274 comments

Reader Case Study: Going West for Early Retirement

pacific_nwAn Introduction from MMM:

We get a lot of case study requests around here these days. I’d love to answer all of the questions and write articles about a good chunk of them. But even a retired man has his free time limits, which is why I am glad to have Jacob on my side doing some of the research and analysis.

This latest one lies close to my heart: A high-income family on the East Coast is doing well, but wonders what adventures await beyond the confines of the Great Boston-to-Washington-DC-Megalopolis. I have always felt that this area is irrationally expensive and less fun than the West. So if you ask me, it makes great sense to get in, make your money, and then get out. But it could just be my personal preference for mountains, deserts, sunshine, and the mild Pacific Ocean talking. Anyway, on with the story:

Dear MMM Budget Team,

I’m interested in moving from the east coast to the west coast. I am determined to do it and we live a pretty Mustachian life. I am not sure how to convince my husband to “early retire” but I think if we do this move and leave the high cost-of-living area we are currently in, we could afford to move to Portland or Seattle. It’s not a big city but I am pretty happy in a smaller town.

Husband is currently working and I am staying at home. We have two kids ages 3 and 1. I’d also like to have 1 more kid so my reasoning for staying put potentially where we are another 2-3 years is having our third kid while covered by employer provided insurance versus buying our own. So I think a 2-3 year time frame.

In 2013 we grossed $200k. We lived on around $65k including our very expensive mortgage! Our house is a $600k (what we paid) 3bd/2.5ba townhouse at 1600 sq ft in an excellent school district. It’s worth more I’m sure – on our street last year alone 2 townhouses sold in bidding wars above asking price first week up. We owe ~$390k and bought in 2005. I think conservatively in a couple more years $250k is what we’ll walk away with if we sell.

We really live on about $30-40k without our mortgage. We lived like graduate students until we had kids and continued the lifestyle and haven’t changed much since.

However I think a better long term strategy would be to sell our home and move closer to our families on the west coast in a cheaper area. We could use our home equity to buy a home with cash and then we wouldn’t have to worry about finding high paying jobs. We could semi-retire and find work if we wanted.

My only worry is saving for college and retirement really. If we moved to Seattle we could do a prepayment of the undergraduate at University of Washington. We have ~$10k and ~$5k saved for our kids respectively.

But I’m not sure we have enough saved. I know without a mortgage we are looking at not needing the $30k/year we pay now!

So MMM I’d like help. I’d like to convince my husband we can do this and “retire” move to Seattle or Portland or any cheaper area. I think it’s a proposition worth investigating.

I think our quality of life would be better. My husband is a super financially conservative guy though, and has been telling me we need to save more, the kids don’t have enough for college, etc. And that we can’t afford the 3rd child I want and he does but isn’t sure about financially. Seriously I feel like we’ve made a lot of frugal money moves and we should have the 3rd child and we should also move because it would be the best idea to get out of the area.

If it matters, my DH actually loves his job. That’s a BIG!!! sticking point. He says he’s not ready to retire but I’m hoping to prove to him our life outside an expensive area might be worth doing even if it means changing careers.

I find it incredibly stressful that we are in a townhouse, unable to really afford a detached house and we make a substantial salary, no yard, no garage, sharing space, cramped, multi-level living, with terrible traffic (takes 30 minutes for our 8 miles to work). And for us to buy a single family home we either go up to $750k for a 3bd/1.5ba cape that needs work or $1M+. I feel like we would be drowning, unable to save, house poor, and I’d be forced back into working to just keep up. We are 34 and 36 I forgot to mention earlier.

If you read this far wow. Thanks, I would really like to be a case study, please help!

Jacob’s Analysis

After further email exchanges, Jacob was able to put together a fuller picture. This is what he found:

Assets:

  • Home – $609,000
  • Retirement Fund Savings:
  • Roth IRA – $217,000 (Investing $11k annually [backdoor])
  • 401k – $245,000 (investing $17.5k annually)
    • Taxable Investments – $163,000 (10% of income into ESPP annually)
    • Cash Savings – $54,000
    • College Savings –
    • ESA 1 – $11,289
    • ESA 2 – $6,369
      • Vehicles –
      • Subaru – $15,800
      • Hyundai – $6000

Debts (Balances):

  1. Mortgage – $390,000 at 2.625% (5 year ARM)
  2. Car Loans – About $9,000 at 1.9%

Net Worth: 

All the assets : $609,000+217,000+245,000+163,000+54,000 = About $1.3 million
(We can leave the kids’ education funds aside to compound through their lifetimes to take care of a good chunk of their eventual college costs. And I don’t count cars as assets since they burn money and depreciate)

Subtract the liabilities: $390,000 +9,000 = $399,000

This leaves roughly $900,000 in potentially productive money for future use.

Goals:

  1. Move to west coast – anywhere
  2. Financial Independence in 5 years – I think that if we stay put we would hit this for sure within 3 years.
  3. Pay for all of kid’s college – stretch goal
  4. Pay off house by 50 – stretch goal based on living where we live and buying a very expensive home
  5. Potentially retire whenever DH wants.

Priorities:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Retirement
  4. College

Let’s take a look at the details of making the move West, then take a look at how that would affect the family budget.

Housing

seattleIt sounds like you’re set on moving to either Oregon or Washington, and I don’t blame you! As a lifelong resident of the Seattle area, it is one of the greatest places on earth, especially as a place to live. The weather is mild, the food is wonderful, and the land is absolutely gorgeous. You’ll enjoy the fresh air, many bike-friendly cities (including #10 in the U.S. according to bicycling.com), an endless amount of hiking trails, and the absolute beauty of the Northwest terrain.

As for housing, I recommend moving at least 15 – 20 miles OUTSIDE of Seattle, as your housing prices will cut in half, and you’ll still have great access to the city. If you scour the area, you can still end up with a decent house for $250,000. I have a family member who just closed on a house in the Monroe area for $239k, perfect size for a family of 5.

Just hop on Zillow.com to find some average prices in areas you would like to live. I recommend Bothell, Lynnwood, Snohomish, Monroe, Shoreline or South Everett.

MMM Note: Although I’ve never lived in either place, I have made a few visits and I’d personally choose Portland over even Seattle. Why? It is smaller, less expensive on average, and I just feel that the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland. 
Bellingham, WA is also lovely.

Also, with your current savings rate so high ($65k spending on a $200k income), within another year you will have far more saved anyway, allowing more for your housing budget. Plus, you’ll probably continue to earn income after retirement, making all this budgeting sort of superfluous, but still useful as a psychological push to get you to make the jump.

The Math

If you start with your current $900,000 net worth*, and set aside $275,000 for a house and related moving costs, you will have about $625,000 available to fund everything else. As MMM has stated numerous times, the math behind early retirement is shockingly simple.

Applying the 4% rule from that link above, $615k in assets should provide roughly $25,000 in spending money, or $2083 per month. Is this enough for your family? Let’s break it down for your situation with the budget:

CategoryBeforeAfterComments
Total Income$4,958.00 $2083Plus many thousands currently going to tax-deferred savings.
Total Expenses$4,610.00 $2,192.00
Projected Ending Balance$348.00this would leave a small shortage
Bills
Mortgage P.I.T.I.$2,200.00 $250.00Taxes only. (MMM Note: and they could be lower than this - choose your area carefully)
HOA$210.00$ -Stay away from HOA.
Natural Gas$100.00$50.00Mild weather in beautiful WA state!
Electric$200.00$50.00MMM household uses about $25 worth per month. Read the article on Saving Electricity and enjoy the savings!
Internet$85.00$46.00Comcast high speed in WA is $39.99 for 3MB internet. You can also call and get deals every few months if needed.
Cell Phones$130.00$60.00Switch to Republic Wireless unlimited everything plan for $25 per month, and you're at less than $60 after taxes.
Car Payment 1$385.00$ -This should be gone by the time you move/retire
Car Payment 2$200.00$ -This should be gone by the time you move/retire
Car/Life/Home Insurance$250.00$250.00MMM Note: These could all drop substantially in retirement as well. Lower-cost house and cars, no collision/comprehensive required, and no life insurance is needed for financially independent people.
Medical$400.00With no employer-provided insurance, you will need an individual health plan. Healthcare.gov for plans to cover your family.
Total Bills$3,760.00 $1,592.00
Necessities
Food$400.00$400.00
Restaurants$200.00$100.00You're now retired! Live free and enjoy more gourmet meals at home with family and friends. $100 should cover a few monthly date nights.
Pets$50.00$50.00
Gasoline$200.00$50.00You're retired, with commuting and other petroleum-wasting greatly reduced. Enjoy riding bicycles everywhere!
Total Necessities$850.00$600.00
Total Expenses$4,610.00 $2,192.00

Things are looking pretty good: After the move and other adjustments you could get your monthly spending down to a mere $2,192 per month. This is very close to what you need, but since you stated you wanted to wait two more years, I suggest making the budget adjustments above (that you are able to), saving your husband’s next two $70k bonuses for college funding, and higher child costs in the future, and stash whatever is left over for your safety margin

Summary

You have put yourself in a great position to retire NOW if you wanted to, if you move to an area with houses in the $250,000 range and below. The only issue I see is getting on the same page as your husband. It seems he is perfectly content makes tons of cash and living a minimalist lifestyle, but you are not.

So here’s the big question; What if your husband doesn’t want to retire? All of our correspondence suggests he is perfectly happy with your current lifestyle, with the caveat that you “don’t have enough money to retire yet.” So my suggestion would be to ask that very question; “How much is enough?” You can show him this post and see if he feels comfortable with it. You have enough. And gently remind him that retirement means doing WHATEVER HE WANTS with his time without the worry of needing income. If that includes continuing to work at a job he loves, that’s totally in the cards!

Good luck!

Jacob @ I Heart Budgets

* MMM Adds: Wondering how to retire early and still get access to 401(k), IRA and other retirement assets without penalty? You might take a look at this article, and then also head over to say hello to the Mad Fientist, who continually impresses me with his ninja-like retirement account analysis skills.

On the other hand, you don’t have to know all this stuff right away to rapidly build financial independence. For that, you just need to work hard, spend less, ride a bike, and watch the additional digits start tacking themselves on to your net worth. Keep reading books and learning as you do this, and you’ll know plenty by the time you get there.

  • Joshman February 24, 2014, 3:07 pm

    In October of 13 We moved from Northern Suburbs of Illinois (not retiring unfortunately, but work relo to Redmond) and live in Bothell (Snohomish county). We found prices for homes pretty high. our future goals might include Portland, or find some nice real estate off the grid. We look very forward to the sun one day again but definitely do not miss the negative temps, wind of those chicagoland winters ! Go BEARS ! ( I mean Hawks !)

    Reply
  • Hugerat February 24, 2014, 3:12 pm

    I think the cost of Boston is being wildly overblown here, especially if we’re comparing it to Seattle, which is hardly “cheap.” When they talk about buying a modest house for $1mm+ this is really in the fanciest neighborhoods with world-beating school systems full of Harvard-bound Ivy League preschoolers.

    If the recommendation is that they should move AT LEAST 15-20 miles outside of the urban core to find affordable housing then Seattle really has no cost advantage to Boston at all, especially if the family is willing to forego the status aspect of sending their children to one of the best public schools in the country.

    Reply
    • LAL February 26, 2014, 8:55 am

      Here’s the deal the schools farther out will require a much longer commute. So what are we working for? To drive 1 hour one way and not see the kids? To have a home and work LONGER hours? Or should we consider moving somewhere cheaper? And homes are more OLDER, much more in need of repair our East than Seattle for sure. I don’t see 1880s victorians or colonials. I know $500k buys a home even in Redmond and Bellevue, what does it buy you out east? A condo. Even further out it doesn’t buy as new a house, so you spend a small fortune repairing and insulating, economizing an old home.

      So the financials just aren’t there to support it. Housing is about 20-25% more expensive where I (case study) lives versus Seattle which is the pricier of the two cities. That doesn’t include taxes and other costs associated with it.

      But if we compare living further out the question needs to be asked is it worth living further out to get a bigger home? What are you working for?

      Reply
      • Hugerat February 26, 2014, 11:28 am

        Not to pile on here, but here’s what I’m struggling with. This is an early retirement blog and you came here for early retirement advice. Yet you keep talking about the length of your commute, cost of daycare, cost of housing in what is obviously a super fancy neighborhood, and the stress and cost of keeping up materially with your neighbors.

        None of this has anything to do with which coast you currently live on and none of it will apply once you retire and accept the MMM ethos! You easily make enough money to retire anywhere you want in just a few short years, and if you prefer the west coast for non-financial reasons, there is nothing stopping you from moving tomorrow.

        Reply
        • Hazygrey February 26, 2014, 12:54 pm

          I agree. OP’s problem seems more about reconciling certain wants (bigger house, third child) than financial.

          And it seems to me that if OP stays in the current house there is no problem. She’d save enough money for another child, commute would stay at a reasonable half hour. Spouse can keep the job he likes.

          If noise complaints from the neighbors remain an issue perhaps she can touch up the house for better soundproofing?

          I’m in NYC where most people live in smallish apartments and people make do. 1600 sf is very spacious even for a family of 5.

          Of course if OP would prefer moving west, she should, circumstances permitting, but I just disagree that she Needs to move west to make the numbers work.

          Reply
          • LAL February 27, 2014, 11:54 am

            The size isn’t bad, it’s the three story layout with the master on a different floor from the other two bedrooms and nature of the poor layout with lots of stairs.

            Reply
        • LAL February 27, 2014, 11:52 am

          I’m not entirely sure we have enough to retire early. I posed the question that can we afford too? I think we can if we move to a lower Cost of living Area. We cannot staying where we stay.

          I don’t want to stay and my DH does. But to stay where we are we have to give up something. Working harder, commuting longer, etc to get a home.

          I’d prefer the west coast for many reasons not the least of which is giving up the rat race.

          Reply
  • Jdcarr21carr February 24, 2014, 3:17 pm

    I went West two years ago for early retirement (although I haven’t reached my goal yet). I moved to Reno, Nevada. A state with no income taxes and 330+ days of sunshine. The best part about the West is there is a tremendous amount of low to no cost recreation in the surrounding outdoors.

    Reply
    • FeildsOfFreshFlowers February 24, 2014, 6:08 pm

      If I ever lived in the west again, it would definitely be in reno/sparks area.

      No air condition needed in the summer and the winter isn’t bad at lower elevations.

      Because of the casinos, there is plenty of entertainment coming to town. Big acts can be seen in little venues. I don’t gamble at all so I can resist it like the flu.

      Reply
      • Dane February 26, 2014, 7:43 am

        I currently live in CA and am trying to convince my wife to move to Minden, NV. Smaller town south of Reno, low cost of living (housing, etc.), very close to Lake Tahoe. It has it all in my view.

        Alas, the “convincing process” continues…

        Reply
  • AO February 24, 2014, 3:32 pm

    Seattle native here. Others have already mentioned it, but I would strongly suggest taking a trip out here (or at least, a lot more research) to investigate the different areas around Seattle and their housing costs. $250,000 buys you a nice condo in the urban areas or a nice reasonable home out in the suburbs. It all depends on what type of lifestyle you guys are looking for – if you want to be in the city, I think saving up a bit more towards a house would definitely be worth it (commuting in from outside the city for things definitely means dealing with traffic here too). If you want a more suburban or smaller town lifestyle, there are plenty of nice areas to live in.

    It sounds like you guys are much closer to making a smaller town retirement work, but not in the city limits just yet. I’d recommend a bit more research to figure out exactly what area here (or in Oregon) you are aiming to live in since costs vary so much to help with planning. There are honestly a lot of options available and you have everything from coastal towns on the water to small farming type towns to Seattle hip neighborhoods to planned suburban communities.

    Reply
    • LAL February 26, 2014, 8:58 am

      I think small town. I prefer suburb or small town living period. Main thing is school districts. But I do not want to work in the cities of Seattle or Portland. If we work I’d like it to be part-time in the town we live in.

      Reply
  • Alex Oliver February 24, 2014, 3:32 pm

    DO NOT do prepayment college in Washington state. Especially not at UW. The program is almost bankrupt, I (a current UW senior) was able to take advantage of it but I’m one of the last ones. Put your money in a 529.

    Reply
    • MoneyAhoy February 25, 2014, 2:34 pm

      I really don’t like the idea of giving the government any more money than I have to. Because of this reason, I’m leery of putting money in 529s. I’d rather just retain complete control over it (even though there is a slight tax disadvantage).

      Reply
      • Frugal Paragon February 25, 2014, 2:38 pm

        I don’t see how a 529 plan is giving “the government” money. The plans are administered by the states, not the federal government, and the money is held privately. My kids’ Virginia plans are in Vanguard accounts!

        I also wouldn’t describe the tax advantages as “slight,” especially if you live in a state with an income tax. I put $4000 (from my grandfather, actually) in my kids’ accounts this year, and that saved me over $100 in state taxes, for a relatively small amount, for this year alone.

        Reply
      • Stacey February 25, 2014, 5:25 pm

        Money Ahoy, There’s more than a slight disadvantage, my friend, if you do not use 529 plans. You are giving up tax-free growth (as long as you spend 100% of your funds on college you will not pay tax on the withdrawals.) Now if you’re using a ROTH IRA, I applaud you. That’s smart…we can’t due to income limits. However, 529 contribution levels are higher than ROTHs, so if you haven’t started already, GET GOING!

        For each of my 3 sons we have had a $20,000 (unrealized) gain…not all are in college yet, just our oldest. It’s the only way upper income taxpayers haven’t been reamed yet. Our exemptions and itemized deductions are whittled away/phased out, we now pay the extra 3.8% on investment income, extra .9% medicare tax, etc.. 529 Plans are the last golden goose.

        PS We would never, EVER get federal loans from completing our FAFSA due to our income. Since we use our 529 funds for his college room and board, you can’t “double-dip” and take the Opportunity Tax Credit or tuition expense deduction w/529 funds that have paid said expenses. Thus, no tax benefit for us there either (plus we make too much to quality). Thus short of saying “I paid for my own college, my child can do it too” 529 plans are the way to go…at least for our situation.

        Reply
        • MoneyAhoy February 27, 2014, 6:27 am

          Stacey and Frugal Paragon,

          Thanks for the reply. Maybe I’ll have to rethink my position – you both provide a convincing argument.

          To me, the state government and fed government are still both government :-)

          What will you do if your kids get scholarships and the 529 money isn’t really necessary?

          Reply
          • Frugal Paragon February 27, 2014, 7:20 am

            MoneyAhoy, I have to admit that I had never thought of that question. All the money in my kids’ 529 plans has been given to me by my grandfather for that specific purpose, so there was no decision-making involved! So I did look it up and found this good WSJ article: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204542404577159311576663798

            In a nutshell, my thoughts: 1. Scholarships rarely cover room and board; 529 money can cover that. 2. Beneficiary can attend graduate school with the money if they’re so inclined. 3. The account owner (me) can transfer the money to some other relative, like a grandchild. 4. The article mentions that if your kid gets extravagant scholarships, you may be able to withdraw the money by paying taxes on it, but NOT have to pay the penalty.

            So you might want to strike a balance and put some money in a 529 and some in a traditional custodial account if you want more flexibility. I made the down payment on a house (which was actually a disastrous decision) with my college money leftovers, which is not an option with a 529.

            Reply
          • Ann February 27, 2014, 12:15 pm

            a) NO ONE gets full rides anymore.
            b) Even if you get a full ride, books and fees are expensive. I teach biochem this semester, and the book is $200, online homework is $30. Even if you go used, the book is still $125. You can also use 529 for a computer.
            c) In Indiana, the tax credit is 20% of what you invest, or up to $1000 of credit ($5K invested). No money actually goes to the state; you just get a tax credit, so that much less you have to pay. It’s like earning 20% the first year, hard to beat that rate. And the IN 529 plan is a Vanguard fund that has done very well.

            I have three kids, and two of them will be eligible for a tuition remission program through where I work (basically going to a very good liberal arts college for 10% of the going tuition rate). You don’t have to use the fund for the student you earmarked it for, and can use it for any educational “expense” without penalty. Still worth it IMO.

            Reply
      • Mrs Oz March 3, 2014, 12:19 pm

        @moneyahoy You may be confusing the prepaid 529 plans with the invest-your-own-money 529 plans. Both operate the same way in terms of federal taxes. A lot of states even offer both types. However, the performance of prepaid ones varies state to state and need to have a HUGE buyer beware disclaimer IMO. In WA ours used to be a great deal but now not so much. It’s pegged to actuarial assumptions of rising tuition. They weren’t so good at estimating that for a while and early investors made out really well. They redid the assumptions several years ago so by design just the break even for buying in is around 4 years now.

        The non-prepaid 529’s are just a legal agreement between one big mutual fund co and a given state to operate according to their state guideline in terms of total contributions limits and other particulars. In general they operate just like a typical mutual fund investment account inside the 529 wrapper. Although they are established by a given state, most of them (e.g. vanguard) welcome non-resident account holders.

        Reply
        • MoneyAhoy March 4, 2014, 11:30 am

          Thanks for all the clarification from everyone. I live in VA and there are 4 types of 529s.

          Sounds like I have some more self-education to do :-)

          Reply
  • Richard February 24, 2014, 3:47 pm

    I have lived in both the Portland area and Seattle area. Given that there is no state income tax in Seattle and you can write off your sales tax, you are typically much better off in WA state from a tax perspective. Unless you were to spend your entire income on taxable goods, which no Mustachian in their right mind would do, Seattle tax rates are more favorable for savers. And the OR tax is not quite like the federal rate, it is predominantly all taxed at 9% or higher.

    Reply
    • Robin February 24, 2014, 7:38 pm

      Or another Washington city, like Vancouver. Get the tax benefits of Washington state but have lower housing costs than Seattle’s. Vancouver has plenty of its own stuff going on, and then Portland is just across the river so you have two cities’ worth of amenities and culture at your fingertips.

      Reply
  • Roch Naleway February 24, 2014, 6:05 pm

    Good case study. Some food for thoughts about Portland versus Seattle: Make sure to investigate the school options for your two (or soon to be three) kids. The Portland public schools and the surrounding school districts are not that great. The school district is underfunded and it is also mismanaged. You can make it work, but some of that free time that you may want as part of your retirement may have to be reinvested in compensating for the school system’s inadequacies. Or you may need to pay for private school, which may torpedo your plans.

    Otherwise: Lifestyle is good in Portland. The community is always entertaining. However, it can be tough to find a good professional job, since we have the most educated barristas to be found anywhere. Lots of people move here without a job and work low paying careers. If your husband is looking to continue to work (not sure what industry he is working in) make sure that he can actually find a place to make that happen.

    Reply
    • Robin February 26, 2014, 6:32 pm

      “The Portland public schools and the surrounding school districts are not that great. The school district is underfunded and it is also mismanaged.”

      Why do you say that, Roch? I would agree that all of the school districts in Oregon are underfunded, and I suppose you can could say PPS is mismanaged considering they almost had a strike last week. But I still wonder what your opinion of “not that great” is based on and why you would include the surrounding districts. I think there are a number of well-performing school districts in the surrounding area.

      Reply
  • Oregonian February 24, 2014, 8:15 pm

    Being an Oregonian, you can live well here. The coastal area is beautiful and inexpensive. If you want to live in Portland, you have public transportation and “big city” life. If you go to some of the small rural communities, you will be amazed. Garden space, beautiful homes with big yards for the kids and gardens. Once you figure out the rural life, you will find food better than the biggest metropolitan areas. Check out some of the unincorporated areas. They call them “towns”. Places real people live and share their lives.

    Reply
  • Diane C February 24, 2014, 11:17 pm

    I agree that the OP and her DH have a lot of unresolved issues that need to be addressed prior to any change: family, career or geograpy.

    The other point I haven’t seen made is NOT to pay cash for a house. They could decide they want to move elsewhere or even back to the East Coast. If they have dumped all their cash into a house, they could find themselves wearing lead shoes.

    Best option: rent until you are sure where you want to live. Once you’re “sure”, buy with 20% down. Make payments for a few more years until you’re positive you’ve landed where you want to stay. You can always pay the house off later, once you’ve adjusted to the new area, but it’s much harder to get any money back once you’ve given it to the bank, particularly if you’re no longer “working”.

    Reply
    • LAL February 26, 2014, 9:03 am

      Great point and one to definitely consider. I will have to run the numbers on it. I always assumed it was cheaper to pay cash for a house.

      Reply
  • Denver dude February 25, 2014, 7:52 am

    I think I know, but maybe just looking for confirmation and clarifications. 615K = 25K in annual spending money, but how does one “convert” things like a 401K and ROTH accounts so that they are providing monthly income? Is it just a matter of changing investment options or choosing to not reinvest the gains?

    Love the blog – thanks!!

    Reply
  • LAL February 25, 2014, 8:22 am

    Okay so I’m the case study reader and just wanted to quickly note that both the DH and I are from out west. We’ve lived there as adults pre-kids and would like to move back to be closer to family. So the move out West is not going to result in us moving back to the East Coast period. It’s permanent and we know and understand the lifestyle. The chill is nothing compared to where we currently live and what my DH grew up with. So no worries about any of that.

    Reply
    • MB February 28, 2014, 9:37 am

      LAL, I can understand your desire to move to be near family, and as a bonus have it be a more affordable area. I live in DC (a CA transplant) and I haven’t experienced the “chill” or rat race you describe in many of your comments. My kids are 11 and 9, so we’ve been around other parents for some time now. I think you and your family would be much happier until you move if you stop seeing everything in dollar signs. There are friendly, uncompetitive people everywhere; it all depends on what you are looking for. Do what you need to do and don’t worry about others (or put them down to justify what you are doing). BTW, I really hate the reference to “clowns” on this site.

      Reply
  • Anderson February 25, 2014, 8:35 am

    Christie, you need to read the entire article including in the ‘MMM Adds’. Specifics around 401k withdrawals covered there.

    Reply
  • Claire February 26, 2014, 1:13 am

    Sorry if already comment on this. I’m doing mmm thing of only spending time on digesting essential info :) Sell one car. If someone stay at home don’t need two.so much more fun sharing car:) and walking doing kids stuff in local community or someone biking to work. If you can’t bear to sell Why car payments by 2 with such high income. Pay off ASAP. Claire

    Reply
    • LAL February 26, 2014, 9:10 am

      Takes a long time from where we are to commute using bus. It’s more convenient to drive. And with the kids I often have a friend along and sometimes two. I should have gotten a minivan. I don’t know why we have car loans other than it’s 1.9%.

      Reply
  • Lester B February 26, 2014, 4:41 am

    Interesting review.
    I think the really great thing is the bloke still really likes his work bringing in $200K a years + very high rate of saving. First off, well done, wonderful success story.

    His current budget would be very lean if he punched out now, too lean in my opinion. My wife and I are in the process of punching out with a house paid off and investments into 7 figures and 2 young children.

    We are leaving the UK and heading back to Canada, If we weren’t Canadian I would love to put roots down in Oregon or Washington state along the coast where I plan to spend many a summer with the family kitesurfing.

    The point is, if he works another 2-3 yrs that leaves a lot of savings/massive buffer to cover those unexpected things that pop up in life that tend to very costly. Its a whole lot easier to save more now than get a crap job 4-5 yrs down the road when a major unexpected expense pops up.

    If no major dramas appear and the money compounds, then it leaves a lot of extra money on the table for travel. maybe buy used motorhome and travel Europe for 6 mos.
    Lester

    Reply
    • LAL February 27, 2014, 12:10 pm

      Lester B why you are leaving the UK is exactly why I want to leave the east coast. And I think we aren’t there yet because the budget would be too tight. I think another 2-3 years potentially and that would solidify the budget. But I was unsure. I am working to convince my DH now so I don’t spring it on him in a 2 years.

      Reply
  • Jason February 26, 2014, 10:49 am

    The discussion of property taxes in this and other post comments is very interesting to me. Our property taxes are about 2.5%, which with exemptions comes out to about $4500/year on a $200K house. From the values quotes here, we are getting a raw deal! However, we also live in a state with no income tax, which is a plus, but it seems that some of the states discussed here have no income tax and lower property taxes. What gives?

    So I guess the moral of the story is that we should continue living here while we are working/earning and loving it, and then move to as state with low property taxes and higher income taxes when we retire. There are so many issues to consider, it is great to see informed and civil discussion in these comments, and these case studies really help. Thank you all!

    Reply
  • progmtl February 26, 2014, 1:25 pm

    I think the poster is in an excellent financial situation, but not ready for retirement yet (see several of the financial gotchas mentioned in the comments, for one thing). However, life can be improved in the short term while planning for the long term:
    – Husband stays at his job (he likes it! that’s gold!)
    – Wife quits work or goes part time

    This keeps a good amount of money coming in – healthy savings every year – while improving home life and family time (especially for the wife, who wants more time with family). Not everyone is cut out for spending all free time with family/kids – husband may have difficulty with that even if he could cut back his working hours. Of course, I have no idea how much family time he does have today. But a 30-minute commute sounds reasonable in any city area.

    Stay put for a few years, have the third child (quite affordable – husband is being WAY over-conservative if he thinks it is not). Reevaluate when you are a few years older, third child is here, more money is put away. In the meantime, research areas to live in the west and move when the time is right (based on finances, family, jobs, etc – husband could start hating his job).

    This seems a simpler, safer path forward. It may be frustrating not to move right away, but it is hard to put a price on a good-paying job that you *enjoy*. Don’t throw it away.

    Reply
    • LAL February 27, 2014, 12:05 pm

      CS here and as the DW I don’t work. I agree that we aren’t quite there yet for ER. I didn’t think we had enough the budget would be too lean. But the plan as always been a few years away.

      Reply
  • Help the planet February 26, 2014, 3:44 pm

    Why do so many people think of kids as only a financial issue without seeming even to acknowledge that the planet is stretched? I understand a growing population can help the economy but does it not seem that the planet could use a few less people?

    Reply
    • Rob February 28, 2014, 4:29 am

      +1 to this. All the talk here only considers whether or not they can afford another child–nearly all of it “yes, have another!”. Shouldn’t the question be, can the earth afford/sustain more people?

      Reply
  • David Michael February 26, 2014, 9:42 pm

    I see no problem with retirement now or later for the couple from the east coast moving to the west coast. They have an enviable amount of assets to give them security for the rest of their life is used judiciously. (Along with Social Security at a later age.)

    My wife and I have been retired for 20 years, originally from New England but raised in the D.C. area and overseas. We retired to Eugene, Oregon and love it! Except…we now find ourselves RVing down to the Southwest in the winter months (Arizona in particular), and love the warmth, sun, and outdoor activities…basically having two summers a year.

    We do all of this on less than $30,000 a year and have a grand lifestyle because we have no debt, no house, an RV, two kayaks, and two bicycles, and a tow vehicle (Honda CRV). That’s it. We have found that simplicity is incredibly rewarding. I realize that it is not for everyone, but we were rich and famous for about 30 years and did all of those money things when we were working and raising a bunch of kids.

    The biggest difference between the east coast and west coast lifestyle is the possibility of “freedom”. The public lands out here offer a lifestyle that is hard for most people in the world to comprehend (BLM, NFS, NP). That’s why we have chosen to live in a motorhome in the USA after having lived overseas for five years prior to that, and a very expensive dream home that we built for retirement before that. The more one owns, the more one becomes owned by their possessions.

    Reply
    • LAL February 27, 2014, 12:13 pm

      That’s precisely what I worry about. Staying put and just amassing assets for what? Being defined by our wealth? getting caught up in owning and having the biggest house possible?

      Reply
      • Emmers February 28, 2014, 11:11 am

        Well, unfortunately you seem to be *already* caught up in owning the biggest house possible, per your comments upthread.

        If it’s just the layout of your townhome that’s a problem (you mentioned 3 floors with the master bedroom on a separate floor from the kids’ rooms), can you shop for a similarly-sized house (TH or condo) with a less-terrible layout?

        I live in the DC area (not quite as expensive as Boston, I think, but still not so good), and we made the conscious decision to buy a *relatively* small house (1700 sft when most of my friends have 2500+ – but it’s still plenty big enough for us!) in a good-enough school district. It’s not fancy, but it does just fine. It’s also a modular home from the 70’s, which is another way of saying it’s basically a double-wide on a foundation. Which brings me to another point: Would you consider living in a trailer (owned, not rented) to save money, if it were in a decent area (crime and school wise)? How about one of those Tiny Homes (assuming there were enough room for the kids)? If you wouldn’t, take a *real* hard look at your rat-race mentality — you might need to work harder at freeing yourself from it.

        All that said, I think you’re on a solid road to eventual FI – and the fact that you’re thinking about it *now* puts you way ahead of other people! Good luck!

        Reply
        • LAL March 5, 2014, 9:54 am

          I am interested Emmers in moving to a LCOLA rather than having to keep up with the rat rafce. Second moving has transactional costs so I want to be sure we want to stay put forever in the area if we are going to move. Yes we don’t need more space but better layout, however moving to a SFH pushes us into a more expensive bracket period. So either way we need to spend more. We weren’t looking at upsizing but rather just the same in good neighborhood.

          Reply
  • Martin February 27, 2014, 3:49 pm

    Does it really work spending merely $400 on groceries per month? We live in the Seattle area and spend $700 to feed two adults, one 2 year old, and one baby. How much does grocery shopping cost you per month friends?

    Reply
    • LAL March 1, 2014, 2:49 pm

      Yes and most spend about the same for a family of four. But it’s not 100% organic. Organic is more expensive, it’s also not all meat meals.

      Reply
  • Lauren March 1, 2014, 6:44 am

    This thread has been very interesting to me, because your situation is in many ways similar to my situation a couple years ago, before we made a move like one you’re considering. In our case (me, husband, young child) we moved from an expensive “rowhouse” in DC (re: fancy name for a townhome) to the Chicago area, where we have family, friends, and a much lower cost of living. First, I totally agree with you that the cost of living in what seems to some folks like an “expensive” area is nothing compared to big cities on the east coast. No one can believe we think it is cheap (relatively) to live here, because it many ways it is not. But compared to DC, our cost of living has nearly been halved. When we left, I quit my high paying job and have not worked since. Our lifestyle has not changed- in part because we live fairly modestly, in part because we made good investment decisions when I was earning a large salary. Here’s a few things for you to consider, based on our experience: 1) the advice to rent first is great. That is exactly what we did- it helped us get a better understanding of the market in our new area, of the subtle nuances in the neighborhoods that you can’t appreciate until you live somewhere, and it enabled me to have time to watch the real estate market and learn what a “good deal” was. When we saw one, we pounced (we deliberately entered only a month-to-month lease on our apartment so we could do this). We ended up buying a two-flat with a rental unit. This is something new for us too, but the rental income has been a nice thing to have to supplement my husband’s salary. At some point, we will convert the two-flat to a single family home. 2) it sounds like you could probably afford to make this move, but your husband has a lot of reservations. As others have suggested, you may want to get to the source of those before the move. My husband, too, says he will never retire, he’d have no idea what to do with himself. Neither of us wanted his job to tie us down to one place though, so 10 years ago he convinced his employer to let him telecommute, and that was that. We’ve moved 4 times since then (this last move was “it” for us) and he has the same job. Is this something your husband could consider? Reading between the lines a little, it sounds to me like maybe your husband equates the move with retirement, which he doesn’t want to do. Maybe consider spending some energy into figuring out a way for him to keep working, doing what he is doing, in the new location. It can take a bit of creativity, but it is well worth it.

    Reply
    • Jan March 2, 2014, 9:06 am

      The issue here is not really that one place to live is cheaper then the other, it is about moving to family.

      My daughter’s family lives in the metro and we have this conversation almost daily. They could move and get a regular job in a place close to family. The reality is that the jobs available to them in DC are amazingly stimulating. They feel they are making a contribution. They choose to live in Maryland. Houses are half the price, schools are excellent and the train is a good commuting tool.

      Saying that, if your actual reason is to live near your family and friends, then move now. It is easier to start over when you are young. Your children will be used to the pace of education if you wait too long (tends to be more creativity and less rote in the West). You will be used to the big bucks. By moving your children will have a wide group of people that you feel comfortable with.

      We moved close to family while our kids went to high school. It turned out to be a disappointment for all.

      Reply
      • LAL March 5, 2014, 10:01 am

        I think that’s what we would like a different lifestyle closer to family and friends. The job isn’t going to move, nor is it a work from home. However he could switch careers which is what he has a second graduate degree in and why we are discussing career options.

        Reply
  • Karcher March 2, 2014, 3:11 pm

    LAL, great job on getting this far! I can share some encouragement about the move out West. I’m originally from NYC in my mid 30s, one toddler and another one on the way. I’ve been reading and been a big fan of MMM since 2012. Our salary is similar to that of yours and my wife and I have been plotting our escape for the last 3 years. I can tell you that you are way ahead of us in terms of net worth (I made some dumb stock moves during the recession) and that much closer to retirement. We were in the South the last few years and now live in Seattle. I can’t comment much on the financial feasibility of your case (lots of knowledgeable folks here) but I will say that it’s entirely possible. The escape from the east coast which started for us in 2010 allowed us to reflect on how exasperated we really were. That busyness for it’s own sake was not healthy, overworked, over-stretched, with a thinly veiled smile asking “Yes sir, may we have another.” And the thing is, you won’t know this until you’ve had time away from it. The consciousness of the whole thing probably takes a year to decompress and realize that, east coast living, i.e NYC, ain’t all that, there is life outside, and in fact you can actually thrive. My encouragement isn’t so much the destination that folks talked about, either Seattle or Portland, but more of leaving the east is possible. Our kind are a sort of “peas in a pod” you have to have lived east to understand it. And yes we are elitists but I would characterize it as provincial elitists that “know not what they do.”

    Reply
  • Genevieve Hawkins March 3, 2014, 8:04 am

    It does get a little harder to move as the children get older. They usually get attached to their school, friends and area and packing up with a 7 or 8 year old is harder than with a 1 and 3 year old because they will be part of the discussion. So even though staying in one place for say five years makes a lot more financial sense, it might be a harder uphill battle family wise. Some food for thought:
    About getting your husband on board:
    1: Is there any way he can keep his current job and still move? Either because the company has branches on the West Coast, he can telecommute, or in any other way through his connections? Of course this might be swapping a 30 minute commute for an occassional 3000 mile one if he has to fly back east to check in.
    2: Can your husband find a job in a related field/competing company for similar or just acceptable pay out west?
    3: If early retirement is really the goal, what hobbies does he have? He’s not going to sit in the house staring at a wall all day, but maybe he has a penchant for blogging and putting radiant heat in your new house out west. He probably does have undeveloped hobbies, but he spends too much time working/unwinding from work to pay them much attention right now.
    I wouldn’t want to give up the quality of life for the treadmill of keeping up payments on a $1 million home either. As the kids get older (especially after they start school), working might be something you want to do. For now I think you’re on the right track making your hobby saving as much money, in as many ways, as possible. Can’t go wrong with that!

    Reply
    • LAL March 5, 2014, 10:05 am

      Karcher that’s exactly it. I am done with the busyness and lifestyle. But willing to wait a bit longer for financial security.
      Genevive, telecommuting isn’t an option. It’s not that sort of work. He’s been tyring for 4 years finding a similar job but no luck and companies aren’t really looking outside local area because there are so many qualified people. I don’t want him to retire but consider switching careers.

      Reply
      • Laura March 12, 2014, 3:15 pm

        Hi. I remember being a mother of young children (I’m 52 now and have two young adult children 22, 20) – and it’s not an easy job. It’s a huge job. I totally understand the desire to be near family. We never lived near family as we raised our children. We live in a HUGE country, which makes it difficult to share the beauty of your family with your most loved ones. Even at $200k salary – because life is day-to-day – not summer or winter vacations. Life is day-to-day. FaceTime does help, though :)

        And despite our wage earning power today, women who are the primary caregivers, do seem to bare the burden of the emotional well being of the entire family – and this starts with herself. Happy Wife – Happy Life – is not sexist – it is, what it is. Mother/Wife/Worker/Self can be happy. And it matters when she is.

        What I hear in your case study, and in your comments is this struggle – this conflict. This desire. To me, what I am hearing, is that it is not only a physical desire to move and retire, so much as also a big emotional desire. One that you were promised, but that is taking longer to be. This hurts. It hurts because we love our children and we want them to have all the possible love they can get as they grow up – day-to-day. When we feel isolated from family, it hurts.

        As one, who never got to be near family as we raised our children, I can tell you that there are so many other ways to find that love and community. Even if it is only one other family. Even if you feel so very different from the values of those you are surrounded by in your current community. You can find it, you can make it happen. Anywhere. Because people are really good. This I know. And there is another mom, just like you, right now, looking for you, too. Close by. I found these people everywhere we lived. Every single city. Every single town.

        You know this. It’s not the house. It’s not the schools. It’s not the cars. It’s not the stuff. It never is. Even looking for schools in your next move- is not a big deal – all the important stuff comes from home – no matter how good or bad the schools are. Oh, wait, the school thang, that’s another topic.

        You need to be happy now. In your current reality. On the East Coast. This is where your most important work is, while you save a bit more on your plan, and as you and your DH work out the when and where. Your job, besides doing the SAH thing, is to figure out how to be truly happy now. Right now. Tonight.

        I’m not saying you need to give up your goal – not at all. But to get to your goal – the most important thing is to figure out how to be happy on the way to it.

        A few tips,

        Give up all the ideas or images or comparisons you have built up about the East, that are separating you from your East Coast neighbors – find the things you have in common that you value – and focus on those things. Divisions, created or real, cause conflict. You don’t need anymore conflict.

        Begin a practice of mindfulness and gratitude and learning to be in the present moment. And all that accompanies that: developing stillness, listening, being open and centered. Doing some inner work as a young mom will give you big rewards going forward.

        Marriage and raising a family, is a shared path, – and it’s LONG. It is very, very long. OMG, so long. When you are young, everything seems so immediate – children demand a lot of attention and energy and the focus gets so skewed to their needs and what you want for them and how you should be living and how others are living and how family is living. There are so many comparisons and so many judgments and so many doubts. And there is the future.

        It’s much easier to learn to be aware of your life as it is happening. Instead of living in the future, or dwelling on the past. You can still plan for your future, but you live in the present. You may not have imagined being where you are today. But, learning to be really aware of where you are, will make it easier to make the changes going forward.

        My guess, is that DH has a lot of conflict, too. More than you may know. He may not have imagined his life to be this way either at this point in his life. The two of you could compare notes on what you imagined life to be like at this stage, and where you really are today.

        The key is awareness. It’s a bit deeper than doing spreadsheets, but it’s a useful skill, too. I’m a believer in both – I love my spreadsheets – but I understand the work it takes to be happy and fulfilled comes from more than the numbers.

        Reply
        • Stacie August 2, 2017, 3:48 pm

          I think this might be my favorite comment of all time. So wise.

          Reply
  • Bill Q March 5, 2014, 9:19 am

    I’m an ex-east coaster with 2 kids (6 and 3) who moved to Seattle 3 years ago. There have been a lot of great comments here. I agree that you need to figure out what you want in terms of where you want to live specifically in the PNW. We chose to pay more for a house and live in the city of Seattle partly because our quality of life is higher as a result. I ride my bike all the time, usually with a kid in the trailer, and for the kids, taking a bus ride is an adventure, completely unlike a car ride with the associated bickering. There are some small spots outside of the cities of Seattle (Edmonds was mentioned) where you can have a high “walk score” and pay less, but you have to be very careful that everything you need is close by or you end up car-dependent. It’s quite typical here for transplants from suburban California to move to the east side of Lake Washington, which I refer to as the crucible of strip mall culture. But there are inexpensive houses still available in Seattle, especially when you consider taxes. You just have to look around and not listen to everybody who tells you that you must live in Wallingford or Green Lake.

    Reply
  • Tom Street March 15, 2014, 8:26 pm

    I read the link but I did not see the specific plan for obtaining 5% on one’s money after taxes. I can think of a lot of ways to do that but none of them are without risk. I would love to see a way of gaining that return without risk. Not that I personally am opposed to risk. But then I have a fallback income that has virtually no risk.

    Reply
  • LAL April 15, 2014, 9:08 pm

    Well MMM ask me for a followup in 2 years…we are doing this summer 2016. We’ve decided to do a sabbatical summer 2015 in Seattle to find jobs. If something turns up great, no problem. If not then we’re moving in 2016. 2 more years to save $$$ and just prepare. Turns out we were seriously underbidding on our home equity, add on nearly another $200k.

    The countdown begins in many ways…So 2 years and we’ll see we may be forced into early retirement. Rather I’ve been running more scenarios and we could make very little to survive, buy a house cash with our current equity, and not touch our retirement savings. And what we have if we held off until 59.5 we’d have more than enough to survive.

    Reply
  • Joe April 21, 2014, 10:56 pm

    LAL, thanks for the update. You guys should do fine. $1.1 M in assets and more in two years is a good foundation.

    Reply
  • Druid September 29, 2014, 12:08 pm

    I am curious why more people don’t talk about the option of renting. Instead of having $250,000 in a house you can invest $250,000 in the stock market which could potentially generate money for rent. I am not saying this is the right approach, but a family could rent a place in Portland for $1500 a month and live in the city.

    Reply
    • Patrick September 29, 2014, 5:14 pm

      The buy vs. rent debate is a good one. Owning is so ingrained in American culture (and it’s tax advantaged!) that very few people consider it. And since it’s the biggest purchase people make, they’re emotionally invested in the topic and often get really snappy when it’s brought up.

      But personally I think it’s worth it to rent, especially for child-free, car-free couples. We don’t need to heat a whole house! And buying a condo? Jesus, property tax and condo fees alone on some condos similar to the unit I’m currently renting is MORE EXPENSIVE than my rent.

      I’m a renter for the near future. Got a nice unit with south facing windows, plenty of storage for bicycles…living the life!

      Reply
  • Christopher Young December 28, 2015, 4:39 pm

    Linda,

    One aspect of your plan that is missing is hobbies. Are there activities in the Seattle area that you and your husband would enjoy? From October to May you must endure relentless cold, rain and darkness. In order to make this “worth it” you better really love things such as skiing, hiking, camping and sailing. The summers are magical but they go by fast.

    I moved here from the East Coast in 1992 and if I could do it over I would go somewhere warmer, such as southern California or the Gulf Coast. I am a sailing fanatic so I must live near the water.

    Seattle has horrendous traffic. The people telling you to live in Snohomish County are giving you really bad advice. Getting in the city from the suburbs is utterly miserable 24/7 and the light rail won’t be done for a decade. So don’t move here to get away from bad traffic where you are currently living! Of course traffic does not affect me, because I am a Mustachian who lives on a sailboat in Seattle and runs or bikes to work.

    Reply
  • HeadedWest January 31, 2018, 6:07 pm

    Four years after this post, I’ve got to wonder: did this family ever make the move? The houses in Seattle definitely don’t seem that cheap compared to D.C. anymore… lol… my wife and I are moving to West Seattle this spring. Luckily we got our house over a year ago.

    Reply

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