Tag Archives: savings

Fantasizing About Graduate School

It’s time. For almost nine years I’ve been in the workforce, far away from academia, exploring a multitude of careers and learning more about myself while saving nearly $300k. What I’ve learned is that in order to be happy, I must have a day job that satisfies much of my fundamental needs:

  1. Enables me to be a SOCIAL, collaborative creature, interacting with the same people on a regular basis, over the course of multiple projects.
  2. Enables me to work on PROJECTS as opposed to ongoing, never-ending, headache-inducing programs. I need a sense of completion. My brain requires the structured chunking of time in order to be most productive and content.
  3. Enables me to APPLY CREATIVITY. I do not want to live a life where creativity is the end goal. The creativity should be a means to accomplish a very clear problem that has been identified via patterns or an examination of problems that are likely to arise in the near-term future. Continue reading

Somewhat Aggressive Financial Goal Setting

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Science tells us that when we set goals we’re more likely to accomplish them. It has been with the help of starting this blog that I’ve managed to grow my networth from less than $25k to over $250k. Now the stakes are raised.

My next big goal is $500k by 2018.

Fortunately, I’ve found myself in a career that pays reasonably well. I could be making more money, but I’ve also found that, as many of the finance gurus say, it’s not about how much you make but how much you keep. I’ll never claim to be a frugalista, but I’ve managed to control my spending to the point where my savings have grown into a sizeable nestegg for anyone who doesn’t live in such an expensive region of the world. Here, where average starter homes cost $1.2M, it’s slightly more than pocket change, but it’s a start.

Readjusting My Savings Goals for the Mid-Long Term

Previously in Mint I had three goals set up for the short term. I track my retirement accounts under one goal, my taxable investments and liquid cash under another, and then my college savings account (529 plan) in another (just because that’s an oddball I set up once in case I ever want to go back to school, but I’m not investing any more in at the moment.) Continue reading

Oh the Progress You’ve Made…

Sometimes I forget just how far aheads I am (in terms of savings) than most of the American population, let alone most people my age (28.) I obsessively check my networth and investment growth, and have this month watched my “investing for fun Sharebuilder account” hit $100k. Sure it’s down a few thousand now under that mark, but I’m confident it will inch over the line again. My total Networth is now $200k, a goal that seemed completely impossible just 5 years ago on my then $50k a year salary.

A few months after I started investing in this “fun” account the stock market crashed and it was hard to keep watching my investment account go down. At the time, even though I had about $15k in the account, it was painful to watch it slip to $10k or less. I knew that was the right time to invest as much as possible, so I started to try to pour as much as possible from each paycheck into my investment accounts.

Interestingly enough, my more “safe” investments — such as my Vanguard index funds — have not performed well at all over the last 7 years. Meanwhile my fun account — which is unfortunately taxable but the only place to put my investment dollars when either I have no 401k option or I’ve maxed out my 401k and Roth — had performed quite well. It’s had its ups and downs, but I realized overall since starting the account it has made about $25k — on less than $75k investment. Knock on wood as things can always change, but the performance has definitely been much stronger than my safe accounts that have barely moved at all.

I recently met up with two of my friends from different aspects of my life — one who I grew up with back east, who moved across the country to go to culinary school and has been moving her way up in the world as the manager of a hotel. The other, also my age, I met in a summer program in high school. She too picked up and moved across the country and is now working as a video editor. All of us are middle class — the hotel manager, I’ll call her Sally, owns a 2br condo in the suburbs, which her parents helped her purchase despite the fact that they were struggling with money. I don’t know her exact income but I’d guess it’s around $60k. My friend the video editor has been at the same job for 6 years now, and hasn’t received much of a raise in those 6 years. Her income I estimate to be about $50k. She likes her field but is unhappy with the company and some colleagues, but is comfortable without change. She hasn’t saved for retirement yet and is living in a 1br apartment for about $1200 a month (which isn’t bad for the city she’s in, but having roommates could help her save more.) Meanwhile, my boyfriend just quit his PT $20/hr job and has $0 in retirement savings. He turned 30 last March and is finally getting his act together and looking for a FT position with benefits and such.

I’m sitting here today staring at the net worth in my PersonalFinance.com account, with the number $200,947.58 staring back at me. This isn’t a fake number or guesstimate of my networth today. This isn’t filled with some questionably accurate estimate of a car or home value. This is $200,947.58 of straight-up cash and stock investments. This isn’t meant to brag — for one, I could have been much wiser with my money to date and saved even more, and two, I know I’ve been fortunate in my upbringing to be able to get where I am today, with no student loans and $5k from my parents plus $10k from a lawsuit when I was a kid to buy my first car and get started in the world.

Still, my friends noted above had similar situations. My friend the hotel manager may have student loans, but her parents bought her a 2br condo. My friend the video editor had her college education paid for and is likely going to inherit a large sum down the road. My boyfriend’s college education was paid for by his mother, and he lives at home paying $0 in rent in a part of the country where jobs that pay well are relatively plentiful. So, in short, I feel ok comparing myself to these three people I know in understanding my level of success versus the rest of the world who may be less fortunate.

In June, the average American family saw their net worth drop 40% in that three-year time period from $126,400 to $77,300. Going on 29 and single, I’m already well above that. It’s sad to think that most families do not have more than $77k in networth! I’m still shocked that I’ve been able to save and earn this much on my investments in less than a decade of work. I’m a bit terrified of how little i’ll be able to save once i have a family and kids — I’m pretty sure the whole financial advice that marriage is good for your finances is actually going to be the opposite for me.

Looking ahead, I’m focused on continuing to save $50k per year. My goal has always been to hit $250k by the time I turn 30. As long as the stock market cooperates next year that may be achievable. Given I’m at $200,947 right now with 3.5 months left in the year (and a big iphone release coming out which will only help Apple stock ride up in the short term), I could theoretically hit this goal much sooner than thought. The car purchase will definitely get in the way — it’s kind of funny, but one thing my DUI proved is that large expenses don’t have to get in the way of your goals. I’m still pissed at myself for all the chaos that one stupid day caused to my life, but the reality is the DUI was my largest-ever “expense” and I’ve lived to tell about it. I estimate the DUI will cost me $10,000 all things said and done, whereas previously my most expensive purchase was my car for $7500. Sure, without the DUI I’d actually be able to purchase a car right now and be well over my networth goals, but in a way it’s shown me that you can spend money in life and still save quite a bit.

My goal has always been to have $500k in the bank before having children. The plan right now is to get married at 31 (in 2 years) and start my family in 3 (wedding in 2014, start family in in 2015.) That gives me 3 years to save $300,000, so that goal is highly unlikely. This year my stock performed well but in reality I’ve saved about $25k and the other $25k was earnings on my investments. That may not happen in future years and it very may well go in the other direction. Eeks. But even if I can save $50k per year, that’s still just $350k by the time I want to start a family… no where near the $500k goal. I could wait another 3 years to start a family and put marriage off as well, if I can continue as planned saving $50k per year I should reach $500k by 34. But I’m worried 34 is too late to start having children given my PCOS and how hard it will be for me to have kids in the first place. Sigh. I get very freaked out about how fast life is going and all the choices that need to be made. But I really don’t want to have children until i hit that $500k networth mark. Of course my company stock options can significantly impact this. If my company is able to have a successful exit, my networth could skyrocket past that goal. That’s always in the back of my mind, but I don’t like to consider that in my planning as it also very well may not happen. It’s crazy to think that there’s a better-than-winning-the-lottery chance that it may, but until the day that happens I’ll stick to my plan of saving $50k per year, and try to up that quite a bit so I can get to $500k earlier than 34!

June Networth Update: $174.5k (-0.78%)

It’s been a rough networth month for many of us, as the stock market, which was doing so well earlier this year, has decided to take a turn in the other direction. In May, my portfolio took a hit, as I managed to spend a bit of money on a few weddings (gifts, dress, shoes, etc.) I’m honestly surprised I ended the month just .78% down.

Assets: $181.628 (.43%)
Cash: $11,870 (124.56%)
Stocks: $113,634 (-2.33%)
Retirement: $52,735 (-3.56%)
Future Kids College Fund: $3389 (-1.77%)
Debts: -$7,087

Networth: $174,541 (-$1367, -0.78%)

In order to hit my goal of $200k this year, I need my account to increase $3637 in June, or 2.08% of my current networth.

$3637 Gain Goal in June? Here’s how…
$1125: 401k auto investment
$1500: savings
$942: growth on investment (.5%)

Of course, if my stocks don’t play nice, this could be an unfortunate month. But, the good news is, I am eligible for a bonus again this July (and again in September) which could help offset some of the losses from wonky markets.

Mission Impossible? $250k in the bank by 30

As I stare at my PersonalCapital.com Net Worth of just $166,978 in May 2012, I can’t help but feel like my goal of $250k networth by the age of 30 (or, 17.5 months away) is impossible.

That’s $83,022 left to save, or approximately $4.9k per month for the next 17 months. Since I only make about $5k after taxes, that, indeed, is an impossible feat. At best, with bonuses, I make $110k per year pre-tax, which comes out to an average of $6k per month. Still, spending just $1.1k a month for the next 17 months and obtaining all of my bonuses is unlikely, and yes, pretty impossible too.

My only hope is that my investments perform extremely well, and not extremely lousy ($163,747 of my total networth is currently in stock-heavy investment accounts.) I’m concerned my stocks will see losses instead of gains in the coming year, which will completely ruin my hope to be anywhere near $250k by November 2013.

5% interest, 18 months = $176,180
5% interest + $10k per year, 18 months = $192,125
5% interest + $20k per year, 18 months = $208,070
8% interest, 18 months = $183,784
8% interest + $10k per year, 18 months = $200,304
8% interest + $20k per year, 18 months = $216,824
10% interest, 18 months = $188,913
10% interest + $10k per year, 18 months = $205,819
10% interest + $20k per year, 18 months = $222,724

According to Personal Capital, my investments are currently 15% up in the last 6 months. That may not last. I’d like to see my account go up 30% this year, as then suddenly my dreams of $250k by 30 start looking a bit more possible. If they could make 30% for 1.5 years going forward, even without adding a cent, I’ll be at $242,710 by November 2013. With $10k per year of savings, that would bring me to $263.6k by 30, and would be a huge success.

I’ll be tracking my progress as always, to report on how close or far from the mark my investments are putting me.

10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s, Part 2

This is part 2 of a series inspired by Give Me Back My Five Bucks, based on a Kiplinger article of the 10 commandments for finances in your 20s… I’m grading myself on each one of the commandments. Read Part 1 here.

6. Establish credit. In order to qualify for the best interest rates on a credit card, auto loan or mortgage, you need to start building a solid credit history. In fact, a good history can also save you a bundle on your auto insurance or help you land an apartment or a job (see Why Your Credit Score Matters). Building a good credit history in your twenties will ensure it’s ready when you need to use it. If you didn’t have a credit card in college, one way of getting credit now is to apply for a secured card: You make a deposit — usually $300 to $500 — in a savings account as collateral, and you can get the money back after one year of using the card responsibly. You can also start building a credit history through www.prbc.com, an alternative credit bureau that gathers data on regular payments for rent, cable and other recurring expenses. (See Rent Your Way to Good Credit to learn more.)

Score C. I’ve never made a big purchase on a credit card and paid it off slowly, so my credit score is not as great as it could be. That said, I’m totally opposed to how you need to carry a balance in order to build credit. I do have a credit card (ok I have a lot of credit cards) but I don’t have a lot of recurring expenses. Continue reading

Clashing Long Term Fiscal Values in a Young Relationship

My boyfriend and I have been together four years. I quickly fell in love with his kindness and calm nature, which contrasted with my oft-anxious and somewhat self-centered relationship with the world. Mostly, though, I found that after dating a law student for two years I felt much more comfortable in a relationship with someone who had less motivation than I did than more. With the lawyer, who had an Ivy undergrad education and a JD from a top-10 school, I could never equal his level of success (or so I thought at the time) with my average schooling and internship salary.

Thus, dating a guy who wasn’t striving to become the next Joe Jamail was a refreshing relief. With the attorney, I always felt like he looked down on my choices and with that my depression over uncertainty, my 21-year-old lack of clarity. Enter my current boyfriend with his lack of concern over professional title or climbing up the corporate ladder, and I felt safe. With him, I felt comfortable moving up my own corporate ladder. It’s not that he is stupid or anything, he too has a degree from a top school with a high honors mark on his diploma to boot. So intelligence is not the factor here, more so, it’s the fundamentals of what motivates a person.

Four years later, my boyfriend and I still have little arguments about money. He doesn’t like discussing finances – which, fair enough, is not something two people dating oft discuss prior to marriage or at the very least engagement. After being unemployed for a year and not applying to jobs, he eventually landed a low-paid, part-time internship (one that I had completed earlier) and after that found an hourly editorial job at a non-profit that paid less than I made at my first non-profit job. It was obvious he hadn’t cared to negotiate for a better starting wage, but mostly I was proud of him for finally getting out of his funk and getting a job.

The years go by… and neither of us are by any means perfect. I manage to get fired from… a few jobs… because I lack motivation when I believe my contributions would be better contributed by a robot. As I learned to force myself to do my job no matter what, I got laid off because that job was no longer needed. To my credit, every time I lost my job I managed to practically double my salary in my next position. I moved across industries and tried out a lot of different things to figure out where I would be fulfilled. I realized that I am, to some extent, motivated by money – not by having nice, flashy things, but by watching my networth increase… my maxing out my 401k… by feeling that I may one day have enough to afford a house, even in the Bay Area.

My boyfriend, on the otherhand, spent those three years working at the non-profit. He did his job very well, followed orders, increased productivity in the company by making many of the processes more efficient. He never asked for a raise. His boss gave him a very small “raise” when he decided to work less hours and go 1099 contract instead of W2 hourly. He’s still making $20/hr, while I’m billing upwards of $80/hr on some of my projects.

This isn’t to say that I would judge anyone for working a job that makes $20/hr – there are plenty of jobs I respect out there that earn this. If you’re talking about $20/hr in Kansas, that’s also a very different income than $20/hr where the average small house costs over $1M. But this is where we always get into our little tiffs about money… I argue that before I have kids, I’d like to have an average yearly dual income of at least $150k. Long-term, I see no reason why that dual income can’t be $300k. And I would feel more comfortable in life, before deciding to have children, to know that we’d make that kind of income in our lifetimes.

My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. Maybe I am. $150k for a family income is not unreasonable, but the majority of people in America live on much less than that – and many of them have healthy, happy families. I just look at my current spending – which could be more frugal, but is by no means extravagant – and wonder how I’d ever be able to save for retirement and pay for a house and potentially pay back graduate school loans, all while also affording children (I want two or three of them within the next 10 years.)

My boyfriend, who also wants to return for graduate school (either to become a teacher or psychology researcher) will never care about income above and beyond middle class. It’s not that he’d mind if his field paid more, he just will never be the type to push for raises or chose a job because it pays better. And as much as I admire that about him – as much as I feel safer in my own career journey knowing that my partner will accept me and love me if I make $30k a year or $200k a year, I still feel like sometime down the road this difference in fiscal values will start to hurt us a lot more than it does now.

There are times when I think of what it would be like to continue my search for my life partner, and I just can’t imagine being with anyone else. I love this guy to death, and again, I couldn’t be with someone who cared that much about money. If anything, I know that I’m most comfortable bringing home the bacon because then I feel I have more right to be in charge of the household finances. My mom is clueless when it comes to money and my entire life my parents have argued about how it should be spent. As my father was the one bringing home a single income (albeit over $200k by the time he retired) he never felt she had any right to be involved in financial decisions. If I was with a guy who understood finances more than I did… and made more money… then I might end up in that situation too. So I’d rather be the one in charge, making more money, and with a guy who maybe doesn’t care that much about his salary.

It just makes me nervous about limiting my choices later in life. What if I want to take a year off to spend time with my newborn child? What if I want to work part-time to be able to go to my child’s plays during the school day or drive them to soccer practice? On the whole other hand of this, I’m terrified of knowing I’m worth “$200/hr” or whatever my going rate would be at the time, and then deciding not work that hour because I want to spend it with my family. It would almost be easier to have less money, have a stable job, and never feel like my time is stamped with a dollar value. Or, at the least, have a partner who earns as much as I do, or around the same amount, so we could contribute to a goal income for the year… and enjoy the time we have off without the calculator in my head exploding over lost income opportunities.

IRA or 401k? Is it too late?

When I realized I would be earning too much this year to qualify for a Roth IRA, I cried a little bit. Ok, that’s overly dramatic, but I have been so proud of myself for saving my pennies each year of my $20k to $50k / year income to max out my Roth IRA that I felt a little empty knowing my savings this year could not be invested in tax-free growth.

So I thought I’d do the second-best thing… open a traditional IRA and deduct the money now, pay taxes on it later. Not the best option in the world, but at least I’d get to deduct the money from my rather high single tax rate.
This morning I found out that I was completely wrong about that. I admit it’s my fault for not doing my research appropriately, but now I’m totally bummed. Apparently the income you’re allowed to have to get the benefits of a traditional IRA is LOWER than that of a Roth IRA. This makes absolutely no sense to me right now because why would anyone want to invest in a traditional IRA if you are in a low-ish tax bracket?
I guess if you do not have a retirement plan at work you are allowed to deduct up to $5k for your traditional IRA in each tax year. Funny how this is the first year of my life I will have access to a retirement plan… a 401k (no match or anything, of course, god forbid I work for a company that would match my contributions.) I signed up for it, and I am supposed to start making contributions in mid July. I wanted to max out my 401k and my IRA for the maximum deduction to reduce my AGI. But it looks like that’s not happening.
The only reason I can see a traditional IRA having some benefit is that I think I can still put up to $5k in there each year and $16.5k into the 401k and later, when I’m not making a lot of money over the year, I can convert both of those accounts to a Roth IRA and pay taxes in a lower tax bracket. Given that I obviously don’t understand tax law very well, I may be off on this logic as well. At least then I can see why a traditional IRA has some value. But as this conversion thing is fairly new – why would anyone want to open a traditional IRA? Is there ever a good reason for this?

Is Capitalism Evil?

I’m a little late to the table on this question, but is Capitalism evil? My boyfriend and I watched the Michael Moore film Capitalism a few days ago and have been arguing since. My boyfriend believes the whole capitalism is evil argument, while I’m torn. It is a system based on greed and greed ultimately equals corruption (because that’s just the way people are), however it’s the best system I know. That’s not saying it’s the right way to have an economy.

If my boyfriend had his way, he’d live in a real communist society. One where everyone really gets exactly the same. His happiness will never come from material goods. He could live in a cardboard box and be perfectly happy as long as he had the freedom to live as he chooses and more importantly that he knows everyone else is equally compensated.

I, on the other hand, live my life squeezing out pennies from my salary, negotiating for higher pay, working long hours at two jobs to earn as much income in as little time so I can put it into the stock market and other less risky savings vehicles and have compound interest hopefully work it’s magic for the future. It’s not that I need a lot of money to be happy… I more so need a lot of money to feel comfortable. Maybe that’s the evils of capitalism telling their story.

My boyfriend likes to compare Hitler killing all the Jews to capitalism, because in a capitalist society you have the super rich and then everyone else is poor, and there’s very little in between. As a Jew, I kind of take offense to this argument. I don’t think it’s the same thing at all. In Capitalism, everyone DOES have a chance to succeed. Not everyone will. Some people do have an unfair advantage. But no one is taking masses of people and killing them in gas chambers. The comparison is unexcusable.

But — I’m not sure where I stand on the whole capitalism thing. If I knew that I could make less money but have stability over the years (a pension, enough to buy a house, live a decent life, take vacations every few years) then maybe I wouldn’t be so set in supporting capitalism. The only way I can see living that life is through capitalism now. Even if I’m able to sock away $50k per year after tax for the rest of my life, it will take me 20 years to become a millionaire. I’ll be 46. That’s not so bad, but that also means that I will need to keep renting an apartment with roommates, will need to keep working two jobs with one of them being for a large corporation that can afford to pay a 6 figure contractor salary, and I’ll have to sacrifice much of my life for work.

At least with the stock market there’s the chance that those 20 years can be shorter, or that I can save less each year and through compound interest have my million or two million in retirement. I know I won’t have a pension. I don’t know how much social security will be around by the time I retire. I can’t lead a comfortable life unless I know I can save money and have it grow.

Ok, so the biggest argument in the movie that I can say my boyfriend and I agree on is that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to be funded by private corporations. That really is just asking for corruption. It doesn’t even help the small businesses because the only companies who can afford to have major influence are the ones who are already super rich.

But I don’t want to live in a communist society. I like making money. It seems that’s the only thing I’m passionate about these days. I don’t even like spending money anymore. The more I make, the less I want to spend, because I’m able to start saving thousands of dollars a year. My goal this year is for my networth to go from $50k to $100k. And what’s amazing is that it’s possible. I’m one of the lucky ones, sure, but I’m still working two jobs. I’m still finding out what my skills are and applying them to roles where I can make a decent wage. I still know that I can lose my job at any second, so I have a sizable emergency fund, and I don’t have debts so if I need to cut back on my spending I could feasibly live off $1,000 a month. I wouldn’t get to save any more, but I wouldn’t be losing money. I wouldn’t be evicted.

Maybe I can’t understand yet because I don’t have a family. I’m sure it’s a lot harder with kids. I have so much freedom as a single person to say I can live on $1k a month. But that’s why I believe in spending your 20s earning as much as possible and saving as much as possible. Living as cheaply as possible. Work hard now, play later. Hope the stock market doesn’t completely crash. That’s my motto. Does that make me a capitalist? Eh, I guess so. Will my boyfriend ever understand? I think not.

The Long Term Trick to Earning More Money in Your 20s and Beyond

Let me preface this by saying that I am very aware the amount of money you make is largely determined by the field you’re in. If you have your heart set on saving the whales for a living, you may never make as much as someone working in marketing for a national firm. But that doesn’t have to limit you to the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

In five years since graduating college, I’ve managed to go from a $35k/year job to a $120k/year job. Do I deserve this income more than anyone else making less than me? No. Will this income remain stable for the year’s to come? I haven’t the faintest.

But — one thing I’ve learned is that, while it’s easy to accept scraping by in your 20s, you should live like you need more money TODAY so you can save for later. When you interview for jobs, they can’t ask if you have children… or an expensive mortgage… or debt that you need to repay. If you’re in your 20s and single with little or no debt, you may tell yourself “I’m doing fine on $35k” and then you wonder why you are having trouble saving any money for retirement or anything else. Live like you need $20-$30k more a year to get by, and pursue your salary – not your lifestyle – based on this white lie. It will give you that extra motivation to negotiate for $5k more a year, or $10k more a year… which adds up over the long term.

The trick to earning more money long term is setting savings goals for yourself. You may not always hit them, but having a number (even one that seems impossible to reach) in one’s mind shifts the way you go about living. When you’re looking for a job, you’re willing to negotiate for the extra pay because it’s one of the only ways you may ever reach your goal.

I read that you should have as much in savings when you’re 30 that you would like to have per year when you retire. My goal is to have $100k in savings by the time I am 30. At my last salary rate, this was looking quite unlikely. I have 3.5 years until 30, and I’m only at $55k in savings right now.

When I got laid off at my last job, I applied for a lot of different positions, all which had varying salary ranges. Some paid really crappy. I knew I needed something, and I knew I could get by on the crappy pay. But I wouldn’t hit my goal of having $100k in the bank by the time I’m 30. So that fueled my job search in a different way.

The other day I was talking to my boyfriend. He thinks I’m “rich.” He has an $18/hour part time job and hasn’t tried to get anything better. He has no benefits. (Well, neither do I, but I can afford them on $120k and still save.) He told me about his friends who are trying desperately to find a $30k a year job. While I’m by no means arguing that you shouldn’t take a $30k per year job if you find something that you’d love or it really is the only option, by realizing you are worth more (or at least telling yourself you can convince someone to pay you more… and that you are going to save the money) probably increases your long term earnings.

Let me put it this way… I could easily be still making $50k or less, and I’d probably be just as happy NOW. But, later, I wouldn’t have much in savings, and I’d be really upset that I missed out on the opportunity in my 20s to put a lot of money into savings and let compound interest work its magic.

If you can’t make more money at your current job or in your field, get a second job, but just live as if you “need” more money to survive BEFORE you actually do. I’m freelancing on the side of my full time job because I know now is the best time to earn income. Later when I have a family I won’t want to sacrifice the extra hours of living to be at the computer… but now, there’s lots of time to earn money and then save that money for the future.