Planning for the Long Haul

Recently, I mentioned that my wife and I have developed a financial plan to cover our entire life until retirement, and several readers wrote to me asking for more details about this plan. So, let’s take a look and see what I was talking about – and perhaps it will inspire you to do the same.

The first step for my wife and I was to sit down and identify our biggest goals in life. What do we really want to do with the rest of our lives? What do we dream about? It really came down to three big dreams.

Defining the Biggest Goals

1. Raise our two (and likely more) children with every opportunity in the world and lots of growth experiences

This means a lot of things: saving for college, providing them a top-notch education, giving them everything they need to discover and explore their passions, traveling extensively (and off the beaten path, too, to observe how a diversity of people live), reading a lot, and so on. If there’s an educational opportunity that works for our children, we don’t want our finances to stand in the way of it.

2. Buy a significant patch of land, mostly forested, out in the country, and build a reasonable house on it

This is something we’ve always dreamed of – a nice, large house out in the country for our kids to finish growing up in and to come home to, with plenty of space for them to sleep when they come back and bring their own children. My wife’s grandfather has this, and it’s so pleasant that it’s even come to feel like home to me – I look forward to visiting there, playing cards with my in-laws, and just enjoying pleasant and relaxing company. We both really want to have such a place for our own children and grandchildren to come back to. We want to be able to purchase the land and commence construction before our children are out of eighth grade, intending to stay in our current school district.

3. Retire as young as possible and commit the rest of our lives to community volunteerism

Our third major goal in life – likely the one taking center stage when the first two are complete – is to retire young and focus on community and political volunteering for the rest of our adult lives. Running for local political offices, serving on boards, doing volunteer work, and campaigning for other candidates sounds like a wonderful retirement for us.

Our Plan

We actually sketched out a year-by-year plan with specific goals reaching through our youngest child’s high school graduation, setting targeted goals for each year. We attempted to define flexible goals that could still be met even with significant life changes. Here are our goals for the next three years.

1. By the end of 2008

We intend to have fully eliminated my wife’s student loans, contributed $1,200 each for the year to our children’s 529 plans, and increased our retirement savings to 1.3 times our combined annual living expenses.

2. By the end of 2009

We intend to have fully eliminated all of our student loans, contributed $1,200 each for the year to our children’s 529 plans, and increased our retirement savings to 1.45 times our combined annual living expenses.

3. By the end of 2010

We intend to have $20,000 in our portfolio saving for our country house, contributed $1,200 each for the year to our children’s 529 plans, and increased our retirement savings to 1.6 times our combined annual living expenses.

Some Additional Notes

Obviously, this raises a lot of questions, so I thought I’d address some of the more obvious ones right away.

1. Acceleration

We are intending to accelerate this as much as we can. For instance, I’m hoping that my wife’s student loan will be gone this July, so we can focus in on eliminating my own student loan, which might be done in early 2009. This lets us go ahead and start with our investing plan in early 2009 instead of in 2010.

2. Our current mortgage

Our mortgage has a low enough interest rate that we’ll just continue to pay it off, a payment at a time, until we’re ready to move on, at which point we’ll use the proceeds from the house sale to pay off the remainder of the current mortgage.

3. Retirement planning

Not only are we doing much better than many metrics suggest that we should be doing at our age, we’re also trying to set up sources of passive income to help guide us through.

4. Educational opportunity savings

Right now, with our children so young, the educational opportunities are somewhat limited. In the future, we plan on budgeting a notable portion of our annual budget to such expenses, particularly travel and educational costs.

Comments? Questions? Fire away in the comments.

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