Rethinking retirement, cutting credit cards, and saving intensely

In my 20’s, I harped on the need to save for retirement but didn’t actually make good on my preaching. As an economist, I learned the theory of compound interest and how money grows exponentially over time. In theory, it makes a lot of sense, but in practice, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Behind the math was life and emotions. I lived in a world of consumerism, where more and more material goods keep getting produced. As I got into my 30’s, technology had perfected marketing. There wasn’t a day where my news feed wouldn’t have something that I must have, or a deal too good to pass up, or social media posts of all the great adventures my friends were having.

Behind the scenes of my own stylized social media life was one of student loans, car payments, and mortgage payments. There was a subscription fee, automated purchases, and service for everything. Just a few months back, I had meal delivery service, restaurant delivery, Amazon subscribe and save, Apple Music, Hulu Plus, housekeeping, and even underwear subscriptions. Everything was automated and everything was on a subscription. No matter how many raises and bonuses I got, it barely kept up with the monthly expenses.

Mint.com didn’t work because all it did was made me feel guilty for how much of my spending came from coffee. It wasn’t a budgeting tool, it was a spending tracking tool.

The moment came for me when I came across Mike and Lauren, a young couple on You Tube. They had a video on How to Retire Early. The basic premise is they save virtually all their income in their 20’s and save their magic number: $420,000. Their goal is to hit that number by the time they’re 30 and that savings should net around $17,000 annually from the earnings. Much of this comes from Mr. Money Mustache, The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement. There’s a swelling group of young individuals that aren’t convinced that working 30+ years to retire at 65 on a beach is the way to go.

Financial independence means having the finances so that you don’t have to work to make ends meet. Instead, you can do whatever you want, whether it be doing a hobby that doesn’t pay or working a job that you love.

What really hit me was that I’m past 30. I missed the opportunity.

During this, I also have been commuting to work and listening to Dave Ramsey podcasts again. His approach is a no debt, live like no one else so that later you can live like no one else. He preaches the Seven Baby Steps:

Baby Step 1 – $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund

Baby Step 2 – Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

Baby Step 3 – 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Baby Step 4 – Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

Baby Step 5 – College funding for children

Baby Step 6 – Pay off home early

Baby Step 7 – Build wealth and give!

For years, the economist in me used the theory. My student loan interest was low, why pay it off. My mortgage interest was tax deductible. Instead of being focused, I tried to do everything all at once and didn’t do anything.

Later this month, I’m going to cut my final check to pay off my student loans ($40k). I’ve been making payments since 2005. Making the minimum payments would have dragged this on until 2025. Again, in theory, just make the monthly payments and invest in higher earning things. In practice, a payment here and a payment there and then you have no idea where your money went.

In following Dave’s plan, I’m on a cash system for restaurants and groceries. Ouch, just a month in and I already burnt my eating out budget. It’s packing lunches for the rest of the month. What I do know is that you spend significantly less when there’s friction in the transaction. Why else do you think credit card companies are investing in making your transaction seamless.

Just last week, as I sat down to have dinner. I found that dried beans and rice are insanely cheap to buy (and healthy). I went from $15-$20 dinners to $2 per meal. I stacked up my credit cards and started to dial each one. I reached a customer service rep and said I wanted to close my account. Immediately, I’m transferred to an account manager and they always start with how are you?

I’m great I said. I’d like to cancel my account please.

May I ask why?

I’m on the Dave Ramsey plan and I’m cancelling all my credit cards today.

Silence. You are doing what? You realize that your card has all these great benefits, you can earn cash back to help with your investment plans.

That’s okay, I don’t need a credit card.

I still don’t understand, if you pay off your card, you’re earning the points and not paying interest. What about emergencies? Don’t you want to at least keep one card for emergencies?

I’m okay, I have a big pile of cash for emergencies.

These conversations go on card by card. Discover, thank you for being a loyal member since 2000. They were straight up belligerent and very aggressive. Surprisingly, American Express, also one of my oldest cards, was incredibly understanding and supportive. The account rep had a sister-in-law that was on the Dave Ramsey plan.

There we go, I’m free of credit cards. Not one.

It’s sometimes a pain to buy things without a credit card. I also find myself making less impulsive purchases because it requires thinking.

It’s been some time now but I finally feel money again. It’s not a number. It’s my hard earned work, stress, and successes.

What’s up next?

I’m going to build up my emergency fund over the Summer and then ramp up retirement savings. Everything else is going to go toward paying off my mortgage. Conservatively, I am on pace to paying off the mortgage in 10 years and pacing toward a retirement at 50. The prospect of working until 67 just seems terrifying and not worth the consumerism of today.

In Category: Thoughts

Daniel Hoang

Daniel Hoang is a visual leader, storyteller, and creative thinker. As an experienced management consultant, he believes in a big picture approach that includes strong project leadership, creative methods, change management, and strategic visioning. He uses a range of visual tools to communicate business challenges, solutions, and goals. His change strategy is to build "tribes" of supporters and evangelists to drive change in culture and organization. Daniel is an avid technologist and futurist and early adopter.

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