I realize that Part I of this series was a little mushy and light on details. That was largely intentional; there’s a real emotional tug that is necessary to pull one’s self into this greater idea. However, from this point forward, I’ll be getting much more real and useful.
So, let’s get started. Hi, my name is Eric and I’m 29 years old. I’ll henceforth refer to myself as Mr. 29. My family (Mrs. 29 and Baby29) and I live in Manhattan in a ridiculously expensive 386 square foot apartment. I also own an impeccably new home (or, more accurately, Wells Fargo owns most of our home) in Virginia. As Part I described, 4 months ago Mrs. 29, Baby29 and I trekked north on an adventure to work on Wall Street. We left behind a solid paying job ($110k/yr), good hours, and health insurance for the unknowns of a Wall Street internship. That internship has since blossomed into a full-time position ($90k/yr + Bonus). However, the associated costs (rent mainly), and our reluctance to rent out or sell our Virginia home has made this, at best, a break-even endeavor financially. Also, as Part I so eloquently laid out, my primary goal in life has now become to retire to a life of peace, freedom, and financial independence as soon as possible.
To be specific, I want to retire on September 3rd, 2019—which will be Baby29’s first day of Kindergarten and is also exactly five years from the start of this blog. I’ll be 34 years old at that time. My vision is to walk Baby29 to class with Mrs. 29 (and our other children, hopefully), kiss her goodbye, head to my job (wherever that may be) and clear out my personal belongings. Then, I’ll take the family out to a long lunch, reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and finally head back to school to pick up the our little future president.
So, what will it take for me to get to that point of early retirement? Well, it will essentially be a three-pronged approach. I’ll feel comfortable retiring when the sum of my passive income and side hustle income exceed the level of my monthly expenses. So, if I spend $4000 a month, and I bring it $2000/mo from stock dividends, $1,000 from rental properties, $500 in interest and another $500 in side hustling, then I’ll consider myself a safe bet to retire.
Let’s talk about where I stand today on those areas…
Now, I’ll offer some numbers. My investments are defined as only those monies which are productive (producing more monies). Home equity doesn’t qualify; checking or savings accounts (like our set-aside account for vacations or home improvements), and other working capital do not qualify. These accounts are not savings really, but rather just deferred spending. My Starbucks giftcard isn’t included, either. What is included is:
- Taxable Investment Accounts
- Annuities (High-Yield Cash)
- Peer-to-Peer Lending Balances
As of the start of this blog (Day Zero), September 3rd, 2014, that Investments balance is $267,085.19. Broken out as roughly 80% stocks, 15% bonds, and 5% annuities.
I do have other net assets that increase this investments number to arrive at my Net Worth; these include:
- Primary Home Equity
- Rental Property Equity*
- Market Value of Vehicles (Less: Vehicle Loan Balances)
- Medical Savings Accounts
- Receivable Income
- Checking/Savings/Cash/Cash Instruments (Less: Credit Card Balances)
- Possessions (Fair Market Value of All the Junk I Own)**
- Alternative Assets (Art, Coins, Valuables, Fine Jewelry, Precious Metals, Shares of Business Ventures, etc.)
- Other (Insurance prepayments, security deposits, accrued credit card rewards)
- Less: Other Liabilities (Personal loans, student loans, etc.)
When these amounts are added to my investments, I arrive at my starting Net Worth of $308,671.11.
Now, the investment number above is the most important one. Net worth is nice to know and is good for comparison purposes between you and Bill Johnson up the street, but it is not so useful for the purposes of retirement and financial independence. The value of cars, cats, and collectibles is not directly material to your ability to be financially independent. However, I do think net worth is an important number to track, as your net worth is indicative of your ability to move assets into an investable (productive) state. If I’m way short on investments but own my home outright, I could downsize the house and invest the excess. That needs to be reflected somewhere, and net worth is the place.
Also, everything ultimately flows to your net worth. It’s your personal balance sheet. Just like with a corporation, the statement of net income can be “gamed” by accelerating depreciation or how you recognize revenue, but the balance sheet is a no-nonsense point-in-time view of your accounts. Over time it will tell the full story of one’s financial progress. I’ll be tracking my net worth here.
Ah yes, the ultimate predictor of retirement-ability. Heck, if I could bring my expenses down to how what they were when I was in the Army (which is when I was happy when my credit card bill was under $100/mo and I had no other bills), then I could retire today. Alas, life has changed. I have grown-up bills now. Thus, it’s important to understand generally how much you’re spending month-to-month to 1.) optimize your spending so you aren’t getting suckered, and 2.) to tell if you can quit the 9to5 or cut our your side hustles.
So here’s an idea of how I’m spending my money lately. I’ll use a monthly average over last three months of my expenses to get a good calculation and smooth out any outlier-type expenses.
Car (Payment, Gas, Insurance, Repairs)
Grocery & Personal Care
Medical (Incl. Insurance Payroll Deductions)
These are my average monthly expenses for June-August of 2014. Pretty bad, huh? I’ll be tracking my expenses on my expenses page.
Now, I’ve so far ignored a rather important aspect of retirement: passive income. Passive income is simply income you receive from doing nothing. It stands apart from active income in that it requires very minimal effort (mostly paperwork) in keeping it flowing. Passive income would include things like:
- Pension Payments
- Rental Property Income
- Less: Rental Property Expenses (Rental Mortgage, Taxes, Utilities, Repairs, Management, etc.)
- Credit Card Rewards/Cash Back
My current passive income (average over last three months) is rather paltry, made up of dividends, interest, and some meager credit card cash back. But, I hope to increase this number significantly over time. Please see my passive income page to see progress.
So, we all pretty much know what a side hustle is. A side hustle is anything you do that takes effort and makes money outside of your “normal” job. I have zero side hustle income as of the start of this blog. But, there are literally millions of ways to hustle some funds on the side. Integral to my goal of early retirement is to establish a base of side hustle income in areas that I enjoy working, like:
- Website Revenue
- Freelance Financial Writing (SeekingAlpha)
- Hopefully many, many more!
I’ll be tracking this income, when I eventually get around to it making it, on my side hustle page.
Bringing it all Together
This is the state of affairs of my current life. Expenses are out of control, investments are solid but nowhere close to where I need to be to retire. Passive income is strictly dividends, really, and side hustle income is nonexistent. If I change nothing about my expenses and keep the status quo elsewhere, then I’m something like $1.9m short of retirement. Hell, I may as well stop now and resign myself to working into my sixties.
But I simply cannot do that. I’ve crossed the Rubicon. There is no turning back. I must do this. With a few big changes (see those “Rent” and “Car” expense lines???) and lots of small changes, I
think know that it’s possible. Please continue to Part III of this introductory series and I’ll hopefully cover how I’ll make it happen.
*: Rental property equity can be classified as an investment rather than just a net worth asset, which would have a return. However, doing so would preempt you from also counting the passive income (rent minus rental expenses) from the rental unit—that would be double counting. It turns out the same either way, though. I choose to count the monthly net income from the rental as passive income rather than count the rental equity in my investments.
**: I don’t actually count up the value of all the stuff I own like lawnmowers, clothes, furniture, electronics, etc. These assets are tangible and have value, but it amounts to more work than it’s worth to add their value because, 1.) I don’t plan on selling them, so I will probably never see that cash value, and 2.) these types of assets usually depreciate quickly and drastically. I would be marking down that portion of my net worth by something like 50% per year (what does a used mattress sell for nowadays?).