Frugal Tip – taking advantage of business travel

One of the things you often read in our community is people’s love of travel. Some folks make it a full-time career once they hit FI! For those of us still working, we sometimes get selected for business travel.

My father was an engineer in Oak Ridge, TN (where they helped make the atomic bombs) and did extensive business travel all over the US. One of the things he told us near the end of his life was the regrets that he had, that in all his travels he did not take an extra day or two off, and see the sights of the local areas that he visited. The company spent all that money to send him to these places – and he did not take advantage of the free travel.

I have tried to take that to heart in my business travels. As an industrial engineer in the logistics industry, I have had the chance to travel to about 20 different states, and some of the major cities of the US (LA, Portland, Denver, Dallas, Orlando, Miami, Boston, etc.) and done international travel to Canada and Sweden. Not only has this enabled me to rack up some airline and hotel miles, but also I have tried to take advantage of the site seeing opportunities.

I have even had the benefit of taking Mrs. 39 Months along with me. We have traveled to Orlando, Portland OR, and a few other places where she has been able to go see the sites, and I have done my work.

Recently I had to travel down to Miami for a warehousing conveyor project (it is not going that well) and had time to run around for half a day on Sunday. I hit Miami’s south beach, sampled a lot of Cuban cuisine, and toured an interesting house down there called Vizcaya. It’s a mansion built in 1920 to look like an Italian villa, for one of the founders of the John Deere Company. Nice gardens, nice home, a lot to recommend it if you happen to be in Miami.

Hope your travels go well this holiday season

Mr. 39 Months

Excellent post at Go Curry Cracker on the cost of his lifestyle if he had to have a job

You can argue with some of the specifics of his math, but not the overall message, which is that you expend a lot of your income just in working (taxes, transportation, etc.) – and you don’t have to spend it if you aren’t working!

Investment Update Nov 2019

Only 8 months to go!

It looks like the US market is starting to kick back I again, after spending the summer “treading water.” While the trade issues with China haven’t been worked out entirely yet, the earnings coming back for most of the companies are good, and the general thought is that we won’t be sliding into recession any time soon. To top it off, the Fed just dropped the rates again, so they are also doing their part to keep the economy humming. Unemployment is very low, so folks have jobs, their trading up in their jobs, and they are spending. Overall, it looks like the market will sail through the year in good shape!

The allocation for my retirement accounts (IRAs, 401K, etc) is pretty much index funds, spread out between the  S&P 500, small-cap, international, REITs and bonds.

Retirement Accounts: Remember, my allocation for these is:

  • 30% Bond Index Fund
  • 17.5% S&P500 Index Fund
  • 17.5% International Index Fund
  • 17.5% Small Cap Index Fund
  • 17.5% REIT Index Fund

My 401K doesn’t have REIT option, so its just 25% for each.

International did well (+3.4%) while the S&P 500 and Small caps were up about 2% each. Even Bonds and REITs were  up (not as much as stocks, however). Second month in a row that International has beaten the pack – so further proof that it is good to diversify. Overall, my retirement accounts were up 1.7% for the month.

My dividend account allocation is:

  • 25% Dividend Stocks
  • 25% REITs
  • 50% Bond Index Funds

My individual stocks and REITs were mixed (Chevron was down -2.1% and Cisco was down -3.8%). What was interesting was that I wanted to buy another stock, and decided to follow the old “High yield Dow 30” strategy, where you rank the Dow 30 by their yield, and purchase the ones with the higher yields. The assumption there is the stock price is low and might be undervalued – so pick it up now. You can get a good dividend yield, and the stock might bounce. Well I bought Dow at the beginning of October with my dividends, about 80 shared, and its up 12.4% in just one month! Holy cow! I am assuming that it is just returning to its normal level, so I don’t plan to get too excited. I will probably buy another 20 shares to get me to 100 total (I’m anal retetentive that way). A nice little success story.

The “fun money” account is primarily Value and extended market, and was up about 1%. I continue to invest in this one regularly each month, with leftover funds. My attempt at stock/mutual fund picking – never a strong suit for me – appears to bear out again, as I have invested in the PAWZ ETF for pet stores, and its down again. Ah well, I will ride it for a while, but won’t add anything else to it.

For October, I was up 1.50% overall, and I’m up 16.55% for the year. Continuing to plow along as I approach that magical FI moment.

Hope your October was good, and not too scary!

Mr. 39 Months

Mr. 39 Months Mom takes a trip….

And you thought travel was just for FIRE folks?

I owe an awful lot to my mother, like most of us. She helped form my character, assisted me in getting a start in life, and provided loving (though sometimes critical) support. She also was an excellent example of how to live a life of abundance and frugality.

We grew up in the upper middle-class, with my stepfather and mother both management professionals that earned a good, but not fantastic wage. We never had to go without, but at the same time, we never had the latest toy or gadget. When we reached the age to drive, there was a third car, the old beater car that we inherited after our Mom got a new one. We had clothes, plenty of food, and the opportunity to try new hobbies and interests, but again – never a lot of new, hip stuff.

We all got jobs when we hit 16, so that we could earn our own money (and spent a lot of it on gas for the beater, since it was expensive then). Our college wasn’t paid for us, we had to get scholarships, and work through our college years to pay for it (as well as take out loans). I’m aware that the price of college back then was much less than it is now, I’m just pointing out that it was not expected for the parents to assist at that time.

After we left the nest, my stepfather and mother traveled a lot, but they also saved a lot, not spending more than they took in, and living a fun but frugal life.  Well, my mother is now in 81, and after my stepfather passed early this year, she chose to get back out and travel. She signed up for a 2-week cruise around the Greek islands, and took off in early October.

She just got back this weekend, and in talking to her, she really enjoyed herself. While she wasn’t as mobile as they were in the past, she did get to see a lot of stuff, and met some new people who took her “under their wing” as they ran around. While she isn’t sure about international travel going forward, she still plans to travel more. In fact, she’s coming up to see me in New Jersey and my brother in Vermont for Christmas. On the road again…..

Why do I write about this? Just to remind everyone to plan for the long term, because you are going to stay healthy and want to run around for a long time. Be ready and enjoy it!

Mr. 39 Months

Financial Advisor meeting #3

It is all about the assumptions….

Well, last night we had our third meeting with the financial advisor, and things did not go as well as I might have hoped. I was hoping that, after we gave him a ton of information before we even started, and answered all his outstanding questions in sessions #1 and sessions #2, that he would have some more concrete analysis for us to review last night. In the first session, he showed a sample binder from another client that had a wealth of data, spreadsheets, annual spending vs. income, etc. Several scenarios were explored. I really wanted that 3-ring binder!

Alas, it was not to be. He had two scenarios to show us on the computer in order to get our feedback, and to make any final “tweaks” to the income, spending and assumptions. In looking over his shoulder at the computer, I pointed out a few errors I thought I saw (For example, he continued charging us for company health insurance, once we retired early – as well as charging us for the new insurance we’d have to take out, etc.). Because I did not have anything in front of me, I could not really correct/alter some of the data he is going to be using.

In just the short review, it is obvious that a lot of the analysis is based on some of the assumptions he has put in (inflation rate, rate-of-return, etc.) and that will determine how well we do. What is funny is he started out saying that our original plan (work four more years, take Social Security at full retirement age of 67) fulfilled 95% of what we needed, but when we dug into the details, we were in the black all the way to age 97/99 (our plan). Therefore, his numbers were off somewhere.

When asked, he said, “you definitely can’t retire right now” which does not really match my numbers, when I add in Social Security. Still, I cannot refute him without the actual data/spreadsheets. He is saying all the things that Mrs. 39 Months wants to hear about being cautious, so I am afraid he might be poisoning the well in terms of achieving FI. We will see.

Still, we did make some good decisions based on our discussions:

  • Do the Roth conversion of $40K this year (probably the last year we’ll be able to do it until we retire)
  • Stop putting money into the deferred account at work. Go ahead and just take it as regular salary, pay the taxes now, and invest the money. If we continue to put it into deferred, we’ll have a major tax bite when I leave the company
  • Depending on the situation, consider beginning to withdraw from the deferred account, so you can draw it down instead of paying the big lump sum when you leave the company.
  • Look into benefits/risks of taking social security later than 67. Your SS benefits will increase, but you will need to draw down your investments more to live off for that 3 years. What is the right balance?

I think we are getting a benefit out of this, and I am glad we are doing it. I hope that I am passing good info along to folks. If you can think of something, you would like me to explore with him, please comment.

I will let folks know after we have our fourth meeting (early November) how that is going. In the meantime, I hope all your plans work out.

Mr. 39 Months.

Walking through Antique Stores

             

One of the more interesting idea in the US is the idea of going “antiquing.” This is where you go visit certain parts of the country near you that have an abundance of antique shops, and see if there is something you might like to buy from someone else’s leftover “stuff.”

I had the opportunity to be a “roady” again for Mrs. 39 Months at a dulcimer festival near Asheville NC. Asheville and the surrounding area is a wonderful, mountainous region, plenty of outdoor activities, fall colors, and a general “funky” attitude (lots of coffee shops, music venues, art exhibits, etc.). It is one of the areas that we are considering retiring too, especially since a lot of my family is just over the mountains in TN (2-hour drive away).

Asheville also has a large amount of antique shops/stores – big warehouses of space with little 10’x10’ and 20’x20’ sections walled off, where dealers have put out large collections of old items, mostly bought at estate sales and moving sales. You would think that the advent of eBay and other on-line purchasing systems might have put a crunch into this, but it does not appear to have.

It is always fascinating to walk around in these and see items that you may have purchased in the past (especially toys) that now are listed as “antiques.” It is fun to remember playing with the toys as a kid, reading some of the books/magazines you had, or remembering some of the other items that were part of your life that you happen to come across there.

It also brings out a bit of sadness/awareness when you see a family’s prized possessions now laid out, and fetching pennies on the dollar for what they paid for. As I walked around, I saw lots of furniture, many collectables, and many items that you know someone spent a lifetime collecting and enjoying. Now it is sitting in an old tobacco warehouse waiting for someone to show interest. It made me realize again that the accumulation of “stuff” does not necessarily make you happy, and probably is going to go fill up a landfill or sit in a warehouse.

For me, I was looking for old woodworking tools to purchase cheap, fix up, and then re-use. I figured at least that would do honor to some long-lost woodworker who used the items. Trying to keep the old crafts alive.

Mr. 39 Months.

Excellent post from Go Curry Cracker on 2000 and 2008 retiree status

We’ve all seen the articles and data on ‘sequence of return risk’ where, depending on how the markets do in the first couple of years of retirement, you can be in great shape, or you can be in a world of hurt.

Go Curry Cracker has spent the time to do the numbers on how things are going for folks that retired right around the time of our two most recent “crashes.” An excellent read!

I know there is a lot of talk about a pending recession in the US. All I can say is, its going to happen sometime, so don’t panic too much. Stick with your plan, and be flexible depending on the market.

Mr. 39 Months

Financial Advisor meeting #2

As you remember, I wrote how Mrs. 39 Months does not trust my numbers, and wanted us to meet with a professional financial advisor to bounce my numbers off of and to go through various scenarios. She is very conservative and concerned that we will run out of money. Longevity runs in her family (her aunt lived to 102, and the rest of the women on her side lived into their 80s and 90s). Therefore, I understand her concern – all my planning assumes she lives to 99 (and I live to 97).  

Some folks have asked about the fee we are paying for the advice. He is a fee-only planner, though he does manage some folk’s investments for a 1% per year fee. The fee he is charging us, for a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia, is a flat $2,900. When we first engaged him, the financial advisor stated that it would be for four (4) meetings. The agenda appears to be something like:

  • Meeting 1: Share with advisor our info (typically in hard copy form, though I gave him ours electronically)
  • Meeting 2: Clarification of numbers, budget, situation, etc. Opportunity for the advisor to ask questions and get answers prior to doing the work, and to share some of his planning assumptions with us
  • Meeting 3: Sharing of the plan and some base scenarios that we have asked for him to run. After review, give him ideas for other scenarios to run
  • Meeting 4: Final meeting to run through any alternate scenarios, finalize the plan, determine next steps

He has also said we could come back “every so often” to update it, since it is already in his system. I am assuming there is a small fee for his work, but not sure.

I was hopeful that, since we gave him all our data electronically in advance, we might have jumped past meeting #2 and gone straight to #3. I wanted to get ahold of the three-ring binder with the big plan and analysis in it! I wanted to look at his planning and compare it to mine (and potentially share it with everyone here). No such luck.

Our planner had been dealing with some family issues (he’s the only child and his mother had to go to hospital for extended stay and many tests) so he was not able to really do the analysis. He still had a few questions and thoughts he wanted to share with us as well. So, no binder, not deep analysis. Still, some of the planning points that he shared/we worked out:

  • Inflation assumption: 3.25% – a little higher than the past 10+ years, but historically accurate in our lifetimes
  • Inflation for medical: 6% – very accurate historically, and something I didn’t consider in my initial planning
  • No inheritance planned – my mother is well off after a life of frugal living and excellent planning. However, we assume we won’t get anything (again, staying conservative with Mrs. 39 Months)
  • Changed the life assumptions from 90 years old to 99 and 97 (see above)
  • Discussed scenarios to look at, including immediate retirement, retire on my schedule of July 2020, and retire when I hit 60 and Mrs. 39 Months hits 62.

There were a few other clarifying questions and for the most part, we are making very conservative estimates and plans. While I am a little more willing to plan “to the edge” of retirement, I do not think we will go that route.

One of the biggest benefits to this is that it has gotten Mrs. 39 Months to open up with her thoughts about retirement, budgets, lifestyle and plans. Despite my prodding over the last several years, she really has not opened up too much about it – until we started to have these meetings. Now we have created a budget, discussed travel and lifestyle, and started working some of the details out. Mrs. 39 Months commented to me after the second meeting that it was a strange thought that, even in our conservative planning, retirement was just 4 years away.

The fact that this is enabling us to discuss it this way is worth the $2,900 fee alone, even if we did not get any analysis.

I will let folks know after we have our third meeting (late October) how that is going. In the meantime, I hope all your plans work out.

Advisor Meeting #1

Mr. 39 Months.

Quarterly Update

Quarterly Update

October 2019

Well, it’s early October, and as fall hits, I wanted to look at my goals for 2019, and try and figure out where I needed to “sprint it in” in order to get some done. Only 3 months to go before the end of the year.

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 $68K so far this year, so I’m in good shape to hit this goal, provided I continue to save at my current rate.
  • 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 A: Dividends year-to-date at $19,667, so should easily be able to hit $27K.
  • 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 B: I’m at 36.4% for the year vs. expected $18K/quarter budget. I usually get a big bump in 4th qtr, so it will be close
  • 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: Should be in the double-digits for the year, unless the market dramatically tanks. I’m up 14% in my investments, and they are the lion’s share (75%) of our net worth.  

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 5,700 visitors in the first 3 quarters. On track to beat my 6K visitors in 2018, but not by much. 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 F. I’m about 2/3 of the way done with the outline, but it doesn’t look like it will be done this year.

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, and looking like I’ll bump it up another 5% before the end of the year
  • 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 C. New company HQ is allowing me to take daily walks of 20 min/day, so it looks like I might hit this.
  • 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. Grade F: Chose not to do this in 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. Grade C: Getting further away from home, so its hard to get in miles. Got 82 miles in.
  • Continue volunteering at Pennsbury Manor at their joiner’s shop (woodworking). Really enjoyed this. Grade A: Continuing to volunteer at least once a month. Just completed my last one for the year.
  • 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. Grade D: Have only been able to maintain weight, haven’t really reduced it. I like sweets too much
  • Read at least one book a month. I surpassed this goal in 2018, and re-learned the joy of reading. Grade A. I got another five books under my belt for 3rd qtr.

Travel:

  • Visit a national park (visited two in 2018) Incomplete. Planning on doing this in October
  • 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 A: Visited family in TN, VT, NY. Getting back to TN 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. Grade A. Did a nice weekend at the shore in July , though it was pretty hot.
  • 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. Grade F: Doesn’t look like I’ll do it this year.  
  • 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 some left to do.  

How are you going on your goals for 2019?

Mr. 39 Months

Update on my income account

As many of you know, I’ve used my father’s inherited IRA to experiment with an income producing method of investing similar to the “old school” way that folks invested their money after retirement. This was laid out in Ben Stein’s book “Yes, you can become a successful income investor.” The idea was to create a method to generate enough income from the portfolio to live off of, without touching the principal (thereby letting it grow).

I detailed in a later post that, for the last 2-1/2 years, the stretch IRA was beating my vanguard allocation. I did note that this took into account the terrible 2018 year, which beat the Vanguard account down more than the income account. Over time, all my reading shows that the Vanguard account would do better – but be more volatile.

For the last three months, the account has not increase that much in value, but it has continued to throw off dividends. Investment value grew $2,194 for the six months (while the market was pretty stagnant), 1.7% (or 6.7% annual growth) while also throwing off $1,256.94 in dividends – the equivalent of 3.75% annual yield.

stock Details 1-Jul 1-Oct Yield Dividend
CVX Chevron $6,222.00 $5,614.50 4.24% $59.50
CSCO Cisco Systems $8,209.50 $6,984.00 3.01% $52.50
HR Healthcare Realty $7,830.00 $8,312.00 3.61% $75.00
PFF iShares $16,766.75 $16,912.35 5.24% $221.49
O Realty Income Corp (REIT) $6,897.00 $7,673.00 3.54% $67.95
SVC Hospitality Properties Trust $7,500.00 $7,498.50 8.64% $162.00
UMH UMH Properties $7,446.00 $8,622.00 5.01% $108.00
VZ Verizon $5,713.00 $5,891.00 4.09% $60.25
VBTLX Vanguard Total Bond Market Index $32,621.94 $33,248.71 2.69% $223.25
VBILX Vanguard Int-term Bond Index $32,787.96 $33,432.51 2.72% $227.00
$131,994.15 $134,188.57 3.75% $1,256.94

Not too shabby! Basically, its close to hitting the 4% withdrawal figure, while still growing sufficiently to keep up with inflation. What is interesting is that, while the stocks declined a lot (look at Chevron & Cisco) the other items (REITs,  bonds) helped to cushion the blow.

I’ll continue to monitor and see how this goes.

Mr. 39 Months