Targets for Mustachian Wealth Accumulation

In the William Danko and late Thomas Stanley classic The Millionaire Next Door, the authors talk about two different types of people who handle their money in ways that either lead to wealth over the long term or lead to mediocrity or poverty.  These are Under Accumulators of Wealth (UAWs) and Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth (PAWs).  UAWs are likely to always stay in the lower and middle classes, while PAWs, even if they start out in a disadvantaged financial position, are likely to move into the upper class at some point in their lifetime.

The Classic Millionaire Next Door Approach

The original formula laid out in page 13 of The Millionaire Next Door takes into account two variables to determine this classification: age and income.  It is as follows:

Multiply your age times your realized pretax annual household income from all sources except inheritances.  Divide by ten.  This, less any inherited wealth, is what your net worth should be.

In order to be considered a PAW, your net worth should be twice the expected level.  To be considered a UAW, your net worth would be half the expected level.  In short, this is:

PAW if Expected Net Worth > 2*(Age*Income)/10

UAW if Expected Net Worth < 0.5*(Age*Income)/10

This a good starting place to determine whether you are truly on the path to becoming wealthy.  However, it doesn’t really take into account all of the right variables.  I mean, what if you are 22 years old, have been working for a year, and are absolutely killing it making $100,000/year?  Is your net worth really supposed to be $220,000?  News flash – you’ve only been working for one year, your net worth might be negative because of student loans.

The Arebelspy “Normal” Approach

Essentially, time to accumulate wealth is factored in linearly, when it really should be considered exponentially.  Fortunately, someone has come up with something better.

Arebelspy, one of the administrators on the MMM forums, suggests an exponential formula for tracking how “on track” one is to building wealth, measured against an aggressive but doable benchmark.  Formula number one is:

Expected Net Worth = (EXP(0.075*(Age-20))-1)*Income

This is a lot more reasonable, as it has lower expectations for wealth building in the early years, but exponentially increases as one gets older.  Let’s take a look at an example of someone who starts out at 20 years old and makes $35,000 per year, which isn’t unreasonable for a variety of entry level positions.  We’ll assume their pay increases by 3% per year, so the amount they should have in expected net worth correlates with their increase in income over time.  The graph below shows a comparison between the arebelspy formula and Dr. Stanley’s.


 This seems pretty reasonable.  You can get to that level of wealth by contributing $925 per month over a 45 year period with a 7% investment return.  Or, if your returns were a little better, say 8%, you’d only have to contribute $675 per month.  Don’t get me wrong, this would definitely be a lot in the early days – if you’re making $35,000 per year pre-tax we’re talking about $11,100 per year in savings for the 7% scenario and $8,100 per year in savings for the 8% scenario.

Assuming an effective tax rate of 15%, this equates to a 37% and 27% savings rates on net income, respectively.  This is definitely more than the norm, but it is also doable.  This is even more so if you look ten years out in both of these hypothetical scenarios.  At 30 years old, let’s say your income compounded at 3% per year since you were 20, so now you’re making a little over $47,000 per year.  Now, using the same assumption for taxes, and the investment amounts, you’d only need to be saving 27% or 20% of your net income to hit $3,350,000 by age 65.

Basically, if you can save about 25% of your net income throughout your working lifetime, you’re golden.  You’d be able to retire comfortably within about 30 years (assuming a 4% withdrawal rate).  Your assets wouldn’t have to grow very aggressively, at a 7% or 8% long term rate of return.

What about if you are truly a hardcore saver though?  What if you consider yourself a Mustachian, and saving 50% of your net income is what you consider normal?

The Arebelspy “Hardcore Mustachian” Approach

Arebelspy offers a more aggressive formula for this type of person.  It essentially doubles the exponential rate of growth that is expected for a person at a given age and income level:

Expected Net Worth = (EXP(0.15*(Age-20))-1)*Income

Now is where things get interesting.  What does this data look like?  Let’s first look at the initial 30 years of a Mustachian’s working life.  Note that here, I’m assuming that the person in question earns an income and invests for 45 consecutive years, although I am well aware that many (the majority?) of Mustachians seek early retirement as their goal and actually plan to not work once they hit their “number.”


Here there’s a dramatic difference in expected net worth.  By the age of 50, the formula tells us that our hypothetical hard-core saver should have over $7,500,000 in investments.  Whoa!  Initially, I crunched these numbers with the same income and rate of return assumptions – $35,000 per year at age 20 and 3% raises thereafter.  I looked at an 8% long term rate of return.

It didn’t really add up, because even if you saved 50% of your income throughout this period, there’s no way you would hit $7.5 million with these assumptions.  Let’s say at 30 years old, you’re making $47,000 pre-tax, like before.  Let’s say you were saving 50% of the after-tax amount, or about $1,660 per month.  This would already be pretty difficult, as you would be living on $1,660 per month as well.  Additionally, this is far less than the $5,150 per month required to hit $7.5 million at an 8% rate of return.

Ok, so assuming that the variables of time, salary and age are not altered, a higher rate of return on one’s overall portfolio would need to be responsible for this kind of growth.  To be fair, in the thread where this topic was thoroughly discussed, arebelspy admits that the formula works best for the first 15 years of compounding and for someone with a 50-75% savings rate.  In our example, at 35 years old the expected net worth for a Mustachian saver is a little bit over $460,000.  This equates to about $1300 invested per month consistently over that 15 year period, with an 8% rate of return – definitely reasonable based on our assumptions of someone who is a hard-core saver.  In the beginning of one’s career, that’s a 52% savings rate, while at age 35 that’s a 39% savings rate (again, accounting for taxes and a 3% annual rise in salary).

From that point, in order to go from $460,000 to $7,500,000 between ages 35 to 50, it would take $17,250 per month (!) to hit that number with 8% annual compounding.

Ok, so this model works great for the first 15 years on one’s working life for hard-core savers.  What would work well over a longer period of time though?  How would I do it?

The Old Man Mase Approach

 I think that standard milestones to shoot for should be based mainly on two things: savings rate and rate of return of one’s investments.  These parameters should both be somewhat aggressive, but yet conservative enough that they are actually achievable.

I’ve chosen two scenarios – a “standard Mustachian” approach and a “hardcore Mustachian” approach.  For the standard approach, I’m assuming:

  • 50% savings rate
  • 8% growth in investments annually
  • 3% growth in salary annually

The most difficult part of that scenario is probably the savings rate.  It can be hard to get to saving 50% of your income, especially if you start out not making very much.  However, once your income increases a bit and get a few expenses under control (including probably eliminating debt), there becomes enough margin to get to that 50% mark.

For more hardcore Mustachians, saving 60%+ is possible with discipline (or with a very high income without a lot of discipline, ha!).  For this scenario, I’m assuming:

  • 60% savings rate
  • 8% growth in investments annually
  • 5% growth in salary annually

The 5% growth number for income increases is reasonable I think, with some concerted effort.  I’m not saying that income increases would come in this scenario all at once, because we all know that this tends to happen in fits and starts.  One year you get promoted, while the next couple of years you get cost-of-living raises (2 or 3%).

I used the future value of a growing annuity formula to come up with the values for expected net worth in both scenarios:


By tweaking two of the variables in just a small way, you can get way better results over time.  Let’s look at the “Old Man Mase Milestones” for saving under these scenarios.


We see that with the Standard Mustachian approach it would not be unreasonable for someone starting out making $35,000 per year to reach age 65 as a decamillionaire.  They’d be able to retire much sooner than 65 however, around the age of 37.  Net worth around this point would be about $716,000.  With a 4% withdrawal rate, they’d be able to live off of $28,640.  This would cover all of their living expenses since they’d be making around $56,000 per year at the time, and living off of half of it.  If you wanted a little bit more margin of safety at this point, you could just work three more years until age 40.  At that point you’d be set for life with about a $1,000,000 portfolio that you could live off of (theoretically) forever.

With the Hardcore Mustachian approach, you’d reach $16,000,000 by 65, or 60% more wealth than the Standard Mustachian.  You’d be a decamillionaire before hitting age 60, and able to retire at 35 or 36 (with a bigger margin of safety at around 38).

I think this form of an equation is reasonable because it accounts for all of the important variables: years working, savings rate, investment growth, and income growth.  All of these numbers play a part in determining the ultimate outcome.

With that said, when people say things like, “it’s excusable if someone doesn’t retire a millionaire in America today”, I generally agree with them.  Barring large unforeseen medical expenses, or other major negative life events, if someone is not able to save $1,000,000 over a 40 year career, they weren’t really trying.

Additionally, if someone who considers themselves Mustachian, and discovers the path to financial independence in their 20s does not have a massive net worth by the time they are 65, they weren’t really making an effort to put a lot of money away and/or putting it in bad/mediocre investments.  Isn’t it amazing though that someone can amass so much wealth simply by saving 50% over their working lifetime?  (I say “just” 50%, but I recognize this is a difficult feat if you haven’t yet been exposed to many of the strategies and tactics used to work toward financial independence.)

It’s still crazy to me, and it is a concept that will probably never get old.  I’m still too young to be able to fully appreciate the power of compounding, but just looking at the math is really inspiring.  To be a wealthy Mustachian (am I being redundant there?) all you have to do is pretty much save 50% of your income and keep working hard.  Eventually you’ll get there.  Further increases in income and investment returns can supercharge your results, but it’s not necessary to make crazy assumptions – and that’s what makes this whole financial independence thing so exciting – it’s actually attainable!

33% of High Schools Now Teach Dave Ramsey

Did you know that just about 1/3rd of all high schools in the U.S. now teach the Dave Ramsey curriculum Foundations in Personal Finance?  It’s a high school curriculum that teaches basic financial principles such as budgeting, staying away from debt, and saving for the future (investing basics).

Dave_RamseyFirst of all, I think that this is awesome.  When I was in high school, I had “Economics 101” which taught me a few things, but I mainly concerned with passing the tests to get my A and moving on.  It didn’t excite me about personal finance or investing.  That didn’t happen until I was in college.  I vaguely remember learning some of the basic concepts such as supply and demand, and maybe a little bit of history about some of the major financial events that have happened since America was founded. Nothing seemed very relevant to my personal life.

If I was in high school now, I’d definitely appreciate it if my teachers and administrators pushed for the Foundations of Personal Finance curriculum.  I’m not saying it would be extremely entertaining from the perspective of a 16 year old kid, but it probably wouldn’t be so dry as those presentations and textbooks I had to look through in Econ.

So, what are the implications of this class being taught to millions of high school students around the country?  Will we slowly become a generation of savers, investors, and debt-shunners?

Unfortunately, I don’t think it works like that.  While I do believe that, overall, the country will have a greater level of financial literacy – or at least awareness – because of Dave’s teaching materials, it would be foolish of me to think that every other teenager in America is going to latch onto the “avoid debt” bandwagon.

There will still be credit card companies pushing the idea that FICO scores are a necessity – that you should build it up so you can borrow money for a starter home at some point, and then you should keep it up so you can borrow even more for a bigger home later.  There are still flashy car commercials, banks that advertise for low-rate loans, and streets full of bars with unbelievable happy hour deals ($7 for a pitcher?  Sign me up!)

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, as Mrs. Mase told me.  The problem with financial literacy efforts in this country is not just that people don’t know information – we live in the most information-dense period in history.  It is also the fact that people must have a real, emotional incentive to take positive action.

Information definitely comes first though, and for that, I applaud Dave Ramsey and his team for being so successful with their program.  Even just a few years ago, many high schools did not have basic personal finance classes.  Now, the barrier to the information part of the equation has been lowered.  We just have to get people to actually do the things that they are learning.

One of the unfortunate things about the whole situation of personal finance in America is that, in aggregate, we’re a complete mess.  If most Americans were relatively responsible with their financial affairs, Dave Ramsey wouldn’t be in business.  The majority (well, maybe around 50%) of the calls on his radio show are from people who are on Baby Step 2 in his program.  That’s the one where you’ve got $1,000 set aside already for emergencies, and you’re working and pushing as much as you can to pay off all of your consumer debt.  Really, there aren’t too many calls for Baby Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7.  Once you make it to Step 3, you’ve pretty much got yourself together and are no longer on super shaky ground.  The sad thing is, most people are not even in that stage.  Look at our average savings rate right now compared to other countries of similar GDP:


4.9% right now.  It could be worse, but we could do a lot better America.  I’m quite impressed by the Swiss – almost 18% on average is something to be proud of.  Heck, Hungarians save more than us, and their GDP per capita is way lower.

When it comes down to it, we’ve got some work to do.  Budgets need to be made and savings accounts need to be opened.  I’m definitely grateful for Dave Ramsey’s high school curriculum, bringing the knowledge to the young-ins.  That’s only one piece of the puzzle though.  There has to be greater awareness of how controlling one’s finances can really change our lives for the better.  That’s why I’m so excited about the early retirement/financial independence movement that’s been going on on-line for some time now.  People are making radical changes in their lives and sharing it with the world.

Hopefully the journey I’m sharing here will add a little bit more to that inspiration 🙂

How Much Is Your Car Costing You?

So Mrs. Mase and I often talk about finances, as you mighg imagine.  A topic that comes up sometimes is where we will move to once we buy a single family home (we live in a condo now). The thing is, Mrs. Mase walks to work, and because of our schedules, we’d likely look into getting a second car.  Also we’ve thought about other alternatives like staying a one car family or even becoming a no car family.  This gets me to thinking: how much are we spending on transportation right now?  How does this compare to data from other people’s lives?  I did a little research and calculations to find out.

The total cost associated with a car are as follows:

Total Operating Car Costs = car payment + depreciation + gas + regular maintenance + insurance + property tax + parking

Whoa.  I hope I didn’t miss anything there.  That’s a lot to consider right?  Even if you’re riding around in a debt-free ride, there are many hidden costs to operating a vehicle.  For this exercise we’ll only consider the ongoing operating costs of a car, not the upfront costs such as a down payment or the initial purchase price.  The goal is to look at how much a car tends to cost on an ongoing basis

The first is what is the largest direct cost – the car payment.  This can either be the principal and interest payment that is paid to a dealer (well, the dealer’s finance company) or a lease payment, for the purposes of this exercise.  The average car payment in America right now is about $450/month.  The number is lower for used cars, at about $350/month.  We are blessed to not have any debt on our car, so for us this number is $0!

Next is depreciation, that cost that hides itself so well that it only shows up when you try to sell the vehicle!  Cars, especially new ones, tend to depreciate at a rapid pace.  In fact, new cars tend to lose about 40% of their value three to four years after they’ve been driven off of the lot.  That is huge.  It’s literally driving around something that is getting less valuable every season – particularly when the newer models come out near the end of the year.  Let’s consider, in this example that the generic car we’re considering is three years into it’s life and it was bought new.  The average new car back in 2013 cost about $30,000, conservatively.  Since we’d still be in the steep part of the depreciation curve at about 15% per year, this means the average new car buyer three years in is paying about $3,060 during their third year of ownership in depreciation costs.  This is $255/month.

For our car, we’ve got a pretty normal sedan that was made in 2008.  Since it’s over eight years old and wasn’t crazy expensive when it first came out, it’s depreciating around $1500/year at this point (ballpark figure), or about $125/month.

Gas is a pretty easy one to calculate.  Fortunately for us in the United States right now, gas is now cheaper than it has been in several years.  Americans are paying far less for gas than they used to in recent memory, especially in states like Texas that have good access to oil and gasoline products.  Right now we spend about $60/month right now for gas for our one car.  It’s a hybrid, so it gets pretty solid gas mileage – at least for 2008 standards!

The average gas bill in America in this era of low gas prices is around $160/month, but that includes the cost of oil.  Backing out say, four oil changes in a year at a cost of $25 each, that’s about $150/month (let’s use a conservative number).

For regular maintenance, let’s use the number of about $1,000/year, or about $83/month for our example of the three year old car.  Insurance-wise, the average cost is around $75/month – let’s ignore full coverage or situations where a young male teenager is going to have super-high premiums.  As far as property taxes go, most states do not have this tax (where I live, Missouri does).  We’ll say this is $0 for the example.  We’ll also say that parking costs are $0 because most people have driveways or garages for their cars (we live in a condo and we rent our space on a monthly basis).  For personal property taxes, insurance, and general maintenance, we budget $135/month.  For parking, we currently pay $80/month.

Let’s add up all of the car-related expenses for both scenarios:

Average Monthly Car Cost = $350 + $255 + $150 + $83 + $75 + $0 + $0 = $913

Average Monthly Car Cost for OMM = $0 + $125 + $60 + $135 + $80 = $400

When all of the numbers are added up, it’s clear that owning and operating a vehicle can be quite costly.  Even once a car is paid off, depreciation and regular costs for upkeep always need to be paid.  The average calculated amount spent for a three year old car for the typical person that borrows to pay for it is around $913/month, according to the calculations above.  Since the average household income is $55,000/year or $4583/month, the average person spend about 20% of their income on a single vehicle (keep in mind the assumption of borrowing to buy a new car).  In terms of cash flow, this only looks like $658/month, or 14% of the average household income, once you back out the depreciation cost that is never seen until the car is sold.

I’m happy to say that our current transportation costs aren’t so bad, but it still hurts to see all those depreciation and maintenance costs pile up.  The thing is, the maintenance part of the equation will only increase over time, but that’s not too bad.  It sure beats paying principal and interest and a ton of depreciation on a new car purchased with borrowed money.  Hopefully this article helps clarify where all of the costs of car ownership by walking through the numbers, like it did for me.  Again, all of the numbers I used were based on data from various sources and a lot of assumptions were made, so the final number is just a rough calculation.