Category Archives: The Frugal Mindset

What Would Your Younger Self Say to Your Present Self?

credit: Unsplash

credit: Unsplash

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

I’ve read many posts asking what advice you would give your younger self if you could go back in time. When it comes to personal finance, many people might tell their younger self to not live above their means, to not try and keep up with the Joneses, or to start investing earlier. And of course, there will be people who say they would tell their younger self to invest in Google! Your present self is older and wiser, learning much from experiences that your younger self has yet to go through. It makes sense that we would love to go back in time to impart advice to our younger selves to save him or her from making the same mistakes that we did.

In one of the comments from an article asking what you advice you would give your younger self, one person said that it wouldn’t matter what advice he would have given because his younger self wouldn’t have followed it anyway. He said that sometimes you have to experience those failures or mistakes to truly learn from them. In an interview, Tony Robbins said that he would not change anything about his past, even after sharing his experiences growing up where his mother physically abused him. He said those experiences shaped how he is today and he wouldn’t be where he is if he changed the past.

I think those, “What advice would you give your younger self” articles are fun to read. While there is obviously no time machine so you can’t go back and give advice to your younger self, a younger person reading your experience would hopefully learn from your own mistakes and hopefully avoid making them. Thinking about this question, I started to ponder the reverse of this question. What would your younger self say to your present self? I thought it would be an interesting question to ask. And a question that only you could really answer as only you truly know your past self and your present self.

Your younger self was probably not as wise and experienced so it would be tough to ask him or her for advice. But your younger self was probably more ambitious, naïve, more of a dreamer, idealistic and less cynical than your present self. Would your younger self be excited about what you’ve done with your life or would your younger self be disappointed that you didn’t fulfill the dreams you had when you were younger?

Thinking back to when I was in high school and college and trying to put myself into the shoes of the younger Mr. Living Rich Cheaply, I think overall my younger self would be proud of where I am now. My younger self always thought that at this age I’d be married with two kids and working as an attorney. So I have crossed those expectations off the checklist. I was a frugal person even when I was younger so I wouldn’t have been too surprised that I am still living below my means.

However, I’d be lying if I said that my younger self wouldn’t also be a little disappointed as well. My younger self may have been the type to live below his means, but he always thought my older self would have BIGGER means to live within! I’m pretty sure my younger self would have expected that my older self would own a house, especially with a family of 4, rather than in an apartment that is about 800 square feet. Sorry, younger self…housing is expensive in NYC! Also, while my younger self thought that I would become an attorney in the future, I probably pictured one in a prestigious position or one who was helping to change the world. Hey, I was young and idealistic, okay! I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine that I’d be working in a back office, mostly writing and doing research. Not to say I dislike my job. It’s okay and I enjoy parts of it, but I’m sure my younger self wouldn’t be daydreaming about it.

What would your younger self think about how your present self is doing in life?

Strive for FI or Take it Easy?

credit: Link Hoang

credit: Link Hoang

One topic that I’ve been obsessed about is the concept of reaching financial independence (FI) at an early age. It’s not about not working. It’s about spending time doing things that you want to do with your time. One obstacle that I face is that I live in a high cost of living city in NYC. Yes, I realize this is a decision that my family has made as moving to a lower cost area would definitely speed up our journey to early FI. However, we have no plans to leave the area because our family and friends are here.

I’ve always been a frugal person and a good saver. When I got my first job, I immediately signed up for my employer sponsored retirement plan. I also opened an IRA account thanks to the encouragement of my father. However, after reading stories of regular people reaching FI in their 30s and 40s, I started wondering if I could do it as well. While I had saved a good amount in retirement accounts, especially when compared to my peers, I was no where close to FI. I had to turbo-charge my savings and investing rate if I wanted to get there. I started to max out my 457 contributions and I increased my wife’s contributions. I also increased our contributions to each of our Roth IRA accounts as well. My wife and I are naturally frugal. Always have been. We had no consumer debt and never did. We were living well within our means, but having an audacious goal like early retirement/financial independence really motivated us to go from ordinary savers to extraordinary savers.

Saving Fatigue

Brandon from the Mad Fientist talked about how there were some dark times in his road to FIRE. He wrote that he went from being frugal to depriving himself and isolating him and his wife during his pursuit of FIRE. I am not facing that dark time. I am just uncertain whether early FIRE is attainable. And if it is not, would I be better off loosening the purse strings and coast to semi-early FIRE at age 55. If I was certain that I could hit FIRE, then by all means I’d push to get there. It’s hard to keep motivated when a goal is almost 10 years away. It’s even harder if you don’t know for sure if you’re reach it.

I’m already on track for semi-early retirement!

In my previous post, I wrote that I will have a pension at around age 55. I have no doubt that I would retire at that point. Actually, as a frugal family, I think we would be able to retire on the pension alone. But I wouldn’t want to do that. We save a good amount in our 457 plans as well as in our Roth IRA plans. Even if we loosen the purse strings, we would still save for retirement in these accounts. There is a calculator on my 457 provider’s website which tells you whether you are on track for retirement based on how much you think you’ll need, how much you’ve saved, and what you’re contributing to your retirement accounts. It tells me that not only am I on track for retirement at age 55, our savings rate exceeds what we’ll likely need in retirement. Of course, these are only estimates and being a bit risk averse, I’d prefer to overfund. Chances are if I don’t hit FI in my mid 40s, I’ll likely stick it out until age 55. Those golden handcuffs get stronger as the lure of a fully funded pension and subsidized health benefits might be too hard to pass up.

What would change if we ditched the early FI goal?

Many in the frugal and FIRE blog space write about value-based spending and intentional living. They write that if they came upon some extra money, they wouldn’t change anything with their spending. I have written that living a rich life doesn’t have to be an expensive life. That still remains true. But I would be lying if I said, my financial choices wouldn’t change one bit if I had an extra thousand dollars coming in each month.

No, I wouldn’t suddenly buy a fancy car or go out to expensive 5-star Michelin rated restaurants. That’s just not me. I’m never going to be a spendthrift wasting money on frivolous things. I do think that I would like to move to a bigger place at some point as we will likely outgrow our 850 square foot apartment. Housing is expensive here in this high cost of living area. This is the main area in our budget which would expand if we decided to loosen the purse strings. I’d be more likely to take on a higher mortgage or rent payment if early FI wasn’t the goal. I’d also be more likely to splurge on travel and entertainment activities too. And we’d be okay financially. We just wouldn’t be able to reach financial independence in our 40s.

Will I still want to retire early in 10 years?

Of, course I would, right? At first, it sounds like a silly question, but something that still needs answering. The main reason I’m obsessed with FIRE is because I feel like I have no time. My work days consists of a long commute as well as driving the baby to and from grandma’s for childcare purposes. By the time, I get back, it’s dinner time, bath time for the kids, and some household chores. When we wake up the next day, it’s the same routine. On the weekends, we try to run some errands while also making sure we do something fun with the kids. We also try to visit our parents. Many parents with grown children tell me not to miss these precious moments. Mr. Money Mustache and his wife retired early to rise their son together without the shackles of the 9 to 5 job. I’d love to have that freedom as well.

A lot can change in 10 years. By that time, my kids will be in the pre-teen to teenage years. Will they even want to spend that much time with good old dad? I haven’t really fleshed out what I would be doing in early retirement as it seems still far away. Sure, I’d love to spend more time on this blog, but would this blog still even exist? I would like to volunteer, spend more time with my wife, and travel. But, I have a decent amount of vacation days from my employer and my job isn’t too stressful. Is the extra freedom worth taking off my golden handcuffs? Would I enjoy spending a little more in the present rather than saving a whole lot for early FI?

So should I put the pedal to the metal and strive for FI or just take it easy?

Related posts: Just as I was facing this dilemma, I read some blog posts related to this issue. The blogger at Bayalis is the Answer said that you can’t fail at fire, because no matter what, you’ll get somewhere that is worth going. Likewise, Matt from Optimize Your Life, wrote that he is saving for FI because it gives you options even if you haven’t fully reached financial independence.

How Much Have You Spent On Buying Cars?

I was never a car enthusiast like many of my friends, but I’d be lying if I said that I never cared about what car I drove and that a car is just a tool to get from point A to point B. Back in the Fall of 2000, I was very fortunate that my parents offered to help me purchase my first car when I was in my junior year of college. I checked out a couple of used car lots and set my eye on a burgundy 1997 Acura Integra. It was listed at $8500, which was a little above budget, but I was hoping I could negotiate the price down. When I told my dad about the car, he said that he wasn’t going to help me buy that car. He said that the repairs would be expensive with an Acura and also, he didn’t want me to have the “need for speed” driving a sporty little car.

512px-3rd-Acura-Integra-sedan

So instead of the 1997 Acura Integra, I got a 1997 Nissan Altima. The Altima had about 55,000 miles on it when it was bought used in 2000. I drove the Altima in college and continued driving it after I started working while many of my friends purchased nicer cars. Once when I visited an old college friend who I hadn’t seen awhile, he was shocked to see that I was still driving the same car, 8 years after graduating. I was a little envious of my friends with nicer cars, but I was going to law school part-time in the evenings and working full-time during the days. I was not earning all that much while racking up a lot of student loan debt. Using all my savings to buy a car or racking up more debt to buy a nicer car wasn’t a priority for me. I think I might have kept the car a little bit longer, but repair issues started popping up. It also left me stranded a week before my wedding, so I wasn’t too sure about it’s reliability. When I finally traded it in after driving it for 10 years, it had about 168,000 miles on it.

Not my car but looks just like it.

Not my car but looks just like it.

In 2010, I purchased a used 2009 Hyundai Sonata with 38,000 miles on it for $13,300. I paid cash for this car and the salesman said, “it must be nice to have that much in cash!” I felt a little awkward and told him I took a loan from my 401k even though I didn’t. Then he started lecturing me about how taking a loan from your 401k was a bad financial move!

As part of a promotion at Enterprise Car Sales where I purchased the car, they gave me $500 on top of the KBB value of my trade-in, so I got $1000. I purchased the Sonata because it had the latest safety features which was important because my wife and I were planning on starting a family. Hyundais had also gone a long way in reliability but prices were still pretty affordable because it wasn’t a brand that many car buyers coveted. By this time, I had turned 30 and was a personal finance reading addict. I no longer cared about using my car as a status symbol.

Car

I drove my Sonata for a little over 6 years and replaced it in late 2016. Unfortunately, I have a long commute to work and had about 190,000 miles on it by the time I bought another car. The car was a road warrior and had been good to me. It was reliable and I probably could have kept it for a little while longer, but since I had two kids and often transport another adult or two in addition to my wife, I wanted a bigger vehicle. At this point in my life, I was definitely not defined by the car I was driving. Even with all the ridicule that I heard relating to dads driving minivans, I bought one and am happy with its practicality.

I bought a used 2015 Toyota Sienna in the Fall of 2016 for $18,500 from Hertz Car Sales. They gave me $500 for my Sonata. I plan on driving my Sienna until the wheels fall off, or actually until I feel it is reliable and won’t leave me and my family stranded on the road. I financed this car purchase as the interest rate was relatively low and I’d rather use my cash to invest, however I plan on making extra payments to it and paying it off quickly.

Sienna

So adding all three cars up, including the Altima even though I didn’t pay for it, the total amount spent for the purchase of these vehicles is $39,400. I could also subtract the $1500 that I received on the trade-ins, but that doesn’t really change the number all that much. So it’s just a shade under $40,000 for about 17 years and counting of driving, which I would like to think is a reasonable number since I know many who spend that much on just one vehicle purchase. However, this number might be high for many people who live in NYC since they can cut out cars completely as public transportation is easily accessible for most and there are Zip Cars as well as ride-sharing options available to others.

To see what cars other bloggers drive, check out The Cars of Personal Finance Bloggers at Mustachian Post.

Another interesting one is the Car Timeline on Money Watch 101, which is what inspired me to post my own car timeline.

How much have you spent purchasing your car(s)? Do you buy new or used cars? Do you think of your car as a status symbol?

Facts Don’t Always Matter

facts

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.” – Dale Carnegie

Sometimes facts don’t matter. Some people believe in “alternative facts!” One conclusion that can be drawn from this phenomenon is that people are humans and often times our decisions are dictated by our emotions rather than by logic or facts. Facts don’t matter as much as emotion does. Stirring up strong passionate emotions like anger, fear, outrage, and on the more positive side, love, inspiration, and hope will often trump facts, logic and math.

A friend of mine, who taught a financial literacy class, talked about Dave Ramsey’s snowball method of paying off debt to his students. With this method, you pay off the debt with the smallest balance first and then move on to the next one with the smallest balance. “The math doesn’t make sense,” I argued, and countered that you should pay the account with the highest interest rate first to save on the interest you pay. My friend explained that while math may be on my side, his experience told him that paying off small balances motivated people to continue on the path to debt freedom. What good are facts and logic if someone gives up on making those extra payments because it seems like such an uphill battle? We need to win the small battles to win the war.

In a similar financial debate, many often ask whether you should pay off debt first or invest. In a recent post from the Big Law Investor, Josh asked whether you should pay down an auto loan of 1.9% or invest. I always thought my decisions to be fact-based, rational, and logical. I always came down on the investing side and wondered why others chose to pay off low interest debts so quickly. If you look at the math, it would seem pretty easy to beat a 1.9% return.
In the comments section, one reader said, “In my experience, most folks don’t actually invest the difference and /or increase their lifestyle since they have the low-cost debt.” Josh replied, saying that lifestyle creep occurs without you even realizing it when there’s “extra cash sloshing” and that you’re probably tricking yourself into thinking you’re actually “investing the difference”. I started to think about what was said and realized that this was true with me. I had been tricking myself into thinking that I was investing the difference when that wasn’t really the case.

My student loan interest rates are low and I haven’t made any extra payments to them since paying off the high interest ones. I also recently bought a car with an auto loan even higher than the rate posed by Big Law Investor’s blog post (It’s at 2.9%). I didn’t pay it off either, but am I using that extra money that I have to invest? Not really. I keep thinking I will use that money to invest but just haven’t done it yet. Maybe I’ll buy another rental property, but maybe I won’t. However, in the 10 years that I’ve had my student loans, did I invest the difference because I didn’t put many extra payments towards those loans. I would say yes, to a certain extent, but it’s hard to say how much extra I invested. And I think it is highly likely that much of that excess cash also went to lifestyle creep instead.

After this realization, I think I’ll be taking some cash I have on hand and combine it with my tax refund this year to make extra payments on my auto loan. Speaking of tax refunds, as I input my taxes into TurboTax, I remember thinking that how it was silly for people to want big tax refunds. Getting a large tax refund was giving the government an interest free loan right? And having money now is better than getting the money later, so why not take the money now by increasing your withholding? It made sense, but when I owed money to the IRS a few years back, I was very upset. But shouldn’t I have been happy? The government had given ME an interest free loan, and I just had to pay it back. It didn’t feel like a win to me and I had to allocate some savings to cover the tax bill. With my higher paycheck throughout that year, did I save and invest that money? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is “NO.” After that painful lesson, I changed my withholding and have been getting a tax refund ever since. And now, every year after I get that tax refund, I make contributions to my Roth IRA account as well as my wife’s IRA account, contribute to our son’s 529 plan, pad our savings or make extra payments towards debt (mortgage/student loan).

Money is more about emotions than the numbers. And as disciplined and logical as I may think I am, I am still human. I’m not a robot analyzing every decision, inputting the numbers and running an algorithm to determine the best and most optimized choice. I have to remember that when making financial decisions and in giving financial advice to others.

Your Most Important Financial Decision

Couple_01

I am proud of many of the financial decisions that I’ve made in my life. I opened an IRA account while in college. I signed up for my employer’s deferred compensation plan my first day on the job, even though most of my co-workers said they were too young, had too little money, and that retirement was so far away. I am proud that I continued living below my means even as my income increased, and even as my peers inflated their lifestyles. But the decision that has had the most positive affect on my finances is marrying my wife. While, marrying someone is not just a financial decision, it is undeniable that it will have a huge impact on your finances.

The best investment strategies and savings advice won’t do much for you if you save and invest money while your spouse promptly spends it all. The leading cause for most divorces is financial stress. And a divorce will often leave you in financial shambles, as well as emotional shambles. According to a 2016 Fidelity survey, the top cause of money spats is the significant other’s spending habits.

Opposites often attract and a lot of times financial opposites attract. I’ve met a number of couples where one is the spender and the other is the saver. There’s the husband who wants the latest tech gadgets and the biggest flat screen television set. There’s the wife who has more name brand shoes than can fit in the closet and handbags which cost as much as or more than the big flat screen T.V. This causes conflict when the saver spouse doesn’t agree with those expenditure and prefers to save or invest that money instead. Sometimes the saver spouse will feel like he or she is getting the shaft and gives up on saving and spends on their wants too. I’ve also met some couples where both were spenders. In that case, they might agree on the SPEND SPEND SPEND philosophy, but their financial stress results when bills come due and money is tight.

I am very fortunate that my wife and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to finances. In an old post from over two years ago, I wrote an Ode to My Frugal Wife. I wrote how we’d rather make an effort to make each other happier, rather than buy material things and spend money on things that won’t bring us happiness. But even though we have the same financial mindset, it was very helpful that we talked about these issues during a premarital counseling class. It is also important that we continue these discussions now that we’re married.

In a New York Times Article, Ron Leiber lists four money talks you should have before marriage.

1) How did your parents deal with money, how does that impact how you deal with it, and how might that impact the relationship?
According to the article, so many of our money behaviors are learned so it’s important to know your significant other’s “financial ancestry.”

2) Can I see your credit report?
A person’s credit report holds a lot of information about his/her financial past.

3) Who’s in control?
Gregory Kuhlman, a psychologist who runs marriage success training programs, says that control issues come up constantly when talking about money. He listed a few things that should be discussed: “If one person is making most or all of the money, does that person get to make most or all of the financial decisions? If you’re the car aficionado or have researched all of the local school options for the children, do you get to make the decisions about those things?”

4) Just how rich do we want to be one day? What is your “desired level of affluence?”
Mr. Kulman asks his clients, “are our career paths going to be something that pulls us together? Or, more often, are they things that will tend to pull us apart, where we’ll really have to be proactive to make sure it’s under control?”

I don’t recall many of the questions that my wife and I discussed at the premarital counseling class, but three questions stand out and they are questions we ask each other still when we discuss money.

What are your short-term financial goals?

What are your long-term financial goals?

How will we get there?

When my wife and I talk about finances, those are the core issues we focus on. Do we want to help our children with college costs in the future? Let’s open a 529 plan. Do we want to retire early? Let’s try to max out our retirement plans. Do we want to buy a house? Where should we go on vacation and how much will it cost?

I know that it is Valentine’s Day and talking about finances is not the most romantic thing, but to have a successful relationship, having conversations about money is necessary.

What are other “money talks” married couples and those looking to get married should have?