From LA to Denver

One of the things that’s really helped me to save money is moving from a high cost of living area (Los Angeles) to a lower cost of living area (Denver). Not that Denver is the lowest, but when you compare home prices in any decent area in LA with the home prices here, everything looks cheap.

Single family homes (3 bed, 2 bath) can be had for under 500k. Condos and charming row homes are 200-400k.  At this rate, why isn’t everyone from LA moving into middle America? I used to pay $1650/month for a 1 bed, 1 bath apartment in Santa Monica. There was a garage unit and a nice little balcony off the kitchen. Location was on 9th, between Wilshire and Montana – so the good part of Santa Monica. The rent was actually very reasonable for this location and anyone would have jumped at the chance to live there. But now i’ve moved to Denver, and my half of the mortgage comes to $850. That’s half what i used to pay, and for an entire house. Granted, i do have to share it (that happens in marriage), but it’s also not rent, as we (he) own the house.

Otherwise, all other costs remain about equal. Food is the same price-wise. Mani/pedis are actually more in Denver (approx. $50 for both) than in LA ($17 for both). Vons is Safeway, Ralph’s is King Soopers, and we have 2 Trader Joes. No In-n-Out. On dining out and the restaurant scene, this isn’t LA. There is some decent food and a fun scene, but if you’re coming from an LA mindset, you’ve gotta minus 1 star on all Yelp reviews of any restaurant. Seriously.

Lastly, i don’t see many Asians in Denver. There’s a growing population though, and I will always notice them in a restaurant. I wonder if they notice me too?

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The Money

So how can a spritely young gal at the tender age of 42 even consider retiring? I’ve been reading a lot about this lately from many who have paved the way at a much younger age. They make it seem so easy, but i find myself doubting. Can i really do this? Is it allowed? What will people think when they ask what i do for a living? Am i a fraud?

I started working right out of college and started socking away money into a Traditional IRA. Back then, the Roth did not exist, and the max you could contribute was just $2,000/year. So, I did what any young college graduate would do on a salary of $24,000/year. I saved for retirement in an IRA.

Fast forward several years, and instead of an IRA, i contributed to my company sponsored 401k, maxing the employer match, obviously. It might sound like I was focused and determined to squirrel away as much as i could for retirement, but those were years when i was in my 20s and 30s, living in Santa Monica, and enjoying the single life. Bars, restaurants, parties…well, not to the extreme as that would have killed my introverted soul. But there was definitely some money squandering.

In 2014, I bought a house. Since i was already living with my fiance in a house that he purchased, i rented it out. The house cost $375,000. With a 20% down payment, i rent it out for $2350/month. I’ve made a few major principal payments, and now I owe $247,000 on it. Zillow says it’s worth is $532,000 now, but i don’t believe that. If i sold it for what I paid for it, i would net $128,000. I think i can sell it for more, but this will be a conservative net gain.

After the layoff, I transferred my 401k into a Rollover IRA with Vanguard and purchased stock index funds, specifically Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX). When i rolled it in April 2016, there was about $258k. I haven’t touched it since, and it’s now at $290,000.

I have a small Roth IRA (I converted) that has $20,000. I’ve got some cash i’ve held onto since i’m going to semi-retire – about $65,000.

128+290+20+65 = 503. My net worth is barely over $500,000.

Can i retire now?

 

Burnout

After 17.5 years working at the same job, I’m burned out. To be fair, the job has changed in several signficant ways over that time span. In short, I work in an advertising agency servicing some fairly interesting clients. I wear many hats (project manager, production manager, traffic manager, account manager, studio manager), and I’m quite responsible. This formula of personal commitment and a strong work ethic is a recipe for burnout. I’ve probably burned out a handful of times without knowing it, but this time it’s different.

Five years ago, I convinced my bosses to let me work from home in another state – Denver, Colorado, of all places. At that time, we weren’t the full gig economy that we are now, so it was fairly cutting edge. One year ago in 2016, our entire office closed down and everyone laid off. While most of us were scared and confused and angry, I realized that I was going to get a check for approximately $40,000. I must say, this was the best work-related thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. I mean, who else is going to give me cash for doing nothing?

At the time, many plans were devised and meetings were held behind closed doors. Turns out, a few of us could “keep” our jobs, but it would be behind the freelance curtain. Do the same thing, but now you’re not an employee and we contract you for the work that you were doing as a full-time employee. So here I am, freelancing for the company that laid me off, doing the same work, but finding that i just don’t care about advertising. I mean really, i just don’t care.

So, i’ve taken a plunge and decided that i’ll only do this for another 6 months. I gave my boss 6+ months notice, and I’ll be free on August 1. Why did I give such long notice if I am already burned out now? Not to toot my own horn, but I’m an integral part of the freelance team, and it will be very difficult to replace me. Yes yes, I know everyone’s replaceable, but it won’t be easy to find someone to do the job that i was doing. Plus, i do like my coworkers and i want the best for them.

How am I able to up and quit and semi-retire? Read on.