Personal Finance Considerations for Going into Debt for Education

I think taking on debt for education is a sensible financial decision. But the level of the debt that is sensible must be considered.

When I went to college (too long ago) it was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as it is now (in the USA at least – I am not as familiar with the costs outside the USA other than knowing in many places that university education costs are very reasonable).

I don’t have any hard cutoff where I think taking on debt no longer makes sense. But I do think I would include cost as a major factor when deciding what college to attend if I were facing that decision today. From a personal finance perspective I would only consider my debt or the spending of my savings.

If my parents or the school or someone else want to pay for a large portion of the the costs that is wonderful. I do believe the expensive and highly rated schools provide a great education and great benefit. If I were a parent that was well off I would have no problem paying the very high costs if I could afford it (which would mean I was far ahead on reaching financial independence).

photo of building at Davidson College

Davidson College

The costs of college in the USA are so huge now that it may well be wiser to find a less expensive school in order to create the best personal financial base as a young adult.

The huge costs also mean I think it is much more important to take into account the likely financial picture after one graduates. It is much different to go into debt for a engineering or math degree than one with much lower expected salaries (Engineering Graduates Earned a Return on Their Investment In Education of 21%).

As I wrote on my other blog: In the USA More Education is Highly Correlated with More Wealth.

As I have said before the reason to chose a career is because that is the work you love, but in choosing between several possible careers it may be sensible to consider the likely economic results. And in choosing how much to spend on your education considering your future earnings is wise.

Continue reading

A Tiny Housing Take on Multi-Generational Housing

Housing is a critical aspect of any financial plan. Many alternatives have become more popular in the last 10 years: nomad (digital nomads etc.), tiny houses, mobile living (RVs, vans…), etc.. I think such housing alternatives are important and should be given more consideration by more people.

As these options become more popular they begin to be used in specialized ways. As I have written previously I think multi-generation housing is an interesting concept that deserves more attention. It is not a new idea but in many countries (such as the USA) it has gone out of favor but it may well come back into favor, I believe.

One recent trend combines multi-generational living and tiny housing into tiny houses in a backyard for grandparents.

The 12×24-foot prefabricated house starts at $85,000 — less than the cost of traditional long-term elder care — and includes innovative safety features like webcams and cushioned floors that allow the family member privacy and the caregiver freedom.

‘Granny Pods’ Help Keep Portland Affordable

Seattle, Austin, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco also recently made it easier to add a second unit or granny flat.

These Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) require zoning flexibility in most places (in the USA at least, I am not sure about zoning issues globally). Hopefully more localities will create options to allow more flexibility.

ADU for Medical Caregiving

MEDCottages will be fully assembled at a manufacturing facility and trucked to a site to be plugged in, like a recreational vehicle, to the electrical and mechanical systems of an existing home by a local contractor.

Related: Tiny Homes are a Great AlternativeHousing Savings by Living as a NomadFinancial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) and Location Independent Working

The Continued Failure of the USA Health Care System and Our Politicians

Providing a health care is extremely costly everywhere. Rich countries nearly universally provide a health care system that allows all citizens to get needed health care. Nowhere is it perfect and nowhere is it cheap. And nowhere is it more of a mess than in the USA.

Sadly those we elect in the USA have continued for the last few decades to keep the USA healthcare system the mess we have now. The Affordable Care Act took a relatively small step in addressing several of the most flawed aspects of the USA system. It left unaddressed many of the major flaws. Instead of taking where we are now and making improvements to address the problems left from decades of Democrat and Republican created and maintained USA health care policy all we have had it demands to “repeal Obamacare.”

This is exactly the type on avoiding improvements to maintain the existing (for the last few decades) broken healthcare system those in the USA must live with. Cutting hundreds of billions from the budget to provide health care to the elderly is not improving the health care system.

Making next to no attempts to actually improve healthcare outcomes in the USA shows how flawed the current process is. It continues the behavior of the Republicans and Democrats for the last few decades. It is sad we continue to elect people behaving so contrary to the interests of the country.

The exceedingly costly health care system in the USA is in need of a great deal of work to improve the government policy that results in the mess we have now. Some of the huge issues we face.

photo of the Capital building in Washington DC

photo of the Capital in Washington DC by John Hunter.

  • Pre-existing conditions – this has long been a huge problem with the USA healthcare system and one of 2 major things ACA dealt with well. ACA greatly improved the USA healthcare system in this area, something that Democrats and Republicans had failed to do for decades. Current attempts by the Republicans are to gut these improvements. This is a completely unacceptable area for all but the most extreme people to even be looking at. That the Republican house members approved this radical removal of health insurance coverage from tens of millions of people and the vast majority of Republican senators has not expressed outrage and such attempts to punish those who have been sick in the past is pitiful. The USA even with the ACA does a much worse job on this measure than any other rich country in the world.
  • Medical bankruptcy – due to the decades of poor leadership by the Republicans and Democrats the USA is the only rich country with this as a macro-economic factor. The ACA made small moves to improve this but much more is needed. Instead of improving the USA healthcare system to deal with this long term problem the current Republican efforts will great increase the number of medical bankruptcies in the USA if they succeed in their efforts.
  • Massive cost-tax on all economic activity due to the costs of the USA healthcare system. The USA healthcare system costs twice as much per person as other rich countries (there are few countries with costs that have costs which the USA “only” 50% or 75%… but overall it is twice as costly) with no better outcomes than other rich countries. ACA did nothing to improve this (certain aspects of the ACA did but other aspects balanced those out), the new plans are not going to do anything to improve this (in a minor way it is possible reducing medical care for the elderly could reduce costs by having people die much sooner but given the mess of the USA healthcare system for many reasons the huge reductions in Medicare and Medicaid are unlikely to actually result in cost savings that are material).
  • Tying health care to the employer – The USA is one of the few rich countries to do this. Combined with refusing or providing only inadequate coverage for those with pre-existing conditions this is a great barrier to small businesses and entrepreneurship. ACA didn’t address this directly by eliminating the pre-existing condition failure it did greatly reduce the harm this causes the USA economy and individuals in the USA. The current proposals don’t address the problem and exacerbate the issue by returning the huge problems the USA system has in dealing with pre-existing conditions (it would be slightly better than before the ACA but much worse than what we currently have with the ACA).
  • A huge burden on individuals of dealing with insurance company paperwork, fighting with the medical system and insurance companies… Neither ACA nor the current plans made any improvements in this area.
  • The USA pays much more for drugs than any other country. This is directly the result of decades of failure by Democrats and Republicans to create sensible healthcare system policies for the USA. Neither ACA or the current plans made any significant improvements in this area.
  • Of interest to the readers of this blog the current USA healthcare system doesn’t deal at all well with the reality that tens of millions of USA citizens travel and live overseas. This is a complicated issue but it has been unaddressed for decades. It is pitiful that ACA didn’t address it and the current plans don’t address it. Even things that would be able to save tens billions of dollars by allowing healthcare to be preformed overseas (at much lower costs) for say Medicare are not addressed. There are complexities in how to craft policy to save tens and hundreds of billions of dollars this way. So it isn’t something you can expect to be addressed in a year or two. But they have had well over a decade since the obvious huge savings potential has been apparent and nothing. When you are going to cut health care benefits of the elderly to save money and don’t bother using wise policy to save money without reducing the care people receive you are failing as policy makers. And we are failing by continuing to elect these people that decade after decade fail to make wise policy decisions and instead force us to suffer with a poor healthcare system.
  • Continue reading

Tiny Homes – A Great Alternative

Homes don’t have to be huge as they are now. The ever expanding USA single family home: average square footage of single-family homes in the USA: 1950 – 983; 1970 – 1,500; 1990 – 2,080; 2004 – 2,349.

Tiny houses are looking at going back even earlier than 1950, and that is a good idea. I would also like to see experiments with small houses along the lines of 1950s (or even a bit smaller). By reducing the high cost of housing we can drastically change personal finances for the non-rich in the USA (and elsewhere).

The innovative thinking by Cass Community Social Services discussed in the video in is the type of thinking we need to see more of. The Detroit non-profit is building tiny houses and making them available for rent to low income residents. The effort includes monthly personal finance and home care classes to make those tenants ready to transition to home owners (which they can do, buying the houses they start out renting).

The plan is to use the rent-to-own model. Rent is capped at 1/3 of income (and should be something around $250/month I think). The houses cost about $40,000 build and funding from the Ford Foundation has jump started this effort. The initial effort plans to build 25 tiny houses.

I think housing innovation is one of the areas with great potential to make people’s lives better by reducing the burden on people’s finances. Tiny houses are one method. Multi-generational housing communities is another. Dorm-like housing is another (I would have found this appealing after college). These apartment buildings seek to increase the social space in the building and encourage social interaction and also often have smaller units (bringing down the cost while providing benefits people desire – social options).

Related: Making the Most of 450 Square FeetAmazingly Flexible 344 Square Foot Room Can Transform Into 24 Different Rooms

Continue reading

Proof of Onward Travel

One of the annoying worries is the possibility of an airline asking for “proof of onward travel” before checking you into your flight. Airlines do this theoretically because they may be liable for getting you back out of the country. Airlines also check that you have a visa for the new country for this reason (which also confirms you have a passport).

It makes sense that they check that you have a passport with a visa for the destination. Still you could be rejected from entering even with the visa. If that happened I don’t see what good it would do to have a plan reservation in 50 days going somewhere. I suppose the country might push the responsibility for getting you out of the country to your departing airline but I seriously doubt it. If you claim you can pay to leave I would have to imagine if some other party gets stuck with the bill it is likely the airline that delivered you.

photo of Air Asia airplane at Yogyakarta, Indonesia airport

Air Asia airplane at Yogyakarta, Indonesia airport

I suppose it could also be the airline only gets stuck if you don’t have proof of onward travel. And if you have that proof they are still responsible for getting you back but someone else pays until someone can collect the money from you (and gets stuck with it if you never pay). This seems pretty unlikely for most “normal” travelers from rich countries that have credit cards which would just be billed for whatever cost there is.

It sure seems to me that credit cards should add a perk to “gold cards” (or even less fancy card types) that promise to bill whatever costs accrue due to you being forced out of the country to you (and just like other costs the credit card issuer is stuck paying the cost if you don’t pay them back).

Continue reading

Use FI/RE to Create a Better Life Not To Build a Nest Egg as Quickly as Possible

To me FI/RE is about creating conditions that allow you to focus on what you value. Some people do focus too much on saving money quickly as though the goal is to save as much as quickly as possible. But that isn’t what FI/RE means. FI/RE doesn’t mean make yourself a slave to saving quickly in order to remove yourself from being a slave to a job until you are 65.

Any concept can be misapplied. Two posts on related ideas:

The aim should be the best life, not work v. life balance

I achieved my goal by not my aim. That happens a lot, we honestly translate aims to goals. And then we do stupid things in the name of the goal get it the way of the aim. We forget the aim sometimes and put the goal in its place.” Mike Tveite

FI/RE should be about figuring out what you value and examining the tradeoffs between working, spending and what you really want to get out of life. For some people getting a large investment portfolio quickly is more important than time off, taking expensive vacations, having a job they really like… For some they are happy to have a job they really like even though it pays less and it will take 8 more years to reach FI and be able to retire. FIRE is a process to examine what you value and really think about savings versus spending (largely important because of all the emphasis in our culture to spend and worry about the consequences of debt you took out to spend later).

If you turn FI/RE into an accelerated treadmill of working and not living that isn’t of much value in my opinion (it does have a little bit of value in that you are likely to reach a point where you are free but this is not a good path). You should think about tradeoffs of what you value (healthy living, family, learning, fun…) and what short term versus long term tradeoffs you make. You don’t have to go to the extremes some people do in order to adopt FI/RE principles and create a better life for yourself.

For some people the tradeoffs for achieving financial independence and the ability to retire at 40 are worth great sacrifices up until 40. That is fine if that is what they want. Others would rather make choices from 25 to 40 (lower paying jobs, splurging occasionally…) that mean they won’t reach financial independence until 48. That is also fine.

To me what is most important about FI/RE is examining the choices you make and taking control of the decisions instead of just floating along as so many people do without considering the choices they make. Frankly, doing that and deciding to not even retire early is fine with me (though I do agree it is a bit at odds with the name). Essentially what I mean is even in that case you can apply FI/RE principles, you just do it is a way that make it FI/RR. Where you Retire Realistically instead of as the majority of people do today don’t even come close to adequately considering and planning for their retirement (even at 65 or 70).

Related:

USA Expat Tax Advice and Services

Taxes for USA expats can be complex. The USA is one of less than a handful of countries that tax citizens on worldwide earnings no matter where they live.

If you are employed by a foreign company and stationed overseas for the full year (in qualifying countries) you will pay tax on your earnings where they are earned and have the first $100,800 (in 2015) of earnings excluded from USA income tax. However earning above that level will be taxed where you earn them and by the USA. Learn about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on the IRS web site.

The IWantOut and USExpatTaxes SubReddit are forums to search for more information and learn from others. Taxes for Expats is one service many USA expats use and have been happy with.

image of the front of the current USA dollar

Like banking, taxes (at for USA citizens) are one of the more difficult issues of an overseas (including nomadic) lifestyle.

Related: Health Insurance Considerations for Digital NomadsFinding an International Business Bank as a Digital NomadTransfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And Save

6 Tips To Help You Achieve A Better Retirement

Many people are already planning on working for a longer time because they don’t have enough money for retirement. Those reading the blog and focused on taking a different approach from the common one (either FI/RE or digital nomad or something else) already understand the traditional mindset of working hard and buying what you want (even if you go into debt) is more and more difficult. Some specifics of this post use terms that make sense in the USA (like IRA) but the ideas are universal.

The economy is no longer as robust after the financial crisis in 2007. While the recession is over, the cost of living has gone up. What’s more, there aren’t as many options to earn a high income unless you work in the technology sector. There is so much competition for even high skill jobs that it’s easy for employers to pay less than they used to in the past.

Those focused on FI/RE do consider retirement (obviously) but digital nomads for all the other ways I think this lifestyle is appealing often don’t consider the long term at all. And this is a serious problem.

For traditional employees and digital nomad and other freelance type employees one of the biggest challenges with planning for retirement is not the economy. While the economy certainly is a significant factor, it’s not the only one. You also have to take a look at your money management skills. There may be many ways that you are paying too much and saving too little. If this is the case, then it’s vital that you learn new ways of making your money go farther.

recliners and palm trees on the beach

Photo by John Hunter in Langkawi, Malaysia. Prepare so you can retire to this, or even combine FI/RE and digital nomad ideas and work here (with lower expenses) while working toward retirement.

With that in mind, here are 6 ways to save your dreams of retiring at age 65 or even earlier.

  1. Are You Adding to Your Retirement Savings With Each Paycheck?
    Direct some of your paycheck to a 401(k) or IRA and you will soon be above average in preparing for your retirement.
    One of my favorite tips to nearly painlessly greatly improve your retirement life is to put some of every raise you get toward retirement savings. For example, if you get a new job (or a raise) that gives you an extra $5,000 a year in income set aside $2,000 into a retirement account (every year). As you get further raises do the same thing.
  2. Where are you spending your money?
    You may have more control of your money than you think. Take a look at your recurring expenses. Can you spend less on cable? Cable companies make millions because of the fascination people have for entertainment. Is it possible that you could spend the same amount of time sitting in front of the TV doing something else — like starting a new hobby that will be more personally enriching? What about electricity? Perhaps, you can use a local electrical supplier if you live in an area that has energy deregulation. This site explains how you can buy cheaper electricity in a deregulated market like Texas.
  3. Do you need to upgrade your car, phone, TV, laptop so often?
    In the past, buying a car every three years made fiscal sense because you would save on repair costs. However, cars are now made much better and will run well for many years. By buying a car less often and looking after it better, you could save tens of thousands of dollars because every time you drive a new car off the lot, it depreciates in value. Computers used to become painful to use (as the new software took advantage of and thus required the big gains made in hardware to work well – this is much less true today). This money could go toward your retirement.
  4. Do you have money leaks?
    It doesn’t take much to spend money on small inconsequential things. An evening with friends, a latte when you’re tired, an extra few boxes of your favorite snacks when grocery shopping… all these things can add up quickly. You can also save thousands every year by skipping the convenience of eating out and learning how to cook nutritious meals at home. While it isn’t necessary to become a tightwad overnight, wincing when things are a few dollars above your comfort level, increasing your awareness of how you’re spending your money will help you realize that many of the things you buy aren’t giving you that much satisfaction in the first place.
  5. Do you use your credit card almost reflexively?
    Paying with your credit card is convenient, but you do have to remember that even if you keep up with your monthly balance, you are still paying more for the things you bought because you’re being charged interest, perhaps even high interest. Since it’s so easy to whip out a credit card then to carry cash or try to figure out if you have enough money to use your debit card to make a purchase, it’s only too easy to buy more things than you intended. I pay for nearly everything that I don’t buy online in cash.
  6. Do you postpone money management?
    Since you are busy most of the time, it’s easy to shrug off the basics of money management—keeping a budget, living within the budget, and saving a little every month. You use excuses like promising yourself that you’ll start your retirement savings when you earn a little more or pay off your credit cards. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop long enough to give you enough time to plan everything perfectly. Even if you have started to budget, are you sticking with it? And if you have stashed away some cash, are you now looking for ways to keep that money active?

Changing Habits is Challenging
While these six ideas are easy enough to grasp and won’t require any financial wizardry to put into action, the challenge is breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. It’s uncomfortable, of course, but if you do, it will be rewarding in the long run. The earlier you get started, the better your retirement options will be.

Getting Started Early on FI/RE

image of the cover of Daredevil #181

I started adopting the mindset that set me on the path for FI/RE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) when I was very young. I collected baseball cards when I was a kid and added comic collections when I was a bit older kid.

Early on I was paying attention to the investment potential. I enjoyed not just the collecting but also the idea of making money by buying something and then selling it later for more money (which is the fundamental idea of investing). It came naturally to me.

I never much liked spending money on something that lost its value. For some things, like ice cream, I could happily spend my money even though I would soon have nothing to show for it. But more often I would rather buy something I could enjoy and also believe I would be able to sell later at a higher price.

image of Watchmen comic cover

When I started actually trying to sell baseball cards for money I learned about he difference between reported “value” and the ability to get cash for what you owned. Not only can’t you sell items to a store at the “value” reported in pricing guides you often couldn’t sell them at all (they didn’t want the items at all).

In high school I started renting space to sell at shows. There you were selling to the public (or other dealers). I learned vivid examples of the challenges of turning assets into cash. And I also learned about the weaknesses in the economic ideals such as the market being efficient. I saw how often the very same product (the same baseball card) for sale in the same hall would have very different prices (over 100% more was not uncommon) and the sales were often not close to the best buys. The friction in this situation was much smaller than the typical purchase (all the items were in the same room, just a little bit of walking created the friction).

Continue reading

Golden Rules for Making Money

P. T. Barnum wrote the Golden Rules for Making Money in 1880. He provides a few paragraphs on each of the 20 golden rules:

1. Don’t mistake your vocation
2. Select the right location
3. Avoid debt

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. When you have it mastering you; when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world. It is no “eye-servant.” There is nothing animate or inanimate that will work so faithfully as money when placed at interest, well secured. It works night and day, and in wet or dry weather.

4. Persevere
5. Whatever you do, do it with all your might
6. Depend upon your own personal exertions
7. Use the best tools
8. Don’t get above your business
9. Learn something useful
10. Let hope predominate but be not too visionary
11. Do not scatter your powers
12. Be systematic
13. Read the newspapers
14. Beware of “outside operations”
15. Don’t indorse without security
16. Advertise your business
17. Be polite and kind to your customers
18. Be charitable
19. Don’t blab
20. Preserve your integrity

From the introduction,

Those who really desire to attain an independence, have only to set their minds upon it, and adopt the proper means, as they do in regard to any other object which they wish to accomplish, and the thing is easily done. But however easy it may be found to make money, I have no doubt many of my hearers will agree it is the most difficult thing in the world to keep it. The road to wealth is, as Dr. Franklin truly says, “as plain as the road to the mill.” It consists simply in expending less than we earn; that seems to be a very simple problem.

The thoughts are worth reading today. You can update things a bit, from read the newspapers, to read the websites, but mainly it is sensible advice today.

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so." - Mahatma Gandhi

Continue reading