Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drive Free. Retire Rich.

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

http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/lms/drive_free/player.cfm

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't forget about inflation risk

While the stock market has rebounded quite a bit in the past five months, it is still down significantly from its 2007 highs. That makes it an easy target for critics to attack, such as this comparison (via Bargaineering). Some people have attempted to refute these criticisms, however others continue to fuel the fire.

With the run up in value in the mid 2000's, I think people have conveniently forgotten that the stock market can be extremely volatile over the short term. Conservative investment vehicles such as CDs are definitely more appropriate for short term savings, but anyone thinking about using them for long term investing should definitely consider inflation risk.

According to some predictions, inflation may make a strong come back as early as 2010. So if you have a CD earning 2-3% (which is not that uncommon these days), it is quite possible that it will barely keep up with inflation over the long haul.

While my investment allocation may seem aggressive to most people, I think I am actually pretty risk averse thanks to a deep rooted fear of inflation eroding the value of my money. As I have written before, I plan to slowly shift my assets into more conservative investments as I reach closer to retirement age, so that I can reduce my exposure to market risk.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Retirement planning

When I logged into my 401(k) account last week, the retirement forecast tool showed that I am on track to receive $175,000 per year (in today's dollars) during retirement. Of course, this assumes that I continue my current contribution rate until age 65, and remain invested in aggressive (stock) funds.

While motivational, I believe that figure is overly optimistic in my case for several reasons. First of all, I don't want to work--at least for monetary compensation--until I'm 65 . I am hoping to be done with my current career by my 50s, if not my 40s (whenever my net worth will be around $2 million, in today's dollars). I will probably continue working after that, but it will be more for personal fulfillment and health insurance, so I expect my income to drop significantly.

Secondly, I plan to slowly shift my assets into safer investments as I get closer to retirement age. I anticipate that this will have an adverse affect on my rate of return, but it should also shield me from market risk. A lot of baby boomers made the mistake of staying in the market as it dropped over the past few years, and have suffered huge losses in their retirement portfolios as a result. Some retirees have had to come out of retirement in order to survive the economic downturn. I don't want to have to face that possibility.

Finally, I don't think I will require a substantial income to sustain my lifestyle upon retirement, because my wants and needs are rather modest (financially speaking). My top priorities in life are maintaining my health, spending quality time with family and friends, and learning from & teaching others. I don't expect that to change after I retire. With my projected savings, I should have enough investment income by then to do some traveling, pick up a few inexpensive hobbies, and maintain a comfortable living standard.

Anyway that's my plan, and has been for a long time. Could things change? It's definitely a possibility. After all, I'm still decades away from retirement age and if I've learned anything, it's that life can be unpredictable. I guess I'm glad that I'm thinking about this stuff now, and can still change course should I need to. Unfortunately most people don't think that far ahead; they were too busy enjoying the good times during the boom, and are preoccupied with making ends meet during the economic downturn. However, retirement planning is too important to play it by ear, and no one else--not the government, or your financial advisor--is going to be impacted as much as you if you don't make it a priority.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Budgeting...

Liz Pulliam Weston recently published an article in her MSN Money column titled "How much should you spend on...", which talks about the 50/30/20 budget. Basically, the idea is that you should budget 50% of your after-tax income for "needs." "Wants" should take 30%, and the remaining 20% should be allocated toward savings & debt repayment. The article clarifies what kind of expenses should fall into each category.

I think a lot of people (particularly those with lower incomes) would probably find it difficult to make it on that kind of budget. And prior to refinancing my house from a 10 year loan to a 30 year fixed mortgage, I wouldn't have been able fit my expenses into those guidelines either. However, here are what my monthly expenses look like now:


I estimated some of the above values based on historical spending, but overall it's pretty spot on (I deliberately lumped food into the "wants" category because I know I spend more than I have to in this area). So this tells me that I currently have an excess net of 29% after needs/wants/savings, which I am using to bolster my emergency fund. It also tells me that in order to meet the 50/30/20 budget and maintain my current lifestyle, I need to bring in at least $60,000 a year after-tax. This seems a bit high to me, however the good news is that I can survive on about $32,000 a year after-tax if I stop saving and cut my diet to rice & beans, before I have to start selling assets or dipping into my emergency fund.

I am definitely appreciative of the fact that a lot of families live on less than $32,000 a year, and I know I am in an extremely fortunate position. That said, the majority of my expenses are related to housing, and if I were to downsize I could live on significantly less.

Please note that I do not actively budget per se. I priortize saving by having my retirement contributions deducted from my pacheck, and most of my recurring bills are paid automatically via billpay. What's left stays in my bank account, and I make purchase decisions based on actual need and return on happiness, rather than some preset number that I've allocated beforehand. This has worked well for me in the past, and as mentioned in one of my favorite finance articles, it means that I am no longer relying on training wheels for my savings habits:

"What does that mean in terms of money management? It means I learned how to spend what I needed and save the rest. While “tricks” of money management assume that you are incapable of controlling yourself, that if you have money, you will spend it, taking off the training wheels means facing up to your own ultimate responsibility for your finances. It means facing up to the fact that you are a conscious, reasoning human being who can choose to spend or not to spend. It also means learning that once you have the true necessities covered, enjoying your life has remarkably little to do with how much money you spend." - Holly Ordway, Spending Wisely