Spread-sheeting your way to Financial contentment…

Like most of you, I’m a spreadsheet junkie, and I love nothing better than to open one up and redo my financial calculations. I could spend hours doing “what ifs” with our finances (and I often do). What I find fascinating is that there hasn’t really been a good software packaged developed, that I know of, which covers all the variables that you now have to consider.

It used to be that the way you “drew down” your retirement money was fairly straightforward. You took out your taxable money first (investment accounts, etc.) in order to let your tax-deferred (401K/IRA) and tax-free (Roth) money compound. Then you take out your tax-deferred money, especially if you have a Required Minimum Distribution, and that money gets taxed as you are pulling it out (often driving you into a higher tax bracket). Finally, if needed, you pull out your tax-free money (Roth) last, as this money can easily be passed on to your heirs tax free.

It’s a simple, linear process, and most retirement calculators follow it (or something like it). However, with the new school of thought, the idea is to minimize taxes across the life of the retirement.

  • You would do Roth IRA conversions to shift money from taxable to tax-free accounts – up to a point (see next point)
  • Once retired, you would immediately begin drawing from your 401K up to the point where you have to pay taxes ($24K as of 2018 taxes) – so that would be still be tax free.
  • You try to withdraw from 401K earlier, so when you hit the time for RMDs (required minimum distribution) of these accounts, you still are only pulling out what is under the cap for tax-free
  • You would want some money to stay in your 401K/IRA tax-deferred accounts, as you can deduct the first $24K each year. Don’t convert it all to Roth
  • You defer or take your social security early, based again on the need to defer/reduce taxes and maximize overall income.
  • If you’ve retired early, keep your taxable income low, to take advantage of government subsidies on health insurance.
  • You can use other forms (insurance, etc.) if you want to further complicate your retirement plan

I don’t know of any software application available at this time which takes into account all of these complicated factors. Often you have to do the calculations year-by-year, due to stock market fluctuations, life changes, etc. Thus, you end up coming back to the “good old spreadsheet” to do your calculations.

I do my investment update at the beginning of each month (ex. May 1, today) and connected to that spreadsheet is my “retire now” sheet:

  • Current investment amounts for each bucket (taxable, tax-deferred, tax free)
  • Budget for retirement, including expected medical costs, expenses based on current actuals, etc.
  • Investment growth, based on inflation-adjusted numbers
  • Expected social security payments (currently I have Mrs. 39 Months pulling at age 62, and me getting ½ of the expected payout at age 67, due to issues with Social Security trust fund)
  • Annual draw down, based on budget, growth, and pulling from designated buckets.

As of now, if I assume Social Security is solvent (at least to the extent that I get half my benefits starting at age 67) then we could retire now, and still end up with about $500K (in current $) remaining at age 99. This is with paying almost no taxes for age 56 to age 67.

To get back to the original point, I think this might be an opportunity here. To create a software system which allows for all the other variables not currently being used and/or considered.

What do you think?

Mr. 39 Months

Well, my timing sucks…..

I got my first linked article on Rockstar Finance last Friday (4/25/19)! Its amazing the amount of traffic which comes to your site when you get mentioned on it. Suddenly I had a large number of folks coming in, reading, and then reading other articles that I had wrote. Hopefully that means more regular visitors and commenters, and more folks joining the conversation.

I already added several of the commenters sites to the blogroll at the right, after reading some of their writings. Always good to expand the knowledge base.

Then what happens? I get some issues with my provider, and my site gets shut down for 2 days! Major ouch. Took me till this morning to get it all ironed out and back up on the net.

I guess you have to take the bad with the good – like last December’s crushing stock market results versus what has happened over the last four months.

At lease I’m back and able to review other folks work and post my analysis. I hope everyone had a great weekend and is enjoying the week.

Mr. 39 Months.

Focus on the Present, not on the Past or Future

The Retirement Manifesto has an excellent post on not focusing on the past (or too much on the future). Enjoy the present.

https://www.theretirementmanifesto.com/dont-look-back-youre-not-going-that-way/

In it, he discusses some family issues with Alzheimer’s (living in the past) and the tendency of FIRE folks to focus too much on the future, at the expense of enjoying how you live currently. He also introduces a new phrase – TPA (time phase allocation) where you determine how much time you want to spend on the past, future and present, and what it might mean for your mental well-being.

This harkens back a bit to the reading and work I’ve been doing on Stoicism. The stoics are very big on not focusing too much on past mistakes and issues. They are gone and outside your control. Stoic philosophy really is about focusing on what you can control (often times, just your thinking and emotions) and to let go of things outside of your control (other people’s action, historical events, etc.).

For many FIRE folks, this can be a real stumbling block. We find out about FIRE, do a lot of reading, run the numbers, set up our savings, get our FI number, and then……wait. We keep reading, adjusting, tweaking our investments, savings and plans. We should also be living for today, and budgeting money to live for today (rather than living like monks).

I have a deferred account at work, where I can put a portion of my salary away (in addition to my 401K) that I can get paid later, or after I leave the company. I dropped it this year from 25% of my salary to 20%, just so we’d have a few extra dollars for travel and enjoying life now.

What are you doing to live for today?

Mr.39 Months

I think I’m going on a diet…

While one of my goals for this year is weight loss, it isn’t a new food diet I’m talking about.

Last week I had to travel out to an area of Pennsylvania on business (a 2+ hour drive) so I woke up early. I had not slept well the night before, so waking up early already had me cranky. In my normal morning “ablutions” I tend to read some blogs and websites in the morning as I’m getting ready. Unfortunately, these aren’t the FIRE blogs, which tend to be upbeat and action-oriented. You may be able to see where this is going…..

This day, like so many others, the blogs were full of doom and gloom about a variety of topics. I don’t want to get too political here, but it seems like both “sides of the aisle” in the US are predicting the end is near, and we should all just go and prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Relations between the sexes is in the tubes, nobody can afford to start families and have kids, and we are all going to die, due to war, famine, pestilence, etc.

As you head out on the road, if you listen to NPR or talk radio, you get bombarded with the same stuff. Again, it doesn’t matter what your views are, it seems like everyone is selling “distress and sadness” right now.

Yet the unemployment rate is low, wages are up, the investments are up, people go to work, take their dates out, their kids play and go to school, and most folks are doing fine. The people in the FIRE community are living proof that folks are taking action and doing what is needed to make it.

I think its just the “media” (be it mainstream news, blogs, websites, etc. ) with the clickbait articles and their “if it bleeds it leads” attitude which is making me crazy/depressed at times. So I’m going to try and go on a news diet somewhat, where I don’t check in as much, and work more on my interests and goals. I won’t be ignoring the big problems, but I’m going to try not to concentrate on them so much, especially ones where I have no hope of influencing the end result.

Consider it as me taking steps to keep my sanity. I hope you are keeping yours.

Any thoughts?

Mr. 39 Months

How is backpacking like personal finance?

“Backing” in the US started as a recreational pursuit primarily after World War II. While folks did camp out years before that, it was primarily car camping, or actual camping on your way to a new life (like the Oregon Trail, or the family in Grapes of Wrath). There was a wealth of excess equipment after the war, so it was easy to get some supplies, and with the post-war life came opportunity.

The standard for backpacking gear was best summed up by a series of books by Colin Fletcher, titled “The Complete Walker” (1968) in which he laid out and the equipment needed, and his opinion on what was necessary for each. The overall weight of this equipment could be 40-50 lbs + food. It was heavy, bulky, and you get hit it with a bazooka and still keep hiking. Kind of like our “work 45 years, put away 10%-15% and retire at 67” lifestyle.

In 1992, Ray Jardine, a mountain climber by trade and backpacker second, published “Beyond Backpacking: Guide to Lightweight Hiking.” In it, Ray exploded many of the ideas on what was necessary to go backpacking. Instead of an 8 lbs tent, he slept under a 1 lbs tarp, with his backpacking wife – even in sub-freezing temps. He got his base pack-weight down to less than 10 lbs + food/water! With this pack, he and his wife traversed the Pacific Rim trail, and the Appalachian Trail, each 2100+ miles and multiple months of hiking. They did 30+ mile days, in part because they had such light packs. The speed was impressive – like those who retire in less than 20 years because they live frugally and maximize their savings.

Ray concentrated on getting rid of all sorts of weight (he cut off straps from the pack and cut up maps so they only showed what he needed to know). Very similar to the “latte factor” folks who look to cut out many of the extravagancies of life. Yet his big contribution was in how he cut the big three heavyweight items – the pack, the tent, and the sleeping bag. By changing/making lighter weight items, he was able to dramatically cut weight (almost 20 lbs) from a typical 1970s/80’s backpacker.

In the FIRE world, our budgeting deals with three real heavyweights as well:

  1. Housing: Typically, the #1 cost for us. Be it homes or rent, this is the thing you need to look at in order to get your budget under control and reduced. That is why you see so many FIRE folks talk about downsizing, or living in sites much smaller than the average home. This is probably the best thing you can do in order to become financially independent.
  2. Transportation: Having multiple car loans, and purchasing top of the line cars every 3 years is a definite killer. While Mrs. 39 Months and I have had car loans for our vehicles, we have worked to pay them off early, and we have never bought a “luxury” automobile. Since paying off the last loan backin 2009, we have saved money in order to purchase our next one, and we have sufficient funds set aside to do that. While we tend to purchase new, we then drive the cars until the give out – literally. I have owned four cars in my life, counting my current one, and 2 of them I have had to have towed when they gave out. That was when I bought another one.
  3. Food: The third big heavyweight of money in most folks budget. In today’s world, I see an awful lot of people dining out, ordering in, or having someone else bring their groceries to them. While the convenience is nice, we tend to eat out only once a week (a treat for us on Friday) and cook the rest of our meals. I bring lunch to work, instead of going out, and Mrs. 39 Months makes breakfast for herself each morning, rather than getting it on the road. Our overall budget is rather large for two people in comparison to some FI folks ($400/month) but that is what makes us happy.

Note: I did not included taxes, which often ranks up there as well. While there are some tax strategies you can use to reduce this, I see this as primarily something you just have to “live with” and do what you can. It doesn’t count for me in terms of things you can have major impacts on.

I hope you are all working on your “top 3” and furthering your path towards FI.

Mr. 39 Months

Good article on Frugality

Barry Ritholtz has a good article titled “buy yourself a F*^king   latte”, in which he takes Susie Orman and other finance folks to task for their comments on how saving on expensive coffee can result in huge savings, and how folks that indulge themselves are putting retirement money in jeopardy.

Like most folks in the FIRE community, Mrs. 39 Months and I have practiced a frugal existence, at least in terms of the society in general. I’m sure there are folks here that are way more frugal than we are, but we do OK. Still I believe (and have written about) the need to live your life now, not just save for some future date that may or may not be there. I don’t believe you should neglect your savings, but you can’t just go “all work and no fun” in life. Like a diet, you will burn out and end up cheating – and hating yourself afterward.

The key to FI is intentional living – understanding that you have the power to make the money decisions, and then making them in such a way to bring you joy throughout your lifetime. Save a lot and think about the fun you’ll have when you reach FI, but also spend some time, money and energy enjoying life today. Depending on your religion, this is the one chance you have to live it, so don’t restrict yourself too much.

Links

Mr. 39 Months

Quarterly Update – Apr 2019

Well, it’s early April, and spring is in the air! I’ve gotten a start on the goals for 2019, but many of them won’t really start manifesting till 2nd quarter (or later).

My Goals for 2019 (some financial, some not):

Finance:

  • Save $75K in tax-advantaged accounts (saved almost $81K in 2018). 401K, Roth IRA, etc. Dropped this down a bit, due to a need to plus up my savings/emergency fund. Key part of this is using my company’s deferred savings account to push money out till I hit FI. Since the deferred account money will have to be withdrawn (and taxed) when I leave, it actually is a pretty cool FIRE solution for saving. Grade A. Saved $12,875 already and on track to hit goal.
  • Save $5K in regular accounts (compared to $9K in 2017). This will go into my brokerage account. I withdrew a hunk of this to do my ROTH rollover (part of the “power of zero” philosophy). But I still have some bucks here. I have to take about $5K from my father’s IRA every year, so I just move it from there to my brokerage account instead f spending it). Grade A. Made the deposit in January
  • Increase dividend income from all accounts to $27K/year (compared to 26K in 2018). Grade B: 1st qtr was $5,752 compared to $4,868 for 1st Qtr 2018.  This appears to put me on track to hit my number.
  • Passive income covers 40% of base living expenses in retirement (it was38% in 2018). My long-term goal is to get my dividend/passive income up to where it covers over 100% of my expected retirement living expenses, so my investments can continue to grow.  Grade D: It was 32.0% of my expected $18K/quarter (or $72K per year)
  • Beat net worth growth rate of 6% (it was -1.9% in 2018). This is my historical growth rate for the last 10+ years, so I want to beat my average. Grade A; With the stock market rally and my investments, I’m up 8.3% already.

Business:

  • Continue attending regular meetings of my local real estate investors association. They hold a regular monthly meeting, a monthly meeting for new investors, and a monthly meeting for my specific county. All three could be interesting, and it’s free for a paid member. Last year I attended, but it was spotty. Grade F: Did a cost/benefit analysis and deep look on my intentions to do real estate in the near future. Decided to drop out of REIA.
  • Double the number of blog visitors in 2019. Last year it was a little over 6,000. I want to get at least 12,000 this year, so I need to put myself out there more (i.e. comment) and write interesting topics. My thanks to everyone who stopped by, and I try to return the favor, and comment as well. Grade D. Only have around 2,000 visitors in 1st qtr, so just a little up from 2018. Probably need to spend more time on other blogs, commenting, etc.
  • Write/publish a book on finance.  I wrote one for new graduates in 2017, but I have identified an area of the community which hasn’t been served as well in the past. Hopefully I can assist with something here.  I’ve got the first five chapters outlined/partially done, but still have a ways to go. Grade D. Made some additional progress on outline, but still a long way from completing.

Personal:

  • Increase weight lifted by 10% from 2018. Due to my illness, I didn’t make much progress beyond that, but I’m back to full strength now, and lifting what I was in September 2018.  I want to continue to improve my strength as I get older, instead of just wasting away. Grade A. Weight increase of 10% already, but having some struggles getting it higher. We will see.
  • Average 2 hours of cardio per week (currently averaging about an hour). Again, want to improve my fitness. Based on my lifestyle, I don’t think I can push it past 2 hours per week. Grade D. Still averaging a little more than an hour. Need to work on it.
  • Take part in at least one long bike ride, like MS bike-a-thon (80 miles). Didn’t do this last year, but really want to try. Incomplete. Long bike ride scheduled for Sep 2019
  • Backpack over 100 miles on AT (did around 80 miles in 2018). Other aspects of life interfered with my ability to get on the trail. Really want to push it this year. Incomplete. Starting to backpack in late April
  • Continue volunteering at Pennsbury Manor at their joiner’s shop (woodworking). Really enjoyed this. Grade A: Continuing to volunteer at least once a month. This Sunday is next one
  • Reduce weight by 20 lbs. from Jan 2019 (lost 2 lbs. in 2018). Again, I want to get in better shape as I get closer to financial independence
  • Read at least one book a month. I surpassed this goal in 2018, and re-learned the joy of reading. Grade A. I have five books under my belt for 1st qtr, and I already have six lined up fr reading

Travel:

  • Visit a national park (visited two in 2018) Incomplete. Need to plan this
  • Visit family in Tennessee, Vermont and New York. Family is very important to me. One of the things I am looking forward to with financial independence is the opportunity to visit family more often. Need to get up to see my brother in Vermont. Grade B: Visited family in Tennessee in March. Plan to do NY in April, and VT in August., with another TN visit in October
  • Take a week at the shore and just relax. Too many of our vacations are spent running around. I want to see if I can go somewhere (in this case the beach) and just sit and relax. Incomplete. Still on track for July
  • Visit Ellis Island. Wanted to do this in 2018, but didn’t make it. As 50% Czech from immigrant great grandparents from the turn of the century, I believe they went through there, and I want to see it Grade F. Its only 90 min north of us, but we haven’t gone yet.
  • Go on an international trip. Not sure which one (Canada, Caribbean, etc.) but I’d like to get out this year. Incomplete.
  • Visit the Asheville NC area. It’s one of the areas that we are considering retiring to (close to my old home in Tennessee, interesting crafts, shops & outdoor sports, etc.). Trying to learn more about the area (we’ve been there a couple of times). Incomplete. Still on track to go in October

Overall, I’d give myself a B. Got a lot done, but still have a lot to make progress on.  

How are you going on your goals for 2019?

Mr. 39 Months

A pre-retirement test you should add to your “prep list”

I was listening to one of my FIRE/Finance podcasts this week, and they discussed an interesting test or quiz you should consider as you prepare for early retirement. A lot of us who have caught the FIRE bug dream about our time post-FI, and do a lot of thinking/considering/planning for what we will do, what our day will be like, and how we will occupy our time. For many of us, it is the fuel which keeps us going as we accumulate the resources to be financially independent.

Yet a lot of folks who are in the community have not been able to get their significant other as “pumped” as we are in reference to this, and often discussions do not go very far. A lot of our spouses just aren’t that turned on by finances, Roth conversions, and travel hacking. I know, because I have constantly tried to involve Mrs. 39 Months in our finances, but she resists. The best I can get her to do is look at our net worth statement at the beginning of each year and file it away.

So the podcast suggested you ask your significant other a simple question, one that they probably could wrap their heads around and provide feedback on. The question for your partner was “describe a typical day for yourself post-retirement.” From this, you should be able to tell a lot about the sort of life you may lead, some potential budgetary points, and how compatible your plans are with your partner.

Well, for Mrs. 39 Months, I got this:

  • “Wake up late”
  • “Spend time in morning to meditate and stretch”
  • “Leisurely breakfast”
  • “Time to take walks outside”
  • “Time on my arts & crafts (she plays the dulcimer and makes leather shoes and jewelry)
  • “Some travel”

For a little background, Mrs. 39 Months worked for a company for 18 years, where her hours were 10am – 6pm. She had time for a relaxing morning, and she enjoyed it. Eventually the company was bought and moved, and she didn’t like the commute, so she left. Now she has to head to work at 8am, and she doesn’t enjoy the earlier mornings, and how it affects her schedule. Thus, her desire for a more leisurely morning.

It also shows that she doesn’t have a desire for a lot of money-intensive actions in our retirement. We can probably maintain our current lifestyle (though I’ll probably bump up the numbers for travel in our budget). This will help me plan better and keep on track.

So I’m glad I asked, and I hope this will help spark a continued interest by her in our retirement plans.

I hope you folks are communicating well as you progress!

Mr. 39 Months

Your greatest weapon in reaching FI (or your greatest weakness)

There has been a lot written about the strategy and tactics used to achieve FI and set yourself up for a lifetime of freedom.  Discussions on investments, frugality, job success, and a host of other topics. I want to discuss what is probably the greatest financial decision you will have, and one which will make or break your chances of financial success. That decision is – your choice of spouse or significant other.

The world is full of a long list of stories in which one person makes the money and the other person spends it (or they both spend it). It is often said that opposites attract, and that you marry your opposite. Thus savers marry spenders and vice-versa. The result is often fights over financing, as one person struggles to make the money, while the other one spends it just as fast (or faster).

Many people go into marriage swiftly, with very little knowledge of their prospective mate. Others take the time to get to know that person, and in today’s society, many more are living together for a period of time prior to tying the knot. What this allows is for someone of a ‘FIERY’ bent to get to understand their potential partner and to understand how they will aid or detract from their goals – not only their FIRE goals, but their other life goals.

I’ve recently seen several stories where one person called off a wedding after finding out the other was in significant debt, and hadn’t told them. There is also that story of the guy (I believe in Colorado or Texas) who married a girl and was with her for 3 years, while he helped her pay off her student loans. On the day the last payment was made, she filed for divorce. Ouch!

The world is also full of stories of couples on the same sheet of music, who complement each other and help each of them move towards their lifetime goals, and achieve FI. Most of the links in the blogs to the right are of couples (or one of a two-person couple) detailing their success at working towards their goals. It should be obvious, but I’ll say it – Life is much easier and sweeter if you have someone to travel it with you.

What brought this post on? As some of you have read lately, I have been a bit down in the dumps, and Mrs. 39 Months has noticed. She has sought to cheer me up at times, and took me out to dinner for my birthday, while inviting friends. Her birthday present for me was a new book, The Happiness Trap, by Russ Harris (a future blog post/book review). Basically, my partner has seen my troubles, and is working with me to assist (as I have done for her in the past).

Mrs. 39 Months is also extremely frugal. Just last night, she was arguing with herself on whether to buy a certain tool for one of her crafts (making leather shoes) and was not sure if she wanted to spend $40 on it. This is a woman with over $100K in the bank (our emergency fund). Needless to say, I gave her a kiss, told her how much I loved her, and then suggested she go ahead and buy the tool. I am still not sure she did, though.

So take the opportunity, if you can, to thank your spouse or significant other today. Life is better with them in your life.

Mr. 39 Months.

As the FIRE slowly burns out….

Well, my life has been changing this year, especially my work life. As many of you know, I’ve had several  posts on how I’m feeling distanced from work, how it appears the technology may have passed me by, and how, as I close in on my FIRE date, moral has dropped somewhat.

Its fascinating though, because when I get a project that requires my skills and experience (and it happens a lot) I can dive in and spend hours on the analysis and solution. The time will pass quickly, and before I know it, the day has gone by, and I’ve succeeded in coming up with an answer for the operations. Or we will be doing an implementation of new business in a warehouse, and I’ll be the engineer who brings a lot of the component projects together and gets thanked at the end. Those are the reasons I continue to do the job. It’s the actual work (not the managing people) that I enjoy.

Still, I have noticed that I don’t have the same thrill to get started in the morning lately, and I’m slow to walk in to work from the car. My boss is in town this week, and all I can think of is ways to avoid interacting with him. I have a ton of project work due, and more being piled on, so I have a valid excuse. Still, its odd for me to not be brown-nosing or seeking to gain additional information on the organization and my role in it.

This is part of the process of me “drawing down” my involvement. In a couple of months, my responsibilities for management will be significantly reduced, as a peer will be put over me and my group. It is what I’ve wanted and worked towards, so I should be happy. Still, being “out of the loop” and not being one of the hard charging leaders is very different from my previous professional career. It is a difficult transition to make – probably similar to the transition I’ll make to retirement.

I hope your work and/or retired life is fulfilling and  you aren’t filled with too much angst.

Other Folks getting burnt out

Mr. 39 Months