With $25,000 in student loans and a new wife, he wanted to pay off his debt — and he wanted to start paying himself first.
Beth and Tim Rhodes of Snellville clip coupons. Tim, 23, is one of five national finalists in an Internet bank’s savings contest.
The man offered a few tips and suggested Rhodes check out his Web site. The 23-year-old production assistant from Snellville was comparing rates when a First National Bank of Omaha ad popped up touting its “Pay Yourself First Challenge.” If selected, the Internet bank would match his and four other finalists’ savings dollar for dollar up to $5,000. The winner and a guest also will receive an all-expenses-paid vacation.
The competition invited people to create a video detailing what they wanted to save and why. It could be serious, funny or anything in between.
That seemed simple enough. Producing video is part of Rhodes’ job, so creating a 60-second spot about saving would be a snap.
“I went for funny,” he said.
He and his wife sat on the living room sofa, and Rhodes talked about his $25,000 in outstanding student loans.
“I thought you had $15,000,” interrupted his wife, Beth, before leaving him alone on the sofa. He continued to nervously explain how he intended to save enough to pare his loan debt down.
In September, he learned he was one of five finalists for the national challenge: He had six months to achieve his personal savings goal.
The grand prize winner will be chosen based on:
• Saving the most money — based on percentage increase, rather than dollar amount saved.
• Ranking by financial experts based on challenger’s saving skill level.
• Voting by American public via poll on www.pyfchallenge.com.
• Adhering to contest requirements.
Anyone can meet the challengers, watch their video entry, follow their savings blogs and vote for their favorite at www.pyfchallenge.com. The challenge ends in April.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans’ savings rate — as a percentage of disposable personal income — exceeded 10 percent in the mid-1980s. Since 2004, the rate has averaged less than 1 percent.
Liz Pulliam Weston, a columnist for MSNMoney, said there was less motivation to save because of a strong real estate and stock market the past two decades.
“Wealth was going up whether people saved or not,” she said.
In addition, Weston said that credit was easy to get.
Now it appears, people are going old school: saving more and spending less.”I think we are going back to the old days,” said Weston. “People are scared to spend money. It’s not good for the economy but people are making the decision to take care of themselves and their families first.”
That’s the whole idea behind FBNO’s Pay Yourself Challenge. They hope the competition will help reverse the trend and encourage Americans to save more.
Like many newlyweds, the Rhodes are struggling to live on a budget while paying off debt, especially in these economic times.
Rhodes wanted to save $6,000, and to meet his goal he intended to work as much overtime as he could. He’d take on as many jobs as he could find making videos for weddings and businesses, and the couple clipped coupons and ate out less often.
He questioned whether he was really up to the challenge. The harder it seemed, Rhodes said, the more determined he became.
In late November, he was about halfway to his goal.
“I’m striving to win, but I feel like just being a finalist, I’ve already won,” Rhodes said. “Because of this we’ve found we have more to save than we thought. Budgeting is huge.”
But will he be able to stick to it after the challenge?
“That’s going to be the tough part,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll be [able to] save as much, but we’ll try to be careful with our money and be very aware of where it’s going.”