May 2018

Buoyed by the markets, and us continually pumping in money into our retirement accounts, our assets grew by around $17k in May. Almost $3k debt was slayed in the same period. Resulting in our highest Net Worth yet in our journey.

There were a couple of big ticket expenses in May:

  • $1,687.32 for Lasik eye correction surgery for one of us. The money for this got taken out of the HSA account
  • $1,175.51 for an international flight we booked for one of our mom. This kind of expense is not a common occurrence, more like once in a year (or two). This expense came from general savings

June will be interesting as there are a few high profile expenses coming up.

Found a gem – Penny and Rich

Once in a while you come across something so delightful that you can’t help but share. Happened to me yesterday, when I stumbled upon this riot of a blog – Penny and Rich.

Rich and Penny are cousins, supposedly. According to their About Me page, they grew up in a small town in the Midwest, close to each other. Rich is, well, rich. With a family income of $250k, Rich lives with his wife and twin boys in an expensive city in the East Coast. Penny, with her husband and 4 kids, live in the Midwest. And by the way, Penny is poor. $40k income. That is their combined family income to provide for 6 people. Their names are conveniently appropriate for their current state of affairs 😀

The blog is an open-letter-discourse between them. I find it fascinating. Both of them are excellent writers. They approach issues with very different mindsets and set of values. Their plan of actions are often at loggerheads with each other. The humor in their writing is organic, fresh, and to me, hilarious.

I don’t know them. I don’t know if they are real. I don’t know if some really intelligent group or person is using this as a live thought experiment,  presenting two arguments to the issues in personal finance space.

Now on Wordpress

This blog initially started on the free Blogger platform. Then we moved to a paid Google domain. Soon we realized that we were missing a lot of features while being on the Blogger platform. WordPress was the next obvious choice as it is the most widely used blogging platform. But we were locked into a 60 day period after buying the domain on Google. Yesterday marked that 60th day and today we are excited to announce that we are on WordPress!

It would warm the cockles of our hearts if you either (re)subscribed to the blog or followed us by email!

Vanguard funds – Admiral shares, Investor shares, ETFs (and Institutional shares)

When we started to get serious about going down the path of FIRE about 6 years ago we realized pretty quickly that investing in Vanguard index funds was the way to go.

But invest in WHAT exactly?

Terms such as VTSAX, VBTLX, admiral shares, investor shares were thrown around and, to the uninitiated, this might be information overload when all we are looking for is a simple guideline on what is what.

This won’t be a crash course in what is a Mutual Fund or ETF (exchange traded funds). Neither this is going to be a debate over index funds v/s ETFs. Vanguard provides a detailed analysis in the differences and similarities between ETFs and mutual funds. 

To put it very simply, to the average personal (individual) investors – meaning regular Joe and Jill such as you and me – Vanguard offers 2 share classes (or variants) of passive, index funds and often times an ETF for the same underlying benchmark or sector that fund is tracking.

We’ll look at the different options to invest in the S&P 500 through Vanguard.

The lowest cost option is the Admiral shares. But their minimum investment is typically $10,000.
Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares is the name of the fund. VFIAX is the ticker.
Fun fact: All mutual funds tickers end in an “X”.

Investor shares have a higher ER, at least twice of the Admiral shares, and their minimum investment is typically $3,000.
Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares is the Investor share fund for tracking the same S&P500 (you can reach it by clicking on the Investor share hyperlink given on the Admiral shares’ page on the Vanguard site highlighted in green in the above screenshot); VFINX is the ticker.

If you don’t have $3,000 lying around, Vanguard has an option for you.
The Vanguard S&P 500 ETF; ticker VOO.
The ER for this is 0.04%, same as the Admiral fund.
Notice that the ticker doesn’t end in an “X” as ETFs are akin to stocks.

Since the ETFs are essentially treated as stocks, there is a bid/ask spread and premium/discount.

Also, Investor shares can be easily converted to Admiral shares once you meet the minimum threshold. Vanguard takes care of that. As far as I know, to move ETFs over Admiral shares you’ll have to sell your ETF and buy Admiral shares. If you have a taxable account you will have tax implications when you sell your ETFs.

NOTE: I’m not a tax expert and you should consult a tax professional if you have questions. Materials presented here are for informational purpose only.

Vanguard also has funds to track the same underlying S&P 500 for its institutional investors.
ER are lower than Admiral shares and look at the minimum – $100M!! These are, as the name suggests, for institutional (pensions; insurance companies, hedge funds and such) investors.
Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Plus Shares; VIIIX

Now there you have it: Go forth and invest!

April 2018

Last month we had our biggest *loss*, month over month, of net worth: over $10k.

And I love it!

This gives us a chance to show that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out here. Though the general trend of the net worth is upward in the long term, in the short term there are hiccups. Things have been so hunky dory over the past year and half (the time this blog has been alive) that it is easy to miss the short term volatility that the markets are known for.

Jan-2018
Feb-2018
Mar-2018
Apr-2018
Assets
Retirement
477,705.20
468,813.18
495,327.97
480,819.34
529college
19,853.29
19,096.68
20,315.59
19,660.51
Bank Accounts
41,349.08
51,254.82
54,584.54
55,316.67
Investments
19,844.21
19,575.18
21,422.73
21,583.46
Bonds
12,371.98
12,584.32
12,607.70
12,609.56
House
300,000.00
300,000.00
300,000.00
300,000.00
Total Assets
871,123.76
871,324.18
904,258.53
889,989.54
Liabilities
264,002.67
260,845.04
257,299.46
253,842.05
Net Worth
607,121.09
610,479.14
646,959.07
636,147.49
Change MoM
23,077.28
3,358.05
36,479.93
-10,811.58

 

Our retirement accounts, comprising of a vast majority of our assets, took a $15k plunge, even though we plowed in over $2.5k in April (as we do every month). That how the markets works. Some days, some weeks, some months, and even some years, are worse than others. We just have to ride out the rough while making hay while the sun shines (double metaphor in a single sentence, anyone?)

We also shaved around $3.5k from our liabilities. That’s something that can go unnoticed. Growing Net Worth is equally important by saving and investing as well as chipping away at those pesky debt obligations.

Consolidating the student loans with Earnest helped as the monthly $1.5k that I put towards that loan resulted in only $17.15 being paid towards interest, whereas the same amount when applied to the Navient and Discover loans had resulted in $93.16 in interest payment in March.

Fees and commissions matter (even that run into the 3rd decimal place)

The other day I met an affable Financial Planner who’s looking to go to the same grad school as I had been to. We were talking and at some point the topic of fees arose in our discussion. This FP wasn’t pushy or trying to oversell the value of planning for the future but was still a bit coy about really admitting how fees add up. And rightly so, because her livelihood depends on the fees! This is the operating model of any FP, they make money off the fees they charge to maintain your money. I have nothing against her but this got me thinking how fees add up, even little marginal ones such as 0.061%.

Let me illustrate this point by taking a look at my 401(k) investments and then compare it with the what-if scenario of putting the exact same amount in Vanguard index funds. I have to start off by acknowledging that I’m lucky to have a 401(k) plan that has low fees. Lower than a lot of other places. This article says that the average expense ratios for equity mutual funds in 401(k) plans is 0.48%.

 

Before I started to look around I didn’t really think the average would be so low. Nonetheless we’ll run with this. In the table below you’ll see the actual breakdown of my investments in my company’s 401(k) plan.

 

I have money in a bond fund, a targeted date fund, a large cap fund, a mid/small cap fund, an international fund, and in my company’s stock. All funds are Vanguard institutional funds and the operating expense ratios of all the funds are very low. Kudos to my employer!

Side note: We can debate the efficacy of using 5 different funds to hold the money, but let’s keep that for another day!

What skews the perfectly low ERs are the Administrative Expense of 0.08% that our 401(k) administrator, in this case Aon Hewitt, systematically charges across the board.

My weighted average ER comes out to 0.111%. Not bad at all for being 4 times lower than the average! But still higher if not for the dang administrative expenses.

Now let’s assume that I take this money out today and roll-over into an IRA, and invest in similar Vanguard funds.

I have made a couple of adjustments, while keeping the weights of the bond, large cap, and international funds the same.

  • Kept the same weight for the mid/small cap from the 401(k) and rolled into the VIMAX Midcap fund in the IRA.
  • Rolled the ESOP and target date fund from the 401(k) into VSMAX Small cap fund in the IRA

With these changes, my new weighted average ER comes down to 0.05%. Compared to the 401(k), that’s a difference of 0.061%.

Again: We can debate the detriments of not just using VBTLX and VTSAX, another day ….

This change would result in almost $7k in extra money over a period of 20 years, at 6% annualized return. Plug in your numbers here. I’ve deliberately left the future contribution cell blank to have apples to apples comparison.

Dear readers, would love to know how your 401(k) plan expenses compare.

Are we Rockstars yet?

Say it to the tune of “Are we there yet?” your kids invariably sing when you’re taking them on a road trip 😅

Our blog was recently added to the Rockstar Finance directory of all personal finance blogs. I had no idea about this aggregator site before a fellow newbie blogger mentioned it.

You can find us at the recently added list or the main list. We clocked in at #149.

Though this means that we’re officially a part of the FIRE blogosphere, we are far, far away from being the rock stars of the demography that preach sensible personal finance. There are giants in this field and we learn and incorporate the portions that applies to us, in this phase of our lives.

Which bring me to the next point. And it is a rant. For which I’m apologizing right now. Having mentioned earlier that this is a judgement free zone, the next portion is going to sound hypocritical. But the incredulity of the stated facts are just too …well, incredible, for me to not lose my mind.

While going through some of the blogs there were recently added to the Rockstar Finance directory, I came across this blog maintained by a lawyer. I will purposely not name this blog nor reveal the gender of the writer. This is not meant to vilify the person behind the blog, nor give them added eyeballs. This is meant to show how stretchable our various aims and goals are.

This person claims that they need access to a gym that charge $893. Monthly.

MONTHLY $893 gym expense. A completely discretionary expense. Let that sink in.

Despite the fact there is a student loan that is more than the average sized mortgage. Despite living in a city with high costs. Despite having a $30k car loan at 3.5%. All the above factors are perfectly fine, even when taken in aggregation. But all these debts, plus a $893 monthly spending habit is another thing.  Not only does this individual have zero qualms about it, the blogger goes on to make an astounding appeal to the readers to not cancel their own expensive gym membership. This is where it got my goat.

I am dumbstruck. I mean I’m sorry that I’m even doing this, but this affects me viscerally.