Monday, June 16, 2008

Check Up

Last year, I thought about retirement issues and actually went and talked to the campus retirement person. I've waiting until I got home to do some more thinking about my retirement preparation, and it seemed to me that one scary thing is that my mortgage (a 30 year, quite conservative mortgage with a fixed rate) was slated to run well into my 70s. (I say "was" because I've made a practice of paying a bit extra on my mortgage, and so it won't quite run that long. I switched that off for my Japan semester, so that I'd have the extra cash if I needed it. Now I want to decide whether to use that extra for my 403b, the mortgage, or ? Yeah, I'm a wild woman about a little spare money.)

I was a little older going in than most academics, but I probably came out with fewer student loans than most. At best, though, with the average time to degree in English running about 8.4 years, your average English phud is 30 before s/he starts earning a basic salary. That's basic, as opposed to six figure. So then there's time to pay off the student loan(s) and save for a down payment. (Remember when Bitch PhD was talking about trying to get a house loan without a down payment, and coming up against the tough reality that even with a six figure household income, banks weren't welcoming?) I saved a full ten percent of what I thought my first house would be before I talked to a bank or thought about looking for a house (and, of course, I was looking at GI Bill houses in the midwest; seriously, the ultimate starter house in a neighborhood with streets named after the heroes of WWII and various presidents). It was GREAT to be able to look for a house that way, too.

Unlike most(?) folks, even academics, I'm single, so I don't have a double income to help with mortgages and such. (Nor do I live in the double income neighborhood near campus. My neighborhood has single moms, and families with one income producer and one person doing childcare--usually a woman, but sometimes a man--and some retired folks. And me.)

What I'm getting at is that academics are often (1) late getting started building equity and retirement and such, and (2) earning not great money, and (3) need to do some serious planning for such things.

On the other hand, I earn a pretty darned good income if you compare my income and lifestyle to the average American family. And I live in an area where housing is relatively inexpensive (though heating costs suck big time). Seriously, that's something to keep the whining in check, isn't it?

I set up a mortgage calculator on an excel spreadsheet the other day, so that I can see pretty closely (and easily make changes) what happens if I add an extra amount to the monthly mortgage payment, and what happens if I move some money from the emergency savings account to pay off the mortgage, and so on. It's really helpful to be able to see the results of an extra hunk of money every month 20 years down the line. I'd really like to be able to pay off the mortgage by the time I'm 65, so that if I want to retire then, the mortgage won't be a worry. But then there's the question of paying later with inflated dollars, except that my state's pay plan hasn't managed to actually keep up with inflation for some years now, so inflation really hurts more than otherwise.

I'm thinking about moving some money from my savings (the savings that covers emergencies when I have one), and trying to decide how much I should keep in that account, as opposed to elsewhere.

I really should go find an investment counseling person, but it's embarrassing. Of course, it will get more embarrassing, won't it?

I'm listening to a book on CD from the library lately, Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires. It's about a young woman recently graduated from Princeton, finding her way around Wall Street, and such in the early 80s. (Her parents are from Korea, which is important, but way less exotic than the whole Princeton/Wall Street, money thing.) It's weird, how much money she's talking about these folks throwing around. (I'm not really impressed with the book, though. It seems contrived, in ways that irritate me. For example, I'm about a third in, and suddenly, after following this character for three or more years, there's a golf thing, and lo and behold she's some sort of semi-great golfer after picking the sport up in college and not playing for many years, because, hey, that's handy!)

Me? In the early 80s, about the time this book was set, I was living in a rain forest community in South America on a stipend of about $80 per month, and doing well on that, too.

And that's important, because I really value my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I value what I do for a living, and how I enjoy my life. I don't want to obsess about the whole retirement thing (because the way I ride, I could fall off and break my neck this afternoon, and the whole retirement thing would be silly). I want to enjoy life now (because I finally have the income and freedom, or at least the perception of both), and also be reasonable about saving for retirement and such. It's a hard balance!


  1. Anonymous10:37 AM

    my brother in law manages our investments and I have to say, his advice is invaluable. PH is pretty good with money and what not but BIL just has a lot of information. He works for a small firm, too, so he deals primarily with folks who have a fairly modest income. I would guess you could find someone to help manage things for you and advise with a minimum of embarrassment.

  2. You sound careful and thoughtful. It shouldn't be embarrassing to talk to a financial planner: why should you assume you know the best way to get where you want to go. The trick, as Anastasia suggests, is to find someone who shares your values, whatever they are. Our financial planner had to accept it when we said we thought we were undertaxed, and so that our primary goal was NOT avoiding taxes.

    I'd think it was worth several hundred dollars a year to meet with someone for an hour or two to sort out where you are on your life plan, and what to pay attention to.

  3. I'm just at the beginning of all this financial stuff, but I agree with the advice to go see a planner person. And yay for the planning, financially cautious types!

  4. What they said: you are thinking so wisely about all this, that any planning person would think you're the perfect client!

  5. Anastasia, Good point. I don't quite understand my own feelings of embarrasment, but they're there.

    Susan, I think you're right.

    Sisyphus, :) Good luck with your own planning!

    Susan, I don't think I'm wise about this at all, but thanks :)

  6. I agree with everyone else's comments. You can find an investment/financial planner at a large investment company, or an accountant who is estate planner certified, for example. My accountant's advice to many people in this situation, who have extra money and may either pay down their mortgage or invest, is to invest. Right now, interest rates may be poor, so if the best rate of return you can get is less than the rate on your mortgage, then it may make sense to pay down the mortgage. However, if you can get a rate of return on investment that is higher than your mortgage interest rate, then that makes more sense. A financial adviser will also look at your tax burden and help balance it: some money will be invested before taxes (401k), some after (Roth IRA), etc. As Anastasia said, it's not always about lowering your taxes (because they still have to be paid, even if you don't withhold enough), but making your tax burden more evenly distributed.

    I've been meeting with an adviser for a few months now with my husband, and it is not really embarrassing (to me). I will warn you to watch out for what they're actually selling, if you go with a big group like Ameriprise or AGEdwards, etc. The advisers do not make money off giving you advice. Instead, they make money off selling you insurance products (usually): disability insurance, life insurance, etc. If you're well-insured, then you might consider a CPA or accountant with estate planning training instead. They charge an hourly rate but don't *usually* try to sell you other products.

  7. Tiny Shrink, thanks for your comment. And good point about what the advisers are selling! A couple friends use an adviser they like, who's basically an accountant and investment adviser, and not sorking for a company. So you pay by the hour, but don't get sold extra insurance or load mutual funds.