Finally Met With a Financial Adviser

Well, after 46 years of doing it on my own, I thought I’d take advantage of my company’s program that has financial advisers come around to each campus to meet with employees for a free consultation. I’ve never actually sat down and met with someone to review our finances before so this was kind of a big step. I guess I was more comfortable sharing it with everyone on the Internet instead. While I’ve felt good about our overall circumstances, I’ve often found myself second guessing what we are doing and wondering if we should do something different. As most PF bloggers will tell you, it’s best to seek out the advice of a “fee only” financial adviser/planner and I’ve just never felt like I wanted to spend the money to do that for fear that they wouldn’t be able to offer me too much advice and I wouldn’t get my money’s worth. This financial adviser is not paid on any recommendations he gives us (He’s basically just paid a fee to talk with employees) so I felt pretty good about listening to what he had to say.

So, last week I made an appointment to meet with “John” for 30 minutes in the building that I work in. Prior to the meeting I had made a quick spreadsheet that showed each of our investment accounts and how much we have in each stock, index fund etc. I wanted John to get a good view of how we have our assets spread out because I think that’s the main area that I could use some assistance. I wasn’t expecting any huge discoveries, mainly because I’ve been using the automated tools available in my 401K plan as a baseline and have followed the general strategy that’s discussed on personal finance sites to use low cost index funds for the majority of your portfolio. I’ve never actually changed my allocations based on the 401k automated tool recommendations because they usually only tell me to adjust each position by a few percentage points. So, when I met with John, I wasn’t surprised to hear him say that everything looked good and that I should just keep chugging along with what I’m doing. We talked about tax bucketing (which we’ve been doing by investing in pretax, after tax and ROTH accounts), various investments that might be worth a look, and then spent a bit of time talking about the overall economy and geopolitical events that might drive the market. I really enjoyed the conversation and found that I had a lot of the same views and opinions as John. The one comment that he made that has really stuck with me was when he was looking over our total net worth and said, “We’re the same age and I don’t even have half what you do.” He also asked if we had received a windfall or something to help increase our overall net worth. I said, “Nope. We started at zero and have just been saving every two weeks for the last 20 years or so.” It felt really good to see that John was impressed with what my wife and I have built over the last 15-20 years. While it hasn’t really been a struggle to do what we’ve done (the main thing was just staying employed through the ups and downs), I have questioned myself along the way and wondered if we’d ever build a large enough nest egg to be able to retire comfortably. John also said that we could pretty much coast the rest of the way until we retire but that’s no way to finish this! I’m going to continue to aggressively save as long as we can. As a mid 40’s IT employee, I know that my company could decide I’ve “aged out” and send me to the curb any time. I’d rather be as prepared as possible for when that time comes.

On the net worth front, not much has changed over the last month. With the fluctuations in the market I think we are basically flat overall for the month. I’ll take it. I’d much rather buy my new shares every two months when the market is down a bit!

As the Stock Market Turns – Our Net Worth

It’s been a bit since I last updated our net worth. The January figures over to the right represented how we were doing at the beginning of January 2018. By the end of January or so, we saw our net worth climb to JUST over $1.7M. What an amazing milestone for us. I never imagined we’d actually be able to attain this level by just doing what everyone says we should do: Spend less than we make and save the difference in low cost index funds and things like that.

I’m here to tell you, it WORKS! So, once we hit that awesome milestone we proceeded to see our NW drop. Sometimes that just happens. Nothing to worry about. I’ve actually been rooting for a market pull back so I can get a few purchases in at better prices. I suppose a trade war might give me just the opportunity I’m looking for, although I think it’s pretty idiotic.

As of March 6th, our net worth is $1,669,821. We’ve dropped about $31K from our peak in late January but are actually up overall from the beginning of January with about a $24,000 increase. Works for me!

I’m continuing to dream of retiring early but I find myself thinking, “As long as I can stand it at work, they are paying me an absurd amount of money so I might as well just keep chugging along.” The reality is that I’d like to keep building our net worth so that we can help our child more through school and to get a good start in life. Since we only have one child, we are able to do a lot more for her. She is very interested in medical school so, while we’ve saved just about enough for her to get a bachelor’s degree with no debt, we haven’t even begun to save for her medical school. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel any obligation to help her pay for medical school, but I think it would be a small sacrifice to use some of our income to help her get through it all without amassing a ton of debt. We’ll just have to make sure she feels really grateful so she can help change our diapers and fund an extravagant lifestyle for us when we get really old…… Seems like a fair trade.

January Net Worth Update

2018 is finally here.  We’re approaching my favorite time of year from a financial standpoint.  In February my wife and I both get our annual bonuses and in March we get our raises for the year.  Along with those, we usually get some amount of money back from our taxes (although I try to minimize that) and we also get our credit card reward certificate from our Costco Citi Visa.  It turns out I’m a fan of easy money.

Our net worth continues to increase on a monthly basis and I continue to be absolutely amazed at how much it’s going up month over month.  I keep saying that this can’t go on forever and I truly believe that, but we’ll take it in the meantime.

Our new net worth figure is $1,645,008.  I really love using two commas!  That’s an increase of $55,887 in a little over a month.  (I think the Nov figure on the sidebar was late November).  I still can’t believe we’ve gotten our net worth to this level.  Not bad for a lower middle income kid who has paid his way through life with very little assistance. (Acknowledging I had a happy, safe childhood where we always had food on the table, even if it was hot dog casserole now and then.)  Looking back at January 2017, we had a one year overall increase of about $330,000. WOW That’s just crazy!  That’s far more than we made in the year at our jobs, that’s for sure.  Money really does make money.  No wonder the truly wealthy have it so easy!

Obviously the next milestone I’m looking for is the $2M in net worth.  That’s a ways off but it’s the next big one for us.  I’ll be 47 this year and so I’m thinking more and more about when I can pull the trigger on early retirement.  There are a few driving factors for this.  I want to have at least $2M in cash/investments before we pull the trigger.  I also want to have my daughter through at least her 4 year college degree (We’ve been saving in a 529 plan all along), and I want to make sure I’ll be eligible to take a small pension (About $1300 a month at 55) before I retire.  It makes the most financial sense for me to work until I’m 55 so that I can start drawing the $1300 a month in pension and also withdraw funds from my 401k account.  Our company’s plan is a qualified plan so if I separate from the company at 55 or older, I can immediately draw funds from it without a penalty.

I really don’t want to wait until I’m 55 to retire though.  The one other potential path to leaving before I’m 55 and still getting to draw the pension at 55 is if I’m laid off between the age of 49 and 55.  Since I work in Information Technology that isn’t really a far fetched scenario but I’ve been a high performer up to this point so I don’t think they’ll likely want to lay me off any time soon.  I suppose I could really start acting incompetent at about age 49 but I really don’t want to do that.

Anyway, lots to sort out over the next few years.  Until then we’ll just keep pushing along the path.  So far I can’t complain about the results.  Here’s to a happy prosperous year to all of you!

Nearly a $47K Net Worth Increase

Wow!  I haven’t really been paying attention to our net worth and didn’t realize that in just about a month and a half we saw an increase of nearly $47,000.  It’s actually hard to believe how quickly our net worth continues to increase.  It sure is going to be a bit of a shock when we have a massive market crash.

Here’s a graphical view of how our net worth has been increasing since I started keeping records:

As you can imagine, we are very happy with our overall progress.  Yes, we could have saved more.  We’ve been trying very hard to live a rewarding life with some perks, while also making sure we save for our future.  We continue to live on about 42% of our after tax, after investment income.  That basically means we are living on 42% of our take home pay.  We’ve been fortunate to have a pretty high income during our careers so that we were able to save a lot and also enjoy the fruits of our labor.  We’re quickly getting to the point that we could do the “Barista FI” approach where we basically take low paying jobs with less stress and coast until we decide to stop working all together.  Over the last couple weeks, I’ve started to realize the smartest thing we can do is just continue to grind away at our careers until our daughter is well through college so we can make sure she comes out of college with no debt and we have plenty of investments to pay for absurd healthcare rates.  Another wrinkle that is starting to develop is that our daughter wants to be a doctor but is very debt averse (due to her father’s programming).  We’ll be looking for creative ways for her to fund medical school if she indeed does continue on that path as we’ll only have about $100K in her 529 plan.  The reality is that she may not be able to avoid debt to get through medical school.

 

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream for….. Dividends

One of the things about being an amateur blogger and personal finance geek is that we don’t have to pretend to know everything.  I really don’t know that much about investing but I don’t have to and I can still meet my goals by copying what others are doing.  I’ve been reading financial blogs since the beginning, and in fact started another personal finance blog over 10 years ago before selling it a few years back.  During the first few years of owning that blog I spent hundreds of hours reading and linking to other great PF bloggers and gained an incredible amount of “basic” knowledge about how to manage our money, increase our net worth and choose investments that didn’t require tons of research and risk (low cost index funds).  We’ve been paying ourselves first for more than 20 years and the results have worked out pretty well.  For most of those 20+ years I never really paid attention to the dividends we were earning and in fact some of our funds don’t actually distribute dividends but rather the value of a share in those funds just continues to increase so it’s really hard to notice that we were indeed earning a return on those funds.

In the last 5 years I’ve been paying more and more attention to dividends because I know they’ll be a variable in how our investments provide annual income for us once we stop working.  At the end of 2016 I tallied up each and every dividend we earned and was pleased to see that we earned about $16,000.  We earned (and reinvested) more money from dividends than most people contribute to their investment accounts each year.  When you add that to all of the actual contributions we were making it’s not hard to see how we were able to increase our net worth by such a large amount.  Our new goal is to try to get the dividends up over $20,000 per year.  We’ll do that by buying a few individual stocks to go along with our index funds.  We already have a few and have seen some nice gains and dividends from them.  From a risk perspective we are not buying very many and are keeping individual stocks to less than 10% of our overall net worth.

Another data point I’ve been tracking is how much we’d have in investments if we were to sell our primary residence, invest those funds and move to our second home that’s paid for in a more rural area of our state.  Right now we would have roughly $1,250,000 in investments if we did that.  If I use the 4% rule that would give us about $48,000 a year before taxes with very minimal expenses.  We could literally pull the trigger on retirement now but would have a few risks such as health care and a bear market weighing on our minds.  We’ve decided that we need to try to squeeze about 5 more years out of our careers, which would put us at just over 50 years old.  At the current rate, that means we’d be saving an additional $100,000 a year which could generate an extra $4000 per year in income when we retire.  5 more years of work for an extra $20,000 a year in retirement income seems like a good plan.  Of course, lots of things could change between now and then but we’ll keep chugging along either way.

Living Life in the Technology Bubble

It’s a new month and our net worth has increased to $1,542,269.  That’s an increase of almost $25,000 in a month.  To say the real estate and our economy in general feels like a repeat of the 2007/2008 bubble would be a bit of an understatement.  Of course, I’m not crying myself to sleep at night with these gains, but I fully expect to see a correction, deflated bubble, etc etc at some point, so I’m just logging the numbers and am ready to start subtracting instead of adding to our net worth if that happens.  (I’m a bit of a “Permabear”)

Last weekend, I was out with a group of about 10 guys that mostly all work in the tech industry (including myself).  We were really enjoying a lot of geek type talk and as the night wore on, we found ourselves at a seedy dive bar in the Pacific Northwest.  As I looked around the place, for some reason, it occurred to me that the group of guys at our table had a combined income of something like $1.5 million a year.  I almost fell out of my chair when I realized this.  (This is a long ways from my youth of eating hot dog casserole)  While there are certainly plenty of other places in the country that this same phenomenon could have taken place (and likely did), I don’t think it’s probably a normal occurrence across the country.  Bottom line, I feel incredibly grateful that I find myself in this situation and I think that’s one of the things that drives me to save as much as I can.  Along with being a Permabear, I also try to realize that I could lose my job tomorrow and find myself in a completely different economic reality.  The more we increase our net worth, the less I worry about that.  Clearly my defensive approach to personal finance stems from a childhood where we were constantly at risk of not having enough to pay the bills.

So, month by month we continue our march towards financial independence.  It feels like a slow grind at this point but I’m grateful to have the monthly gains we’ve been seeing.  On a somewhat related note, last week I was perusing Reddit and came across a post in the “40Something” subreddit.  It was a guy in his mid 40’s talking about feeling like his 40’s seems to be just all about working.  He said there’s not much else happening in his life and he feels bored and stuck.  As I read through some of the other comments, it seemed very similar to how I’ve been feeling.  I’m sure this is where the whole idea of “midlife crisis” comes from.  Some of the posts said things like, “Yeah, that’s just the way it is.  Everything is set in motion and you just have another 20 years before you can retire!”.  While I was relating to most of what people were saying, as soon as I saw that I thought “Nope!”.  No way in hell I’m working another 20 years like this.  I’m so grateful I took a longer view of saving and investing and started in our 20’s.  I don’t think I can keep slogging along like this for 20 more years.

Net Worth Update – August 2017

I finally got a chance to go through all of our financial updates and was pleasantly surprised to see that our net worth is continuing it’s upward trend.  As of today our net worth is $1,517,338.  If only that was just in investment accounts, we might consider throwing in the towel and driving off in to the sunset but, alas, it’s our total net worth including our home equity and vehicles.  I’ve been tracking another figure besides our total net worth which I call our “retirement assets”.  This includes the equity we have in our primary home that we will sell when we move to our secondary home outside the city and excludes our vehicle values.  When you include that equity and our investment accounts you get a figure of $1,216,061.  Why do I do this?  Because it’s a more accurate figure of how much money we have to generate an income from.  My hope is that number will get to about $1.7M by the time my daughter goes off to college.  Once we get to $1.7M, I might actually start feeling comfortable enough to consider retiring.

One thing that I don’t include in my net worth is the value of a small pension I’ll receive from my company in retirement.  They froze it a while back so it’s not increasing in value but should provide around $1250 a month at 55 years old.  Realistically we’d like to have about $75,000 a year in retirement income once we hit 62 and that little bit of pension helps us cross the line.  When you include 1 of our social security payments (I don’t like to plan the future assuming both of us will be around forever), and then add in the small pension amount, I’m estimating that will be somewhere around $3000 a month or $36,000 a year.  That means I only have to generate about $39,000 a year from our investments, which should be a conservative figure if we can get our retirement assets up over the $1.5M mark or so.  Like I said, I’m being ultra conservative on the estimates at this point.  With a 4% withdrawal rate on $1.5M in retirement assets we’d be able to take out $60,000 a year.  Add that to the pension/SS income and we’d be up over $96,000 a year.  I’d rather plan with a 3% withdrawal rate which would give us a total income of about $81,000.  At this point, I’m still just throwing numbers and estimates around while we are in the accumulation phase of our life but it does help give me an idea of how close we are to being able to pull the trigger and retire.

Net Worth Update – June 2017

Geez!  Time flies when you’re saving money!  I just realized it’s been too long since I’ve updated the blog.  In the last 3 months we’ve continued to see our net worth increase.  The key areas we’ve seen increases are in our 401k’s and our home values.  I recently booked some of the increase we’ve seen in our escalating real estate market.  The real estate market in the Pacific Northwest is going bonkers.  It feels exactly like the market of 2008 where every month saw big increases in our home values.  We’ve now surpassed the peak of 2008 by almost 10%.  It sure does make you wonder if it will all come crashing down again.  I’m hoping that it keeps going up for the foreseeable future simply because we will likely be selling our house in about 4 years and every bit it increases or at least levels off helps our retirement “after tax” account.  Since we own our vacation house with no mortgage, we’re planning to move out there so we’ll have all the equity of this house to use towards our early retirement.

Anyway, the new net worth number is $1,447,765.  To many people that likely seems like a pretty big number.  The reality is that it’s not enough to carry us through the next 40+ years of an early retirement so we’ll continue our march toward financial independence.  Once we have about $2M in invested assets, we’ll think long and hard about pulling the trigger.  I’m continuing to watch the health care situation in the US.  It’s certainly not trending toward being helpful for early retirees.  It’s hard to believe that the politicians will really make health care crazy expensive for older citizens that haven’t hit the medicare age of 65.  If we are faced with $20,000+ health care premiums in our 50’s and early 60’s, we might have to work longer than we want to.  The other option we are still exploring is moving to the UK when we retire since both my wife and daughter are British citizens.  If we moved there, we’d likely pay more in taxes, but I think it would still be cheaper than paying all the taxes we do in the US, plus healthcare costs.  Time will tell.

Edit:  Holy moly!  I just realized that from July 2016 to June 2017 we’ve averaged a monthly net worth increase of $20,416 and we still have the rest of June to go.  Wow!

Net Worth Update – March 2017

Day after day, week after week, month after month, our net worth keeps changing.  It’s still continuing to go up, but I have to wonder if we may be in for some pretty good dips with all the things going on in the world.  I’m totally fine with a good dip as that just means I get to buy our stocks/funds at a cheaper price.  Since we’ve got a few more years ahead of us, I’d actually rather see a 25% dip and then have it slowly recover over the next 5 plus years.  Of course, I don’t get to choose what happens so we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.

As of March 27th, our net worth has climbed to $1,369,581.  That’s actually lower than it was last month due to the stock market but it’s still significantly higher than our January number.  I’m starting to think more and more about quitting my job as soon as my daughter gets out of high school.  We currently have around $65,000 in her 529 education account and I think we’ll have somewhere around $90,000 by the time she heads to college.  While that might not cover the entire amount, we’ve told her she should expect to work a bit while in college and also pursue as many scholarships as she can.

As we get closer and closer to the day we can walk away, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ll do with our time.  The current plan is that we’ll sell our primary house and walk away with somewhere around $250K in equity to invest and then move out to our vacation house (that’s paid for) and live there for about 8-9 months of the year.  We’ll spend the other 3+ months of winter down in Arizona or California.  We’d like to find an inexpensive place in a 55+ community but unfortunately they don’t want us around since we’ll only be around 50-51.  I guess that’s one of the drawbacks to retiring early.  We don’t get discounts on our meals and we can’t live in the cheaper 55+ communities.  Oh well, I’m sure we’ll be able to find somewhere to stay in Arizona during the winter.  It’s a good problem to have.

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