Thursday, April 18, 2024

Reader Case Research: Ex-Pats in Hanoi, Vietnam

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 cherished their time in Vietnam and plan to be there for not less than one other 12 months, however are much less sure of their plans after that.

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

What’s a Reader Case Research?

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

For an instance, take a look at the final case research. Case Research are up to date by members (on the finish of the publish) 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 people desirous about receiving a holistic Frugalwoods monetary session:

  1. Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Research topic right here.
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→Unsure which choice is best for you? Schedule a free 15-minute chat with me to study extra. Refer a good friend to me right here.

Please be aware 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 out there every month.

The Objective Of Reader Case Research

Most beautiful vegetarian lunch in Seoul

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

The Case Research sequence started in 2016 and, thus far, there’ve been 101 Case Research. I’ve featured people with annual incomes starting from $17k to $200k+ and web 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 individuals. I’ve featured girls, non-binary people and males. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender individuals. I’ve had cat individuals and canine individuals. I’ve featured people from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’ve featured individuals with PhDs and other people with highschool diplomas. I’ve featured individuals of their early 20’s and other people of their late 60’s. I’ve featured people who reside on farms and people who reside in New York Metropolis.

Reader Case Research Pointers

I most likely don’t must say the next since you all are the kindest, most well mannered commenters on the web, however please be aware 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 aim is to create a supportive surroundings 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 solutions and concepts.

And a disclaimer that I’m not a skilled monetary skilled and I encourage individuals to not make severe monetary selections primarily based solely on what one individual on the web advises. 

I encourage everybody to do their very own analysis to find out the very 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, right this moment’s Case Research topic, take it from right here!

Laura’s Story

A beautiful stroll in Seoul

Hello Frugalwoods! My title is Laura and I’m 32 years outdated. My husband Ethan (38) and I are each from Philadelphia, PA however we now have lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for nearly 2 years now. We don’t at the moment have any youngsters or pets however would really like 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 transferring right here I labored at a non-profit in Philadelphia for 7 years the place I labored my manner 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 favored it within the context of the group’s mission but it surely finally just isn’t what I wish to do with my life. I’m at the moment in graduate faculty full-time pursuing a Masters in Public Well being in Maternal and Little one 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 keen about. College is nice, however I’m desperate to get again into the workforce in a task I really like!

Laura and Ethan’s Hobbies

Ethan and I’ve numerous hobbies we take pleasure in independently and collectively. I discovered to knit throughout the pandemic and received a bit obsessed. I really 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 also be a giant reader, a runner, and a newly obsessed rock climber. Earlier than we moved to Hanoi, Ethan was part climbing the Appalachian Path each summer season break from instructing and we might commonly go tenting.  We like to journey, which was a giant draw for transferring to Southeast Asia. Within the final 12 months we’ve: spent a month in Indonesia, met my mother and aunt in South Korea, rock climbed on the seaside in Thailand, feasted on sushi in Japan, and traveled Vietnam from high to backside. 

Whereas I really feel like we’re doing fairly nicely financially, we’ve had an intense 5 years since we beginning relationship. Throughout the first 4 months of assembly Ethan, he made his last scholar mortgage cost 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 12 months Ethan received an accelerated Masters in Schooling, which was vital for him to take care of his instructing certification. Between selecting a value efficient choice and a few skilled improvement funding via 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 but it surely’s felt like some huge cash going out for a protracted stretch.

We’re EXTREMELY debt averse because of paying off tens of hundreds of {dollars} in scholar loans. We aren’t certain precisely once 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 scared 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 very good 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 lots of nervousness about cash, which I believe is because of:

  1. Not at the moment working
  2. The cash stress I’ve inherited from my mother and father

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

I’m additionally apprehensive concerning the transition to transferring again dwelling in a number of years. We at the moment have extraordinarily low bills and the considered having to pay a mortgage, purchase a automotive or two, all the things being dearer, and so forth and so forth is de facto demanding. 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 now have a very good amount of money saved that’s earmarked for a home. I might 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 the very 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 package deal consists of hire and flights dwelling for each of us each summer season. Lecturers are well-respected in Vietnam and the job is usually much less demanding than it was again in Philly. He will get plenty of lengthy breaks from faculty which we now have used to journey internationally and discover throughout Vietnam.

Now we have each been in a position to spend money on our hobbies in ways in which we by no means would have beforehand. I’ve a fitness center membership so I can go to bop and yoga courses 4-5 instances weekly; I’ve a basket of beautiful yarn to knit sweaters and hats and socks. Ethan has an infinite mountain climbing fitness center membership and climbs with pals 3 nights every week. We are able to take pleasure in exploring our metropolis and feasting on the insane Vietnamese delicacies — a bowl of pho is 75 cents, our favourite vegetarian stall is $2 for a large plate of meals, bowl of soup and inexperienced tea. We hardly ever went out to eat at dwelling so this seems like such a deal with.

I had a job in Hanoi from October 2021-January 2023, however stop to concentrate on faculty full-time. It seems like we now have an unbelievable quantity of freedom to make selections like that, which was by no means an choice earlier than. Whereas I nonetheless have lots of nervousness concerning 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 onerous to be so distant from dwelling. This 12 months we’ll go to the states for the primary time in two years. I missed my niece’s delivery in January in addition to 4 good pals turning into first-time mother and father prior to now 12 months. My mother and father are getting older and I’ve lots 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 simply too scorching 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 onerous to make a plan when there are such a lot of unknown variables:

  • The place are we going to reside after the 2023-2024 faculty 12 months? 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’d like 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 prefer to have a paid off home within the states, ideally close to mountains/climbing
  • I’d prefer 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


  • I’d prefer to have 2 youngsters plus canines and cats working round
  • I’d like to have the ability to spend plenty of time with my household open air climbing, tenting, gardening, mountain climbing
  • I’d prefer to nonetheless be investing money and time in my hobbies and inventive pursuits


  • I wish to have labored in a worldwide well being function overseas for a number of years after which discover a hybrid function within the states that enables me to reside 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 life like.
  • Ethan want to nonetheless be instructing at a faculty that provides him the identical autonomy in his classroom he has loved in Hanoi.
  • He additionally has goals of proudly owning a motorbike store someday, however I believe that’s extra like 15 years away.

Laura and Ethan’s Funds


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

*That is what I earned this 12 months for this job however I’m now not receiving this revenue. This was a contract that was paid incrementally, so this was not the determine I acquired month-to-month, simply FYI

Money owed: $0


Merchandise Quantity Notes Curiosity/sort of securities held/Inventory ticker Title 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 via 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 contemplate 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 via earlier Vanguard Goal Retirement 2050 PenServ Retirement
Ethan 403b $14,764 Retirement via 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 cost effective strategy to spend cash right here 0% Customary 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
Complete: $235,708



Merchandise Quantity Notes
Tuition $700 I received a division scholarship and hoping to get extra!
Groceries $250 Contains all meals, alcohol/beer, family and private provides (similar to 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 cozy lodging is normally $25-40/evening. 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 commonly exit to eat however prioritize consuming native meals (like pho and vegetarian buffet which value as little as 75 cents) moderately than costly Western eating places. We like to spend a weekend afternoon at a espresso store which is a large a part of Vietnamese tradition.
Transportation $60 Bike rental, fuel 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 doable
Health club $50 We paid for our fitness center memberships upfront. Laura paid $400 for two years and goes to courses almost every day. Ethan paid $400 for a 12 months at a bouldering fitness center
Garments, sneakers $45 We purchase good trainers annually and don’t low-cost out on these. We don’t typically purchase new garments however issues pop up a number of instances a 12 months.
Ingesting water $30 Faucet water is unsafe right here so we at the moment purchase 20 liter jugs a number of instances every week
Items $30 We aren’t huge present givers – we view our frequent journeys as items for birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth – however have had shut 5(!) family and friends have kids this previous 12 months and ship small items for instant household birthdays
Netflix $22 I’d prefer 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 received actually into knitting throughout the pandemic and spent $187 on needles, yarn, patterns final 12 months. I’ve sufficient yarn and unfinished initiatives to final me the entire 12 months after which some so it’s probably this will probably be a lot much less.
Spotify $14
Cell telephones $10 $60/12 months 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 12 months. Ethan will get a $15 haircut 2x/12 months. I’ve been giving myself little trims at dwelling since we’ve lived in VN.
Misc (books, and so forth) $10 We use the Libby app with our Kindles however sometimes order via Thriftbooks for issues unavailable on the library.
Dentist $8 We every get enamel cleanings 2x/12 months (very cheap however top 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 accomplished 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 12 months as a result of we couldn’t entry some banking websites from overseas
The New York Occasions $1 Received a deal on a brand new subscription for this 12 months, will go up subsequent 12 months or we might cancel
Lease $0 Ethan’s faculty pays our hire on to the owner
Month-to-month subtotal: $1,741
Annual whole: $20,892

Credit score Card Technique

Card Title 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 received this one once we moved right here as a result of it doesn’t cost international 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 manner round Seoul

    Are you able to assist us suppose via saving for a home?

    • We aren’t even certain when precisely we’d do that, but it surely seems like the subsequent huge factor to avoid wasting for.
    • Given how a lot money we now have at the moment and that we wouldn’t purchase a home valued at greater than ~$300k, ought to we proceed saving? Is the thought 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 more likely to change after subsequent summer season once I now 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 ‘transferring dwelling’?
  5. How can I really feel much less anxious concerning the future?
    • I’d like to get to a spot the place I’m comfy with what’s coming in and realizing that we’re automated to satisfy our targets for the longer term.

Liz Frugalwoods’ Suggestions

I’m thrilled to have Laura and Ethan as our Case Research topics right this moment! They create an fascinating twist with their work overseas and want to someday transfer again to their dwelling nation. I really like that they’re taking the time now to map out their monetary strikes for the subsequent 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 suppose via 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 want to pay money for a home. Laura requested:

Is the thought 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 manner, you continue to have a ton of cash. However, if you’re within the class of most of us–as in, you have got some cash, but it surely’s not countless–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 In all probability Shouldn’t Pay Money For a Home (or repay your mortgage early)

1) It’s a large alternative value.

Egg espresso within the Hanoi Outdated Quarter – iconic!

Once you purchase a home in money (or repay a mortgage early), you’re lacking out on the potential funding returns you’d take pleasure in in case your cash was as a substitute 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’ll’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% charge of return, which is fairly low. By comparability, historic inventory market tendencies 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 moderately, 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 a substitute investing your further money within the inventory market.

→The place this logic doesn’t maintain up as nicely 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 value 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 an alternative, we’d must spend a few years–probably many years–saving up that a lot money. Throughout that point, we’d be persistently exposing ourselves to the chance value of not having that money invested.

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

  • Money doesn’t sustain with inflation (day by day, your money is value lower than the day earlier than)
  • Once you spend your money, it’s gone (versus drawing down a sustainable share of an general 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 would possibly 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 a substitute placing that cash in direction of money financial savings, you’re taking pictures 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 development of these retirement accounts (alternative value)

When you’ve got the monetary capacity 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 possibly can funnel into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which is why it’s vital 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 possibly can’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 would possibly have the ability to get a Residence Fairness Line Of Credit score (HELOC), however that’s not a assure and definitely not very probably for those who’ve misplaced your job.

Tying up ALL of your extra money in a paid-off home is a harmful proposition. Positive, you could possibly promote the home, however then you definitely’ll must pay for some other place to reside.

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’ value 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 can be totally funded as applicable in your age, targets and anticipated retirement date.

I might additional argue that you just must also have not less than one different type of funding (along with your retirement), similar to:

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

You actually don’t want to have this whole second listing of things lined up, however you need to 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 helpful. 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 manner by which a mortgage can actually work to your monetary benefit.


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

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

This reply relies upon solely upon Laura and Ethan’s tax scenario. In line with H&R Block:

In an effort to contribute to an IRA whereas residing overseas, it is advisable to have revenue leftover after deductions and exclusions. When 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 international tax credit score (FTC) as a substitute, 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 international earned revenue exclusion (and some other exemptions, such because the international housing exclusion). Since we don’t have Laura & Ethan’s tax returns, we will’t exactly reply this query, however I hope this helps level them in the correct course. In the event that they’re utilizing an accountant to arrange their taxes, it is a nice query to ask them.

→The opposite factor to notice is that Laura must have earned revenue as a way to be eligible to contribute to an IRA. Since she doesn’t have earned revenue proper now, she will 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 the moment have of their retirement investments:

Merchandise Quantity Notes
Laura 401k $51,867 Retirement account via earlier employer.
Ethan PSERS $20,692 PA Lecturers pension
Ethan 403b $17,362 Retirement account via earlier employer.
Ethan 403b $14,764 Retirement account via earlier employer.
Ethan IRA $5,544
Laura Roth IRA $2,326
Complete: $112,555

Path Race in Moc Chau Vietnam

Whereas this whole 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 ready to determine Ethan’s pension, however they should. There’s somebody whose job it’s to clarify the PA pension system to lecturers and they should name that individual. I can’t reply this for them since I don’t know the dates of Ethan’s service or his job title, however, it is 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 factor is whether or not or not Ethan plans to return into public faculty instructing as soon as they’re stateside.

In that case, he’ll probably be eligible for one more pension system and he’ll wish to guarantee he understands the ramifications of totally qualifying for that pension. Notice 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 in a position to apply his earlier years of service.

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

Laura’s Query #4: Our revenue and bills are more likely to change after subsequent summer season once I now 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 ‘transferring dwelling’?

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


In the event that they decide that their tax scenario makes them eligible to contribute to their Roth IRA and IRA, they need to completely go forward and max these out. Notice once more that Laura would wish 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 will 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 cost effective strategy to spend cash right here
Laura Checking $5,228
Ethan Checking $3,000
TOTAL: $104,370

In mild 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 assist 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 value, after they’ll have youngsters, how rapidly they’ll discover new jobs, what their transferring prices will probably be and what their bills will probably be again in America. That’s lots of unknown variables! And the very best factor to have when there are a bunch of unknowns is further money. I do wish to warning them, although, that money just isn’t a longterm funding technique. Neither is it the place to maintain giant chunks of cash for lengthy durations of time.

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

If Laura and Ethan know they received’t be utilizing their home downpayment for the subsequent 12 months or so, they might actually see if there’s a 12-month CD providing a better charge of return than their high-yield financial savings account. That may be one strategy to primarily hold their money, but in addition have it earn extra. A CD locks your cash up for a specified time frame after which delivers you a specified return once you money it out. It’s not an excellent long-term funding automobile–for the reason that returns sometimes lag behind the inventory market–however it may be nice for short-term targets.

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

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I personally don’t see something of their monetary scenario 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 nervousness may be extra concerning 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 reside 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 excellent job! The important thing will probably be for them to retain their glorious cash habits as soon as they return to the US and expertise a dramatically larger value of residing.

In lots of manner, they’re in a holding sample whereas residing in Vietnam. However that’s not essentially a foul factor! Saving up extra money is at all times a sensible choice. When and the way to deploy that cash will change into clear as these different life-style components fall into place. I notice that that is straightforward 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 last piece of recommendation for Laura and Ethan is to look into their funding accounts. Whereas it’s unbelievable 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 vital step is to open these accounts and put cash into them. The following most vital step is to be sure to’re investing in a manner that matches your priorities and limits the charges you pay.

Rollover the Outdated 401ks and 403bs

Since they’ve numerous 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 so as to management what you’re invested in. When you have got a retirement account via a present employer, you possibly can solely select investments which can be 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 have been arrange as Roths, you possibly can roll them right into a Roth IRA. In the event that they’re not arrange as Roths, you possibly can roll them into a standard IRA. You sometimes don’t ever wish to roll from an everyday to a Roth as you’d then must pay allllll the taxes in that calendar 12 months. Not good!

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Right here’s the way to execute a rollover:

  1. Name the brokerage (or do it on-line) that at the moment holds your 401ks/403bs to ask about doing a “direct rollover” into a standard IRA (both at that brokerage or a distinct one).
  2. You’re probably 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 12 months (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 spend money on, however I can inform them the broad strokes that I comply with with my investments.

If it have been me, I might put all the things into one whole market, low-fee index fund that matched my asset allocation wants and threat tolerance. The explanation for that is that, typically, investing in a complete market index fund offers you the broadest doable 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 variety. If one firm–and even one sector–tanks, your whole 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 mild 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 manner to consider that is that usually, excessive reward = excessive threat and low reward = low threat.

Discover Your Expense Ratios

 One thing lacking from Laura and Ethan’s listing of property are the expense ratios on their funding accounts. It is a crucial bit of knowledge they need to look into for the retirement accounts and their taxable funding account. Expense ratios are the proportion you pay to the brokerage for investing your cash and, as they’re charges, you need them to be as little as doable.

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 scale back your potential returns over the long run, making it crucial for long-term traders to pick out mutual funds and ETFs with cheap expense ratios.

I’ll use Vanguard’s Complete Market Index Fund (VTSAX) in an indication of the way to 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. Have a look at the expense ratio

Screenshot under for reference:

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

  • Constancy’s Complete Market Index Fund (FSKAX) has an expense ratio of 0.015%
  • Charles Schwab’s Complete Market Index Fund (SWTSX) has an expense ratio of 0.03%
  • Vanguard’s Complete Market Index Fund (VTSAX) has an expense ratio of 0.04%

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They will additionally use this calculator from Financial institution Price to find out what they may pay in charges over the lifetime of their investments, primarily based on their expense ratios. When you discover that your investments have excessive expense ratios, it’s nicely value your time to research transferring them to lower-fee funds (or altering brokerages altogether).

Investing 101

I extremely advocate the guide, The Easy Path to Wealth: Your Highway Map to Monetary Independence And a Wealthy, Free Life, by: JL Collins, for those who’d prefer 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 scenario to find out whether or not or not you have got sufficient earned revenue to contribute to your IRA:
    • Since Laura doesn’t have earned revenue proper now, she will look into opening a spousal IRA
  3. Analysis Ethan’s pension:
    • This might be a pivotal a part of your retirement and it behooves you to know the parameters.
  4. Contemplate 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 just’ve made nice monetary selections up up to now and that carrying these good habits ahead will serve you nicely.

Okay Frugalwoods nation, what recommendation do you have got for Laura? We’ll each reply to feedback, so please be at liberty 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 good friend to me right here, schedule a free 15-minute name to study extra or e-mail me with questions (

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