 500000Hey everyone! We’re Dan and Don, the owners of We were so happy to be asked by Dave to write a guest post for his blog!

Some background on these two Navy guys.

Formally, Dan is educated in Economics and Don in Civil Engineering. We both hold Bachelors of Science degrees from nationally recognized schools.

Neither of us drives a fancy car. Dan drives a reliable 2009 Hyundai Elantra he bought using the methods he’s written about here, while Don drives a 2007 Ford Focus he bought used.

Outside of our mortgages, Dan is the only one with debt, with about $1,300 left on paying his wife’s car off within 6 months of purchasing it. Both of us have invested and saved roughly $250,000 each, both within 6 years of graduating college.

Two econ nerds become friends

We met when we reported to the same Navy helicopter squadron and the two of us quickly hit it off. We were often roommates whenever we went underway on a ship and our topics of discussion often revolved around economic policy.

In fact, the first time we ever hung out socially was during a workout together that led to us talking about Thomas Sowell – Don’s favorite economist – and free market policies. We’re nerds, we know.

We quickly started talking about retirement savings and both took a look at each other’s strategies and realized, on the whole, they were quite similar: consistent, automatic investing in low-cost, market-based mutual and index funds.

We realize this is a geeky way to start a friendship, but when you’re on a ship, away from home, with limited connectivity to the outside world, you find like-minded people and like-minded hobbies, whether they’re talking politics, lifting weights, drinking beer, playing video games, or, in our case, talking fitness and finance.

They also enjoy bettering their physical health

Fun story: we both workout with regularity – agreeing with Dave that the same discipline applied to physical fitness is what drives financial habits as well. So, about a year ago, Dan signed up with his wife for a well-attended 5k in Southern California. But when Dan’s wife got injured, Don took her spot and they ran it together -- for about the first half.

In the end, Don sped up and took 3rd place and Dan took 4th place in men’s -- with Don stealing what would have been Dan’s medal! Even more disappointing and funny – an 11 year old girl beat both of us. We are pretty sure she’ll be in the Olympics one day. At least we tell ourselves that.

Birth of a blog

From there, we left the helicopter squadron about 9 months apart and Don ended up getting sent to the same follow-on job that Dan was at. We reminisced about our time constantly answering financial questions for our friends as well as the junior Sailors (many of them right out of high school).

We started talking about how we wanted to share our knowledge and Don posed the simple question: “Want to start a blog?” So here we are with

We figure out each day what we want to write about, trying to appeal to working millennials who know they need to save, but don’t know how. They know they may need to make purchases like cars and homes, but want to avoid pitfalls.  They want to set themselves up for a comfortable retirement and want to learn how.

We’ve made a few bad decisions (take a look at us any November when we grow mustaches) but want to help our peers learn from both our mistakes and successes.

A simple, but effective savings formula

We follow a pretty simple formula that’s led to success so far:

  1. Work hard.
  2. Figure out when you want to retire and how much you’ll need to fund the lifestyle you want.
  3. Automate your savings.
  4. Automate your bills and credit cards. Don’t ever spend a dime on an unnecessary finance, overdraft, or late-payment fee. Pay your credit cards off each month. If you have to pay interest on your credit cards, then you probably can’t afford what you’re buying.
  5. Have nothing leftover any month; by that, we mean, everything is either invested, saved, or spent. Minimize any money left over in a checking account. Track spending and identify if it’s necessary. Invest in low-cost, no load index funds. Don’t pay for a fund manager. Invest in tax shelters first (like a Roth IRA, traditional IRA, TSP, or 401K).
  6. Money is only worth as much as you are willing to spend it. While quantity certainly has its own quality, don’t live so barren that your quality of life, health, mind, or ability to work or socialize causes you stress. If you’re saving so much that you can exclusively afford Ramen and are driving an unsafe, unreliable car, we believe you’re doing it wrong. Alternatively, if you’re going out to eat every night, leasing a BMW, and renting a luxury apartment without saving for the future at all, we believe you’re also doing it wrong. There’s a balance to be struck.

Yes, these two Navy pilots saved $500,000 combined. But, how?

What we imagine is most people reading this may be interested just exactly how we made our money. We followed our advice above (albeit maybe unknowingly before jotting it down recently).

Dan's breakdown

Dan started investing in a no-load, low-cost, S&P 500 index fund starting in 2009.  He has been making regular contributions to it since graduating college in May 2010, including automatic deductions from his bi-monthly paychecks. His other investments over the years have included a Health Care Index Fund, a general moderate risk mutual fund comprised of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, a target-retirement mutual fund, and an energy based fund that is primarily composed of oil companies (this one has yet to pan out!).

Don's breakdown

Don used a medium-risk mutual fund with a brokerage company through college.  Now he invests in various sector index funds and funds within the Thrift Savings Program for federal workers in addition to some individual stocks.  He has very recently gotten into options trading.

Both of us max out our Roth IRA’s and Thrift Savings Plans (government equivalent to a 401k) to the maximum our budgets allow.

We want to say another big thanks to Dave for giving us the opportunity to share our story! It’s exciting to meet people with similar goals and share your ideas of how to reach them! Check us out over at!


Hard work. Sacrifice.  Dedication.  Sure, Dan and Don learned these virtues while training to be Navy pilots.  But, they applied them also to their personal finances with incredible success.  Learn more about their journey and how you can implement their financial lessons at

What do you think of Dan’s and Don’s journey? How does their financial formula compare to yours?  Let us know in the comments. Make sure to check out our other financial health, physical health, and living healthy articles as well.

  • I love this list. Hardwork is definitely number 1 along with automating everything that you can. Sounds like those guys have done everything right early in their career and are really reaping the rewards now!!!
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  • Dan says:

    Thanks Dave!

    -Dan and Don

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