Audrey Bastian seems to have it all. The 28-year-old recently started a well-paying high-tech job she loves and scored a just-built studio apartment that she rents at the crux of cool, the Pike/Pine corridor. As the Mad Magazine character might advise, “What, me worry?”
But she does worry. She didn’t for the three years she was an 8th grade science teacher on the South Side of Chicago, because all the money she made was spent on the basics of life.
The anxiety about money began when she started to save some as a UX designer for a health data company in Seattle. Bastian describes her job as “designing applications that make a product easy for a person to use.” She earns $106,700 a year – above the $89,000 median household income for King County but below most estimates for the average tech worker in Seattle.
“I felt pressure to ‘do something’ with the money,” Bastian says. But what? She got some books about investing, which left her more confused.
“I am not someone who cares about the stock market. Finances are not that interesting for me,” Bastian admits. However, she had read one personal finance column for years: The Seattle Times Money Makeover, because she found people’s stories interesting.
She asked the Times for help and was paired with Bobby Reamer, a financial planner with MyICON in Kirkland.
He discovered right away that Bastian is a long-term planner. Her biggest concern is that she won’t be able to retire as comfortably as her parents – who are both judges in her hometown of Wenatchee. Bastian suspected she was doing something wrong – maybe spending too much money in restaurants or not putting her savings to good use? She was in for a surprise.
“Audrey is a pro saver!” says Reamer, impressed that in a relatively short amount of time she saved $158,000. “I don’t think it was as intentional as it sounds. She was saving because she didn’t know what else to do, but in my experience whatever could be spent is usually spent. This is so rare in a younger person.”
Not that she lives like a monk. Bastian’s brand-new studio apartment costs $2,000 a month including parking. She loves to eat at restaurants and to shop; she spends around $775 on restaurants and about $680 shopping each month. She knows this now because her first homework assignment from her planner was to document all her monthly expenses.
“I expected him to say, ‘You need to change your behavior,’” Bastian says. “But instead, Bobby gave me the stamp of approval that I was not overspending. I’m truly shocked.”
Something else that helps Bastian’s cash flow today is that she doesn’t have lingering college debt. Her parents used the GET prepaid college 529 plan to pay for her undergrad degree (in Anthropology) at the University of Washington. The Teach for America program helped her to afford her Masters in Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University.
Bastian moved to tech because she discovered that “teaching wasn’t the career for me.” She enjoys creating features for apps that make the user experience easier – and the switch to UX designer also pays double what she was making as a teacher.
Once she started making good money, Bastian squirreled it away. What to do with the $158,000 she saved was the first thing Reamer and Bastian sorted out. Number one on the planner’s priority list was an emergency fund of $40,000. If something bad happens — job loss or injury — that’s enough money to keep Bastian going for roughly six months.
Bastian’s main goal for her cash is to have enough money to put a down payment on a house in Seattle. Putting $80,000 aside for a 20% down payment still left more than $30,000 that could have been put to work in investments.
“But after talking we decided to hold that money in cash until Audrey gets more visibility,” Reamer says, explaining that the tricky part about developing a financial plan for someone in their twenties is that there are many unknowns. Bastian may have a spouse and children in the future, but she’s single at the moment so that’s how the plan is structured.
The biggest change the planner recommends is all about retirement. Reamer wants Bastian to set a lot more money aside. She was putting 6% of her salary into a 401(k) – enough to get her employer’s match of 4.5%. “That is better than many people,” Reamer says, shaking his head at the one third of employees who leave this free money on the table. “My advice for everybody is to take advantage of the free employer match,” he adds.
Crunching the numbers, Reamer found that with such a plan, Bastian can retire at 67 with $1.4 million. Bastian would like to retire earlier, but also wants to live a good life before then: with vacations, entertainment, occasional new cars, restaurants and shopping. All of those expenses are built into the retirement numbers.
Cracking into Bastian’s nest egg in the retirement years, Reamer says that $1.4 million is projected to wind down to a net worth of $50,000 when Bastian is 95 years old – that’s the life expectancy built into her plan. If she buys a house, the retirement numbers look even better.
“By purchasing instead of renting and staying in the house for a long time, her net worth at the end of her life goes from $50,000 to $820, 000,” Reamer says.
Most 28-year-olds don’t give much thought to their net worth in their 90’s. But Bastian is a planner. “My house is covered with sticky notes. If it goes up on the wall it’s getting done.”
Now that she has a financial plan, that sticky note is coming down and she no longer frets about her future.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Bastian says.
What should you spend on a home? Not everything a bank will lend you
Bobby Reamer has seen it before: Folks get into trouble when they take out the maximum mortgage a lender will give them. “The tendency is to start shopping based on that. But that can be dangerous,” says Reamer, a planner with MyICON in Kirkland.
Audrey Bastian, our Money Makeover subject this month, wants to buy a house sometime in the next few years, and she’s not alone among people in her age group.
Millennials now account for 46% of primary home loan originations, according to research from realtor.com.
When Reamer and 28-year-old Bastian hashed out how much home she can afford, she realized she didn’t want to sacrifice her other priorities – like the ability to retire with a cash cushion or to have children – to an expensive mortgage. Reamer also advised Bastian to factor in other costs of homeownership, such as property taxes.
The plan they came up with is that Bastian should be looking for a house in the $400,000 to $450,000 range.
“In Seattle that is going to get me a little shack!” she laughs, but thanks to her planning at least she’ll go into open houses with her eyes wide open and – at least for starters – her wallet snapped shut.