Financial Plan← Back to Kevin's homepagePublished: 2020 Jan 4Last updated: 2022 November 13
High-level financial plan/advice for myself, an American citizen in my 30’s, software consultant, no kids or large financial obligations (illness, real estate, etc.). Writing for my own reference and sharing in case there’s any overlap, though of course your mileage may vary.
This article outlines how long one must work before they’ve saved enough money to retire:
|Savings rate (%)||Years until retirement|
|0||You will never retire|
|100||You’re working for fun!|
I like the framing of “savings rate” (1 - expenses / income) because it makes clear that there are two variables to play with. Lets look at both.
Here are my rough expenses from 2019, which felt like a typical year for me — I was fortunate enough to not have to think at all about money, I just bought the things I wanted, ate out whenever I felt like it, etc.
$17k business expenses:
- $6k tools/supplies
- $5k travel expenses
- $1k hosting/software
- $1k conference tickets
- $1k professional services
- $3k misc stuff
$28k personal expenses:
- $18k rent
- $5k restaurants / coffee shops / bars
- $3k groceries
- $2k misc stuff (clothes, car insurance, taxes on my empire of dirt, etc.)
In total, that’s $45k of expenses.
Conservatively, lets round up to $50k and assume that in retirement the business expenses will remain the same (shifting from supporting income-generating activities to, uh, those drinks with little umbrellas in ‘em). Then, assuming a 4% safe withdraw rate (i.e., post-inflation annual return; details, elaborate calculator, skepticism), I’d be able to cover these expenses with a $50k / 4% = $1.3M portfolio.
Say I stopped traveling and eating out — that’d save me $10k annually and reduce my minimum portfolio to $40k / 4% = $1M. However, that’d be a significant negative lifestyle change; I’d much prefer to focus my efforts on the other factor, income.
Focus on income
If you’re reading my website, you probably computer, and in the current macroeconomic climate computerists are getting paid very well. Look at levels.fyi and read Dan Luu’s Startup Tradeoffs and Options v. Cash articles for an overview of industry compensation.
Given the high compensation and variance, it’s probably easier for a computerist to increase their savings rate by earning more rather than spending less.
To increase compensation, you may need to switch employers and/or move to San Francisco, New York, Seattle, etc.
While it’s comforting to rationalize the status quo — thinking “I like my current job!” and “San Francisco is an expensive dumpster fire!” (both true!) — it’s worth doing back of the envelope calculations.
E.g., my friend switched careers from a designer in Portland, OR making $90k to a junior software dev at some dinky SF startup making $160k. Although her rent went from $1k/month to $3k/month, she’s still coming out ahead $46k in the first year (undoubtedly more as her new career progresses, given the relative salary ceilings between both the cities and industries).
Think about opportunity cost
For my friend, the extra $46k and growth potential of moving to SF outweighed the extensive downsides (human poo on the sidewalk! entitled boomers!).
For me, I’m happy to effectively “pay” $100k+ annually (i.e., postpone retirement by several years) to work remotely on my own schedule (to collaborate with friends, exercise/nap mid-day, etc.) instead of working at FAANG.
This is of course all quite personal — I’m just suggesting you do research (ask peers about their salaries, interview occasionally, etc.), run the numbers, and actually make an informed decision for your own situation and preferences.
Minimize tax liability
A major way to reduce expenses without making any lifestyle changes is to minimize tax liability. This liability can be reduced both in the present (by reducing taxable income, which saves that reduction times your marginal tax rate) and in the future (via tax-advantaged savings, which won’t be taxed when withdrawn).
None of this is very difficult, you just need to know about it and have the stomach to do the paperwork (or find a good accountant to do it for you). However, beware the danger of pursuing infinitely documented, endlessly researchable tax liability optimizations to the detriment of more lucrative financial efforts (negotiating higher salary/fees, pursuing new business opportunities, etc.)
Again, all this is specific to my situation and is not tax or legal advice. The following details assume a single filer in the penultimate tax bracket ($200–500k, 35% marginal rate) working for their own business with no other employees.
If your health insurance allows an HSA (health savings account), set one up and contribute the $3.5k maximum amount annually. Keep track of all eligible health expenses and reimburse yourself when you’re retired. This effectively makes the HSA a Roth IRA. I have a free HSA account at Fidelity.
Use the “Roth Backdoor” by contributing $7k after-tax money to a traditional IRA and immediately rolling it into a Roth IRA (form 8606). Before doing this, roll any traditional IRA balances into your solo401k to avoid “pro rata” double taxation on the conversion. I have my IRAs at Schwab.
Elect your business as an S-Corp so that you can pay yourself a reasonable salary (subject to ~15% FICA taxes) on part of your earnings and take the rest as business income to the owner (not subject to FICA taxes).
Have your S-Corp reimburse you for your health insurance premiums and HSA contribution; this counts as part of your reasonable salary (1120S Line 7 “officer compensation”) but isn’t subject to FICA taxes (W-2 boxes 3 and 5) nor income tax (since shareholder-employees can deduct both insurance premiums and HSA contributions on their form 1040 lines 25 and 29, respectively).
Open a solo401k and max it out annually:
- $19k employee contribution (“elective deferral”, reported on W-2 box 12 code D)
- $30k profit share contribution (25% of (W-2 box 1 wages plus elective deferral), reported on 1120S line 17)
- $7k of after tax money to reach the $56k total contribution limit, file form 8606. (After-tax contributions also known as the “Mega Roth Backdoor”.)
The folks at MySolo401k.net setup my plan and answered all of my questions for a flat fee of a few hundred bucks. I maintain my 401k investments through Schwab because they have low fees, a competent website, and smart people pick up the phone.
Take Qualified Business Income Deduction (199a), which is 20% of your business income. However, if your W-2 wages are less than 28% of gross business revenue, your deduction may be limited and you’ll actually want to pay yourself additional wages + FICA taxes to increase your deduction and reduce your overall tax liability.
Carryover capital losses, to offset $3k of capital gains annually. (1040 Schedule 1 Line 13)
Similar info as above, but in playbook form. I use Tax Bandits to file all business forms (except 1120S, which I have to mail), pay business taxes via EFTPS, and file my personal return via TurboTax.
For prior tax year:
- Jan 31: File and pay 940 (federal unemployment); file W-2/W-3 (employee salary) and 1099 (payments to non-employees); Q4 941 (payroll withholding)
- Mar 15: File 1120S (s-corp return), including K-1; all 401k contributions due.
- Apr 15: File and pay 1040 (personal taxes)
For current tax year:
- Jan 1: Perform backdoor Roth
- Apr 30: Q1 941 (payroll withholding)
- Jul 31: Q2 941 (payroll withholding)
- Oct 31: Q3 941 (payroll withholding)
- Dec 31: Make sure no money is a traditional IRA to avoid pro-rata taxation on backdoor Roth
Investing / asset allocation plan
- 70% US total market (VTI)
- 30% ex-US (VXUS)
The reasoning behind an all-equity portfolio is that I’m mobile and early/mid-career in a lucrative profession, so my “fixed-income allocation” is in a sense already quite substantial.
The reasoning behind the US skew is that:
- US companies have significant international exposure anyway.
- The US has substantial geographic advantages in terms of physical resources (agricultural land, fossil fuels, navigable waterways) and stable, non-hostile neighbors.
Ultimately this split is gut feeling, so not worth the operational hassle to carefully maintain it — rather than actively rebalancing and dealing with realizing gains/losses, I’ll just buy whichever side is lagging when I make contributions. I’ll start with VTI and VXUS, and use ITOT and IXUS for tax loss harvesting if I decide that’s worth the trouble later.
Since VXUS isn’t tax-efficient (it yields substantial non-qualified dividends, taxed as income), I’ll keep it in tax-advantaged accounts as much as possible.
I’ll revisit this allocation in 5 years OR if things get out of wack +/- 10% despite my contributions.
Aside from these:
- I’ll buy the maximum of $15k/year of I-Bonds while they’re a good deal (i.e., we have high inflation).
- I’ll hold a Taiwan index fund position to avoid realizing capital gains while I’m in a high bracket.
- I’ll allocate up to 15% of my portfolio to private market ventures when I’m convinced I have an edge (e.g., friend’s technical startup, etc.).
Since the start of my career I’ve invested via low-cost index funds. However, the overall allocation (between equities of US, developed, and emerging markets; bonds) and account management (taxable vs. tax-advantaged IRAs and 401k) has been haphazard. The few times a year I deposited money into some account, I’d just decide on a whim whether to grow an existing position or open a new one based on 5 minutes of r/Bogleheads reading.
At some point I also opened a Betterment account, thus paying a robot 0.25% to juggle index fund positions for me (presumably less haphazardly).
In 2022 I resolved to tidy all of this up into the simple allocation described earlier. Ultimately I didn’t think Betterment’s allocation was providing sufficient value to justify its fees and the end-of-year tax reporting burden of its robo-trading (short and long term capital gains/losses, dividends, credits for foreign taxes paid, etc.).
I decided to consolidate everything at Schwab so my entire portfolio would be operationally simple to manage. This involved:
- transferring a few IRAs and 401ks that had been set up at other brokerages
- liquidating my Betterment account into cash so it could be transferred to my taxable Schwab account
Liquidating realized capital gains, half of which I could offset by realizing losses from various index fund positions that I wanted to close out of anyway. (Thanks, I guess, to the Fed / Putin / COVID over-stimulus hangover for ending our long bull run at coincidentally the same time I get 'round to reorganizing my portfolio.)
- 2022 Nov 13: Update asset allocation section from “figure this out” to “what I’m doing”.
- 2020 Jan 4: Original article.