Investing for Two: How Real Couples Save for Their Futures

Christine Ryan Jyoti
Posted

Here’s one love-related question you might not have pondered: Are you on the same page about your … portfolios?

After all, once you hitch your life to someone else’s, you’re working toward joint financial goals and building the life you want to live together, whether you want to buy property, save for retirement, have a little bundle of joy … or all three.

And each of you may come into the relationship with different values, approaches and risk tolerances. So figuring out how to make investing work for you both can be complicated.

Below, three couples explain how they’ve made their respective investment styles fit their lives. Then, Katie Brewer, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, shares how couples in similar situations can help set themselves up for success.

Getting on the Same Financial PageThe Super-Savers

Brandon Sutherland*, 32, a software developer, and his wife, Jill, 32, an optometrist, live in Newbury, Vt.

Brandon Says: Jill and I pay a mortgage on our house, have about 18 years’ worth of essential expenses saved, no consumer debt and retirement accounts. Although Jill has about $30,000 of student loan debt.

We keep most of our money separate, which has worked for us for over ten years. We provide an equal amount to our joint expenses, but everything left over remains with the person who earned it.

As far as investing for retirement, I max out all tax-advantaged accounts available to me: a Supplemental Retirement Account, an HSA and a 403(b) with an employer match, then invest everything that’s left over, after expenses, into a taxable account at Vanguard.

Aside from that, I primarily invest in low-cost index funds. My portfolio is roughly 75% U.S. stocks, 10% international stocks, 10% REITs and 5% Cash. Jill has a 401(k) invested entirely in a singular low-cost John Hancock S&P 500 index fund.

I’m saving aggressively (over 70% of my income) to build up enough money so that I don’t have to work a normal job again if I don’t want to—I even blog about my quest for financial independence at madfientist.com.

Based on a conservative estimate of our projected future expenses after I stop working, I’m aiming to secure 300 months’ (25 years’) worth of savings. All told, we currently spend about $2,200 per month. I follow the 4% rule, and based on my current expenses, as long as I have over $300,000, I’ll feel comfortable covering my half of essential expenses for the rest of my life. I have side income from my work as a software developer (I’ve designed a few apps) that should be able to cover discretionary costs.

Jill is saving to be able to work less (6 to 9 months per year), but wants to continue working for the foreseeable future. She plans on working as a ‘locum’ optometrist (an optometrist who travels around filling in at practices) and will be able to set her own schedule.

After a bad experience with a financial adviser in my twenties, I now handle all my investing myself. I tend to take a hands-off approach to managing my portfolio and invest primarily in passive index funds. As I’m mostly in equities and more focused on the tax part of things, I don’t rebalance every year.

I do plan on getting into bonds in the future and will look into rebalancing annually at that point. I focus on the things that are within my control (e.g., taxes, fees, etc.) and try to add as much to my balances as possible. I also plan on doing a Roth IRA conversion ladder during early retirement so I can get that money if I need to.

We’ll be selling our house (and most of our belongings) in Vermont this year and heading to Florida, where we plan on establishing residency because there’s no state income tax. We’ll then head to Scotland, where we plan on renting a furnished place from a family member in Glasgow to make our expenses more predictable while having the flexibility to move quickly and spend long periods of time abroad.

I’ve gotten quite good at using miles, points, credit cards, elite status and loyalty programs when traveling over the last five years, so we already have close to one million miles/points. Once we’re settled in Glasgow, we plan on using miles to travel to Southeast Asia. We’ll take our time getting there, with stopovers to explore Tel Aviv, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Doha, Kathmandu, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Travel hacking has allowed us to travel the world cheaply and comfortably in the past, and we plan to continue to do this in our future travels.

RELATED: How I Did It: Sold Everything to Travel the World for 5 Years

The CFP® Says: “If you’re in a position where you want to save up enough to work less (or not at all), the more familiar you are with your budget and fixed expenses, the more accurately you’ll be able to predict whether it’s achievable to stop working a normal job. For couples who keep their money separate, I applaud finding a method that works for you, but I would encourage you to sync on your long-term goals, like retirement, to make sure you are both on track and no one gets left behind.”

*Name has been changed.

Investing Together with LearnVest Planner

  • Gars

    It great you are able to save 70% of your income and I’m sure your assets are well ahead of 90% of your peers.

    If you spend $2200 a month and currently have 18 years of saving, you should have $475,200. Your goal is to acquire 30 years of assets or $792,000.

    If you’re 32 and you live until 90, that’s 58 years of life left so you still have to cover 28 more years of living expenses.

    The other problem I see is that you have not factored in inflation. It’s virtually impossible to forecast anything 58 years into the future, but I remember seeing double digit inflation that can decimate your savings in the matter of a few short years.

    I’m also assuming children are not in the picture nor is the possibility of supporting elderly parents.

    Furthermore you’re assuming both of your will stay healthy and never become disabled through disease or accident.

    I suggest at your age you are far from financially independent, but you do have cushion that allows you freedom for lifestyle choices.

    Your ability to work or human capital, and time are your most important assets right now. You have the ability to turn them into money. The older you are, the less you can exchange them for.

    I would suggest you look into a savings/retirement planning piece of software since you are DIYer’s.

    Try the 30 day free trial of a program called Silver by MoneyTree software. It’s aids you in planning you savings as well as disbursements of assets in retirement and does factor in inflation, social security, IRA’s, etc.

    It isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than any other program I’ve seen.

    Also look into a fellow named Henry Hebeler. He has a couple of books and a web site that offers solid advice.

    Good Journey and Good Luck,

    • Brandon

      Hi Gars, it’s Brandon from the first couple featured.

      The $2,200 represents our total essential expenses so since my wife and I split everything evenly, my expenses are only half of that.

      The $300,000 is based on a conservative estimate of our future essential expenses, not our current expenses.

      While I will only be saving up 30 years of expenses, they should last longer than 30 years due to the fact that the money will be growing when I’m not using it.

      There are some good studies on withdrawal strategies and the one that is most often referenced is the “4% rule”. Based on historical market returns, it’s reasonable to assume that you can withdraw an inflation-adjusted 4% of your portfolio every year and have a good probability of it never running out.

      Obviously, the future may not be like the past so there’s definitely risk there but since nobody can predict the future, I’m happy with using the past to determine what’s reasonable.

      As I just mentioned, inflation is factored into the 4% withdrawal rate so I will be able to withdraw an inflation-adjusted amount every year.

      Children aren’t currently in the picture but if the do enter the picture, we’ll obviously have to reassess our plans a bit.

      While I plan to step away from full-time employment, I will by no means be just parking myself in a beach chair for the rest of my days. There are many things about work that are enjoyable (i.e. socialization, feeling of accomplishment, sense of purpose, etc.) so I imagine I will pick up interesting work every once in a while but it will be optional rather than necessary.

      I know there are risks with leaving full-time employment during my prime earning years but the way I look at it is, if it looks like my accounts are decreasing faster than I anticipated and I’m worrying about not having enough during my standard-retirement years (when I couldn’t easily pick up work), I could always just go back to work to add to my balances more. I enjoy computer programming and will maintain my skills by working on my own personal projects so there is no reason I couldn’t reenter the workforce at some point, if necessary.

      My side-business income also currently exceeds my discretionary spending so assuming that keeps up, I’ll hopefully continue to grow my balances rather than deplete them, even without going back to a “real job”.

      Thanks a lot for your comment and for your recommendations. I hadn’t heard of the software or the person you mentioned so I’ll check them out.

      All the best

      • drew

        remember God knows your tomorrow and don’t forget to tithe your 10% percent of your income in church. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21.. Bless u…

  • kgal1298

    So basically Brandon is travel hacking…good for him. I finally got my credit to a point where I’m starting to qualify for travel credit cards so I’m hoping I’ll be able to start hacking soon too. It will take time, but I’m almost there.

    • Brandon

      Yes, I am definitely travel hacking :)

      Even if you can’t get into the credit card game right away, you should start reading about the best ways to use miles/points so that once you do build up your balances, you’ll be able to maximize the value of your miles and points immediately!

      • kgal1298

        Oh I am. I follow all the main ones out there like thepointsguy, millionmiles, nomadic matt and Chris Guillebeau. Just taking my time. I was able to get a United Mileage Plus Card, but it sucks because they just devalued all of their miles. I’m hoping I can build up on other airlines soon.

        • Brandon

          Nice! Those are all great blogs to follow. I was actually interviewed for MillionMileSecrets so you should check it out if you’re interested (http://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/07/19/mad-fientist-interview-with-brandon/).

          The devaluation was disappointing but United miles are still very valuable so I’m sure you’ll get good use out of them.

          I’m currently focused on building up my AA balance for an amazing upcoming trip I wrote about here – http://www.madfientist.com/american-explorer-award/

        • Brandon

          Looks like the MillionMileSecrets link got screwed up. Here it is again – http://millionmilesecrets.com/

          • kgal1298

            That link just took me to the main page haha. The AA miles seem a bit easier to build I’m going to probably work on them next. Currently I’m just trying to book my trip to Cancun and will probably use some miles on the way back since I’m going with a group and I think it’s best to fly in with them and didn’t want to spend the miles on an otherwise cheap flight there because the fights back were way more pricey and their are flights coming back with Saver options. The trip I really need to plan for is next Christmas when I go to New Zealand…sadly full time work really does tend to stop you from booking some great travel, but I’m hoping by the time I book that trip I’ll have miles build up.

          • Brandon

            I know :( I realized it right after I submitted the comment but I didn’t want to post another correction because I didn’t want to keep spamming the comments section with links. If you look at the first link I posted, that is the correct one but for some reason Disgus decided to incorrectly include the “)” character in the link.

            Good luck booking your trips and have fun in Cancun!

  • Jessica

    Just wanted to say I love your blog, Brandon. Madfientist is the best. I learned about HSA’s as retirements from you. Read your stuff when BudgetsAreSexy.com linked to you! Keep blogging! You have some awesome and interesting perspectives!

    • Brandon

      Thank you very much, Jessica! That is really nice to hear :)

      Blogging is a lot of work but reading comments like yours definitely motivates me to keep going!

  • Amanda

    The other variable that is not addressed in this plan is the couple’s privileged health status. Health care in the U.S. is the most expensive in the world and no person/couple can save like that if one or both have chronic illness. Furthermore, these illnesses are often best managed by a healthy diet. Organic, locally sourced ingredients do not come cheap. I do value the couple’s perspective on spending. I value the promotion of lifestyles that are counter to consumerism, which is an empty road full of compounding interest. Good for them.