Tag Archives: retirement

Early Retirement Musings – Is It Worth It?

I have been thinking about early retirement a lot lately. Upon first glance, you might read that sentence as an indication that I am looking for an escape from my current day-to-day grind. On the contrary, I feel that Mrs. Superhero and I are in a good place at the moment. We enjoy our full-time careers in the classroom, and we feel invigorated by our side businesses in real estate and the music studio, respectively.

My thoughts on early retirement are admittedly impacted by a variety of influences. First and foremost, everyone in our family trees has opted for traditional retirements. On the other hand, nearly everything I read on a regular basis, from books and magazines to blog articles, touts the benefits of early retirement and financial independence.

What are my current thoughts about early retirement? I’m seriously pondering whether I am even interested at this point.

Retirement Basics

Any discussion of the pros and cons of early retirement should begin with a look at the purposes behind retirement at a basic level. Quite obviously, the cultural phenomenon of retirement exists because humans are not physically and mentally equipped to work forever. As a result, we work and save for four to five decades, on average, in order to survive when we are no longer able to support our basic needs through earned income.

To recap, the most basic life plan is as follows:

WORK 40-50 YEARS + SAVE MONEY = BASIC SURVIVAL AT AGE 65-70 

The above plan is a reality for an alarming cluster of the population. Yes, you can and probably should aim higher with your retirement goals. For example, you could save and invest more than is required to meet your basic retirement needs, allowing yourself to live a little in retirement. However, tomorrow is promised to nobody. Or you could save more and retire a bit earlier, say in your late 50s or early 60s.

So, we might describe the intermediate plan as follows:

WORK 30-40 YEARS + SAVE MORE MONEY = COMFORTABLE RETIREMENT AT 55-60

For a small number of renegades with their hearts and minds set on early retirement, even this sensible plan is insufficient. Thanks to mathematical breakdowns by Mr. Money Mustache and countless other bloggers, waves of people are targeting a much earlier retirement. How? They are aiming to increase their savings rate, as a percentage of net income, to figures which exceed 40 percent and approach 85 or even 90 percent!

Early retirement
The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement (Credit: Mr. Money Mustache)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to reduce this table to a formula, we might proceed as follows:

WORK 3-20 YEARS + SAVE LIKE THE DICKENS = RETIRE EARLIER THAN EVERYONE ELSE

The most beautiful thing about the chart above is that it is not income sensitive in any way, shape or form. It applies to you whether you earn $40,000 per year or $4 million per year. Of course, it should be much easier to save when you have an inflated income. Yet, that pesky thing called “lifestyle” tends to get in the way.

In essence, we might say that early retirement is a largely a choice.

Early Retirement Pros and Cons

Now that it is apparent that early retirement is mathematically accessible for virtually everyone, let us examine the merits of such a plan.

Among many pros of early retirement, the following stand out:

*Opportunity to spend increased time with family and friends
*Freedom to travel
*Reduced stress and improved health
*More time to pursue other interests or even a new career

Obviously, early retirement is not without its cons, which include:

*Possible negative impact upon health (possible loss of health benefits, decreased physical activity)
*Possible boredom and/or depression
*Increased stress (more time to worry; constant fear that your nest egg may be insufficient)
*Limitations due to fixed income

As with virtually all matters of personal finance, the pros and cons are largely situation-dependent. For example, my Grandpa retired only a few years early and came out ahead in nearly every manner possible: he increased his earnings and kept busy by working side jobs, gained the freedom to spend time with his children and grandchildren, and took several vacations each year with my Grandma.

On the other hand, I know a person (who shall remain nameless) who would quite likely suffer an early death if he were to retire early. He would spend his days and nights wasting away in a recliner watching television, despite being of able mind and body. Quite likely, early retirement would be an early death sentence for this person.

Our Current Plan

Back in June, I established 30 goals as I approached my 30th birthday. Goal 5 stated, “Set a target date for early retirement and formulate a plan to get there.” I have been dragging my feet on this one ever since; as I said, I’m just not sure what I want to do at this point.

Strictly based upon Money Mustache’s chart above, Mrs. Superhero and I could likely retire somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-17 years, or 2031, given our current assets and savings rate. Since I am a proponent of stealth wealth, that’s about as specific as I’d like to get at this point in time. However, we could make some changes in current spending and investing plans and possibly retire in approximately 10 years. This would not be achievable without significant sacrifice and postponement of other significant goals.

All of which has led me to an important conclusion: I simply desire to achieve other goals more than I desire early retirement at this point in time. Among other goals that I feel will bring me and Mrs. Superhero greater joy than early retirement, starting a family ranks at the top of the list. Additional goals include:

*Fund college for our future children
*Travel with moderate frequency
*Give and support missionary work beyond our current ability to do so
*Finish our basement (which is currently unfinished)
*Possibly own a second home

If our pursuit of these goals brings us increased happiness and slightly slows our pursuit of early retirement by 5-10 years, I feel I am OK with that. I would rather retire slightly later than mathematically possible and achieve more in life rather than retire with unfinished business.

In closing, let us consider one of the oldest retirement clichés, which says, it is better to retire to something than to retire from something.


What are your current retirement plans? Do you aspire to retire early? If so, how do you hope to achieve early retirement?

 

Checking Up On My Goals

One month ago, I turned 30. Much to my surprise, I didn’t wake up the next day feeling like a stiff old man. In fact, I didn’t feel a day older than 20.

A day prior to this milestone birthday, I published a list of 30 goals I hope to achieve in the next year. Yesterday on Twitter, Staci – @Streamline365 – checked-in and inquired about my progress, which made me very happy. As I have written in the past, I have a strong desire to both help others with my blog while also seeking accountability for my actions and pursuit of my goals. So, thank you, Staci, for calling me out!

With that said, I offer a quick check-in on the progress toward goal achievement one month into my 30s.

INVESTMENT GOALS
1 – Max out both of our IRAs for 2016. $11,000 total investment.
PROGRESS: None to report, but that will change in September.
2 – Invest a minimum of $2,000 with Fundrise.
PROGRESS: I am going back and forth on which Fundrise option I wish to pursue, the Income or Growth eREIT. Both options, though different, are enticing. I had planned to dive in during the month of July, but a few unexpected medical and personal expenses proved to set us back in this regard. The current plan is to make a decision and pull the trigger in late August or early September.

Related Post: The Fundrise eREIT: Accessible Real Estate Investing for the Average Investor

3 – Grow my overall account value with Betterment.
PROGRESS: None to report.
4 – Increase our overall net worth by 50%.
PROGRESS: I have begun tracking our net worth on a more regular basis, so that counts as progress, I suppose. According to Personal Capital, our net worth rose by 1% in the past 30 days. Ho hum.
5 – Set a target date for early retirement and formulate a plan to get there.
PROGRESS: Mrs. Superhero and I have had several discussions about our retirement options and plans. More specifically, we have defined our vision of what early retirement will look like for us. I intend to write about this in the future. With any luck, we may be able to narrow down a specific target date in the next few months.

HEALTH GOALS 
7- Lose 10 pounds by September 1, 2016.
PROGRESS: In the midst of birthday and anniversary celebrations, I gained 4 pounds. Oops!
8- Run at least four times per week.
PROGRESS: I’ve been consistently running twice per week. Time to step it up!
9- Weight lift at least twice per week.
PROGRESS: None to report.
10- Implement Meatless Mondays on a regular basis. This will represent a health goal as well as a budgetary goal (decreasing our grocery budget).
PROGRESS: Success! I miss meat every Monday, but this goal has been a good one.

FITNESS/RUNNING GOALS
11 – Run an unsanctioned half marathon in the month of July. This will help me to have a target for getting myself back in excellent running shape after a year of inconsistent training.
PROGRESS: I have one more week to achieve this one. Chicagoland has been an inferno lately, so I might not be able to squeeze this one in.
12 – Run a sanctioned or unsanctioned marathon in August.
PROGRESS: This remains a big stretch goal. Time will tell
13 – Run a sanctioned marathon in October.
PROGRESS: I have looked into a few options and am narrowing them down based on my calendar.
14 – Begin training for and compete in the Artic Frog 50K scheduled for December 2016; definitely a stretch goal!
PROGRESS: Remains a big stretch goal.
15 – Run a 5:30 mile. I haven’t been able to do this since I was 18; my best has been hovering around 6:05 for  while now. Nothing like jumping in the time machine to prove I’ve still got it!
PROGRESS: Also a stretch goal.
16 – Shoot hoops in the driveway at least three times per week. Mrs. Superhero surprised me by taking me out to pick out a basketball hoop for our driveway as my birthday gift a few weeks ago. I intend to put it to great use.
PROGRESS: The basketball hoop has been my favorite birthday gift in years. I love getting out and shooting around, even if for a few minutes, as a break and a means to clear my head.

BLOG GOALS
17 – Reach 15,000 Twitter followers prior to turning 31.
PROGRESS: As of today, I have 4,177 followers.
18 – Boost my Alexa ranking into the top 200,000 globally. This is part of the Yakezie Challenge.
PROGRESS: As of 7/24/2016 – Global: 628,956. US: 80,587. I’m thrilled with this progress!
19 – Break into the top 100 on the Modest Money Top Finance Blogs List prior to turning 31.
PROGRESS: Currently sitting at 271.
20 – Continue to publish 2-3 new articles per week while also pursuing additional guest posting opportunities.
PROGRESS: Success. In the past few weeks I have been fortunate to guest post on Budgets Are Sexy and Distilled Dollar, and I have another guest post slated on Millennial Moola this week. Thank you to J. Money, Matt, and Travis for these great opportunities!

CAREER GOALS
21 – Decide what I want to do with the next chapter in my life.
PROGRESS: I anticipate completion of my real estate licensure very soon, and the new school year kicks off mid-August.
22 – Join a real estate brokerage and close my first real estate transaction in 2016.
PROGRESS: See above.
23 – Reach my commission goals for my current consulting role.
PROGRESS: None to report.
24 – Begin laying the groundwork for writing my first book.
PROGRESS: I’ve jotted down some foundational ideas.

BUDGET GOALS
25 – Reduce discretionary spending by 10%. We can learn to be happy with less. This will be a primary key to achieving our investment goals.
PROGRESS: We reduced our restaurant allotment for the month of July.
26 – Include Mrs. Superhero more in the formulation of our goals. To her credit, Mrs. Superhero is great at supporting my dreams when they are wise and shooting them down when they are stupid. I would like to be careful to involve her more when strategizing.
PROGRESS: Mrs. Superhero and I have scheduled more frequent budgeting sessions recently.

LIFESTYLE GOALS
27 – Visit Nashville, TN for vacation and do our “Debt Free Scream” on the Dave Ramsey Show.
PROGRESS: Tentatively planned for March 2017.
28 – Go on three vacations – one in the fall (hopefully Las Vegas), one in the spring of 2017 (see Goal 27), and one in the summer of 2017 – and plan them utilizing travel hacks and deal hunting techniques.
PROGRESS: Aiming for Las Vegas in October!

RELATIONSHIP GOALS
29 – Take Mrs. Superhero on one date each week. Sometimes this will be simple, and other times it will be more elaborate.
PROGRESS: Success. It has been the highlight of each week to spend dedicated time with Mrs. Superhero.
30 – Spend more quality time with my two nephews and new niece. Also, call my siblings to catch up on a monthly basis.
PROGRESS: Success. I’ve especially enjoyed bonding with my niece, who has to be the most adorable 4 month-old in the world!

Uncle FinanceSuperhero and Charlotte
Uncle FinanceSuperhero and Charlotte

How has your July progressed? Are you on track to meet your goals?

Tracking Your Net Worth

Super Millennial LogoToday’s guest post is from a fellow superhero. Michael is the creator of Super Millennial. He teaches people how to evaluate their financial situation, simplify money management & automate their investments to reach their financial goals. Subscribe for his personal finance “Keys To Success” and blog updates here. Make sure to follow him on Twitter as well.

Note from FinanceSuperhero: This post greatly influenced me to begin tracking my own net worth in earnest. Ironically, when I started tracking my net worth for the first time in earnest rather than simply maintaining awareness of a ballpark figure, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was much higher than I had previously thought.

 

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Everyone wants to be a millionaire or billionaire, but to most people it’s just a dream and will stay that way forever…UNLESS you decide to make your dream a GOAL & work hard to achieve it.

If you’ve read “Think & Grow Rich” or Millionaire Next Door it should be evident how important goal setting is in all aspects of life, including finances. Wanting something is one thing, planning & going after it is another…one way to start focusing on becoming a millionaire (so you can ball out like DJ Khaled in any of his 80 music videos) is tracking your net worth. Even though I don’t think he has mentioned/screamed it yet, it’s a major key to financial success (trust me).

Do you know or track your net worth? I’d be pretty surprised/impressed if you are. Whenever I ask someone if they are I tend to hear the same few excuses:

  • “Why should I track it? Seems time consuming & doubt it’ll matter ”
  • “But I don’t have that much money…”
  • “What’s the point of tracking a few thousand dollars?”
  • “I’m way too in debt to want to see exactly how much”


It doesn’t matter if you have $1,000 or $1 million dollars, it’s amazing how helpful it is to track your overall net worth…and it takes five minutes a month!

I started tracking my net worth after reading J Money’s “Budgets Are Sexy” …. over the past eight years he’s been able to go from 50K to now 500K and shows exactly how. Needless to say I was very inspired to start…

I REALLY wish I would have started this earlier in life, I’ll be honest and admit I just started in late 2015 (around 9 months now) and within a few pay periods I was amazed at how much it factors into my financial decisions (& how good I was at saving). Don’t worry I’m not asking you to track every single penny you spend, because I know you won’t (nor would I), let Mint automatically do that for you.

I’m only asking that you do this once a month, not daily or weekly to really see your progression and how easy it become to get “richer” by paying attention to your finances.

Here are the top benefits of tracking:

Main Benefits:

  • Financial Progress: We all want to evolve & progress in anything in life, its human nature. It’s even better when you grow your $$$ & can look back to the month or year previous and see how far you’ve come. Progress is impossible without change! 
  • Confidence Builder: For example if you saved an extra $1,000 in your emergency fund or watch your 401K increase due to a bigger contribution. It will make you feel proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish (and want to do more)…..do you think millionaires just got there by luck? No they made a conscious effort to earn, save & repeat! 
  • Avoids focusing on just assets: If you have 200K in assets but 100K in debt you’re just lying to yourself, it’s important to factor both into the calculation.
  • Loans: Your net worth can be a factor if you plan on applying for a loan in the near future (i.e. banks feel more comfortable giving you a loan when you have good credit & money in the bank).


How should you track it? There isn’t one specific way but here’s how I do it and takes up 5-10 minutes each month. I pull up my Personal Capital account for most of my accounts and then add to a google doc (not all of my accounts sync w/PC). 

It doesn’t matter if you use it or a different version, it’s just important to get in the habit of tracking your progress. Make sure to include all accounts and a comments section so you can notate when there are major +/- changes (i.e. 401K increase, stock market drop 5%, tax refund, inheritance, etc).

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You’ll spend 5-10 minutes a month entering the information for assets & liabilities and it will caclulate your net worth.
Here’s what you should include:Assets

  • 401K – You have a 401K and contribute AT LEAST to your employer match right?
  • IRA – Roth IRA’s are amazing, if you need to learn more check this out.
  • Checking Account:  I personally use Chase, but where’ve you bank make sure you don’t have a monthly “convenience” fee and low ATM fees if you bank at another ATM. 
  • Savings Account: I love Ally bank – no fees & 1% interest is better than nothing
  • Brokerage Account: If you have one…
  • Additional Accounts: Any other investment, CD, money market, etc….

 

Liabilities

  • Auto Loans: This is an asset and a liability, if your car is valued at 25K and you have 15K left on the loan add the 25K to assets & 15K to liabilities.
  • Student Debt: Yes they suck but you gotta include them too…..
  • House: Same as the car example…this is an asset and a liability, if your house is valued at 250K and you have 150K left on the loan add the 250K to assets & 150K to liabilities.


Regardless of where you are financially, knowing your net worth can help you evaluate where you are and plan for your financial future. Once you understand your situation you become more aware of your spending/budgeting and can achieve both your short and long term goals.  

On top of planning and reaching goals it will also help you stay motivated and can be a huge confidence booster. It can also make you aware of your current investments and how they are fit for different market conditions. For example in February the stock market dropped but my net worth barely moved, I had such good asset allocation that the loss was minor in comparison to the market.

If you are not watching your personal net worth on a regular basis, you are skipping an important step in preparing for retirement (or EARLY retirement if you do it right). As always save early so you can thank yourself later. Once you have your tracking system setup hold yourself accountable to spend five to ten minutes to update monthly (use a calendar reminder or choose a specific day of the month).


Readers, don’t forget to head over to SuperMillennial to check out more of Michael’s superhero advice and follow him on Twitter.

Do you track your net worth? Have you found a better way? Let us know in the comments section below.

Is $1 Million Really Enough? Redefining the Dream

Is $1 million really enough to retire? Not likely. Here's why you need to do everything you can to begin to chase your retirement dreams starting now!

As a child, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma and Grandpa. They reached retirement shortly after my birth, and both of my parents worked full-time jobs. During the summer months, I spent one day each week with my grandparents. I will forever cherish the memories of eating homemade toasted bread and strawberry jam by the morning sunrise, the countless mornings spent building utility trailers with grandpa, sunny afternoons at the park, late-afternoon naps, trips to the pool, and the unparalleled hearty dinners from Grandma’s kitchen. Life was good.

During the school year, Grandma and Grandpa picked me up at the bus stop until I was old enough to stay home alone for a few hours. Those afternoons, too, remain as poignant memories. Grandpa and I often drove to the lake to feed the ducks, roamed the Earth in search of free lumber, or took his hunting dogs for adventures in a nearby wooded area.

During one particular walk in the woods, Grandpa and I wandered off the beaten path and onto a narrow, single track trail. At the end of this trail, we discovered an old, junked out car which had been left in a large hole in the ground. To the adventurous mind of a little boy, we had just discovered the equivalent of the Lost City of Atlantis.

I recall spending the remainder of that day thinking about that old car. Who had owned the vehicle? How it had gotten to its final resting place? And how had it had managed to sit in the woods untouched, year after year?

Grandpa knew how to entertain me, teach me to think, and lead me to dream big. This all came naturally to Grandpa, because he was an entertainer, a thinker, and above all, a dreamer himself.

Grandpa’s Dream

As I grew older, my adventures with Grandpa became less-focused on the things of childhood and more focused on life lessons and my future. Ever a motivator and encourager, Grandpa believed in me and had big dreams for my future. He said that I could be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman if I studied hard and earned good grades. Grandpa knew a thing or two about hard work, but he was the first to admit that he never saw a good grade in his life.

When I reached my teenage years, Grandpa became less-mobile, and our time spent together grew more and more sedentary. We traded walks in the woods for visits over coffee and cookies in the three-seasons room of Grandpa and Grandma’s new condo. Since Grandpa passed away in 2013, my biggest regret remains that I did not record more of Grandpa’s stories and advice.

One story, however, is permanently etched in my mind. One afternoon, Grandpa the told story of how he get started in investing. He explained that he had seen his neighbor drive by and wave in a brand new car every spring. One year, in his typical, rather direct fashion, Grandpa asked the gentleman how he could afford new cars each year. Unembarrassed, the neighbor told him that he had high-performing stock investments and that dividends were the key to his annual car purchases. He also spoke glowingly about his financial advisor.

In an instant, Grandpa had hatched a new dream far bigger than new cars. He wanted a piece of the pie for himself and for his family. Later that week, Grandpa went down to the advisor and opened a new brokerage account. The rest is history.

Secret Millionaires?

I grew up hearing faint whispers about Grandma and Grandpa’s wealth. They were thorough practitioners of stealth wealth, and while they owned their modest home outright and drove nice vehicles, they lived a minimalist lifestyle. The watched evening television in the dark, did not have central air conditioning, and rarely spent money. At Grandpa’s funeral visitation, an old friend told me that he once saw a moth fly out of Grandpa’s wallet. Literally.

Only one memory lingers as an indication that Grandpa and Grandma had money. Grandpa and I had just sat down for lunch at the kitchen table, and Grandma walked in from getting the mail. She handed Grandpa a piece of paper, which in hindsight was an investment statement, and said, “Well, you’re half of a millionaire.”

Grandma probably didn’t know I was listening. Without knowing for sure, I suspect that Grandma was being modest. I am confident that their  investments represented only a portion of their assets. I was likely being thrown off the trail of two Secret Millionaires!

The Fruits of Their Labors

Among many the many benefits of their financial wisdom, Grandma and Grandpa were:

My grandparents' home - where I learned to think and dream
My grandparents’ home – where I learned to think and dream big

1. Financially Free. They had no debt, no obligations, and as a result, they could do virtually whatever they wanted when they wanted to do it.

2. Frequent Travelers. They vacationed a lot and visited every place which interested them.

 

3. Generous to Family. They provided weekly Sunday dinners for 20+ people, often took the entire family out to dinner, provided nice gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and gifted a one-time lump sum to each of their grandchildren one year in order to reduce their tax liability.

4. Proud Yet Humble. They knew they had earned everything they possessed, yet they never boasted.

A Contagious Dream

For years, I have desired to experience those fruits for myself. Ever since that afternoon at the kitchen table, my foremost financial goal has been to reach millionaire status. Not for vanity or bragging rights, but for the feeling of freedom, the ability to help other people, and to give away massive sums of money.

Today, as I write this article, I cannot help but wonder:

Will a cool million really be enough?

According to the life expectancy calculator at John Hancock, I can statistically expect a baseline life expectancy of 83 and a projected life expectancy of 93. Considering my goals of early retirement, it appears my nest egg will need to last upwards of 40 years! And what if I live to be 100?

Factoring in rising inflation and the decreased buying power of money as I continue to age does not increase my optimism that $1 million will be enough. Even if it were enough for me and Mrs. Superhero to live on, would it really permanently change our family tree? Would it benefit future generations of my family? Would it truly leave a lasting legacy?

I have few doubts that Mrs. Superhero and I will reach millionaire status, even though we are far from it at this point. But based upon the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate, I question whether $40,000 per year will be sufficient.

Is $1 Million Really Enough?

While I am an advocate for specific written financial goals, my target retirement number is surprisingly fluid at this stage in my life. Mrs. Superhero and I are focused upon eliminating our non-mortgage debt over the next couple of months, and I find it too distracting to focus upon too many goals at one time.

In the meantime, I am still dreaming of my own retirement. My dream is simple at its core:

  1. Be free from the rat race–forever!

  2. Enjoy carefree experiences with Mrs. Superhero, our siblings, and our future children and grandchildren

  3. Work on my own terms in my future retirement, if I choose to do so, and answer to myself and no one else

  4. Give outrageously

  5. Change my family tree forever

  6. Never experience stress due to work or money issues ever again

Until my dream is redefined again, this is my motivation.


Readers, what are your dreams for retirement? What motivates you? If you are currently retired, are you living your dream as you had hoped?

Five Reasons Why Everyone Should Have a Budget

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the cost of graduate school with a friend over coffee. I commented that I had no idea why so many people were willing to go back to school for an MA or MBA and happily load up on debt that would have to be factored into their budget.

Yup, I said the b-word. My friend winced, as if I had just kicked him in the shin under the table.

For reasons I will forever struggle to understand, the word budget is a major taboo in today’s culture. Of course, I have never let that fact deter me in the past, and I wasn’t about to let it in this conversation, either.

“You do have a budget, right?”

“No. . . Budgeting just isn’t my thing. Besides, I’m always going to have debt anyway. What’s the point?”

Sadly, this attitude isn’t all that uncommon today. Chances are, you have also had similar conversations with friends, relatives, co-workers, or maybe even your neighborhood barista.

This, my fellow Superheroes, is a tragedy. With proper budgeting, there is no reason that the average person today cannot retire a millionaire and live a life of financial independence.

Five Reasons to Budget

While there are far more than five reasons everyone should have a budget, today I will present five reasons. My intention is to make you think and simultaneously stir your emotions. After reading this, please do not go another day without having a budget in place for your family.

  1. A Budget is Easy to Create

I am convinced that the average person’s aversion to budgeting stems from the budgetary failures of both federal and state government units. They ask, “If they can’t figure it out, how am I supposed to do it?” In my home state of Illinois, for example, our elected representatives and Governor have consistently demonstrated an inability to play nice and do what is best for their constituents. Ironically, the Illinois General Assembly recently enjoyed a vacation after months of accomplishing nothing.

With a Superhero mindset, you can do much better. Let’s walk through the basics of a simple starter budget:

  • If you have an understanding of addition, subtraction, basic fractions, and can operate a calculator, you can do a budget. Grab a pencil, a legal pad, and get started.
  • List your income from all sources at the top of the page. I recommend using net income, commonly referred to as “take home pay.”
  • Gather information on your fixed necessity expenses: mortgage/rent, utilities, and medications.
  • Gather information on your flexible necessity expenses: food/groceries/toiletries, clothing, and fuel/transportation.
  • Gather information on your discretionary expenses: restaurants, entertainment.
  • Calculate the total of your expenses and subtract this figure from your total net income. If you are spending more than you are earning, something must change.  First of all, aim to reduce unnecessary discretionary spending. Next, explore ways to reduce/eliminate restaurants, save on groceries and toiletries, and formulate a plan to reduce fuel/transportation expenses through well-planned travel. If you have money remaining at the end of your budget, it can be used to build your emergency fund, pay off your debts, and give to organizations/individuals in need.
  • Lastly, examine your fixed expenses and explore all avenues to reduce them. This can be done by paying off debts, thereby reducing your monthly obligations, negotiating rent/refinancing your mortgage (especially if your mortgage is 3-5 years old, you may be missing out on historically low interest rates), and reducing your usage of utilities. Any additional cash you can save is equivalent to receiving a raise.

Note: I realize that this guide to a simple starter budget is basic. We will dive into the nuances of a more detailed budget in a future post. Your starter budget will be approximate. That is OK. The goal is for you to establish a wide lens view of your current income and spending. When assembling future, more detailed budgets, we will use budget software, such as EveryDollar, to add precision to our process. If you prefer, you can jump to this step rather than the old-fashioned paper and pencil method outlined above.

  1. A Budget Puts You in Control of Your Money

Superheroes, you work hard to earn your income. I know I do. Without a budget, it is difficult to keep your income inline. Each dollar you earn in your lifetime is like a tiny employee that is ready to work for you. You wouldn’t hire an employee for your department or business and fail to provide her with a detailed purpose and role. If you did, you would be a poor boss. Employees need guidance and structure to succeed, and your money is no different. Put those dollars to work by assigning them a unique role. That begins and ends with a budget.

  1. A Budget Requires You to Pay Attention to Your Money

With several Mr. Washingtons working for you, suddenly doing exactly what you tell them to do, things begin to change. Suddenly, you notice that your grande non-fat no whip latte costs you $7 each morning. You may even experience a bit of pain upon realizing that this equates to $35 per week and over $1800 per year.

Is this worth $1800 per year?

Noticing details like this is just the beginning when you maintain a monthly budget. And when you start to pay attention, innocent trips to the ATM don’t seem quite so innocent anymore. You begin to think twice before you spend because you understand the ramifications of departing from your plan, a point which segues nicely into the next reason to budget.

  1. Operating Without a Budget is a Missed Opportunity

Though the US government prints money like it is going out of style, you and I know that money is a finite resource. Each of us has a limited number of working years, and logically, our earned income is similarly limited as a result. Do not let any of it go to waste. You must be intentional to be successful.

Today, more and more people strive to out earn their stupid spending. They work long hours to pay for cars, boats, and summer beach homes, yet they are too busy working to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I am not condemning hard work, nor am I saying that you should not have nice things. However, as Chris Hogan puts it, “I don’t want nice things to have you!” If you do not have a budget, your hard-earned money is likely being wasted on buying things you don’t need to impress people you don’t even know. The longer you continue this way, the longer you are missing out on what Albert Einstein dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World: compound interest. And in this case, being late to the party isn’t fashionable; it’s foolish.

For example, consider the following scenario: Ben and John are both 20 years old. Ben begins investing $250 per month in index funds, and he continues until he is 30 years old, at which time he never invests another cent, allowing compound interest to grow his money until retirement at age 59 ½. John decides to lease a vehicles for $250 per month during this same 10 year window, and wisely snaps out of it when he reaches age 30, at which time he begins investing $250 and continues until age 60. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that both gentlemen invest in similarly-performing index funds, which average a 10% return each year. Surely John must catch up to Ben? Take a look below:

  Ben’s Investments John’s Investments
Age Contribution Interest Balance Contribution Interest Balance
20 $3,000.00 $300.00 $3,300.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
21 $3,000.00 $630.00 $6,930.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
22 $3,000.00 $993.00 $10,923.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
23 $3,000.00 $1,392.30 $15,315.30 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
24 $3,000.00 $1,831.53 $20,146.83 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
25 $3,000.00 $2,314.68 $25,461.51 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
26 $3,000.00 $2,846.15 $31,307.66 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
27 $3,000.00 $3,430.77 $37,738.43 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
28 $3,000.00 $4,073.84 $44,812.27 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
29 $3,000.00 $4,781.23 $52,593.50 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
30 $0.00 $5,259.35 $57,852.85 $3,000.00 $300.00 $3,300.00
31 $0.00 $5,785.29 $63,638.14 $3,000.00 $630.00 $6,930.00
32 $0.00 $6,363.81 $70,001.95 $3,000.00 $993.00 $10,923.00
33 $0.00 $7,000.20 $77,002.15 $3,000.00 $1,392.30 $15,315.30
34 $0.00 $7,700.22 $84,702.37 $3,000.00 $1,831.53 $20,146.83
35 $0.00 $8,470.24 $93,172.61 $3,000.00 $2,314.68 $25,461.51
36 $0.00 $9,317.26 $102,489.87 $3,000.00 $2,846.15 $31,307.66
37 $0.00 $10,248.99 $112,738.86 $3,000.00 $3,430.77 $37,738.43
38 $0.00 $11,273.89 $124,012.75 $3,000.00 $4,073.84 $44,812.27
39 $0.00 $12,401.28 $136,414.03 $3,000.00 $4,781.23 $52,593.50
40 $0.00 $13,641.40 $150,055.43 $3,000.00 $5,559.35 $61,152.85
41 $0.00 $15,005.54 $165,060.97 $3,000.00 $6,415.29 $70,568.14
42 $0.00 $16,506.10 $181,567.07 $3,000.00 $7,356.81 $80,924.95
43 $0.00 $18,156.71 $199,723.78 $3,000.00 $8,392.50 $92,317.45
44 $0.00 $19,972.38 $219,696.16 $3,000.00 $9,531.75 $104,849.20
45 $0.00 $21,969.62 $241,665.78 $3,000.00 $10,784.92 $118,634.12
46 $0.00 $24,166.58 $265,832.36 $3,000.00 $12,163.41 $133,797.53
47 $0.00 $26,583.24 $292,415.60 $3,000.00 $13,679.75 $150,477.28
48 $0.00 $29,241.56 $321,657.16 $3,000.00 $15,347.73 $168,825.01
49 $0.00 $32,165.72 $353,822.88 $3,000.00 $17,182.50 $189,007.51
50 $0.00 $35,382.29 $389,205.17 $3,000.00 $19,200.75 $211,208.26
51 $0.00 $38,920.52 $428,125.69 $3,000.00 $21,420.83 $235,629.09
52 $0.00 $42,812.57 $470,938.26 $3,000.00 $23,862.91 $262,492.00
53 $0.00 $47,093.83 $518,032.09 $3,000.00 $26,549.20 $292,041.20
54 $0.00 $51,803.21 $569,835.30 $3,000.00 $29,504.12 $324,545.32
55 $0.00 $56,983.53 $626,818.83 $3,000.00 $32,754.53 $360,299.85
56 $0.00 $62,681.88 $689,500.71 $3,000.00 $36,329.99 $399,629.84
57 $0.00 $68,950.07 $758,450.78 $3,000.00 $40,262.98 $442,892.82
58 $0.00 $75,845.08 $834,295.86 $3,000.00 $44,589.28 $490,482.10
59 $0.00 $83,429.59 $917,725.45 $3,000.00 $49,348.21 $542,830.31

At age 59 and approaching retirement, Ben will have invested a total of $30,000 and hold a portfolio valued at $917,725.45. John will invest $90,000 over 30 years -three times what Ben invested-yet he will only hold a portfolio valued at $542,830.31! John never caught up due to the avalanche of compound interest that worked in Ben’s favor.

  1. A Budget is Freeing

When my friend claimed that a budget really wasn’t his thing, I immediately realized that he had never experienced the freedom that results from a fine-tuned budget. When you maintain a budget, you have the benefits of:

  • knowing how much money you have at any given moment
  • knowing you do not have to fear a bounced check or overdraft fees
  • no surprises
  • peace of mind that comes from having budgeted for emergencies (a post on the value of the emergency fund and how much you may need is coming later this week)

Surprisingly, the notion that a budget is restrictive is pure nonsense. As a regular listener of The Dave Ramsey Show, I have heard countless “Debt-Free Screams” in which the callers said that planning a budget felt like they had received a raise.  

Lastly, a budget is freeing because it causes you to think.  Thinking leads to reflection, and reflection leads you to consider your values and decide what is most important to you. Value driven budgeting is the key to seeing beyond the numbers and focusing on the why behind the numbers.

What Are You Waiting For?

A budget only takes a few minutes to assemble, but the rewards are potentially without limit. Getting on the right path, understanding your money, and controlling your money are keys to being a Finance Superhero. A budget doesn’t require sophistication, manipulation, or secret wisdom. It requires patience, intentionality, and a desire to be in control of one’s money.


Do you have a monthly budget? How you maintain it? How much time do you spend on budgeting each month? Please share your thoughts on all things budget-related in the comments section below.

The Car Lease – The Devastating Costs of Luxury

Yesterday, while driving around town to complete errands in my fuel-efficient, three-year-old Hyundai Sonata, I found myself waiting at a lengthy stop light. Naturally, the wait annoyed me to some degree, as I was the only car in sight. However, Moonlight (my wife’s affectionate name for our Hyundai) and I weren’t alone for long, as we were soon joined by a sleek, shiny 2016 Audi A8 Sedan.

Leasing a car may seem smart, affordable, and convenient, but this luxury may be costing you your freedom, retirement, and much more!While I am admittedly a car lover, I must admit that my interest was divided equally between the A8 and its driver. Why? The driver could not have been a day older than 25, by my observation, and naturally, the Finance Superhero in me could not compute many scenarios in which this young man could afford such a fine vehicle.

I know what many of you are thinking:

  • Good for him! This fellow has clearly done well for himself.
  • Did you strike up a friendship with Mr. A8?
  • Age is hard to predict; maybe this hot shot is older than he looks.
  • Weren’t you jealous?

My thoughts:

  • Maybe.
  • No.
  • Maybe.
  • No.

Jealous? While others may have felt envy, I only felt pity.

Yes, it is quite possible that this driver was closer to 35 than 25. It is possible that he is a new partner at a leading law or accounting firm. However, statistics dictate that it is more likely that he is a 20-something who earns slightly above the median US adjusted gross income ($36,841 in tax year 2013, according to IRS.gov). Regardless, I assert that the driver’s income is a variable that pales in comparison to the opportunity cost in driving and likely leasing such a fine vehicle.

I Hope He Likes the Car

Except in cases of significant wealth, the luxury vehicle represents one of the largest financial boat anchors in the lives of Americans. Leasing one – or any car- can destroy your budget, crush your dreams of financial independence, and eliminate hope for a modest retirement.

For the purposes of illustration, let’s assume that Mr. A8 is leasing his vehicle. The current manufacturer lease offer for this vehicle is $899 per month for 36 months with $4,644 cash due at the time of signing. This represents a total cost of $37,008 over three years, or $12,336 per year! For a car!

What’s that? You’re still not convinced that Mr. A8 isn’t getting a fine deal?

Let’s assume that Mr. A8 utilized the $4,644 cash due at signing on the Audi and instead purchased a much more affordable yet attractive vehicle. For example, suppose he found a deal on a 2004 Honda Accord and stretches his budget to $5,000. In this scenario, he would not have any monthly auto expenses, aside from gasoline and regular repairs. This would free up $899 per month!

What could he do with these money? Here’s a suggested monthly breakdown (rounding up to $900 for the sake of simplicity):


$400 placed in a money market account as a sinking fund designated for the purchase of a replacement vehicle when the Accord goes to the junkyard in the sky

$500 invested in a company 401k/403b, up the company match, with remaining funds invested in a Roth IRA


Now, let us suppose that our 25 year old driver’s investments earn an average return (after inflation, the generally-accepted return figure for the S&P 500 is approximately 7%) and is compounded monthly. After thirty six months, Mr. A8 would have just over $20,000 combined in his 401k/403b and Roth IRA accounts, not including any company matching. Additionally, he would have $14,402.22 saved in his money market account (assuming an interest rate of .01%) toward the purchase of a future vehicle. If he continued investing this same amount each month until age 65, he would be poised to retire with investment accounts valued at approximately $1.3 million.

I hope Mr. A8 really likes his fancy car!

Common Objections

Despite the fairly simple math above, some people still love their leased car. I’ve heard many objections over the past several years. My response is usually very straight-forward.

I need a luxury vehicle for work purposes.

I understand that for many professionals, the appearance of a car is very important. However, a 3-4 year old Honda Accord or even 10 year old BMW will get the job done. And these vehicles can often be purchased in great condition, especially if you flash cash to secure a great deal.

I am not handy when it comes to automotive maintenance, so a lease makes sense for me.

This objection rarely rings true. First, very few people are capable of maintaining their own vehicles beyond routine fluid changes, brake replacement, and tire rotations. Leasing a vehicle does not eliminate maintenance costs. And no, maintenance is not free with a lease. You are paying for it, as the costs are built in somewhere.

Second, new vehicles are often subject to repairs that will later be addressed by manufacturer recall. Strategically purchasing used vehicles which have already had these concerns addressed and repaired and have already had their 50-60k mile maintenance performed is a much better way to go.

With a lease, I can drive a new car every two or three years.

Listen. You need to make a decision. We are talking about your vehicle or your retirement! Which do you want more? 65 year-old you will want to kick 25 year-old you in the butt for being stupid and leasing a vehicle when you could follow the simple mathematical plan above and still simultaneously fund your retirement AND drive nice vehicles. And 65 year-old you is likely to get that opportunity, as Apple will probably have invented the iTimeMachine by that point. Don’t screw things up for future you! Don’t walk away – run – if you’re tempted to lease a car.


What are your thoughts on car leases? Does it ever make sense to lease a vehicle? Have you or someone you know ever been burned by a car leaLeasing a car may seem smart, affordable, and convenient, but this luxury may be costing you your freedom, retirement, and much more!se? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

No April Fool – Lessons from Finance Superhero Grandpa

In my last post, I mentioned that my grandfather, whom I always called Grandpa, was my first Finance Superhero. When making financial decisions, I often ask myself, “What would Grandpa do?” It seems fitting to highlight several of the lessons he taught me, both in childhood and adulthood.

Don’t Pay Asking Price

Growing up in a dual-income household, I spent much of my summer under the watchful eye of family, including Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa and I spent many hours working on my baseball fundamentals. One sunny summer morning, we ventured out to a local flea market, and while Grandpa searched high and low for miscellaneous treasures, I had my sights set on baseball gear. Upon finding a wooden baseball bat for sale, Grandpa and I had the following conversation:

“Grandpa, I want that bat! It’s only $5.”

“We’ll get you that bat, but not for $5. We will get it for $2, or that can guy can keep it.”

“But. . .”

“Now, take these two dollar bills and tell the man you want to buy that bat. Show him the money, and tell him that it’s all you’ve got. I’ll be right over here.”

Moments later, I was the proud new owner of a beautiful antique baseball bat. More importantly, I had just learned lasting lessons in communication, negotiation, and the power of willingness to walk away.

“Don’t let anyone buffalo you”

Grandpa used this phrase often, and ironically, it bewildered me for quite some time. I came to understand that Grandpa was reminding me of the simple nature of money. To him, those who aimed for sophistication or complexity in the management of their finances were “full of prunes.” Grandpa knew that stupidity could not be outearned, even with the most superior work ethic. The importance of consistent savings over time, spending only a portion of earned income, and seeking the best value in purchases were part of Grandpa’s plan to become and remain financially independent.

“Watch your pennies”

Most people in Grandpa’s generation understood the power of cash. Grandpa thoughtfully planned for a purchase, big or small, by ensuring he saved the money to pay for it in advance. Buying on credit was nonsense to Grandpa. Furthermore, Grandpa always knew the balances of his cash, checking, savings, and investment accounts, down to the dollar (or penny!).

Productive Hobbies

While other retirees spent mornings on the golf course and afternoons poolside and sipping an Arnold Palmer, Grandpa enjoyed hobbies that kept him busy, sharp, and boosted his income. In his youth, Grandpa built his first home from the ground up; in retirement, he used these skills to build and rehabilitate small and mid-size utility trailers and sell them for large profit. It was not uncommon for Grandpa to unexpectedly come home with a newly-purchased, dilapidated trailer, even when he had two or three other projects in progress.  He could not bear the prospect of an opportunity gone to waste. Grandpa was focused on constant maximization.

Trailer
A trailer much like one Grandpa would have built

Master of the Flip

Before HGTV taught America how to flip houses, Grandpa was the Master of the Flip. He enjoyed purchasing vehicles, driving them for a short time, building some sweat equity, and reselling the vehicle for a profit. While I previously explained his work with utility trailers, perhaps Grandpa’s wisest Superhero feat lay in his understanding of marketing and supply and demand. Grandpa often purchased trailers in the rural countryside and resold them in the city for significant profit. It was not uncommon for him to purchase a fine trailer for $250 (after flashing cash and talking down the seller, of course), drive it to a prime location in our town, post a bright orange FOR SALE sign, and sell the trailer that same day for $500.

Stealth Wealth

Outside of our family, few people knew that Grandpa was wealthy. He kept his Superhero identity a secret. He and Grandma lived in a modest, meticulously maintained ranch home. (Grandpa often boasted about his choice to move into a neighborhood with a low property tax rate.) He drove unassuming vehicles purchased with cash after someone else had taken the depreciation hit for 2-3 years. Grandpa and Grandma maintained exemplary landscaping which would not have been out of place on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and they did the work themselves. Paying someone to do what they could do themselves was simply out of the question.

Your Finance Superhero

Who was your first Finance Superhero? Who taught you the value of a dollar? What are some of the biggest financial lessons you have learned? Tell us in the comments section!