Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

I hold too much cash.  16% of my invested assets and 13% of my spendable net worth is sitting in cash.  Over five years of my expenses.  Not the smartest thing because it will lose value to inflation.  But it helps me sleep at night.

My drawdown plan says if the stock market is 10% below the 10 year high I’ll be spending that cash to support myself.  Right now, I’m selling mutual funds for that.

I hold cash because I don’t like bonds right now.  This “safe” investment has a lot of risk for which we don’t get rewarded.  As interest rates go up, and they will, the value of the bonds will go down.  I accept a lot of risk in my stock portfolio because the upside warrants the risk.  I won’t accept risk in a bond portfolio when they aren’t paying me enough to do so.

So my cash was plugging away earning 1.3%.  Inflation in my area is running at 3.1%.  I was losing 1.8% of value each year.  Too much.

I started investigating CD rates on bankrate.com and nerdwallet.com.  Their best five year CD rates are 2.35%.  Even better, a bank I currently have a money market account with is also offering 2.35%.

With CD’s, there’s a penalty for early withdrawal.  It’s generally expressed in terms of the period of time you will lose interest.  At my bank, a CD of more than a year has a 180 day interest penalty.  They take away six months of your interest earnings if you take out the money early.

In the past, I didn’t want to lock my money up in a CD because we may buy an RV or the stock market may tank and I’ll need that money to support myself.  But if I buy a CD, am I really locking that money up?  Or should I just look at the early withdrawal penalty in terms of a breakeven point?

I can leave my money in a money market account earning 1.3% or I can move it to a five year CD and earn 2.35%.  The difference on $99,000 is $1,039 a year, or $86 a month.  This is a significant amount of money to me.

So I calculated the breakeven point.  As long as I keep the money in the CD for at least 14 months, I’m better off in the CD.  I’m almost certain I can do that.

My bank made it incredibly easy to open the cd, it took about 3 minutes on-line and I was all set.  A quick little tweak and I’m over $1,000 ahead.

So then I looked for other tweaks.  Another of my money market accounts was only paying .6%.  I transferred that money to the money market account offering 1.3%.  That gets me another $420 per year–$35 a month.

Now I’m $1,459 ahead–over $120 a month.  Almost $7,300 over five years.  It took more time to write about it than it took to implement it.

Then I told Mr. Ms. Liz he should do the same . . . hopefully he will.  Then he can take me out to dinner 🙂

What quick little things can you do to improve your finances?

Photo credit – SA we met a two year she-moose biking the Village to Village Trail, Beaver Creek Colorado

 

Your Retirement Questions Answered

When people find out I write a financial independence/early retirement blog, they sometimes take a breath and start peppering me with questions.  I thought it may be helpful to y’all if I answer the questions I get asked most often.

How much should I contribute to my retirement?

If you want to retire at a typical age then 15% of your gross salary before taxes and benefits.  This 15% can include your company match.

At my last job, the company matched 25% of my contributions up to 6% of my salary so that worked out to a 1.5% total match.  If I wanted to retire around my full retirement age for Social Security, then I should have contributed 13.5% of my money.

If you want to retire early, you should be contributing 15% to your retirement and saving outside of your retirement accounts as well.  How much depends on your expenses and risk profile.  Run a few calculators, or build a spreadsheet and figure it out.  Here’s a calculator from Vanguard.

What if I started late or don’t have much saved now? Continue reading “Your Retirement Questions Answered”

Social Security Is My Bond Portfolio

My Dad is an Investor.  I say Investor with a capital I because I remember him studying investments in his home office (aka my brother’s former bedroom) for hours when I was a teenager.

He’s the first early retiree I knew.  So when he shared a bit of his investment philosophy with me, I listened.

In spite of being in his late 60’s at the time and retired with no significant pension, he continued to be invested very aggressively and held very little of his investments in bonds.

He said Social Security was his bond portfolio.

This approach worked well for him.  He’s now in his late 70’s and running out of money is not even possible (he was also the first frugal person I knew!).  Though he recognizes he would have been better off investing in index funds and saving the hours he pored over investment reports.

I’ve followed in his footsteps on many things and I’m following him on this one too. Continue reading “Social Security Is My Bond Portfolio”

My Visit With Warren Buffett

The typical investor has no business investing in individual stocks.  Most of my investments are in Vanguard index funds–VTSAX is my favorite.  Until recently, I owned only two individual stocks.  I also own some managed funds (which carry higher fees) but I would move all of my investments to VTSAX if I could do it without paying taxes on my gains.  You can learn more about my investment philosophy here.

A few months ago I broke one of my cardinal rules. I bought another individual stock–BRK–Berkshire Hathaway.  I bought it only because I wanted to go to the annual meeting and see Warren Buffett (world’s 2nd richest person) and his partner, Charlie Munger talk about investing and life.  A trip to Omaha doesn’t sound all that exciting but this annual meeting is a real spectacle–more about that later. Continue reading “My Visit With Warren Buffett”

Fees Matter . . . A Lot

Do you know how much you are paying in mutual fund fees?  You should, because fees matter . . . a lot.

When you hear people talking about mutual fund fees, they are usually talking about the expense ratio.  This is the percentage charged against the earnings of your fund each year.  These fees pay the operating costs of running the fund and, usually, return a bit of profit to the company running the fund.

My focus in this article is going to be on this expense ratio. Continue reading “Fees Matter . . . A Lot”

You Should Leave A Job With More Than Just Memories

When I retired, I rolled my 401k balances over to IRA accounts with Vanguard.

My company’s 401k plan was a good one.  They even offered my favorite Vanguard fund (VTSAX). But all 401k plans have fees in addition to the underlying fees of the funds where the money is actually invested.  This is because of the reporting requirements, paperwork and account holder support that 401k funds provide.  Those services cost money so each quarter I’d see some of my money disappearing to pay those fees.

With Vanguard, I pay the underlying fees of the funds and nothing else.

Converting my account was easy.  They even assigned an account rep. who monitored the transition and kept me updated on its progress.

I think the account rep. thought I was crazy. Continue reading “You Should Leave A Job With More Than Just Memories”

The Stock Market Seems Really High . . . Should I Sell?

Election night it looked like the stock market was going to tank.  S&P 500 futures were down about 15%.  I was scared for my country and my money.  I was preparing to write an article celebrating that stocks were on sale and telling everyone to stay the course or to buy.  Rather than crashing, we saw the S&P 500 go up over 1% the day after the election and it has only continued to rise since then.  This is a very different article but the answer remains the same.

This post-election stock run up has been amazing.  Through Christmas weekend, we hit all time highs.  My invested assets grew over 3% in November and an additional 2% so far in December–the annualized return is over 30%.   I made more these months than I’m likely to spend in all of 2017.

Price to earnings ratios are very high.  This ratio compares how much a stock costs to the earnings companies reported over the previous 12 months.  We’re paying almost $26 for $1 of earnings for S&P 500 index funds.  The historic average is under $16.

So the market looks expensive.  Does that mean this would be a good time to sell and wait for a dip in the market to buy back in? Continue reading “The Stock Market Seems Really High . . . Should I Sell?”

For Investing, You Must Know Yourself

Over a quarter of my net worth is from investment growth and at least 15% is from real estate growth.  So 40% of the wealth that allowed me to retire didn’t come from working and saving, it just came from taking some risk and letting my money work for me.

I already admitted I’m not an investing genius and I was my own worst enemy when I thought I was.

The most important thing with investing is to know yourself.  What level of risk are you comfortable with?  When will you need this money?  How will you behave in a market downturn?  There are lots of risk tolerance tools out there, this one from Vanguard is a good one.  When you complete this questionnaire, be sure to think about how you will behave, not how you should behave.

Continue reading “For Investing, You Must Know Yourself”

The Early Years Are the Hardest

After I posted my recent savings rate, I began to wonder how that savings rate changed as I got older.  In the early years, I was earning less and was paying rent or mortgage payments.  Both my earnings and my expenses improved as I got older.

So I went into the way back machine (my Excel budget spreadsheet) and calculated my savings rate each year. Then I thought it might be helpful to know my net worth each year as a percentage of the net worth I had when I retired this spring.

savings-rate-nw-accum2

Continue reading “The Early Years Are the Hardest”