How I view personal finance

Introduction

A reader had asked me to write a post about FIRE.  I’m no means a FIRE guy just because a) I kinda like my job and 2) I probably spend too much (especially on dinners) to be qualified for FIRE.  In my head, FIRE guys like to live extremely frugally so they can build up a big nest egg and retire early (in their 30’s.)  I could be wrong, but that’s how I view them in my head.  I don’t really meet those qualifications, but let me tell you how *I* am planning for retirement and my tips and tricks for you as well:

DISCLAIMER – This post is for entertainment purposes.  Please do your own homework before you do any kind of financial investing.

 

Marry rich

Hey, this isn’t an article in Cosmo.  Yeah yeah, you should marry for love, but if all else being equal, marry the richer person.  Money won’t buy you happiness or guarantee you won’t get divorced, but it will improve your quality of life.  I had typed some more stuff, but don’t want to get into a debate on love vs money or “money won’t bring you happiness.”  Remember, this is a post about FIRE, not love!

Also, try not to marry into debt unless that person’s a doctor or a lawyer.  If you’re marrying a social worker who has $50,000 of school debt and $10,000 of credit card debt, then you have a loooong way to go to get to retirement.

 

Marry a frugal person

If you’re frugal and your SO likes to spend money on frivolous things, then that’ll push back your retirement.  Luckily my wife doesn’t like purses or expensive shoes.  Her vice is expensive dinners.  She also likes to buy the “value pack” of chicken thighs because it’s $.99 a pound versus $1.99 if she buys a smaller pack.

 

Save half your income

When I started my first job, a coworker told me that his retirement plan was to save all of his wife’s income.  You married rich right?  That piece of advice stuck with me ever since.  Thus, we actually save all of my wife’s salary.  Whatever her take home money is, I put it into a brokerage account and invest in the S&P500.  That means my salary pays the mortgage as well as all the monthly expenses like groceries, utilities, eating out, etc.  If you’re single, it’ll be difficult, but try to save as much as you can.  Then marry rich.

 

Buy a single family home

We bought a house about 4 years ago.  It was a new construction in an up and coming suburb of Seattle.  Before that, I lived in an 800 sq ft 1 bedroom condo in downtown Bellevue.  The condo has since appreciated 20% in value and my house has appreciated 50%.  The “American dream” is to buy a white picket fence; it’s not to live in a cramped condo with a $400 HOA every month.

I realize some of you rent cuz you hate the real estate market or some of you hate mortgages and/or debt, but mortgage debt is a good thing if you believe that real estate will appreciate.  I have a FB friend who is very anti-mortgage and thinks that if you have 100K, you should buy the house outright with the money and rent it out for income.  He fails to see the bigger picture that if I use that 100K to put a down payment on a 500K house, in 5 years, if the market goes up 20%, he’s up $20K while I’m up $100K.  Leverage your money!

Heck, even Mark Zuckerberg has a mortgage! How many real estate millionaires and billionaires paid CASH for their real estate?  I’m guessing none.  They leverage other people’s money (that’s another topic.)

I also realize not everyone lives in a hot real estate market, but no matter where you live, I think real estate is a solid play.  Just don’t over-leverage yourself and buy a house you can’t afford. Remember, one person’s salary should be able to make the mortgage payments.

 

Buy life insurance

I don’t know what the proper rule of thumb is, but I got my wife and I a policy that would pay off the mortgage if something ever happens to one of us.  If you’re single, you may not need it, but if you have a family, I suggest you get some.

 

Find a side hustle

Some readers once asked what % of my income comes from side hustles (reselling, MS, etc,) and I told them my hustles generate about half of my income.  This is how I help pay for the monthly bills, etc.  I’ve tried to convert a few friends whose hobbies are video games to finding a different hobby that could generate side income.  I have since I’ve given up on doing that and let them do what they do.

 

Max out your 401K and stay away from risky investments.

The first part is pretty self explanatory.  The 2nd part is to tell you to avoid stock options unless you are very advanced at stock trading.  I think most people go through a phase where they learn about options, buy a few naked call options, make some money, then go buy more naked call options, and then lose it all.  Then they learn about covered calls, but then the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, especially if the underlying stock skyrockets on them.  Then they stop doing options all together and write a post about NOT doing options ever again.

 

Put your 401K into the ‘high growth’ fund

Usually your company will offer between 5-10 funds you can invest in.  I’ve always picked the high growth ones just because technology stocks seem to fall into that category.  If you are older and want to be more conservative with your money, then maybe pick an index fund that’s closely tied to the S&P 500.  I don’t bother with bonds, but that’s just me.

While I do invest in individual stocks, I’ve slowly stopped doing that because I want the stability of the S&P 500.  The individual stocks are in my ‘play money’ brokerage fund versus my retirement fund.  The stocks are large companies too; I don’t mess with penny stocks anymore (yes, I said anymore.)

 

YOLO

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know my wife and I like to dine at Michelin star restaurants.  I also buy new cars apparently too often.  Both of these things are very anti-FIRE.  And I also don’t care.  My parents were poor and never traveled or splurged.  My entire Vietnamese family don’t have retirement accounts or savings.  They are very YOLO…WAY TOO YOLO.  So I try to balance YOLO with retirement.  I’d rather work an extra 10 years and have YOLO’ed in those 10 years versus being frugal and be FIRE in those 10 years.

 

Conclusion

With all that said, when do I plan on retiring?  I don’t know..maybe in another 10 years.  My work pays me well; I have a great work/life balance.  I have time to side hustle.  I haven’t put much thought into a number we’d need to hit to retire.  Maybe 2MM in the bank that earns 5-10% in the S&P500?  Then do some side hustles for extra play money?  Plus, what would we do all day?  You can’t travel forever.  I’d be bored out of my mind at home.

  • Madmadso

    I would add to make sure all your $$ isn’t in retirement accounts. We kept putting anything that the company would match into retirement accounts, but now while we may have enough in those accounts to retire, we are can’t retire any earlier than 59 1/2 without the 10% penalty. We had saved some $$ outside of retirement accounts, but life happened. So we are cash poor and retirement rich.

    • Miles per Day

      Ah I’ve heard of that happening. Very good point. Sorry to hear.

    • japhy

      look into SEPP. it’s a way to get at those retirement accounts prior to age 59.5 without paying the penalty

  • manhar

    Dont your job give you free insurance?

    DO you have whole vs term insurance?

    Do you invest in HSA? ESPP? if available

  • Mark Ostermann

    I think every 22 year old should start with 10% of their savings going to 401K or an IRA etc. Then each year increase that 10% whenever you get a raise so you don’t feel the pain. If you get a 5% raise then go from 10% to 12% etc. Do that until is maxed out and you will be way ahead of most people. It isn’t going to lead to FIRE results but you should retire comfortably.

    After you are doing that you can decide how aggressive you want to be towards early retirement.

    One piece of advice that stuck with me from one of my prof’s was cars are the worst investment but you will need to buy one at some point. So when you car is paid off just keep making that payment to a bank account to pay for the next one. I always thought that was solid advice as well. If you are already used to paying it just keep doing it – most people will end up blowing that money anyway once it his their bank account.

    • Miles per Day

      Good advice especially about the car. Luckily my parents were able to give me their used cars. I didn’t buy my first used car until I was 30 and that was out of necessity. These days, I’m more of a YOLO type of guy when it comes to cars.

      As for the 22 year old advice, good advice too, but it depends on which path you chose in the real game of “Life.” Because I went down the career path, I had the means to max out my 401K AND max out my Roth. If you are in the ‘jobs’ path, then it may be harder for you to save, but once again, try to save and be frugal as much as possible. This is why I roll my eyes when my family with no savings buy the new iPhones. 🙁

      • Mark Ostermann

        Haha love the iPhones line. Agreed it depends on how much you are making out of college. I was assuming most start in the 40-60k range and thought 10% is a good target to start with. Hopefully they get another 4-5% in match.

  • disqus_l7GXsYbTLi

    “She also likes to buy the ‘value pack’ of chicken thighs because it’s $.99 a pound versus $1.99 if she buys a smaller pack.”

    -now that’s true love

    • Miles per Day

      I don’t think you know how many times I and her parents have told her, “We make money. We can afford the more expensive organic chicken,” but she keeps going back to those damn value packs.

  • Justin

    Great write-up, Vinh. 🙂

    • Miles per Day

      Anything for my readers!

  • John Gibson

    Great write up and seems similar to my habits although a little further along. One thing I struggle with, with my job (which pays me well and allows for plenty of travel/free time for side hustle) is that the rate of pay of my salary is so much less than the rate of pay of the side hustle and 9-5 (although I can come and go as I please but if I start coming in at 10 and leaving at 4 I’ll have a problem) isn’t really for me. Do you ever think about making your side hustle your primary gig?

    • Miles per Day

      For my situation no. A few reasons – my main job is still a good % of my take home, insurance, the social aspects of a job (I can’t be a hermit at home,) and I also like to be challenged mentally. With that being said, that situation and my opinions could change one day down the road.

      • John Gibson

        That’s true – I always take insurance for granted but apparently our insurance per employee is more than someone would make full time on minimum wage in a year and if I add in the ~15% of salary they put into retirement/401k it would probably be pretty hard to make with a side hustle.