Category: Financial independence

Setting Goals for 2020

Sticky post
New year means new financial goals.

A bit late confessing my 2020 resolutions but this has become a must for me. Setting up financial goals for the year helps me stay focused and stick to the plan. If you have not set yours I hope this inspires you to do so.

So far, from the moment that we started our journey towards FI, besides getting out of debt, my second goal was to free up some cash. We didn’t have big amounts on credit cards and it was relatively easy to pay them off once we got on a budget. However, my wife’s student loan was a total  @#$**!!! We had acquired it around 2003, and by 2016 we had barely made any progress. After moving, settling in our new home and becoming landlords we were still sitting at the $22,000 dollar mark.

After looking at our budget and sticking to our guns we decided to go hard at the student loan. If our calculations were right, after two years of making extra payments the loan would be gone. A little miscalculations made us miss the finish line but not by much, and we actually had some unexpected gains that we didn’t account for, which I explained in my previous post here.

But finally and without hesitation, I can say proudly that we have accomplished our goal. We have completely paid our student loan!!!
Now we have available to us all the cash we were using towards that payment. The regular payment was $235, but we were paying $716.
Now we have set free those seven-hundred-sixteen bucks, who are now diligently working for us 24/7 helping us to increase our net worth.

What’s next?

Well, after surviving our first run as landlords we have stepped up our game bringing some extra rent income. Now we have some extra cash-flow in rent and $716 that were previously going into student loan payments. All this together gives us a lot of flexibility and brings awesome investing opportunities.
Besides all these good news, we have always had an awesome tax return averaging about 10K . This year we broke that mark!
I know. We loan money to the government for free but we love that juicy check in the spring. It’s like a forced saving stash of cash.
In the past, we have used whatever we get in tax returns to just pay credit cards and do few little repairs around the house. We would stay afloat for few months, and then around November we were gasping for the next tax return again to pay off debt. A pretty frustrating cycle. Sounds familiar?
Luckily, that’s a thing of the past. After working our budget, we were able to brake that cycle and become more intentional with our hard earned income.

Debt Snowball method

If you haven’t heard of the snowball method to pay debt, it is one strategy that can really help you further your financial success.
How does it work? It’s pretty simple. You determine what debt you would like to pay off, such as a credit cards, student loan or even mortgage. The general recommendation is to choose the smallest amount of debt and higher interest rate; most likely credit cards. After paying one debt, and eliminating that liability you will repurpose that payment and dump it on the next bucket of debt.

To illustrate, I would use my own case. We first chose to pay off our credit cards by making not only the minimum monthly payments but also paying additional cash towards the principal. Once we paid the credit cards, instead of saying, “look! Now we have extra cash to spend,” we pretended the money was not there and kept a tight budget.We looked again at our budget and chose what debt was next. In our case the student loan was next, with a balance of 22K at a 6.5% rate. We used the regular monthly payment of $238 we were obliged to, plus the cash we had freed up from the credit cards debt. Our final number was $716. Now instead on continuing paying $238 to the student loan debt, we were paying a total of $716; $478 extra towards the principal every month.
Was it easy? Well, some months were better than others. Some months were a real squeeze. But we stuck to the plan.
One of the strategies we used to help us out a bit paying off the student loan was using a home equity line of credit. By doing so, we reduced the interest rate from 6.5% to 4.5%. This gave us an estimated saving of $416 yearly if we committed to pay the debt within two years.
However, if we didn’t pay this debt and continued on the minimum payment track we would have stayed on that same track until 2028; that was the loan’s maturity date and it also included accruing $1430 of interest payment yearly (22K x 6.5%)!
Instead, we saved 8 years of burden saving us $11,440($1430 x 8 years) of interest payment! This is nuts! Now I can expect that number to eventually come on my side of the ledger as years go by.

Next target

Now we are aiming to pay our rental’s mortgage off. That is what I envisioned as part of our blueprint to reach FI. This one is not going to be an easy goal and will require some perseverance to endure 4 years of sticking to a plan. By doing this, we will increase our yearly income by 35K.
17K from gross rental income, 8.5K from cash that we have freed up from debt( Student loan and credit cards), plus approximately 10K that we get yearly in our tax return.
In 2024, we are thinking about getting one or two more rentals, in the same area we have the current rental. We feel like we could comfortably manage one or two more as the first rental will be completely paid off.
In 2024 I will have only four more years left before I reach my goal of retiring in the summer of 2029. In this mix, of buying real estate we also would like to buy a small house in Michigan. This may be the place where we think we would like to retire once the kids are done with high school. That’s a bit ahead of the game and will remain a thought for a while, so more on that in future posts.

Silent Weapon

Something that I highly recommend and has helped us tremendously as well is technology. I like using regular Excel spreadsheets or even Google Sheets to keep track of our budget. But I also like using Personal Capital and Mint.

With Personal Capital I can really look closely to all my accounts, budget, and even take a quick snapshot of our Net Worth.
Mint, on the other hand is what I use on my phone for just a quick look of bank accounts and ongoing expenses on a daily basis.

However, the ONE silent weapon that we use all the time is automatic money transfers through our bank. We look into the budget, set up a goal and schedule these transfers as a one time event or re-occurring events. By doing so, all you need is to figure out your strategy, setting it in motion and forget about it.

In our case, we sat down to determine the amount we needed to pay toward the student loan to meet the pay-off date we wanted and we were done. At times we just made sure we were still on track and simply kept on going.
If you are in the same situation of trying to pay off debt, start with your budget. Determine what is the maximum extra payment you can make and schedule that payment to be made as soon as you get paid. Don’t wait for the month’s left overs in your account to figure it out; that’s a recipe for disaster. Pay yourself first. Figure out how many payments will be required for you to reach your goal and stick to it. Ask yourself what will be your next goal? Pay more debt or invest? Likewise, is there anything you could do to increase your income? Maybe a side hustle or cutting off some unnecessary expenses like cable?

Conclusion

Financial literacy is a must for everybody. I wish I would have taken a more active approach in my early years and set some financial goals as my younger self. However, I am amazed at how much progress you can make financially by just paying attention to your expenses, determining your priorities and setting financial goals every year. It’s never too late; never too early.
You don’t have to be on a beans and rice diet to achieve financial goals. I still have an amazing life with my four kids and wife. I have become just more intentional with my money.

I would love to hear about your financial goals for this year 2020 or any achievement (Big or small) you feel proud of on your FI journey.

How to Get Out of Debt

Sticky post
GPS showing financial destination
Start with a budget, set the course, get to work.

First off, let me tell you this: You won’t find anything here that will fix your debt problem in an instant. There is no magic wand. There is no secret. Likewise, there are no smoke and mirrors trying to sell you anything. Usually, my posts are a personal snapshot of my finances with enough information to help somebody else.
Just like when people are trying to lose weight, there is no magic pill or secret that will take you there. What really makes a difference in reaching your goals is the subtle changes you make on a daily basis. Small changes compound and yield the best results!

In June 2018, after catching up with the FIRE movement( Financial Independence Retire Early) movement, my wife and I started looking at all our debt and liability. Things that we could do to be in a better position financially.
Now, let me backtrack 4 years ago, when we had about nine thousand dollars in debt with one of our credit cards, plus a student loan on my wife’s name that had started at 27k in 2003 and it had barely changed 15 years later when we still had 22K to pay.
In other words, our starting point was -9K at 25%, and -22K at 6.5%. My teacher’s salary kept going up every year but somehow we always found ourselves gasping for the next tax return to pay down debt. Not long after paying the card, more debt started accumulating again and before we knew it we were back in the same situation- repeating the same vicious cycle. Sounds familiar?
To add more stress to our financial situation our neighborhood was pushing us out and we were determined to find a better school environment for our kids. If we sold, we would have ended with about 5-6K in our pocket. Instead, we decided to move and rent out our house for at least a year. A year turned into two and recently I just survived my first 42 months as a landlord.
Anyway, we moved and life was great. The rental was cash-flowing about $500 a month after expenses, but we were still in the same financial predicament fighting off debt. After getting in touch with the FIRE community, things started to change. In June 2008, my wife and I sat down and started looking at our budget. Not only going through the motions of looking at how much we are spending, but we were trying to find where the holes of our financial vessel were. Where was the money going? What could we cut to save? What debt could we pay fairly quick to free some of our precious cash coming in?
After getting rid of some ludicrous expenses like cable and a magazine subscription we realized that we had a decent amount of cash coming in but somehow was disappearing in miscellaneous expenses. We started a spreadsheet that accounted for every single penny and decided to charge against the pesky credit card and student loan debt.
We transferred the credit card debt to another credit card with no interest for 24 months. With help of our tax return, we paid the card off fairly easy.
At the time, the monthly payment of our student loan was $235 monthly. We cut the cable saving $150. That was right away allocated as an extra payment to the student loan. We decreased my 403B contribution and started paying $716 monthly towards the student loan.  In my calculation, the student loan would be paid in January 2020. We automated 2 different withdraws to be transferred to our loan holding bank. From there, we would manually make the transfer at the most convenient time for our finances. We kind of made that account work as an emergency fund as well. We would pool some money there and then make the principal payment.

I Failed!

Image result for gif crying

You can’t imagine my disappointment when I was about to make what was supposed to be my last transfer! My wife reminded me that we had put our Christmas expenses on the card! At some point, between driving the kids here and there, lessons and just the demands of tending to a family with 4 kids our communication failed; my fault.
I had calculated and planned this moment for almost two years and it was not happening. My wife felt guilty. I probably overreacted with my frustration, although I reassured her it was not her fault but mine. But I just had a terrible feeling of failure! I felt defeated.

I went to work that day, tried to forget about it and then resumed to strategize how to pay the $1000 extra I didn’t account for. I started thinking about all the interviews in podcasts where people talk about the importance of being flexible in the pursuit of FIRE and how important it is to keep enjoying life, as well as the importance of not damaging relationships on the way.

With all those thoughts in mind, I reassessed the situation and realized that I was still in a terrific situation. I could not pay the whole loan off when I expected it but I am still very close. I took a couple of extra responsibilities at work to make extra money and I am still able to reach my goal next month! No big deal.

Wait! I failed but I am actually winning

In my moment of doom and gloom, feeling like a total failure I logged into my Personal Capital account looking for answers. I was looking at all the reports and started reflecting on it.
Our net worth is about $210K at the moment!
Hold on a second!- I thought.  I may not have paid the student loan…BUT we have increased our net worth from -31K to 210K in a matter of 4 quick years! What? That is super fantastic! I still can’t believe it. 210K! Yes, it is mainly equity. But remember, I was going to move out of my first home and walk away with 5-6K. Nothing!
No debt. Other than our mortgage and YES! The pesky student loan that will be obliterated and announced on Twitter for sure very soon. So help me celebrate that one!

How we did it?

First and foremost, you need a budget. Everybody needs a budget regardless of how much money you make.
Distribute your money according to your needs. Define what is a want and what is really a need. Cable is not a need! Lattes and eating out are not needs. They are privileges- expensive ones. You can still have them, but understand that they are impacting your investing capability. Are they worth it you working more hours of your life so that you can afford them? Only you can decide that, but be mindful of the trade-off.
Once you have your budget, determine your purpose. What are you trying to accomplish? Maybe retirement or FIRE is your ultimate goal? What other goals or milestones do you need to reach for that final goal to happen?
I like to call this my financial GPS. I need to know where I am financially and where I want to go. Without one or the other, I am lost and likely to get lost in debtland.
Check the course often, reassess and keep on going. You won’t reach these goals from one day to another, but every day you will be in a slightly better financial situation. More importantly, as you plow through and you implement some of these strategies you will continue optimizing your system and pave your way to reach your goals and beyond.
Be flexible and forgiving with yourself. Don’t get fixated on the goal. Focus on your strategies and system you have created to reach your goals. The rest will fall in place.
Automate as much as you can. Schedule those monthly withdrawals to pay off debt or invest. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind.” Don’t wait for the month’s left-over to allocate it or find a purpose for it. Pay yourself first, and pay everybody else with the rest.
Do not wait to determine your financial goals. It is never too late to plan your financial goals, but it is also never too early to plan and define your journey toward financial independence.
I truly hope these words get to someone looking for a change in their finances like I once was. I would love to hear your story or struggle.
On my end, I am already planning my next financial milestone but that will be coming soon in another post.

Image result for sailing off into the sunset gif

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: