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I’ve often thought about front loading my 401(k), i.e. contributing the full amount at the beginning of the year in as few paychecks as possible, but never done it.
Why? My former employer, although they did a true-up match the following year, would only contribute the matching money each paycheck if you contributed at least X%. So if I front loaded my contributions, then I would possibly not get the full matching money if I was no longer employed with them when they did the true-up.
With my new employer, I can maximize the 401(k) match even if I front load my 401(k) contributions.
Why do I like the idea of front loading my 401(k) contributions? I like going through my list of savings goals for the year and checking off one at a time, only concentrating on one goal at a time.
1. Get my savings account up to $60,000. done with mid March paycheck
2. Contribute the full $18,000 to my pre-tax 401(k). will be done with end of May paycheck
3. Contribute the maximum I can to my after-tax 401(k) and then transfer it to my Roth IRA. will finish with a September paycheck
4. Contribute the maximum I can to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan. ongoing
5. Pay down the mortgage by $28,671.79. this one probably won’t get done, but I’m forecasting I’ll get 75% of the way there.
I used to not like the idea of the small paychecks, but it has grown on me since I have a nice cash buffer now. I plan to use the BrokerageLink feature of my new 401(k) to set up a three fund portfolio and I can’t set that up to automatically put money into a specific allocation like I can with the regular funds in the 401(k) plan, but by front loading my 401(k) contributions, the money will only be sitting in cash for ~2.5 months if I let it sit there until all the money is there and then invest it. If I wasn’t front loading, I would feel a need to log in more often and set up the money.
Why have I always wanted to do this? Over the last few years, I’ve often wanted to leave my job before the end of the year and it would have been nice to have already maxed out my 401(k), be on the path to get the maximum match, and not worry about that while I was contemplating quitting my job.
Front loading also means I don’t have to worry about getting the contribution % exactly right to max it out with my last paycheck of the year or worry if my last paycheck will actually come in the following year or if there are more paychecks than expected.
I had forgotten about this idea, even after thoroughly reading my new job’s 401(k) plan’s Summary Plan Description (SPD) in detail to learn as much as I could about the after-tax contributions and how the matching worked. But then I read Mad Fientist’s blog post on why you should front load your 401(k) and I was hooked!
Readers, have you ever considered front loading your 401(k)?
When leaving a job, there are a few actions one can take with their old 401(k):
- Do nothing and leave it where it is, paying any fees your employer charges you now that you’re no longer with them
- Withdraw the entire balance, paying a 10% penalty and regular income taxes (ew, this would cost me about $40,000) based on the current balance
- Roll it over into the new employer’s 401(k) plan
- Roll it into an IRA
I definitely don’t want to withdraw the balance with how much that would cost in taxes and the fact that I would then lose the tax-deferral on my ~$100,000 for another 34+ years! I also don’t want to roll it into an IRA as then I would lose my ability to do a Backdoor Roth IRA. So there rules out half of my options!
The choice between the other two options depend on what the options look like in the new 401(k) compared to my existing one. My employer will charge a small quarterly fee that basically equates to a ~0.04% additional fee with my balance, which is actually a decent chunk considering that the funds in the new plan are cheaper than the equivalent funds in my old one.
When I first started investing, I posted a portfolio review on the Bogleheads forum and got some helpful feedback. Since then, I haven’t requested any feedback from them, but I still use their format to do a periodic review of my investments. I find it’s a great way to take an overall look at my portfolio. I follow the format right down to the questions asked. Here is the questions I asked myself this time around as I was figuring out what to do with my old employer’s 401(k):
- My old 401(k) will start to charge a quarterly fee at some point (turns out this kicked in last week) that equates to about 0.04% annually of my current balance. I don’t want to roll my old 401(k) to an IRA since that would cut off my access to the Backdoor Roth IRA, but should I roll it into my new 401(k) plan? The only catch I can see here is that if I roll the old 401(k) out of the plan, then if I were to return to that employer in the next few years, I would have to start the vesting period over again.
- My new 401(k) plan allows me to contribute after-tax in addition to pre-tax. It also allows me to do an In-Plan Roth conversion or I can instead move the money to my Roth IRA. Which is a better option?
- The international stock index fund I have access to in my new 401(k) doesn’t include small-caps, but the one in my old employer’s 401(k) does. Is that a deal breaker to me?
- I see a few options here:
a) roll old 401(k) into new 401(k), do in-plan Roth conversions to keep things simple
b) leave old 401(k) where it is until I don’t need it any more to keep my international stock allocation out of the new 401(k) and then roll it into the new one (move after-tax 401(k) contributions to Roth IRA)
c) roll old 401(k) into new 401(k), but move after-tax 401(k) contributions to Roth IRA
d) leave old 401(k) where it is and do in-plan Roth conversions
I then made a huge spreadsheet to compare options A, B, C, and D for question 4. B was much more expensive than A or C due to the fee my old employer will start charging soon, so I didn’t make a spreadsheet for option D at all. C ended up being cheaper than A for the first several years and then eventually A became cheaper, but not by a huge margin either way. This makes it a strong vote in favor of option C.
I’m about two months’ away from Vanguard telling me my 5 year return (it’s the small, psychological things…) and if I roll my old 401(k) out before then, I won’t see that number on Vanguard’s site…
I also decided that since the international stock index fund I have access to in my new employer’s 401(k) plan isn’t as complete as the Vanguard one, I’m going to try to keep as much of my international stock allocation as possible in my taxable and Roth IRA accounts. It’s currently the only fund in my taxable account, so I’ll do some rearranging in my Roth IRA at some point.
This also answers question 2, suggesting that I should move the after-tax money to a Roth IRA instead of doing an In-Plan Roth conversion. I’m going to see about rolling the Roth portion of my old 401(k) into my Roth IRA and otherwise, I’ll wait until early May to roll the pre-tax portion to my new 401(k).
I’ve started investigating how to do the rollover. I called the old 401(k) plan administrator and they said that I can roll the Roth portion into my Roth IRA and the pre-tax portion into my new 401(k), so long as I do it all at once. I can initiate leaving the old plan online and the funds should get to my Roth IRA within 2-3 business days. The new plan required me to request some papers to be mailed to me, which will take 3-5 business days, and then I’ll take a look at things again. The telephone rep from the old plan told me that the new plan will most likely require a check to get mailed to them, which will take about 2 weeks. My boyfriend and I were both pretty amused/confused at how much mailing was involved in this process despite the fact that it is 2015…
Yay for a plan (though still with some details to fill in) on this at last! It was stressing me out quite a bit to be unsure what to do with this, especially since my old 401(k) is worth about $100,000, which is about 55% of my overall investments.
Here’s a graph of my old 401(k) balance over the last ~5 years, as an ode to it. It has been a good 401(k) to me over the last five years and I will miss it. (I also refused to shred my old health insurance card. It’s with my previous health insurance card. Yes, I am a bit of a hoarder…) You can see that I didn’t contribute as much in the first year, but I started maxing it out partway through 2011 and it has grown quite nicely since then!
Readers, what do you usually do with your old employer’s retirement plan when you leave?
Now that I’ve started the new job and have a pretty good understanding of all of the benefits available to me, I finally sat down and made a savings plan for the year. I feel so much better having done this! Usually I do this in November/December, so it’s been stressing me out a bit to not have this already done and be so far into the year.
Reminder: Savings Goals
First, let’s check in with the vague savings/investments goals that I made for the year:
2) Contribute the maximum to all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $5,500 in a Backdoor Roth IRA, $18,000 in a pre-tax 401(k) and possibly some additional funds to the after-tax 401(k) and possibly my 2016 Roth IRA amount in a savings account ready to deploy in January. This will account for probably about 2/3 of my savings in 2015.
6) Contribute enough to a Health Savings Account such that Out Of Pocket Maximum ~= Current HSA balance + Employer contribution + my contribution.
7) Succeed at Operation Bayes – I’ll explain this later.
9) Save 70% of my net income monthly…and 100% of my bonuses. (Yay for a big raise that will allow me to save that much of my monthly income!)
10) Contribute the maximum that I can to the Employee Stock Purchase Plan.
11) Pay down the mortgage with any funds that are leftover after 2), including the proceeds of 10).
I already contributed $5,500 to a Backdoor Roth IRA at the beginning of January, so that’s checked off for sure.
1 – 401(k)
I’ve figured out how to maximize the match on my new employer’s 401(k) and it’s pretty easy. I just have to average X% or more of contributions over the course of the year and I’ll get the full match throughout the year. Easy peasy! I’m going to contribute to the 401(k) evenly throughout the year though. It’s only 90% clear still what they’ll take the 401(k) deductions out of (not sure if it includes my signing bonus or not), so I set the contribution % assuming it includes my signing bonus and I’ll adjust it up later if it doesn’t.
My new employer does allow after-tax contributions to their 401(k) plan! There is a limit though that is less than the IRS limit and I plan to contribute their limit. I’ve set a % on this and if it doesn’t take any money out of my signing bonus, then I’ll increase it, just like with the pre-tax 401(k).
I also need to decide what to do with my old 401(k) and what I’m going to do with the after-tax 401(k) contributions, but I’m going to figure those out later. I still have some time to do that – it’s less urgent.
2 – Health Savings Account
My new employer contributes more generously to a Health Savings Account for me than my last employer did. I still have a small balance in my old Health Savings Account that I need to figure out what to do with. For now, I only want to have the balance in this account cover one year’s maximum outlay, so I set my contribution to meet that gap. I’ll re-evaluate this approach for next year.
3 – Employee Stock Purchase Plan
I’m pretty excited for this! I can contribute up to a certain % of my salary, then at the end of the offering period, the plan administrator buys shares of my employer’s stock at a discount to me! And the plan is pretty sweet in that I can sell the shares immediately with no holding period. I elected to contribute the maximum I can and I’ll use the proceeds from selling these shares to fund the next savings goal in my savings snowball, either cash savings or mortgage paydown.
4 – Cash savings
I’ve estimated how much Operation Bayes will cost if all goes according to plan and decided that I would like to have $60,000 in my savings to cover this and some cash reserves. This is the first item on my savings snowball, so I’m going to work towards this goal and then move back to mortgage paydown. If things don’t go according to plan, then the money here beyond my normal cash reserves will be re-purposed to mortgage paydown. It looks like I should meet this goal with using the ESPP proceeds sometime in July.
5 – Mortgage paydown
Last, but not least, I’ll continue to pay down the mortgage. It looks like this should get around $25,000 in 2015.
6 – Income allotment strategy
With the new job, I get paid twice a month instead of the once a month that I got paid with my last job for, oh, you know, the last forever since it was my only job post-college. This is super weird. My plan though is to continue living off of last month’s income like I guess I have been doing for the last five years, except that I get to earn interest on the mid-month income instead of my employer. I’m still figuring out the logistics of doing this. In a spreadsheet, I’ve portioned off my checking account into two accounts at the moment: buffer and cash flow. I’ll probably just add an income one and put the income as being deposited there until it’s “transferred” to cash flow / savings / mortgage at the end of the month.
7 – Overall
My current calculation shows that I’ll save about 79% of my net income this year! I think my spreadsheet might be a bit confused (I should fix that), but it’s definitely somewhere north of 75%, which is pretty awesome. Including my employer’s contributions to various accounts and expected market contributions, I expect the end of the year to look like:
- $650,900 in overall net worth (a $119,300 increase)
- $62,500 in savings (a $14,700 increase)
- $230,100 in investments (a $65,600 increase)
- $111,800 in mortgage balance (a $31,200 increase)
- -$22,900 in taxable assets – debts (a $47,700 increase)
- $495,700 until FI (a $349,300 decrease) *note to the naysayers: this is a target to shoot for and once I reach it, I’ll do some more exact calculations. Until then, I’m using a 4% SWR of my investments bucket, a paid off mortgage, and a rolling last 12 months’ of expenses to calculate my target.
|taxable assets – debts||$70,600||$75,400||$73,800||+$1,600
|$ until FI||$845,000||$713,200||$785,600||+$72,400
Well, the stock market reversed my net worth loss from January. I had no income in February as I spent most of the month in New Zealand. I did get an update from a real estate agent from the firm who helped me buy my condo and they confirmed that my place is worth about what the other real estate agent had told me last spring. We’ll see what this upcoming spring brings in that area!
Expenses: I spent $5,579 in February including the mortgage or $4,552 without it. Some of my controllable expenses broke down as follows:
- $587 Clothing – Ahem. Some of this was in New Zealand buying cute summer clothes and some of it was some online shopping to stock up on some shorts and a new skirt after we got back, some of which I will be returning. So, estimate: $59 on three tops, $168 on three dresses, $18 for a pair of shorts in New Zealand, $74 for a new skirt in NZ, $X for hemming a pair of pants I bought in January, $42 on a new skirt that I’m 80% likely to keep, and $214 on some shorts in a bunch of sizes via online shopping of which I’ll probably keep 1-2, so $60 worth, so I really only spent $437 on clothing this month?
- $31 Entertainment/Social [average so far this year: $146, average last year: $211] – Wasn’t here for most of February, so not much spending here.
- $0 Eating out by myself [average so far this year: $6, average last year: $18]
- $89* Groceries [average so far this year: $89, average last year: $185] – This was low since we were gone for most of the month. We somehow managed to spend exactly $0.09 more on groceries in February than in January, after spending $0.55 less in January than in December. That is crazy!
- $6 Work lunches [average so far this year: $25, average last year: $147] – There weren’t too many work days in February :)
- $96* Electricity – December/January [$240 at this time last year]
- $5* Household goods – stocking up on Kleenex
- ($16)* Internet – Negative because I overpaid in January.
- $8 Toiletries [average so far this year: $15.5, average last year: $33] – vitamins
- $22 Recreation – yoga
- $X* Costco membership – we decided to try it for a year
- $39 Fuel [$0 at this time last year]
- $10 Taxis – home from dinner with a friend
- $5 Tolls
- $3,640 Travel – the rest of our New Zealand trip
* indicates expenses that were in the joint account. I calculate my expenses by tallying up all of my individual expenses for the month, adding in my mortgage payment, and adding in half of the joint expenses.
Savings: $42,200 (down $100)
These funds are spread across a checking account that gets free ATM fees anywhere in the world, my health savings account, a savings account at my credit union, and a bit of a buffer in my credit union checking account.
This is down from an ATM withdrawal in New Zealand. It should be down a bit more, but I didn’t transfer the money to my checking account to cover my March spending until March 1st.
Investments: $176,500 (up $7,900 or +4.7%)
This includes my 401(k) from my former employer: Roth, Traditional, and employer matching (fully vested!), my Roth IRA, my taxable investments including stock index funds and Series I Savings Bonds.
The change here comes from:
- My former employer depositing the matching money I missed out on – I was not expecting this!
- Some healthy gains in the stock market
My former employer 401(k) account is back above $100,000! And my Roth IRA is now worth just over $40,000! Woo!
Mortgage: $141,500 (down $800 or -0.6%)
Some statistics here:
- 2.5%: the interest rate on my 5/1 ARM
- January 2018: when the interest rate on my mortgage is set to reset, possibly to 7.5%
- 0: months of payments eliminated with this month’s pre-payments
- $0: extra payments made on the mortgage this month
- $0: interest this month’s extra payments will save me on the next regular payment
- 28.9%: portion of my regular payment went to interest (originally was 59%; down 0.1 percentage points)
- 60.5%: amount of equity in my condo, assuming purchase price (up 0.2 percentage points)
- 50.5%: amount of the mortgage I’ve paid down (up 0.3 percentage points)
- $24,500: amount extra remaining to pay to be on track at the end of 2015 to pay the mortgage off before the rate resets in 2018 (no change from last month)
I’m just letting the regular, automatic payment go for now. Nothing special to see here.
TOTAL: $533,800 (up $3,800 or +0.7%)
I ended 2014 with a net worth of $531,600, so I’ve seen a change of +$2,200 or +0.4% so far this year. I’m going to set the y-axis on this graph to $650,000 so we can see how my net worth grows towards that throughout the year. The graph is still boring, but I’ll post it once it gets interesting.
I don’t really talk much about being frugal here – I mostly talk about where to save your money. A few years ago now, a friend of mine convinced me to try a menstrual cup. It took many months before I actually bought one and a few more before I was really using it, but it is AMAZING ladies. It’s also a magical unicorn of savings, but that’s mostly besides the point.
Cramps, migraines, so many PMS symptoms were reduced. I forget I have my period for most of it. I forget about it. At first, I was super worried about needing to rinse out the cup at work, but I’ve managed to not need to do so, which is amazing! (Your body may vary.) I super hated dealing with my period while at work. And it’s totally safe to put in before your period gets there too. I used to plan trips around when my period was because I always found that traveling threw it out of whack and was super annoying, but traveling with a menstrual cup is SO much easier. Also great in summer and hot yoga!
It’s also environmentally friendly. And way better for your body than pads or tampons. No itchiness or bad reactions. I clean it with boiling water after every period to keep it clean. Plus, it came in a cute little bag. The internet seems torn on how long you should use a cup for before replacing it – I’ve seen anywhere from 2-3 to 10 years suggested.
I still spend about $10 on liners every two years, but I only spent $35+tax on the cup and will probably use it for 3ish years before replacing it mid-next year, which means my period now only costs me about $17 per year. Not bad, considering that I was spending about $80/year before. I’ve definitely noticed that spending reduction and plus, my period is much less annoying!
As everyone knows, tax time is my favorite time of year! I’m using TaxAct again and I’ve been anxiously awaiting all of my tax forms. I have a checklist of all the forms I need and in my income taxes folder for 2014, I have text files with filenames saying things like “Need HSA Bank.txt” and “Need 1099-B.txt”. Before we left for New Zealand, I had: two 1099-INTs, my one W-2, my 1098, my 1099-R for my Backdoor Roth IRA, and 75% of my charitable donation receipts. I made a donation in January of last year and they still hadn’t sent my receipt! I was still waiting on my HSA form and my 1099-B for my RSUs.
I always make a “W-2 Estimate” spreadsheet in which I estimate my W-2 numbers based on my last paycheck. In another worksheet, I estimate how much of my Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund’s dividends were qualified/ordinary and how much of a foreign tax credit I should get, based on the 2013 numbers. I was spot on with my W-2 estimates this year and only off by a dollar on my qualified dividends estimate.
Usually I wait to do my taxes until I have all of my forms, but this year, I decided to start on TaxAct and then stop at any point that I needed a form I didn’t have yet. It’s kind of fun this way and means that I only spend ~5-10 minutes at a time entering my taxes. Since I haven’t entered any of my deductions yet, it still thinks I owe taxes. It’s so fun watching the refund/owing amount change as I enter new numbers!
The last two forms came in while we were gone, so I filed my taxes last week! My refund was the exact $ amount that my tax spreadsheet had calculated :) I have a spreadsheet in which I input all of my paychecks, deductions, bonuses, interest income, dividend income, capital losses and gains, and an estimate of the foreign tax credit. I then use those numbers to calculate based on the marginal tax brackets, ordinary vs qualified dividends, etc. how much income tax I’ll need to pay that year vs how much my employer will withhold and I use it to set my allowances throughout the year.
I expect to get a larger refund than usual. Normally, I update my allowances on my December paycheck to plan on getting ~$50 of a refund, but since I was unsure of how much I was going to get paid in December until just before Christmas, I couldn’t do that. Oh well. I’ll get the money back soon and it’s “only” around $1,000, which will help with the negative cash flow for February pay/March spending. I’m looking forward to saving again instead of living paycheck to paycheck! That should happen with my March paycheck, so only one more month to go…
Readers, are you getting ready to file your taxes?
This trip was a splurge, flat out. We went in high season, booked a month out, stayed in hotels the whole way, and ate delicious, delicious food. It was amazing and totally worth it, but holy cow was it expensive!
My total cost for the trip was $6,779.06, including flights and just over 3 weeks in New Zealand.
I feel super weird sharing that amount since there are so many people who blog about credit card rewards and churning. My boyfriend used the trip to churn the Barclaycard and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which got him/us a decent number of points. This trip was not planned far in advance and we spent a lot of time not in big cities that had hotel chains, so hotel points weren’t that useful. We used discount hotel booking sites to book a lot of the hotels and we got better flights by paying for them than we could have with points. I don’t know where we would have managed to churn Air New Zealand points from the US?
This trip was also our second foray into shared finances and the biggest one, the first one being our shared checking account for groceries. At home, we split every expense except groceries at the source. This sounds tedious to everyone else, but it works for us. When we go out to eat, we either pay for what we ordered or we split the bill evenly if our separate amounts are within a dollar of each other’s. We agreed as we were booking this trip on about how much it would cost, how long we wanted to go for, where we wanted to go, and the type of trip that we wanted to have: hotels not hostels, renting a car instead of tour buses, not a big group experience. We also decided to put most of the expenses on one credit card (and agreed to use a recent card that my boyfriend got) and then deal with things when we got back. We both had separate credit cards that we used for non-shared expenses. This system worked out pretty well! We’re still talking about getting a joint credit card and trying to figure out which one we’ll get. I think it’ll probably be a few months before we figure that out.
This trip was also the longest amount of time that we have spent together consecutively, without anyone else around. And it was awesome! It’s definitely nice to have two bathrooms again, as well as couches, and gave us perspective on how nice my condo is.
It was interesting seeing people’s reactions to our trip. Some people assumed my boyfriend couldn’t possibly have this much vacation time, so he must have quit his job too. Someone else called it a once in a lifetime experience. I laughed at that because I hope to do another trip like this again in a few years. My mom told me that unemployed people shouldn’t take expensive trips. (My dad thought it was an amazing idea!) Another person called it a honeymoon! Most people were pretty excited for us though and other than my mom, no one seemed to wonder how we could afford to do this. The weird part though is that going to New Zealand for ~a month seemed crazy enough to people that the reactions we got seemed pretty similar to how I would expect people to react if we were quitting our jobs to travel full-time.
How did my portion of the costs break down? The number seems huge when I look at it, but once you break it down, it doesn’t seem quite so crazy.
- Lodging – $61 USD per night. This isn’t that crazy considering that we did no cleaning other than one load of laundry while we were gone and we stayed in hotels.
- Rental car + gas – $695.77 USD. This was about 2,000 miles of driving and included the ferry cost for the car and us. We rented an older model car which cut costs down a bit. Gas was simply expensive though compared to how much it costs in the US – our weighted average per US gallon was $5.285 USD per US gallon on gas. At the time of writing, the average gas price across the US was $2.28 USD per US gallon.
- Food – $40 USD per day. We ate out for mostly every meal, occasionally super cheaply and sometimes a wonderful splurge dinner. I had leftovers a few times and we picked up some snack food from the grocery store like fruits and granola bars.
- Mobile phone - $25 USD. We both picked up SIM cards in the Auckland airport since we have unlocked phones, which was awesome. I used about 1 GB of data while I was in New Zealand and a few minutes.
- Flights – just under 40% of the overall cost. This was mostly poor planning as when we went ended up being super expensive and we bought them somewhat last minute. This was part of why I wanted to go for so long.
- Activities – just under $600 USD. This included a dolphin cruise, checking out a LOTR attraction, going to a thermal village, the cable car in Wellington, some thermal pools, a train, a couples massage, some caves, and a few other items.
Beyond the finances, what did we do?
We went in January/February, in the height of a very hot summer they’d been having. I packed for that and was missing some long-sleeved shirts when it got chillier in parts of the South Island.
We spent about half the trip on each of the North and South Islands. The ferry between the two islands was one of my favorite parts about the trip! It was incredibly gorgeous. We spent a few days in Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, and Wellington. We only spent one night in the Marlborough (wine) area, which we regretted pretty quickly. Post-earthquakes Christchurch was both really sad for all the historical buildings that they had lost and really interesting to see how the city is changing. Milford Sound was absolutely amazing! Such a long day though. Queenstown was gorgeous, but super touristy. Wellington was fun because we didn’t do too many touristy things and more so went to interesting cafes and restaurants.
Driving on the other side of the road was both weird and not weird. The rental car we ended up with was pretty similar to the one I drive at home, so that wasn’t too much of an adjustment. The weirder part was the volume of driving we did and the windy roads. We drove about 2k miles in the 3ish weeks we were there, which is about what I normally drive in 6 months.
I can’t wait to take a long trip again with my boyfriend! Some of our fellow introvert friends were surprised we managed to not kill each other despite not hanging out with anyone but each other for almost a month!