Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Contemplating life changes (or the five-year plan)

Various thoughts and ideas have been floating around my head and involve reconsidering my career path, reviewing my financial goals, deciding where I see myself in five years and how I might get there. These are heady changes and need plenty of time to contemplate how to accomplish them. Here is how they have been breaking down.

I have been considering where I want to live. My forties are not too far away and I would like to return to my roots in the country. I do not intend to be a farmer like my father, but there is something about living my own life that appeals to the independent part of me I put away after deciding a Ph.D. and my own research lab were not part of my career path. However, to get to the point of truly changing my life situation, I would need to save more money and plan for this change. I have a few years and sitting down to make a plan would help me determine if this is feasible in five years or not.

I know what I do not like. My two years in a small city of 12,000 people have pointed out that the friendliness and small-town feel are just talk. No one has gone out of their way to introduce themselves and rather than helping neighbors, some would rather complain about the state of the sidewalk after a winter with record snowfall. There are some very lovely people as my neighbors but my experience has been neutral to negative in my suburban neighborhood and I would rather live somewhere else.

In addition, I have been reconsidering my current career but it is difficult. I am at a good company with a great supervisor but my motivation is lacking. Since I have no idea what I can replace my job with, it behooves me to find the best ways to use my current skills and learn new skills in my position. After ten years in my company, I do get rewarded with $1,000 gift certificate and I am thinking to stay with the company for ten years, reach this goal and leave shortly after. This timeframe would coincide with intention to leave for the country. My job and a new living situation are not mutually exclusive, but I think I will be ready for a big life change at this point.

How do I get to this point? I have to consider my income, my savings and what I want do with a new life in the country. I have ideas, everything from a pick-your-own-strawberry patch to a restful country retreat, a native tree nursery or even being self-sufficient. These ideas are still more vague and I need to figure out what I want to do before I execute my plan. These ideas also will take time to build to a business and therefore, I need to have money to carry me through until I am established.

Many financial bloggers impress me with their fantastic savings rate. I live on about 70% of my income, thereby saving 30%. Simplicity in Kansas regularly saves over 50% and others have noted saving nearly 70%. My fixed expenses as a percent of my income are higher than many recommend, nearly 60%. Being able to live on 50% of my income or less would be better if I found myself in a tight financial situation. A roommate would free up some money but I like my personal space so this option is not ideal. I need to explore alternative income streams but am still trying to figure out what they could be.

Regardless of the plan I pursue, I cannot skimp on saving for retirement. If I do get a raise this year, the money will go to my Roth IRA. While I am on track to max out my 2007 contributions, 2008 looks more challenging. I will likely need any 2008 tax refunds to help max out my 2008 contributions, but that is all a year away. I am still debating whether I will follow my financial advisor's suggestion and decrease my 401k contribution and increase my Roth IRA funding. I will need to evaluate this idea after I receive any boost in income. My found money may help fund the Roth IRA or go to another use (e.g., vacation or new computer).

This all means I really need a plan and ideas on how to save more. There is room in my spending plan. I do not spend much on clothing or entertainment and have let the money carry in the category. I am considering how to treat the excess: get to a total (e.g., $75) and then save the balance or start saving the money every other month when not spent. I plan on tracking the unexpected money put into my savings like my extra paychecks (I live on 24 paychecks even though I receive 26 in a year), bonuses and excess money in a spending category. This will let me know how much I really am saving in addition to my automatic transfers. It may also help me readjust my spending plan. With a goal in mind for the future (getting a farmette in the country), my incentive to save will only increase.

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