Q: What’s so wrong with being average? wait for it. . .

waiting

 

A: Plenty actually, let’s explore

You probably already know that Americans love debt. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say we love our stuff and are willing to spend more than we make to get, and keep, our prized possessions (my precious).

precious

 

I found some average debt levels from http://www.investmentzen.com (see link at the bottom). Total owed, by average US household, by debt type:

 

1)            Mortgages            $176,222

 

2)            Student loans               $49,904

 

3)            Auto loans               $28,948

 

4)            Credit cards                 $16,748

 

Those numbers are pretty ugly but how much interest does that cost annually?

 

1)            Mortgages            $7,474 at 3.95%

 

2)            Student loans            $2,225 at 4.29%

 

3)            Auto loans            $921 at 3.24%

 

4)            Credit cards            $2,766 at 15.59%

If you were fortunate enough (insert sarcasm) to have all of those, you would be paying over $13,000 (each year), in interest alone!

 

Let’s look at our savings accounts.

Q:  How is the average US household doing?

A:  I found some good stats from http://www.makingsenseofcents.com (see article link below)

 

1)            26% of us have no emergency savings whatsoever – yikes!

 

2)            37% of us have about $1,000 in savings for the proverbial rainy day

 

3)            24% of us have less than 3 months worth of living expenses set aside

 

4)            23% of us have 6 months, or more, in their emergency fund (woo hoo!)

 

Q:  How about retirement?

A:  I’ll give you a hint, the average US household isn’t prepared.   .   .

The median amount saved for retirement is less than $60,000

 

1)            $12,000 saved by households younger than 35

 

2)            $42,700 for households ages 35-44

 

3)            $69,500 for households older than 75

 

Those stats are only for households that have actually started saving for retirement, 45% of households do not have any retirement savings.

houston

 

Michelle (of makingsenseofcents.com) lists other stats that will make you go HMMMMMM .     .      .

arsenio

1)            68% of people live paycheck to paycheck, with less than $800 to cover             expenses until the next paycheck.

 

2)            $220 per person is spent annually on the lottery (craziness I say!)

 

3)            300,000 – that’s the number of items the average home has – that’s a lot of             clutter – which leads me to another stat;

 

4)            tripled – the size increase of the average home from 1950 to now. It was less             than 1,000 square feet in 1950 and now its over 2,600 feet (those 300,000                   items had to go somewhere right?)

 

5)            10% of households also rent a storage unit. 2,600 square feet apparently             isn’t enough to store 300,000 items.   .     .

 

6)            12 days – the average person spends 12 days per year looking for things they             can’t find – I would say craziness, but that actually probably makes sense;             based on the size of the home, the number of household items, and the fact that the item might be in the storage unit.   .     .

too much

I think I am out of time – I didn’t even address the average person’s eating, sleeping and exercise habits – I’m not even going to research those – you know they’re not good.   .       .

 

http://www.investmentzen.com/data-visualization/average-household-debt-in-america/

 

https://www.makingsenseofcents.com/2017/11/money-minimalism-statistics.html

Top 10 financial moves to make in your 20s

light bulb

 

I know there are lots of lists like this out there (on the inter-webs) but I thought this was an especially good one, so I decided to summarize and pass along. I will put a hyper-link to the original article at the bottom. Hopefully you can skim this post and pat yourself on the back for having already checked-the-box on these basics. Your 20s are the perfect time to get started going down the right financial path (and avoid paying the stupid tax).  See below a link to a previous post listing the top 10 financial blunders (a.k.a, the stupid tax).

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/07/07/top-10-financial-blunders/

There are many advantages to being young – time and the power of compounding are on your side – but only if you see the big picture and take control of your financial future.

 

  1. Create a budget – you already know this one, but it’s probably the best tool to ensure you have a road-map to financial success. A budget gives you the freedom to spend on categories that are fully funded. Use mint.com to automate this process and don’t be afraid to fail – then make corrections and spend less than you make.  See below a previous post on mint.com

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/08/08/mint-com-has-changed-my-life/

 

  1. Build an emergency fund. Start by putting $1,000 in your savings account, and only use it for emergencies!  (hint: a new iphone isn’t an emergency).  After you have paid off your consumer debt (e.g., credit cards, student loans, etc.) increase your emergency fund to 3-6 months living expenses.

 

  1. Start saving for retirement – there are many different ways to determine how much to save but if you want a simple rule then start with 15% of your salary (including any company match).  Save early and often!

 

  1. Pay off costly credit card debt – stop paying so much needless interest – sometimes they compound daily – which could lead to an endless cycle of making credit card payments for years. Set a goal to pay off these balances in 12 to 18 months – put it in your budget and stick to it! If you can’t resist the temptation to use credit cards then cut them up!

 

  1. Knock out your student loans – I don’t have any great advice here but I will encourage you to stay motivated and do your best to make extra payments to kick sallie-mae to the curb as soon as possible.

 

  1. save for a home. I really want you to have your dream home, but I also want you to realize your first (a.k.a., starter) home shouldn’t be your “forever” home. Start with a less expensive home – I recommend 2X your household income. For example, if your household income is $100,000 then aim for a max budget of $200,000 for your starter home. Save up 20% for the down-payment (to avoid PMI insurance cost) and then finance via a 15 year mortgage – preferably with a credit union (typically lower closing costs/fees).

 

  1. create a will. I know this a little morbid – but in some states (North Carolina for example), your estate will automatically go through probate if you don’t have a will. Probate involves going to court and probably means attorney fees – save your loved ones the inconvenience of probate and document how you want your final wishes carried out.
  1. Get health insurance. This is usually a no-brainer because an unexpected medical crisis could wreck your finances. Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

 

  1. Decide on graduate school. This is a cost-benefit calculation in my book. How much will a graduate degree increase your salary? How much does graduate school cost? If the increased salary isn’t sufficient to “payback” the cost of graduate school in 3 to 5 years, then I recommend you forego graduate school.   Too many folks attend graduate school without a plan and without knowing if, or how much, this extra degree will increase their salary.

 

  1. ask for a raise. Know what you are worth. See my previous career advice post (see link below). Do your research and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your supervisor about your performance and what milestones you need to achieve to get a raise.  Your career is your biggest asset.  Invest in yourself!

 

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/08/22/career-advice-2/

 

The original article is linked below:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2017/08/12/10-money-moves-to-make-in-your-20s/104427464/

time for change

 

Be Different! (Be weird or be broke)

be weird

Financial decisions are all around us – they happen almost every day.  I created this blog to share my experiences in hope that you might learn from my successes, as well as my failures.     .       .   Life’s hard – do your research and learn from your mistakes – better yet, learn from others’ mistakes and avoid money pitfalls altogether.  Listen, observe, question, learn, change, repeat.    .     .

Helping others, through personal finance education, is a passion for me.  I am intrigued by how people approach financial decisions (especially millennials); some of these decisions turn out great, and some, well, not so much.   .    .   I’m convinced that most (but not all) financial mistakes can be avoided.  Having said that – we are all human and prone to making poor financial decisions.  Let’s take a journey together and find ways to think smarter about our daily decisions and how they impact our finances.  I want to challenge the way you think about your finances  (agreement is not required).

 

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but hope this blog will help educate folks about money strategies and insights, as we try to think smarter together.

 

different

This blog itself is different.   .   . Blogs generally fall into 2 categories, private and commercial. Private blogs are for close friends and family and are not open to the public; a way to share family photos, memories, etc. with loved ones. Most other blogs are written for the purpose of making money; not that there is anything wrong with that .   .     .

The personal finance blogs that I follow are designed to be a part-time, or even a full-time, occupation for their writer(s) (e.g., http://www.makingsenseofcents.com.) The way they make their blog a money-maker is through advertising revenue, product endorsements and commissions from purchases (web traffic on their site). I know it’s a little complicated, but these folks get paid to give you advice. The reason I tell you that – is my blog is neither private nor commercial. It’s open to the public (not private) but isn’t a commercial blog either; actually, I pay extra to remove ads from my blog – so my hobby actually costs me money.   .     . I don’t recommend this particular strategy as a sound way to increase your net worth (insert sarcasm).

 

I tell you that so you might be skeptical when someone gives you advice or suggests you try a product or service – what is their motivation? Are they unbiased? I have suggested several books and services in my blog; I am not being compensated to promote them.  I sincerely believe in them and am passing along this information in a hope that it might help you too.

truth

This philosophy also applies to my views on politics, religion, etc. I want you to see the truth for yourself – nothing I say or do will change the truth. Remember that a rumor is a mile down the road before truth gets his boots on. Remember, nothing ruins the truth like stretching it. Please don’t confuse preferences (Ford, Chevy, Apple, Android, etc.) with the truth.   In the same way don’t confuse wants and needs.

Be skeptical – ask questions, use critical thinking. I quote the Bible not because I want you to be impressed – I want you to read the Bible for yourself and apply the truth to your own life.   If you have never read it, may I humbly suggest you start with Proverbs.    You can probably live without Jesus, but can you die without him? Just sayin’

Please watch the video below – it’s an excellent commencement speech – trust me – you won’t regret investing the time to watch this short video.

 

Top 10 lessons learned from actual millionaires

millionaire

I read an excellent book, “the millionaire next door” by Thomas J. Stanley; I highly recommend this book – it will challenge your way of thinking.  I’m actually not endorsing everything millionaires do – some appear to be cheap and stingy.   .       .  Nonetheless, I believe you can learn a great deal from this book.  See below my top ten take-aways:

go somewhere

1) Most millionaires do not live in fancy houses or drive luxury automobiles – they typically live in middle class neighborhoods and drive non-descript automobiles (i.e., not a foreign luxury car).  They live well below their means and are generally frugal.

 

2) They intentionally set out to become financially independent – they have a budget and track how well they do against that budget.  They have goals: monthly, annual, and even longer.  They spend a disproportionate amount of time planning their financial future.

 

3) They strategize to minimize their taxes.

stategery

4) They are disproportionately entrepreneurs and self-employed.  They believe being an employee is risky – you only have one source of income.   .     .  This thinking is consistent with their lifestyle – which is definitely counter to conventional wisdom and conspicuous consumption habits.

 

5) They take risks and are aware of opportunities when they see them.  They enjoy what they do and chose wisely in regards to their occupation.

 

6) In short, some are good at offense (generating income) and some are good at defense (expense management) but many are good at both.

 

7) Married only once.

 

8) Compulsive saver and investor.

 

9) 80% of millionaires are first generation rich (didn’t inherit their wealth).

 

10) Becoming a millionaire takes discipline, sacrifice, and hard work.  Are the trade-offs worth the cost?

excuses

 

 

Q: Will I really get any benefit from social security in retirement?

A: Most likely

retirement

 

Many believe that social security is a retirement benefit that is going bankrupt and simply won’t be there by the time they need it.  25% of people surveyed by bankrate expect to receive no benefits from social security.

Social security is something of an enigma – so I decided to dedicate a post to better understanding this oddity, started by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935.  Social security is both a tax and a benefit.

 

Let’s start with the tax piece  since most people reading this post are probably still in their working years and have yet to realize any benefits from this safety net for seasoned citizens.

 

Social security taxes apply to the first $127,200 of your income (2017). The tax rate is a flat 6.2% of your pay, up to a maximum withholding of $7,886 per year. That’s referred to as the employee portion. If you have an employer (self-employed pay the full 12.4%) then your employer pays another 6.2% in addition to your contribution. Many analysts say that you are effectively paying both pieces (employer and employee) because your paycheck would be that much higher, were it not for this “tax”. I am encouraging you to understand this “tax” because it could effectively reduce your salary by up to $15,773 per year – that maximum amount applies to those fortunate enough to be in the top 5% or so of earners.

 

Now let’s talk about the benefits. If you work for at least 10 years, you should be eligible for monthly benefits in retirement. The average benefit in 2017 is $1,360 per month.  The more income you earn (over a 35 year period), the bigger your benefit at retirement; full retirement is at age 67.  You can receive 70% of your full benefit starting at age 62 and you can increase that benefit by about 8% per year by deferring when you elect to receive benefits; but you can’t defer past age 70.

 

The benefit formula/calculation can be fairly complex and vary based on your individual work history. There are numerous options and strategies that can be used to maximize your lifetime benefit. I’m not really going to cover any strategies or options, other than to state that it’s essentially means tested/regressive in the following 3 sharply graduated brackets:

 

  1. 90% replacement of eligible income up to about $9,500 annually

 

  1. 32% replacement of eligible income up to about $58,500 annually

 

  1. 15% replacement of remaining eligible income, up to the maximum/ceiling

 

In 2017, the maximum monthly benefit is $2,687 (full retirement). For very low income seniors, social security replaces up to 90% of eligible earnings. For more average seniors, it is more likely to replace approximately 40% of eligible earnings (i.e. pre-retirement wages); a lower replacement percentage (approximately 28%) if you are a “high” earner.

 

Up to 85% of social security benefits can be subject to income tax (at a rate of up to 35%).  About 30% of retirees pay some tax on their benefits. I believe these taxes essentially wipe out the 3rd bracket but I’m not a social security benefit expert (I didn’t even stay at a holiday inn express last night). I am a CPA, but not competent enough to do my own taxes, my wife fired me years ago.   .     .

 

I think I have already told you more than I know about social security taxes and retirement benefits. And remember, knowing is the half the battle – I don’t know what the other half is – but that’s what GI Joe said, so it must be true!

 

GI Joe

 

Some projections indicate future funding problems with social security, with the program only being able to pay about 75% of promised benefits, beginning as early as 2033. I believe, through congressional-action (I know that’s an oxymoron, but work with me), that some additional steps will be taken (e.g., raising the full retirement age) to make sure the program continues – its simply too popular (about 43 million retired workers currently) not to.   .     .

Q: Is Debt really that bad?

 

debt star

A: It might be .   .     .

 

There are lots of opinions about debt. Some think it’s a great way to borrow your way to becoming rich (Robert Kyoski) and some are really super-negative about it (Dave Ramsey). I’m pretty much in the Dave Ramsey camp but maybe we should back up and take a fresh look because I think it’s a good question.

 

Is there such a thing as good debt? I think that’s actually the wrong question. Debt, by itself, isn’t really good or bad – it’s not even human.   .       . Let’s back up even further, and see what the Bible has to say about debt.

 

I am not a Bible scholar, but I have read the entire Bible and don’t believe the Bible explicitly forbids debt; therefore I don’t think it is inherently wrong/sinful (not a salvation issue); however, the Bible does have a lot to say about debt. Specifically it warns against going into debt and has some pretty harsh words for those who borrow and don’t pay back.

 

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender

Proverbs 22:7

 

the wicked borrows but doesn’t pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives

Psalm 37:21

 

Let’s ask a different question, is it a smart idea to go into debt?

 

A: probably not. Let’s start specifically with an example of when I think debt is an especially bad idea. I do not recommend going into debt for a depreciating asset. We covered that in a recent post about cars (see link below).

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/09/16/car-buying-tips/

I think mathematically this inherently decreases your net worth – that’s bad.   .     .

 

I think it’s also a bad idea to co-sign for someone else’s debt. Co-signing (or surety) is a formal commitment to guaranty someone else’s debt. Essentially you are going into debt with (and for) someone else – someone the bank considers to be a risky investment (otherwise they wouldn’t need someone to co-sign). You’re probably not smarter than the bank.    .       .

 

it’s a dangerous thing to guarantee payment for someone’s debts. Don’t do it!

Proverbs 11:15

debt

Q: is there ever a situation when it is “acceptable” to go into debt?

A: maybe.

 

I will start with an example. I would prefer that everyone save up and pay cash for a house – but that’s probably not realistic – especially in certain housing markets. I am personally comfortable with a 15-year mortgage on a house – especially if someone has a reasonable down-payment.  why? because houses tend to appreciate – at least at the rate of inflation and because housing is something everyone needs.  Plus, you can save a tremendous amount of interest on a 15-year mortgage vs. a traditional 30-year mortgage.  Additionally, there is a significant tax advantage to purchasing a home (vs. renting).  I believe purchasing a home is a better “deal” (vs. renting), as long as you plan to live in your house for at least 5 years – otherwise, you are probably better off renting.

Now that we have established what is a really bad idea – going into debt for depreciating assets or to guarantee another’s debt, and an acceptable situation – a 15-year mortgage for a house – what about going into debt as an “investment”?

After all, I believe this is essentially Robert Kiyosaki’s advice – use debt to buy investment real estate and get rich.   .     . Mathematically, I won’t argue with the power of leverage – certainly some businesses (as well as some individuals) have made this wager and consequently made a handsome profit in the process. Some rich people, the argument goes, have made this strategy work; therefore, so should you. I will concede that some have made it big as a result of leveraging debt; however, just because someone else did it, doesn’t make it a smart, or even moral, strategy – for all to follow.

Sure some businesses (and some individuals) have used debt to get rich. Mr. Kiyosaki advocates using this leverage model in real estate. I presume the fall back position, if the real estate market turns south, is you can always declare bankruptcy – that may be legal, but I would argue it’s clearly wrong to not pay back your debts – I think the Bible is pretty clear about that. Also, this strategy, assumes you know what the future holds – for example, that real estate prices won’t collapse, or that your rental investment won’t require significant repairs, etc. Let’s see what the Bible says about the future.

 

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

James 4:13-16

 

Having said that – the risk is just too high for me to recommend this strategy (borrowing your way to becoming rich); I would rather you pay-off your existing debts – starting with consumer debt first (e.g., credit cards) and mortgage debt last (typically appreciating assets). I’m not afraid of money but I think a healthy level of respect for debt is definetely warranted (common sense in my book).

I do agree with Mr. Kiyosaki that you should get educated (financially speaking); attend a financial peace university class near you. I also agree that some rich people take advantage of the poor. The Bible has some pretty harsh words for those (i.e., the rich) who oppress the poor (proverbs 22:16, proverbs 14:31)

At least think about it.    .     .

 

get out of debt

Music streaming update

thunder

 

Music streaming is increasing in popularity by the day, with over 5 billion (yes, with a B) in annual revenues – accounting for almost 2/3 of the music business. Both physical (i.e., CDs and vinyl) and digital download sales are declining.

 

Spotify and Apple music are the two most popular platforms. Apple music has 30 million paid subscribers (as of September 2017) and Spotify has over 60 million paid subscribers, with another 80 million Spotify users using their “free” ad-supported service. Both services are $10 per month for an individual paid subscription.

 

I’m not a millennial, so I decided to check out the top two and find out what all the fuss was about. I used both Apple music and Spotify, for about 5 months each, and wanted to report back whether these services are worth your time, and more importantly, your money. I’m going to give a sufficiently vague answer – it’s a definite maybe – this answer probably applies to all the subscription services out there (e.g., birchbox,, blue apron, etc.).

Back to the subject at hand – Do I recommend you pay for a music streaming service? All depends on your preferences and your budget. I can really only answer for myself on this one. I will not be paying for a music streaming service.

eagles

My top 5 reasons:

  1. I don’t really need a music streaming service. I already have thousands of songs – most of which I owned previously via CD or download (legal, thank you very much). I usually keep 700 – 800 songs on my iphone, so I can listen to them in the car or at work. I already have about 50 playlists and hours of music, seriously, I have a coast-to-coast road-trip covered, and then some.   .     .

 

  1. I don’t really like streaming services – I know a lot of folks (especially millennials) are going to shout me down at this point (agreement is not required). Before you judge me too harshly though, at least hear me out. I am in my early 40s and have already developed my musical tastes. I really don’t want to listen to songs I don’t like. I mean I’m getting old and only have so much time left – I don’t even buy green bananas – ok, that last part isn’t true, but I still don’t like listening to songs that I don’t like; because I already know what I like (for those of you keeping score at home, it’s not Meghan Trainor – NO!)   Seriously, there are over 97 million songs, and counting, and I do not have the time, nor the inclination, to listen to all of them.     .     .

 

  1. I would rather spend my $10 on other things. It’s not just a one time $10 charge, it’s every month – I wasn’t a math major but I think that’s like $120 per year, every year.     .     .

 

  1. Spotify offers a free, ad supported, service. I do like to “discover” new music (sometimes) – songs that are similar to my existing catalogue. I still have my Spotify account and will sometimes use the app. For example, their new “your time capsule” playlist feature is pretty cool.  On iTunes, if you go to the browse feature and select top charts, you can see the most popular songs in each genre – for example, Thunder, by imagine dragons, is #1 (currently), in the alternative genre – this feature does not require an apple music subscription. Just sayin’.  Once you see a new song you like (from the top charts list) go to youtube and give it a listen.  And if you do “discover” a new song, that you can’t live without (insert sarcasm), request an iTunes gift card for Christmas or your birthday, and only buy songs you really like – hey, it works for me.

hunter

  1. The radio is still free – seriously, both FM and AM – no charge. They play new songs, old songs, you name it.   .     .

take it all back

check out my previous posts on music streaming

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/06/04/music-streaming-good-idea/

https://jimmysmoneytips.com/2017/06/05/music-streaming-ii/

 

Financial Tips from the School of Life

yellow book

 

No health, no wealth. Physical fitness and financial fitness cannot be untied. You get only one body and one mind. Take care of them and maximize their potential.

Find a career for which you have passion. It’s not about making the most money, but making the most of the money you make.

Stuff doesn’t build wealth, money does. Stuff costs money and time. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. And don’t buy it just because it’s cheap.

Choose your soulmate carefully. Find someone who shares your financial values and morals. Starting over sucks!

Kids take money and time. Family planning is important to financial success.

Be frugal with your spending and keep your lifestyle simple. Someone is always ready to take money from your pocket and put it in theirs. Always ask for a better deal or price.

Vote – be attuned to political changes that affect your financial well-being. Understand what you are paying in taxes.

It’s not what you make, but what you get to keep.

Remember, the IRS spells “theirs”!  Debt can be your friend or foe, so don’t abuse its use. Budget your money monthly and avoid using credit.

school quote

Set financial goals. Have a strong sense of what your money is going toward. And, if you don’t want your nest egg scrambled, take action and review your finances often. Pay attention to the details in your financial transactions.

Become literate in all matters financial. Every decision we make, ultimately has some financial impact. Welcome financial advice, but trust yourself most of all. Don’t make financial decisions based on someone else’s opinion. And teach your children good money management skills.

Invest your time, just don’t spend it. Make time for what really matters.

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”  Benjamin Franklin

Begin saving and investing early and consistently. Vigilance and diligence build true wealth. Pretend you make less, and pay yourself first.

Financial independence will allow you more options in the future.

Practice risk management. Buy only the insurance coverage you need. In all areas of your life, don’t “put all of your eggs (trust) in one basket.” Properly allocate your time and resources, and diversify your assets.

Character trumps all. Wisdom, self-control, honesty, positive attitude, hard work, integrity and humility are virtues that form a person’s character.

Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree.”  Abraham Lincoln

Be generous. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. (2 Corinthians 8: 12)

The previous guest post was by the incomparable Phyllis; CPA, CMA, and personal finance teacher at a local college.  She is extremely smart and motivated, with a wealth of knowledge and experience; her financial success should be lauded and emulated.

Start your own business (maybe?)

snow

 

This post is probably not for everyone. Starting your own business is hard – you really need to have passion and commitment to make it work. Having said that – it is one of the most common ways that actual millionaires have increased their net worth.

 

Now that I have given the necessary and perfunctory disclaimers – I will share my little side gig – it’s actually more my wife’s business, but I like to think it’s a team effort (it’s really not.     .      .)

 

About 7 years ago, my wife and I started Mcdowell Mountain Getaway LLC. This business is a vacation rental of our log home in southern Mcdowell county – about 45 minutes east of Asheville – in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. I love spending time in the Blue Ridge Mountains – I’ve always found it to be peaceful and picturesque – and the food is great too (my favorite is Tupelo Honey in Asheville).

 

scenic

(our street – scenic vista drive – viewing the blue ridge mountains in the distance – picture doesn’t do it justice.     .      .)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands Psalm 19:1

 

We chose to build a log cabin because land and housing prices declined significantly following the “great” recession of 2008/9.  I don’t think we would make the same decision today, because labor and building materials have increased so significantly.  I recall one report that indicated the cost to build a home has increased 25%, just since 2009.

 

Another reason I have for justifying our investment is diversity. While stocks and bonds make up the majority of our retirement savings, I also believe in diversification and think that real estate and other non-financial assets complement traditional retirement savings (e.g., 401k, pension, etc.)

 

We market our vacation rental exclusively through http://www.vrbo.com/351528 (if you want to see pictures). We have been pretty happy with this arrangement. VRBO manages to rent our property between 100 and 120 days per year.  We pay less than $500 (annually) to be on their site, but do pay an additional fee if people choose to book online. Basically, this results in between $15,000 and $20,000 in “income” per year.   It’s basically cash neutral whereby the rent pays normal operating costs. I say normal because we have spent some of our own money on capital projects such as adding an outdoor patio, a fire pit, some major landscaping projects, and partially finishing the basement, etc. We selected a 15 year mortgage (to reduce the total interest expense) and hope that the rent will essentially pay the operating costs for 15 years and ultimately we will own the property outright – essentially using other people’s money.

 

I say it’s not for everyone because my wife works really hard keeping up with renters and making sure the property is clean and presentable for our guests. It’s a lot of work and with online reviews you can easily hurt your image with negative reviews. We haven’t had any bad reviews but I have seen some (for other listings on VRBO) and it’s a little intimidating knowing we don’t have any control over what people choose to say about our property and their recent stay.

 

A real estate investment isn’t for everyone; however, most homes appreciate – at least at the rate of inflation – so I think it’s a reasonable way to diversify your retirement savings.

cabin

(our cabin)

My 5 biggest financial weaknesses

 

this decision

 

This post might be more for me than anyone – I decided to reflect on those financial areas of my life that tend to trip me up the most.  They say honesty is the best policy, but this might be taking it too far.      .        .

 

  1. spending on family. I admit I sometimes go overboard trying to “provide” for my family. I want my family to have the best and I’m sure I have spent more than I should in order to “provide” for their needs. I believe my Biblical desire to be a good father and husband are good and all, but I’m also sure that insisting on top quality (expensive) items is not really displaying good judgement.   .     . I insisted we get a large wooden play-set in the backyard – of course it had to be made from redwood and cedar – it was thousands of dollars – can you say over-kill?

 

“Over-kill is under-rated”   John “Hannibal” Smith (A-Team)

A team

 

I extended this same misguided philosophy to our dining room suite (had to be genuine amish oak), the family SUV – had to get the top-of-the-line package in order to get all the safety features. We bought it used but it was still way more than we should have spent on a vehicle.  Our outdoor shed; my wife asked for a shed and I insisted on a 16X20 shed with a loft. You get the picture.

 

  1. technology – I like to think I need the latest iPhone every year. I suffer from frugality fatigue if I have to go more than 12 months with the same smart-phone (imagine the world’s smallest violin playing me a lullaby). I’m half convinced that I “need” a 4K television (I don’t).   How could I possibly be expected to listen to my tunes without my Beats blue-tooth headphones? I’m convinced we should replace our desktop computer – even though it works fine – just because it isn’t the latest model with a super-fast processor.

 

  1. cars – already mentioned that in #1 above – also covered in a recent blog post dedicated to cars. Trust me – it’s a bad idea to go into debt to finance a depreciating asset. That new car smell will cost you thousands and reduce your net worth. Don’t do it! Buy a car you can afford – preferably with cash and preferably worth no more than 20% of your salary.

 

  1. poor planning – that’s a sufficiently vague description, so I will elaborate with some examples. It’s a surprise when I need to replace the tires on my car – who knew they would wear out? Did I plan ahead, anticipate this obvious expense and set aside money into a sinking fund? No I did not! I’m not a rocket scientist,  simply not that clairvoyant. Did I set money aside when we had to replace our HVAC? – you guessed it. That same brilliant planning pretty much applies to all house related maintenance and repairs.

 

  1. private school – pretty much related to #1 above but we spend way too much on private school for our son. I think I can semi-defend this one because he has ADHD and some other unique learning differences, but nonetheless, the particular schools we have chosen are quite expensive and probably above our means. In some ways, private school was the driving reason behind my personal finance quest – a quest to save enough money to cash flow private school. We are achieving that goal – but it hasn’t been easy. I think I am arguing that this particular “luxury” is worth it. I know many folks who aren’t comfortable with the public school system (especially where we live), but think carefully before embarking on the private school route – this will require tremendous sacrifices (for most). You might still determine it’s worth it – for religious, medical, or other reasons – but make sure you consider the cost and pray about this decision before embarking unprepared.