Reader Case: Young and Worried About Finances

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Hi y’all! It’s been a while since we wrote a reader case hasn’t it? Well, back by popular demand, here’s one from a 25-year-old who’s worried she’s behind the curve when it comes to her finances:

 

“I just finished reading Quit Like a Millionaire (in one day, couldn’t put it down!) and I am feeling very inspired.
However, I am NOwhere near where I should be at age 25 with my finances. I’ve been putting off creating a budget, retirement plans, and saving since I graduated college and I’m not sure why.

I feel like there are probably a lot of young people with student loans and no savings like me so hopefully answers to my questions will help a lot of people.

Here is some information:

Annual Salary: $45,000 and after taxes I take home about $32,160.00 (this is the first time I’ve ever realized that, ouch.)
Currently I have $4,965.97 in my checking account.

Monthly Spending:
Income: $2,680
Rent/expenses/bills: ($1,750)

I also have an Acorns investment account, I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. I have attached what my portfolio looks like that they made for me. Currently my income balance is $356.50. I contribute $15 weekly and every time I use my debit card they round up the cents to the nearest dollar and contribute the amount to.
Should I keep this? Should I move this money and start an index investment account? Truly, I don’t know much about it.

Now on to my debts….
Car Loan
Interest rate: 5.29%
Monthly payment: $287.13
Balance: $13,771.75

Credit Card
Interest rate: APR 16.49%
Balance: $1,000.00
Minimum payment: $38.00 However I have never only paid the minimum payment, usually I pay between $100-300 each month.

Student Loan
My student loan is broken down between Groups, Group A-G. Each group has a different balance and interest rate:
Group A Balance: $3,432.74 Interest rate: 3.15%
Group B Balance: $2,348.55 Interest rate: 6.55%
Group C Balance: $4,468.77 Interest rate: 3.61%
Group D Balance: $5,452.02 Interest rate: 4.41%
Group E Balance: $2,274.52 Interest rate: 4.41%
Group F Balance: $5,408.02 Interest rate: 4.04%
Group G Balance: $2,139.13 Interest rate: 4.04%
Group H Balance: $2,262.45 Interest rate: 3.61%

Total Student Loan Balance: $27,784.20
Monthly Payment: $130.76

I’ve read to pay off the student loan with the highest interest rate first but I can’t figure out where it lets me do that. I pay the monthly payment and then it divides that between each group.

That’s pretty much all of my finances, now for my questions:

I truly just don’t know where to begin. Should I pay off my debts first and then focus on saving? Should I go ahead and put money aside to save/invest?

My work does not offer retirement. Through the book I have found I would like to start a Roth IRA. Do you advise doing that through my bank?

I guess I would just like to get advice on where to begin and my first steps. I did like all the information about on index investing and I’ve started to read your blogs about it as well. is that a top priority with all the other things I have going on? Also, I’m not sure where to even start that, a website? is Investing and saving for my retirement considered one and the same?

I’m sorry this is so much, but I do believe I just need to get started and can stay on the right track. I’m not really focused on early retirement as I know that’s not in my near future, but just to have money saved and a bright future would be so helpful.

Thank you for everything and I look forward to hearing from you!

JustStartingOut”

 

So, JSO is only 25-years-old. Fucking hell. That feels like AGES ago—when my sagging eye bags weren’t a thing and I still had a thigh gap. Ah, to be 25-years-old again.

Given JSO’s spunky young age, feeling like “I’m nowhere where I should be with my finances” is a bit of an over-reaction. Girl, you have time on your side. Don’t sweat it.

Remember, most people at 25-years-old are just getting out of college and starting their careers. They have a long road ahead of them.

I get that your student loan feels soul-crushing, but given that you’re American and have a balance of $27,784.20, that’s pretty laughably low compared to the 6-figure debt monsters other readers have written to us about. Don’t freak out.

Take a deep breath, let it out and repeat after me “I’m young. I can do this. My skin doesn’t have a single fucking wrinkle in it.”

Done? Okay good. 

Now, let’s dig down to the nitty gritty of your finances. Even though your situation isn’t a complete clusterfuck, you’re still making some rookie mistakes (understandable when it’s this early in the game) that we need to fix ASAP.

What you’re doing wrong:

 

Having a Car Payment?!

Oh hell no. You don’t have the salary to justify this. If you want to justify it, get a higher paying job or a promotion. In the mean time, buy a used car or use car-sharing like we did. 

When we first came to Canada, we didn’t have money to buy a car, so my Dad bought a used bike from a garage sale and rode it to and from school.  He did this during the winter, even when it was snowing because the town we lived in didn’t have an extensive public transportation system. I remember being bundled up and stuffed in the front basket of his bike whenever we needed to go anywhere as a family. I didn’t mind. It beats living in a third world country, picking through the trash, and getting stomach worms

If he can deal with that, you can deal with a used car. And even when he finally got his first job and we could afford a car, he still bought a used one. 

Get rid of the car loan. I’m serious. You want to be a financial badass? Act like one.

 

Saving While In Debt

Don’t do this. It feels good but it is just mathematically wrong. The interest rate from your debts will swallow all the interest and returns from your savings and investments. 

 

Because you don’t have a 6-figure salary, you need to prioritize. Here’s what you should do, in this order:

 

1) Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt!

As we mentioned before, there’s absolutely no sense in investing if you have credit card debt with interest rates of 16.49%! Whatever you earn in investments will immediately be given back to the bank. Do you like giving banks money? Clearly, they don’t make enough money right?

I know it feels “safe” to be saving money while having debt, but it isn’t. That’s like trying to to swim with a boulder tied to your leg. Don’t do it, unless you like drowning.

Why do you have $5000 in savings while having $1000 in credit card debt with an interest rate of 16.49%?!

Pay that shit off right hell now.

2) Get Rid of Your Car Loan

Buy a used car or use a car-sharing service instead. If you absolutely can’t get rid of the car loan because the car’s depreciated too much, get your butt in gear to pay if off ASAP. Get a promotion, switch to a higher job–anything to increase your salary so you can justify this expense. Do not save or invest until this is paid off. You will not earn enough from a savings account or investments to offset the 5.29%. 

2) Tackle Your Student Loan

“I’ve read to pay off the student loan with the highest interest rate first but I can’t figure out where it lets me do that. I pay the monthly payment and then it divides that between each group.“

Outside the debt repayments, you’re saving $930/month. After getting rid of the credit card debt and car loan, use that to kill your student loans and you should be done in 2.5-3 years. Contact your loan provider to apply your payments to the highest interest rate debt first.

Don’t even think about investing until all your debt is paid off.

4) Invest.

You asked about whether Acorn makes sense. At this point it doesn’t because again, you can’t invest until you’ve paid off your loans. 

“My work does not offer retirement. Through the book I have found I would like to start a Roth IRA. Do you advise doing that through my bank?”

By “my work doesn’t offer retirement”, I think you mean, your work doesn’t offer 401K matching or a pension.

In terms of whether you should open a 401K or Roth IRA, you’re right that you should start a Roth IRA (as we explained in Chapter 12. Good job for reading carefully!) You don’t need to do that through work since it’s after tax money, you can open it with any financial institution (we recommend Vanguard) However, as I mentioned in my earlier points, your priority should be paying off debts first, so don’t think about investing until that’s done. Once your debts are paid, off max out your Roth IRA.

“Is Investing and saving for my retirement considered one and the same?”
Yes. You want the money you’re saving for retirement to be invested, otherwise, it’ll erode from inflation. You also want to optimize your taxes when investing to avoid overpaying taxes. That gives you more money toward retirement. 

Minimize Taxes

Speaking of taxes, what is going on with your tax rate? I don’t get why you’re paying 28.9% tax even though you’re making $45,000? I put your numbers into the Smart tax calculator and even in the worst-case scenario (NY), the tax rate is 23% not 29%. Maybe there are other deductions at your work that I don’t know about, but make sure you check this to see where your money is going. 

 

Okay, so now that we’ve prioritize what you should be doing, let’s look where your finances should be going. 

Life After Debt:

Here’s how much your financial situation will improve after your debts are paid off and getting rid of the car loan.

Your monthly expenses will only be $1750, which means you will have a savings rate of ($2680 – $1750) / $2680 = 34.7%. Not bad! You’d be putting away $930 each month. Considering that 60% of Americans don’t have even $1000 in savings, you’d be better off than most of your peers EVERY SINGLE MONTH! Instead of “nowhere where I should be with my finances”, you’d be “way ahead of most people”.

This means you would need $1750*12*25 = $525,000 to become FI. Putting away $930/month or $11,160/year after expenses, this will take you:

Year Starting Balance Annual Contribution Return (6%) Total
1 0 11,160 0.00 11,160.00
2 11,160.00 11,160 669.60 22,989.60
3 22,989.60 11,160 1,379.38 35,528.98
4 35,528.98 11,160 2,131.74 48,820.71
5 48,820.71 11,160 2,929.24 62,909.96
6 62,909.96 11,160 3,774.60 77,844.55
7 77,844.55 11,160 4,670.67 93,675.23
8 93,675.23 11,160 5,620.51 110,455.74
9 110,455.74 11,160 6,627.34 128,243.09
10 128,243.09 11,160 7,694.59 147,097.67
11 147,097.67 11,160 8,825.86 167,083.53
12 167,083.53 11,160 10,025.01 188,268.54
13 188,268.54 11,160 11,296.11 210,724.66
14 210,724.66 11,160 12,643.48 234,528.14
15 234,528.14 11,160 14,071.69 259,759.82
16 259,759.82 11,160 15,585.59 286,505.41
17 286,505.41 11,160 17,190.32 314,855.74
18 314,855.74 11,160 18,891.34 344,907.08
19 344,907.08 11,160 20,694.42 376,761.51
20 376,761.51 11,160 22,605.69 410,527.20
21 410,527.20 11,160 24,631.63 446,318.83
22 446,318.83 11,160 26,779.13 484,257.96
23 484,257.96 11,160 29,055.48 524,473.44

Note: Inflation is accounted for by a 2% increase per year in salary to account for inflation. For a detailed breakdown of this math, refer to Appendix D in our book Quit Like a Millionaire.

23 years.

Since you’re still so young, once you’ve paid off your car loan and student loans in 4 years, you’ll be 52 years old once you are FI. That’s still 13 years earlier than the regular retirement age of 65, even with a take home salary of $32K. 

But this is under the assumption that you never change jobs and never get a promotion. You’re only 25 years old—that’s around the same age were when we started working. There’s a lot of time for you to move up the corporate ladder.

If you end up keeping the same expenses but get a promotion or earn some side income that brings up your pre-tax salary to $62,000 or post-tax salary of $45K, you’ll be able to double your yearly portfolio contribution to $24,000, which would bring down your time to FI to:

Year Starting Balance Annual Contribution Return (6%) Total
1 0 24,000 0.00 24,000.00
2 24,000.00 24,000 1,440.00 49,440.00
3 49,440.00 24,000 2,966.40 76,406.40
4 76,406.40 24,000 4,584.38 104,990.78
5 104,990.78 24,000 6,299.45 135,290.23
6 135,290.23 24,000 8,117.41 167,407.64
7 167,407.64 24,000 10,044.46 201,452.10
8 201,452.10 24,000 12,087.13 237,539.23
9 237,539.23 24,000 14,252.35 275,791.58
10 275,791.58 24,000 16,547.50 316,339.08
11 316,339.08 24,000 18,980.34 359,319.42
12 359,319.42 24,000 21,559.17 404,878.59
13 404,878.59 24,000 24,292.72 453,171.30
14 453,171.30 24,000 27,190.28 504,361.58
15 504,361.58 24,000 30,261.69 558,623.28

Less than 15 years!

That means, after paying off your debt, you would be only 44-years-old at the time of financial independence.

Now, this might seem challenging, and I’m not going to lie, it won’t be easy, but as we’ve learned from fellow early retirees and Rob and Robin, authors of “How to Retire Early”, it is absolutely possible. She started later than you (in her mid 30s) with a much lower salary of $15K as a travel agent, switched to nursing and trippled her salary. This enabled them to retire in 15 years in their early 40s.

You’re not boned so don’t freak out. You’re young (25 years young for christ’s sake!), have a manageable amount of student debt, relatively low expenses, and a long time horizon to move up the corporate ladder and increase your salary.

So don’t panic, take a deep breath, and get cracking on that debt!

***

What do you think? Do you agree with JSO’s thoughts about her finances? What should she do?


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33 thoughts on “Reader Case: Young and Worried About Finances”

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t stress investing at an independent brokerage. Don’t invest with your bank. They’ll rob you. Most banks’ investment arm is set up with high fees and crappy investments. Best to avoid them completely.
    15-20 years sounds doable. Good luck!

  2. Low expenses leave her in a good spot! Lowering expectations around cars and paying off debt can yield HUGE gains in personal freedom!

    Kill the debt and rock it 😊

  3. Great analysis and suggestions by FIREcracker.

    JSO,
    Few additional points to remember: Don’t get sick, don’t have kids/pets, don’t travel, don’t lose your job etc. (pun intended). Realistically if you follow the plan given by FIRECracker you will end up much better than your current situation but somewhere in between the best case (“…you’ll be able to double your yearly portfolio contribution to $24,000…” and current case (“….Putting away $930/month or $11,160/year after expenses …” and it is perfectly okay if that happens. Life happens and such future uncertainties shouldn’t be any reason not to start right now. Best luck.

    1. Yup. Life happens and a million things could change, but better to be financial sound when facing those changes than being caught with your pants down. She should revisit the numbers each year and update her FI number to account for any changes.

  4. My guess is the reason for JSO’s apparent high tax rate is she is looking at her withholding and not actual taxes. I could be wrong though.

  5. Great advice! Not sure what JSO’s career is in but at 25 and she’s making $45K, I am sure she can get that doubled within 5-7 years or at least she should aggressively work on it. Look for another job or promotion daily. I also think JSO should be reminded (and sadly commended?) that her credit card debt and overall debt is actually very low compared to most Americans her age! I live in NYC and I see all these kids eating $100 brunches on weekends and I know they are only making $50K so they must be using credit cards. So the fact that JSO has a *relatively* low amount of debt should prompt her to get out of crisis mode, but do in fact, get aggressive with earning more and learning about living below her means, etc. Excellent advice to her and good luck JSO!

    1. Yup. She’s young and her debt levels aren’t too high. Still a long investment time horizon ahead of her and lots of time to get those promotions.

    2. Just asking an honest question, but what kind of job should she be looking at that would increase her income. I have an asshole for a boss and his thing is “just be thankful you have a job” I turn 44 this year and have 520k, my expenses are very low like 12k a year. I only make $25.7 an hour, but do get all the OT that I want. (But I don’t want to work all the time though) I save 85% of what I make, I suppose I’m FI as far as the calculations, but if I work another 4 years if all goes well I could have a million and that’s my cut-off number, it would give me plenty of wiggle room to NEVER work again. I live in the states so I do worry about the health insurance, so I take that into account also. The reason I was asking the question if probably more about me than her. I wouldn’t know what job to actually look for that would pay me 2x that amount. I’m a land surveyor and I make my boss a TON of money. I can’t open up my own surveying business because I’m not registered, but at this point I think it just might be better to ride it out?

  6. Please keep $1000 in savings so an emergency doesn’t “force” you to take on more credit card debt. Otherwise I agree.

    Mary Ann

      1. Yes this is one thing I wondered a lot about reading through this. When I graduated law school (in Canada) I had about $20K in student loan debt and otherwise…zero to my name. I aggressively paid off the debt in under 4 years and could have paid it off quicker if I hadn’t also saved at least a couple hundred every month as an emergency fund. If you’re still $10K or $15K in debt and you lose your job, and you have zero in the bank – well you go right back to serious credit card debt pretty damn fast. I wanted to have the cash to get through at least a few months of rent and groceries if that happened! I get your point about the math and the fact that interest on the loans will outpace your savings, but your advice assumes that she won’t be unemployed at any time until she pays off her debts (even for a couple months); she won’t get sick or injured and be unable to work (even for a couple months); and so on. Or it’s just saying that it’s ok to go into credit card debt if anything unforeseen happens and you temporarily lose your main source of income? I’m not sure, but as someone who works frequently with folks who’ve lost their jobs when they thought they never would, and have not financially planned for it – I do wonder what you think about that?

  7. Totally second Hung C Thai re: aggressively working to grow that income.
    Along with getting out of debt, it should be the first thing on your mind in your twenties.

    I find many personal finance guides over-emphasize saving and investing money, while completely ignoring the first and more important thing in the holy trinity of FI: making more of it in the first place. Can’t save and invest when making peanuts.

    Think hard. Research hard. Network hard. Find out what career paths and options are available. Find out what pay you can expect: median, lower and upper ends of the range.
    Then hustle, hustle, HUSTLE!

    Even occupations that aren’t famously high paying, always pay in some kind of range.
    Never be content to merely earn the market median/average i.e. middle of that range.
    Always strive to reach the upper end of the range. Do what it takes including:
    – hunting promotions with current employer
    – switching employers for better opportunities, when promotion seems unlikely
    – switching to contract work if in a sector where contracts pay better than full time work
    – moving to regions that offer better opportunities (or same with better cost of living)

    The biggest regret from my twenties is not hustling enough.
    Was too complacent and stayed too long in the same places without making any progress.
    Set myself back by a number of years as a result. Don’t be like that.

  8. Firecracker- I don’t know what you’re talking about!!!! You totally have a thigh gap!!!!

    Excellent analysis. Keep plugging away and you’ll be FI in no time. Remember that the human mind has a hard time grasping the concept of compound interest. You’re going to feel like
    You’re humping it hard and sacrificing for very little return (especially after the honeymoon phase of working towards FI wears off). Observe the thought and then give yourself a dope slap and slug on. You will be so glad you did! Good luck!!!

    1. Ha ha, thanks Melyssa. The thigh gap has significantly decreased since you last saw me. Too much porking out in Asia 🙂 That’s okay. I have no regrets.

  9. I’m more than two decades past 25, but if I could do it over, I would focus on growing income over anything else in my 20’s. I was very much a saver and zero debt person, and while my retirement assets have benefitted from that, I could have taken more risk, more leverage and been further ahead. I could also have done a side hustle while I had more energy. An important thing to remember about income is that salary peaks much earlier than people expect — by age 40 for women, later in 40’s for men. That number may go down given “juniorization” or the replacement of experienced professionals with more junior, cheaper staff.

    1. 25-year-old do have a lot more energy to hustle, so she does have that on her side. There are also a lot of ways to start a side hustle and make money online, so she has options.

  10. Speaking of “no retirement” I’ve always wondered what the, “ How’s that’s for retire with a pension?” question in the intro video is meant to imply? The part where Dick worked for his company for years and then was laid off one year prior to his planned retirement?

  11. I’m curious how much of the $1,750 monthly expenses is her rent. She might consider drastically downsizing, maybe rent a room in a house or some other house hack (I’m currently paying $550/month to rent a room in a house, all inclusive, internet, utilities, etc). I’m betting she can free up another $300~$500 in her budget for paying off debt.

    If I’m this young girl, I’m downsizing into a room in a house to free up another $500. Once ALL debt is payed off, reward herself by slightly upsizing (very slightly, such as a renting a room that has a tiny window). Then, set as a goal her first $100K saved/invested and as a reward upsize again to renting a room with a slightly larger window, an so on..

    ..obviously I’m joking a little (not really), but I do think this young lady is leaving a lot of FIRE money on the table in her current rent/living expenses. As she’s beginning to hammer down her debt she should also be focusing on pulling another $500 out of her expenses.

  12. I’d certainly consider FICA/Social Security an actual tax – she’s required to pay and won’t receive benefits for at least 40 years (unless the government changes the retirement age or tax on benefits).

    I agree that taking out a car loan recently was unlikely to have been the best action. However, I’m not sure she could sell the car for what she paid, especially if she found a new car for $15K 6 months ago. I’ve also read many car loans have large prepayment penalties. Especially if she’d have to buy another (used car), I’d just keep the current car (and avoid car loans and new cars she can’t pay cash for in the future).

    At any rate, I agree she can and should pay off the credit card debt immediately, and find a way to allocate additional payments to the 6.55% Student Load B.

    I’m pretty sure knowing the different balances and rates is more awareness than many recent graduates have.

  13. After Tax Income = $2680/Mth or $32,160/Yr)
    Rent/Expenses/Bills = $1750 or $21,000/Yr)
    Cash Flow = $930 (Income – Rent/Expenses/Bills)
    Debts = $617.89 (Car – $287.13, Credit Card- $200, Student Loan – $130.89)
    Real Saving = $312.11 (Cash Flow – Debt)
    KIS – Keep It Simple
    Financial
    Step 1 – Increase Real Saving to $402/Mth or $4824/Yr (challenge yourself to reduce Rent/Expenses/Bills down to $1660.11/Mth or $19,921.32/Yr).
    Step 2 – With the increase of Real Saving to $402/Mth put it into CDs or the saving with the highest rate that you can find. In 4.13 years (19,921.32/4824), you will have 1 year of emergency living expenses saved.
    Step 3 – As soon as you have saved 1 year worth of living expenses, invest all new savings into any low cost index funds (note, keep the 1 year emergency money in CDs).
    Step 5 – Take Firecracker’s advice and get rid of the car loan and buy a used car with your current saving. If you can, add the monthly saving to your portfolio of investments – otherwise, skip this step.
    Step 6 – As soon as the Credit Card balance is paid, add the monthly saving to your portfolio of investments.
    Step 7 – As soon as the Student Loan balance is paid, add the monthly saving to your portfolio of investments.
    (If you follow these steps, you will be FI in 25 to 30 years)
    Relationship
    Fall in love and build a family with children (note – make sure the person you are involved have the same financial values.
    Health
    Step 1 – Drink a full glass of water every morning as soon as you wake up.
    Step 2 – Walk or jog 2 miles every day.
    Spiritual
    Pray or be kind to others.
    Good luck kid!

    1. Hi I liked your analysis. But why would you prioritize the emergency fund before paying off debts? Just curious. Because that’s what I’m doing but I’m afraid it’s not the right thing to do… please enlighten me. Thanks!!

      1. Psychologically, debt free life is the BEST circumstance for 95 of the population.

        Psychologically, knowing that you can pay for a year worth of living regardless of the financial situation you have gotten yourself into is the next BEST circumstance.

        Once you have one year worth of saving and if FIRE is your life endeavor, modify your financial plan for an aggressive debt free life.

        Keep in mind that a meaningful life is so much more than FIRE!

  14. As another 25-year-old FIRE aspirant, posts like these are great for perspective. Maybe I could push my savings rate a little higher, and the road seems long from here, but compared to the average worker, I’m doing wonderfully. Best of luck to all of us young FIREstarters 😀

  15. This article made me feel alot better about my own situation. I’m 24 and while I don’t have the debt issues and am by no means living above my means, I’m really frustrated with my current income. I only make 45 a year, and I’m having a hard time getting it up! I have 2 careers, one with the miliary (part time)and one in finance. They both pay not every well. But I really dont know how to scale it! My experience is limited so it hurts me for even getting in the interview room for an opportunity!

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