Tag Archives: saving

Early Retirement, What it Means to Me

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of early retirement. From reading blogs like Early Retirement Extreme and Free at 45 I’ve begun thinking about the true meaning of life. Not from an existential standpoint, which I’ve already thought about long and hard, but from a view of what every waking moment of my day is worth from now until my death.

My parents and their friends are getting old now. By old, I mean they’re in their late 50’s and they are really starting to look old. My dad is dying of cancer so he looks even older. When I was a kid, I thought, well, I want to live forever. I never wanted to be young forever. I guess your late 20s is when that thought pops into your head. I don’t really want to be “young” forever. I feel like one’s 30s are the perfect mix of being young and old. And the 40s aren’t bad either. But once you hit 50 your body does start to seriously age. You can definitely work hard at keeping up your body through physical exercise, eating right, etc, but the years take their toll on every body.

When I think about early retirement, I don’t have a dream of retiring to some desolate island and relaxing on a beach. I dream of working hard but doing what I want, when I want. I want to get to a point where working freelance or part-time on my own hours won’t kill my bank account, where my savings are large enough that the long-term stock market gains will provide a substantial portion of my income.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to work on calculating exactly what all this means from a financial standpoint. What year could I “retire” from 9-5? How much do I need to earn now and in upcoming years to obtain this goal? How much do I need to save? And when exactly can I retire “early?”

My current plan is to try to save $6,000 per month while I’m fortunate enough to have a job that pays well and low living costs. I’m not sure if this is maintainable over the long term. I’ll update in the near future with some further calculations to determine how much I will need to save each month to meet my early “retirement” goals.

Is Grad School Worth It? Financially Speaking.

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of applying to / going to grad school lately. Not for the earning potential post graduation, but for the chance to focus on an area of study and build up my skills so I feel like an expert in an area (at least until those skills are out of date.) But then I wonder… financially speaking, is grad school worth it?

Really what I need to look at is how much I will have when I retire. I figure I should have at least $1.5M in my bank account when I “retire” (although I plan to work at least part-time well into retirement, but at this point I want to be able to travel and freelance and not have to worry if I get sick and can’t work.)
At the moment, if I can live up to my quasi-frugal savings plans for the year and maintain my current job and occasional freelance income (say $70k per year pre tax) and save $20k each year, according to the compound interest calculator if I start with $30k today and save $20k a year for 30 years at a modest average interest rate of 3% I will have $1.052M in savings by the time I’m 56 and $1.65M by the time I’m 66.
It almost seems silly then to add in the cost of grad school, which will put me into debt and for many reasons, not guarantee I will make more than I am now later and certainly will not allow me to comfortably save $20k anytime during or after graduation from a graduate program.
Additionally, if/when I have children, it will also become increasingly difficult to save $20k per year, if not impossible. This variable could effect both the non-grad school and grad school potential scenarios. And since my 27-year-old boyfriend refuses to work a full time job or put an ounce of his occasional earnings into a Roth IRA, it’s likely that I’m saving for the both of us and our families. Which makes that $1.65M, esp with inflation, seem like a few dimes and a penny.
That brings me to wondering if I should just keep living like I’m living now for the rest of my life. No kids (they’re expensive.) Roommates. A small room. Living in an area where heat isn’t necessary. Cheap bills otherwise. Saving $20k per year. Cutting back when needed to make that possible. Retiring single at 66 with $1.65M (some of it would be taxed, of course, but that’s still not bad.)
Then again… why should I be living life to save for retirement? I can’t imagine ever wanting to fully retire — I see my grandmother at 80 spending her days in the casino and I think if I had the mental capacity she does at 80 I’d be working. I might be limited in my job choices but still, I’d be working because I don’t want to be the type who just sits around and “enjoys” retirement.
Going to grad school is probably an easier choice when you’re making $35k or less. But once you’re making $70k it’s a hard trade in. I’m looking more and more at MBA programs (my career counselor seems to decided that I should consider this path and is in awe of my knowledge of social networking and certain aspects of the tech business) but I don’t know. I don’t see myself ever really following an MBA path — working 100 hours a week, traveling more than I’m staying… I could do that maybe for a few years but not my whole life. How much more can I really earn with an MBA vs. 2 more years of experience that I can gain through my current or next job? Alas, these days I’m liking numbers a lot more than I used to… and I think I’d like studying applied math. I like spreadsheets.
The debt truly freaks me out. People go into debt all the time for school but I don’t know if I can. Partially its because I don’t know if it will actually be worth it for me to go to grad school. It would probably make more sense to give a loan to someone more focused than I am and more dedicated to getting a high salary, pay for THEIR grad school, and earn interest on that… then for me to go to grad school.
And, anyway, I read that in 25 years a dollar today will be worth $.32 which means that my $1.65M when I’m 66 will not be enough to get me through retirement (unless natural causes like stabbing myself help me reach those goals.)
How much are you saving for retirement? How much do you think we will need to retire in 2050?

2010: A Fresh Start / Saving $20k in One Year

My goal of saving $20k in 2010 feels within reach. I used Mint to create a strict budget for myself which, allowing for occasional splurges, still should see me saving $1670 per month…

Auto: $300
Bills: $200
Education: $60
Entertainment: $50
Investing Fees: $12
Food & Dining: $200
Health & Fitness: $400
Rent: $633
Personal Care: $440
Shopping: $50
Travel: $50

What’s in bold above is the hard part. I can see myself sticking to budget everywhere else, but it’s going to take a lot of effort to make sure I spend less than $200 on food per month and less than $50 on shopping. Honestly, the shopping is easier since I can just avoid the mall and therefore not buy anything. I spend way too much when I let myself near a mall, so no mall visits in 2010 except to buy gifts.

I don’t know how to spend $200 on food per month, even though in theory that should be easiest. Why can’t I spend less than $200 a month on food… I’m only feeding myself (and occasionally my boyfriend.) I eat out WAY too much which is why in 2010 I will eat out ONLY ONCE A MONTH (really?) and this will be an extreme change in lifestyle for me. That means I need to eat breakfast at home (so I don’t pick up $13 Starbucks on the way to work), figure out affordable lunch options, go out to lunch with my coworkers just once a week, and eat dinner at home — or pack a dinner. I honestly have no idea how to eat cheap / frugally. When I shop for food at the supermarket I usually buy too much that I don’t end up eating. I try to feed myself in the moment, which is bad, and usually wait to figure out what I’m in the mood for (am I craving protein? Calcium?) to decide what to eat. Well, that has to stop, as my $400 – $500 a month food diet is way too expensive and honestly not at all healthy for me.

If my income level stays the same this whole year AND I stick to my budget, I really feel like I CAN save $20k. It really helps using Mint’s planning tool to visualize this. I’m such a nerd but I love adjusting my monthly spending in each category and seeing the yearly savings figure go up. It makes a few dollars saved each month seem a lot more valuable.

Now, chances are I will not remain at my job all year for a few reasons. Namely because I work at a startup and this is our make-or-break year. We may “make” but just looking at the odds there’s at least some chance we’ll “break.” The good news is that with this tight(ish) budget savings plan, I should save $10k the first 6 months, which would at least put me in a good spot when I need to look for a new job (though would completely throw off my goal to save $20k and would depress me greatly.)

Now, I just need to figure out what to do about my 2010 Roth IRA. Over the past three years my IRA plan as been pretty simple… save up enough the year before to put in $3k on April 16 for the year, then put in a few hundred dollars a month until hitting $5k. It probably makes more sense to just max it out right away since I think I’ll have the money and the market looks like it will recover more in 2010 (though it could do the opposite, but how much would dollar cost averaging $2k over a year really help?) Additionally, at my current income tax bracket, I’m unsure if I should be doing a Roth IRA or if I’m at the point where a traditional IRA makes more sense. With no 401k to speak of (I’ve never worked for a company with a 401k, let alone one that matches) the Roth is my only pure investment vehicle. So I need to be smart about it.

After a really awful December in terms of spending (vacations, gifts, dining out) I’m so ready to turn a new January leave and live a semi-frugal life in 2010. With the help of this blog and Mint’s budget tools to keep me in check, I think I can accomplish this. This should be do-able if I keep myself in check every day. No more impulse buys. No more $1500 days at Bloomingdales to cure my temporary depression and need to feel free and reckless. No more alcohol. If I feel the need to do something impulsive – ever – I’m going to the gym.

2009: A Year in Personal Fiscal Review

2009 was an incredible year for be in terms of income. Since graduating college in 2005, I had at most made $30k per year, with months of the year usually dedicated to unemployment sans unemployment checks and freelancing to fill in the gaps. As much as 2009 was not a perfect year, my income this year hit approx. $70k before tax. So I made more than double what I’ve ever made before. That’s the good news.

My spending also increased in 2009. I spent $35k this last year, according to Mint. This included unnecessary splurges which I likely rewarded myself due to my promotion. Next year, I’m going to create a budget and stick to it, as my goal is to save 30% of my after-tax income, about $15,000 assuming my income remains the same (which odds are it won’t). I’d really like to save $20,000 next year, but to do that I’d really have to force myself to be frugal. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something I’ve never done before. I might try, especially with Mint’s budget tool and my new iPhone helping me keep my finances in check each month.

To save $20,000 in 2009, I’d have to save $1,667 each month. Assuming my take-home pre-tax pay is $66,000 (which I like to pretend is $33,000 after taxes) I have $2,750 a month to spend. That leaves me with just $1,083 a month of spending money if I really want to save $1,667 per month. Again, this is certainly possible. I’m really inspired by blogs like Under $1000 a Month because if a family of 4 can live off less than $1,000 a month (!!!) then so can I. Right?

Well, I’m not sure I can. My mental health therapy is expensive, as are the meds I will likely be on in 2010. That’s my biggest cost that I’m not willing to give up. I’ve already cut back on voice lessons, though I’m taking a dance class which is $60 / month. And my car may become a wreck in 2010 (with 170k miles on it, I don’t know how much longer it will last) which could mess up the whole savings thing.

I figure I have $800 in set costs (rent, bills, gym, car insurance) and then anything else on top of that which is vital… food, gas, new tires, etc. All-in-all it doesn’t seem like I can live on less than $1,000 a month. Well, I could, but that would mean NO therapy and no dance lessons (and definitely no laser hair removal package, which I’m almost sure I am going to purchase in early 2010 for $300 / month over 12 months.)

My goal for 2010, though, is to seek out ways to live frugally, besides my set expenses, so I can save a lot. Maybe not $20,000, but it’s not so bad to make that my goal. I’ll aim to save $1,667 a month and budget for this as possible. If I can increase my annual income with additional freelance work, all the better. I count my interest in as well, so if my stocks happen to perform well and my P2P accounts happen to stop defaulting, I might hit this goal. Who knows. I do want to focus on keeping my budget in check. If I can save AT LEAST $1,200 a month in 2012, my networth will hit $50k, which is really my main goal for 2010. I read somewhere that at 30 your savings should be at the amount you want to live on for one year of retirement. I’d like $80k a year in retirement, so I want to hit $80k in savings by 30. Which is going to get totally messed up by my potentially going to grad school… but it won’t exactly help matters if I’m out of a job either.

Anyway, here’s to 2010 being prosperous and smart for me and for everyone out there reading this little blog of mine. 🙂

26 Aspirations and Goals for 2010

I like Affecting Change in Me’s idea to come up with the # of goals for the coming year based on your age. She’s turning 30 so she has 30 goals.


Here are my 26 goals for 2010…

I’ll check in each month to update how I’m doing on each goal.

1. Save 20% of my income for retirement

2. Save 10% of my income for other upcoming expenses

3. Increase my net worth to $60,000

4. Study (a lot) for graduate school tests

5. Take the GMAT (and poss retake the GRE)

6. Apply to grad school(s) in fall 2010

7. Stop drinking alcohol (except on my birthday)

8. Go to the gym 3 times a week

9. Earn $10k in freelance income ($833 / month)

10. Eat 1300 calories per day

11. Drink 8 glasses of water per day

12. Come up with sweet, non expensive things to do to make my boyfriend happy and do them

13. Go to 1 networking event per month and get up the courage to talk to people (which is going to be really hard since I’m giving up alcohol)

14. Keep my room organized (easier said than done, hello ADD)

15. Write max 20 posts per month for blogging gig ($500 / month)

16. Start a saving fund for basic expenses for the second half of next year when I’ll likely be out of a job.

17. Write hand written letters to the people in my life who I’ve lost contact with (sans Facebook status updates). I don’t really like many people, but it saddens me that I’ve lost contact with the few people in this world who I really admire and consider friends.

18. Take an antidepressant for a year and see if it actually helps my mood swings over time.

19. Go to group therapy when possible and give what it takes to get the most out of it possible.

20. Make an effort to spend one day a month with each of my few friends.

21. Invite my roommates to do something fun outside the house and try to build my relationship with them (I am really bad at socializing with my roommates, I like them but when I come home I usually just want to hide in my room. They are so close to each other it’s sometimes awkward for me to be there.)

22. Read at least 4 fiction books and 4 personal finance / economics books and 4 books on interaction design

23. Start saving for a car replacement

24. Put my all into work, even though sometimes I don’t know how to. Be positive at work and supportive of the chaotic environment that is life at a startup. Try to bring a smile to the table always.

25. Work on being a better listener and communicator. Learn from career counselor how to do that.

26. Try to take one day at a time and be happy for all I have and all the opportunities that are to come.

How much should I save and where should I put it?

Lots of my readers think I’m a spoiled brat with a spending addiction, and occasionally I get a comment along those lines. Part of the reason I started this blog is that I agree with that statement and I’m trying to be smarter about my finances. Without the PF world I probably would be in debt by now instead of having $45k in savings. Yes, I have a shopping addiction. Yes, I need to stop making excuses for buying expensive clothes. Yes, I need to focus on saving more. But my biggest problem is not knowing where to save. It’s not the best excuse, but it’s true.

I can easily put away $5k per year in my Roth IRA because I always save up that much the year before (I overestimate on my taxes and pretend that money doesn’t exist) but beyond that I am not sure where to put my savings. Spending the money is, sadly, a lot easier than figuring that out. Again, an excuse, but I really don’t know where to put my money. With no 401k at work, I’m not sure where I should save. Do any of you have ideas for me?

I have some automatic transfers set up. $100 / month to ING Direct liquid emergency fund, $50 / month to Sharebuilder, $50 / month to my 529 plan. I’m not really sure how to save for retirement beyond my 401k or if I even should be saving more than that right now specifically for retirement. If I could figure out HOW MUCH I should be saving and WHERE I should be saving it, believe me, it would be a lot easier to save it.

My current accounts…

Checking: $375
Basic Savings Account: $301
CD / Emergency Fund: $8,073.49
ING Direct Savings / Liquid Emergency Fund: $3000
PayPal: $70

Roth IRA: $14,482
Sharebuilder Stocks & ETFs: $9,801.43
Vanguard Index Fund: $4113.69
Vanguard 529 College Plan: $890.44
Lending Club: $555.95
Prosper: $233.10
HSA: $1000

Where on earth should I be putting my savings and how much should I really try to save each year?

My 529 Plan for Grad School

A few months ago, I started a 529 plan for myself. Since I plan to go to grad school within the next 4 years, I figured it couldn’t hurt to start saving with a tax advantaged plan. I’m going a little bit higher risk than I should given my short time frame, but I’m fairly diversified, and I figure worst case scenerio I’ll just have to take out the full loan I would have had to take out if I didn’t save any extra money.

So far I have only $680 in the account. I have $100 going in to it automatically each month. Come tax time, if I have a rebate this year (which I think I should since I’m estimating my networth minus $15k in assumed additional taxes. Some of that will be taxes from my freelance work, but I haven’t done that much freelance this year, so I will have a larger net worth than my estimate at the end of the year, hopefully.)

Then, I just have to figure out how much money I really should put into the 529. Besides the fact that I may, for whatever reason, end up not going to graduate school, my bigger concern is that I can’t use the money for anything else without a major penalty, except education for my not-yet-existent kids. If I don’t have kids, well, then that money will go to my sister’s not-yet-existent kids, or I’ll just donate it to my cousins. I’m sure one day SOMEONE can use it. And starting to save now for my kids’ accounts is not such a bad idea… that’s quite a long time for the money to grow, with all the earnings tax free (as long as the tax code stays the same, another worry.)

So at the end of the year, when I get my tax refund, first I’ll put $3000 towards my 2010 Roth IRA, like I did last year. Any extra money left over… I need to figure out if I should put all of it into the 529 plan, or if that’s stupid. I have a few months to decide. In the mean time, I best get studying for the GREs, which I’m taking next month!

10 Ways to Save Money on Laser Hair Removal

The last post I wrote was supposed to be about 10 ways to save money on laser hair removal, but turned into more of a ramble about my last year shopping around for the best prices. Thought it’d be best for my readers if I summarized exactly how to save money on laser hair removal treatments…


1.
Free Consults are Your Friend
Go to at least 3 places for a free consultation. If you can, go to 5+ places for a free consult.

2. Get it in Writing
Get everything in writing, especially prices and package deals. Find out how long they’re good for.

3. Paying Up Front? Ask About Discounts
Ask about financing plans. Places that offer financing plans pay a ridiculous fee to the medical credit companies. See if you can get that fee discounted off your price if you pay up front (one clinic offered to take another 10% off each package if I paid cash up front.)

4. Play Hard to Get

Let the clinic know you’re shopping around. Make them have to sell you on why you should pick them, instead of letting them take you for all you’re worth.


5. Negotiate Your Package
Find out if you can purchase a package of 6-7 treatments, instead of the normal 5. Even though this will cost more up front, this will save you money in the long run. You will need more than 5 treatments unless you don’t have a lot of hair, in which case, why are you bothering with laser hair removal to begin with?

6. Research Your Laser

Make sure you go somewhere that has a laser that’s right for your skin type. The Alexandrite, Diode and YAG lasers are all good for different skin & hair color combinations. Use the wrong one, and at worst you can hurt your skin, at best you’re not getting the most effective treatment, which means you’ll be disappointed with the results and have to pay for even more treatments for it work to your expectations.

7. Wait for Specials
After you get full pricing information in writing, wait for package deals. Most spas tend to offer good deals in the early summer, as this is when their clinics slow down. Sign up for mailing lists so you know when the deal is available. There are sometimes good deals at other times throughout the year, depending on how the economy is doing. I’ve seen some great deals lately, in the fall.

8. Purchase Multiple Packages for Best Savings

Buy multiple packages at once. You have a lot more wiggle room in terms of negotiating price this way. Only do this if you feel like you can pay up front and know you like the place and who will be doing the treatment on you. I recommend purchasing a single package or just one treatment to get a real idea of what the treatments are like before diving into packages costing thousands of dollars.

9. Follow Treatment Timing

Make sure to go back for your follow-up treatments in the right intervals. Waiting too long or not long enough will make your treatment less effective. Ask your practitioner how long you should wait for each body part.

10. Get a Free Zap or Two

You can’t get your legs free if you buy arms, but you might be able to negotiate your feet and toes and bikini line in a “full legs” package. My underarm hair removal package now, unofficially, includes the small bit of hair between my breasts in the center of my chest. It’s only about 10 hairs, but it’s the worst as it shows up in all my outfits. I mentioned this to the RN doing my armpits while she was treating me and she said “I’ll just zap them for you.” Even if the clinic does not condone freebies, you might be able to get a little more for your money by asking. Do this before paying for your package and then it’s official, and make sure to get it in writing. Note – this won’t work for places that charge by the laser pulse or for time spent on treating.

Spending Addiction vs. Earning Addiction

Unlike most of the personal finance bloggers out there, I’m more of a spender than saver. That admitted, I limit my spending as to not put myself in debt. I still save, or at the least, break even without dipping into my savings.

It’s hard, as an adult, to spend “correctly.” This year my biggest purchases — other than my trip to Bloomingdales last weekend and my new favorite $600 leather jacket and updated fall wardrobe — were laser hair removal and a few classes at my local community college. I probably spent too little in terms of health (with company health insurance and an HSA, I have yet to dip into my company’s $100/month contribution. It’s extra retirement savings for me, right?)
I do need to write a post on the latest health insurance debacle in the US government, but for now I’m just updating about my spending habits, and how I’m going to stop being ashamed of them, but really try to get them in check.
The good news is that I’m earning a lot this year. My general rule is that whatever I make as base salary for the year for my full time job, I need to try my best to do some side projects here and there in my spare time to cover for any splurges. For instance, I write for a blog (usually at 7am before I head into the office for the day) and make anywhere from $200 – $500 a month doing that. So in a year or so, if I hit the $500 target, that covers… at least some of my splurges. Which makes me feel better about those few days a year when I go to the mall and feed my addiction.
On one hand, I feel guilty for even being able to spend so much. And I have finance voices in my head saying — save the money. But — with the stock market recovery and my investing heavily earlier this year, I’m above my net worth for the close out of 2008 already. I could save more. Everyone can always save more. There has to be a line one draws between saving and spending, and I still don’t have a clue where that line should be. I love shopping, I love fashion, and I admit I spent about $1000 total revamping my wardrobe so now it’s complete with leggings, long t-shirts, and 3 new pairs of shoes that fit both with the trends and my long-term fashion aesthetics, plus my new jacket that I am in love with.
Laser hair removal is even more expensive, but it makes me happy. It’s not a necessity, I will live without it, but being hair free is something I’ve dreamt about all my life. I’m really hairy even after one day of shaving. It puts a damper on my otherwise great relationship. If my legs are prickly intimacy limited to kissing.
So this year, I’ve invested in myself. And I feel like I should continue to do that, within reason. After all, I’m an adult, an adult without children (for the time being) and I ought to spend on myself a bit before there’s other things to worry about… a house payments, school tuition, etc. It’s hard to really understand the concept of saving when you’re not in debt. How much should I be saving? I’m not sure. I try to make my networth go up a bit each year. I’m hoping as my income increases (if it increases) over my lifetime that will be easier. But who knows. I’m a little lost. But I’m not too lost, and I for once feel like I’m in control of my finances, the control I have is obtained by spending within reason, not by saving. Saving is a byproduct of limiting my splurges.

My Net Worth Post 2008 Taxes

My networth definitely improved in the past year, despite the massive losses in the stock market. Now that my taxes are paid, my networth stands at $29,082.11 not counting my piece-o-crap car.

I started recording my networth on June 21, 2007. At that time, I had $25.7k. That was also the year I was very unwise with my finances, before I got myself in check. By 10/8/2008 my networth was just $13.9k. Granted, I was over estimating on my taxes for 2008, but my spending habits had yet to improve in order to have my networth return to the state it was at before I spent too much money on travel and other things.

This year, my income should increase (as long as I can keep my job all year) which means I have no excuse to let my networth drop. In fact, I’m setting some pretty high goals for myself this year (which are largely dependent on if and how quickly the stock market recovers, but I can still save smartly and do well.)

I’d really like to save $20k this year, so that my networth by April 15, 2010 is $49k. Is that do-able? I probably would need to cut out all my extra expenses such as voice lessons. I was thinking of calling it quits on those in July since they cost $160 a month. But I also wanted to start taking some other courses that were more in line with my future grad school plans, and those cost even more. So I go back and forth on whether I should really focus on increasing my networth (so I can pay for most of grad school up front) or if I should just spend it on classes now so I can get into a good grad school. Hmm. And the question remains, do I even really want to go to grad school? I’m still not clear on this.

I did some quick calculations and to meet my goal I need to take in approx $300 extra post-tax per month through freelance projects (do-able with current blogging gig, where I can make $600 a month pre-tax, as long as that lasts) and I can spend, at most, $1600 per month. That should be do-able, right? I’ve been spending quite a bit more than that per month, but I’m going to see if I can cut costs and get down to that $1600 per month target. Will track my progress on here. Wish me luck! (oh, and I am not going to count April because I’m already way over due to some spring shopping and my boyfriend’s birthday gift. This is starting today, the new, really frugal me.)

**my average monthly spending for from March 2008 to March 2009 was $2279.30
So I’ll need to whack off another $679 per month to meet my goals.