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Wealth Is a Choice.

The following is a guest post by my blogging buddy, Marie Phillips. Marie blogs at Family Money Values and writes for multiple other personal finance sites. She has just authored her newest eBook – Choose Wealth! Be a Millionaire by Midlife – available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other eBook online retailers.

Each person chooses their own life’s destiny – either on purpose or accidentally. Every day, you make many small choices which, over your lifetime, add up and cause you to become the person you are. Sometimes the choices are deliberate, other times we choose by not choosing.

Some of us are born to privilege, some to poverty. Some of us are born and live in peace and plenty, others deal with conflict and paucity. Some are born into stable and loving families while others lack such support. Whatever our circumstances, we choose.

We either choose to follow the crowds around us or we learn to choose our own paths. We choose to seek out new conditions or stay with the old. We choose to lean into the wind or be buffeted about by it. We choose the life we lead.

If you want a wealthy life, you need to choose to lead that life. You choose what wealth means to you and you choose your own level of wealth.

Many of us start out thinking that wealth means money, power, and control. But in the end, most folks who achieve monetary wealth understand that real wealth means leading a fulfilling life. Of course, the money and the resulting financial security can certainly help you lead that fulfilling life.

Choose Wealth! Be a Millionaire by Midlife is a book to help you make choices that lead to wealth. In it, Marie lays out her own framework for wealth – the one that helped her start making the right wealth choices – the one that helped her end up with more than a million.

Choose Wealth

Here is an excerpt from this new book that shows the power of choice:

“A story of success….and failure.

Here is a real life story (with names changed) about two couples who ended up on very different sides of financial independence. One couple kept themselves from being midlife millionaires, the others allowed themselves to become rich.

Couple 1:

James and Beth were children of the depression. James came from a large family with 17 children and Beth from a small family of 3 children and two adults. Neither of their birth families had wealth, both grew up poor. Both went to private Catholic schools through high school and lived in the city. They married in the 1940′s and shortly started a family. They moved into a large new ranch home in the suburbs and ended up with 4 kids. James pursued his dream of becoming an architect, attending night school for 10 years while working full time. He worked for multiple firms over the course of his career and tried to start his own firm multiple times without success. He retired at age 65 with a small pension.

Beth stayed home with the kids, but worked part time as a secretary when needed (to help support the family when James was trying to start his own firm). They ended up with only $70,000 (adjusted for inflation) in net worth.

Couple 2:

Henry and Rose were also children of the depression. Henry grew up on a farm along with his two brothers. His parents only made it through the 5th grade, but Henry graduated from public high school and went on to study a trade. Rose’s Dad immigrated from Sweden, coming to America steerage class. Rose graduated from public high school too (as did her   sister), but then also took advantage of the free teachers college available in her city. Henry and Rose also married in the 1940s and moved to the outlying suburbs to a small new 4 room frame house. They had 2 kids.

Henry worked for the same company until death at age 65 and spent evenings and weekends dabbling in other interests – inventions, real estate and the stock market.

Rose stayed home with the kids but taught school as a substitute teacher and led the school PTA. In the 1960′s she went back to college and earned a masters degree. She went back to work full time when the kids were in high school.

They traveled extensively, sent both kids through college and helped them out financially to get started in married life.

Henry and Rose ended up with a net worth of over $1,000,000 (adjusted for inflation).

Why the difference?

How did Henry and Rose end up so much more financially secure? How did they choose wealth?

They controlled expenses. Instead of spending money on private tuition, their kids went to public school.   They limited the number of children they had. They used time instead of money by doing things themselves instead of hiring others. They shopped for bargains and didn’t insist on name brand items.

They maximized income. Instead of buying a large home right away, they started small, then bought a second home at bargain rates while renting out the first one to obtain another income stream.

They maximized each partner’s earning power by adding to Rose’s education and earning power and making sure they utilized that power through her career. They kept secure income producing jobs that provided benefits and pensions. In contrast, James chose a career requiring a college degree that didn’t necessarily provide earning power equivalent to the cost of that degree and Beth’s time was ill spent at low paying jobs. Neither were able to make use of pension or retirement plans to their fullest.

Henry and Rose saved and invested to grow their money.

After meeting basic emergency needs, they put their money to work for them – in real estate and in the stock market. They didn’t leave money in low interest bearing bank accounts as James and Beth did.

They lived off current income.

They did not touch invested principal because their lifestyle and current income matched. They did not try to keep up with the Jones.

Small decisions on how money was spent and how it was earned made a large difference over time in the financial outcomes of these two couples.

Given the choice, would you rather be Henry & Rose or James & Beth? Would you rather end up with a million or more in your middle and elder ages or the $70,000 on which James & Beth struggled to live out their mature years?

I’m Earning Money, Now What?

I got a call yesterday that made me smile.  A friend of mine explained that they are now earning more than they need to pay their bills, and they wanted my advice on what to tackle next.  I LOVE THOSE KINDS OF CONVERSATIONS!  It was fun.  It also gave me this post idea – if you are finally earning more than you need, what should you consider?

Happy Money

What can you do with lovely extra money?


Extra Money Options

If you are already covering your bills, have paid off your high interest debt like credit cards, and are ready to go to the next level, here are the things you could think about next!  Be excited – this is the fun part!

  1. Emergency Fund – I would suggest having enough cash on hand at any point to be able to pay at least 3 months of your expenses.  At the very least, keep enough on hand to pay for your out-of-pocket health insurance expenses.  That way, if you are in an accident, you will have enough to cover your part without scrambling.
  2. 401k – If your employer will match a certain percentage of contributions to your 401k, make sure to contribute at least that much.  It’s free money and pre-tax income! Take advantage of the benefit!  :-)
  3. IRA – If you don’t have a 401k, you could contribute pre-tax income to a regular IRA instead.
  4. Roth IRA – Once you have padding and have grabbed your free money, consider contributing post-tax income to a Roth IRA.  When you reach retirement age, you can take out taxable withdrawals from your 401k up to the limit of the lowest tax bracket, and then polish off the rest with non-taxable withdrawals from your Roth IRA.  It’s an excellent way to ensure that you stay within the lowest tax bracket in your golden years even if you live above the threshold.
  5. Life Insurance – You can usually get cheap life insurance through your employer.  It won’t move with you from job to job, but it’s generally a cheap way to get coverage.
  6. Short Term Disability Insurance – This can cover some percentage of your paycheck for the time right after you are disabled.  It’s great for temporary emergencies.  This is also generally cheaper through an employer.
  7. Long Term Disability Insurance – This can cover some percentage of your paycheck for longer terms if necessary.  This is OMG-this-sucks coverage.  This is also generally cheaper through an employer.
  8. Health Savings Account – This is another great way to put away pre-tax income to cover medical expenses.  Want to hear the great news?  HSA’s move with you from job to job!  You don’t just lose your contributions.  :-)
  9. Flexible Spending Account – This is also a tax-advantaged account for medical expenses, but the amounts contributed don’t roll over from year to year.  Be careful to only contribute what you know will use.
  10. Pay Off Debts Faster – If you still have low interest debt like student loans, car loans, and/or mortgages, you could use some of your extra income to pay them off faster.  :-)

What else would you suggest for someone dipping their feet into new-money waters?

Pic from http://www.theco.co/

7 Financial Lessons from “Good Burger”

I hung out with my Little Bro’ from Big Brothers Big Sisters last night and he chose the Netflix movie for our evening - “Good Burger”.  It was a little ironic since we were having fresh pizza, hahaha.  None the less, it was a cute movie and perfect for an 11 year old.  He knew that since he had apparently seen it before.  ;-)

Good Burger

Yep, you can see why I kept hearing laughs from my Little’s side of the room!

On the other hand, I laughed a bit and made a mental list of the financial lessons that either are in the movie or could be derived from the mistakes of the movie…yep, that’s me.  :-D

Financial Take-Aways from “Good Burger”

1.  Take ownership of your mistakes.  It was nice to see a teenager being held accountable, but I thought the damage to those two cars added up to way more than $3300 based on the accident repairs that I’ve always seen.  LOL

2.  Don’t do business in a way you’d regret.  Having Ed pay for at least some of the damages would have been a good idea since he caused the accident by jay-walking/blading.  But the sneaky contract was just a bad idea.

3.  Customer service rules!  Mondo Burger didn’t need to break the law to put Good Burger out of business.  They just needed to have better customer service.

4.  Look at all of your options.  Let’s assume Ed’s secret sauce truly made an amazing difference, then Mondo Burger could have copied it or have gotten close, bought the recipe, or have simply bought out the Good Burger to have more parking.  I know, I know…that would have made an awful movie.  ;-)

5.  Never let teenagers drive a work vehicle.

6.  Assign your employees based on their strengths.  There were several employees at Good Burger that would have annoyed customers less than Ed.

7.  Realize when insurance has you covered (yours or someone else’s).  A teacher’s car was smushed thanks to a giant fake burger.  He was freaking out, but I’d be happy that Mondo Burger would be buying me a new car and then some…

I did stop analyzing the movie long enough to have a an excellent evening.  :-)  But I also made sure to point out what popped through my head to my Little Bro’ – not the subtlest method ever, but he likes me being direct.

Have you seen “Good Burger”?  What other great financial lessons have I missed?

Checking in on Our Monthly Budget and Troll Rant

It’s been quite a while since I updated our monthly budget here on BFS.  Not much has changed, but it’s good to keep an eye on the numbers just for the sake of paying attention.  :-)

BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER

I used to post income updates monthly but got tired of all of the negativity that we seemed to attract (that’s why I moved them to my newsletter).  It was weird to think that people truly rooted for me when I was building up a successful business and leaving a dead end job, BUT some of them got really angry when my new income became the new norm.

Please keep in mind that this money doesn’t just appear magically into my pocket.  My husband and I work our butts off to earn every dollar.  Our main business is commission-based, so we only make money when our clients do.  The rest is brought in by hours and hours of blogging, sports officiating, and side hustles.  Seriously, if I have time alone, I’m working.  This blog doesn’t write itself.

I am living proof that YOU CAN MAKE OR SAVE MONEY TOO.  It takes finding a passion, figuring out how to make money with it, and throwing every fiber of your being into growing it and your reputation.  Alternatively, you could just live outside of your comfort zone and get a roommate, use public transportation, start a hobby job, etc.  Use those amounts earned or saved for your goals.

Illness, awful life circumstances, and general crap in the road can of course block you.  It blocks me.  Nothing is forever or guaranteed, but you can dang well fight/save when you can so you will have something when you can’t.  That’s how I choose to live.

I love my readers and supporters – they keep me going.  You are literally why I write.  But if you feel any inner-troll coming out as you read, please just press the little “x” and close the screen.  I don’t need to hear about the unfairness of it all or why I was somehow lucky.

If luck is defined by a couple of years of 100+ hour work weeks and the ongoing drive to earn in whatever ways I can in my free time, then yes, I am lucky as hell.  But I wasn’t blessed by a twinkly, wealthy leprechaun of happy.

My Ideal Leprechaun

If I had a leprechaun fairy godmother, this would be him…

Still here?  Great!  Hope you enjoy a peek at my numbers!

Our Monthly Budget

  • Income Taxes – $2500
  • Home Mortgage – $990
  • Home Insurance/Property Taxes/HOA – $760
  • Rent House Home Insurance/Property Taxes – $275
  • Health Insurance – $275
  • Car Insurance – $60
  • Life Insurance – $30
  • Electricity – $150
  • Water – $65
  • Natural Gas – $50
  • Gasoline – $125
  • Medical – $25
  • Cell Phones – $150
  • Restaurants – $250
  • Groceries – $250
  • Dogs – $100
  • Cable/Internet (DSL) – $120
  • Housekeeping – $175
  • Lawn – $75
  • Entertainment – $50
  • Miscellaneous – $100
  • Gifts – $100
  • Cash – $100
  • Total Expenses = $6775

Income

When I see that total, I cringe.  But it helps to know that the taxes would be way less if we make less.  I also keep in mind our income (even though it’s all variable).  Here are the current monthly averages on the low end.  I like to overestimate what we spend and underestimate what we make.

  • Online Income (low average for our main business plus my online side hustles) - $7000
  • Rental Income (varies, but this is the norm) – $1800
  • Sports Officiating (average per month over the year) – $500
  • Crystal’s Other Side Hustles (pet sitting right now, but this changes frequently) – $200
  • Total Monthly Income – $9500

Our Extra

The average extra between our expenses and our income is how we fund our future and fun.  We are fully funding two Roth IRA’s ($11,000 total a year).  We also put $500 a month minimum to our new-to-us car fund.  The majority of the remainder is put towards other savings goals like stock investments, growing our emergency fund, rent home maintenance, etc.  A smaller percentage is saved or used for current vacations and fun.

Overall, our pure savings rate is around 25% a year.  With time, we’ll pay off our current mortgage and we could always cut about $500 a month if we get rid of convenience stuff.  But there’s not much we can do about income and property taxes…that’s just the cost of making money and owning property in Texas.  At least the homes themselves are affordable.  :-)

How is your monthly budget coming along?

Could You Afford a $430,000 Apartment Right Now?

We were watching Brooklyn Nine Nine (great comedy!) last night and the main character (Detective Jake Peralta) had to face his own financial self.  He’s 33 years old and doesn’t have a penny to his name - six massage chairs and DJ equipment – but no money.  I’d call that the low end of the financial health scale.

Broke

Financial Plot Points

Jake’s apartment was going co-op.  So all of the tenants had to show that they were approved for loans or have enough cash on hand to buy their $430,000 apartments by a certain date.  Well, Detective Peralta spends more than he makes and definitely doesn’t have enough money to buy his apartment.  But his coworker and childhood friend, Gina, lived cheap for years and had enough to buy the apartment and even offered to rent it to him.

He realizes in the end that it’s not a good situation when the admin at the police station is doing better than him.  In the end, she buys the apartment and lives in it (Jake’s suggestion), and Jake sublets her current, cheaper place.  It’s a win-win for everybody.

What Could We Afford?

This episode got me and Mr. BFS talking.  If the place we loved had to be bought all of the sudden for $430,000, could we do it?

A quick look at our assets will tell you that we are betting on a long future.  A bunch of our net worth is tied up with our two homes.  The rental income from the first one is an ongoing “passive” income source (as you may know, rentals aren’t really very passive).  Then we have a large percentage of our savings socked away in retirement accounts like Roth IRA’s and my old 401k, so we can access it at 59 1/2 to live off of or use it to buy an annuity like Annuity Buyer Cashinyourannuity.com if we felt like we wanted a monthly allowance instead.

So, what we’d be left with is our cash on hand and what’s invested in individual high dividend yield stocks.  If we sold our current home for the equity cash and used all of our cash and stocks on hand, we would be able to put enough down to get approved for the loan for the rest of the $430,000.

That’s a little odd for me to think about.  I think we are doing amazing, but we could sell, trade-in, and cash in everything we have and still not have $430,000.  $430,000 is a lot of money.

In the big scheme of things, my husband and I are financially healthy and on track for financial independence eventually.  This makes me truly feel for anybody that is trying to do the same around $430,000 basic apartments.

What do you think?

Spender’s Guilt

Amy, a BFS newsletter subscriber, left an excellent question in this month’s comment section that spoke to me…it’s a problem that I have too.

I find that even though we are meeting all of our savings and retirement goals, I still feel guilty about spending $250 a month on going out to eat. That averages out to 8% of our net income. Should I feel guilty?

No, I don’t think either one of us should feel guilty about spending our own money the way we choose.  So why do we?  I think one of the negatives of being a conscious spender is that you become too conscious of all spending.  It’s been brought to my attention that I may be a little too money-centric at times.

Spending vs Saving

Money and Me

Even my frugal mom was worried at one point in my life that I didn’t know the difference between being frugal and being cheap.  Frugality is spending less or nothing on non-priorities, buying quality that lasts on the important things to us, and saving/investing the extra.  Being cheap means spending as little as possible on everything to hoard the rest.  The stuff doesn’t last that way and you rarely get to really enjoy the things you really want.

That lesson wasn’t an issue for me.  My problem is that I seem to value my future self more than my current one.  Every time I look at our spending for the month and things like restaurants suck up a little more than intended, I think about what we could have done with that money instead.  Then I have to remind myself that we pay our bills, we save for our golden years, so it’s okay to spend for fun now too.

Breaking a Core Belief

I’m going to do it.  I am going to break a personal finance blogger commandment.  Here I go…

Lifestyle inflation is okay.

Yep, I said it.  It’s okay to spend more than you absolutely have to.  We all have different priorities.  Mr. Money Mustache spends a minimum so he can stay early retired.  He also can use his wealth to renovate his new home.  The building of that wealth took sacrifice but now he can choose how to live.

Please note that I am pointing out that living paycheck to paycheck is NOT good.  But lifestyle inflation after you can cover the rest and your future is completely up to you.  I do still have my own financial line, lol.  Padding is just a good idea since it gives you options.

There are no set rules on how you have to live.  I want to enjoy my present as much as my future.  I don’t need to spend everything we make to do that, but I will stop overthinking every $200 that pops up because I have pets.  I won’t shoot myself for eating out to spend more time with friends or because we simply want to stay in without cooking.  I am consciously choosing to only worry about hitting our goals before spending any extra.

If that ends up meaning that I work for 15-20 more years instead of just 10, that’s okay.  We will not have any regrets.  We don’t mind working now that we’ve found something fulfilling.  And our older selves that can’t work will still be covered.  That is how we have chosen to spend.

Back to the Original Question

Amy, do you honestly think the $250 a month on eating out is well spent?  Do you enjoy it?  Does it make your month $250 better?  If so, then I’d stop feeling guilty.  It’s a conscious choice.  If you feel that you rather have that $250 for travel, savings, or anything else, then you should consciously change how you are spending it now.  You won’t feel guilt once you decide whether you are happy or not with your choice.  Prioritize and spend based on that.

How about you?  How do you need to spend or save to live without regret?

Purpose is All That Matters

My husband and I found Downton Abbey through Netflix and jumped in about a week ago.  It’s general plot follows along with an Earl’s family in Britain in the early 20th century.  The character development is enticing to me and the historical and political intrigues keep it from feeling like a simple soap opera.  But as the personal finance geek that I truly am, I just couldn’t help zeroing in on the money aspect of it all.  It’s showing that all of the money in the world doesn’t give a life purpose.

Got Purpose?

Purpose

During World War I in Downton Abbey, everyone assisted in whatever ways they could.  But after the war was over, that purpose seemed to vanish for a few of the main characters.  This family has true wealth and power, but the end result is still that everyone is just looking for their life’s purpose.  Money provides options.  Money provides comforts.  But money doesn’t provide a person with the meaning of life.  That is up to us.

So for today, I’m putting aside my conversation about my consistent pursuit of financial stability.  Let’s talk about what drives us…

Helping Each Other

So, how do we all find our purpose(s)?

I don’t have the answers.  I try to follow my gut.  Generally, helping others makes me feel “right”, so I make sure to make it a part of my life.  This blog gives me a place to talk with you all and a way for some of you to reach out to me, so I consider it a priority.  Laughing with friends and cuddling with Mr. Pug also feels right.  So the purposes I strive on may not seem grand, but they can lead to sustainable contentment.  That’s my main goal.

What’s yours?

I seem to write out my thoughts for the day, hit publish, and then reply to those of you who add your 2 cents.  But let’s really help each other out.  For today, please feel free to chime in below to each other.  Let’s really look into ourselves and share.  If you have something to say to another commenter, reply.  If we all bounce ideas off of each other, maybe someone who feels lost can be supported.  If we can all use this space to simply help, maybe this can be a refuge of sorts to find ourselves.  Or at least to make a human connection, which can be tricky occasionally.

Have you found your purpose(s)?  Still searching?  Any advice to the rest of us?

Purpose