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Balancing now for later...

November 21st, 2014 at 07:17 pm

Nika brought up a great point about enjoying your money now and later. That it's hard to find the balance between spending and saving. It really is. It's so very easy to get miserly and not spend money. At the same time it's also easy to go off on a spending spree and justify all your spending because you make $X.

So how do you balance spending now versus saving for later?

My thought, it depends on what your priorities are. Do you want to retire early? Do you want to have time with your kids now by staying at home? Or perhaps time later by retiring early? Can you never imagine retiring early because you want a certain lifestyle? Or do you feel obligated if you have kids to pay for college so retirement is out of the question?

There are so many choices and no one right answer. All of the choices above are valid. The choice you make is the one that will lead your financial decisions.

About a year ago when I submitted our financials to MMM blog for a reader case study, I realized that without knowing it we were mustachians. I also realized and confirmed that my DH and I bought wanted the financial security of being "financially independent" from working. He's still unsure about "retiring early" but my DH is completely on board with having money to say FU to anyone, anytime. To know that if we didn't have an income we'd still make it as a family. How did this realization affect us?

We have never lived up to our income and never been big spenders. But that realization that really living on a budget, curbing our spending, and watching every dollar meant we might be closer to "FIRE = financial independence early retirement" than we ever imagined. We had $462k in retirement, we now have in 9 months $519k. We had $163k taxable and $54k cash, now we have $167k and $58k cash and our liabilities has gone down to $3800 car payment gone in 6 more months. Also according to zillow (very underestimated) our house went from $609k to $647k, I am guessing more like $750k to be honest.

Are we there yet? Projections say no. But I do think that we are definitely closing in fast on a FI number but more importantly we are much more focused on becoming FI to decide what we really want to do.

Financial mish mash

October 24th, 2014 at 07:38 pm

I am a pretty boring investor. We just buy and hold. We don't actively invest, and I rarely look at the accounts and total them up because it'd probably give me white hairs if I did. Anyway though I guess I'll give some interesting updates.

In January we had $439k in retirement savings, as of today we have $500,444. However when I checked in mid-September (19th) we had $515,884. So it's going up but also come down.

Taxable accounts we started with $195k and are at $228k. Good savings, but more importantly it's not up as high because we've paid off a lot of debt. Starting debt was $27,800 in January 2014. Of which $11,800 was car loans 0.9%, $8k was 0% Credit Cards, and $8k in student loans at 1.9%. So as of today we owe $4900 on one car and $2330 on one 0% CC. We've paid off $20,500 of debt. It was just getting to us so we decided to start minimizing payments even though it didn't make financial sense. Accordingly our NW went up from $839k to $959k. I am hoping the year ends with our retirement solidly above $500k, taxable above $230k, and debt below $5k.

This month I also decided to start a spread sheet on tracking in depth my groceries and eating out. What I found is that I spent a lot more on eating out this month which caused my cooking budget to be super low. Our groceries currently with a week to go is at $282.05. Our eating out $282.28, which I usually don't break $300 (usually closer to $200) and our groceries have been running around $600 a month. And we are eating out at least 1 more meal for sure if not 2 this next week. Yikes!

I guess it's just that we ate out with friends more than usual. We ate out 7 times with friends so far this month and are planning on meeting up on Tuesday again. Socializing is tough on the pocket book.

I can't complain about this year. I think I may keep a running tally of my groceries and eating out which is easier in excel than mint. I also now stand in self-checkout lines at costco and bjs and track what is home stuff and what is groceries.

It's been awhile

September 19th, 2014 at 05:55 am

It's been awhile since I posted and I really need to write a bit more. Right now we are wrestling with whether to do a Roth 401k. It would mean we can save tax free but there is a 34% hit on savings. We'd have to save an extra $6k/year not a big deal, but I am more looking at the tax implications.

What if we withdraw it and it's lower? Should we have taken the tax break now? What if brackets go up? Obviously the tax brackets will get larger, but our deductions will go down as we age and the money will grow tax free. That means if we let it grow 15 years it'll double 2x by the rule of 7. So potentially we'll have another $750k saved or more. This is counting doubling of savings and assuming we are done working in 15 more years or by 50.

I'm leaning towards the Roth 401k for a couple of reasons. At most my DH has 2 years working for this company and where he moves to we may not have it offered. I don't know what the future hold but I suspect we might make more in the future since we are on one income.

Anyway though on a positive note our retirement accounts are at $515k so we reached our goal of the year to break $500k. Our taxable accounts have broken $220k and increased $25k/year and we've paid off $20k in debt. We paid off $4k car and $3k on the other (only $4800 left) we had the interest rate of 1.9% but decided we were tired of seeing the payments. We also paid off a CC we put my dental work on that was 0% $4k and still am paying on the lasik also at 0%. Both were on 24 months interest free but again I got tired of payments. Finally we paid off the last tiny bit of my super cheap 0.9% student loans $8k that I left hanging around.

Life is pretty good.

Struggling with my budget

August 23rd, 2014 at 08:20 pm

Overall I know what I spend monthly and we stay within our "monthly limits." I get $5k/month to spend on everything like mortgage, groceries, gas, eating out, utilities, preschool, activities. That's not the problem.

I've been using Mint since about March and trying hard to reconcile all spending. I've actually been pretty good. So where I fail? Well trying to figure out my actual budget categories.

I find easy to keep a running tally of my monthly spending by looking at my CC charges throughout the month. A lot of our spending is predictable and the same. What isn't is gas for cars, travel, and groceries/eating out. The travel I can sort of guess since we do 2 big trips a year. That I can't change more than looking for the best deals.

But groceries and eating out? I was pretty sure I knew what I spent monthly but I think I'm wrong. I'm obviously under budget monthly big picture. But I can't break down my category to $400 groceries and $400 eating out because I buy clothes and home supplies(paper plates, dish soap, etc), shoes, books, etc. Stuff that isn't groceries basically gets stuck in grocery budget so I haven't been able to get under my $400 I think I spend. Instead I've been blowing the budget category.

But at the same time what I thought I spent eating out was less, but when I started tracking every penny I thought it was because I spent so much more on groceries that we ate out less. Now I'm not so sure.

Overall we're not in terrible shape anyway you cut it. And until recently I've never been a true "budget" follower. I am naturally frugal and so is my DH. We've always had the meet A, B, C saving goals and we can spend D-Z. And since we've met we've done more big picture annual budgets where we say we have to save X amount and we have Y to live on (hence the $5k).

But now I want to see our spending to project our true future budget. I want to know where it goes really. I mean I have a firm handle on a couple of categories like insurance, mortgage, cable, cell, etc. But what are we spending on prescriptions? What are we spending on dr co-pays? I need to figure this out for our flex spend this coming year. We've always maxed it out since having kids because we just have had stuff come up (this year my eye surgery and dental). But we should be done with "major" work, what's our baseline? I have no idea.

How do people track every penny? When you have clothes, food, home supplies on the same receipt? What about being reimbursed by friends?

Third kid followup and married to a mustachian

June 5th, 2014 at 01:28 pm

Decided to summarize answers. I want a third kid now because I worry about getting older, birth defects, the usual nine yards. My DH is worried not about the short term finances and of course the normal long term financial hit college, weddings, cars, anything and everything.

So why am I short changing them as they get older? It's starting over, and our lifestyle has to go back to baby lifestyle versus older kids you can go biking, hiking, kayaking, camping, traveling, etc with. I admit we've just about hit the sweet spot with both kids and adding a third now would rock boat, but we're in the rhythm of babyhood. What if we wait and we don't want to go back? What if we wait and can't go back? What if we wait and realize that our life feels complete in 2 years that it doesn't feel now? I don't know.

But truthfully what really worries my DH? Finances in the mid-term. Short term we'd be fine, i'm home we make more than enough to survive and honestly if we didn't save as much he can chill. He is a little stressed out because he feels we don't save enough, but that's a completely different argument. Long term he is worried we won't make enough to afford college, weddings, retirement, etc for 3 kids versus 2. I think it'll work out.

But the mid term? This is the real kicker. In 6/2016 we agreed we are making a huge change in our life. We are selling our house that winter and leaving where we live. We are moving to the west coast without jobs if need be. We are going to live off of our savings, which will not be enough to retire. We will not have health insurance. We will have to buy some. We will not have unemployment or anything coming in. Our net worth will be dropping because we are going to be going NEGATIVE. We will only have outgo, no income.

Now things between now and 6/2016 can change. DH or I could get a job. He could get laid off and we get severance and unemployment. But we cannot predict those things.

So DH reason for not having a kid now is he doesn't want to add a mouth to feed, diaper, insure when we have no income in 2 years. If we were staying put we'd be discussing when to have another kid. If we had a job opportunity and were moving with guaranteed income, we'd talk more about our 3rd. But right now he said he feels as though we need to make sure we can provide for the 2 we have before we add a third. Having a third would also mean less time at night for job searching as he'd have to take on more of the childcare after we have 3rd.

My DH also said he still doesn't see himself retiring but he wants to be secure in the knowledge that if he were unemployed that it wouldn't matter. That we could live "retire" and not worry. Hence why he thinks we should be saving more and spending less. The fast we get to the point where we have enough to live, then the faster he'll feel secure.

Finally about cost of living and our jobs. I think BOS-NYC-DC, LA/SD/OC, SF and Honolulu are HCOLA in the US. These places taxes are high, condos start at $400k for a 1 bd, homes more in the range of $750k+ for small crappy homes. Then there is a second tier of costs like Seattle, Portland, Philly, Denver, NJ, Chicago, CT/VT/NH/RI, VA/MD, rest of CA. These places are cheaper I think condos start at $250k, homes $400k, and taxes are still higher than normal. But the homes are nicer even at the higher end the higher end of the HCOLA. Overall the cost of living I'd say is 20%-30% lower cost of living according to calculators and just looking at real estate in general. But ideally I think we should look at moving to Seattle or Portland.

That being said we're not quite able to buy a home cash. We're getting close but not quite. And even with a paid for home, my DH is hesitant because he thinks we are going to take a severe paycut. I don't believe the paycut is as severe as he thinks. He also believes it'll be very, very difficult to land a job. I'm sure it won't be easy but I don't know the job markets of those areas.

Perhaps I'm wrong and he's right but he feels that most people in business make $50k. With an MBA $80k, where we live. He thinks if we move he'll be lucky to land a job making $75k. I showed him the numbers according to what we pay now we're going from paying $45k in taxes federal and state, to if we make $100k or less nothing in federal taxes with 2 kids. So off the top assuming we make half of what we make now half of the difference goes away to taxes. Yes we save the other half but still.

Making less = need to save less. But he's still worried we should be saving the same proportion. His argument that our house because living in a HCOLA we'd buy a $1M home versus $500k if it goes up 10% you make more on the more expensive house. True, but you have to struggle making payments! And often in HCOLA people are paying 30-50% of their net on housing.

I find it interesting that my DH was always mustachian before it became a word. Apparently though he never intends on retiring he always planned and hoped to be financially independent before it was popular. Me? I had no idea we even had a chance. But perhaps this move will derail us. I don't know.

But until then we'll keep chatting about jobs, third kid, etc.

Making bad financial decisions

June 4th, 2014 at 07:25 am

I have a friend in a very difficult situation. She and her husband are going to divorce eventually. They have three kids and I can't say I blame her. Long term cheating is the reason (4 years), but she's trying to get her life in order to leave.

I suggested that she really organize herself and finances before saying she wants a divorce. But it's hard obviously she's a stay at home mom, and she needs to get her license reinstated to work. She used to be a mental health counselor. I think she's a good person but seriously she's terrible with finances and I don't know if she can ever get herself righted.

She spends money like it's water. She only shops at whole foods and throws away food left and right. She said yesterday "I need to stop buying precut fruits and make an effort to cook dinner." I suggested buying frozen dinners and start from there to get into the habit of cooking, then learn after getting used to cooking.

But the real trouble? Both she and her husband make a ton of bad financial decisions and have no idea how much money they make or have.

Bad decisions
1. Bought a new to her Mercedes Diesel SUV 7 seater. Got a loan because she said they needed credit.
2. Spends on a credit card and just makes payments to have room to spend more.
3. Doesn't file taxes so her husbands paychecks are garnished by IRS for no payment.

Because she wants to leave I suggested to her that perhaps she start by collecting all paperwork to figure out how much money they make. And to file taxes. I even offered to help. I told her go around her house and collect any remotely financial paperwork.

But then she does things like get plastic surgery, go on week long yoga retreats to Belize; while saying she can't afford preschool for her kids. That paying $5k/year, what I pay for mine is too much. I couldn't help myself but I said one week in Belize cost more than $5k. She said it did. So right there was preschool tuition.

I don't know if she'll be able to get her act together. I don't know how to advise her to get on a budget or even to know what they make. Her husband gives her a cash allowance. She asks him for money when she needs it. Sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not.

She really has no idea about her financial house. I'm not even sure where she should start. Her husband works construction half the year. Then has his own business as a mechanic and plows snow in the winter. He has a shop but she has no idea how much he makes.

If she wants to leave him she needs to get her finances in order. But it will be a long process. I hope she can get herself pulled together.

Tips or ideas for someone really bad with money? I do worry about her and really have suggested that I help her with mint or just sorting paperwork. But the truth is that she says she'll get to gathering paperwork but never does.

Can you afford your house and car?

May 30th, 2014 at 05:26 am

So a long, long time ago my mom said something that often resonated with me. She talked about people affording the expensive homes and flashy cars. My parents are those millionaires next door and so are my in-laws. And my parents are also the people who spend money like water, but have always out earned stupid. They've made so much money that it's never mattered how they spent it.

But my mom still preached financially responsibility and buying what you can afford. She said it's not bad to buy a big home or luxury vehicle if you can afford it. The problem is? Affording it. Really affording it. Not affording it on a shoe string.

Sure you can afford the monthly note on either a $500k home (this was a long time ago) or $50k car. But what happens when you need to repair it? Why would anyone want to buy a $500k McMansion and then have to clean it themselves? To really afford a house that big and expensive then you should have enough fat in the budget to hire someone to clean it. Be able to hire someone to fix something if breaks. You shouldn't be worrying about every little repair because if so you can't afford the house. The house is more than the payment monthly.

Same with the car. Her example was if you are sweating buying $400 tires for your luxury car then why did you buy it? Or $1k repair? Did you not realize the car is more than just the payment? Or the more expensive the car, typically the more expensive the repairs? We're not talking older versus newer car but rather brakes on a Toyota versus brakes on the Lexus.

That got me thinking that I would always try to underbuy what we could really afford so I'd have lots of fat in the budget to deal with all the extras. That I could own my house and car and take care of them and not worry they would rule my budget. That the next repair was too expensive and I'd put it off.

Turns out my mom gave good advice. Did you overbuy?

the long boring road

May 15th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I'll start by breaking down our pretty boring path down savings lane. High income helped and it did increase a lot, but we do live in a very expensive area with lots of expenses. That'll be another day, another post.

Income let me explain that in 2000 when we met I had landed a job paying $25k and DH started out in graduate school making $18k. Yes we were living in sunny Southern California being pretty poor. Trust me our "rent" for a one bedroom was $900/month. I moved to LA and lived in bachelor apartment, apartment without a real stove or fridge for $750/month. Basically 2 stovetops, a microwave, and a bar fridge. So you can imagine $40k in CA is not $40k in Texas. Definitely below what you seriously needed to live well, thank god we were young and healthy and had health insurance. And we had car loans and student loans. We were young and in love. However since 2004 I can look at our joint tax returns and see some of the story.

2000 - $20k maybe?
2001 - $43k
2002 - $43k
2003 - $35k - I started graduate school at $20k salary
2004 - $39,562 - OMG maybe we didn't break $40k those years before!
2005 - $147,728 - company paid relocation taxable income
2006 - $111,289 - company benefits added to taxable income
2007 - $92,417
2008 - $106,390
2009 - $112,790
2010 - $143,487, single income had DK1
2011 -$172,303 - $25k Rollover IRA to Roth conversion
2012 -$196,459 - $25k Rollover IRA to Roth conversion, added DK2
2013 - $200,524

So yeah our income has gone up a lot, 5x what we made when I have my first pdf tax return. We've maxed out since 2006 DH 401k and two IRAs.

As you can see below starting when the market was terrible in 2006 it was not hard to see balances going up but going down since we were saving more than it went up. But we stayed the course period.

Savings - Retirement, Cash
2005- $6500, $13762
2006- $34,782, $23,296
2007- $67,785, $18,680
2008- $74,245, $4,441 - started paying MBA cash, considering we were adding $25k to retirement a year not including company match and it went up $6k...ugh
2009- $117,055, $4,798 - also not really tracking our cash in EF/taxable accounts until 2012
2010- $196,398, $5,060
2011- $232,534, $3,968
2012 - $302,841, $90,924 - started tracking better
2013 January - $396,055, $74,496
2014 January - $439,650, $218,816

Have you changed our spending? Not really. But we did start really making steep savings. Our mortgage is another topic for another day.

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