Simple Inspiration Interview with Scott from I Love Compound Interest

I love compound Interest2

Welcome to this week’s Simple Inspiration.  I hope you are enjoying these interviews and they provide you with some inspiration to simplify your financial life.  This week I have the pleasure of interviewing Scott who loves compound interest if you can not tell from the name of his blog.

Scott’s site is called “I Love Compound Interest” and it is a collection of tips and stories from my experiences over the last 20 years of saving and investing.  He and his wife have been diligent and made some good and some bad choices over the years. He shares them with the readers so that those new to saving and investing can learn and also those that are experienced can share their successes and tips as well. He accumulated his wealth the long, slow and not-so-sexy way, which is week by week and month by month of steady saving and investing. He didn’t use any get-rich-quick schemes, didn’t win a lottery, didn’t sell a business, or inherit money. He just did it by saving and focusing on the long term goals he has.

On the blog, he discusses savings/frugality topics and also on some of the traditional financial products on the market right now. The site is not into giving stock tips or how to get rich quick, but helping folks get on track and do the right things with their finances that will help them gain some financial freedom.

Let’s hear how Scott has simplified his personal finances:

What event lead you to realize you needed to get your financial life in order?

For me, it was not really one life-changing event, but rather a knowledge that the alternative of not having my financial life in order was not desirable. I had good examples with my parents that kept their financial life in order and taught me well in that respect. I saw from an early age that it was not a good thing to have your finances a wreck and I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up like that.

What area of your financial life needed the most work?

Spending and entitlement are probably the toughest areas that need work still to this day with me. Whether it is wanting and buying nice clothes or a nice car, it can easily creep up and ruin your budget. Not only that, I’ve realized in the past couple years that the decisions I make with regard to my spending can have dramatic affects to my future savings/nest-egg. It’s been great to see some of that desire subside in me to have all the best things, even if I can “afford” it.

What did you do first to get your finances in order?

There was the spending that I mentioned in the previous question, but the first step I really did was to start saving at an early age. After a year at my first job when I was 16 years old, my father talked to me about an IRA. I can’t remember off hand how much I put in that year, but my parents agreed to match what I put in. I think it was maybe $250 each. That’s not a huge amount of money but back then, it was to me. I’ve been saving ever since then, so after 27 more years of doing that, it has definitely had a huge impact on my overall savings and investment balance. Of course the thing that I do differently now than I did then is that I do my saving along the way and it comes out of my account automatically, so it is less tempting to spend it.

What was your biggest challenge or roadblock you faced to get them in order?

The only roadblock was me, and getting my spending in check. It wasn’t out of control and I never had consumer debt, but there were some areas that we could throttle back our spending to be more in line with some other frugal ways my wife and I share. Fortunately my wife and I are very similar in our frugality and we discuss spending and saving regularly, which makes a huge difference in the success of our combined family finances and the health of our marriage.

How did you overcome this challenge or roadblock?

For the combined finances in our marriage, we had regular discussions about what our goals, dreams and aspirations were. As it turned out, many of them were long-term and would require regular saving at an early stage to start building and compounding the gains. This helped us shape the framework for what our budget would be and helped us both keep our spending in perspective.

How has getting your finances in order changed your life?

Having our finances in order has changed our life immensely. We’ve been fortunate to have steady employment over our marriage (almost 20 years) and we’ve gradually been saving more and more of our income to the point now where we save 37% of our gross income (48% of net income). Doing this aggressive saving has allowed our net worth to increase by 6 times just in the last 10 years. We are not business owners, never hit the lottery, or inherited money; we just did it by working normal jobs and saving aggressively. The 6x net worth increase was even through the down-turn of 2008. With all of this happening, my wife and I have been able to accelerate out financial independence goals and we’re thinking about making some major steps toward that goal very soon.

What was your reason for starting I love Compound Interest site?

While I know that the personal financial blogosphere is populated with many good quality sites that offer unique stories, great tips, and solid advice in all facets of personal finance, I still wanted to start my blog. I’ve enjoyed learning and teaching others about personal finance, saving and investing for a couple decades now and after some good urging from my wife, I decided to start the “I Love Compound Interest” blog. She would always tell me that I light up with excitement any time I start talking to people about their finances, so the blog seemed like a good outlet for that.

I’m still a newbie at blogging, but I enjoy sharing my stories of success and failure over the many years of saving and investing. I have a particular soft spot for Millennials since they have the advantage of time on their side. They can take some small steps now that will help them immensely in the future. I’m living proof of that and love to share about it.

I’ve also taken some steps to get my Series 65 license and will hopefully be able to professionally advice people in the near future. It would all be separate from my blog, but if I go that route, then the blog serves as a great indicator of who I am and my investment and savings philosophies for anyone that might seek my services.

How much of your personal finances have you automated?

I’ve automated the vast majority of our bills, salary inflow, and monthly investments. And then after all the bills and investment payments go out each month, we’ve been fortunate enough to have extra funds available on many months. Those funds I have to manually go in and invest, but that’s a small chore considering I’m paying myself.

What do you automate?

I’m old enough to remember when it was kind a unique for an institution to offer automatic payment for a bill. I’ve got almost all my bills being paid that way now. Sadly there are still a few utilities that I have to deal with that do not offer this service without a fee. I’m too thifty to pay to automate something that ultimately helps the company billing me in the long run, so on those bills I just go to my bank website and send them a check for the bill (for free of course).

All our monthly investments (retirement, 529, taxable accounts, etc.) are drawn out automatically as well.

What advice or tips would you give to others who want to simplify their finances?

First, you must track your expenses. It doesn’t matter if you use Quicken, Mint, or a paper tablet, but you have to have a grip on your inflows and outflows before you can really start simplifying things. Nothing would be worse than having overdraft charges for savings or bills you are automatically pulling out each month in the name of simplification. Once you have your monthly income and expenses set up, definitely set up your employer 401(k)/403(b)/457 plan to draw out a good portion of your salary prior to taxes so you can get the benefits of tax savings and any matching money they offer. Those withdrawals will be automatic and you’ll start to forget (in a good way) how much money you are saving. You can also automatically set up these plans to increase your savings percent each year so that the small incremental steps aren’t too painful for you.

I think another overlooked way to simplify your finances is simply to spend less money on purchases. If you are spending less money on dining, food, clothing, entertainment, furniture, etc. then there will be fewer bills to pay and fewer expenses to track. If there are less of these to track, that seems like it would be more simplified to me.

What’s your best savings tip?

One of the best ways that people can use to save money is to reduce the amount of times they eat out at restaurants. Like most things that are experienced in moderation, restaurants are great. My wife and I love a good meal out. The trick is that so many people eat out most lunches while working at an office and then they may eat out several evenings or weekend nights as well. That adds up really fast. Run the numbers and you may be shocked. Brown bagging it at work and cooking the majority of your meals at home will save you immensely over time and an added benefit is that the meals you cook or bring from home will typically be healthier for you. That’s a win-win!

What book, blog, or podcast would you suggest to someone who is looking to simplify or improve their finances?

The podcast that I really enjoy is called “Radical Personal Finance” by Joshua Sheats. I like to think I know a pretty good amount about personal finances, but there have been so many of his podcasts that dive into financial matters well beyond my knowledge or from an angle that I never considered. He’s really challenged me in several areas of my finances, how I think about money, and life in general. One caution is that he can get pretty deep into the weeds on some topics, so if that is not your style you can fast forward or skip those episodes.

Do you have an emergency fund established, if so how did you determine the amount needed to fund it?

Yes I have an emergency fund that amounts to about 3 months of expenses. I have a tiered system I use instead of the entire balance in one account. There is about a month of expenses in a quick access savings account tied to my checking account (which doesn’t really pay any interest). Then I have another month of expenses in an online bank savings account that pays better interest than the one at the bank. The rest is held in taxable accounts at Vanguard. With the speed at which we can transfer money in our economy, there seems to be less and less need for all of my emergency fund in one account that might not be paying me any interest.

What percentage of your income are saving?

37% of our gross income (48% of net income after taxes)

What are your current financial goals?

For the past 10 years we have wanted to retire early (under 55 yrs old). Since we have now realized we do not want to retire in the traditional sense of the word (never working again), we have modified that goal to be able to achieve financial independence very early and be able to purse meaningful work that doesn’t require working the traditional 9-5 job. We are now getting very close. We are getting ready to take our first step toward that goal with me leaving my job in my early 40’s and my wife may work until her early 50’s.

Are you on track to reach your financial goals you set for this year?

Yes, and we’re pretty excited about it!

Thanks for sharing your story with my readers.

Please check out I Love Compound Interest to learn more about Scott’s saving and investment ideas.

You can also follow him on twitter @Comp_Interest.

To read previous interviews in the series click below


If you are interested in sharing how you have simplified your financial life, send me an email and I will follow up with you.  Enjoy the rest of your week. Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify.

 

Simple Inspiration Interview featuring Gen Y Finance Guy

Gen Y Guy

 

If you think you have to come from money to learn good money habits or to create wealthy.  Think again.  This week’s Simple Inspiration shows you can achieve the finance goals you want to achieve if you put your mind to it even if you don’t come from money.

This week I have the pleasure of interviewing the Gen Y Finance GuyGEN Y Dominic

Gen Y Finance Guy is a site dedicated to the stated mission to Humanize Finance, Build Wealth, and Reach Financial Freedom. He writes from the perspective of a practitioner and not an academic. He provides a level of transparency that you won’t find on most blogs. Every month he produces a detailed financial report that covers everything from: net worth, gross income, expenses, assets, liabilities, etc. It’s just one way that he aims to humanize finance and provide context around the things he shares on the blog. He puts his money where his mouth is.

He is also offering a free giveaway which runs until the end of July so check it out by clicking below.

Let's hear how the Gen Y Finance Guy has simplified his finance:

What event lead you to decide to pursue financial freedom?

I grew up on welfare and lived in section 8 housing as a kid. Somehow I managed to find awesome mentors that showed me a different path then the one I was on. All the statistics say that I should have ended up in prison like my father or at the very least addicted to drugs like both my parents.

Those early experiences were turned into motivation to reach a level of financial success that would ensure my life looked nothing like that of my parents.

How long had you planned this?

This is what I have been working towards my entire life (probably since I was about 11 years old). When I say my entire life, don’t let me fool you, I am only 28 years old.

Results don’t come over night, but things have really started to compound and snowball for me. It all started when an amazingly altruistic man by the name of Dan entered my life in the 6th grade.

He was the first person to hold me accountable. I went from failing out of the 6th grade to being a 4.0 student. It is amazing what a person can do when they have someone who cares in their life. I learned a lot about business from Dan, since he owned a few pizza places.

It was my experience with Dan that led way to my business studies in college. My parents didn’t graduate high school and I was the first on both sides of my family to get my college education (besides my aunt). If I was going to be financial free one day I knew that I was going to need to understand how money worked. So I got my degree in Corporate Finance.

What steps are you taking to achieve financial freedom?

Well, first, I should start off by telling anyone building wealth in the pursuit of financial freedom only needs to remember this little secret to wealth building:

Spend less than you make and invest the difference wisely.

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that it is anything more complicated than this. It is really a rather simple fundamental to building wealth.

Here is what I am doing to achieve financial freedom:

  1. Saving 50% of my gross income
  2. Maxing out my 401K every year
  3. Maxing out an IRA for my wife every year
  4. Making after tax investments in Prosper and Rich Uncles REIT
  5. Paying off our 30 year mortgage in 7 years
  6. Putting money in short term CD’s
  7. Trading Options
  8. Building an online business

One of the things that make me different than a lot of the financial bloggers out there is that I tend to be more focused on the income side of the equation. Because in order to crack the code of wealth building, to spend less than you make, you need to live below your means.

Now when it comes to living below your means you have 2 options. The first option is to be expense focused, keeping expenses as low as possible. This means no $4 lattes or eating out regularly. It’s too restrictive for me.

So, I choose the alternate way of living below my means by constantly expanding my means. I am constantly looking for ways to increase income in order to indulge in the things that bring me joy, while still saving 50% of gross income.

This tends to keep my in a state of abundance rather than put me into a scarcity mindset. Because in reality there is a natural floor to how much you can cut your expenses. However, there is no limit on how much income you can earn.

What is your biggest challenge or roadblock to achieving financial freedom?

I think that the biggest challenge that everyone suffers from is falling trap to lifestyle inflation. The way I address this is with the 50% savings rule. I am okay with lifestyle inflation as long as it remains proportionate with income.

It is so easy to compare ourselves to our friends and what they have. Don’t get sucked into “keeping up with the Jones.”

Be a non-conformist.

Our friend’s thing we are crazy for paying off our mortgage in 7 years. We think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t. When I did the math, I showed my wife that we would be earning a minimum of $1.4M over the next 7 years and our mortgage was only $352K. We immediately agreed that we would be dumb not to pay it off.

We bought a house that was half of what we could afford. Most of our friends buy a house that is exactly what they can afford.

We have cars that are free and clear. Our friends have monthly car payments.

We don’t carry any credit card debt. We do use credit cards and take advantage of reward programs, but we pay those suckers off every month.

We automate our savings and investing. Many of our friends have not even started saving or investing yet.

So, like I said be a non-conformist.

What are your current financial goals?

We have two major goals that we are working towards right now:

1 – Pay off the house in 7 years (before our 35 birthday)

2 – Achieve a $10M net worth by the time we are 48 (which is only about $5.5M in today’s dollars with a 3% inflation rate)

We will actually reach financial freedom sometime in our 30’s, but we have bigger goals, and that’s why we have the 20 year plan.

How will you feel once you reached your financial goal you have?

Stoked!

I truly believe that it is not a matter of if, but rather when we reach our financial goals.

What I love about the way we have structured our plan is that we don’t have to delay gratification for 40 years and then at 65 retire and try to do the things that we wanted to do when we are younger.

We plan to balance living in the present while preparing for the future. A high and high savings rate is the linchpin to our plan.

What one thing have you done to enable you to live your current lifestyle?

I have aggressively worked to increase my income since graduating college. Over the last 7 years I have averaged annual raises of almost 21%.

What's your best savings tip?

Automate your savings. When you automate your savings and “pay yourself first”, the expenses will work themselves out. And then you can have no guilt spending what is left over.

Do you have an emergency fund established, if so how did you determine the amount needed to fund it?

We do have an emergency fund, but we honestly don’t call it that. Over time the wife and I have become comfortable with a certain balance in our bank account. We have never lived paycheck to paycheck, so the bank has always retained a surplus. When we first got married we didn’t like to see our bank balance dip below $20K. These days we feel a lot of comfort maintaining a balance around $40K.

Although we spend about $10K/month, our bare minimum living expenses are around $4K/month. In the event that something did happen and we both lost our incomes this would give us about 10 months of runway before we had to tap any of our investments.

What book, blog, or podcast would you suggest to someone who is looking to simplify or improve their finances?

The book that has been the most influential in my life is the “The Slight Edge”, by Jeff Olson. This is the only book that I re-read every year.

What advice or thoughts you would like to share with others who are looking to achieve financial freedom or just improve their financial life?

Yes, it’s a quote from Jim Rohn:

"If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much."

As complicated as people try to make wealthy building it is actually as simple as spending less than you make and investing the difference. Once you realize that, you need to decide whether the extreme frugality path fits your goals and personality or if the income expansion method fits you.

From experience, expanding your income is way more fun.

 If money was not a concern, what would you do for fun?

First, I would like to reiterate that I am not a big fan of suppressing all of the activities you enjoy in the pursuit of financial freedom. None of us are guaranteed another day, so I strongly encourage each and every person reading this post to make sure they do something they enjoy every single day.

With that said I personally would spend more time doing the things I currently enjoy doing on a regular basis: reading, working out, traveling with my wife, trying new restaurants, cooking, blogging, investing, spending time with family and friends, and playing with my dogs. These are all things that for the most part I do on a daily basis, if not weekly. The only exception to that is the travel piece. Our current schedules really only allow us to travel a few times a year, but we are working on that. Once our house is paid off, our goal is to live in a foreign country or somewhere by the beach for 3-6 months at a time (first up is Italy).

Thanks Dominic.  Your journey is amazing and I hope it inspires others to simplify their finances.  If you would like to read more about his journey check out the blog Gen Y Finance Guy or follow his journey on twitter @genyfinanceguy.

P.S. Gen Y Finance Guy  has a special giveaway that he would like to extend to everyone reading this. He is giving away 11 books that will not only change you money mindset, but will set you well on your path to financial freedom. Enter the giveaway and then earn an additional 3 entries every time you share it with others that sign up. The giveaway is only running through 7/31/15, so don’t delay!

To read previous interviews in the series click below


If you are interested in sharing how you have simplified your financial life, send me an email and I will follow up with you.  Enjoy the rest of your week.

Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify.

6 Ways To Get Financially Organized So You Can Simplify and Gain Control of Your Finances

Financially Organized

 

Are you financially organized? By having financial organization it will help you simplify your finances and get things under control.

One thing I often hear from people is where do I begin to get my finances under control? The first place to start is to get some financial organization in your life. If you have just gone with the flow and never got things under control I can see why you may feel a little overwhelmed with your finances.

Having organization in your life will improve almost all areas of your life. So why not get financially organized who does not want to

• Spend less time looking for things or remembering important dates
• Get more done in less time
• Reduce stress and anxiety
• Save more money

It’s not very difficult to get financially organized. Build systems to help you get financially organized.

Here are a few ways you can get financially organized so you can reduce financial stress and spend more time doing the things you enjoy without worrying as well as save more money at the same time.

Organize your bill paying

Not remembering your bill due dates can cause some financial stress as well as cost you some additional money due to late fee charges. So organizing your bills will reduce stress and help you save some money at the same time. If you implement a bill paying system it will help you with this. Here are a few tips:

• Place your bills in one location. It can be a physical file or electronic file since many bills are now sent electronically.

• Set a specific time to review all of bills to make sure there are no errors. This way you can review all bills at the same time and even make sure you have received all of them.

Organize your savings

Having money saved will help reduce financial stress. But in order to have savings in place you must get your savings plans in order. You cannot save without a system. If you have an automated saving plan in placed the more likely you will save as well as save more money for an emergency, retirement or future purchases.

Organize your goals

Have you organized your financial goals? What are your short term and long term financial goals. Organize or even just writing them down will help you achieve them. Not have organization around your goals will make it a bit more challenging to achieve the things you desire. So take some time to organize your financial goals.

Organize your financial documents

One of my pet peeves is not being able to find something when I need it. Especially important financial documents. You know you placed it in a file somewhere but cannot seem find it when you need it. By have some organization around your documents will save you time and a little stress.

Organize your debt reduction

Reducing or completely eliminate your debt will help you simplify your finances. It will provide a better cash flow situation and allow you to allocate previous debt payments to savings or other appreciating assets. In order to reduce or eliminate debt you must develop a debt reduction plan. Having a organized plan around debt reduce will enable you to focus on it and eliminate your debt faster. The longer you wait the more interest you will pay.

Know your numbers

Knowing your numbers will help you get financially organized. These numbers will tell you what areas of your financial life you need to work on. Focusing on improving these numbers will force you to get organized. You will not be able to improve these numbers unless you get financial organized.

So what will you organize to get your finances under control and begin to simplify your finances?

Take one step at a time to simplify your finances.

Simple Inspiration Interview featuring Eat The Financial Elephant

Financial Elephant

Are you dreaming of financial independence or early retirement?  But not sure were to start or what to do.  Well you will enjoy this week’s interview with Eat The Financial Elephant.   eatelephant

Their blog is about their journey to financial independence and early retirement (by age 40). The emphasis of their blog is to show that you do not have to be extreme in any means to achieve this type of success. This husband and wife both came from average backgrounds and started out with virtually nothing, have never been extremely frugal and have earned above average professional salaries but neither have ever earned 6 figures in any year. They live fairly standard lifestyles (on the surface) that include living in a nice home, being a two-car family, working normal jobs and recently becoming parents. They have made major financial mistakes, especially in the area of investing. They believe their lives are different than most because they have dedicated much of our time and resources to seeking new and exciting adventures. They have traveled the world in pursuit of hiking, climbing, skiing and mountaineering in beautiful places, attending major music and sporting events, and learning about other cultures.

Let’s hear how they have simplify things so they can retire early but still enjoy life alone the way:

What event lead you to decide you needed to change your lifestyle?

We have known for a while that we didn’t want to work forever and live a traditional lifestyle. Our original vision was to become “Dirtbag Millionaires”. However, we had no real plan and no urgency as we had become complacent living a fairly standard busy professional lifestyle.

In fall, 2012 we had two major life events that really made us reassess our priorities and speed up the time frame. First in September, my cousin who was a great friend and inspiration to both of us died after a battle with cancer. This made us realize how fragile and potentially short life can be.

Then in October we had our daughter after 11 years of marriage and thinking kids were not a possibility for us. This made us realize that we had an opportunity that few parents will have. We could both retire while our child is young.

Most families today have 2 working parents. Virtually every family has at least one full-time “bread-winner”. Trying to balance work, parenting, marriage and other relationships and interests is very challenging. We had an opportunity to spend the time we want with our daughter without sacrificing our interests and relationship if we could free up all the time we were spending working.

We knew we had to try it.

What steps did you need to take to make sure you could do it?

At first, we simply thought it was an issue of understanding finances so we started reading everything we could about investing and retirement planning. We fired our financial advisor and took over managing our own investments. We developed a financial plan that made sense for what we wanted to do with our lives.

As we continued to read and learn, we realized we also really needed to change our thought process. We needed to redefine what retirement was to us. We needed to define what we wanted from life and figure out how to pursue this life that we want, rather than viewing retirement as some magical thing that would solve all of our problems.

What was your biggest challenge or roadblock when it came making that change?

I think the biggest challenge is learning to trust ourselves and think independently. As a society, we are trapped in this herd mentality of all thinking, acting and living essentially the same existence.

When taking an unconventional path for your life, everyone wants to tell you that you’re crazy and it is so risky. However, as we have taken the time to get a deeper understanding of the issues we face and develop plans and contingencies we realize that much our fear and anxiety are just a fear of the unknown. We’ve learned to block out these voices that are not offering constructive criticism but just reinforcing fears that are not based on facts or logic.

How will you feel once you reached your goal and are able to live the lifestyle you desire?

This is an interesting question because I feel that many people get all caught up in thinking that life will become magically better once an arbitrary goal has been achieved. We started off on this path and found that we were becoming more dissatisfied with life, even as we progressed towards our financial goals.

Our site was originally meant to document our journeys to financial independence and early retirement, learning the fastest and most efficient ways to these goals. However, we continue to grow and change. We now realize that we need to gradually transition, working less and less until we find a place where we achieve balance in our lives and we are living a lifestyle that we never want to retire from, which may or may not include working for money.

What are your current financial goals?

We are currently working toward our written goal to increase our assets and decrease our expenses to the point that we have 20-25X our expenses by May 1, 2017. However, this is a pretty arbitrary goal and one that we are constantly re-evaluating.

What tools do you currently use to manage your finances?

How’s this for simple? We have two Excel spreadsheets. One to track all of our investments. One to track our spending. We also have a one page Word document that contains our entire wealth/investment plan.

What is the biggest change to your finances that has enabled you to live your current lifestyle?

We have always just naturally lived below our means and been good savers, basically having a 50% savings rate (after tax) by living off of Mrs. EE’s salary and banking mine.

The only major changes we have made are to greatly decrease our tax bill  and investment expenses by learning to manage our own investments. We also continue to gradually become more efficient and cut wasteful spending that we find since we started tracking our expenses over the past couple of years.

Why did you start the Eat the Financial Elephant blog?

We realized that we got tremendous benefit from reading other blogs in the early retirement/financial independence community. The information and insights we gained from them was so different from the same things we heard over and over from mainstream sources and our financial adviser. We realized that we could never pay back all of those people that helped us so much.

We started our blog to share our successes as well as our failures/mistakes to help others. We looked at it as a way of paying forward all that we could never possibly pay back to those that helped us.

The blog has had the unintended consequence of being very motivational to us to continue to learn and develop our plans more completely and we’ve unintentionally created a support system of people we otherwise would have never met that follow along and advise and encourage us. It is a pretty awesome thing.

What type of feedback have you received since it started?

For about 6 months we were just learning how to drive some traffic our way and we had little consistent traffic or feedback and almost quit on several occasions.

Since the beginning of 2015 we have had a few opportunities to get some exposure and have been steadily growing and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

What three things do recommend in order to simplify your finances?

1. Pay yourself first through automated withdrawal from your paycheck. We always put one income directly towards getting out of debt and then transitioned to saving/investing money in this way once we were debt free. This allows you to build wealth quickly without ever missing the money.

2. Use your 401(k) (or 403(b) or whatever version you have available through your job) to combine automated savings, free money if getting a match, tax benefits up front allowing you to save more money, and tax-free growth as long as the money stays invested. All these benefits can be had with one simple decision.

3. Use a cash-back rewards credit card (unless you are horrible with credit and spending). It allows you to make a little money in a completely passive way doing something you would already do, gives you consumer protection and makes tracking your spending very simple.

What are your best savings tips?

1.) We’ve always started with a big picture view with savings. Early on we realized that the biggest expenditures for almost all working Americans are housing, transportation and food. For those that go to college, this is also a massive expense. Optimize in these areas to get some BIG wins before trying to fine-tune everything at once.

2.) Learn to manage your own investments. The finance industry has great incentive to have you focus on returns while ignoring taxes and expenses. The only things you can actually control are taxes and expenses and managing your own investments gives you an opportunity to save massive amounts of money in these areas (with no loss or even improved returns on investments).

3.) Track your spending. We never did this until starting our early retirement planning about two years ago. Even with a high (50%) savings rate, we were amazed at the wasteful spending in our budget that we never even realized.

What percentage of your income are you saving?

For 2015 we should be at about 70-75%. Traditionally, it has been 50% give or take (see questions #7&10)

What book, blog, or podcast would you suggest to someone who is looking to simplify or improve their finances?

I would recommend “The Stock Series” at jlcollinsnh.com where he lays out his “Simple Path” for wealth. It is great for anyone from beginner to seasoned investors and emphasizes simplicity in building wealth.

What advice or thoughts you would like to share with others who are looking to simplify?

Financially, focus on the very big picture items. Buy a house that is affordable and pay close attention to location in relation to work, family and any other things that you do frequently. Find the most economic form of transportation that makes sense for you. By doing these two things you will be able to develop a high savings rate by controlling housing and transportation costs. Then immediately take that savings and automatically start pouring it into automated transactions to your investments, preferably in tax advantaged retirement accounts, which will start saving you on taxes. Now you will automatically be building wealth every month without ever thinking about it.

In life in general, I think the most important thing is to develop an attitude of gratitude. Many people, including at times ourselves, spend a lot of their lives focusing on what we don’t have and feel that we always need to have and do more. The more we learn to just slow down and appreciate the things we already have in life, the happier and more satisfied we become.

Thanks for sharing your story with my readers.

Please check out Eat The Financial Elephant to learn how you too can retire early without having a large salary.

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If you are interested in sharing how you have simplified your financial life, send me an email and I will follow up with you.  Enjoy the rest of your week. Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify.