Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Find the Right Balance to Meet Your Financial Goals

Tip #289 - Find the Right Balance To Meet Your Financial Goals. There are many ways you can meet your financial goals. Some ways work well at different times in your life. And some ways work well for different people and their circumstances. But in many cases, a combination of three main methods may be the best way to meet your goals such as increasing your savings. You can earn more money. You can decrease your expenses or you can make more return on your investments. Each of these singly will increase your savings. But finding the right balance among all three of them will work better to maximize your savings.

Let's look at an example. You are a family of three - husband, wife, and an 8-year child who will go to college in 10 years. You have $100,000 saved in a retirement account that is earning 5% per year and $20,000 saved in a college account for your child, earning 4% per year. You hope to retire in 25 years. Suppose your household makes $60,000 per year after taxes. Mortgage, utility, and food expenses add up to $30,000 per year. Health and wellness expenses add up to $6,000 per year. Automobile, gasoline, and clothing expenses add up to $8,000 per year. Lastly, entertainment and travel expenses add up to $6,000 per year. This leaves you with $10,000 per year for savings. Out of that savings, you put $8,000 toward retirement each year and $2,000 toward your child's college account.

After you sit down and crunch the numbers, you realize that you will not reach your goal of saving $100,000 (in today's dollars) for your child's college fund. In fact, you realize that you will need to save a total of $4,500 per year (about $2,500 more per year than you are currently saving). Then you look at your retirement numbers and calculate that in order to earn $1,000,000 at the time of retirement, you need to be saving $14,000 per year ($6,000 more than you are saving now). And you also realize that you will most likely need to buy a car in about 5 years and need to save $5,500 per year for that. All total you figure you need to increase your savings by $14,000 per year to reach your goals. How should you go about that?

One way to increase your savings is to cut down on expenses. However, you already live a frugal life and don't have much that you can realistically cut without making dramatic changes in your life. After scrutinizing your budget, however, you calculate that you can save $1,000 per year by using coupons and shopping at less-expensive grocery stores. You decide that your family can forgo your annual vacation and cut $2,000 of your entertainment/travel budget. And by shopping at thrift stores for clothes and riding your bike instead of driving places, you think you can cut another $1,000 off your budget. So you have come up with $4,000 more money that you can put toward savings. However, you are still $10,000 short of your goal.

Another way to increase your savings is to improve your investment return. Suppose your child goes to school in 10 years, and your investment toward college is earning only 4% return. After speaking with a financial advisor, you realize you can take on slightly more risk with this investment and think you can earn an 6% return on your money. This means you need to save $4,000 per year for college (an extra $2,000 per year). For retirement, you know you can take on more risk and can probably earn an 8% return on your money. In this case, you only need to save $5,000 per year toward retirement to meet your $1,000,000 goal, which actually frees up $3,000 per year for savings elsewhere. By this example, you only need a total of $14,500 in savings to meet your goals. But you are still $4,500 short of your goal.

Realizing that there is only so much that you can cut your expenses. And while the return on investment you can make is technically infinity, it is unlikely that you want to undertake that kind of risk, you know you can increase your income to bring in more money. If you have a school-age child, perhaps you can take on a part-time job 20 hours per week earning $10 per hour. In one year, you can make about $10,000 per year ($7,500 after taxes), $6,500 short of your goal that you needed.

Now let's combine all three strategies. Increase your return on investments, and you only need to save $14,500 total per year. Combine that with cutting expenses of $4,000, and you are now only $500 short of your goal. Mix in the $7,500 you can make with your part-time job, and you now have an extra $7,000 to play around with. Add back in that vacation? Cut down your work hours to 15 hours per week? Reduce your retirement risk? It's all up to you. Find the right balance of all three strategies. By utilizing all of them, you can tailor your desires with your needs to put hold on to more money and meet your savings goals.

In Real Life (IRL) - I have been out of the workforce for 4 years. Other than selling on eBay which nets me a few thousand per year, I haven't brought in a steady paycheck of any kind since early in 2007. In order to live on my husband's income, our first line of defense was to cut back on spending. When we had two good incomes, we had extra money flowing to go out to eat when we wanted or to go on a quick weekend jaunt somewhere fun. But when I stopped working, all of that changed as we had very little extra money above our expenses. But at that point in time, staying home with my baby was more important to me than eating out in a restaurant (as if I had time. Ha!). So in order to cover our expenses, we lowered them. We cut out restaurant meals. We cut out weekends away. We cut back on shopping.

And while I was always a good saver for the future, there is something about having a baby that makes you feel a huge responsibility. Will we have enough for her schooling? Who will care for her if something happens to us? Do we have enough money for the future? In that regard, we researched saving for college, I took out life insurance, and we increased our retirement savings. We also analyzed how much risk we were willing to undertake to meet these goals.

Then child number 2 and 3 came, and we suddenly had more expenses - preschools, activities, more health insurance and dental insurance, an addition to our house. Fortunately, my husband's salary increased, which covered some of our increasing expenses. We stuck to our budget and stayed with our investment strategies. But the expenses kept coming - car expenses, braces, higher college costs, Bat-Mitzvahs in our future. And at that point, we realized, we did not want to cut out any of our other expenses or take from savings to pay for these new ones.

We live as frugally as we want to. We don't want to cut out any more restaurant eating. We don't want to stop going to the beach every summer. And we are comfortable with our investments. We don't want more risk. We weathered the economic downturn a few years ago pretty well since we mixed in low-risk investments with our high-risk ones. Sure we may be able to make more on our investments, but not without more risk and sleepless nights that we are not willing to undertake. And with our children getting older and going to school for longer hours, it makes sense that at this point, increase our income is the best way to increase our savings account.

Last week I went on my first job interview since leaving my job four years ago. And I am starting work in two weeks just three miles from my home! I am excited that with my income, we will be able to cover the expenses we will have, while still maintaining the savings that we want to do and keep our investments at our desired risk level. At this point in time, increasing our income makes sense, along with our level of frugality and investment risk that we are comfortable with. It is the right balance for us. When our children were younger, fewer expenses and less income made sense. When I was younger and single more risky investments and higher income made sense. How do you maintain your lifestyle, keep your savings and be comfortable with your investment risk? What kind of balance is right for you at this stage of your life?


Frugal Down Under said...

Thank you for such a food for thought post.
I'm printing it off to file in my $$$ folder.
I'm going part time next year as my daughter is 4 and I went back to full time work when she was 7 weeks old. I feel like I have really missed out - so saving like crazy this year and cutting back next year so i can pick her up at 2:30pm when she finishes school for the day. I'm also saving 1$ (college) a day in a high interest earner account for her future studies. My partner is saving $1 a day by investing (also for furhter studies). I also save 1$ a day towards a home deposit for her and we are saving for a house and will keep our flat as an investment property. We are trying to prepare for an early retirement at 55 (15 yrs time).
It's been a mixture of frugality, savings, extra work and now being more wise with investments.

Jerry said...

It's good you are home with your family. My wife had to work because we needed the insurance but then she was able to find work from home. It can lead to major discord if a new mom is not able to be with her baby if she wants to. She's been out of the workforce for several years now and our creativity helps us to keep things going.

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