Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rewarding Lifestyles: Retirement is more than money

I realize this article is a bit old, but the advice is golden and timeless:

I really like how it addresses not only the financial aspects of your life, but other important things that lead to happiness as well. I am not a Merriman client, but from what I've read, they seem to take a no-nonsense approach to managing their clients' portfolios, which is a good thing for their clients.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My 401k is at 401K!

As of today (or EOB yesterday), my 401k account balance is officially sitting at $401.5K. Of that amount, my contribution = $205K.

My current 401k plan balance:

S&P 500 Index Fund: $127.5K
U.S. Small/Mid-Cap Equity Index Fund: $125.2K
International Equity Index Fund: $148.8K
Balance as of 02/18/2012 :$401.5K

My ROTH IRA balance, on the other hand, is only at ~$52K (I put in $45K of it). I wish the government would let people contribute more to IRAs. I'm thankful I can do both, but my 401k balance is blowing my ROTH savings out of the water.

I am a huge proponent of 401k plans. Your 401k account is probably the most legally protected savings vehicle you will ever own. If you walk away from your house, your mortgage lender can't get at it. If you get sick and rack up huge medical bills that you are unable to pay, they can't tap into your 401k. If you get sued or have to declare bankruptcy, your 401k balance is protected. Insurance may protect you from many of these things, but it doesn't offer nearly the level of blanket protection.

In addition, I believe most social benefit programs don't count 401k balances against applicants for the purposes of granting benefits. If you have a significant amount of money in after tax accounts or other types investments though, you will likely be denied due to the asset tests. For example: Increasing Retirement Saving: Clarifying Food Stamp Asset Test Rules.

While most of us may never need to worry about these things, we should at least be aware of all the facts in order to make the best assessment on our saving options. I see a lot of people rag on 401k plans as it seems to be a popular thing to do, but they don't seem to consider all the facts before making important decisions.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"I Am" - The Documentary

I recently saw an enlightening interview with director Tom Shadyac about his new documentary "I Am", and his story really struck a chord with me. Like him, I've been examining my own life for purpose & meaning, and his story (an uplifting one about the possibilities for humanity) resonates with what I've been feeling for a while now. I feel that I've accumulated all the material possessions that I could want and then some, and discovered that it makes me no happier. I am reminded of the concept of "enough" in the book "Your Money Or Your Life" (an excellent read by the way), which is the idea that once you reach the point where your basic needs are met and you have a few luxuries, acquiring more "stuff" doesn't add to your happiness. After all, if having things and money truly brought people happiness, celebrities and hoarders would be the happiest people on earth, but we know that not to be true.

I don't think it's our purpose on this world to consume and indulge, yet somehow that seems to have become a big focus in our society. One merely has to look at the prevalence of advertising in our everyday lives, the fact that holidays have become excuses to go shopping, and how much we elevate celebrities to realize that our priorities are skewed. Most of us are so intent on appearing more successful than our fellow human beings, and satisfying our urges for physical and material gratification, that we often place the truly important things (our health, relationships, and spiritual growth) on the back burner. I am not completely innocent of these behaviors either, however I'm trying to progress and better myself.

I'm happy, though, to have (at a relatively young age) reached the realization that my ambition in life is not to accumulate all the material wealth that I possibly can, but to have just enough to be happy and secure. I want to expend my remaining energy being the best person that I am capable of being, physically & mentally, and to establish meaningful connections with people and my environment.

Below is the official trailer for "I Am". I am looking forward to seeing the movie, and will post my thoughts once I've done so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Proper Push-Up Technique? (Updated)

Yahoo featured an interesting article on push-ups today. The premise is that push-ups are beneficial for your mid-section as well as your upper body. While I'm sure there's a benefit to lifting your stomach off the ground, I'm not sure that it'll sculpt "killer" abs (as the article title suggests).

Anyway, the part that I found of particular interest is this video showing how to do a proper push-up. It seems fairly reasonable, so I think I'll give it a shot during my next workout. I normally conclude my workout with around 50 push-ups, and I'm curious to see if this makes any difference...stay tuned (update below).

Update (3/27/11): I've tried this push-up technique for three workouts now, and I'm sold. I haven't yet noticed a huge impact on muscle strength, but it is definitely less stressful on my shoulders and elbows. I'm a convert!

Monday, March 21, 2011

How Am I Doing?

It's been a while since I've updated my blog, partially due to work, and partly because of life. Now that I finally have some free time, I'd like to pick it up again. To start off with, I think this would be a good opportunity to assess how I'm doing in my life goals and priorities, a la Suze Orman style (whose show segment name I borrowed for the title of this post). To that end, I'll rate myself in the areas that I believe contribute most toward my happiness: health, career, finances, and relationships.

1. Health: A+
Physically, I've never felt better. I've remained in peak physical condition for the past four years, maintaining a body fat percentage in the 6-8% range. I've managed to achieve this result through a steady regiment of healthy diet and exercise.

2. Career: A-
I've been fortunate that my career has been pretty stable through this recession that seems to be affecting everyone else. I'm in my ninth year at my current job, and things are going well enough that I don't envision leaving my employer anytime soon unless they decide to relocate me elsewhere. While my work isn't in the pursuit of my real passions (and I have no delusions about why I'm doing this job: for the money), it remains challenging enough that I still find it interesting. My goal, though, remains to save enough so that I can quit the rat race early and do something more personally fulfilling (related to nutrition, fitness, personal finance, travel, or volunteering).

3. Finances: A
I'm very comfortable with my finances right now. Granted I make a great living, so I have no excuse to feel otherwise. Still, I think I'm doing better than the majority of my peers in this area. I'm spending approximately 1/3 of my gross income, paying 1/3 toward income taxes, and saving the remaining 1/3. The majority of my spending is related to housing related expenses and food, most of which I can (or choose to) do little about at this time. I've established my 8 month emergency fund. In addition, I have enough vacation time accrued at work that would pay out an additional 6 months of expenses should I lose my job, so I feel pretty secure about my ability to sustain my current lifestyle for a while if necessary.

I'm fairly certain, however, that the values for my real estate portfolio in my NetworthIQ profile have declined significantly since the last appraisal, but I'm still well above water even at Zillow's bargain basement estimates. My mortgage is at a reasonable 4.5% (fixed 30 year) rate, and the monthly payment is small enough that it's unlikely I would feel pressed to sell any time soon. My plan is to stay put until the market recovers, at which time I'll decide whether I want to downsize into something smaller.

My retirement accounts have continued to grow thanks to the recent bullish market and ongoing contributions. According to a few retirement calculators I've played with, I could stop contributing right now and still have enough to sustain my current lifestyle at normal retirement age (65), however I plan to keep maxing out my 401k and ROTH IRA so that I can afford to retire much sooner.

4. Relationships: C
This is one area that remains very much a work in progress for me. I've been so focused on my other priorities that I've neglected this important part of my life. While I do have some close and meaningful relationships, everyone is busy these days, and I'd like to increase the number of quality people in my life. I used to think (naively) that because I am so capable of taking care of myself, I didn't need that much from others. That attitude carried over into my personal relationships, and caused me to not be selective as I should have been in choosing partners. I've made my share of mistakes in pairing up with people who were emotionally immature, not ready to be in long term relationships, or lacked relationship integrity. However, this is one area that I am actively working on, and hope to improve upon.

Overall: B+
I feel I am doing pretty well at this point, and my life is progressing in the right direction. I'm optimistic that I will be able to address those areas where there's room for improvement, and achieve even greater happiness.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Completed my first half marathon!

I've never been a runner, and I had never done any kind of competitive or distance running in my life--in fact I actively avoided it due to the high impact nature of the sport.

However, about three months ago I got to know some runners, and became inspired to train for a half marathon. It was a lofty goal, but one that I felt I could test myself with, and I believed I was physically up for the challenge. So I started following a rigorous (for me) 12 week training program, running mostly indoors on the treadmill. My very first run was four miles, and I averaged over nine minutes per mile. It was pretty brutal though, and I was sore for days after. However, I persisted on, and ran a 10K race a couple of weeks later, managing to finish in 51 minutes.

Encouraged by my progress, I continued training and despite some setbacks (foot injuries), I was able to complete my half marathon in under my goal of two hours. It was an exhilarating feeling of personal achievement, because I had proven that I had the resolve and determination to accomplish any goal I set my mind to--no matter how difficult it may be. I have to give major props to true distant runners though, because it takes an inordinate amount of time and dedication to do what they do.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drive Free. Retire Rich.

I found this to be a rather interesting video with a compelling argument against car payments.