June 2018 Best of the Web

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Before we dive into this month’s best of the web, we need to take care of a little blog business. First, Can I Retire Yet? was featured in several audio formats this past month.

I had the chance to sit down with Todd Tresidder for a rare episode of his Financial Mentor Podcast. I’ve gotten great value from Todd’s work since I got on the path to financial independence. Todd is an incredibly smart and insightful person. I learned things about myself after talking to him for an hour that I hadn’t figured out in 40+ years of life. Check out the interview here.

We also started a relationship to allow some of our content to be shared on the Optimal Living Daily Podcast. Our first feature was Darrow’s Luxury or Essential? Check them out and keep an eye out for future content from us alongside other top bloggers.

Over the next few weeks, my family will be packing up and making a cross country move from western Pennsylvania where my wife and I were raised, went to college, and built our careers. We’ll be moving to the mountains of Utah where we anticipate spending the next phase of life focused on slower living, with more time to be part of our daughter’s life and seek outdoor adventure.

An emphasis on simplicity enabling a lifestyle of adventure is what drew me to this blog. Darrow has stepped away from the blog for the next month as he continues his tradition of spending the summer seeking adventure in the mountains.

I enjoy interacting with readers and apologize for my slow or limited responses to emails and comments on the blog during this busy time. I’ll apologize in advance as I anticipate more of the same until we get settled in to our new routine and Darrow returns.

With that, it’s time to share the best items Darrow and I have found around the internet in the last month to help you save more, invest smarter, and retire sooner.

This month’s selections focus on finding the best strategy for claiming social security and the value of simplicity in finance and life. Selections also explore what really matters when developing a retirement withdrawal plan, determining your investment outcomes, and finding happiness and fulfillment in retirement.

We’ll finish with a selection that provides perspective on wealth, success, and what really matters in life.

Optimizing Social Security

Mike Piper released a New Free, Open-Source Social Security Calculator that we encourage you to try.

Steve Chen interviewed Mary Beth Franklin on Avoiding Big Social Security Claiming Mistakes.

Understanding What Matters

Jim Dahle wrote The Most Important Factor in Retirement Withdrawal Plans.

Barry Ritholtz shared What Helps or Hurts Investment Returns? Here’s a Ranking.

Tanja Hester wrote What Early Retirement Has and Hasn’t “Fixed.”

Simple is Better

JL Collins wrote about a key trait for those following his “Simple Path” for building wealth and investing: Optimism.

Christine Benz is yet another seasoned voice who says when it comes to investing, simpler is better. She wrote Lessons From the Past 25 Years.

Behavioral Finance

One piece of personal finance that matters a lot and is not simple for most investors is managing their own behavior. Morgan Housel masterfully wrote The Psychology of Money.

How to Be Wealthy and Successful

One of my favorite contemporary writers is everyman adventurer Brendan Leonard, whose writing always delivers perspective, motivation, or humor. He delivered all three simultaneously when he had the opportunity to give a commencement talk recently. Check it out here: Dream Big, Work Hard, Be Kind: A Message for 2018.

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  1. I really enjoyed your episode with Todd Tressider Chris – great job!

  2. Chris,
    In the podcast, you said you saved 45%-50% of you income while still working. Is this pre-tax or after tax? If it’s the former, I would assume income tax, medicare,social security witholding and employee share of health insurance premiums will take another 35% or more leaving you living on 15%-20% of gross income. That would be ridiculously low and being way too frugal IMO so am I correct in assuming this 45%-50% of income saved is after tax disposalble income?

    • Chris Mamula says


      Not sure I understand the idea of being “way too frugal”. One of the things that Todd pointed out in the interview that I hadn’t connected the dots on before is that the reason saving always felt easy to me, and never a sacrifice, is that we were living a life in alignment with our values. We spent on everything we wanted, sometimes extravagantly including annual ski trips west, international climbing trips, and even attending two Super Bowls because that’s what mattered to us. At the same time we lived in a low cost of living area and bought way less house than we could “afford”, paying it off in 7 years. We also never had car loans and busted our butts to get 6 college degrees with minimal debt. We never spent much money on stuff we didn’t value, namely homes, cars, clothes, jewelry, etc and because we didn’t care about that stuff and also did well with education costs were able to always live off only my wife’s salary and bank mine allowing us to achieve FI quickly, despite neither of us ever making a six-figure salary. After correcting our prior financial mistakes, we saved much more b/c our income taxes and cap gains taxes on investments were much less. Also drastically cut investing fees. None of that was much of a sacrifice either, as I don’t know anyone who wants to pay more taxes and expenses for bad advice. 😉


      • What you say makes perfect sense but the math didn’t quite add up to me. In the interview, you said both you and your wife made a combined W-2 income of $160k/yr. If you save 50% of that pre-tax income and assuming income tax, healthcare premiums, SS and medicare comes to roughly 25% (about where I’m at but I don’t pay State income tax in WA), you are living off of 25% of income, which is about $40k/yr. With that, you can pay for groceries, utilities, insurance, transportation, mortgage (or at least property tax), kid activities, etc and still can go on ski trips and the Super Bowl? I guess it’s doable but just trying to better understand the numbers.

        • Chris Mamula says

          So we never really had a system, we never lived with a budget, and never really tracked at all until last 4 years. Up until then our rough “system” was to live on my wife’s after tax income, and bank mine. So roughly we saved 50% after tax. But in that construct, some of those years we probably spent a couple thousand dollars of my salary to do a splurge, and some (probably most) years we also saved some of my wife’s income. We didn’t save a lot in our work retirement plans until that last 5 year home stretch when we both maxed 401(k), but both always enough to get a match so still a couple thousand dollars/year pre-tax. Housing and transportation make up about 50% of a normal household spending. Now that we do track I can tell you it makes up about 14-18% of ours, so that’s a lot of extra dollars to spend doing fun stuff while still leaving a good bit to invest.

          • Thanks as this helps clarify things. I like the idea of living in alignment with your financial values, provided they are healthy ones. My parents, brothers and our family seem to carry the same values and don’t really have budgets either. We just spend prudently and only consciously splurge occasionally but never at the expense of our financial future. I am happy to say that because these values, each of us are in position to FIRE if we want to (except my parents who are obviously already retired and doing well).

  3. Great podcast interview. The variable annuity comment…my wife was in one of these in her 403b when we first got married. I got her out of it but the surrender charge cost her something like $10k, not too mention the high fees. I know she can empathize with how you were kicking yourself on this. She feels the same way. We all have to just chalk it up to experience as you said. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Chris Mamula says

      Thanks for listening and reading. Glad to hear she got things turned around as well. All we can do is move on.

  4. Mike Piper’s Open Source SS calculator was an eye-opener! It set in motion a whole chain of thought and research, which will save us $1200 in income tax this year and many thousands in SS payments over our lifetime. Thanks so much!

    • Chris Mamula says

      I’ve not spent much time with it or SS in general at this point as it is so far out in the future for me, but Darrow really liked it and recommended it. Mike Piper is a very smart and reputable guy, so happy to share his efforts and glad to hear you got value.

  5. I agree that Mike Piper’s Open Source SS calculator was another method of addressing the “when” question. For myself, a recent retiree who is approaching full retirement age in 9 months at age 66, the calculator’s strategy was to begin withdrawal at age 69 – instead of the standing recommendation of age 70. Interesting. I am also interested in knowing if his calculator assumes maintaining the funding of SS at today’s expectations. A recent article by The Motley Fool, as well as many others, says it is unlikely that SS will be able to be maintained, and lawmakers will be looking to reduce benefits, especially given the anticipated increase in national debt due to the recent tax cut in tax revenue. Given this is correct, I have been researching the “bird in a hand” strategy which is to start the benefit now and invest it myself. Any comments?

    • Chris Mamula says

      I don’t pay attention to speculation about political/policy issues which is generally hype to draw eyeballs and thus advertising dollars. There is already plenty of legitimate uncertainty with things like inflation, market returns, and interest rates that makes retirement planning hard enough without all of the noise. I do think for someone like me in my early 40’s it would be naive to think that SS will look the same when I am eligible for benefits as they look today. For someone who is 66, I would spend exactly 0% of my time worrying about it. Not to say things couldn’t happen. Just that it’s highly unlikely and even if it happens, it’s completely out of your control. Hope that helps.