Well, let’s get this party started. I plan on doing one of these each month into perpetuity. As you may have gathered from my Big Goal strategy, the plan is to get my passive income plus my side hustle income to be larger than my monthly expenses. When this is done, I’ll be fit to retire from the grind.
Most folks in the FI blogging community delight in the opportunity to do a monthly review. Dividend growth investing, peer to peer lending and investment properties have a tendency for slow and steady climbs higher. It feels good to show how seeds planted years ago bear increasing amounts of fruit every month. I, however, absolutely dreaded writing this report. I’ve been tracking my expenses and passive income since August ’14 (and net worth since 2011). But, honestly, I’ve been too embarrassed to post the findings. I’m very much a financial train wreck right now, and I have been since May of this year when we moved to NYC.
- CMU: $0.53
- JPS: $241.98
Contributions/Increases (Effect on Avg. Monthly Dividend Income):
- All Dividends Reinvested (+$1.52)
- No Dividend Increases (+$0.00)
Forward Monthly Dividend Income:
- Was: $177.34
- Added: $1.52
- Now: $178.86
This is pretty much my lowest forward dividend income of the year. And when you get to the expenses area, below, it won’t be hard to see why. Dividend growth investing only works in an environment where you aren’t gutting your portfolio on a monthly basis. I’m in liquidation mode, people. In November I sold out of nearly all of my $15k CMU position in order to pay rent and bills. This coming week, I’ll be selling out of my last open option trade (a synthetic long in MELI) which will yield about $4k in proceeds. This will pay our rent that is due in 3 days. I should get a bonus this month, and the whole bonus will go toward current expenses like rent and credit cards—it’s that bad. If I’m still working in NYC at my current salary in two more months, I’ll start selling off pieces of JPS. If I’m still working here in six months, then I’ll need to stop paying into retirement accounts. If nothing changed in the next year, I’d have to start selling off retirement assets.
Luckily, for me, Chase Slate offers a credit card with no-fee, no -APR rollovers. This allowed me to hold ~$13k in credit card debt for the next 15 months interest-free. This was debt accrued over the last two years to buy a furniture set ($5k), make a down payment on a Corvette ($2k), furnish our NYC apartment ($1k) and make car repairs on the Mercedes ($3k). The rest was actually just transferred this month from my AMEX, which I pay every month—except this month, because I didn’t have anything in checking to pay it off without selling assets. It would have been no problem paying it off if not for the $30k we’ve paid in rent (we have a mortgage, too) this year. If not for the Slate card, I would’ve sold the most of the $21k I have in JPS already.
Oh, my, God. It’s actually painful to write that. Had it not been for the good will of a credit card company, I would essentially be liquidating retirement accounts right now—or maybe, at best, three months from now.
I recognize this is a totally unsustainable situation that I need to exit immediately. I should be okay, from a cash flow perspective, for a couple months. After a tax return, bonus, selling my options position, and the credit card debt deferment, I’ll survive for a few months. But, obviously, I’m just barely treading water.
I understand that this sounds a lot like I’m being caught by surprise. The fact is, I knew it was this bad and I’ve known it was this bad for months now; I knew how bad it would be when I decided to go into it. I knew that things were going to be operating at a loss. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was my reaction to it. I’ve come to realize that stability and asset appreciation are necessary to my emotional well-being. Understanding emotions is hard, unpredicable work…
- Annuity: $0.00
- P2P Lending: $0.00
Added/Increased (Effect on Avg. Monthly Dividend Income):
- Annuity Contribution of $75.00 (+$0.25)
Forward Monthly Interest Income:
- Was: $37.88
- Added: $0.25
- Now: $38.13
No Peer-to-Peer lending yet. The annuity pays a large interest payment every April.
I own no rental units and, despite my desire, I have no immediate plans to change that. I’m obviously in no financial position to take this on. I’ll call this a 12-month goal to get a rental unit and bring it under lease (maybe our basement).
No freelance writing, yet.
This was actually quite a surprise. I’m super excited about making anything. Blogging was never intended to be a highly lucrative endeavor (and a buck-thirty ain’t, but it’s a start). My hope is that I can slowly but surely move this number up as I figure out what the hell I’m doing with this blogging stuff.
The negative amounts for several prior months were due to hosting fees and purchasing a $132 used Chromebook (yah, I didn’t even have a computer).
For a long time, the scariest thing I’ve ever seen has been the movie The Ring—really, just the most terrifying thing ever. That is, until, I saw my expenses. I’m going to talk for a minute about this.
My net wages right now are about $6k per month. I send $1.5k to my 401(k) (maxing it out). That leaves me with $4.5k. Now, I haven’t had an arithmetic class in a while, but I’d guess it’s awfully hard to have $9k in expenses on $4.5k in wages (-100% savings rate). Now, about $1.5k of those expenses is actually debt principle (mortgage and cars). But still, my net worth is dying by about $1.5k per month ($6k wages minus $7.5k non-debt expenses).
Thankfully, just one thing will drastically change this scenario. I’m actively looking to get back to Virginia. When that occurs, I expect to see these adjustments:
In New York, everything is more expensive. The most obvious reduction will be the elimination of rent. Also, we won’t have the need/desire to return home every month or so (bus tickets and Uber rides add up). Food and dining will go down for no reason other than prices are so much lower. Add in the double utilities/internet and lower state costs for insurance, I’ll expect total savings of $3,325 essentially overnight.
Add to that, on the income side, far lower taxes. New York City has a local 3.6% income tax, on top of the 6.5% state income tax. State + City sales taxes run about 8.5%. Compared to Virginia (which is no tax haven, either), I’ll pay, at a minimum, $400 less per month in taxes.
I also have plans to greatly reduce our vehicle fleet from two luxury vehicles to one family-friendly vehicle—saving another $750 or so in payments, personal property taxes, and insurance.
When my net wages rise to $8k (approximately where they were before I took the Wall Street plunge), and expenses drop to around $5k, the pendulum will swing back in my favor.
Okay, back to reality. Expenses this month were obviously God awful, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I’m pleasantly surprised at the direction our dining expenses have gone—chalk that up to better meal planning. The baby expenses are delightfully less than many prognosticators have said they would be. I know these baby expense levels will rise over time, but we’re setting a good baseline. Cash withdrawals were good…
Alright, enough of that. Really, Eric? Commenting on anything being ‘good’ here is akin to scene in Titanic where Thomas Andrews is resetting the mantle clock while the ship is quickly going down. There’s a gaping, gushing, iceberg-sized hole in the side of my financial ship. Once I patch that up, then I can start talking about lowering my grocery bill and decreasing my electrical usage. Until then, not only do I have no credibility on the subject, but any progress that I would make would just get lost in a sea of financial wreckage.
Trust me; I do a lot of the things necessary to reduce costs on the edges. I cut my own hair. I have a Ting mobile phone plan. I clip coupons and comparison shop. I use Costco. We don’t have cable. We drink tap water. The problem here is that I’ve structured enormous, gouging expenses into my life. Between rent, excess taxes, preventable travel back home, and luxury cars, at least $4k per month is running out the door. All those little cost-savers I just mentioned might save, at best, $300 a month. Given, apart from those big kahuna expenses, is there more expense optimization to be had? Certainly! I could easily see us dropping up to $1k from other cost categories. But for now, those efforts are best placed at slaying the dragon that is a NYC life.
Okay, I’m getting sufficiently depressed. I just talked to my wife and told her how I was feeling writing up these reports. She just told me to understand that this is a temporary situation, things will get better soon, and to look at the NYC experience as just that—an experience.
I’ll take this opportunity to just quickly say how great life is. Even though my financial house is in shambles, the amount of fulfillment and happiness I get from joking with my friends, walking to work on cold mornings, watching documentaries with the wife, and being with the wife and baby (who have been 100% supportive of my wild-ass decisions, even as I quickly push retirement farther away), is 10-times the fulfillment and happiness I get from money. But, that’s what you’re here for. So, back to the numbers!
So, net worth stands today at $296,574. This is a drop of about 2% from last month. Why? As you’ll see, even though the market went up a touch in December, my “investments” were down $8k. This is sorta what happens when you spend an insane amount of money on housing, taxes, and car payments. No other real surprises here. I’m not too concerned with my net worth number month-to-month, but it is a good gauge on how you’re doing over time. And it does reflect big changes, like moving to NYC—had we stayed put in VA, our net worth (based on just rent, taxes, and salary differential) would be at least $50k higher.
This inaugural set of financial reports has come with A LOT more commentary than future ones will. They will not be nearly this long in the future. From here on out, just the numbers, folks.
I’d love feedback from anyone on how I could present these figures better in the future. Too much data? Not enough line charts? More commentary? Just kidding. But I want to show these numbers in a clean way—not sure how to best do that, yet.
Thank you for reading!