Celebrating Tet in Hoi An

Laura and her husband Ethan are from Philadelphia, PA, however have been residing in Hanoi, Vietnam for the previous two years. Ethan teaches English literature at a world faculty and Laura is incomes her Grasp’s diploma in public well being. They’ve beloved their time in Vietnam and plan to be there for a minimum of one other yr, however are much less sure of their plans after that.

Finally, they know they wish to return to the US with the intention to be nearer to their households, have kids and purchase a house. Laura is anxious they’re falling behind on retirement and received’t have the ability to afford a home as soon as they transfer again stateside. Be part of me at the moment as we assist these ex-pats chart a steady future!

What’s a Reader Case Research?

Case Research handle monetary and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods ship in requesting recommendation. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, expensive reader) learn by their state of affairs and supply recommendation, encouragement, perception and suggestions within the feedback part.

For an instance, try the final case research. Case Research are up to date by individuals (on the finish of the put up) a number of months after the Case is featured. Go to this web page for hyperlinks to all up to date Case Research.

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There are 4 choices for folk eager about receiving a holistic Frugalwoods monetary session:

  1. Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Research topic right here.
  2. Rent me for a personal monetary session right here.
  3. Schedule an hourlong name with me right here.

→Undecided which possibility is best for you? Schedule a free 15-minute chat with me to study extra. Refer a pal to me right here.

Please word that house is proscribed for the entire above and most particularly for on-the-blog Case Research. I do my greatest to accommodate everybody who applies, however there are a restricted variety of slots accessible every month.

The Objective Of Reader Case Research

Most attractive vegetarian lunch in Seoul

Reader Case Research spotlight a various vary of monetary conditions, ages, ethnicities, places, objectives, careers, incomes, household compositions and extra!

The Case Research collection started in 2016 and, up to now, there’ve been 101 Case Research. I’ve featured people with annual incomes starting from $17k to $200k+ and internet worths starting from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured homosexual, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous folks. I’ve featured girls, non-binary people and males. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender folks. I’ve had cat folks and canine folks. I’ve featured people from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’ve featured folks with PhDs and other people with highschool diplomas. I’ve featured folks of their early 20’s and other people of their late 60’s. I’ve featured people who stay on farms and folk who stay in New York Metropolis.

Reader Case Research Tips

I most likely don’t must say the next since you all are the kindest, most well mannered commenters on the web, however please word that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone the place we endeavor to assist each other, not condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness right here. The purpose is to create a supportive atmosphere the place all of us acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, however we select to be right here collectively, workshopping our cash and our lives with constructive, proactive ideas and concepts.

And a disclaimer that I’m not a skilled monetary skilled and I encourage folks to not make severe monetary selections based mostly solely on what one particular person on the web advises. 

I encourage everybody to do their very own analysis to find out one of the best plan of action for his or her funds. I’m not a monetary advisor and I’m not your monetary advisor.

With that I’ll let Laura, at the moment’s Case Research topic, take it from right here!

Laura’s Story

A beautiful stroll in Seoul

Hello Frugalwoods! My identify is Laura and I’m 32 years outdated. My husband Ethan (38) and I are each from Philadelphia, PA however we’ve got lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for almost 2 years now. We don’t at present have any children or pets however would love a number of of each within the close to future :).

We moved to Hanoi for Ethan’s job as an English literature instructor at a world faculty. Earlier than shifting right here I labored at a non-profit in Philadelphia for 7 years the place I labored my approach up from answering telephones within the name middle to software program engineer, after my firm paid for me to go to coding bootcamp. Studying to code was an superior alternative and I appreciated it within the context of the group’s mission nevertheless it in the end is just not what I wish to do with my life. I’m at present in graduate faculty full-time pursuing a Masters in Public Well being in Maternal and Youngster Well being and a Certificates in International Well being. I’ve a Bachelors in Public Well being and it feels nice to get again into one thing I’ve at all times been obsessed with. College is nice, however I’m desperate to get again into the workforce in a task I like!

Laura and Ethan’s Hobbies

Ethan and I’ve quite a few hobbies we get pleasure from independently and collectively. I discovered to knit throughout the pandemic and obtained a bit obsessed. I like spending a day watching knitting “podcasts” on Youtube and knitting sweaters and hats for myself and household. I’m an avid reader and I like to go for lengthy walks, do yoga and dance. Ethan can be an enormous reader, a runner, and a newly obsessed rock climber. Earlier than we moved to Hanoi, Ethan was part mountaineering the Appalachian Path each summer season break from instructing and we might repeatedly go tenting.  We like to journey, which was an enormous draw for shifting to Southeast Asia. Within the final yr we’ve: spent a month in Indonesia, met my mother and aunt in South Korea, rock climbed on the seashore in Thailand, feasted on sushi in Japan, and traveled Vietnam from prime to backside. 

Whereas I really feel like we’re doing fairly effectively financially, we’ve had an intense 5 years since we beginning relationship. Throughout the first 4 months of assembly Ethan, he made his closing scholar mortgage fee on $80k of debt. I’ve at all times been frugal, however I used to be extra of a squirrel hoarding away financial savings, avoiding my debt. He impressed me to assault my scholar loans and, inside 11 months, I paid off almost $60k of debt. Final yr Ethan obtained an accelerated Masters in Training, which was mandatory for him to take care of his instructing certification. Between selecting a price efficient possibility and a few skilled improvement funding by work, he solely paid $4k out of pocket. I’m paying out of pocket for my MPH, which after scholarships will run me about $17k over two years. I’m pleased with these accomplishments nevertheless it’s felt like some huge cash going out for an extended stretch.

We’re EXTREMELY debt averse on account of paying off tens of 1000’s of {dollars} in scholar loans. We aren’t positive precisely after we wish to transfer again to the States however we do know that we’d like to purchase a home when that day comes. We’re frightened of taking out a mortgage, particularly with the excessive present rates of interest.

What feels most urgent proper now? What brings you to submit a Case Research?

Espresso by the ocean in Phu Quoc for Christmas

We haven’t had a great stretch of us each working good jobs whereas not both paying off debt or paying for graduate faculty. Whereas Ethan feels good about our funds, I’ve a variety of anxiousness about cash, which I believe is because of:

  1. Not at present working
  2. The cash stress I’ve inherited from my dad and mom

I believe as soon as I’m achieved with grad faculty and we’re each working and might maximize saving I’ll begin to really feel higher. 

I’m additionally apprehensive in regards to the transition to shifting again residence in a number of years. We at present have extraordinarily low bills and the considered having to pay a mortgage, purchase a automotive or two, every thing being costlier, and so forth and so forth is absolutely aggravating. I wish to take into consideration methods to melt that blow and make the transition much less jarring.

I’m involved that we haven’t contributed to retirement in almost two years. I’m confused about if we are literally allowed to contribute to the Roth IRAs we have already got. Proper now we’ve got a great amount of money saved that’s earmarked for a home. I’d like to discover with you, Mrs. Frugalwoods, if it ever would make sense to maintain piling up money to pay for a home outright or if we’re being silly right here.

What’s one of the best a part of your present life-style/routine?

Life in Vietnam is straightforward! Ethan is well-compensated given the price of residing right here and his expat bundle contains hire and flights residence for each of us each summer season. Lecturers are well-respected in Vietnam and the job is usually much less aggravating than it was again in Philly. He will get numerous lengthy breaks from faculty which we’ve got used to journey internationally and discover throughout Vietnam.

We’ve got each been capable of put money into our hobbies in ways in which we by no means would have beforehand. I’ve a health club membership so I can go to bounce and yoga courses 4-5 instances weekly; I’ve a basket of pretty yarn to knit sweaters and hats and socks. Ethan has a limiteless mountain climbing health club membership and climbs with pals 3 nights every week. We are able to get pleasure from exploring our metropolis and feasting on the insane Vietnamese delicacies — a bowl of pho is 75 cents, our favourite vegetarian stall is $2 for an enormous plate of meals, bowl of soup and inexperienced tea. We hardly ever went out to eat at residence so this appears like such a deal with.

I had a job in Hanoi from October 2021-January 2023, however stop to give attention to faculty full-time. It appears like we’ve got an unimaginable quantity of freedom to make selections like that, which was by no means an possibility earlier than. Whereas I nonetheless have a variety of anxiousness in regards to the future, I actually do really feel much less harassed about cash than I ever have. 

What’s the worst a part of your present life-style/routine?

Dinner in Thailand

It’s exhausting to be so distant from residence. This yr we are going to go to the states for the primary time in two years. I missed my niece’s beginning in January in addition to 4 good pals changing into first-time dad and mom previously yr. My dad and mom are getting older and I’ve a variety of guilt about not being shut by. Hanoi can be actually difficult — the air air pollution within the winter will get actually dangerous, visitors is insane, and the temperature is just too sizzling to go outdoors for months at a time.

I really feel like we’re usually accountable with cash, however we don’t have a plan mapped out for the longer term. As a planner, this makes me nervous/really feel uncontrolled! I actually hate not having an revenue of my very own, however I’m so grateful to have the ability to focus solely on faculty proper now.

It’s exhausting to make a plan when there are such a lot of unknown variables:

  • The place are we going to stay after the 2023-2024 faculty yr? Will we keep in Hanoi? Will we transfer to a brand new nation?
  • What job will I get and the way a lot will I make?
  • How a lot cash do we want for a home? Does it make sense to maintain saving money to purchase a home outright?
  • How can expats contribute to retirement? How far behind are we?

The place Laura and Ethan Wish to be in Ten Years:


  • I’d wish to have a paid off home within the states, ideally close to mountains/mountaineering
  • I’d wish to have a mixed $500k in financial savings (between money and retirement)
  • I wish to really feel financially comfy and never beholden to 9-5 jobs

Way of life:

  • I’d wish to have 2 children plus canine and cats working round
  • I’d like to have the ability to spend numerous time with my household outdoor mountaineering, tenting, gardening, mountain climbing
  • I’d wish to nonetheless be investing money and time in my hobbies and inventive pursuits


  • I wish to have labored in a world well being position overseas for a number of years after which discover a hybrid position within the states that enables me to stay the place I need and go to the workplace sometimes — a dream is to maneuver to Staunton, VA and discover a job in DC that solely requires 1-2 visits to the workplace month-to-month. I don’t know if that is sensible.
  • Ethan wish to nonetheless be instructing at a college that provides him the identical autonomy in his classroom he has loved in Hanoi.
  • He additionally has desires of proudly owning a motorcycle store someday, however I believe that’s extra like 15 years away.

Laura and Ethan’s Funds


Merchandise Variety of paychecks per yr Gross Earnings Per Pay Interval Deductions Per Pay Interval Internet Earnings Per Pay Interval
Ethan’s wage from instructing job 12 $5,514 Taxes: 2133 (ouch!)   Medical health insurance: 391 $2,990
Laura’s contract work* 2 $4,137 Untaxed $4,137
Annual gross complete: $74,442 Annual internet complete: $44,154

*That is what I earned this yr for this job however I’m not receiving this revenue. This was a contract that was paid incrementally, so this was not the determine I obtained month-to-month, simply FYI

Money owed: $0


Merchandise Quantity Notes Curiosity/kind of securities held/Inventory ticker Identify of financial institution/brokerage Expense Ratio (applies to funding accounts) Account Kind
Ethan Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $76,500 We view this as home financial savings. 3.90% Marcus – Goldman Sachs Money
Laura 401k $51,867 401k by earlier employer. Vanguard Goal Retirement 2055 Voya Retirement
Ethan PSERS $20,692 PA Lecturers pension We couldn’t determine this one out Retirement
Laura Brokerage $18,783 That is my taxable funding account, which I opened (prematurely) a number of years in the past. I think about this home financial savings. It says I’ve 13 completely different securities: FDIC, MUB, SUB, VB, VBR, VEA, VNQ, VNQI, VO, VOE, VTI, VTV, VWO however I don’t know what this implies!! Ellevest Investments
Ethan 403b $17,362 Retirement by earlier Vanguard Goal Retirement 2050 PenServ Retirement
Ethan 403b $14,764 Retirement by earlier We couldn’t determine this one out Alerus Retirement
Laura Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $10,165 Again up cash for grad faculty tuition and home financial savings. 3.90% Marcus – Goldman Sachs Money
Ethan and Laura Vietnamese Checking $9,477 We plan to run this empty, as spending the VND earned right here is the most affordable option to spend cash right here 0% Normal Chartered Money
Ethan IRA $5,544 Vanguard Retirement
Laura Checking $5,228 0% TD Money
Ethan Checking $3,000 0% TD Money
Laura Roth IRA $2,326 Identical as brokerage acct. Ellevest Retirement
Whole: $235,708



Merchandise Quantity Notes
Tuition $700 I obtained a division scholarship and hoping to get extra!
Groceries $250 Consists of all meals, alcohol/beer, family and private provides (reminiscent of bathroom paper, shampoo, and so forth)
Journey (flights, resorts, taxis, meals out) $250 We journey so much, it’s a part of the enjoyment and alternative of residing right here. Worldwide flights are low-cost and comfy lodging is normally $25-40/night time. We’re reimbursed for the price of two spherical journey tickets to the States each summer season (whether or not we purchase the tickets or not).
Eating places, cafes, bars $150 We repeatedly exit to eat however prioritize consuming native meals (like pho and vegetarian buffet which price as little as 75 cents) somewhat than costly Western eating places. We like to spend a weekend afternoon at a espresso store which is a big a part of Vietnamese tradition.
Transportation $60 Motorcycle rental, gasoline for motorcycle, occasional taxi
Electrical $50 On common. We don’t ever run the warmth regardless that it DOES get chilly within the north and we reduce AC utilization as a lot as attainable
Health club $50 We paid for our health club memberships upfront. Laura paid $400 for two years and goes to courses almost every day. Ethan paid $400 for a yr at a bouldering health club
Garments, sneakers $45 We purchase good trainers every year and don’t low-cost out on these. We don’t usually purchase new garments however issues pop up a number of instances a yr.
Consuming water $30 Faucet water is unsafe right here so we at present purchase 20 liter jugs a number of instances every week
Presents $30 We aren’t massive reward givers – we view our frequent journeys as presents for birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth – however have had shut 5(!) family and friends have kids this previous yr and ship small presents for quick household birthdays
Netflix $22 I’d wish to cancel this as a result of we don’t actually use it however I pay for my household’s account
Charitable donations $20 I take advantage of the Libby app with my Kindle. It feels good to make a donation to my library again in Philly each month. Would like to do extra.
Knitting provides $15 That is an estimate. I obtained actually into knitting throughout the pandemic and spent $187 on needles, yarn, patterns final yr. I’ve sufficient yarn and unfinished initiatives to final me the entire yr after which some so it’s seemingly this will probably be a lot much less.
Spotify $14
Cell telephones $10 $60/yr every will get us limitless information however no minutes or SMS which is okay as a result of we simply use WhatsApp and by no means make calls
Massages, haircuts $10 Massages are ~$12/hr and we go a pair instances a yr. Ethan will get a $15 haircut 2x/yr. I’ve been giving myself little trims at residence since we’ve lived in VN.
Misc (books, and so forth) $10 We use the Libby app with our Kindles however sometimes order by Thriftbooks for issues unavailable on the library.
Dentist $8 We every get tooth cleanings 2x/yr (very cheap however prime quality right here – $15 every out of pocket with none insurance coverage!). I had two fillings in January ($40) and hoping to not want any extra work achieved within the close to future
Shrole $6 Website for worldwide faculty job postings
Air and bathe air purifier filters $5 Air air pollution will get actually dangerous right here throughout winter months so air purifiers are important. The water is closely chlorinated and getting a filter has been immensely useful for pores and skin and hair points! We alter each each 6 months or so.
The Atlantic $3
VPN $2 $56/26 months. Lastly bit the bullet this yr as a result of we couldn’t entry some banking websites from overseas
The New York Instances $1 Obtained a deal on a brand new subscription for this yr, will go up subsequent yr or we could cancel
Lease $0 Ethan’s faculty pays our hire on to the owner
Month-to-month subtotal: $1,741
Annual complete: $20,892

Credit score Card Technique

Card Identify Rewards Kind? Financial institution/card firm
Ethan – Blue Money On a regular basis 3% money again American Specific
Laura – Citi Double Money card 2% money again Citi
Joint – Enterprise One Rewards* 1.25 miles per greenback spent Capital One
Laura – Chase Freedom Limitless 1.5% money again; 5% on journey Chase

*I obtained this one after we moved right here as a result of it doesn’t cost overseas transaction charges. I don’t like having this many bank cards. We barely use them since we pay for many issues with money from our Vietnamese checking account.

Laura’s Questions for You:

  1. Consuming our approach round Seoul

    Are you able to assist us assume by saving for a home?

    • We aren’t even positive when precisely we’d do that, nevertheless it appears like the following massive factor to save lots of for.
    • Given how a lot money we’ve got at present and that we wouldn’t purchase a home valued at greater than ~$300k, ought to we proceed saving? Is the concept of paying for a home in money horrible?!
  2. Are expats allowed to contribute to retirement?
  3. How far behind are we on retirement?
  4. Our revenue and bills are prone to change after subsequent summer season once I not must pay for grad faculty and begin making an revenue once more.
    • What ought to we do with this more money? Retirement? Money financial savings?
    • Ought to we begin a separate financial savings earmarked for ‘shifting residence’?
  5. How can I really feel much less anxious in regards to the future?
    • I’d like to get to a spot the place I’m comfy with what’s coming in and understanding that we’re automated to satisfy our objectives for the longer term.

Liz Frugalwoods’ Suggestions

I’m thrilled to have Laura and Ethan as our Case Research topics at the moment! They create an fascinating twist with their work overseas and need to someday transfer again to their residence nation. I like that they’re taking the time now to map out their monetary strikes for the following few years. Even when issues don’t go completely to plan, it’s normally greatest to start out with a plan! Let’s dive into Laura’s questions:

Laura’s Query #1: Are you able to assist us assume by saving for a home?

Laura and Ethan have already got a hefty quantity–$76,500–saved up for a home, which is fabulous! My concern right here is their said need to pay money for a home. Laura requested:

Is the concept of paying for a home in money horrible?!

The reply is that it relies upon. If you’re ridiculously rich–as in, a billionaire or multi-multi-multi-millionaire–then it doesn’t actually matter. Pay money, don’t pay money–both approach, you continue to have a ton of cash. However, in case you are within the class of most of us–as in, you could have some cash, nevertheless it’s not limitless–it very hardly ever is smart to pay money for a home. There are a selection of causes for this, so let’s discover all of them!

Why You Most likely Shouldn’t Pay Money For a Home (or repay your mortgage early)

1) It’s an enormous alternative price.

Egg espresso within the Hanoi Outdated Quarter – iconic!

While you purchase a home in money (or repay a mortgage early), you’re lacking out on the potential funding returns you’d get pleasure from in case your cash was as an alternative invested within the inventory market or a rental property.

The cope with that is {that a} paid-off home returns the speed of your mortgage rate of interest (or the rate of interest you’d’ve gotten on a mortgage).

For instance: in case your mortgage rate of interest is mounted at 3.75% and also you pay if off, you’re getting a 3.75% fee of return, which is fairly low. By comparability, historic inventory market traits display that–over many many years of investing–the market delivers someplace within the vary of seven% yearly. That doesn’t imply 7% yearly, however somewhat, a 7% common over the lifetime of an investor. Since 7% is a better return than 3.75%, you’d be higher off–on this hypothetical–with carrying a mortgage and as an alternative investing your further money within the inventory market.

→The place this logic doesn’t maintain up as effectively is when mortgage rates of interest are excessive. 

Nonetheless, even within the case of upper mortgage rates of interest, it nonetheless normally is smart to hold a mortgage due to the chance price of that money sitting round incomes nothing for all of the years it took you to put it aside up. Most of us don’t get up someday with $300k in our checking account. As a substitute, we’d must spend a few years–probably many years–saving up that a lot money. Throughout that point, we’d be constantly exposing ourselves to the chance price of not having that money invested.

The explanation to not save sufficient money to purchase a home outright mirrors the the explanation why we don’t save solely money for retirement:

  • Money doesn’t sustain with inflation (day-after-day, your money is price lower than the day earlier than)
  • While you spend your money, it’s gone (versus drawing down a sustainable proportion of an total funding portfolio)
  • Money doesn’t have the potential to understand (past the rate of interest you earn in your financial savings account)

2) Saving this a lot money may restrict your retirement contributions.

Because you’re solely permitted to place a sure greenback quantity into tax-advantaged retirement accounts yearly, for those who’re as an alternative placing that cash in direction of money financial savings, you’re capturing your self within the foot twice:

  1. You’re lacking out on the tax benefits conferred by retirement accounts
  2. You’re lacking out on the potential progress of these retirement accounts (alternative price)

You probably have the monetary potential to take action, you wish to max out all your tax-advantaged retirement accounts yearly. Once more, there’s an annual cap on how a lot you may funnel into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which is why it’s essential to take action yearly.

3) A paid-off home is an illiquid asset.

Gili Air Indonesia

That is one other salient concern as a result of you may’t use a paid-off home to purchase groceries or repair your automotive or pay for medical insurance for those who lose your a job. Sure, you may have the ability to get a Residence Fairness Line Of Credit score (HELOC), however that’s not a assure and definitely not very seemingly for those who’ve misplaced your job.

Tying up ALL of your extra money in a paid-off home is a harmful proposition. Certain, you can promote the home, however then you definately’ll must pay for elsewhere to stay.

4) Earlier than shopping for a home in money (or paying off a mortgage early), it is advisable to have the entire following:

  1. A sturdy emergency fund of, at minimal, three to 6 months’ price of your residing bills, held in an simply accessible checking or financial savings account.
  2. No excessive rate of interest debt.
  3. Retirement investments (i.e. a 401k, 403b, IRA, Roth IRA, and so forth) which are totally funded as acceptable in your age, objectives and anticipated retirement date.

I’d additional argue that you simply must also have a minimum of one different type of funding (along with your retirement), reminiscent of:

  1. A taxable funding account of diversified complete market, low-fee index funds, each home and worldwide (aka shares)
  2. 529 Faculty Financial savings accounts in your children
  3. Non-compulsory: an income-generating rental property

You definitely don’t want to have this complete second checklist of things lined up, however you must completely have the primary three on lockdown.

5) A mortgage is a pleasant hedge towards inflation.

Grilled scallops in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis

Inflation is when cash turns into much less invaluable. The advantage of a mortgage is that it’s denominated within the {dollars} you initially paid for the home. Thus over time as inflation will increase, which usually occurs, the cash you’re utilizing to repay your mortgage turns into “cheaper.” That is one other approach through which a mortgage can actually work to your monetary benefit.


Until you could have limitless funds (through which case you’re seemingly not studying this… ), paying money for a home (or paying off a mortgage early) is usually an emotional determination, not a monetary one.

Laura’s Query #2: Are expats allowed to contribute to retirement?

This reply relies upon totally upon Laura and Ethan’s tax state of affairs. In keeping with H&R Block:

So as to contribute to an IRA whereas residing overseas, it is advisable to have revenue leftover after deductions and exclusions. Should you exclude all your revenue with the FEIE and don’t have any different sources of earned revenue, you aren’t eligible to contribute to an IRA. Nonetheless, for those who solely exclude a part of your revenue or declare the overseas tax credit score (FTC) as an alternative, you should still have the ability to contribute to an IRA.

To place this extra merely, Laura and Ethan must have sufficient earned revenue leftover after claiming the overseas earned revenue exclusion (and another exemptions, such because the overseas housing exclusion). Since we don’t have Laura & Ethan’s tax returns, we are able to’t exactly reply this query, however I hope this helps level them in the fitting route. In the event that they’re utilizing an accountant to organize their taxes, this can be a nice query to ask them.

→The opposite factor to notice is that Laura must have earned revenue with the intention to be eligible to contribute to an IRA. Since she doesn’t have earned revenue proper now, she will be able to look into opening a spousal IRA.

Right here’s the IRS documentation on this (management F for “Contributions to Particular person Retirement Preparations”).

Laura’s Query #3: How far behind are we on retirement?

Let’s check out what they at present have of their retirement investments:

Merchandise Quantity Notes
Laura 401k $51,867 Retirement account by earlier employer.
Ethan PSERS $20,692 PA Lecturers pension
Ethan 403b $17,362 Retirement account by earlier employer.
Ethan 403b $14,764 Retirement account by earlier employer.
Ethan IRA $5,544
Laura Roth IRA $2,326
Whole: $112,555
Path Race in Moc Chau Vietnam

Whereas this complete technically places them behind on retirement given their ages, it additionally doesn’t precisely account for the three mega wildcards right here:

  1. Ethan’s pension
  2. Their anticipated Social Safety
  3. Their future jobs and potential future employer-sponsored retirement plans

As we’ve mentioned in earlier Case Research, pensions are a wild card. In some circumstances, a pension means you’re set for all times when you retire. In different circumstances… not a lot. Laura famous that they weren’t in a position to determine Ethan’s pension, however they should. There may be somebody whose job it’s to clarify the PA pension system to lecturers and they should name that particular person. I can’t reply this for them since I don’t know the dates of Ethan’s service or his job title, however, this can be a worthy rabbit gap for them to go down. I’d begin with the PSERS web site and/or the instructor’s union rep.

→One other a significant component is whether or not or not Ethan plans to return into public faculty instructing as soon as they’re stateside.

If that’s the case, he’ll seemingly be eligible for one more pension system and he’ll wish to guarantee he understands the ramifications of totally qualifying for that pension. Word that in some circumstances, receiving a public worker pension disqualifies you from receiving Social Safety. Moreover, if Ethan teaches in a public faculty beneath the identical PSERS pension plan, he’ll wish to spend some high quality time with HR and/or his union rep to make sure he’s capable of apply his earlier years of service.

From their above checklist of retirement accounts, it seems to be like Laura and Ethan did a terrific job of contributing to retirement by their earlier employers. In gentle of that, they need to proceed that behavior as soon as they’re stateside. They’ll additionally resume their IRA/Roth IRA contributions at the moment.

Laura’s Query #4: Our revenue and bills are prone to change after subsequent summer season once I not must pay for grad faculty and begin making an revenue once more. What ought to we do with this more money? Retirement? Money financial savings? Ought to we begin a separate financial savings earmarked for ‘shifting residence’?

I like that Laura’s planning thus far forward! Nonetheless, I believe this reply will rely on the place they’re of their strategy of shifting again to the states.


In the event that they decide that their tax state of affairs makes them eligible to contribute to their Roth IRA and IRA, they need to completely go forward and max these out. Word once more that Laura would want to both have earned revenue or open a spousal IRA.

Moreover, if their future US jobs supply employer-sponsored retirement accounts, they’ll max these out.

Money Financial savings:

Laura and Ethan are already overbalanced on money, as we are able to see under:

Merchandise Quantity Notes
Ethan Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $76,500 We view this as home financial savings.
Laura Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $10,165 Again up cash for grad faculty tuition and home financial savings.
Ethan and Laura Vietnamese Checking $9,477 We plan to run this empty, as spending the VND earned right here is the most affordable option to spend cash right here
Laura Checking $5,228
Ethan Checking $3,000
TOTAL: $104,370

In gentle of that, I’m hesitant to advocate they stash much more cash in money, for all the explanations I outlined above associated to alternative prices.

Handknit child sweaters

I do, nevertheless, totally help their present money stash because it represents:

  1. A home downpayment
  2. Buffer for grad faculty tuition funds
  3. Their emergency fund
  4. Vietnamese foreign money they intend to spend down
  5. Shifting-back-home cash

→Now I’m going to disagree with myself: regardless of the chance prices of money, it’s additionally true that Laura and Ethan are in flux proper now.

They’re not sure the place they’ll be residing in a number of years, how a lot a home will price, once they’ll have children, how shortly they’ll discover new jobs, what their shifting prices will probably be and what their bills will probably be again in America. That’s a variety of unknown variables! And one of the best factor to have when there are a bunch of unknowns is further money. I do wish to warning them, although, that money is just not a longterm funding technique. Neither is it the place to maintain giant chunks of cash for lengthy durations of time.

If it had been me, I’d maintain all of this present money available and wait and see how plans shake out. An alternative choice for them to think about are medium-term funding choices, reminiscent of CDs, Cash Market Accounts, and so forth. Nonetheless, they’re already in a high-yield financial savings account, which is essentially the most versatile option to leverage your money.

If Laura and Ethan know they received’t be utilizing their home downpayment for the following yr or so, they may definitely see if there’s a 12-month CD providing a better fee of return than their high-yield financial savings account. That will be one option to primarily maintain their money, but in addition have it earn extra. A CD locks your cash up for a specified time period after which delivers you a specified return whenever you money it out. It’s not an awesome long-term funding automobile–because the returns usually lag behind the inventory market–however it may be nice for short-term objectives.

Laura’s Query #5: How can I really feel much less anxious in regards to the future? I’d like to get to a spot the place I’m comfy with what’s coming in and understanding that we’re automated to satisfy our objectives for the longer term.

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I personally don’t see something of their monetary state of affairs to be significantly anxious about. Their bills are low and so they clearly have good monetary habits ingrained. I get the sense that Laura’s anxiousness may be extra in regards to the many unknown variables of their life proper now. I additionally don’t know that she’ll have the ability to “automate” issues till they’ve moved again to the states and ironed out the place they’ll stay and work. It’s actually too many variables to manage for at this level, however I wish to emphasize once more that they’re doing an awesome job! The important thing will probably be for them to retain their wonderful cash habits as soon as they return to the US and expertise a dramatically increased price of residing.

In lots of approach, they’re in a holding sample whereas residing in Vietnam. However that’s not essentially a nasty factor! Saving up extra money is at all times a sensible choice. When and how you can deploy that cash will change into clear as these different life-style elements fall into place. I notice that that is simple for me to say since I’m not residing it, however, from an outsider’s perspective, Laura and Ethan are doing nice!

Analysis Your Funding Accounts

One closing piece of recommendation for Laura and Ethan is to look into their funding accounts. Whereas it’s incredible that they’ve retirement investments in addition to a taxable funding account, they didn’t present a lot element on what these accounts are invested in. That is the “satan within the particulars” of investing. The primary essential step is to open these accounts and put cash into them. The following most essential step is to ensure you’re investing in a approach that matches your priorities and limits the charges you pay.

Rollover the Outdated 401ks and 403bs

Since they’ve quite a few accounts from earlier employers, I encourage them to look into rolling over these accounts–the outdated 401ks and 403bs–into IRAs. The explanation to do that is as a way to management what you’re invested in. When you could have a retirement account by a present employer, you may solely select investments which are supplied by your organization’s plan. In some circumstances, that’s completely high quality and you’ve got nice choices to select from. In different circumstances, you’re locked into funds with excessive charges and/or poor efficiency. Regardless of that, it nonetheless is smart to max out employer-sponsored accounts. However, as soon as you permit that employer, you’re free to roll that account over into an IRA that falls totally beneath your jurisdiction.

Roll right into a Roth IRA or a Common IRA? In case your 401ks/403bs had been arrange as Roths, you may roll them right into a Roth IRA. In the event that they’re not arrange as Roths, you may roll them into a standard IRA. You usually don’t ever wish to roll from a daily to a Roth as you’d then must pay allllll the taxes in that calendar yr. Not good!

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Right here’s how you can execute a rollover:

  1. Name the brokerage (or do it on-line) that at present holds your 401ks/403bs to ask about doing a “direct rollover” into a standard IRA (both at that brokerage or a unique one).
  2. You’re seemingly not going to wish to roll them into Roth IRAs since you’d then must pay taxes on the total quantity all on this calendar yr (assuming these accounts aren’t Roth). If they’re Roths, they’ll solely be rolled right into a Roth.
  3. Your new brokerage will wish to know what you wish to make investments your rolled over IRAs in.

Right here’s an article explaining rollovers: Your Information to 401(ok) and IRA Rollovers.

What to Make investments In?

Now that we all know the automobile Laura and Ethan will probably be using–both a Roth or conventional IRA–what ought to they make investments them in? I can’t inform them particularly what to put money into, however I can inform them the broad strokes that I comply with with my investments.

If it had been me, I’d put every thing into one complete market, low-fee index fund that matched my asset allocation wants and threat tolerance. The explanation for that is that, normally, investing in a complete market index fund provides you the broadest attainable publicity to the inventory market (in addition to the bottom charges).

In a complete market index fund, you’re primarily invested in a teensy bit of each single firm within the inventory market, which provides you a ton of range. If one firm–and even one sector–tanks, your total portfolio isn’t toast. It’s the “not placing all your eggs in a single basket” model of investing.

Know Your Danger Tolerance

One other key consider investing is knowing your private threat tolerance. Investing within the inventory market is inherently dangerous. In gentle of that, Laura and Ethan have to find out how dangerous they wish to be with their investments. A great way to mitigate threat is thru diversification, which is why many people have each shares and bonds of their funding portfolio.

The simplest approach to consider that is that always, excessive reward = excessive threat and low reward = low threat.

Discover Your Expense Ratios

 One thing lacking from Laura and Ethan’s checklist of belongings are the expense ratios on their funding accounts. It is a vital bit of information they need to look into for the retirement accounts and their taxable funding account. Expense ratios are the share you pay to the brokerage for investing your cash and, as they’re charges, you need them to be as little as attainable.

As Forbes explains:

An expense ratio is an annual price charged to traders who personal mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Excessive expense ratios can drastically cut back your potential returns over the long run, making it crucial for long-term traders to pick out mutual funds and ETFs with affordable expense ratios.

I’ll use Vanguard’s Whole Market Index Fund (VTSAX) in an illustration of how you can discover a fund’s expense ratio:

  1. Google the inventory ticker (on this case I typed in “VTSAX”)
  2. Go to the fund overview web page
  3. Take a look at the expense ratio

Screenshot under for reference:

To present Laura and Ethan a way of whether or not or not their investments have affordable expense ratios, the next three funds are thought-about to have low expense ratios:

  • Constancy’s Whole Market Index Fund (FSKAX) has an expense ratio of 0.015%
  • Charles Schwab’s Whole Market Index Fund (SWTSX) has an expense ratio of 0.03%
  • Vanguard’s Whole Market Index Fund (VTSAX) has an expense ratio of 0.04%
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They’ll additionally use this calculator from Financial institution Charge to find out what they may pay in charges over the lifetime of their investments, based mostly on their expense ratios. Should you discover that your investments have excessive expense ratios, it’s effectively price your time to research shifting them to lower-fee funds (or altering brokerages altogether).

Investing 101

I extremely advocate the guide, The Easy Path to Wealth: Your Street Map to Monetary Independence And a Wealthy, Free Life, by: JL Collins, for those who’d wish to deepen your data round investing. It’s well-written and straightforward to comply with.


  1. Familiarize yourselves with the drawbacks of paying money for a home:
    • Know that not all debt is dangerous. In some circumstances, leveraging debt is essentially the most financially prudent transfer.
  2. Look at your tax state of affairs to find out whether or not or not you could have sufficient earned revenue to contribute to your IRA:
    • Since Laura doesn’t have earned revenue proper now, she will be able to look into opening a spousal IRA
  3. Analysis Ethan’s pension:
    • This may very well be a pivotal a part of your retirement and it behooves you to know the parameters.
  4. Take into account rolling over your outdated 401ks/403bs into IRAs:
    • Analysis funds, learn JL Collins’ guide on investing and find a brokerage that’ll give you low-fee funds that match your required asset allocation and threat tolerance
  5. Plan to max out your future US employer-sponsored retirement plans:
    • If Ethan returns to public faculty instructing, make sure you perceive the pension system
  6. Really feel assured that you simply’ve made nice monetary selections up up to now and that carrying these good habits ahead will serve you effectively.

Okay Frugalwoods nation, what recommendation do you could have for Laura? We’ll each reply to feedback, so please be happy to ask questions!

Would you want your individual Case Research to look right here on Frugalwoods? Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Research topic right here. Rent me for a personal monetary session right here. Schedule an hourlong or 30-minute name with me, refer a pal to me right here, schedule a free 15-minute name to study extra or electronic mail me with questions (liz@frugalwoods.com).

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