Category Archives: Saving Money

Financial Unmanageability Transcends Money

When it comes to finding ways to better manage your finances, there are unlimited resources.  There are many great books, blogs, forums, websites, and apps.  There is not a shortage of information, tools, or even professional services.  If a person wants to make improvements when it comes to spending less, paying down debt, saving more of their earnings, or learning to invest, they could find out how to do it in a matter of minutes by doing a few simple online searches.

If the solution to finding ways to improve your financial situation is so readily available, why are so many people struggling?  Yes, we can blame the marketers for always trying to sell the newest gadget.  That excuse, however, only carries so much weight.  Consumers are more educated than ever and many tune ads out.

What if the problem is more pervasive?  What if the problem is beyond simple behavior modification? What if the problem is based on unmanageability?  Yes, the inability to have mastery over your life.

If the problem is based in unmanageability, there is not a blog or app to solve the problem.  If your life is truly unmanageable, trying to get a better handle on your financial shortcomings is just treating a symptom.  To gain control of your life, it will take a little more than spending less and saving more.

Denial

Nobody truly wants to admit their life is unmanageable.  Just like nobody wants to admit they drink, spend, eat, or gamble too much.  It is natural for many people to think, I don’t have an issue with my finances and then go spend more money.  It is common behavior for people who have addiction problems or a spiritual malady to deny what the problem is.  The thought process is like a broken record that skips the same verse over and over.  I do not have a problem with my finances – go spend more money.

Resentment

To resent is to keep going back to a negative feeling.  Instead of feeling and processing those bad or negative feelings, you spend money.  Resentment is not always based on harboring ill feeling towards someone who you believe wronged you in some way.  Resentment can also be rooted in harboring ill feelings towards someone who did exactly what you expected them to do.  The problem was that you were still not satisfied.  They were unable to fill that void that exists within you.  To find temporary relief, you continue to spend and try to fill that void with an external fix.  Unfortunately, it does not last.  After you exhale out and feel relief, you almost immediately inhale the resentment back in.

It is All About You

When you live an unmanageable life, there will always be a conflict with self.  It is all about you.  You cannot be of real use to others.  Sure, you might be physically present in their life, but are you truly living in the moment?  Or are you just physically there, but mentally bound to your troubles?  When your self-centered thoughts and feelings are the focus of your existence, it is difficult to make meaningful connections with others.

Anxiety 

You are not a bad person.  You might even do nice things for others.  You believe that you are thoughtful and caring.  You spend money on the people you care about and on those who you want to care about you. Externally that all might be true, but aren’t you just doing all those things to find more relief and to feel better about your current state of unmanageability?

Do you live in fear?  Do you spend more than you earn and panic when the bills arrive?  Do you lay awake at night and worry that you will never be able to get out from under all the debt you are in?  Do you see retirement as a possible option for others, but something that you would never be able to afford?  Do you obsess over your finances in one thought, but follow it up with more spending that pushes you further away from having healthy finances?  Do you feel hopeless?

Is this fear leading to other health concerns?  Is it leading to weight gain or panic attacks?  Have you gone to see your doctor because you feel overwhelmed?  Did your doctor put you on meds to take the edge off and to help you cope?

There is a Solution

Yes, getting your finances in order is great, but you first need to get your mind right.  I am not a therapist.  I am just a guy with a personal finance blog.  If you are honesty suffering from the symptoms that I listed above, you should seek outside help.  Find out if your health insurance covers visits to a psychologist without a referral from your primary care doctor.  If not, ask your doctor for a referral to one that they recommend.  You might have to pay a low co-pay, but it will be worth it.

There are also 12-step programs.  As I stated earlier, your spending might be just a symptom of a larger issue.  There are 12-step programs for spending, gambling, drinking, and just about any other type of obsessive disease.  It is up to you to dig deeper and decide if you think a 12-step solution would be a good fit for you.

Conclusion

Don’t beat yourself up.  Don’t wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, or any other negative feeling.  The past is the past.  It is time to move on.  Pick up the pieces.  You are not a bad person.  You might have made poor decisions and you might suffer from the disease of addiction.  After you put your own house back in order, you can make amends to those you feel you might have harmed including yourself.

There is hope.  There is also help available.  It is now up to you to find the right help that will be a catalyst for positive change.

Once you get your mind right, great things will start to happen in your life.  Not only will your financial situation improve, but every area of your life will get better.  How could it not, you will be moving away from the problem and in the solution.

You will be able to better accept people and situations as they are.  You will be able to let go of the past. You will better assimilate into the mainstream of life.  You will become more useful to the people around you.  You will finally find the peace that you have been searching for all along.

As a bonus, you should be able to better budget and save money.  Your whole life will become more manageable.  Having a few more bucks in the bank will just make life more enjoyable.

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The House We Did Not Buy

Buying a house is a major decision.  For most people, it is the largest major financial decision that they will ever make.  There are many aspects to consider when deciding on a house.  Do you want to live in a city, the suburbs, or in a rural area?  Finding your dream house and neighborhood can be a major undertaking.

My wife and I have lived in our current house since we were married.  She bought the house from a relative before I was in her life.  It is nice house and we live close to many of her relatives.

The house did need some upgrades when I moved in.  It was built in 1964 and much of the house was outdated.  After I moved in, we remodeled the kitchen, bathroom, added a deck, as well as many other upgrades.

The house was about 1,200 square feet and we wanted a little more room.  We added a nice 320 square foot addition.  That addition is our sitting room and we spend most of our time in there.

The house is almost paid for.  We only owe about $30,000 on the mortgage.  The house was appraised for $226,000 in 2012, so we have a nice amount of equity in the house.

By staying in this house, my wife and I have avoided lifestyle creep.  Having a small mortgage and low taxes enabled us to have a high savings rate.  If we upgraded to a $500,000 house, we would not have been able to save 50% of our gross earnings over the past 10 years.

We are not planning on retiring until 2028.  After we retire, we are planning on buying a house on a lake because we enjoy kayaking, boating, and fishing.  We are planning on staying in Pennsylvania for 9 months per year.  For the winter months, we plan on becoming snowbirds and head south for the winter.

A major life event caused us to rethink our plan.  A close family member recently passed away following a four-year battle with cancer and other major health issues.  Watching him suffer made us think about living more in the present and not focusing on what our life will be like in retirement.

We decided to look at some houses that were for sale on the lakes that are close to where we currently live.  The nice thing about living in the Pocono Mountains is that there are many nice lakefront homes.  The region is also known for private gated communities that attract people from New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston who buy weekend homes in these developments.

We started by looking online.  What I found did not surprise me.  Most of the lakefront houses were very expensive.  Older houses that were lakefront cost $400,000 and needed upgrades.  The newer houses are much more expensive.

Our next move was to look for a house that was not lakefront but had lake rights.  This was a more modest priced market.  Houses that were only 5-years old were less than $350,000.  That was more in our price range because we would be putting about 60% down on the house.

We found a few that we really liked and decided to spend a Sunday looking at these houses.  The first few were nice but way too big.  We do not need or want 4,000 square feet of living space.

After looking at 5 houses we were starting to get tired.  It is fun to look at these houses, but also overwhelming.  Before we called it quits for the afternoon, I wanted to look at one last house.

The last house was a little less expensive.  It was listed at $258,000.  This house was in a private community that is only 8 miles from where we currently live.  It also comes with lake rights to a private 150-acre lake.  It is a serene lake that does not allow outboard motors.  Only sailboats, kayaks, or boats with electric motors are allowed.  It is also a catch-and-release lake that is stocked with bass, trout, catfish, and walleye.

For me, it was love at first sight.  For my wife, she really liked the house, but more legwork was needed before we decided.  We both agreed that we needed to do our due diligence and not buy a house after our first visit.

The next day, I called the realtor to set-up an appointment to tour the house.  The realtor was nice as well as transparent.  She gave me some interesting details about the house.  In 2010, the house sold for $389,000 and is now listed for $259,000.  I did not want to admit it, but that was the first red flag.

I asked why there was such a deep discount on a 10-year old house?  She said that the taxes doubled because of a county reassessment.  There is also a homeowners association (HOA) that charges $2,500 per year.  The total annual cost of the taxes and home owner’s association fees would be $8,200.  We now pay $2,700.

I was not happy about the major jump in taxes and fees.  It was, however, not a deal breaker.  I was smitten with the privately stocked lake.

The next evening, my wife and I decided to take a ride over to see our potential new house.  We were excited.  Our excitement, however, did not last.

We pulled into the driveway and got out to walk around the house.  It was not currently occupied by the owners.  We only took about two or three steps and we saw the neighbors Doberman Pincher as he came barreling towards us.  Luckily, the dog’s owner was in his yard and called the dog back.

The Doberman caused me great concern.  I am not afraid of big dogs, but my wife and I have a little dog.  His safety trumps everything.

I was happy that the neighbor was outside.  He came over and spoke with us.  He seemed like a nice guy.  He was young.  I would guess in his early 30’s.  We spoke about the house and of course what the fishing was like at the lake.  I asked him about the homeowners association.  He said they are not too bad to deal with, but he gets in trouble with them often.  He said that he gets in trouble with the homeowners association for driving his ATV and snowmobile at night.

On our drive home, I was still thinking about fishing on a private lake every evening after work.  At this point, my wife decided that she did not want to buy the house.  She did not say anything to me on our drive home because she did not want to bust my bubble.

That evening, I could not sleep.  My anxiety was out of control.  I did not fall asleep until after midnight.  The house was very nice, and I loved the lake.  Deep down, I knew that it was not a good fit.  All those red flags would not go away.  They kept running around in my mind.  I could not justify all of these issues.

As a member of the financial independence community, I do not like to pay taxes.  I love fishing but hate taxes.  Having my taxes go up almost 200% did not sit well with me.

The second source of anxiety was our dog.  We don’t have children, so our dog is our baby.  He currently has his own two-acre field to enjoy without worrying about being eaten by a Doberman.  I would never do anything to put him in an unsafe situation.

The third warning sign was the neighbor.  He did seem like a nice young man.  However, I am not willing to put up with him driving his ATV at night.

When I awoke, my wife said that she wanted to talk.  She told me that she loved me and wanted me to have a lake house.  I worked and saved for over two decades and she wanted me to be happy.  She just felt that this house was not for us.

I told her that I agreed with her.  There are many reasons why my wife and I have a happy and successful marriage.  We love each other, communicate well, and think alike.  If a situation is not right, it is wrong.  The house was not the right fit for us.

We could have afforded the house.  It might have caused our saving rate to go from over 50% to 40%.  That does not sound like a big deal, but I am more interested in saving and reaching early retirement than owning a lake house at this point in my life.

We have not since looked at any other houses.  It was too emotional of a process for me.  At this point, I think that we are going to stay in our current house until we retire.  I have said this before, once you become a saver, you will never be a spender.  As a saver, I will have to settle for fishing at our local state parks and public lakes instead of a private lake until we retire.  Life can be much worse.

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Travel Hacking: Round One

Until recently, I have never tried travel hacking.  As a member of the financial independence community, I have not looked favorably at credit cards.  I saw them as a way for undisciplined people to spend more than they earn.  In my opinion, I saw them as tools that banks use to hack high fees and interest payments out people who have fallen victim to materialism.

My view on credit was to only borrow when it was a must and to pay it back as quickly as possible.  Since I started working full-time, I only used credit when I needed it.  However, I knew that having a high credit score was important.

My wife and I both have high credit scores but have not borrowed much.  I once had a car loan that I paid off in my early 20’s.  When I went to college, I paid cash for my first two years and took out student loans for my Junior and Senior years.  My wife and I also took out a home equity loan to remodel our house.  That is currently our only debt.

For years, my wife and I only had one credit card.  We used it for travel, shopping on Amazon, and for other purchases when a credit card was more convenient than cash.  We have always just used a basic bank card that paid 1% cash back.

I did not know if 1% was good or not.  I was more interested in using the card when it was required and just paid off the balance every month.  At the end of the year, I would get $500 back and just use the rewards money for holiday bills.

The focus of my personal finance management and writing has been saving and investing.  My approach has been to focus on career growth, saving as much as possible, and capture average market returns by investing in index funds.  Hacking has not been on my radar.

Over the past year, I have started reading more and more blogs about people who are taking two or more vacations per year for free.  Since some of the most trusted bloggers promote it, I decided to read more about it.  It was not until I attended a meet-up in New York City where a group of bloggers from Rockstar Finance got together.  At this event, I got turned on to travel hacking and decided to give it a shot.

The idea of taking a vacation or two per year for free excited me.  We travel anyway, so why not enjoy our trips for free.  I started to do some research.  I also took the Travel Miles 101 online course.  Travel Miles 101 is a comprehensive course that explains all that a person needs to start travel hacking.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about travel hacking.

After taking the travel miles 101 class and reading many other blogs, the consensus card to start with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year.  The annual fee after that is $95 per year, but as part of the hack, you set it up to never pay that fee.

So, what do you get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card?  If you spend $4,000 in 3 months, you earn 50,000 bonus points.  Those 50,000 bonus points add up to some nice rewards. The redemption value is worth $625 in airfare, $625 towards hotels, or $300 in cash.

There are other nice benefits With the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  A cardholder will receive 2X points on travel purchases.  When you dine out, a cardholder receives 2X points on restaurant purchases worldwide.  Every other purchase equals 1 point per $1 spent.

Based on all of the suggestions, I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.   In order to hit the target of $4,000 to earn the points, I set up all of our monthly household bills to be charged to this card. Since it was November, it did not take long to hit the $4,000 with all of the extra holiday spending.

After I reached the $4,000, my wife opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  We followed the same plan and used the card for all of our bills and spending.  It took us less than two months for us to hit $4,000 on her card.

Now for the fun stuff.  It was time to redeem our points.  We decided that we wanted to visit Dublin, Ireland this summer.  To redeem the points, there is a portal to access the travel section on the Chase Dashboard.  It is as easy as booking a flight on any other travel website.

We decided to fly out of Philadelphia (PHL) and wanted a non-stop flight.  Based on the value of our points, these tickets were going to only cost us about $150 in out of pocket expenses.  Before we booked our flight, I decided to check if there was a cheaper flight out of the Newark Airport (EWR).  I typed in our travel dates and a round-trip ticket from Newark to Dublin on Air Lingus was only $605 per ticket.  We booked our flights and had points to spare.  It was that easy.

I do not know if travel hacking is for everyone.  If you are not good with paying your bills every month, travel hacking might not be for you.  If you end up with a balance and have to pay the high interest, the credit card company is actually hacking you.  You also need to have the required spend to earn the points.  If you do not spend enough to qualify, you should not just spend money you otherwise would not spend to just earn points.

Does travel hacking hurt your credit score?  I have only opened two cards, so I do not have any personal evidence to share with you.  Based on many other blogs, there is minimal change and most credit scores increase over time.  The most important thing is paying your balance every month.

If you are responsible paying your monthly bills and enjoy traveling, you should look into travel hacking.  Travel hacking also requires a person to be structured and to know when to close a card before the annual fees will be charged.  There are many great travel websites and points tracking tools like awards wallet to make the process easier.

I hope you found this post useful.  Moving forward, I will share our experience with every new card we open and hack.  Please keep your eye out for round two in the next few months.

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Should Millennials Contribute to a 401K?

No, that is not a rhetorical question.  I was having lunch the other day with my co-worker Jill.  Jill is an exceptional young woman.  Jill’s parents divorced when she was young, so she grew up in a broken home.  That did not stand in the way of her excelling in school.  She went on to earn a BA in Psychology from one of the best state universities in the country.  She is also considering going back to graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Jill and I have worked together for almost one year.  Jill was lucky because she was hired just a few months after she graduated from college.  She is a great employee, person, and is highly ambitious.

She told me that she developed her work ethic as a young teenager.  She said that growing up without a dad around, she had to work to help her mom pay the bills.  Jill started working at age 14 and has always had a job during high school and while in college.

When we were talking, she told me that when her parents divorced they had an agreement to give each child $40,000 towards their college education.  Her brother went to Notre Dame and the money he received from his parents covered about one year of his education.  Jill opted for a state university that was only a 2-hour drive away from her Mother.

Jill’s education cost her parents $30,000.  Her parents tried to be fair about the dollar amount.  After graduating college, her parents also bought her a used car for $10,000.  Even though she did not get to watch the Fighting Irish play football in South Bend, she still made out well.

During our lunch, she told me that she feels bad for her current roommates.  Most come from families that are more affluent than her family. However, they all have student loan payments that cost $700 or more every month.

She asked me my opinion about her situation.  Should she feel bad?  What should she do with the extra money she has compared to what her roommates have?  She said that she did not grow up with much and does not want to waste it.

I told her that she is in a fortunate situation.  She has a unique opportunity to save a great amount of money since she does not have any debt and her only large bill is her monthly rent.  I suggested that she pretends that she has as much student loan debt as her roommates and to contribute $700 per month to our employer’s retirement plan.

She asked me “Should Millennials contribute to a 401K”?

I told her that millennials should absolutely contribute to a 401K.  I said that she especially should because she does not have any debt to pay back or major bills.  These are the reasons why she should start contributing:

  • She is 22 years old and by starting at that age, she can be well on her way toward financial independence (FI) in 15 years or less
  • Our plan offers low-cost index funds
  • Our employer matches 100% up to the first 5% an employee contributes
  • The contributions lower her taxable income
  • The money grows tax-free and is not taxed until she withdraws it at retirement
  • She can take advantage of dollar-cost-averaging
  • She can enjoy the benefit of compound interest
  • If she gets a different job, she can take the money with her and roll it over into an IRA
  • Even though I would advise against it, she can borrow against her account if need be

I explained to her that time goes by very quickly and she has a golden opportunity to build some serious wealth for herself.  Unless she lands a government job, she will not have a pension.  She will need this money to support herself in the future.

Jill has a unique situation.  She is a young millennial without any debt.  What makes her even more unique is that she is a new college graduate without any student loan debt.

If you have student loans, you should still contribute to your employers 401K account.  Even if it is just enough to get the match.  After you pay down your debt, take the dollar amount that you were paying towards your loans and direct it to your 401K.

You might not get to Financial Independence as quickly as Jill does.  You will, however, get there if you take a few steps.  If you have debt, pay off your debt and don’t create new debt.  Save as much as possible.  Sign up for your employers 401K plan as soon as you are eligible.

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Note: This post was originally published as a guest post.  The post was moved here because it was not available to be read on dollardiligence.com. That site is no longer active.

Early Retirement: Removing Barriers

Many people dream of reaching early retirement.  Few people, however, are willing to do what it takes to make it a reality.  In most cases, to reach early retirement, a person must live differently from how the masses live.  People generally don’t want to be viewed as being different from their fellows.

The masses are living for the day, spending most of what they earn, landing in debt, and are in denial about their personal finances.  They have high hopes that their financial future will be secure.  Hope, however, is not a strategy.

To reach early retirement, a strategy is needed.  That strategy will require action and more action.  The primary objective of that strategy will be to first reach financial independence.  Financial independence is what enables people to retire early.  If a person is no longer working, the money to sustain their lifestyle needs to come from somewhere.  For most early retirees, that somewhere is their passive investments.

The path to being able to retire early is full of barriers.  Many are external like being able to maintain a budget while marketers are doing everything they can to get you to break your budget and buy whatever it is they are selling.  Some barriers are mental.  The purpose of this post is to identify a few of these barriers and to establish a plan of action to avoid them.

Ignorance

Most people are unaware of what is required when it comes to planning for an early retirement.  That is even true for those who have attended college.  People who hold a 4-year degree or beyond still struggle with doing what is required to escape having to work for a living.

When it comes to establishing a financial plan, many people truly do not understand what is required.  They feel that things will just work out like they have in other areas of their life like landing a good job or getting a mortgage to buy a house.  They are generally in denial about what is required to build a large enough net worth to sustain their desired lifestyle once they are no longer working.

The good news is that once a person decides to learn more about personal finance, there is an abundance of great information.  Once a person takes that first step towards learning about budgeting, saving, and investing, they have removed one barrier.  Once that barrier has been removed, they will discover that the basics can carry a person a long way.  The basics alone might be enough to carry some people to financial independence.

Procrastinating

Procrastinating is another barrier that stands in the way of reaching early retirement.  Not knowing about a topic is one thing.  Knowing and not doing anything is another.  To reach early retirement, it takes many years of earning a salary, saving a large percentage of that income, and investing it wisely.

The longer a person waits to start this process, the harder it becomes.  That is based on compound interest.  Let’s assume that an investor needs to have $1,000,000 saved to declare financial independence.  They also want to reach this milestone by age 50.

Based on an 8% percent return, if an investor starts to save $1,800 per month at age 30, it will take 20 years to reach their goal.   If they wait until age 40 to start saving, they will have to save almost $6,000 per month.  If they started at age 22, however, they would only have to save $900 per month.

When you are young, time is on your side.  The older you get, the harder it becomes.  Don’t procrastinate if your goal is to reach early retirement.

Not investing in stocks

To receive a return close to 8%, an investor will need to have a large percentage of stocks in their asset allocation.  Based on how investments are projected to perform for the next 10 years, an 8% return might not be reasonable.  Large-cap stocks are projected to earn 6.7% threw 2026.  For that same period, investment grade bonds are projected to earn 3.1%.

The average person has the tendency to shy away from stocks.  In the short-term, they are volatile.  Over long periods of time, they are one of the best wealth building investments for individual investors.

Instead of parking your money in a money market that returns 1%, consider adding stocks to your asset allocation.  A good place to start is to look at a balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% in bonds.  This allocation is popular because it provides growth from the stock allocation and the bond allocation reduces volatility when the stock market has a correction.  Another general rule of thumb is to invest (110 minus your age in stocks).  If you are age 25, you might want to consider having around 85% of your asset allocation in stocks.

Lifestyle Creep

Lifestyle creep is a form of inflation.   As a person advances in their career and their earnings increase, it is natural for their spending to increase.  As raises and promotions pile up, people have the tendency to upgrade their lifestyle.  Instead of saving more of their earnings, people buy bigger houses, fancier cars, and go on expensive vacations.

If there is lifestyle creep in your life, it is a major barrier between reaching early retirement and being stuck as a wage earner.  Lifestyle creep inflates how much money you need in your retirement account before you can retire.  In contrast, if you keep your monthly expenses low, the less you will need to be able to retire.

If you plan on withdrawing 4% from your retirement account, have $100,000 in annual expenses, you will need $2,500,000 in retirement savings.  For those who only have $40,000 in annual expenses, they just need to save $1,000,000.  The higher your annual expenses are, the more you need to have in retirement savings.

To avoid lifestyle creep, some management is required.  A solid budget is needed.  A financial plan is also a vital tool.  First, focus on the big expenses.  Keep your housing, transportation, taxes, and education costs low.  For example, live in your starter house forever, buy an economical car, live in an area that does not have high taxes, and take advantage of public schools and state universities.

If you can avoid lifestyle creep on the major expenses, you will have more money for savings.  This will also lead to less financial stress.  Instead of stressing to cover your bills that are always increasing, you will be able to better enjoy your life because there will be less demand for having to earn more and more.

Conclusion

For most people, the road to early retirement takes a long time.  It generally takes a couple decades of solid earnings, a high savings rate, and compound interest.  To achieve this ambitus goal, there are barriers that need to be identified and managed.

To be successful with personal finance, education is required.  The great news is that there is an abundance of good books, blogs, and forums that provide unlimited information.  A good place to start is the Resources page on this blog.

There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Most overnight success stories have been a fifteen-year work in progress.  If you want to be financially successful and retire early, start today.  It is not an overnight endeavor.

Without some risk, there will only be a little return.  Identify the correct mix of stocks and bonds for your situation.  Be sure to take your age and risk tolerance into consideration.

Manage your expenses.  The greater your expenses, the more money you must save and grow.  By keeping your expenses low, the less money you will need in retirement.

There will always be barriers that stand in the way of reaching early retirement.  Once they are identified, they can be managed and overcome.  Keep your eyes open for other barriers that might pop-up.  Be vigilant and stay focused and you will be sure to reach financial independence and retire early.

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Saving: The Foundation for Financial Success

Is your goal to reach financial independence?  Do you want to retire early?  If you have an ambitious financial goal, there are many things that you must do correctly.  For example, you need to always be working on improving your ability to earn more money.  You must live below your means.  You must invest wisely in stocks and bonds.  It is also important to take advantage of tax-deferred accounts like a 401K or IRA.  Yes, all those steps are important, but in my experience, having a high savings rate is the most important step to becoming financially successful.

I see savings as the foundation for being financially successful.  Without savings, there is no money to invest.  It is the foundation for one’s financial house to be built upon.  For a house to last, it needs a solid foundation.  If you skimp on the sand or mortar, the foundation will not be suitable to support the structure that you are dreaming about constructing.  If you are not saving enough money, you will not have enough to support a high quality of life when you retire and draw from your savings to pay your expenses.

Savings Rate

This will probably not come as a big surprise, but American’s are not saving enough.  The current national savings rate is just over 5%.  As recent as the 1980’s, the saving rate in the United States was over 10%.  If your goal is reaching financial independence and ultimately early retirement, a savings rate of 5% is not enough.  Even with compound interest, it would simply take too long to grow into a substantial enough nest egg to cover your living expenses.

How Much is Enough

In the classic personal finance book The Richest Man in Babylon, a savings rate of 10% is suggested.  I feel 10% is the bare minimum that the average American should be saving.  I do not think that is nearly enough if your goal is early retirement.  It might be suitable if your goal is to reach financial independence by age 65, but not if you want to retire at age 50.

If you are just entering the workforce, start by saving 15% of your salary.  Work on increasing that rate every year.  Try to increase it by at least 1% annually.  Increase it with every annual raise or bonus.

Spending

Spending is the opposite of savings.  Spending is the enemy of wealth creation.  Spending leads to lifestyle creep.  The more stuff you buy, the more stuff you will want.  There is always something new or better than what you own.

Marketers earn a living by trying to convince you to buy what they are selling.  When you see that your friends or neighbors have the newest products, you will want to upgrade your stuff too.  This is a vicious cycle without an end.

The secret to winning this game is to not play.  Every dollar that you spend puts you one dollar further away from financial independence.  On the other hand, every dollar you save goes towards buying your freedom.

Debt

Debt is created when you spend more than you earn.  Some debt is not as bad as other debt.  Student loans provide you with the funds to get an education to obtain the skills to earn a higher salary.  Taking out a mortgage enables most Americans to be homeowners.  You still must use extreme caution before you incur any type of debt.

Bad debt comes in the form of credit cards, auto loans, and payday loans.  All debt, however, prevents you from saving as much as you could be saving.  When you take on excessive debt, you become a slave to your creditor.  It is possible, but difficult to escape from the bondage of debt once you start to slide down that slippery slope.

Why Save So Much

Once you take on the mindset of a saver, you will never be a spender.  Personal Capital is a free online platform that is great for tracking savings.  That feeling of accomplishment of watching your savings grow is far greater than any new product that you can buy.

After you become a saver, you might notice a mental twist occur.  Once you reach a point in life when you could afford luxury cars and upgrade to a larger house, you will realize that you do not want to waste your money on any of that stuff.  Buying new stuff will become unimportant.  You will see it as being wasteful.

At that point, spending is viewed as an opportunity cost.  You will want your money to keep growing.  Financial independence will become the most import thing that your money can buy.  There is no product or service that is more appealing than having mastery over your own life.

As a saver, you will always be trying to optimize your spending and to live on less.  It is fun to try to stretch a dollar as far as it can be stretched. This mindset will greatly help you on your journey toward financial independence because you will need less money to live on.

For example, if you can live on $40,000 per year, you only need to have $1,000,000 saved based on a 4% withdrawal rate.  What about if you want to live on $100,000 per year?  You would have to have $2,500,000 in savings at a 4% withdrawal rate.  The more money you require, the further away you are from freedom.

Compound Interest

Compound interest works no matter what your saving rate is.  It is just math.  It just works better if you have a high savings rate.  For example, Joe saves $800 per month and Bill saves $2,000 per month.  Their savings both grew by 8%.

How much will Joe have in savings after ten years?  He will have over $147,000 saved.  That is a nice sized nest egg.  It is a solid foundation to build upon.  However, he is still a long way from financial independence.

How much will Bill have saved?  Bill will have over $368,000 in savings.  Bill is well on his way to reaching financial independence.  He is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As you can see, compound interest worked out well for both Joe and Bill.  Joe has a nice financial foundation.  Bill, on the other hand, has almost 10 years of living expenses stashed away assuming he can live on $40,000 per year.

Conclusion

Start saving early.  Save as much as you can.  Always try to save more.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are missing out on anything because you are saving too much.  Once you become a saver, you will have established the required foundation that is needed to fuel the wealth building process.

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How we reached a $1,000,000 Net Worth

What does it take to reach a $1,000,000 net worth?  In our case, it took a long time, hard work, saving a large percentage of our income, and putting our money to work for us by investing wisely.  Rob from Mustard Seed Money has a great post on how much you have to save each month to reach a $1,000,000 net worth.

I initially was going to title this post “reaching a $1,000,000 net worth by age 40”, but that would have been misleading.  Even though I was, in fact, age 40 when I reached this financial milestone, I did not do it alone.  Individually, I would not have reached this milestone.  My wife and I worked as a team and did it together, so I must give her the credit she deserves.

When we got married, I had over $100,000 saved up in my investment accounts.  As far as assets go, she brought our current house to the marriage. There was a mortgage on the house, but she had about $100,000 in home equity at that time.  By combining our assets, we started out with about $200,000 based on our investment accounts and home equity.

Career Growth

Over the past 10 years, we managed to double our household salary.  Considering that we both have college degrees, we never earned a large salary.  When we first got married, my salary was only $30,000 per year.  My wife was teaching for a few years and was earning about $50,000 per year.  In the past 10 years, our combined salaries have grown to over $150,000 per year.

Savings

When we first got married, our savings rate was 38% of our gross earnings.  We started by maxing out our Roth IRA accounts, I contributed 15% per year to my 401K, my wife contributed 10% to her 403B, and 8% to her defined contribution pension plan.  We also built up a large emergency fund and invested money in taxable accounts.

Every year, we have tried to increase our savings rate by 1% or more.  Our current savings rate is 50% of our gross earnings.  We still earn under the IRS threshold that allows us to max out our Roth IRA accounts.  I now work at a not-for-profit and max out my 403B.  My wife is close to maxing out her 403B and still contributes 8% to her pension.  We are happy with the size of our emergency fund and now just add to our taxable accounts.

Lifestyle Creep

We are always aware of how much we are spending each month.  While some lifestyle creep has occurred, we manage it well.  We travel, but do not fly first class or stay in 5-star hotels.  We buy reliable new or 1-year old certified used cars and drive them for over 12 years/200,000 miles.  We eat at home during the week and only go out to eat on the weekends.  We closely monitor the cost of monthly subscription expenses such as internet, electricity, Netflix, and other bills.  When we do spend money on needs or wants, we always shop around for the best value.

Investing

Our approach to investing has been very simple.  We have invested primarily in index funds.  Our asset allocation has been 25% in bonds and 75% in stocks for the past 10 years.  In the stock allocation, it was well diversified with large-cap, small-cap, and broad international index funds that included emerging markets. From 2007 until 2017, that asset allocation averaged a return of 10.5% per year.

Asset Breakdown

House (appraised in 2012): $220,000

PSERS Pension (Cash Value): $100,000

Taxable Accounts: $240,000

Combined IRA & 403B Accounts: $480,000

Other assets not included (cars, firearms, collectibles, jewelry, electronics, etc)

Debts

Mortgage Balance: $30,000

Monthly Expenses: $2,800

What’s Next

We have more work to do.  We have ambitious goals.  Our next goal is to reach $1,000,000 in investable assets.  We should be able to reach that in the next 3 years based on savings and historical returns for our asset allocation. We also want to pay off the balance on our small mortgage over the next five years.  Our goal is to have $2,500,000 saved by the end of 2028 (see the countdown to FIRE on the right margin).  To reach that goal, we have to keep up our savings rate and have our investments return an average of 6.5% per year.  That is well within reason with our current asset allocation of 65% invested in stocks and 35% invested in bonds.

Conclusion

The main purpose of this post was to share that it is possible to reach a $1,000,000 net worth by just being average.  My wife and I went to average universities, have average jobs, live an average lifestyle, and accept average market returns.  Yes, our savings rate is above average, but that too is possible for almost anyone to achieve if they create a solid financial plan.

If you want a more comprehensive list of steps to follow, check out The K.I.S.S. Approach to Financial Independence.  That is the foundation of our financial plan.  For more reading on reaching financial independence, please check out the Resources page.  It is full of a collection of great books, blogs, and forums that will provide you with unlimited wealth building information.

Where are you at on your journey toward financial independence?

Please share your financial milestones and what you did to achieve them in the comment section.

Planning on working until age 70?

Should you plan on working until age 70?  This suggestion has been surfacing in the mainstream financial media.  It is perfectly fine to work until age 70 or beyond.  It should not, however, be the age that your retirement planning is based upon.

Some people like to work.  It gives them purpose.  Work adds structure to the day.  For many people, it is their identity.  Their job is who they are.

Even if you truly enjoy your job, it is practical to have exit strategy in place.  Life happens, and changes occur on many different levels.  It is prudent to have a plan that enables you to exit the workforce sooner rather than later.

There are many reasons why a person should not set their target retirement age to 70.  Planning on working at such an advanced age is difficult because there are too many variables.  Below are some of the concerns that I have with planning on working until such an advanced age:

Financial Planning

If you set your target retirement date for your 70th birthday, it will have a negative impact on how you manage your finances.  It might even prevent you from creating a financial plan.  Savings will not be a priority.  Without an ambitious goal of retiring at a young age, the temptation to spend most of your money will win out every time.   The motivation to save a large percentage of your earnings for retirement will not be a priority while you are working.  It can easily lead to the mindset of thinking that retirement will never occur, you only live once, enjoy it while you are young, and other poor money management theories.

This mindset can easily lead to a financial disaster.  It would also be much easier to take on debt.  Spending leads to more spending.  If you must work forever, you might as well have a nice car, house, and other stuff to show for it.  You will be stressed from all that work, so two or three expensive vacations would provide just enough rest and relaxation to keep you motivated.

Health

Unless there is a major medical discovery, our time on this planet is finite.  Nothing lasts forever and that includes our ability to work.  As time goes by, we break down.  Everybody is different, but it happens to the best of us.  If you have a physical job like a construction worker, your ability to perform your job is shorter than if you have an office job.

Even though Office work is not physically demanding, it is not healthy.  Some say that sitting in front of a computer all day is as bad for your health as smoking.  In other words, sitting also breaks down the body from lack of exercise.  Along with our bodies, our minds are not able to manage stress and deadlines the way it did when we were young.  Our egos might not like to accept these facts, but it is just part of being human.

Family

As life goes on, our family obligations change.  Parents age and require more of our attention.  They might even require us to become their primary caregiver.

Children require attention past the age of 18.  Grandchildren are born and need to be cared for.  Daycare is expensive.  Your children might ask you to watch their children, so they can go to work and earn a living.  There are many family situations that could require a person to have to stop working much sooner than age 70.

Job Loss

What will you do if you get laid off in your 50’s, but your financial situation requires you to work until a much later age?  Recessions occur about every 10 years as part of the business cycle.  Some companies go out of business.  Some companies survive by cutting labor expenses to remain profitable.

Unless you have a tenured position, in many cases, the first employees to get laid-off are middle managers or older employees.  Loyalty is a thing of the past.  Just because you were loyal to an employer, it does not mean that they will be loyal to you.  Just because you want to retain your position, it does not mean that they will retain you.

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a real issue.  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer cannot discriminate based on age.  The protected age under Title VII is 40 and older.

Even though it is illegal to discriminate based on age, unfortunately, it occurs.  I have had to coach hiring managers and executives many times about this law and practice.  They do not set out discriminate.  They just tend to see younger prospects as being more budget-friendly and motivated than mature workers.

Just because you want to keep working, there is no guarantee that the type of work that you performed during the prime of your career will be available.  You might think that you can still perform at a high level.  The hard part is convincing an employer that you still can do it.

It is Not Fun Anymore

Even though you enjoy your job today, it might not always be that way.  Your assignment might change.  That great boss who supports your development takes on a new assignment and your new boss is a jerk.  The co-worker who you are friends with gets a new position.  The demands change.  The company is bought by a competitor.  There are countless things that can occur that can turn a good job into a terrible job.

What Age Should People Plan on Retiring

It is prudent to plan on being able to retire much earlier than age 70.  I would suggest setting a goal of having the option to retire by age 55 or younger.  That does not mean that you must retire at that age.  It simply means that you have the means to step away from work if you must.  By being financially independent, you simply have more flexibility for whatever life has in store for you.

By setting a younger retirement age, you will manage your finances more wisely.  It forces you to start saving a large percentage of your earnings as soon as you enter the workforce.  It will force you to spend less and avoid wasting money on stuff that you do not need.  It will also help you to avoid consumer debt like credit cards or auto loans.  It will force you to live and spend smarter.

If work is your passion, don’t give it up.  I hope that you can work until you are able to call it quits on your terms.  Never the less, life does not always work that way.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best.  That is why planning to work until age 70 is not a good plan.

I am Frugal, not Cheap

While my wife likes to tell people that I am cheap, I am just frugal.  I don’t like to spend money.  When I must spend it, it is like saying good-bye to a close friend.  Well, that might be a bit dramatic, but it honestly does sting some when we part ways.

When I do spend money, I seek out value.  I want the best quality product at the lowest price.  In the past, there have been times when I bought the lowest priced product, but the quality was not there.  Most of the products that I bought based on being the lowest price did not last long and had to be replaced.  I follow the German phrase: Weniger aber besser.  In English, that translates to: Less but better.

The internet has made finding value easier.  I am a big fan of reading product reviews.  I find that Amazon is a good starting point for most products because they seem to sell almost everything.  Amazon also tends to have the best price on many items.  When I am looking to buy a product,  I like to read 10 or 15 reviews and try to verify that the review was made by someone who bought the product.

I am a brand loyalist.  After I find a brand or product that I like, I stick with it unless they make changes that reduce the quality.  Two areas of where I display frugality by shopping for high quality at the best price are cars and clothing.

Since I live in Pennsylvania and use my car for work, I need a high-quality vehicle that is good in all weather.  A few years ago, I was in the market for a new car.  My Honda Civic had 212K miles on it and the clutch was shot.  I decided that I wanted to buy a Subaru Legacy.

When I started looking, I knew I wanted a certified used car, so I would not get hit with the depreciation costs.  I searched a 25 miles radius from my zip code on Cars.com.  One-year-old Premium models were selling for $24K with over 25K miles on them.

I decided to expand my search, I changed the search radius to 150 miles.  I found a one-year-old certified Legacy at a dealer in Philadelphia for $19,500 and it had only 9K miles on it.  We drove 2 hours to Philadelphia and traded in the Honda for the Subaru.  That car now has 130K miles on it and I will keep it for 3 more years.

I am not a clothes horse or a fancy guy.  My job requires that I dress business casual.  My position involves interaction with the public at career events, universities, and health care centers.  I don’t have to wear a suit, but I do have to look presentable.

For shoes, I have found that Johnson and Murphy are my favorite.  If you are not familiar with this brand, you might get sticker shock when you see the price.  However, I only buy them when they are on sale or at the discount outlets.  I will pay up to $100 for shoes that retail for over $150.  The reason that I am willing to pay $100 for these shoes is that they last.  I get 5-6 years out of them and they are comfortable.

For pants, I like Eddie Bauer.  I will not pay full price at the retail store.  Their website frequently has good sales on the athletic cut that I wear.  Just like with Johnson and Murphy shoes, these pants last a long time.  I don’t mind spending $50 on a pair of pants that will last 7-8 years of frequent wear.

For shirts, the Jos. A. Bank wrinkle-free travelers are my favorite.  Again, I will not pay full retail.  I wait until they have 3 for $99 and buy them then.  $33 for a wrinkle-free dress shirt is a good price.  These shirts are also long lasting and do not have to be ironed.

There are many other examples of how I am frugal and not cheap that I could write about.  For big-ticket electronics, I try to wait until Cyber Monday.  For sporting goods, I buy out of season.  For groceries, my wife used to cut coupons, but now we shop at Aldi.  For investing, we only use low-cost index funds.

While I have always been frugal, I am always looking for ways to get more for less.  By nature, I like to optimize.  Since I have officially joined the financial independence community, I have become even more motivated to reach financial independence by stretching our money even further.  The next frontier that I am planning on studying and implementing is travel hacking.

Please check out the “Frugal, not Cheap Challenge” chain gang: