If you want to achieve financial independence, you’ve got to implement a savings routine. I don’t want to hear excuses as to why you can’t save if you want to be free. Go somewhere else please. If you are serious about living life on your own terms, study my recommended savings chart carefully.
Your savings rate should increase the more you make. To do this, you’ve got to spend at a slower rate than the rate of your income increase. I’m trying to use realistic numbers here so that folks don’t overly bitch and moan. I started saving 50% of my after tax income when I began earning more than $60,000, so please, save your excuses for the government instead.
Savings amounts are important, but what’s more important is your expense coverage ratio given everybody has different lifestyles. In other words, how many years (or months) of expenses can your savings cover in case your income goes to zero? Given nobody can work forever, we must increase our expense coverage ratio the older we get because we will have less ability to earn. At this point, it’s time to start drawing down our savings.
FS PRE AND POST TAX SAVINGS GUIDE
I recommend everybody start off with 10% and raise their savings amount by 1% each month until it hurts. If you’ve ever had braces, you get the idea. Keep that savings rate constant until it no longer hurts, and start raising the rate by 1% a month again. If you make more than $200,000, certainly shoot to save more if you can. You can theoretically achieve a 35%+ savings rate in two short years with this method!
Please note that I am making 401K and IRA contributions a priority over post-tax savings. The reasons are: 1) we have a tendency to raid our post tax savings, 2) tax free growth, 3) untouchable assets in case of litigation or bankruptcy, and 4) company match. Obviously you need some post-tax savings to account for true emergencies. Ideally, my goal for everyone is to contribute as much in their pre-tax savings plans as possible and then save another 10-35% after tax.
The maximum 401k contribution for 2015 is $18,000, up from $17,500 in 2014. The maximum pre-tax contribution will probably increase by $500 every two years or so if history is any guidance.
RECOMMENDED EXPENSE COVERAGE AMOUNT BY AGE
The below chart is an expense coverage ratio chart that follows someone along a normal path of post college graduation until the typical retirement age of 62-67. I assume a 20-35% consistent after tax savings rate for 40+ years with a 0-2% yearly increase in principal due to inflation. The other assumption is that the saver never loses money given the FDIC insures singles for $250,000 and couples for $500,000. Once you breach those amounts, it’s only logical to open up another savings account to get another $250,000-$500,000 FDIC guarantee.
Expense Coverage Ratio = Savings / Annual Expenses
Note: Focus on the ratios, not the absolute dollar amount based on a $65,000 annual income. Take the expense coverage ratio and multiply by your current gross income to get an idea of how much you should have saved.
Your 20s: You’re in the accumulation phase of your life. You’re looking for a good job that will hopefully pay you a reasonable salary. Not everybody is going to find their dream job right away. In fact, most of you will likely switch jobs several times before settling on something more meaningful. Maybe you are in debt from student loans or a fancy car. Whatever the case, never forget to save at least 10-25% of your after tax income while working and paying off your debt. If you have the ability to save 10-25% after tax, after 401K and IRA contribution up to company match, even better.
Your 30s: You’re still in the accumulation phase, but hopefully you’ve found what you want to do for a living. Perhaps grad school took you out of the workforce for 1-2 years, or perhaps you got married and want to stay at home. Whatever the case may be, by the time you are 31, you need to have at least one years worth of living expenses covered. If you’ve saved 25% of your after tax income for four years, you will reach one year of coverage. If you saved 50% of your after tax income a year for five years, you will have reached five years of coverage and so forth.
Your 40s: You’re beginning to tire of doing the same old thing. Your soul is itching to take a leap of faith. But wait, you’ve got dependents counting on you to bring home the bacon! What are you going to do? The fact that you’ve accumulated 3-10X worth of living expenses in your 40’s means that you are coming ever close to being financially free. You’ve hopefully built up some passive income streams a long the way, and your capital accumulation of 3-10X your annual expenses is also spitting out some income.
Your 50s: You’ve accumulated 7-13X your annual living expenses as you can see the light at the end of the traditional retirement tunnel! After going through your mid-life crisis of buying a Porsche 911 or 100 pairs of Manolo’s, you’re back on track to save more than ever before! You are 100% in tune with your spending habits, therefore, you raise your savings rate by another 10% to supercharge your final lap.
Your 60s: Congrats! You’ve accumulated 10-20X+ your annual living expenses and no longer have to work! Maybe your knees don’t work either, but that’s another matter! Your nut has grown large enough where it’s providing you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of income from interest or dividends. Full Social Security benefits kick in at age 70 now (from 67), but that’s OK, since you never expected it to be there when you retired. You’re also living debt free since you no longer have a mortgage. Social Security is a bonus of an extra $1,500 a month. You’re budgeting a couple thousand a month for health care as you plan to live until 100.
Your 70s and beyond: Sure, you’ve been spending 65-80% of your annual income every year since you started working. But now it’s time to spend 90-100% of all your income to enjoy life! They say the median life expectancy is about 79 for men and 82 for women. Let’s just bake in living to 100 just to be safe by taking your nut, and dividing it by 30. For example, let’s say you live off $50,000 on average a year and have accumulated 20X that = $1,000,000. Take $1,000,000 divided by 30 = $33,300. You’re getting another $18,000 a year in Social Security, while the $1 million should be throwing off at least $10,000 a year in interest at 1%. If you’re interested in retiring early, here’s a more aggressive savings strategy for you.
Important Note: Obviously no one ever knows what might happen to provide a boost or a drag to their finances. Maybe you get lucky with a great new job offer or invest in the next Apple Computer. Or maybe you get laid off at 40 and can’t find work for two years. My chart above merely serves as a savings guideline. Work to build alternative income streams in the meantime.
SAVE AND SAVE SOME MORE!
The only way to reach financial independence is if you save and learn to live within your means. National average money market accounts are yielding a pitiful 0.1%. In fact, I keep about 90% of my saving in online CDs and savings accounts to prevent me from having the temptation to spend. Depositing and withdrawing money is easy, and the interest rate is obviously way higher than a bricks and mortar money market account. The other great reason to keep money in an online savings account is to protect yourself from your temptation to spend.
For the money you are comfortable risking, actively invest the rest of your after-tax savings in real estate, the stock market, structured notes, P2P lending, and basically anything else that matches your risk tolerance. The point is to gradually expand your savings into investments where you feel most comfortable. Many people, including myself, love real estate because we can see what we are buying.
It’s important to then track your investments to make sure you’re comfortable with your positions. I highly recommend signing up for Personal Capital, a free online wealth management tool that let’s you easily monitor your finances. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into one place to see how my stock accounts, how my net worth is progressing, and whether my spending is within budget. The best feature is their 401K Fee Analyzer which is now saving me more than $1,700 in portfolio fees I had no idea I was paying. They also have a fantastic Investment Checkup feature that screens your portfolios for risk.
With the ever presence of inflation chipping away at your wealth, it’s important to stay proactive with your finances. If you stay consistent with your savings habits, you are going to wake up 10 years from now and be amazed with how much you’ve accumulated.
Photo: View of Diamond Head, Honolulu, HI. SD.
Charts completely updated on 12/1/2014