Expenses Goal – from $100k+ to $60k

You spend how much?

When I first started reading about financial independence, I came across this post from Mr Money Mustache from 2011 entitled: Exposed! The MMM Family’s Actual Spending. 

This was the bottom line:

Total of Everything: $30,500
Total excluding Mortgage: $26,885

How does my family compare, I wonder? (family of 4 vs 3). Holy crap, I nearly fell off my chair when I discovered that from 2012 – 2015 we spent over $100k per year. WHAT!? Why?! I mean sure we moved, we got 2 cars for the first time ever ($16k total, cash), got kids on private school (no more as of next year as they are older and can attend public school), furniture for our new house, and some fancy pants vacations without caring for miles or points usage for the most part, etc. Still what the heck were we doing?!

Our incomes (here) at that point were not even CLOSE to sustaining this lifestyle. Thank goodness I found that blog and re-focused myself (to be fair, I was having some serious post partum depression and was getting my act together, so I had other things on my mind. Now I am totally ready, no excuses!).

After picking my jaw from the floor, I started reading every possible financial independence blog (these ones my favorites) and sat down with my husband to make a plan. We immediately cut out things that were not essential (cable, for example), starting making most of our meals at home vs eating or ordering out and called our insurance company to negotiate a better rate, which we got.

We created a path that would allow us to live more frugally. Much like when running, we did not want to go from 5 miles to a marathon in a day, so we set out to do a plan that would allow us to cut expenses gradually so that we could adjust to our new (hopefully sustainable) habits without that much pain.

The Goal

We have a pretty solid plan for saving and investments, but now we needed a goal for ourselves for the next 5 years in terms of spending. Here is where we landed (as of Summer 2016). We pledge to spend (ignoring inflation):

  1. $80k in 2016We beat this! We came in a little under $75k!
  2. $75k in 2017 – Barely, but achieved!
  3. $70k in 2018 –  Failed! $75,575. $75k seems our ideal expense range!
  4. $65k in 2019
  5. $60k in 2020

I will update our progress as we go, where we cut, what hurt and what was easy. I am fairly confident we can hit $80k and $75k this year and next  – but I am seriously questioning our ability to go lower than that. I know this is very doable when reading other blogs out there, but you know, I like my traveling and first world privileges.

Will we make it? Will we totally fail or quit? Let’s see how far we can go! Check our our progress reports here.

For further inspiration, I keep checking Justin’s Root of Good amazing posts like these  which put my expenses to shame….

How about you, what is your goal?!

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Resources

Summer 2016.

Travel Resources:

Here are a great list of travel blogs and sites that you may enjoy in regards to traveling, specifically with a family.

Want to learn about points and miles? Check out Million Mile Secrets and The Points Guy.

Overwhelmed with credit card/miles and don’t know where to start? I started with Marriott Card (best benefit is 7 nights + x amount of miles to most major airlines), Chase Sapphire Card and Starwood American Express (not sure how much longer this one will be around). These seemed the most flexible for me until I learned more.

Hotels.com and Rocketmiles.com for hotel reservation if you are not using a specific travel rewards card or hotel chain.

Car rental? Try  Autoslash.

Different ways the world talks about Continents. The 5 to 7 Continent models.

College Planning:

If you are just getting started investigating 529s and general cost of college, I encourage you to start here. Probably the best site I found so far. It helped me a lot with my initial planning.

Financial Independence:

Getting started on your own path to financial independence? I encourage you to watch this eye opening PBS documentary called The Retirement Gamble. Then, take a read through these articles, which I re-read often for encouragement. Why “Earn More” vs “Save More” Is The Wrong Debate, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Retirement, Zero to Millionaire in Ten Years, How We Reached Financial Independence in Our 30s, and A Millionaire Is Made 10 Bucks at A Time.

The blogs that I mention here are the ones I most often read regarding early financial independence.

For a very simple how to guide for saving and investments, I really love this The Simple Path to Wealth. I particularly love that he is writing this to leave as a manifesto for his daughter. He also writes about rent vs own issue very eloquently. Another excellent article on rent vs buy by Afford Anything blog here.

The Mad Fientist is also filled with all sorts of great information and tools. And this blog post on The Road to financial independence is a great read.

Financial Management:

I use mint.com to track my day to day spending and Personalcapital.com to track my investments and assess my 401k plan fees.

As for investing, I am partial to Vanguard index funds.

Simple yet effective interest calculator.

Inflation calculator.

Teaching kids about money resources

The Goal

Alright, so I gave you context as to where I fall in the financial independence range. Now, I present you the goal (Summer 2016):

The Goal

  • Years to financial independence: 12
  • Investable Assets: $3.1 million (today’s $2.2m equivalent, with 3% yearly inflation)
  • Debt: Zero (inclusive of mortgage and car)
  • Annual Spending: $75k for retirement ($107k equivalent then with 3% inflation). See accumulation year expense goals here.
  • College Savings:  $100k each 529 account $75k in 529s plus $100k in post tax accounts by the time they reach college (total, not per child).
  • Travel After Reaching Goal: Sell everything we have and go live anywhere in the world as a way of living, currycracker style!

Here is my starting point (past yearly incomes and current assets), and here is what we need to do to achieve our goals and how we plan to do it, including all our assumptions.

Lastly, we do have will and life insurance plans here, which will change as we grow. Below is the graphical representation of the plan – you can follow actual progress here.

The purple numbers represent where I was October 2016 when I started tracking this way and what I consider a ‘prep’ year for the plan. From 2017 onward it will be tracked from day 1 hopefully.

fire-plan-vs-actuals

debt-repayment

Let’s get to work!

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Progress Report

Where is the money, Lebowski?!

Alright, the moment of truth. How are we doing against our plan?

Starting point – 2001 – 2015. I did not track in this detail but at least I have records of income for every single year.

End of 2015

Progress Report:

  • Assets: Guesstimate $250k (ish)
  • 529 balance(s): Around $5k
  • Expenses: Over $100k per year
  • Income (Pre tax): $188k (Year by year income info for last 15+ years, here).
  • Debt: $185k (mortgage, solar panels and gasp ‘new’ car!).

2015 dumbest financial mistake: Buying a new car. Yes, I know…At least it is zero percent for 7 years and we enjoy the great mileage for our long travel trips by car.

2015 best financial move: Maxing 401k for the first time (one of us) and paying off student loans. Yay!


June – Dec 2016 (cumulative):

Income* Expenses Assets 529s Debt
June $84.6k  $41.3k  $317.5k  $18k  $144k
July $98.9k $46.8k $333.5k  $26.5k  $142.8k
August $113.8k  $52.2k  $346k  $31.6k  $141.9K
September $127.7k $57.9k  $355.4k  $34.2k  $140.2k
October $141.8k  $63.8k  $354.2k $38.7k $138.6k
November $157k  $68.6k  $371.8k $44.3k  $135.4k
December $175.1k  $73.7k  $388k  $50.4k  $134.9k
Goal $165k $80k $360k $50k $135.3k

*Income is post-tax and post 401k, HSA and medical deductions. Expenses include mortgage and car payment. Assets are liquid only, they exclude home value (about $275k),  529 accounts are combined (we have one for each child), and debt includes mortgage (15 year, 11 to go, 3.75%) and car (zero % interest, 6 years to go).

2016 highlights – Got a promotion in Q2 (yay!), maxed one 401k already (but sadly match will then come via true-up next year).


July 2016 gave us a jump of $16k in assets and $8.5k on 529s, with a combination of market appreciation and savings. Woot! This month was particularly good because I got 3 paychecks, so we contributed $6,225 towards assets (pre and post tax), and $9,775 came from market gains. As for 529s we added $8k towards our accounts, with about $500 dollars market gains. Reminder, for the 529s we are super funding until the end of the year then easing up significantly and focusing on post-tax accounts instead.

Our expenses were pretty controlled as well for us ($5.5k), which is nice, but we are doing some traveling in September so I am bracing for that month’s final numbers.


August 2016 was pretty solid. The income side of the equation helped a lot ($14.9), as one of us received an extra paycheck and a significantly larger amount of over time than usual. We don’t expect any more of that through the rest of the year, rather the opposite as November and December usually bring in some unpaid time.

Our assets grew by $12.5k ($9.4 were adds, $3.1 market gains) and 0ur 529 accounts grew by $5.1, where $100 of that amount was gains vs $5k of additions.

Expenses were pretty decent ($5.4) considering we had to pay car taxes and inspection and extra activities for kids before starting school. We kept groceries under $500, and restaurants about our usual $240, not bad for us. This expense level should keep us on track for the under $80k goal by end of year even though September will come in high due to travel plans. Most importantly, this is helping us slowly adapt to spending levels that are more aligned with our lower, future goals without feeling like we are making any drastic life changes.


September 2016 was a little scary for a bit in the market but then bounced back (so far!). I am bracing myself for more crazy in the coming months. A huge highlight this month is that we maxed out our other 401k, woot!

Our assets grew by $9.4k while expenses came in at $5.8k (very good considering our trip that took about $1.5k of that! creating habits is REALLY working!). Our college funds grew a bit less than normal as I contributed only $2,650, and the earnings stayed pretty flat otherwise.

Debt is getting there, I contributed a few extra hundred bucks, but is still not making as much progress as other areas, and that is ok as it is by design.

All in all – three months to go, almost at goal in some areas, very exciting!

On track for EOY goal. Final goal details, here.


October 2016 Our income is going as expected, also, we are actually getting in better spending habits and feel very comfortable and confident that we will be able to go under $80k by the end of the year. Also, we remain on track for putting $50k on our kids 529s (combined) though we may end with a little lower balance as who knows what the market will bring to close the year, and, since we have over a decade to go, we have it in pretty aggressive investments. Regardless, we are done putting money there by end of year. Similarly, our debt repayment is on track, what we like to see!

For the not so good news, for the first time since starting this blog our assets are lower than the previous month despite adding quite a bit of money in there. That is ok though – it was expected AND we did increase our cash holdings to about $7.5k of that money (we had virtually zero before that) and we are still on track to hit that $360k by year end unless something dramatic happens.


November 2016 Incredible month. We are OVER our asset goals for the year with one month to go.

I am most excited about our expenses. Even though we bought a bunch of Christmas stuff, we still spent about $4.8, which is quite good for us. Our income was $15.2 this month, and we added a healthy amount to our 529. I made a small extra payment to debt so we will likely end up the year a couple hundred dollars under (positive for us) our original goal for debt balance. Woot.


December 2016 We did it! We met and even surpassed every single one of our financial goals. It has been a remarkable journey already and the realization that with a little focus things can really change dramatically. While I am impressed with all our metrics, the one that stands out for me is the expenses. Sure $74k is a lot of money to spend for a lot of people, but we were at the 100k+ when we started this journey in yearly spending, so that is a pretty big deal for us. For 2017, we aim to keep a similar spending limit, and hope that it feels extremely comfortable now that we have gotten a few months of practice at this spending level.

It is also relieving to have met out 529 goals for our kids. Since we were heavily front-loading there, we will now be able to turn our focus on maximizing our savings for our post tax and retirement accounts, towards our FIRE goal. It is so encouraging to start seeing fast progress, despite knowing that a lot of this was due to a crazy market which may correct at any point. That said, we are in for the long term and have created habits that we think will get us to our goals, as long as we don’t have any major set backs in our income category or unexpected expenses.

Hope you all had a successful 2016 also and that 2017 brings more growth on all fronts!

2016 Lessons Learned and Plan Forward.

 

 

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The Plan & Assumptions

Savings & Returns Needed

Starting point documented, now what? Well, we will need to save about $140k per year at an average return of 5.5% for 12 years in order to achieve our goal and get to $3.1 million (adjusted inflated $2.2 million in today’s dollars), with $360k investible assets as a starting point by the end of 2016 (on track for that).

Yikes.

You know, 5.5% return did not seem unreasonable at all too long ago, but these days, I am thinking we are lucky in the 3-5% return range. I may have to make adjustments to the plan along the way to stay on track, lower my retirement expense expectations or work longer. Womp. I guess there is always this extreme... (kidding!).

This also assumes that we will have $140k to save and invest yearly and our employment situation and expenses are sustainable until then.

Because life and circumstances change, this plan will be adjusted as needed. You will get to come in that journey with us, if interested.

How will my husband and I accomplish this?

Here is the current plan. For 2016, the goal is to end  the year with $360k assets and establish our baseline (the year we decided we are working formally towards financial independence). For 2017, this is how we plan to achieve our yearly goal:

  • Max out both 401k plans ($36k)
  • Retirement company match ($16.8)
  • Max HSA ($6.75 (company adds 1k of that))
  • RHSA ($1.5 (750 of that is company matched))
  • Brokerage Account ($70k)
  • Bonus saving ($9k)

Total investments 2017:  $140,050 ($121.5k from our own pocket, rest company matched).

Income

Currently we are at around $240k base salary plus $30-40k on variable comp, yearly (combined). Note that this excludes company matches and benefits (insurance, etc).

Expenses

The one area we will need to focus on the most is our spending. Looking at 2012-2014ish expense reports (that I used to track on an excel sheet but without having any financial goals per se), we were spending over $100k a year each year.

Wow! That included two car purchases, a home purchase (that needed furnishing), a big move, solar panels (5kw) and private tuition for two but that is still a little ridiculous. What were we doing?!

I noticed 2016 started off in that direction expense wise. Thankfully,  we quickly intervened and adjusted expenses (thanks to all the FI blogs out there for ideas!) and are on track (though barely) to end 2016 with under $80k in expenses. Mint.com tells me we spent $41,373 from Jan-June 2016 so in order to meet our goal by end of year we need to tone it down a tad more.

The goal for 2017 will be to keep expenses under $75k, inclusive of $12k for travel. At least we are done with private schools, that should help!

This is all doable (if nothing majorly unexpected happens) but definitively a stretch!

Assumptions

When creating our financial independence (FI) plan, we looked at many variables and assumptions. I will list and explain my thoughts on each below while providing helpful links for your own research on the same.

1. The Number: You heard it before. What is ‘your number’ to become financially independent? For us that number currently stands at $2.2 million dollars in today’s money + our paid off home (assuming $300k min when selling then). We aim to save 65-75+% of post tax income to achieve this goal and use a more conservative withdrawal rate assumption than often advised.

2. Inflation:  Sadly, inflation needs to be considered too, womp, womp. In 12 years, assuming a 3% yearly inflation rate (may be a little high, who knows, given the crazy world we have these days) we would need $3.1m to have the same purchasing power of $2.2m today! Here is one of my favorite simple calculators if you want to check your own numbers.

3. Yearly Expenses: When we retire, we would like to have $75k a year for spending, in today’s dollars. This will be the equivalent of about $107k a year in 12 years with the same 3% inflation assumption.

4. Life Expectancy:  Who knows. I am just going to go with ‘have enough money until we are both 110’ as worse case scenario. Not planning on leaving inheritance to kids either – sorry kids, enjoy your bucket full of loving memories and lessons learned instead!

5. Social Security Benefits: While most experts I have read believe that by the time my husband and I reach regular retirement age there will still be some SS funds available (even if at a reduced benefit amount) and we will make some adjustments to fund the program, I am  not counting on it, at all. When it comes to our own retirement safety net, it seems “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley.

6. Health Insurance: Another unknown, especially as we plan to be nomads. The only planning done for this so far is to try to remain healthy and also assume that, while our kids expenses will go down after they are on their own, our health costs may go up.  We think this is a wash and assuming we will spend the same in retirement as we do in our accumulating years.

7. Withdrawal Rate: I am not going to write about the 4% rule, since it has already been documented extremely well in many places. Here is an example and a different perspective here.  Our approach will include three guiding principles: a) starting guideline at 3 – 3.5% rule (vs 4%), b) start our first couple of retirement years in a lower cost of living area (which may require only 2-3% as starting point), c)  watch the market and make adjustments when the time comes.

8. Tax Code Assumptions: We will split our investments in tax sheltered accounts (IRAs, 401k accounts) and post-tax brokerage and savings accounts. We hope that tax rates remain relatively the same and that we can still use the IRA to Roth laddering conversion strategy in order to be able to minimize taxes when we are done working. Two excellent posts on the topic can be found here and here. These are big ‘ifs’ however, given our current country’s debt burden and other pressures, so we will have to wait and see.

9. Investment Allocations & Fees:  I like simplicity and follow a very basic investment strategy. Like most FI bloggers I am partial to index funds from vanguard. I plan to hold about 80% of our assets in stock index funds and 20% on bonds and or alternatives. I aim to have fees, on average, under .06% and will consider them within my withdrawal rate strategy each year. Those can really add up!!

10. Rent vs Buy: We currently own a home (paid $240k in 2013, mortgage balance $115k, August 2016) and aim to finish paying off it off when we reach financial independence. At that point we plan to sell and be renters for life.  Why? Go Curry Cracker already stated it well, so if you are interested check it out directly. I also really enjoy this article on the same topic by jlcollinsnh. We are not interested in buying real estate for resale or to rent – we have done both things before on a small scale and, while profitable if done right, we and are not interested in the work involved. Thumbs up to lazy investing!

11. Debt: We are assuming we will be completely debt free by the time we retire. Currently, mortgage and the (unnecessary) car I recently brought are our only outstanding debt. That said, we have plenty of years to go, an aging house and growing kids! We started adding a small savings cushion for home repairs and unexpected things, so let’s hope that this covers it should we need to go there.

Conclusion

I had a pretty sweet life so far with a great combination of hard work, play and travel. Now, my focus has turned to being financially independent as soon as I can (while still living in the now) so I need to save a ton of money diligently and invest simply (index funds, low cost) with patience for about a little over a decade. To get me there, I am tracking my progress diligently, which you can see here.

To keep me even more motivated and engaged, I asked to be added to the Million Dollar pledge from Budgets Are Sexy. Let’s do this!

Million Dollar Club

 

 

 

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