How a Corporate Drone Working Towards Financial Independence Does Money
Anna (not her real name) is a 32-year old corporate drone from Texas.
So, Anna, how much are you making?
I make $105,000 annually with potential for an annual bonus.
How much is the bonus?
It’s a 3–7 percent range depending on performance.
So in a good year, your bonus would be around $7,000.
Do you budget for your bonus, or treat it like extra money?
Extra money for sure. I never want to count on it happening.
That’s the smart move, I tell you.
So how does your income compare to your expenses, then? Where does your money go?
I pulled together a very nerdy spreadsheet in preparation for this! My husband and I try and save about 40 percent of our income during the year. Our expenses last year totaled to a little under $80K, which included our mortgage. Our expenses without mortgage come to about $3,500/month.
So your mortgage is about $3K a month?
It’s closer to about $2,000 a month (30-year mortgage), but we were paying about $1,000 extra each month for a portion of last year before we decided to put that money aside for our car fund instead (we’re both driving 12–15 year old cars and know that their time may be drawing short….)
Got it. How does that $3,500 month in expenses get divided up?
I badly need to combine some of our budget categories — we’re going off of what Mint automatically applies. Our biggest spending categories last year were basically food and travel.
Oh! And home improvement spending. It was our first full year in a new house and between some necessary repairs, and general upkeep type things, that new category definitely made its way into our budget! (I’ve made enough Home Depot runs to last me a while….)
What type of repairs were you making?
We tore out an old chain link fence in the back yard and put in a new wooden fence. My husband did the work on it, so we just had the cost of supplies, but that was definitely a big line item. We also painted every room in the house, and had to buy a new washer/dryer for the configuration of the laundry room.
OOH WHAT COLORS???
Oh MAN. I could talk for nine hours on this. We picked a nice neutral gray for most of the rooms with a few accent rooms thrown in there. I got somewhat obsessed with this picture of a bathroom I saw on Pinterest that had navy walls and then white board and batten underneath so the search for the perfect navy began……
Thankfully I married someone handy (whereas if it were just me, I’d just let all the lightbulbs burn out till I was sitting totally in the dark), so DIY projects are mercifully a lot cheaper.
Hahaha I am the worst at DIY, I would be the person paying someone else to do it for me.
I would too!! If I were still single I’d still be living in an apartment. I love knowing someone will fix something if it breaks and you can pick up and move after your lease is over!
It’s the best, except for the rent increases.
But back to your finances. So you’re saving 40 percent of your income. Where are those savings going?
Right now it’s a mixture of company 401(k) accounts (essentially just enough to get the match) and then a couple of post-tax accounts that we use for both retirement savings as well as longer-term savings goals (e.g. cars).
Do you prefer to pay for cars in cash? Or do you just want to minimize your loans?
Definitely prefer cash. I’m terrified of debt. I grew up in a very frugal household where there was a bit of this unspoken mentality that the world could come crashing down tomorrow, so you prepare accordingly.
Do you currently have any debt besides mortgage debt?
Just our mortgage. Nothing else besides that.
How did you fund your education?
My parents paid for my undergrad degree (I can’t describe how grateful I am for this. Education was really important to them and on top of that, I was able to work during college and put that money into savings). I paid for grad school on my own. It was a combination of scholarships, some from savings, and some loans.
I’m guessing you were able to pay off your loans fairly quickly due to your salary. Did you specifically go after a high-paying career?
I did. I got my MBA and knew that coming directly out of that program was when I had the best shot to move to a higher-paying career than what I had worked in prior to grad school. It was an increase in what I was used to making, so I put as much as I could as soon as I could towards my loans.
I assume you enjoy your work, though? Or are you viewing it more as a means to an end?
I enjoy it pretty well. It’s a huge corporate environment, which isn’t my dream job, but I like my team and appreciate the benefits and the opportunities that come with working at a big company.
I have very much gotten the financial independence bug though, so my job is definitely a means to financing FI because I’d love to pursue the entrepreneurship route or be able to work in non-profits, but I feel somewhat tethered to my current role and paycheck because I’d love to get to FI and be able to exit the corporate world.
Do you have a path to FI? Like, can you predict how many years it’ll take you to get there?
I think loosely speaking, yes. I’ve tracked out how much we’re able to save and what that means for our net worth trajectory, and then project that out and see (approximately) what date we’ll hit certain net worth amounts. It’s still definitely a question of what exactly that amount is, but I have a range in mind.
How long will it take to hit that range?
Right now it’s looking like late 2023 to hit the very bottom of the range.
Yeah! It’s something to shoot towards.
So I’m curious how you developed your attitudes towards money. You mentioned that your family was very frugal, but some people with frugal parents grow up and go in the opposite direction. How did you establish your financial mindset and values?
Yeah — it’s something I’ve thought a lot about. My parents were a huge influence there. I always felt that my needs were totally taken care of, but that if I had wants, then I had to cover those on my own. So I started babysitting and tutoring when I was pretty young and I think that helped set in my mind that if you want things, then you have to generate the money yourself, and also have to balance your short-term wants against your long-term wants.
It honestly wasn’t until really really late in my 20s that I started giving any thought to how my savings affected my long-term future planning and ability to retire. Reading all the finance blogs and everything really made that hit home for me.
And it’s honestly still evolving. What’s important to me has changed over time so it’s definitely a moving target.
Did your partner share your financial mindset when you met? Were there ways in which you learned from each other?
We got pretty lucky — we are definitely both savers so we were pretty closely aligned on savings, and long-term goals and big purchases and all that. But even being pretty closely aligned we’ve still talked a lot (A LOT) about money and there are definitely still areas where we differ some.
I’m more in the camp of “let’s save everything we can” and he wants to enjoy our lives a little more now and not make ourselves miserable.
So I’ve definitely learned that from him — we’ve had to achieve a balance between enjoying today and saving for tomorrow, and I don’t regret anything we’ve spent on travel or experiences we have together.
Do you have any financial regrets?
Honestly, just that I didn’t start getting more serious about money sooner.
My first job out of grad school, I didn’t have a budget, but basically there was still money left in my bank account at the end of the month, and that felt like a win! But I do kick myself some that I wish I had been more intentional (or at all intentional) during that time, because I do think about the fact that I’d be further along in my savings journey.
Is there any aspect of your finances that you’re currently working on, e.g. “I have a bad habit of doing X and I’d like to do Y instead?”
Eating out is one for sure. I know that I do well if there’s a meal plan and I grocery shop for that and cook at home. But if I don’t make myself sit down and plan it on the weekend, then it doesn’t happen, and we end up eating out more than I’d like to.
That’s, like, the most common one. 😉
Hah — I can imagine! Meal planning seems like not the most fun thing in the world on the weekends when there are Parks and Rec episodes I could be watching for the 12th time. Priorities!
Personal finance really is all about priorities.
Last question, then — what advice do you have for Billfold readers?
Couple of things that have been a big help to me: there’s no wrong place to start and there’s a lot to be said for small wins. I think we’re all looking for huge changes and a silver bullet, but I think there’s a lot to be said for just trying to do a little better than the day before.
Also, here’s something that was life-changing for me. In college, we had a class where we had to write down (with pen and paper!) every dollar we spent for a month. That was hugely eye-opening for me. I think it’s the whole “what we don’t track, we can’t change” principle. Even that exercise of writing down every dollar you spend I think is so powerful because it opens your eyes and brings that awareness and I think that’s a really important first step towards making changes in your financial life.
Photo credit: John Loo, CC BY 2.0.
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