Jeff Hoernemann's ability to save in our instant-gratification world won the 17-year-old a $15,000 college scholarship. The Andover (Minn.) High School senior is one of two grand-prize winners for the 2008 Citi Scholastics Essay Writing Contest.

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Jeff Hoernemann’s ability to save in our instant-gratification world won the 17-year-old a $15,000 college scholarship. The Andover (Minn.) High School senior is one of two grand-prize winners for the 2008 Citi Scholastics Essay Writing Contest.

He had been trolling for scholarship opportunities with his mother online at his high school’s Web site and at Fastweb.com, and knew right away that his tale of saving for his triathlon bike fit the contest’s theme of “Using Financial Management to Achieve a Significant Goal.”

Here’s the story: Jeff used a mountain bike to compete in his very first triathlon when he was 15. But when he saw other competitors carrying their light-as-a-feather bikes, he knew his weighty wheels were a distinct disadvantage.

So after the race, he headed to the bike store only to learn the cheapest triathlon-worthy bicycle was $1,200. His savings account was just shy of $1,000.

With sports and school, he knew he couldn’t work enough hours as a lifeguard to afford the bike and go out with friends. So with six months to go before the next race, he scrutinized his spending.

First, he divided his expenses into “necessary” items — running shoes for cross country, gas for the car, lifeguard swim trunks — and “discretionary” items — iPod tunes, movies with friends, post-practice ice-cream treats.

Giving up “ice cream was the hardest,” he said, recalling how much he missed ice cream with brownies and chocolate sauce.

Before the triathlon goal, he’d heard the phrase “fiscal responsibility” and words such as “necessary,” “discretionary” and “ownership” from his parents, but he’d never looked at his spending habits closely.

After the review, “I found out most of the stuff was wants,” he said.

It wasn’t easy to forgo the silver screen for new DVD releases or skip the cookies from the school snack bar, “but the bike was a strong motivator,” Jeff said.

To keep his goal in sight, he made his coveted bike — the Specialized Allez Elite — his computer screen’s wallpaper, a trick he learned from his cross-country coach.

“If you write down your goals and put them in a place you see them every day, you’re a lot more motivated to do it,” Jeff recalled his coach saying.

After five months, Jeff’s account balance went from $975 to $1,295. He’d done it.

And the icing on the cake? The bike was on clearance for $999.

“Not only could I afford it, but I also had money for aero bars” for the bike, he wrote in his essay.

In his next race, he shaved 32 minutes off his time, and took second place in his age division.

Now he can’t stop thinking about ways to be frugal in order to meet his next goal: Saving money for the meal plan at college.

“We thought that, rather than having such a huge goal of ‘college’ (too abstract), if we broke it down into smaller pieces and gave him something that he was interested in (food) that the idea of saving wouldn’t be so daunting,” said his mom, Cathy Hoernemann.

She said she didn’t doubt for a minute that he’d succeed.

“Jeff is very competitive all the time,” she said.