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ByCurtis Watts

FIRE: How to Find Your Aha Moments and the Key to Achieving FIRE

Although enduring the pandemic has been stressful to say the least, I have learned a multitude of lessons I’ll never forget. One of the biggest is that, like it or not, I’m not cut out to homeschool four kids while trying to work at home. Most of all, though, the pandemic has reinforced my feeling of gratitude for the life I live — and the life my family lives.

For example, when schools began shutting down and the whole country went into lockdown, neither my wife, Mandy, or I had to miss work or struggle to find childcare. When I work on my blog, my podcast, and other ventures in my home office, my wife already stays home with the kids and has done so for several years. 

And when the economy stalled and the stock market dropped like a rock, we never had to wonder how we’d pay our bills or what the future might hold. After all, we have a fully stocked emergency fund, and have plenty of passive income streams that aren’t tied to an employer or the stock market on any given day.

The bottom line: The pandemic has reminded me all I have to be grateful for, including the peace of mind that comes with financial independence.

Teaching My Kids About Financial Independence

Anyway, part of me has always worried that my kids wouldn’t get to learn the same financial lessons I did — at least, not in the same way. Because of the situation we’re in, my kids have never really lived in a modest home, and they have never had to go without. They have never been in a situation where we are trying to stretch the groceries for another week until payday, and in fact, the pandemic has made us rely a lot more on takeout and food delivery than we normally do.

Regardless, I recently took some time on one of our homeschool days to map out what it takes to run and pay for a household for my kids. 

Writing It All Out

On a giant whiteboard in my office, I created a list of most of our household bills — our mortgage payment, transportation expenses, phones, gas, insurance, utilities, and all of the taxes we pay. In another column, I wrote out a rough example of the amount of income it would actually take to cover those bills. 

From there, I talked with the kids about our household wants, or stuff they prefer to have. My kids went ahead and added shoes to the list, an Xbox and some dolls. 

At one point, the kids started asking questions about where the money for our bills actually comes from. I explained that, while I continue working on my podcast and blog and other business ventures, the majority of our income is mostly passive — as in, I am not actually working for it and I am no longer getting paid by an employer.

And in that moment, I began explaining to them my thoughts on financial independence — what it means to me, and how we actually got to that point. 

While my kids were sick of dad teaching and barely listening by then, they did have some thoughts on financial independence. I explained to them that, if they could save a ton of their income in their early working years, they could invest in passive income streams they could rely on for decades after that. 

We also talked about how secure it can feel to have enough money stashed away to get by, and to not have to rely on the whims of an employer or a J-O-B to stay alive. 

How I Realized We Were Financially Independent

All of this got me thinking about when I knew we were financially independent, and the “aha moments” I had along the way. After all, our journey to financial security didn’t happen overnight, even though sometimes it does feel that way.

But before I share how I knew we didn’t need to worry about money, I want to explain what I think financial freedom really is, based on a note I wrote on my whiteboard for our kids. 

What Financial Independence Is (and What It Isn’t)

For me, financial independence is not about making the most money you absolutely can, and it’s not about how much is in your bank account, the car you drive, or the size of your home. 

Instead, financial independence is about choice. 

Based on the way I interpret the FIRE movement, financial independence is about being able to choose where you work and what you work on, having the ability to spend your free time how you want, and living life on your own terms. It’s about not having to go to a job you hate, and to still have the money you need to pay bills and live comfortably, regardless.

Further, financial independence means being able to have the freedom of choice without any worry, without any stress, and without any anxiety — at least when it comes to paying bills.  

My Aha Moments

So, what are the “aha moments” that helped me realize we had been blessed with all we need — that we are financially independent?

In reality, it has been a lot of small things over the last decade or so — things like being able to rent two hotel rooms or a large Airbnb each time we travel, and not having to worry whether we can afford it. After all, I have four kids, and my wife and I don’t want to sleep in a hotel room stuffed six-people deep. 

Another big moment we had was the first time my wife and I maxed out our old Roth IRA accounts while also fully funding our 401(k)s, which happened early in our marriage. 

Then there was the year we started building our first “dream house,” which we lived in before the one we live in now. Our “starter home” was around 1,900 square feet and we lived there for quite a while. But we started building our 5,000 square foot dream house right before the birth of our second son — we even put in a pool shortly after that. 

This was when we were in our early 30’s, and building at that time just seemed like a dream come true. We even started building our new home before we sold our old one, which was only possible because we had our financial ducks in a row.

Other key “aha” moments along our journey to financial independence included:

  • The many times I turned down lucrative job offers and opportunities so I could continue pursuing my own dreams
  • When I realized I could take two weeks off to drive my family to the Grand Canyon in an RV — and I did it!
  • When I’ve made more money in a month than my parents used to earn in a whole year (since my parents topped out at around $40,000 to $50,000 per year during their working years)
  • Realizing I had the cash savings to purchase my childhood dream car (a yellow Lamborghini!), if I really wanted to
  • The time I sold a minority stake in one of my businesses and was handed the largest check I have ever received to date
  • The first time I paid $400 for a pair of Jordan shoes with no regrets or stress, which actually happened just a few years ago!

Funny enough, I sent my wife Mandy a text, for research purposes, asking when she first felt financially independent. Her answer was totally different than mine. 

Mandy says that she felt like she no longer needed to worry about money when we reached one year of expenses in our emergency savings account.

I have to agree with her, because that milestone did give me a lot of peace of mind. After all, having 12 months of expenses in an emergency fund means a lot could go wrong with our finances and we would still have the time and space to figure it all out.

3 Key FIRE Principles and How You Know You’re On Track

If you’re pursuing financial independence but progress feels slow, know that your path to financial freedom will have a lot of bumps along the way. If you’re like me, you might also find that you’re inching toward financial freedom in spurts, and that it doesn’t all hit you at once. 

The key for those seeking FIRE is being on the lookout for those “aha moments” that tell you you’re on the right path. No matter what anyone says, you won’t become financially independent overnight. Instead, you’ll probably hit several different stages over the months and years it takes to get there.

Not only that, but you should strive to adopt the right mindset for FIRE. For the most part, this means being willing to think differently about how the world works and how it should work, and being open to going your own way.

What are the key principles of FIRE — or the key mindset changes that can get you there? Based on my personal experience, here’s what I think they are.

Key Principle #1: Gratitude for What You Have

In my opinion, being grateful for what you have (and what God has provided) is one of the most important steps anyone can take. Even if things aren’t really going your way, and if life seems bleak and miserable at times, there is always something we can be grateful for. 

With that said, I recommend being grateful and hungry — as in, don’t be so grateful that you become complacent and stop pushing for more in your life. 

Continue to entertain the idea that there is always something else you can learn, more experiences you can have, and more wisdom to obtain by trying new things. And if you try something and fail, look for the lessons you can find in that failure and be grateful you had the chance to learn them. 

Key Principle #2: Flexing Your Bold Intentions

Another key principle of achieving financial independence is being willing to share your goals with the world — loudly and without hesitation.

In your own life, you might’ve noticed that people who are pursuing FIRE can’t stop talking about it. This is because FIRE enthusiasts usually have one important thing in common: they’re brave enough to put their bold intentions on display no matter what anyone thinks.

Let’s say you have the bold intention of achieving financial independence and retiring at 35. Why not take that goal and post it to your Facebook page? Start sharing it with your family, and don’t forget to tell your friends. 

Chances are good that you’re probably going to get a lot more criticism than support from your peers, but who really cares? 

Most people who pursue FIRE actually don’t care at all what other people think. That’s part of the reason they’re able to live differently, save a large percentage of their income, and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses in the first place.

Key Principle #3: Full Release of the Past

Finally, you have to make sure your future is bigger than your past — as in, don’t let your past mistakes define who you are today and who you can become.

I know from experience that it’s far too easy to focus on all of the mistakes you’ve made and opportunities you’ve missed out on. Trust me, I’ve made more than my share of bone-headed mistakes that could’ve easily derailed me, yet here I am. 

The key for anyone pursuing FIRE is having some humility for the situation while never letting your past mistakes hold you back. You have to be willing to put yourself out there again and again, knowing you might fail. The thing is, every failure has a lesson, and sometimes those lessons lead you to something great right around the corner. 

Maybe you skipped saving for retirement early in your career, and you feel behind from where you should be. Although you definitely missed out by not getting started early, you can only control the steps you take to reach your goal right now.

Perhaps you made a poor investment and lost money at one point, which is something most investors have done at least a few times. Instead of dwelling on that mistake, you have to learn to cut your losses, find the lesson in the mess, and move on. 

Why? Because the alternative isn’t moving forward, and that won’t get where you want to be.

The bottom line: Let go of the past and take stock of where you’re at now. From there, figure out a plan to reach your goals, and don’t stop until you get there.

The post FIRE: How to Find Your Aha Moments and the Key to Achieving FIRE appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

ByCurtis Watts

How I Invest

One of the most common questions I receive from readers like you—especially since Grow (Acorns + CNBC) published my story last week—asks me how I invest.

All this theoretical investing information is fine, Jesse. But can you please just tell me what you do with your money.

That’s what I’ll do today. Here’s a complete breakdown of how I invest, how the numbers line up, and why I make the choices I make.

Disclaimer

Of course, please take my advice with a grain of salt. Why?

My strategy is based upon my financial situation. It is not intended to be prescriptive of your financial situation.

I’ve hesitated writing this before because it feels one step removed from “How I Vote” and “How I Pray.” It’s personal. I don’t want to lead you down a path that’s wrong for you. And I don’t want to “show off” my own choices.

I’m an engineer and a writer, not a Wall Street professional. And even if I was a Wall Street pro, I hope my prior articles on stock picking and luck vs. skill in the stock market have convinced you that they aren’t as skilled as you might think.

All I can promise you today is transparency. I’ll be clear with you. I’ll answer any follow-up questions you have. And then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information.

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Are we clear? Let’s get to the good stuff.

How I Invest, and In What Accounts…?

In this section, I’ll detail how much I save for investing. Then the next two sections will describe why I use the investing accounts I use (e.g. 401(k), Roth IRA) and which investment choices I make (e.g. stocks, bonds).

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How much I save, and in what accounts:

  • 401(k)—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $19,500 on employee-deferred contributions in 2020 (for my age group). I aim to hit the full $19,500 limit.
  • 401(k) matching—My employer will match 100% of my 401(k) contributions until they’ve contributed 6% of my total salary. For the sake of round numbers, that equates to about $6,000.
  • Roth IRA—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $6,000 on Roth IRA contributions (for my earnings range) in 2020. I am aiming to hit the full $6,000 limit.
  • Health Savings Account—The U.S. government gives tremendous tax benefits for saving in Health Savings Accounts. And if you don’t use that money for medical reasons, you can use it like an investment account later in life. I aim to hit the full $3,500 limit in 2020.
  • Taxable brokerage account—After I achieved my emergency fund goal (about 6 months’ of living expenses saved in a high-yield savings account), I started putting some extra money towards my taxable brokerage account. My goal is to set aside about $500 per month in that brokerage account.

That’s $41,000 of investing per year. But a lot of that money is actually “free.” I’ll explain that below.

Why Those Accounts?

The 401(k) Account

First, let’s talk about why and how I invest using a 401(k) account. There are three huge reasons.

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First, I pay less tax—and so can you. Based on federal tax brackets and state tax brackets, my marginal tax rate is about 30%. For each additional dollar I earn, about 30 cents go directly to various government bodies. But by contributing to my 401(k), I get to save those dollars before taxes are removed. So I save about 30% of $19,500 = $5,850 off my tax bill.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that 401(k) contributions are taken out prior to OASDI (a.k.a. social security) taxes. That claim was incorrect. 401(k) contributions occur only after OASDI taxes are assessed.

Many thanks to regular reader Nick for catching that error.

Second, the 401(k) contributions are removed before I ever see them. I’m never tempted to spend that money because I never see it in my bank account. This simple psychological trick makes saving easy to adhere to.

Third, I get 401(k) matching. This is free money from my employer. As I mentioned above, this equates to about $6,000 of free money for me.

Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Why do I also use a Roth IRA?

Unlike a 401(k), a Roth IRA is funded using post-tax dollars. I’ve already paid my 30% plus OASDI taxes, and then I put money into my Roth. But the Roth money grows tax-free.

Let’s fast-forward 30 years to when I want to access those Roth IRA savings and profits. I won’t pay any income tax (~30%) on any dividends. I won’t pay capital gains tax (~15%) if I sell the investments at a profit.

Tax GIFs | Tenor

I’m hoping my 30-year investment might grow by 8x (that’s based on historical market returns). That would grow this year’s $6000 contribution up to $48000—or about $42000 in profit. And what’s ~15% of $42000? About $6,300 in future tax savings.

Health Savings Account (H.S.A.)

The H.S.A. account has tax-breaks on the front (36.7%, for me) and on the back (15%, for me). I’m netting about $1300 up-front via an H.S.A, and $4,200 in the future (similar logic to the Roth IRA).

Taxable Brokerage Account

And finally, there’s the brokerage account, or taxable account. This is a “normal” investing account (mine is with Fidelity). There are no tax incentives, no matching funds from my employer. I pay normal taxes up front, and I’ll pay taxes on all the profits way out in the future. But I’d rather have money grow and be taxed than not grow at all.

Summary of How I Invest—Money Invested = Money Saved

In summary, I use 401(k) plus employer matching, Roth IRA, and H.S.A. accounts to save:

  • About $7,100 in tax dollars today
  • About $6,000 of free money today
  • And about $10,500 in future tax dollars, using reasonable investment growth assumptions

Don’t forget, I still get to access the investing principal of $41,000 and whatever returns those investments produce! That’s on top of the roughly $25,000 of savings mentioned above.

I choose to invest a lot today because I know it saves me money both today and tomorrow. That’s a high-level thought-process behind how I invest.

How I Invest: Which Investment Choices Do I Make?

We’ve now discussed 401(k) accounts, Roth IRAs, H.S.A. accounts, and taxable brokerage accounts. These accounts differ in their tax rules and withdrawal rules.

But within any of these accounts, one usually has different choices of investment assets. Typical assets include:

  • Stocks, like shares of Apple or General Electric.
  • Bonds, which are where someone else borrows your money and you earn interest on their debt. Common bonds give you access to Federal debt, state or municipality debt, or corporate debt.
  • Real estate, typically via real estate investment trusts (REITs)
  • Commodities, like gold, beef, oil or orange juice
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Here are the asset choices that I have access to in my various accounts:

  • 401(k)—my employer works with Fidelity to provide me with about 20 different mutual funds and index funds to invest in.
  • Roth IRA—this account is something that I set up. I can invest in just about anything I want to. Individual stocks, index funds, pork belly futures etc.
  • H.S.A.—this is through my employer, too. As such, I have limited options. But thankfully I have low-cost index fund options.
  • Taxable brokerage account—I set this account up. As such, I can invest in just about any asset I want to.

My Choice—Diversity2

How I invest and my personal choices involve two layers of diversification. A diverse investing portfolio aims to decrease risk while maintaining long-term investing profits.

The first level of diversification is that I utilize index funds. Regular readers will be intimately familiar with my feelings for index funds (here 28 unique articles where I’ve mentioned them).

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By nature, an index fund reduces the investor’s exposure to “too many eggs in one basket.” For example, my S&P 500 index fund invests in all S&P 500 companies, whether they have been performing well or not. One stellar or terrible company won’t have a drastic impact on my portfolio.

But, investing only in an S&P 500 index fund still carries risk. Namely, it’s the risk that that S&P 500 is full of “large” companies’ stocks—and history has proven that “large” companies tend to rise and fall together. They’re correlated to one another. That’s not diverse!

Lazy Portfolio

To battle this anti-diversity, how I invest is to choose a few different index funds. Specifically, my investments are split between:

  • Large U.S. stock index fund—about 40% of my portfolio
  • Mid and small U.S. stock index fund—about 20% of my portfolio
  • Bond index fund—about 20%
  • International stocks fund—about 20%

This is my “lazy portfolio.” I spread my money around four different asset class index funds, and let the economy take care of the rest.

Each year will likely see some asset classes doing great. Others doing poorly. Overall, the goal is to create a steady net increase.

Updating My Favorite Performance Chart For 2019
An asset class “quilt” chart from 2010-2019, showing how various asset classes perform each year.

Twice a year, I “re-balance” my portfolio. I adjust my assets’ percentages back to 40/20/20/20. This negates the potential for one “egg” in my basket growing too large. Re-balancing also acts as a natural mechanism to “sell high” and “buy low,” since I sell some of my “hottest” asset classes in order to purchase some of the “coldest” asset classes.

Any Other Investments?

In June 2019, I wrote a quick piece with some thoughts on cryptocurrency. As I stated then, I hold about $1000 worth of cryptocurrency, as a holdover from some—ahem—experimentation in 2016. I don’t include this in my long-term investing plans.

I am paying off a mortgage on my house. But I don’t consider my house to be an investment. I didn’t buy it to make money and won’t sell it in order to retire.

On the side, I own about $2000 worth of collectible cards. I am not planning my retirement around this. I do not include it in my portfolio. In my opinion, it’s like owning a classic car, old coins, or stamps. It’s fun. I like it. And if I can sell them in the future for profit, that’s just gravy on top.

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Summary of How I Invest

Let’s summarize some of the numbers from above.

Each year, I aim to save and invest about $41,000. But of that $41K, about $15K is completely free—that’s due to tax benefits and employer matching. And using reasonable investment growth, I think these investments can save me $15,000 per year in future tax dollars.

Plus, I eventually get access to the $41K itself and any investment profits that accrue.

I take that money and invest in index funds, via the following allocations:

  • 40% into a large-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into a medium- and small-cap U.S. stock index fund
  • 20% into an international stock index fund
  • And 20% into a bond index fund

The goal is to achieve long-term growth while spreading my eggs across a few different baskets.

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And that’s it! That’s how I invest. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or drop me an email.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog