Welcome to BiggerPockets Money podcasts show number 69 where we interview Liz from ChiefMomOfficer.org.
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‘Liz: That is one of the benefits of constantly saving money and having a practice of constantly saving and investing money is that if something bad happens in your life, you can dial back on saving money and basically instantly create extra room in your budget to cover some of these emergency expenses. Whereas when you live paycheck to paycheck, you cannot because there is no extra room that you have been investing.’
It is time for a new American dream, one that does not involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you are looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have or discover new paths for wealth creation, you are in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more. This is the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.
Scott: How is it going everybody? I am Scott Trench. I am here with my co-host and Ms. Mindy Jensen. How are you doing today, Mindy?
Mindy: Scott, I am having a great day. I am super excited for Liz to come on the show today. I cannot say I like her story because it involves her husband almost dying after a surgery gone wrong. That is not something to get excited about, yay. But the fact that that massive life event changed her whole outlook on finances and job, and just in general, how she runs her life is a really great story. If you have never been through something so traumatic like that, you really do not know how difficult it is to get through. It just makes financial independence so much more rewarding when you realize, hey, now I do have the time to spend with my family and now I can really focus on things that matter the most to me. Going through that from a position of, not financial independence, but from a position of financial strength really helped her get through this in the first place.
Scott: Yes. One of the things I took away from the show today is how difficult the situation was for her, but how much more difficult it would have been if she had not had strong financial foundation in place going in, right? I think it just shows that the stuff that we are talking about week in and week out on the show, they can really save you from problems and tragedies the same way that they are going to help you move toward financial freedom and potentially early retirement down the line as well, right? I think that a lot of hard choices that she made and the fact that she had a strong financial foundation in place really highlight that in today’s episode.
Mindy: Right. I hear from people in my life who are not interested in financial independence. I hear from people who say, ‘Oh, I really liked my job.’ Well, that is great. I am really glad you like your job but you also need to be prepared for the fact that maybe you cannot do your job. You can still love your job and be financially independent. I think a lot of people overlook that.
Scott: Yes, love it. Well, should we bring her in?
Mindy: We should, but before we do, we should hear a note from today’s show.
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Mindy: Liz from Chief Mom Officer, welcome to the BiggerPockets money podcast. I am so excited you are here today.
Liz: Oh, I am so excited to be here. Thank you for asking me.
Mindy: Thank you for coming on. I saw your recent tweet about paying off your mortgage which is super exciting but before we get to there, I want to go back to the beginning and figure out where your story with money begins.
Liz: Sure. I have actually been a personal finance nerd I call myself since I was a teenager. I first read a book called The Wealthy Barber at the library when I was about 16 or 17. Almost no one nowadays knows about it but it was a great read for a teenager because it talked all about different things, personal finance, saving money, budgeting, investing, saving for retirement, buying properties. It was all in a story format of friends that go visit their barber every month then they get wiser throughout the year. I thought it was really interesting. I gave actually a talk in a public speaking class I had about investing in compound interest. Actually inspired some of my fellow college students to start investing. I had always been kind of smart with money throughout my twenties and thirties, save for retirement, save for college, but nothing too extreme.
About seven years ago when my husband went into the hospital for a planned surgery, unfortunately some things went wrong and he went into septic shock and we had a very large medical ordeal at that point in time. He was away from home for over a month, in the hospital, in rehab. That was just generally a difficult financial time for us even though I was probably better prepared than most people. After we got through all that, we decided again really ultra-serious about finances and really ramped up our savings rate as well as it became very important to become totally debt free because when you have debt, it is unfortunately a big weight on your shoulders when something bad happens.
Scott: Well, going back into that, how would you describe your financial position? Maybe in a little bit more detailed, going into the medical event where your husband fell ill.
Liz: Yes. I had always been saving for retirement and for my kid’s college and a little bit in an investing fund, had some emergency funds sitting around. We were in pretty good financial shape for most people our age. I was 31 at the time and he was 37. We were still on the young side.
Scott: What were you doing for a profession at that time?
Liz: I was working as an IT business analyst and my husband, unfortunately, he had been laid off in the great recession in 2009 when the place he was working closed. He had been looking for work for the past couple of years before that surgery event. He had been collecting unemployment because during that time if you were laid off, you received unemployment for a longer period of time, which unfortunately too those unemployment payments stopped when you cannot look for work because you are sick.
I was an it business analyst at the time, I was supporting our family then of four. We had two boys who were eight and four at the time. Like I said, generally, I would say our situation was good. For most people our age, not great, not super fantastic. Had a bit of a car loan. I had some student loans from an MBA I was in the middle of getting. Had a bit of credit card going on where we kind of bring the balance up and then pay it all off and then balance had creep up again and paid it all off. Even though we had savings and investments, we also had it a little bit of debt and then of course the mortgage.
Mindy: What sort of amount of debt are we talking about? Like a ballpark.
Liz: Total, if you include the mortgage, it would have been just under $300,000.
Mindy: Okay, without the mortgage?
Liz: Without the mortgage, it would have been more about $35,000 roughly.
Mindy: Okay, okay.
Liz: Mortgage was a bulk of it.
Mindy: Okay. I mean $35,000 in debt when you are 31 with two kids and you are making an IT business analyst. That is still, I mean what kind of salary were you making then? High five figures?
Liz: Yes, it would have been high five figures and then a annual potential for a bonus.
Liz: Which would sometimes put me in the higher five figures or low six figures, depends on the year.
Mindy: Okay. Then your husband had a planned surgery, went awry, let us say. Were you able to work during that time or were you off?
Liz: I had some time off after he had the initial surgery because we planned he was going to be in the hospital a few days, then I would go back to work. We had actually planned it as well during my MBA time off, so Spring Break. So the surgery was planned for that time that I could be with him in the hospital and then over the weekend come home. Then he would be at home and recover and like his mother and or my parents would come over and help him out if needed for a little while.
Then unfortunately on, did the surgery on a Wednesday, on the Sunday evening they discovered he needed an emergency surgery and following that he went into septic shock and went into the ICU on a ventilator for about almost a week. In the immediate time, no, I could not work during that week. I called my work actually on Monday morning in tears, basically telling them I am not coming to work today and this is what is going on and I will just update you and goodbye, I need to get to the hospital.
Mindy: Can I spoiler alert and say that it had a happy ending in that he did not pass?
Liz: Probably a good idea. Otherwise people are probably wondering where is this going.
Mindy: Yes, why are you talking about this? Why do you keep asking you about this? No, he did make a full recovery.
Liz: Yes. I would say the last seven years there has been a lot of ups and downs but he essentially made a full recovery. If you met him today and talk to him, you would never have any idea what happened to him?
Mindy: I did check out your peeps creamer video. No, I would not think anything had happened. He has always been just the man you see today. We are recording this a couple of weeks in advance and Liz just checked out. They have creamer that is flavored like peeps which just sounds revolting to me. A piece of marshmallow Easter treats.
Liz: It also sounds revolting to me because I drink black coffee, but my husband was willing to be a Guinea pig because everyone on Twitter was wondering how on earth does peeps creamer tastes like. We found out it does make your coffee tastes like peeps.
Mindy: That is not what I want my coffee to taste like. Okay, I am going to invite everybody to skip over to the YouTube channel right now and see Scott’s face where he is making a very ‘I do not want to ever try peeps creamer’ face.
Scott: Yes, I am out of the peeps creamer. I drink my coffee black.
Liz: Same as I. It is interesting, I would say about 90% of people say, ‘Oh my God, no. Why does that exist?’ 10% of people say, ‘Oh, yes. I really would like to try that.’ They want to know where I bought it, which is Target by the way. If you are hearing this after Easter, they may have it on clearance if not, a lot of people picked it up.
Mindy: I bet they have a lot on plans.
Scott: One of the reasons why I think this is so important, why we are talking about this catastrophic event that happened in your family, is because of how it impacted your financial journey and how you were able to kind of overcome that and continued to move toward financial freedom in spite of some of the challenges that arose from that. Could you walk us through maybe some of the work and immediate debt consequences of this event?
Liz: Sure. It is interesting. One of the reason I write about and talk about what happened is to try to help people prepare for something like this happening in their own lives because it is always unexpected. You never think something is going to happen and it happens to people. But at the same time too, I want to show people it is possible after something like this to still pursue financial independence even if it takes you longer. Immediately after, as I mentioned, his unemployment stopped because he could not work. Then of course our expenses went away up. Since he had been standing at home, since he had been out of work for a little while, he was watching our four year old son and taking care of dropping off our eight year old son at school.
Of course, once he is in the hospital, could no longer do that. In the immediate time of a week or so afterward, I was able to get my mother, my grandmother and my mother in law who are all around to help watch the kids, coordinate drop offs, et cetera, but eventually I had to put my four year old in daycare. Our income went down, our expenses went up, had to put the eight year old as well in aftercare as well as summer camps. A lot of costs went up, not even counting all the medical costs. A high deductible plan with a high out of pocket, which we of course hit. Then there is also a ton of non-medical costs that happened with something like this you do not even think about. Like you have to re-model parts of your house, you have to add railings where there are not railings because he had difficulty walking up and downstairs.
Our expenses went way up but I was able to cover them more easily than someone else because I would always been saving for retirement and saving for kids’ college as well as an emergency fund. I was able to tap the emergency fund but was also able to dial back for about a year or so on college and on retirement to give more cash flow every month to pay these extra bells. At the end of the year when we finally stabilized, I managed to get rid of those extra costs and get everything paid off. Then was able to ramp those back up and start getting rid of the debt.
Scott: Okay. If I am thinking about this, you had a strong financial position going forward. You spent well below your means and we are able to stockpile a bunch of money. A major part of the impact from this from a financial sense was just a little bit of a large amount of expenses that kind of came up and then an inability to continue saving at that high rate. But then after a year went on, you were kind of able to make up that difference and get right back on track in terms of what you were in relation to where you have been before. Is that right?
Liz: Exactly, exactly. That is one of the benefits of constantly saving money and having a practice of constantly saving and investing money is that if something bad happens in your life, you can dial back on saving money and basically instantly create extra room in your budget to cover some of these emergency expenses. Whereas when you live pay check to pay check, you cannot because there is no extra room that you have been investing.
Mindy: That is beautiful. That is so amazing. That should be, that is going to be the quote. That is fantastic. Yes, what do you do when you have got all these expenses and you have no extra money? You cannot do anything. You just go into debt and it becomes this like massive avalanche of just, Oh my goodness, how can I recover?
Liz: Right. You are adding money stress on top of all the other kinds of stress you already experienced and something like that.
Mindy: Well, how much medical debt was your responsibility? You said you had a high deductible at a high out of pocket and all of that. What was your… Is there an nth amount that you have figured out?
Liz: In that year it would have been $8,000 because it was capped. The out of pocket maximum is essentially how much total you have to pay before then everything is covered 100% for those that are not familiar with it. That year, it was $8,000. But with something like this, there are ongoing expenses, right? Essentially, every single year since for about four to five years, we always hit the deductible which was $3,500 and then we would some years come very close again to the out of pocket maximum. All in, it is probably been at several tens of thousands of dollars of medical costs over the last seven years.
Scott: How about the remodeling component? What do you estimate the total expense was related to this? That was about $7,000 between we had to remodel a bathroom so that he could have a walk-in shower. We had to remodel some of the stairs, as I mentioned, to add railings because we did not have railings on all the stairs. Then there was also a bunch of miscellaneous costs, parking at hospitals, driving back and forth to appointments, special clothes that he had to wear because of the particularities of some of the issues that he had. Special food, protein drinks, various things that are not covered by insurance.
Scott: Got It.
Mindy: You still have a high deductible plan?
Mindy: Okay. Because the HSA is the darling of the financial independence world. Even the Mad Fientist who I think is just super human in his ability to understand all these tax. I do not want to see a tax dodge, but like these tax optimized, tax advantaged, like all these like weird little tricks that nobody knows about. He is amazing with that and he calls it the ultimate retirement plan. He even has a whole article about it. but I am on an HSA plan for the first time this year and I am like, oh, this is not going to be the year that everybody breaks a leg or something. Do you still have the high deductible plan. Do you still have the HSA and you do you max that out every year?
Liz: I have only had an HSA the past two years. Before that, with the high deductible plan, I had something called an HRA, Health Reimbursement Account, which is not that all the same thing. It does not have any tax strategies, it is just an employer contributes to it. When I ran the numbers, it worked out more in our favor than having an HSA at that point in time. We had the HRA for I think five years and I could contribute to an FSA because you can do that with an HRA.
Then last two years, I have had an HSA and I have not tapped it for medical costs but for a family like ours, we are a family of five now, my husband does have high ongoing medical expenses. Then of course we have got three kids who are just walking high ongoing medical expenses. Contributing to the age of say and leaving it alone and paying for the medical costs out of pocket, it is still an option but it gets a lot more difficult when you usually come close to hitting the deductible or you come close to hitting it out of pocket max. It can become more difficult to just leave it there to grow to retirement, depends on your budget of course.
Scott: Moving back to the discussion around kind of your overall financial position, were you pursuing the concept of financial independence prior to this? To your husband’s accident or the surgery gone wrong?
Liz: I would say yes but on the slow path. I had first learned about financial independence and kind of early retirement through a book called the Tightwad Gazette in the 2000s by a woman named Amy Dacyczyn, whose name is spelled like it does not look like it should be pronounced decision. But she had written a little blurb in her book about a book called Your Money or Your life Vicki Robin and by Joe Dominguez. I had seen that blurb, thought it was interesting, went and checked out the Your Money or Your Life book. This would have been the original one and it would have been back in the mid 2000s.
I love the concept, I thought it was great. It really clicked with me talking about the time value of money and trading your life energy or your time for money and is it really worth that much of your life to trade for that thing. I would say yes, but since our income was not ultra-high and we had two kids, one of my kids was born just two months out after I finished college when I was 23. We had young kids and so I did not think an ultra-high savings rate was going to be achievable for us at any point in the near future but still generally the idea of financial independence and making sure that you are making really focused decisions about how you spend your money and your time. That had always been something that was important to me.
Scott: Did that change or evolve in the years leading up to or the years following?
Liz: Oh yes, definitely. Once we passed kind of the crisis time of the year afterward where things finally financially stabilized, then it became really important to both of us to create a much, a much more stable financial future and really reach financial independence much sooner than we would have otherwise.
Scott: Awesome. What steps did you take toward? Like what changed when you kind of made that decision to more aggressively pursue it?
Liz: A couple of different things. First, I would say that we have got focused on paying off the non-mortgage debt. Got rid of that within I think four months or so of the end of that year period.
Scott: Did you do that by diverting funds away from other savings accounts or did you do that by cutting further back on your savings or a combination?
Liz: I did it mostly by not ramping up the savings rate quite back to what it had been before. Everything happened as well as I know I got a work bonus. I was able to put some of that money toward that and then we cut back on our expenses. During that year, there was a lot of focus on cutting back on expenses from where we had been to create even more room in the budget and any of that went to debt pay off immediately. Like I said, it probably was not considered huge in most people’s minds, about $30,000, but getting rid of it was important because those monthly payments, even if they are not much, are still painful when you are in a situation like we were in.
Mindy: What did your spending rate look like? Or your savings rate, I should say your savings, what does your savings rate look like before the surgery and how did you, like you said you focused on cutting back expenses, what did you cut out?
Liz: There was several different things I would say. We looked into getting better insurance and better priced insurance. I started doing coupons, a lot of the kind of not quite extreme couponing, but a lot of couponing to get the grocery costs down. Did a lot of shopping sales cut out. We had the landline phone, sort of replace that with Ooma. We cut down on various entertainment expenses, which we were not, in the year following the surgery, we were not really going out and doing a lot of entertainment but still it was very far caught from what it had been. Sought a lot of free entertainment. We did not ramp that back up again.
We went out and did a lot of free things together as a family and just generally we did not change our cars. I kept the cars, paid it off, and just continue to drive it. I am trying to think back now. It has been a while. If there is anything else in particular that we cut out, I think those were the big ones. Then getting rid of the debt of course created more room and monthly budget because we did not have to have a car payment and we did not have to have… I never had ended up having the student loan payment, but we did not have that debt.
Mindy: Okay. You said free entertainment, what kind of things did you guys do as a family? Because I know that a lot of people are looking to cut stuff out of their budget. I used to have, what was it, the red box, the movie thing, movie pass.
Liz: It had a red logo.
Mindy: I had a movie pass. Then when it went away, I went to the movies, I am like $20? Looks like I am not seeing any more movies.
Liz: Oh, yes. It is crazy. Especially when you have a family of five, like we do, tickets get really expensive. I did a lot of research for things that were free in my state, museums, beaches, just things to see, parks to go to. We spent a lot of time exploring near our state. We would go to the beach and then we would go and pack a lunch and have a picnic and then we would go to a park or we would go to a museum that had a free admission day. We went to the library. Our local library had a lot of library passes, two places that we could go to.
We would get those and go see various events. I would kind of track online our state had. I live in Connecticut, there is a lot of things going on this weekend that get posted for what is going on in the state and many of them are free. I would always kind of stalk that and see what is going on this weekend. Anything interesting happening in the evenings, colleges had some free things going on. I just became a lot more intentional about seeking out free or very low cost entertainment. We spend a lot of time together at home doing kind of creative things around the house. Making crafts and doing art and just generally having fun together with things we already had.
Mindy: Did your kids feel like they were missing out? Did they ever say anything like, ‘Wow, mom. We never get to go to the movies?’ Or do they kind of understand or did they just not even notice?
Liz: My kids did not really notice very much but we had not been a tremendous going out to lots of places family. Every couple of months, we would go and do something. We had not really done it a ton. I think they did not really miss it and then also they were so young when he got sick. That because basically a year past, pretty much, before he was able to go out and do much of anything. They kind of adjusted to not doing anything for a long time and then once I got adjusted to that, I think they did not really miss any of the going to a theme park or whatever it was that we might use to do over the summer. They are just so young and so much time pass with dealing with the illness that I do not think they noticed.
Scott: What happened to only income front during this period?
Liz: During this timeframe, in 2013, I finished my MBA. I had been going part time, evenings and weekends to get an MBA reimbursed from my company for the most part. I did have a bit of student loans from that that I had borrowed to cover a transition period where I left one company and joined another. A little break-in reimbursements. But I graduated in 2013 with that MBA. With that, I was able to seek out some different positions within my company. From then to now, my income would have increased about 50% but my total compensation has doubled because I get other forms of compensation besides salary.
Scott: That is awesome. That is obviously been a big contributor to your ability to kind of pursue financial independence, I would imagine, right?
Liz: Oh, yes, definitely. If it were not for the increasing of income after finishing my MBA, then our savings rate would probably still be higher than most people our age, but would not be probably as high as it can be otherwise, I would say.
Scott: This combination is dual effect of you increasing your income, yes, it seems it sounds like a lot of that came. I imagine you were probably earning some small increases in salary over the years and then in 2013, you we were able to really see a nice little job during the months or year you are following that, is that accurate?
Liz: I would say it has been more steady over the last seven years for me.
Liz: That is mostly because I stayed with my company after graduating. I did not shift immediately into another job or into… Sometimes people will get an MBA and then they will switch fields or they will join a new company and get a big bump in salary. But for me, I stayed in my field and basically got a couple of new kinds of positions, but still within it. I was able to see some increases from that but not a direct jump as finishing my MBA.
Scott: Got it.
Mindy: With the new MBA and the doubling your income, you sold the house, bought a bigger one, bought a new car, now you are driving a beamer, new fancy vacations, right?
Liz: Of course, that is what everyone does.
Mindy: That is what everyone does.
Liz: No, we still live in the same house, I still drive the same car that I got in 2009. My husband did end up getting a new car and I think it was 2012 but that is because his old car was totaled. We paid cash for that and we stayed in the same house and for the most part, our vacations the last seven years where we take them had been local. We did go to Disney once but we have mostly done road trips together as a family over the last seven years.
Mindy: Do People in your company hassle you for not having a brand new car or a status car? I was at a lady’s lunch yesterday and there is a woman who just joined our group and she said, ‘Yes, there is people that make fun of me for my car.’ I am like, ‘Show them your bank account.’
Liz: Luckily, no, but that is because I parked in the parking garage and no one sees my car, right? It is a large parking garage and I do not know if anyone sees what it looks like. I think when I do talk about what kind of car I have, sometimes people are like, oh, it is a 2009 Honda Accord. I mean it has got only 125,000 miles on a Honda accord will last at least 200,000, if not more.
Liz: Yes, exactly. That is going to be my car until I am 50 probably.
Mindy: Would you rather have a brand new car or no job?
Liz: No. I do not like getting new cars. I do not like the whole experience. I would rather just drive my Honda accord until its engine falls out or something.
Scott: What was your approach to asset management if it was not buying bigger cars and bigger houses and fancy doodads? I know you pay down the $30,000 or so in debt, how would you kind of apply to increase and cash accumulation and after that?
Liz: A couple of different things. One is in 2013, right around the time I got my MBA. I also refinanced into a 15 year mortgage for the house. Interest rates at that time where a historic low, it was at 2.75% for a 15 year. The payment ended up being the same but obviously you cut way back on when the end of the loan came. Did that, put the extra money toward catching up on traditional retirement and maxing that out, college for the my kids, the three boys, obviously medical expenses as they came up, investing outside of retirement and saving a good emergency fund and then eventually focused on paying off the mortgage to get rid of that.
Mindy: What are you investing in outside the retirement plan?
Liz: Primarily, index funds. That is what I do. I have been an index fund investors since the early 2000s. I have a mixture of stock and bond, index fund.
Mindy: Wait, it has not been cool that long.
Liz: I know. I have been doing it since before it was cool. I used to hang out on various forums when they were invented. There was a forum called the Morning Star Diehards, then eventually became Bobble Heads one day. I used to actually just kind of lurk on that forum in my early twenties. As an early twenties woman, I kind of feel out of place here but I am going to read this all because it is really interesting stuff.
Scott: I love it. Going into this, it sounds… I mean it sounds like you had a great approach here, maxed out the retirement accounts and all that kind of stuff, then you have this after tax chunk of money even after all that is taken care of because you are very responsible and have this strong savings rate and earning a good income. What kind of triggered the decision to pay down your house versus invest in index funds, right? I assume that being a bobble head, you assume a certain rate of return on your index fund investments over time which would be I presume higher than a 2.75%? You on that thought process.
Liz: Yes, that was a decision that we made for two reasons. One is, and the biggest one to us is security, right? Financial security. Being an investor as long as I have, I have been through the dot bomb, I have been through the great recession. I know what happened to stocks. I invested in the SMP 500 from the year 2003 through 2010 when it did nothing. I have lived through the fact that stocks do not always go up. They do not always go up over a very long period of time and you have to be holding them for the long term, right? Whereas paid off house, it is paid off today, it is paid off tomorrow, and paid it off in five years.
For us, financial security became very important and not depending upon stocks which can be a volatile investment class was important to us. Because if something like what happened to him before ever happens again to him or to me, having a paid off house is important to us because then we will not have any debt. It is more of an emotional decision than a math decision in that case. Then also for us, we have got a cash flow decision as well because my older son will be in college in two and a half years.
Scott: Got it. The decision to half the house is really a security one, which I think is great. I mean it is got to be a wonderful feeling to have a paid off house and have that luxury that goes along with that. Does that philosophy extend to a large emergency reserve in cash as well?
Liz: I would say yes. I think I have about a year, especially without the mortgage anymore, but at least a year and what I call a tiered emergency fund. Some in savings accounts and then some in saving bonds that I can tap if something really bad happens. It definitely does. Bad things actually happening to you has a big impact on the way you view money and security.
Scott: I love that, I think that is fantastic. Can you walk us through? I am also building up a sizable emergency fund to sort our my financial position. How do you structure that? It sounds like you have a tiered approach so you can probably maximize or get a little bit of return out of that emergency fund. Is that what I am hearing?
Liz: Yes. Well, yes, although I do not know that savings bonds have a tremendously high return compared to…
Scott: Yes, better than like your 0.1%.
Liz: Yes, I know. They are definitely… The ones that I have anyway are definitely higher. They range between two and a half and five point something percent for the savings bonds. But the way that I thought about emergencies after what happened to us is basically having a tiered emergency plan as opposed to just a fund of money. I have got some money in just an online savings accounts. You can get at least the 2.25% there. Then after that, which would be a couple months of expenses usually, then after that if I ran out of that money then I know what I would tap next. Then if I ran out of that money, I know what I would tap next.
Usually, if you are a good saver and investor, you can have multiple pools of money that are making different returns. A Roth might be part of an emergency plan where if you run out of cash and you run out of savings bonds, then you will tap your Roth contributions. Then kind of so on down the line, having an idea of what order you would tap, your different savings and investment vehicles can just help if you end up in a bad situation because then you do not have to think about it, you already have a plan.
Mindy: Is this a written out plan or is it more in your head? I am just thinking because we do not have a plan like written out like that and I have got a job right now but look, you could have surgery and go into sepsis, have you conveyed this to your husband in case you get sepsis?
Liz: Yes. We have talked about it, we meet about money every quarter. I am the money nerd, he is not. Every quarter we meet and talk about that and part of that is what would we if something bad happened? I think we could still do a better job of it though. I probably should write it down for him. I think I wrote it down on the website once but he would probably have trouble finding that article if something happened to me, I would imagine.
Mindy: You mentioned two things. You put some in an online savings account about two months of expenses. A Roth is part of an emergency plan. Do you have any other specific suggestions for tiered emergency plan that other people could take inspiration from?
Liz: Yes. A couple of different ideas. If you want something more secured, you could create like a CD ladder, especially since rates from CDs are starting to creep up, although I think they are creeping down again recently. But you could create just a tiered CD ladder where you have CDs that have smaller amounts that mature at different duration. You can get a 12 month CD at maybe a promotional rate. If you have 12 months expenses in an emergency fund, then extra money in a CD that would be become available once you ran out. I use savings bonds,
I like inflation index savings bonds. They have been kind of not paying so well recently. The older ones were better where they had a good fixed component but their rate varies depending on inflation. They should always keep up with inflation at least. Often, it is more than you can get an online savings account. Not always, but often. Money market funds are starting to be better as well. But I would definitely say that once you have a good amount within a savings account or stable savings vehicle, then you can start looking at, okay, should I invest this and something? Maybe a more conservative investment and then not count the whole amount necessarily as part of your emergency plan to give an extra $20,000. Say you could put that in a more conservative investment and say that you are only going to count on $15,000 of it being there at the most. Or You could then invest in very riskfully but you run the risk that obviously when you need it, the market is down.
Scott: I think this is all great. How recently did you pay off your house?
Liz: Last Saturday?
Scott: That is awesome.
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Scott: Okay, you have paid off the house and you have got this tiered emergency plan. Seems you got that built out. You have two years before your son goes to college, it sounds like, is that right?
Liz: Yes, about two in a bit.
Scott: You are pursuing financial independence. What is your plan going forward to continue moving toward financial independence with this foundation in place?
Liz: My next financial goal, just personally for us, is to finish saving for what we want to pay for toward our kid’s college. We have specific targets. I have a concept that I call a college compact where just I have thought out what I am willing to fund the under what circumstances for my kids and made sure to write that down so that I am cleared and we do not enter the whole, well, I am going to pay whatever college costs conundrum because I am not going to pay whatever any college that they want to go to costs. I do not want to make sure they are clear on what I am going to pay for and that also that I know how much this target saving based on what I am willing to fund. We have some specific goals there in addition to continuing to maxed out retirement and then once that is done, then I will more aggressively turn to saving for a more after tax I would say.
Scott: Can I ask what your philosophy on paying for college for your kids is? How much would you be willing to go and what does that target look like for you?
Liz: What I have targeted is being able to fund four years at our state’s flagship public school, which is UCONN in Connecticut. What that did for me is give me a dollar amount to target and in the past when I was not earning quite as much and it was not just had kind of lower goals, I was thinking I would pay for half or maybe a quarter. But right now, I am targeting having enough to pay for that school for four years for each kid. Not five years, not a fancy private school. Not an out of state public school, but our state’s flagship public school for four years. Like I said, what that did is it gave me an actual dollar target because when you talk about saving for college, what I have found is when you go to any of these online calculators, they all just spit out ridiculous numbers or ridiculous ranges at you to say it could cost anywhere from $5 and a stick of gum to $5 million. How do you save that?
Mindy: I will front to the stick of gum.
Liz: Exactly. How do you even begin to target something like that when they just give you these ridiculous ranges? Actually having a school and a percentage target in mind, let us say actually track my progress to that goal and lets me communicate to my kids. This is what I am willing to fund up to. If you want to go someplace that costs more, that is great, that is on you. You want to go to some place that costs less, then I have also kind of noted out some ideas on ways of the difference could be assuming I did not have to use it for the other kids.
Mindy: I am assuming that you have spoken to your oldest son about college.
Mindy: Have you gone over costs and like what have you done to prepare him besides just saying, ‘Hey, I will pay for four years.’
Liz: We have talked quite a bit since I would say he was ending middle school.
Liz: Talked about college, not in like a sit down, let us formerly talk about college all the time. Kind of way but more about when I am reading articles about things with college or in high school now. He has been to a couple of college tours. His high school has college flags hanging up. It can be a natural point of conversation and so we have had a number of conversations over the years about the cost of school. He went once to visit Wesleyan. I do not know if you have heard of Wesleyan, like a fancy private school here in Connecticut, private college.
After he came home, I had us go look up how much that school costs just so that he could see what it costs per year and talked to him about the cost of college and then how the actual cost of attendance can be different in ways you can bring down college costs. It has been an ongoing topic of conversation the last two and a half years. Just not, like I said, not formally but informally as time has gone on. He is approaching now the end of his sophomore year. Soon, he will be a junior. He will be actually going and checking out more colleges and getting more serious about figuring out where he wants to go. It will probably be even more next year.
Mindy: Does he know what he wants to be when he grows up at the ripe old age of 14, 15, 16, I do not remember how old you are.
Liz: 15. He wants to be an artist of some sort. He actually goes to an arts magnet school.
Liz: He likes the visual arts and graphic design kind of things but he is not exactly sure. It will be interesting to see where he ends up over the next couple of years. If he ends up actually going into the arts or into something different or is still undecided because I did not know what I wanted to do when I was 15. I mean, who does, really?
Mindy: Right. I think it is kind of unfair that we ask these kids to know what they want to do.
Liz: Luckily, most people I know who got college degrees do not ever end up working in the field that got their degree in anyway. Some do but most do not. It is not going to be… He goes to school for one thing and ends up doing another, that will be pretty much normal.
Mindy: Well, I would like to remind everybody that our episode 64 with Zach Gothier talks about a lot of different ways to fund college, scholarships of course, but also grants and programs. Buying college credits by taking dual credit classes in high school. There is the CLEP test, I cannot remember what CLEP stands for. College level entrance appropriate, I do not know, I am just making that up. But CLEP tests, you take a test that counts for a whole course in college. It is like a $70 course or $70 tests instead of like a $400 course or whatever. I do not know how much college costs. It has been a couple of years since I was there.
Liz: More than 400 months fee. More than $400 for one class.
Mindy: Okay, it has been a while. I did some time at Community College. Yes, definitely.
Liz: Also, did I. I did too.
Mindy: That is also a valid way to get some of this. Knock out your general education courses.
English 101, you do not need to pay top tier college level prices for an English 101. It is just a regular old class.
Liz: Yes, that is what I did.
Mindy: Yes, that is what I did a lot of those. I also did a lot of dumb classes too so do not follow everything. Okay. Well, let us look at you. Where are you now in your financial independence journey? How far are you away from your FI number? Have you calc… I am assuming you have calculated your FI number and do you like your job? Once you hit your financial independence number, you just going to leave or are you going to stay on?
Liz: To me, this is always a tricky thing, right? Yes, I have run calculations and tried to figure out what FI number would look like. But first, there is a lot of uncertainty I would say in our lives particularly with medical costs and for us those are much more important than they probably are too and maybe some others. Insurance costs and medical costs will probably always be high for us and those can be tricky to predict. I have done some projections that it looks like we should be financially independent in I would say my early to mid-forties most likely.
Once I get the college savings the rest of that out of the way and can really focus solely on that as the only goal, that is about when I have predicted that we will hit that. I have thought a lot about the working questions. For me, reaching financial independence as much more important than the early retirement part. I like to call it financial independence or retirement elective because I want to make it an option. Sure, that would be great but I do not necessarily want to retire in the traditional sense at all. I probably would stay at my work at least for a while. There is nothing and I do not, yet. I know how much life can change over seven years. Believe me, I know that between now and then, lots could be different. But as of right now, if you ask me, I would not retire from work. I would likely stay on and keep working in what I am doing because I like it and then also in continuing my website because I liked that too.
It gives me a sense of personal fulfillment. I do not get at work, but at work I get to tackle some complex business challenges and I really liked doing that to be honest. I mean I used to read Harvard Business Review Case Studies for fun about how to run a business. It is just always been, I know I am a nerd, you do not have to tell me.
Scott: What is your current job? What is your current role and responsibilities?
Liz: I am an IT… No, not an IT so much in this current role, but I am a program manager so I run very very large projects at a very large company.
Mindy: You enjoy it?
Liz: I do. I like the complexity, I like the challenges. I like working with different people. I am working in our international area right now so I get exposed to a lot of people from different countries and business complexities coming from different countries. I just find it very interesting to try to put all those puzzles together and to figure out how to get things done when things go wrong. I just I like it.
Mindy: I think that gets lost in this whole financial independence retire early community is that you can still like your job. I think some, the majority of people who are searching for financial independence are on this path, really do not like their job. I have had a lot of jobs that I do not work out anymore because they sucked and now I have a job that I love. I do not need this job and I feel like such a snot saying that I do not need this job but we have reached financial independence. But I get to talk about real estate and money all day, every day, and that is what I love. I get emails from people all the time. You changed my life, your website changed my life. I am now financially independent because of the things that I learned at BiggerPockets.com. That is something that is so rewarding. I have got small kids who are in school 35 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. Do you think that people sometimes do not pursue financial independence because they like their job? I hear that a lot too. Oh, well, I like my job.
Liz: I do. I mean I think sometimes people do not pursue financial independence or people think that you have to hate your job to want to be pursuing financial independence. That is never the way that I have seen it. I have always thought, first, you should strive as much as you can to find a job situation that is good for you even when you need a job. Because if your current job is not working out, it can be difficult to find but there are other jobs out there and other career paths and other situations and it might take you a while to nail down what really works for you but that can be worth it if you are stuck there for a while.
Sometimes, doing that and reaching for financial independence at the same time is a good whole life happiness strategy as opposed to staying miserable in a job for a while because you want to reach it faster. Yes, I think it gets lost sometimes because some people do hate their job or just generally hate working and want to stop working forever and that becomes people’s only focus which is interesting. Most people, most media pieces I would say that I see on the financial independence movement stress the early retirement and the retirement 30 factor because it is cool and it sounds like fun. But most people I meet and talk to online in forums and meet ups and things like that, they are not looking to leave work forever at 30 right? I mean, I was just at a Choose a FI Connecticut meet up this weekend and there were two women there in their 60’s.
Mindy: Oh, nice.
Liz: Right. They are really looking for financial independence to help them retire a bit early, a few years early or have the security to know that their money can last in retirement by learning these concepts and these ideas. Sometimes people just want to learn tools to retire on time. If they have not been saving for retirement for until their late forties, early fifties, mid-fifties, there is lots of people like that out there. The lessons of this community teaches can help those people who are playing catch up to be able to retire to some kind of financial security period. I think that gets lost sometimes in the overall movement with an emphasis on early retirement when it is really, for a lot of people, it is on financial independence.
Scott: Anecdotally, I have found that when I have conversations with folks who are attending to start out on a journey to financial independence, maybe you have very few accumulated assets and have a very low savings rate, there seems to be that is where a lot of the I hate my job, I want to quit, this is terrible. I am really motivated because I want to, again, I want to quit my job, I want to leave work. But as people are further along the journey, you keep hearing people say, I like my job, I do not mind my job. I think that that trend kind of goes along there. I think that that, I do not, again, that is anecdotal.
I do not know if this would apply if you surveyed everybody in the community and found this out. But my suspicion is that if you go ahead and behave responsibly with your money for a period of five, ten years, build up a sizeable retirement nest egg, have a lot of cash and some passive income, maybe a thousand or $2,000 passive income that you are no longer going to put up with a terrible work environment and you are going to make a move if you need to do something that you do enjoy and that you do like and that transition is going to occur naturally at some point along that continuum. I wonder if that is at play here with your situation a little bit?
Liz: It could be. There is a story from your money or your life that you were reminded me of that kind of emphasizes the fact it was about, I do not know if it is in the new version but I know it was not in my original version. It is about a guy who is approaching the crossover point where the money he has saved is going to be enough to fund his lifestyle and he would come home from work ecstatically happy because he was totally bulletproof. He could go in and say whatever he wanted to, whoever he wanted. He did not need to care about politics or is this person going to get mad at me? Are they going to fire me? None of that had to matter anymore. He could just go in and do his job.
However, he thought that he needed to and he would come home really happy, smiling to his wife, talking about how he is bulletproof because that stress was removed. He did not need to keep his mouth shut anymore out of fear of being fired because if he was, he had a good stash of money, go find another job and kind of top him off but he could live for a while on what he had accumulated. He was able to focus on the parts of the job that he enjoyed and push for what he thought was really needed without worrying about the consequences.
Mindy: It is a really powerful position to be in.
Mindy: I do not want to say take advantage of that but I definitely enjoy that now as opposed to the… I am thinking back, I have had a few jobs where I really enjoyed what I did but I necessarily enjoy who I worked for but you cannot just, when you have got a mortgage to pay and you have got bills to pay, you cannot just be like, do not talk to me like that or hey, why do you take credit for all my great ideas and blame me for everything that goes wrong? You are a terrible boss. She would be like, see you. You got to just bite your tongue. I mean, I also do not work for a horrible person anymore, which is kind of nice.
Liz: That is always nice. But yes, it is true, right? If you feel like you do not need the income that you are at right now or that you have other options, then you can speak up and say, ‘This is not working out, I would like to go transfer to another area.’ If they say, ‘No, we cannot do that.’ Then you have, again, you have options. You will become more in charge and you do not necessarily feel the stress that I need to stay quiet because otherwise it could get fired and then I cannot pay my mortgage next week.
Mindy: Okay. I love it, I love it. We are now approaching the time in our show where we come across the Famous Four questions. But before we get there, I want to ask if there is anything else that you want to cover or mention before we move on?
Liz: No, I think we have had a lot of great conversations here.
Mindy: I think so too.
Liz: I really enjoyed talking to you guys.
Mindy: This is awesome. I mean, I am not, like I feel bad saying that this is so great, your husband had sepsis. Is that the same thing? Is septic the same as sepsis?
Liz: Septic shock is when you go into shock because you have sepsis. Sepsis is basically a full body response to an overwhelming infection when your body starts to put down.
Mindy: Okay, well I am not happy about that but I am very happy that it inspired you into this thing because this was a very very fun conversation. Okay then, it is time for our famous four questions. These are the same four questions and one command, demand, that we ask them of all of our guests. Are you ready?
Liz: I am ready.
Mindy: Okay. What is your favorite finance book? You dropped a bunch of books in here.
Liz: I did. I am an avid reader, you could probably tell because I have mentioned so many. But I have to say probably my favorite one is The Millionaire Next Door. I have actually read everything that Dr. Thomas Stanley has written, and the new version of course, but I have to give props to the original because it really changed how I thought about wealth, I would say.
Scott: Yes, I love that book as well. I do want to shout out that I have also read The Wealthy Barber which is a nice fun read.
Liz: You read The Wealthy Barber? So few people have ever read that book.
Scott: Yes, it rarely comes up. It is kind of like it is a very specific in a lot of things with a lot of specific kind of advice in there almost with a lot of that but it is it an easier read, kind of easy to digest understanding of personal finance, I think, in large extent. I thought it was cool that you mentioned that. Yes, I have not heard a lot of people mentioned that either.
Liz: It is because I actually own it now, even though I took it out of the library, I got it as a Christmas gift because I asked for it and it is very outdated now. He never went back and he wrote like called Next Wealthy Barber or something but everyone always says that it is not as the original. The original, when you read it, it is very specific with tax advice and mortgage rates and mortgage advice for the situation that things were in like the early nineties. Large parts of it are unfortunately outdated because it was so specific, but some parts of it certainly are not and I enjoyed re-reading it.
Scott: Yes. Alright, well what was your biggest money mistake?
Liz: I would say it is the time I bought a motorcycle and that would be because I discovered that I do not like to ride a motorcycle. It was one of those things I thought I would like and I got my motorcycle license and I still thought I would like it and then I bought a used motorcycle and went on the road a couple times and discovered I really do not like riding a motorcycle. I would say that that is probably the biggest money mistake.
Mindy: How much was that money mistake?
Liz: Probably a little under $3,000 if you count the motorcycle and the helmet and jacket and licensing and all that, probably $3,000.
Mindy: But that is not a really… A good money mistake. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out.
Liz: I would say my best piece of advice is to first just figure out where you are. Because when you are just starting out, oftentimes you do not really know what you are spending every month. You do not really know how much your net worth is, what is your total assets, what is your total debts? You might know generally how you are doing month to month or how much is in your checking account but usually most folks that I have seen who are just getting started do not have a good sense of their overall financial picture.
I would say the most important thing is to figure out what are your assets? Where are they? What are your debts? Where are they, what interest rate? How long do they have left to go? Then also what are you spending every month? Not necessarily what you ideally want to spend, but first, what are you actually spending everyone for at least a month or so? Because once you know where you are and then you know where you want to go, then you can figure out a plan to get there.
Mindy: That is great, I love that quote.
Scott: Alright. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?
Liz: Okay, I will be honest with the audience. As soon as I saw this question, my mind immediately blanked from every joke that I have ever known in my whole life because when someone asks you for a joke, you can never think of one. Then I went on Google to try to search for money jokes but a lot of them… Funny thing is that most of the ones that have come across at first are usually jokes at the expense of women. But I found one that I thought was good. What Wall Street investment do traders called 007?
Mindy: Ooh, I do not know.
Scott: Something a bond or something.
Liz: A bond, there you go.
Liz: I thought that one would be good.
Scott: Yes, I like it.
Mindy: That is a good one.
Scott: I was looking at pizza jokes the other day, but they were all really cheesy.
Mindy: Do not encourage him. Okay, Liz, where can people find out more about you?
Liz: Online, I hang out at chiefofficer.org where I write all sorts of things about money and work and financial freedom. I am on Twitter more than I should be, @LizOfficer, and I am also on Instagram quite a bit, @liz_chiefmomofficer. If you go to one of those three places, you can find me and I hope you all reach out.
Mindy: I follow you on every account that I have on Twitter because I did not know you were on Instagram. I follow you on Twitter, I think you are hilarious. You posting that you just paid off your loan or your mortgage is the whole impetus behind you being on this episode because I love your Twitter account and I am like, I should have Liz on, why do not I have Liz on? Boom, I have a date, I have got Liz.
Liz: Yes, you do. I love following you on Twitter too. I follow both of your profiles on Twitter. At least there is only two I know about, if there is other ones I may not know about that.
Scott: I will become a very active Twitter here.
Liz: You do not have Twitter, Scott?
Scott: I have Twitter but I think I have tweeted once or twice.
Liz: But it is where all lots and lots of cool money nerds hangout, like thousands of them. If you want to talk about money, it is a perfect place to pop on, ask some questions.
Mindy: Yes, Scott, how are you going to learn about money if you are not on Twitter?
Scott: I do not know, somehow I manage.
Mindy: Okay. She is Liz from ChiefMomOfficer.org and we will talk to you soon. Thank you so much for your time today. This was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about insurance that I did not know and I did not even know what an HRA was, the FSA, the high deductible. I like that you are still participating in the high deductible plan. Do you have an option for a lower deductible plan at work or is it just the HSA?
Liz: I only have, high deductible plans, but I could, I can still pick between the HSA and HRA.
Liz: I have the HSA now.
Mindy: Okay, so it is truly the ultimate retirement plan. Is that what he calls it?
Mindy: What does Brandon call it? The ultimate retirement account, there we go. Okay, so be it. Thank you so much Liz and we will talk to you soon.
Liz: Thank you for having me. Have a great day.
Scott: Alright, that was Liz from ChiefMomOfficer.org. Mindy, what did you think?
Mindy: Oh my goodness. I love the preparation that she has taken in her life to make sure that she is still going to become financially independent and still possibly be able to retire. Honestly, I liked that she likes her job. I like that that is not her focus. I think when you really hate your job, it kind of change everything else about your life. You know when you are miserable for eight hours a day, where do you spend most of your waking hours? You spend them at work, so when you hate your job it is really difficult to just like function. I love that she loves her job, I love that that is not the focus of her story.
I do not choose to pay off my mortgage, which is a 15 year at a whopping 3.25% as opposed to her 2.75% but I totally understand why she does it, why she did it. Personal finance is personal and if it makes sense to you to be completely 100% debt free, then pursue it and do not listen to the people who point out that you have such a low interest rate. They are not there to pay your bills if something goes wrong. If you do not want to pay off your mortgage, if you are more in my camp, then do not pay off your mortgage. I have enough set aside that should something happen, I can pay it off and not worry about it. But for right now, that is not my focus. I think that you can take something from this story no matter what side of that camp you are on.
Scott: Yes. I thought that she just had a remarkably grounded and foolproof plan to get there. You know what? Like maybe you could argue that there is ways to get better investment returns, right? I mentioned in the show, hey there is maybe assuming a 10% return in the stock market, why you paying down your 2.75% mortgage? But you know what? The meat of this whole deal of achieving financial independence is your savings rate, right? That is what is driving you towards financial freedom or not a few percentage points on your investment allocation portfolio in exchange for security and a rock solid foundation that cannot be knocked over, I mean that is immaterial.
She is doing everything in a really intelligent and sophisticated and smart way to move her family toward financial freedom and deliver a great life and lots of optionality to her family and her kids. I mean I just think it is a great way to go about things.
Mindy: Yes. I am really glad you asked that question because I know I have been a listener of podcasts and the guest will say something and then the subject just go someplace else. I am like no, ask this question. I know that there are people who are listening to her and say, Oh, I paid off my 15 year, 2.75% mortgage, and they are thinking, why did you do that? Or why do not you take that money and invest in? That was a really great question, I am glad you asked that.
Scott: Yes, I just thought it was a great perspective and there is no right or wrong answer there. I think it is just what a strong position she finds herself in now and what a relief to not pay a mortgage anymore, huh?
Mindy: Yes, yes. Now, she can take all of that mortgage money and throw it at something else. Throw it at retirement, throw it at her kid’s college, throw it at wherever she wants to because she does not have to throw it at the market anymore.
Mindy: Okay, Scott, should we get out of here?
Scott: Let us do it.
Mindy: From episode 69 of the BiggerPockets Money podcast, this is Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench and we are gone, baby gone.
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