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Digging a Little Deeper

Posted on Apr 12, 2013 | 0 comments

Sure it can eat through mud and snow...and your wallet.

Sure it can eat through mud and snow…and your wallet.

Now that we’ve taken care of most of our “big-ticket” items to improve our savings, Dan and I are trying to tackle the smaller ways that we can find extra dollars in our budget. Not only is this important for increasing our savings to maximum levels but it also is helping to prepare us for living more frugally while cruising. If we want to have any kind of decent chance at living on $1000-$1500 a month than we have to get serious about knowing where each of our dollars goes and how to cut that down as much as possible.

The tracking part is made much easier by the online financial website that we use: Mint.com. We have all of our bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts tied in so they automatically update whenever you long in. We’ve used this program for a few years and we’re pretty happy with it, though it can be a lengthy process to set everything up and figure out what budgets you want to set for yourself. Once you have been using it for a couple of months, it can really help to show you where your money is going every month. For some time now, it has been giving us a pretty clear indication that we have been spending too much in the Food and Gas departments, so we’ve finally decided to get those under control.

Food was first and it was somewhat daunting to me to be honest. Not to play the martyr working mom bit, but it is really hard to provide home cooked meals during a working week. There’s just not enough time to be able to figure out what to make every day and go pick things up from the store so I had to find a different approach. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we have purchased a subscription to 5meals1hour.com for five dollars a month. Well, we’ve completed the first months’ worth of recipes and I can honestly say that we are way ahead of where we were last month, but I can’t give all the credit to the menus. We only used about 1/3 of the recipes on the menus, but we have still been eating at home on average of 5 days a week, which is a huge deal for us. I think just the change in mindset about grocery shopping every two weeks for actual planned meals has been the biggest positive change that 5dinners1hour has made for us. We can still improve a lot in this area, especially because I’m not a very experienced grocery shopper yet so I think we’re paying too much for our groceries, but we’re seeing a definite change in attitude and habits.

Gas spending is our other cash hog. Like a lot of people we know, it’s just something that we haven’t taken seriously before. But looking at our accounts, we have spent almost $1300 in gas alone since February 1! That’s averaging $18.50 per day, yikes! Here are a few strategies we are implementing to help us cut down this silent killer.

  1. Drive less…obviously. Eating meals at home isn’t just saving us money in the food department, it means less driving too.
  2. Walk and Ride Bikes, and not just for leisure riding. Dan has started riding his bike to work most days and we are planning to use our bikes for trips to the grocery store, library, and other close to home errands.
  3. Get rid of the gas guzzler in the driveway. We’re still working on this one, but the goal is to eliminate one of our 15 mpg SUV’s for a 30+ mpg compact car. Even if we have to spend some money over the sale of our Jeep, we should get most of it back in the end when we sell it in a year. This one has the potential to save us in the realm of $250/month!

Hopefully, we’ll find some good success using these strategies and find others to help us keep our everyday spending in check. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments!

Fast Track to Retirement

Posted on Apr 4, 2013 | 2 comments

Retirement AheadTo start off a month of posts about finances, Dan and I need to make sure that everyone knows our baseline. We come from average middle-class families who have good jobs and provided well for their children in the sense that most middle class parents do: clothes, food, housing, low budget car in high school, etc. Dan’s parents paid for his college education, mine did not, but we still left school with only around $4,000 in student debt and no real savings to speak of. We got jobs after college that made cumulatively $70,000 and bought our first house (a foreclosure in Dan’s parents’ neighborhood) on the $8,000 new home-buyer credit in 2009 for $110,000 (for those of you who don’t live in Central Illinois, money goes a long way in our house market compared to other areas). Then we proceeded to buy a couple of new and almost-new cars with car loans for somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000 total. In 2011, we both got raises and now make a total of around $95,000. (You may note a conspicuous lack of credit card debt. That’s because we’ve never had any. Thanks mom and dad for teaching us that credit cards are good for only one thing…free rewards!)

So, we when started our retirement planning in 2011, it looked something like this:

Income: $95,000/year or ~$5,500/mth after taxes, 401k, and health insurance deductions

House: $150,000 value, $50,000 equity, $1200/mth mortgage, property taxes, and house insurance

Cars: $40,000 value, $0 equity, $900/mth car loans and insurance

Other Debt: $5,000 student loan debt, $50/mth payment

Other Spending (food, clothing, entertainment, etc.): $2000/mth

Savings: Income ($5,500) - Spending ($4,150) = $1,350/mth Savings (though in reality it was usually closer to $1,000/mth that would make it into the savings account)

As you can see, $1,000 a month into a savings account was pretty nice savings compared to most people, but $12,000/year was going to take a long time to turn into enough money to live on the interest and buy a boat, especially because we were starting with around $5,000 in the bank and whatever assumed equity we had in our house. So we needed to save more money and find some better investments that we could use to live on. As you can see above, we were spending a whopping 40% of our after-tax income on our house and cars. In America, banks will tell you that is perfectly affordable and it was…if we wanted to “afford” a 9-5 job for the next 30 years.

Here is what we have done in the last year and a half to improve on our savings rate and investment income:

  1. Sell our over-priced luxury vehicles and buy two dependable used cars with cash. This saves us money on payments and insurance, since now we only carry liability insurance. Cost: $5,000. Savings: $800/mth
  2. Eliminate student debt. The payment wasn’t high, but we didn’t want to have that liability while cruising. Savings: $50/mth
  3. Sell our house and buy a smaller one which will become a rental or get sold when we leave. Savings: $800/mth and $25,000 in cash (after down-payment and repairs on new house)
  4. Purchase 2 rental homes using cash from house sale. Cost: $18,000. Net Income: $700/mth.
  5. Moved $6,000 from savings account into Vanguard 80/20 investment account. Anticipated income: ~$30/mth
  6. Adjusting spending habits (still in progress). Savings: $500/mth

Current Cash on Hand: ~$22,000                  New Rate of Savings:  $3,000-$3,500/mth

Saving money is always a work in progress, which we will go into a little more later this month. Our goal is to purchase 2 more rental houses by the end of this year to solidify approximately $1,000/mth in net profit after expenses and vacancies. Then, we are off to the races to save somewhere in the $50,000-$75,000 range with which to purchase our new floating home. It will be a challenge, but I think we’re up for it!

 

 

McMansions and Land Yachts

Posted on Mar 27, 2013 | 1 comment

Our first step was selling both of our Saab 9-3s

Our first step was selling both of our Saab 9-3s

When we talk with people about cruising the first question people usually ask us, after getting over their disbelief, is “How are you going to pay for it?” In the spirit of tax season, we’ve decided to do a short mini-series in April devoted to finances, both for cruising and anyone trying to get a little more bang for their buck.

 

Have you ever looked at someone in a luxury motorized throne (ok, imported luxury vehicle) and thought, “Wow, sweet ride! I wish I was wealthy enough to have one.” Okay probably not in those words… but the reality (according to the authors of The Millionaire Next Door, two PhDs with over 20 years of research on the subject) is that most people living in affluent neighborhoods and driving luxury vehicles actually don’t have very much wealth. Sure they can afford the payments on their McMansions and land yachts, but many of them are living paycheck to paycheck. They are constantly teetering on the edge of financial ruin, saving less than a few percent (if at all!). Sadly, retirement is only a pipe dream to many people from all levels of the tax bracket. They think about in abstract terms, hopefully they’ll have enough to retire at some distant point in the future… definitely not something attainable in the near term.

However, with the right approach retirement is not only attainable, it’s attainable in a relatively short amount of time. Michele and I are recently followers of Mr. Money Mustache, who retired a few years ago at age 30. He explains it best:

Mr. Money Mustache’s advice? Almost all of [the life is hard and expensive excuse] is nonsense: Your current middle-class life is an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness, and by learning to see the truth in this statement, you will easily be able to cut your expenses in half – leaving you saving half of your income. Or two thirds, or more. Sound like a fantasy? Not to readers of this blog.

What happens when you can save more of your income? As it turns out, spending much less than you earn this is the way to get rich. The ONLY way. And the effects are surprising: if you can save 50% of your take-home pay starting at age 20, you’ll be wealthy enough to retire by age 37. If you already save some assets now, you’re even closer than that. If you can save 75%, your working career is only 7 years.

But how can you save so much?

The bottom line is this: by focusing on happiness itself, you can lead a much better life than those who focus on convenience, luxury, and following the lead of the financially illiterate herd that is the TV-ad-absorbing Middle Class of the United States today (and most of the other rich countries). Happiness comes from many sources, but none of these sources involve car or purse upgrades. No matter what the herd or the TV set tells you, this is the truth. Far from being a social outcast, this new perspective will make you a hero among your friends. This is not a fringe activity anymore – millions of people are fixing their lives these days. And the earlier you can accept it, the sooner you will be rich.

It is not an easy journey to begin, but it is a path that leads to what I call time freedom. Time freedom doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a beach somewhere doing nothing all day, every day. It simply means having the freedom to spend your time the way you wish. Michele and I have been blessed with a great starting point on our journey. We were able to very quickly build and capitalize on equity in our first home. We’ve been able to turn that into a portfolio of rental homes (we close on our third next week!) and traditional investments. These properties and other investments will provide a decent income when we retire. More importantly, we’re learning to live on much less than our current income while maintaining an extremely high quality of life, which is precisely what we are expecting to continue doing when we go cruising.