Despite the current financial funk, I still desire financial freedom. The general idea is simple; I need to generate enough income from my assets to pay for my expenses. Here is how I’ve been framing the problem in my mind recently. I’m 30 now, let’s say I want to be “retired” by age 50.
Part 1: Accumulate 30 times annual (non-housing) expenses
There are numerous studies about the “safe withdrawal rate” from a portfolio, and they usually end up at around 3% to 4%. This usually means that with $1,000,000 dollars, you have a high (say 99%) chance of being able to produce $30,000 to $40,000 of income each year plus inflation adjustments for a long period of time (30+ years).
This is the same as saying you need to save 25 to 33 times your annual expenses.. If you’re conservative (or young), I’d go with a higher number, so I picked 30. Multiply your annual expenses by 30. You need that much money to retire. All of these are based on historical numbers, so this is only an estimate.
Right now I’d estimate our annual non-housing expenses at about $24,000 per year ($2,000 per month). Previously I’ve found that we spend about $18,000 per year, but that neglects a few things like health insurance and car deprecation. (Again, health insurance for those that retirement very early and are not healthy might be a bogey.)
$24,000 x 30 = $720,000.
At about $200,000 in non-housing assets right now, that leave me $520k left. Divided by 20 years and assuming no investment return, that would require $25k per year (not inflation-adjusted). At a 3% annual real return, I’d still need to save nearly $20k per year.
With this part, you can see the power of frugal living, or the damage done by lifestyle inflation. $500 a month is $6k per year. $6k x 30 = $180,000.
So if I could cut $500 a month in my expenses, I’d need to save $180,000 less. On the other hand, if I grow some bad habits and start spending $500 more a month, I’d need to save $180,000 more. Either way, that’s a big number! This is why I still need to complete my line-by-line examination of expenses.
Part 2: Own my house / Pay off mortgage
I currently have 29 years left on a 30-year fixed mortgage. For us, that would mean another ~$470,000 in mortgage principal, but more when you count in all that interest.
According to this mortgage calculator, if we make one extra monthly payment per year (simulating a bi-weekly acceleration plan), that’d give us about 24 years before we’re done. If I made two extra monthly payments per year, it’d be shaved down to 20 years, which has the house paid off at age 50. Lots of other considerations, but I’m strongly leaning towards it.
I know that you could easily roll up “housing” costs into Part 1 above, but I didn’t for a few reasons. For one, housing is one of the few expense areas where you can essentially “buy” all future costs. For example, you can’t pay a lump sum in exchange for all the electricity you’ll consume in your lifetime. Same thing for your grocery bill, or even a car since you’ll have to replace it. But if you own your house, you’ve basically cut out rent forever (just left with maintenance and property taxes). It also reduces the danger of inflation eating up your spending power.
The second reason is lower taxes. Owning your own house not only saves you from have to pay a housing payment, but also keeps you from having to earn the gross income needed to generate that after-tax amount. Ignoring house, I saw above that I only need to generate $24,000 of income per year total. The income taxes on that amount is very, very small. Using current numbers it might be less than 5% overall, with my marginal tax bracket at a mere 10% after taking out the personal exemptions and standard deductions.
But if I need to generate another $24,000 of income to cover housing ($2k per month in rent), then that additional $24k would be taxed at much higher rate of 15%. With state tax, the difference might be another 5%.
Try out this method with your own numbers, and see what happens. When I run the numbers like this, I know that I could retire much earlier if I moved to a cheaper place upon retirement. But is it worth it? It’s all about priorities…