FI Data Viz #3

Today I tried recreating a data viz that I found really helpful when I was paying off my student loans.  Back then, I would chart how many months of debt I saved myself each month by overpaying on my loans.  I would do this by tracking 2 metrics:

  1. How many months I saved with each payment.  Ex: This month I doubled my minimum payment thereby saving myself 2 months of debt.
  2. How many months total I saved myself.  Ex: In total, I have saved myself 14 months of debt.

Translating the progress of debt to time helped keep me motivated and encouraged me to keep making extra payments.  I thought I’d try recreating a modified version of this for my FI/RE progress.

While I’m quite a ways away from actual FI/RE and can’t really know for sure when I would reach either, I can try to translate the progress I’ve already made into how many months of freedom I’m buying myself each month.  I abandoned the 4% rule for this viz because otherwise the outcomes would not be very interesting.

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In the graph above, the blue line is a running measure of how many added months of expenses my portfolio got every month (contributions + growth/decline) while the grey bars are the running total of how many months worth of expenses I’ve already put aside.  So for example, in February of 2017 the market and I contributed roughly 2.2 months worth of savings to the pot bringing the total number of months of freedom bought to 21 months.

Viz Verdict

Meh.  This is an interesting way to look at the information, but there are so many caveats that I’m not sure this chart is worth it:

  • The lack of 4% rule cardinality…
  • The ambiguity of what the market will do in the future and the fact that I will “lose” months at some point…
  • Not knowing how many months of eventual retirement I will have…

All of these make this a harder sell for a useful chart.

Oh well, worth a shot :).

 

 

FI Data Viz #2

Today I thought I’d build a new viz tracking my FI as a function of which of my expenses* my investments can cover over time (as per the 4% rule).

*Since this is a work-in-progress towards FI and, eventually RE, I did not include in the expenses budget lines I cannot easily estimate the costs of when retired (i.e. taxes and health insurance) or budget lines that I would most likely not be making when retired (i.e. contributions to retirement and investment account).  Realistically, all of my expenses will be different in the future so this is really just an exercise to give me short term goals on the way to full retirement.

For starter’s, here is a list of my monthly expenses

Line Item Cost Running Sum
Laundry $10 $10
Tech (gdrive, netflix) $20 $30
Cell phone bill $35 $65
Internet bill $45 $110
Misc spending $85 $195
Transportation $170 $360
Food $200 $560
Rent $1,200 $1,760

/sigh … That rent line bums me out every time I see it :/.

Moving on, here is a running tally of my investments over the last few years.

1

On the opposite axis, I added the running 4% tally and exaggerated the axes a little bit to make it easier to see the line.

2

Right off the bat, I see a visual problem with this chart.  The axes are not showing the relationship between the two datasets appropriately.  Which is to say that while the red line appears to show ~13% of the “goal” of $1760, the blue line is not showing the same.  Scaling the axes up or down to the full goal of FI also wouldn’t work because then you wouldn’t be able to see the nuances (see chart below).  I could change the type of chart for one of the lines, but I’m lazy :).

3

Soooo I’ll just move forward with the lopsided chart for now and add in my expenses.

4

Visible in teeny tiny font is where along the way I’ve been able to meet my running expenses.  I can now say that my investments can sustainably cover my laundry, tech, cell phone, internet, and miscellaneous expenses.  Now if only I can give up shelter, food, and transportation, I’d be free!

Line Item Cost Running Sum
Laundry $10 $10
Tech (gdrive, netflix) $20 $30
Cell phone bill $35 $65
Internet bill $45 $110
Misc spending $85 $195
Transportation $170 $360
Food $200 $560
Rent $1,200 $1,760

On this planet, I’m projecting I’ll be able to meet my basic expenses by 2024 assuming no drastic changes from status quo.

Viz Verdict

I really like this visual.  It suffers from a few technical problems around scalability and visual innumeracy, but I like the impact of being able to quickly see where I’m able to knock out each additional expense, and how much further I have to go.

FI Data Viz #1

If you know me, you know I’m a weirdo for data visualization.  It’s not a habit driven out of my enjoyment of creating beautiful data visualizations, but rather out of my loathing of bad data visualizations.  What’s sad is that most of what I churn out falls FIRMLY in the latter camp of visualizations deserving of a one-way ticket home to jesus.

That all being said, I love the power of data visualizations!  When I was paying off my student loans, I made all sorts of charts to help me read and connect with the information.  Seeing the line slowly creep towards that horizontal axis value of $0 was my literal finish line.  As such, I thought I’d start doing some data viz for this blog.  So without further ado, let’s get to the nerding 🤓.

I have a document that I use to track the progress of my investment accounts on a monthly basis, as well as to track my contributions to those accounts.  With that information, I calculate and look at 3 variables:

  1. The total change in my portfolio since previous month (blue)
  2. How much of that change was caused by the market (orange)
  3. How much of that change was caused by my contributions (black)

I plotted the three variables below.

Viz Verdict

While my contributions over the past two years have been pretty consistent and increasing, the market has been doing what markets do.  A take away from the visualization could be that I need to make sure that the black line (my contribution) is always spiking when the market is on sale and the orange line dips.

At this point, this chart isn’t telling me anything I don’t know, but hey I already disclosed that I’m bad at this.  Hopefully with time, I can keep churning these out until I develop charts that are useful and motivational.

Small victory to claim this week

I am very fortunate to have a job that offers a 401k.  I’m even more fortunate that my job offers that 401k through Vanguard.  Recently, the powers that be did some swaps on the investment options and got us some ridiculously cheap deals.  We now have access to an institutional version of VFINX for a whopping expense ratio of 0.013% (0.127% below market) and an institutional version of VTSAX for 0.0175% (0.0225% below market).

I took a page out of their book and decided to move some stuff around in preparation for the upcoming changes.

Here is what I was spending before the changes:

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 5.22.42 PM

According to Personal Capital, I was losing ~4% of my earnings to fees.  This was very dumb of me.  I call this dumb because I spent about 10 minutes moving some things around within the existing investment options and was able to cut down my costs significantly:

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 5.22.34 PM

I saved myself 3% and thousands of dollars of earnings in the long term! See? Dumb.

The new investment options haven’t even kicked in yet, but I imagine they will bring that number down even more.  I’m currently looking into whether I can move my IRAs into the 401k account to take advantage of these amazing fees.  If so, I imagine I can get my average expense ratio under 0.02%.

**UPDATE 1 of 2? 3?**

The fee keeps going down! This effect came from moving 2 (out of 4 total) IRAs into my 401K.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 7.12.42 PM

I’ll do another update when the 401K investments get moved to the cheaper index funds… and maybe one more once I move my other 2 IRAs into this 401K.

 

**UPDATE 2 of 2**

Alas Personal Capital does not import the expense ratios of institutional funds, but they do allow you to set an estimate of what those funds cost.  Unfortunately, that slider allows you to pick expense ratios in 0.1% increments.  My new sexy index funds are one whole decimal point away from those increments in the 0.01%-0.02% ballpark, so it does not work for me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Much much over-due update

Boy have I dropped the ball on this blog! In the time since my last update, I:

  • Moved apartments
  • Lived in another country for several weeks
  • Traveled to 4 other ones
  • Received a small raise
  • Got into indoor gardening
  • Started selling off things I didn’t need (including my car)

All in all, a very expensive but very fun few months.

My net worth is trucking along and is the highest it’s ever been at nearly $69K, I’m saving more than ever before, and in general, I’m only slightly behind my first year goals for FIRE.

I’m actually quite happy with everything and look forward to more passive lifestyle changes in 2017.  Otherwise, nothing exciting to note.

Carmax vs.Vroom vs. Beepi vs. Shift: A Case Study

I recently found myself no longer in need of a car.  I guess I haven’t ever really needed a car at all, but I only just got around to dumping the financial bulk.  With that in mind, I started looking around for ways to sell my 2012 Prius C.  The car was well-maintained with minimal wear and tear, and is a great city car to own.

I decided off the bat that I didn’t want to do the Craigslist thing.  In addition to the inconvenience of it all, I would also need to clear the lien on the car and didn’t want to move money out of savings to do that (purely out of laziness).  That left me with dealerships.

By the end of a week, I had tried out Carmax, Vroom, Beepi and Shift and decided to review each of those experiences here.  Before we do that, I’ll start by showing the Kelley Blue Book value of my car as a baseline:

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Carmax

I first took the car in to Carmax for an appraisal.  The representative was really nice and professional.  I waited in the sitting area for about 20 minutes before being given a written offer of $8,500 on the car valid for 7 days.  Not too bad, but I thought I’d keep looking around.

Pros: Easily accessible; straight forward and fast process

Cons: The lowest offer I got; did not provide a shuttle to the nearest train station and the dealership is not exactly in a transit friendly area

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Vroom

Next I tried Vroom.  Now Vroom’s business model is a little different.  There’s no brick and mortar dealership in my area that I could go to, so instead I filled out an online form with information about the car and sent in a handful of pictures of the interior and exterior.  They claim you will get an offer within a half hour, but that didn’t happen with me and I ended up getting my offer the next day (not a big deal).  Their offer came in at $8,950 and was valid for 7 days or 250 miles.

Pros: didn’t have to talk to a single person and was able to do everything online; got exact offer as opposed to ballpark range

Cons: none as far as I can tell, but then again I didn’t look too far into this company as their offer was meh

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-7-34-13-pm

Beepi

Next, I tried out Beepi.  They’re similar to Vroom in that there’s no dealership for you to go to, but their pre-offer inspection is a little more thorough.  I inputed some information into their website and scheduled a time for their technician to come by.  The guy that came in was just awesome!  He was professional, straight forward, and very good at what he did.  He talked me through the process really well and even gave me pointers on how I could up the offer once it was formulated (a process he himself was not involved in).  We took the car for a test drive, he did his inspection, and we then drove out to a lot so he could get some pictures.  They claim the offer comes in 48 hours after the inspection, but since my inspection was early in the morning, I got mine the same day.  Their offer came in at $10,892 with a deduction of $1,041 for new tires and fixing up the car for a net to me of $9,866.  The offer was valid for 3 days or some ridiculously high number of miles that I have forgotten.  With them, once you accept the offer, they list the vehicle (using the pictures the rep took), and they pick up the car when it sells.  If in 30 days your car hasn’t sold, they give you the money themselves and take the car off your hands.  Either way, you get the full offer in 30 days or less and the car is picked up by their rep, all the while the car stays with you until it’s sold.

Pros: they were cool with me doing any upgrades or modifications in advance to up my offer; their rep was great to work with; their inspection report was just fantastic (comprehensive, detailed, and cut to the chase); their rep was a full time employee and didn’t put any pressure on me to list with them, so I got the impression that he didn’t stand to gain or lose anything either way; you keep the car until it sells; if Beepi sells the car and it is returned, you don’t have to deal with it and you don’t have to pay the money back… Beepi does; they claim they don’t turn a profit on fixing up the cars before sales

Cons: the in-person inspection takes 2 hours; had to schedule inspection several days in advance (come to find out later that this is because they only had one inspector working my entire metro area… and I live in Washington DC)

Shift

I came by Shift at the recommendation of several friends who have used it and had great experiences with it.  Similar to Beepi, you fill out a form online and they send out a rep to inspect your car.  This inspection is much much shorter at only 30 minutes, and I was able to schedule it the same day.  The rep came out with a tablet and recorded the car’s details.  He didn’t take pictures, but they do offer a $100 bonus if you let them take the car that day.  The way it works is that they pick up your car and make it available to their buyers for test drives.  For the duration of your contract with them (60 days in my case), they take the car around to people’s homes for test drives until the car sells.  At the end of the contract period, you either take the car back (not sure if they recompense you for the miles/wear and tear), re-up the contract, or give you the guaranteed minimum.  Their rep was a part time employee and was much more motivated to get me on board than the Beepi or Carmax reps were.  He had a tablet that he was using to get the estimate and explained that there were two pricing models they used: one was a flat rate model and the other… wasn’t?  Honestly he lost me in the process and by the end of our meeting, I had 3 different offers for 3 different prices sitting in my inbox… and I had forgotten what the distinction was between the prices (the Android to Beepi’s iPhone).  He knew he was my last rep and was trying to work with me to get me a price to beat Beepi’s, hence the trial and error, but alas the form the system sends you is not comprehensive like Beepi’s and so I had no idea which email went with which manipulation he had inputed into the algorithm.  Ended up with one offer for $9,468, one for $9,818, and another for $10,660.  That last one was technically the highest offer all around, but it would have involved me changing the tires on my car, taking the car to a body shop to get some small dents popped, and maybe even fixing a bumper’s paint job? I don’t recall, but I did the math, and I would have ended up with a lot less money if I had done the fixes myself.  With all that in mind, let’s say Shift’s offer was the middle one of $9,818.

Pros: short inspection period; I was able to schedule the inspection the same day; you get an offer on the spot and are able to hand the car over then and there if you choose– and they throw in a bonus if you do that

Cons: no idea what the actual final offer of the vehicle was; they take the car to sell it so you don’t have a car in the meantime; if they do sell the car and it is returned by the buyer, it’s my understanding that you have to fork the money back up

The winner?

Beepi, hands down.  Great customer service, huge bonus points with that fantastic inspection report, and the best offer.  Plus I get to keep the car while they’re trying to sell it, AND I get the money no questions asked in 30 days (unless I wreck the car in the meantime or somehow violate their terms of agreement).  I would post screenshots of the inspection report, but because I had already accepted the offer before writing this post, I no longer have access to the report.  All in all, I consider myself lucky that the company I most enjoyed working with also gave me the best offer.

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Overall, I think car buying and selling has changed a lot from what many of us expect it to be.  What I felt worked for me was understanding my level of comfort with the different options, doing minimal research and instead opting for asking a lot of questions, and taking my time.