The High Cost of Marriage

Please don’t think I’m questioning my relationship or my life partner.  Mr. Ms. Liz is truly my best friend; he makes me a better person.  There’s no one I’d rather have along side me in this adventure of life.  We’ve created a life, together, I could not have created without him by my side.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t examine what marriage has cost us . . . financially speaking.

First, some history.  I was married at 24–crazy and amazing that I found the person who would make me happy over these last 28 years at such a tender age.

When I married, I changed my name.  Mr. thought it was unnecessary to do so but I wanted to be MARRIED and changing my name made me feel MARRIED.

In fact, Mr. wasn’t all fired up to be married, he was perfectly happy to cohabitate.  Smart guy.  But, I wanted to be MARRIED and he wanted me to be happy so we were married.   And we’ve been quite happy.

My frequent readers know we keep our money completely separate.  I never thought we needed to combine finances in order to feel MARRIED.

For the first 25 years of marriage, we split our house related bills based on our incomes.  When Mr. made twice what I did, he paid 2/3 and I paid 1/3 toward these bills.  As my income grew, I paid more.  This allowed us to live at a blended lifestyle rather than at the lower earner’s (mine) lifestyle.  Over the last few years, we have split our house related bills based upon our relative net worth.  Again, he pays more than I do because his net worth is higher.  This has always worked well for us.  We’ve always split groceries and other joint purchases evenly.

Because we keep our money separate, I’ve always split our income tax bill based on what we would have paid if we were single.

You see, the U.S. tax code is set up for a family where there is a high wage earner and a low or no wage earner.  The tax code penalizes families where both partners have similar or high earnings.  This additional tax cost is referred to as the “marriage penalty”.

The penalty exists because the upper earnings limits for the married filing joint tax tables are not two times the limits in the single tax tables.

Then, at higher income levels, an alternate minimum tax kicks in which makes the marriage penalty even worse.  Oh and Obamacare added some pesky charges when your income is quite high and we hit that.

And because I am a strange money nerd who looks at this stuff, I can tell you how much marriage penalty we’ve paid over the last 22 years.

In the highest year, our marriage penalty was over $7,100.  Yep, $590 a month not for a car payment or a fancy trip but for the privilege of being married. Continue reading “The High Cost of Marriage”

The Bad Guys are On Their Way . . .

You’ve probably heard a bit about the Equifax breach.  In light of this breach, I thought it may be useful to remind everyone about the things we can do to protect ourselves from unauthorized access to our financial accounts.

Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.  They maintain credit reports for 143 million American consumers.  Hackers were able to access Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and drivers license numbers.  There are also a small number of people whose credit card numbers were accessed.

S-U-P-E-R   S-C-A-R-Y

With that information, scammers can obtain credit in your name, file a tax return and obtain your refund and basically wreak havoc on your life.  If they successfully do this, you’ll spend years and countless hours working to restore your good credit and obtain your tax refund.

What the experts say you should do to protect yourself: Continue reading “The Bad Guys are On Their Way . . .”

When Should YOU Claim Social Security?

Social Security is available from the time we turn 62 years old.  But there is a penalty for taking it before our full retirement age–the payment is lowered.  And there is a benefit for taking it later than our full retirement age–the payment increases for every year we defer until age 70.  There is no reason to defer past 70.

For most of my readers, your full retirement age is 67.  For those born between 1938 and 1959, your full retirement age is between 65 and 67.  For those born before 1938, your full retirement age is 65.

Conventional wisdom says if you are in good health, you should wait until age 70 to claim Social Security because that maximizes your payment.  The payment grows 8% per year from your full retirement age until 70.  8% sounds like an amazing increase until you realize you are trading twelve months of payments for that increase.

And conventional wisdom assumes you are living paycheck to paycheck.  You get your Social Security and you spend your Social Security.

If that’s your situation, then you’ll claim it when you need it to pay your bills and put food on your table.

But I suspect many of my readers are in our situation:  We will have other resources available to pay our bills.  We will claim Social Security so we optimize our long-term finances. Continue reading “When Should YOU Claim Social Security?”

10 Painless Things We Do To Save Money

If you need to reduce your spending in order to meet your goals, you have to focus on the BIG 3:  lodging, transportation and food.  These three categories typically make up the bulk of your expenses.

We didn’t always make the “smartest” decisions on these three–we own a stupidly big and expensive home, we bought new cars, and we eat in restaurants and buy expensive groceries on occasion.

But I think we were smart about a bunch of little things and those little things helped us grow our wealth and reach financial independence in our 40’s (me!) and 50’s (Mr. Ms. Liz!).

Save your money and the earth:

Don’t light up areas where you aren’t.  We have so few lights on, our neighbors probably wonder if we’re home.  This goes for exterior lights too–we turn them on when guests arrive and leave but they are otherwise off.

When we do need a bit of ambient light in an area–like when we’re running back and forth to the laundry room–we choose the switch that runs two lights rather than the switch that lights up the entire room.  Mr. Ms. Liz narrows it down even further by not using puck lights that are expensive to replace and burn a lot of electricity in favor of using our pendant lights.

Turn off your fireplace pilot in the summer.  This saves natural gas and that little sucker generates a surprising amount of heat. Continue reading “10 Painless Things We Do To Save Money”

But Budgeting Doesn’t Work For Me!

You’re busy, I get it–family, work, physical health, keeping the house clean, trying to get a healthy meal on the table . . .

Budgeting seems like a huge pain–no fun at all.  You know you need one but you’ve not made the time to make one and you know it will be futile; you’ll never track your money or follow a budget anyway.

You may not even need a budget.  What?  You gasp?  And I won’t even call you a slacker for not having one!

Just pay yourself first.

Each paycheck, direct your payroll department to contribute to your company retirement plan up to the company match.

Add the percentage your company matches to the percentage you contribute.

Subtract that from the following guidelines:

Starting in your mid 20’s?  10%
Starting in your mid 30’s?  15%
Starting in your mid 40’s?  30% Continue reading “But Budgeting Doesn’t Work For Me!”

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

 

The Joy of Working . . . When Working Is a Choice

The job I retired from was with a terrific company.  I spent 17 years working with some of my best friends and even my fake kid.

Each year, the CFO would gather her leadership group–the accounting, HR and IT professionals who reported to her for a “Summit”.  A gathering to share knowledge, communicate updates and, frankly, to spend some time wining, dining and team building.  Attending these Summits was always a highlight in my year–a paid vacation with my buddies.

I retired 14 months ago.  But this year, I was asked to attend the summit.  And wait, it gets better.  I was asked to ***geek alert*** present a short class on one of my favorite subjects–Excel.

Initially, I was both terrified and thrilled.  Terrified because I HATE public speaking.  My hope was that my short speech at my retirement party would be my last.  Thrilled because it was an incredible honor to be asked to return.  I was excited to see my former colleagues and I love teaching people about Excel.  Helping people with Excel was my favorite thing about my old job.

I got over my terror by convincing myself I’d just be sitting at a table behind my laptop screen.  And I was–it didn’t end up being scary once I got started.  It helped that the room was filled with my friends.

It was really invigorating.  The group was super excited to learn new tips and make their processes more efficient.  There was more than one “wow” comment while I was presenting.  How often does that happen?!

And I was asked to stay over–in a beautiful resort and join the group for dinner and shenanigans after my session.  The shenanigans included sake bombs that sent more than one person stumbling back to their room–thankfully, not me.

Oh, and I got paid to do this!  It will help me fund my IRA this year.

I spent a ton of time preparing.  I developed an agenda that allowed both novices and experts to walk away with a couple new tips.  And being ultra prepared helped me get over my fear.  It was so worth it!

If I thought I had to take this on because I needed the money, my fear of public speaking would have been more than a bit paralyzing.  I would have resented the amount of time it took to prepare–especially because I spent way more time on this than I could bill.  Since it was a choice, I could focus on my excitement.

Not needing the money transformed the way I thought about the entire situation.

There are more benefits to being financially independent than I ever expected. 

I expected my financial independence would mean I could replace work with fun activities.  And, yes, I have.

I didn’t really think about being able to pick and choose money-making opportunities based on whether I thought they would be fun.

Last week was a perfect example.  Hanging out with my old friends, making some new friends and being able to contribute again was a rush.  Having people thank me and tell me how they would use what they learned to improve their processes was incredibly rewarding.

Oh and at least one of them wants to hire me to help them one on one.  That sounds fun, so I’ll do it!

But even before I quit my job, my financial independence paid dividends.  My boss was doing everything he could to keep me around.  This gave me a lot more control–I took advantage of it by working from our desert home as much as I felt comfortable.

So I’d say whether you want to retire early or not, save your money.  Save a lot of money.  Save as if you were pursuing financial independence.  The rewards go beyond the ability to replace work with fun–and that’s pretty awesome on its own!

Introducing the FIRE Prowess Score

Once again, I’m adding a link to a blogging chain.

The last chain was a series of articles about drawdown strategies.  A group of bloggers detailed out how they expected to support themselves when their paychecks stopped.  It was a fun exercise and it forced me to get more specific about where my money will come from in different market conditions.

The latest chain is a new way to assess our efficiency at reaching financial independence.  The FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) Prowess Score was developed by JW, the 30 something behind The Green Swan, it goes like this:

FIRE Prowess Score= Change in Net Worth / Total Gross Income

His goal was to develop a measurement that worked across all income levels so geeky bloggers (watch me raise my hand!) could compare themselves on an even playing field.  The typical measurement we’ve used is savings rates.

The downfall of savings rates is that it’s easier to save 75% of your income if you make $500,000 a year than if you make $50,000 a year.  The savings rate super heroes in this space are often doctors.

I love that this is called a prowess score.  Prowess means skill or expertise in a particular field.  Yep that makes sense.  But it also means bravery or courage–and I think it truly takes some courage to rock this FIRE Prowess Score.  You have to live differently than those around you.  You have to focus your limited resources on things that matter to you and ignore the things that don’t.  That takes some courage for sure.

OK so how does it work?  Let’s say you are calculating your FIRE Prowess Score for the last 5 years:

-Add your income for those five years–I got my historic income from SSA.gov
-Take your current net worth and subtract your net worth from 5 years ago
-Divide your change in net worth into your total income
=And you have your FIRE Prowess Score

Here’s an example:

5 year increase in net worth: $100,000
/ Income 5 years @ 75,000/year = $375,000
=FIRE Prowess score of .27

JW gave us descriptions for the different score levels so we can pat ourselves on the back or berate ourselves to do better:

If over the last 5 years your FIRE Prowess is:

  • Negative or 0.0x – Not even on the path toward retirement, let alone FIRE. If you aren’t saving and investing any money and your net worth isn’t growing then it is time to make some changes and develop positive financial habits. It may be a change to a frugal lifestyle or getting an advance degree to take the next step in your career.
  • 0.0x to 0.25x – You’re conscious of your retirement and know you should plan for it, but early retirement may not be on your radar at this point.
  • .25x to 0.50x – You’ve got the ball rolling and you’re certainly trying! Keep investing wisely, perhaps add a side-hustle or few lifestyle tweaks to lower expenses and FIRE can be within your grasp.
  • .50x to 0.75x – You’re working hard toward your retirement goals! Early retirement is definitely possible. Keep working hard and that investment snowball will be rolling (compounding) in no time!
  • .75x to 1.0x – FIRE is on your mind and you are performing in overdrive right now!
  • 1.0x and over – You are killing it! Don’t make any stupid mistakes and FIRE will be within your grasp in no time. In this scenario, your net worth is more than your lifetime earnings which Joe at Retire By 40 recently wrote about. This is certainly a tough milestone to reach, but maybe one day I can make this claim!

OK so drum roll please . . . here are my scores:

2016:  2.79 off the charts!
5 Years 2012-2016:  1.34  I’m killing it!
10 Years 2007-2016:  .89  not too shabby!
Post College:  .72  it took me some time to get this FIRE thing going.
Worst Year:  -1.34 in 2008 when my net worth shrunk 16%

How did I rock it so much in 2016 you may ask?  I quit my freaking job!  I had a full year of growth in net worth against a bit more than half a year of income.  We may need to come up with a different scoring system for those at the end of their accumulation phase (that’s just a nice way to say older folks).

As long as the stock market cooperates, I’m really going to rock it this year.  My net worth continues to grow and my income is almost non existent.  So far my FIRE Prowess Score is 20.97 for 2017.  Oh shucks, JW said this score doesn’t work for folks who aren’t working . . .

I think JW’s descriptions are spot on.  I would say over my lifetime I’ve been focused on saving for retirement but I didn’t put my savings into overdrive until my last 10 working years.  I also made some investing mistakes early on–thinking I was some sort of Warrenita Buffett rather than just shoveling money into a S&P 500 index fund.

Check out the other bloggers’ scores in the chain:

Calculate your FIRE Prowess Score whether you’re pursuing early retirement or not.

What can you do to improve it?  Save more of your income and invest it smarter–show your prowess!

Could You Live On Social Security Alone?

The experts say Social Security provides about 40% of the typical retiree’s pre-retirement earnings.

But that percentage varies a lot.  Lower earners receive a higher percentage of their earnings and higher earners receive a lower percentage of their earnings.

I write a lot about the importance of saving money for retirement because of this 40% statistic.  But COULD I live on my social security alone?  If I could, what would that life look like? Continue reading “Could You Live On Social Security Alone?”

What Would Someone Who [insert your dream here] Do?

We’ve all seen the bracelets and bumper stickers that say WWJD?  What Would Jesus Do?

What if we filtered our decisions through a What Would statement?

What would someone who wants to travel the world do?
What would someone who wants to retire early do?
What would someone who wants to kill it at work do?
What would someone who wants a great marriage do?
What would someone who wants to lose a few pounds do?
What would someone who is paying off $10,000 of debt do?

I think we’d make better decisions. Continue reading “What Would Someone Who [insert your dream here] Do?”