Today we’re proud to present our third “money snapshot,” this time with C, a management consultant on the West Coast! She notes: “I paid off my student loans extremely aggressively — all were paid off within two years of graduating. Although I had a job that paid well right out of college (I started at $60K), I tried to live frugally where reasonably possible in order to prioritize paying these off.”
By way of background: we got a few requests from readers to launch our own “money diary” series, so we’ve asked willing readers to fill out a form with lots of details about debt, spending, saving and more! If you’d like to fill out the form and be considered for a future personal money snapshot, please click here if you’d like to see the form and/or submit responses! You can also see a PDF of the questions if you want to review them ahead of time. See others in the Personal Money Snapshot series here.
Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat
Location: HCOL suburb on the West Coast
Occupation: Management consultant
Income: $180K/year base, $10K–$40K bonus
Net worth: About $900,000
Net worth when started working: Negative $52K (student loans) at age 22
Current debt: Three mortgages (home, rental property, and vacation home) totaling $830K
Living situation: Own a house and pay $2,000/month in mortgage.
What does your debt picture look like?
My only debt right now is mortgage debt, across three homes (primary, vacation, investment property), totaling $830K. I have pretty good mortgage rates (3.5%, 3.75%, and 4.5%, all 30-year fixed), so I am paying the regular monthly payments. While I made an extra lump sum payment on my primary home with a bonus a few years ago, I now just put those bonuses into savings/investments so that I could pay the mortgages off later if I needed to.
How much money are you spending each month to pay down debt?
$5,400 in monthly mortgage payments, though $3,500 is paid by tenants
How did you pay for school?
I paid off my student loans extremely aggressively — all were paid off within two years of graduating. Although I had a job that paid well right out of college (I started at $60K), I tried to live frugally where reasonably possible in order to prioritize paying these off. I am very uncomfortable having debt, so it was important to me to not have my student loans hanging over my head.
Find someone you trust that you can call for repairs! I don’t have a property manager per se, but I do have a handyman who lives right by the property to whom I sole source all repairs. If he can’t do it, he will call around and find someone who can, then charge a one-off commission (which is well worth it). It’s amazing peace of mind to know that if there is an issue, my tenants can call me or call him directly in an emergency. Also, if you are looking to buy a rental property, remember that you don’t need to like it personally, so try to avoid any upgrades that make it to your taste, and stick with something more generic.
Savings, Investments & Retirement
How much do you save for retirement?
I max out my 401K ($2,100/month). I used to max out my Roth IRA before I became ineligible for that. I still do a “backdoor Roth” where I put it into a traditional IRA and then immediately convert it, so that the earnings will be tax free.
How much money do you allocate to other tax-savvy investments/accounts?
I max out my HSA at $260/month… I figure even if it stays in there now without me using it, it will be good to have when I’m older and more prone to health issues. I have had two health issues that depleted my HSA significantly, over 10 years, so I figure it’s a great emergency fund — especially since I’m on a high-deductible plan.
How much do you save outside of retirement accounts?
I also save $4,500/month post tax in a combo of index funds and a managed portfolio. I prefer to manually transfer the funds when my paycheck comes in, which forces me to check out my financial situation every two weeks and see how I’m doing. I transfer the money from my paycheck bank account to another “transaction” bank account, then I have automatic transfers for my investments set up to take the money a week after my paycheck hits. I feel like that’s the best of both worlds — keeps it simple but also forces me to continuously evaluate and reassess. And if I’m short on funds, I could always stop a transfer.
Do you have/use a financial adviser or planner?
I started using a financial adviser last year, who manages a portfolio for me that complies with my company’s guidelines around what I can/can’t invest in. (Working in consulting, there are a lot of restrictions around investing in clients.) I felt pressured to start using an adviser by my company, but I do wonder if it’s worth the fees (1%) or if I’d be better off with it all in index funds. I put $2,000/month into that portfolio for my adviser to invest as he sees fit, and then I put $2,500/month into the Schwab Total Market Stock Index fund. I feel very uninformed/inexperienced when it comes to investing, but I haven’t prioritized learning about it.
Do you have an end goal for saving or are you just saving for a rainy day?
I’d like to retire early (mid-40s) and am well on track to do so. But if I decide to have a family, I know that timeline would be pushed back significantly.
What’s the #1 thing you’re doing to save money, limit spending, or live frugally?
I think I am generally pretty frugal, though I’m motivated by knowing I CAN buy anything I want thanks to my otherwise-frugality. I’ve made a few big impulse buys over the years (my vacation home wasn’t supposed to happen for a while longer, but I found this house and fell in love with it). It feels SOOOOO good to know that I never have to worry about money, which is the opposite of how I grew up. No matter how much my salary increases, I plan to always live well below my means and try to avoid keeping up with the Joneses.
Do a lot of your financial decisions today stem from the money situation your family had growing up?
Yes — it’s really important to me to pay my bills on time (which my parents weren’t financially able to do), and it also makes me feel amazing to be able to buy things without having to worry about bouncing checks or overdrawn credit cards, which were common in my childhood.
When did you start saving seriously? How has your savings strategy changed over the years?
The day I graduated college! It’s always been a high priority for me to be financially comfortable and not in debt.
Do you have an estate plan in place?
None — I probably should. However, as a single, I don’t really know who I’d want my estate to go to. Probably my parents, and they will get it by default anyway.
How much do you have in cash that’s available today?
$20? Ha. I don’t keep actual physical cash.
How much do you have in cash that’s available in a week?
$8,000 — currently very depleted from the down payment on my vacation home. I would like this to be $20K. This is my emergency fund, and I keep it in a savings account.
How much do you have in retirement savings?
How much do you have in long-term investments and savings that are not behind a retirement wall?
If property values are included in your net worth, how much are those worth?
Home: $338K equity
Rental property: $82K equity
Vacation home: $125K equity
Car: fully paid off and worth about $15K
Looking back, did you ever expect to own three properties at 33? In general, say, 10 years ago, did you expect to be where you are now financially?
DEFINITELY not. I feel like all of my real estate purchases were accidental — the investment property was a short sale that came across my lap when I had a bunch of cash in savings and hadn’t really figured out investing. My primary home was of course planned, but the vacation home was something I didn’t expect. I thought vacation homes were only for richer/more established people and was pleasantly surprised when I happened across the property and found I could make the numbers work. I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am today financially; I honestly never really expected much more than being able to make ends meet and am proud to be well ahead of that.
How much do you spend on the following categories on a monthly basis?
Restaurants, bars, takeout, and delivery: $500
Clothing and accessories: $200
Transportation: $20/week on gas, $100/month on car registration/insurance
Rent/living expenses: $2,000 mortgage payment
Entertainment: $30/month for a local concert series I like. I rarely buy books (yay for libraries!) or go to the movies.
Health care — premiums and other costs: $80/month for a high deductible plan ($3,500 deductible). I probably spend about $500/year from my FSA for various things (medicine, co-pays, contact lenses).
What’s your spending range for these things? What’s your average?
Vacations – Average: Low — I tend to take a lot of three-day weekends, using hotel points and frequent flyer miles, so they still often fit in my regular weekly budget of ~$400/week.
Charity – Average Donation: $20 to any friend asking for money for their pet charities, and then I go to a decent number of events ($150 for a ticket, another $100–$500 on auction items/general donation).
Individual items of clothing – Range: $10–$100
Individual items of clothing – Average: I have inexpensive taste — I really like Old Navy for trendy stuff because I don’t care if it lasts that long anyway, and for classic pieces that I do want to last, I tend to buy from Banana Republic and Lands’ End. I like shopping brands online that I can easily return in stores rather than having to mail them back, and I tend to buy a LOT to try at home, and then return a lot. I almost always wait till things are on sale to buy, and will often put things into my cart that I like, then come back to it weeks later when I see they’re doing 50% off everything (or whatever). I’d say I typically pay around $30–$50 for a work dress, $10–$20 for a shirt / sweater, $20 for jeans, and $20 for shoes. For black-tie events, I’ll find gowns for $80–$150; there are a lot in this price range from basic department stores (e.g., Macy’s). I like seeing the pieces featured on Corporette, but most of them are much more expensive than what I’d consider buying.
Apartment or house – Current main residence: $2,000/month
Car or other vehicle – Last purchase / current main vehicle: Bought a new SUV for $25K that is five years old and that I plan to drive several more years.
Fill in the blank on this question: I could save _____ if I stopped ______, but I don’t because _______.
I could save $1,000 a month if I got a roommate for my gigantic house that I live in alone, but I don’t because I really value having my own place. I love my neighborhood, but it doesn’t have any 2-bedroom houses, which would have more than sufficed! I did look at a few townhomes that would have been a great size, but the value wasn’t nearly as high compared to paying just a little bit more for twice the room.
How much did your car cost?
$25K. In hindsight, I wish I had bought a used car rather than new.
How much did your home cost?
If you have vacation homes, timeshares, or income properties, how much did those cost?
(1) I bought a townhouse five years ago for $130K; it’s now worth $180K. I rent this out for $1,500/month, which more than covers the $1,000/month mortgage. (2) Last year, I bought a vacation home for $525K; the mortgage is $2,400/month. I partially rent it out for $2,000/month, which allows me to still enjoy it part time without having to pay the full burden of the mortgage. I eventually plan to stop renting it out.
How has your family provided financial support in your adult life, if any? (Or, do you provide support to them?)
When I graduated college, I went home and lived with my parents for three months until moving to start my first job. I worked at a restaurant to cover spending money, but they paid my cell phone bill and I didn’t pay rent/utilities. I’ve made loans to a few family members of $5K–$20K; some have been paid back and some haven’t. I don’t like loaning money to people so I only make loans that I am comfortable losing entirely.
Do you have a general money strategy?
I keep a spreadsheet of all my accounts, and a general budget, though the only categories I “budget” for out of my paycheck are mortgage, utilities, internet, savings, and the rest in a generic “spending money” category. I don’t budget separately for food because I could easily make dinner for $5 from the grocery store or buy a meal for $150 at a restaurant, so I think of food as a form of entertainment and want it included in that generic “spending money” category. I budget $1,500 month for “spending money,” and when I pay my credit card bill (which I do in full each month), I see how it compares to that budget. If it’s over, I keep it in mind and try to tighten my belt a little bit the next month. But I like the freedom of not having to worry about individual purchases, and just looking at it in aggregate. I’ve used this strategy since I graduated college, though back then my budget was $800/month ($200/week).
Time vs. money — do you spend money to save time (e.g., cleaning service)? Do you donate your time instead of money? What else does this phrase mean to you?
I volunteer about 20 hours/month and generally try to give back this way instead of financially. Writing a check doesn’t really mean much to me, but I get a huge psychological benefit out of spending time volunteering — for me, that decision is much more about the psychology than it is about saving money. However, I definitely tend to spend time to save money. I don’t hire a cleaning service, and do it myself — it’s really not that hard if I block off an hour a week and keep up with it regularly. I try to save whatever I can on things that don’t matter to me (e.g., store brand groceries vs. name brand) so that I don’t have to worry about spending money on the things I want to indulge in (a great meal at a fancy restaurant).
What are your favorite resources for personal finance?
Blogs: The Simple Dollar, Mr. Money Mustache. Both of those are often much more frugal than I’m comfortable with, but I get some good ideas from there. And, it helps to normalize extreme frugality for me, which makes me feel comfortable with how frugal I am.
Photo credit: icons via Stencil.
Wow – huge thanks to C for sharing her life with us!