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Investing in Education for Early Retirement
Old 01-13-2015, 11:56 PM   #1
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Investing in Education for Early Retirement

Hi,

I live in the bay area in California with my parents, a 22 year old student/worker/investor finishing community college to transfer to a state 4 year for Environmental Engineering. I'm conflicted about which school to attend, gathering lots of perspective from people in different schools.

I did my first cost analysis of my 8 school choices, includes health insurance for better prices than I've been about to find outside. I have till the end of April to make my choice- top 2 in mind now are 1) living at home, going to SJSU or 2)UCI I'd either find an RV/ sustainable community for 250/month or move in with my lover whose not too far. I got 2.5 years once I transfer.

My rough cost analysis for 2.5 years of upper-division for my 8 B.S. choices
SJSU: 10K x 2.5 =25k
SFSU: (10K +2k transportation/commute, parking..) x 2.5= 30k
HSU/SDSU/CalPoly: (10k+ 5k (Rent/utilities, Food..extra exps moved out)) 2.5= 37.5k
UCSD/I (15k + 5k)2.5= 50k

It really depends on how much financial aid I get, but excluding the aid, SJSU has the best price due to proximity to the house, good internships in the area, but I don't like the school. I heard the engineering there is okay, and I know people who went there who work in the field now but none of them loved the school, just a place they went to to get to the next step (though UCSD has the same feel). I loved UCI's campus and they have good engineering program, but it's very expensive to move out and to go to a UC, unless I get lots of aid (grants not loans) (10k aid/yr to equal SJSU price.) I'm thinking to go to SJSU unless I get 10k free grants for UCI. But this is something Iíd appreciate wisdom on. Envít Engrs make 80-100k mean average in my area so Iím thinking I can save 60k/yr to invest being minimalist.

I currently earn about 35k (1400-1500/2 weeks work) per year after taxes as an assistant manager and began investing late last year, but I'd been saving for a while. Excluding car bought cash (2011 Chevy Volt I bought last year now worth around 15k), my networth is about 25k bank checking/savings+20k Stocks. I'll keep working as I finish my degree and look to save& invest at least 80%, I can get this up to 90%, if I pick the local school and go hardcore minimalist with some decent financial aid. Also, the local schools offer only Civil & Environmental Engineering as a major so that'd be my degree instead of a strict Environmental Engineering-which might make passing the licensure exam easier as the exam is only for Civil & Env't in California and open more options.

I began tracking my expenses last year in April:
Apr-14 $444.09
May-14 $1,078.05
Jun-14 $1,067.46
Jul-14 $1,402.89
Aug-14 $2,389.80
Sep-14 $830.45
Oct-14 $1,735.28
Nov-14 $1,184.96
Dec-14 $1,471.55
Jan-15 $92.48

So Savings Rate has been highly variable but Iím committed to making it consistently 80% or more.

This month I've spent under $120 so far and will be at under $200 by the end of the month if I stay on track since I'm going to a 10-day free meditation. I'm considering selling my car (though it's partially electric and a lot less than my old acr) but the bike ride to school is about an hour each way, 7 times a week (5 mornings, 2 nights).

I'm already pretty light on possessions and have gotten rid of my most expensive hobbies. Parents cover food from Costco if I tell them ahead of time and don't charge rent, plus they're super chill so I'm okay staying at home to reach FI that much sooner. Cell phone is covered by employment, no health insurance yet.

My current (possibly overly ambitious) goals based on earning 35k/year and investing 80% minimum are:
By January 2016, investment income earning 3k/year and successfully transferred into upper-division.
By January 2018, investment income earning 12k/yr and have Env't Engr degree, working full time (32-40hours/wk) earning 60k/yr after taxes, ready to build tinyhouse.
After: Build my self-sustainable (Solar, rain water catching, water recycling) tiny house and live on under 500/month, spend my days reading, investing, cooking, gardening, volunteering, toastmasters, laying in bed and exploring nature with my lover, and building a sustainable business.

Assuming I get 5k financial aid per year and go to SJSU:

If I count 15% cash dividends with no capital gains compounded once annually:
40k x 1.15=46k this year+30k saving=76k at end 2015.
76k x 1.15=87.4k+30k=117.4k end 2016.
117.4k x 1.15=135k+30k=165k end 2017.
165k x 1.15=189.75k +60k=250k End 2018.
At 15% of 250k I'd be receiving 37.5k in cash dividends, enough to invest 50-75% back in, not work and dedicate full time to learning and building a sustainable business.

If I don't count any compounding gains/dividends outside of countering inflation I would reach FIRE before 29. Current 22 years old with 40k+3 years school x 30k savings/yr+3 years x 60k savings/yr=310k in 6 years. That's not counting if I pass the PE exam and save more as a result the last year.

What are your thoughts on my school path so I can reach FI sooner? I donít think a better name will get me a much larger salary.
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Old 01-14-2015, 12:25 AM   #2
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I don't know anything about about environmental engineering jobs, but if you don't know about the Payscale College Salary reports that info might be useful to you:

2013 - 2014 College Salary Report - PayScale

If you look at the individual school web pages, sometimes they have alumni pages so you can see where people actually got jobs. Or you can look at what companies actively recruit on campus for some additional data.

Otherwise I like the sustainable tiny house idea and your life plan. I had a chat with one of our college age kids on a similar topic tonight. If he doesn't inflate his expenses too much post college, once his salary is beyond entry level in a few years, he might be able to fund several years of ER for every one year he works.

Definitely get health insurance and I wouldn't sell the car. I'm not personally a big fan of bike riding in traffic. I think there are safer ways to get exercise. I've had my car hit several times over the years, twice by drunk drivers while I was stopped at a red light. If I was on a bike I could have been disabled or killed. I like my bike, but I ride it in low traffic areas and on bike paths.
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Old 01-14-2015, 06:41 AM   #3
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Old 01-14-2015, 06:50 AM   #4
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All your choices have a very reasonable cost (even though the most expensive is double the least expensive). Focus on the quality/reputation of the program and which school "feels" best for you and don't worry abut cost. Also, look at placement rates and talk with environmental engineers as to which programs have the best reputation.
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Old 01-14-2015, 07:10 AM   #5
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My experience is that which school you go to is not that important. Sure, if you graduate from an Ivy League school, it is impressive, but among lesser schools, it is grades that get you in the employer's door and what you accomplish once hired that gets you promotions. My recommendation is bust your butt to get good grades in a field with a future and don't look back.

And congratulations for thinking about this stuff at such an early age.
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Old 01-14-2015, 09:28 AM   #6
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I've been budgeting for a UC education for my two boys (currently in middle school). Your figure seems high for UCSD unless you plan on living in an apartment at the beach with no roommates. The UCSD website shows about 30k/year for the 2014/2015 year - slightly cheaper if you live off campus. There are LOTS of apartments and condos for rent in the UTC area just east of campus with a shuttle bus to take you to campus. I live just south of that area.
https://students.ucsd.edu/finances/f...d-2014-15.html

I'm an alumni of SDSU. I was able to support myself and retire early - but the degree does not have the same 'cache as UCSD or Cal Poly SLO.

San Diego is not as expensive as you'd think if you avoid the traps. Live close to campus, share an apartment. Don't get a car - the UCSD campus is served well by buses and the shuttle bus system I mentioned earlier. Shop at sprouts and trader joes rather than whole foods or bristal farms. For SDSU - you have even more options of where to live off campus - buses and the trolley serve the campus well.
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Old 01-14-2015, 11:53 AM   #7
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Whew, so much info thrown at us in one post.
To get more specific responses, try to split up your posts into individual topics. However, your overall theme somewhat fits in with a lot of people on this site. Quite a few engineers....live below your means...save a lot.


Just a few points
1. College selection from a fellow engineer (civil). Aside from your first job interview (and maybe the first few years of your career if you switch employers), nobody places too much emphasis on where your degree is from. Especially once you get your PE license.

2. Future FIRE:
15% cash dividends? This number is way too high.
In 2018 you show your take home is $60k and you are saving $60K
In 2018 you show you have moved into your new home, but do not deplete you savings (even a tiny home will cost something)
In 2018 you assume 500 per month living expenses but yet now when living at home you are spending over $1200 per month with someone else paying the bills and buying your food.

3. I still have some of my FIRE spreadsheets from when I was your age (13 years ago), I look back and see that I too had many assumptions that were way off. But for me, making the plan (dreaming a little) and learning keeps me focused on the end result. Keep learning and keep evolving your plan, maybe we'll all get this figured out one day.
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Old 01-14-2015, 12:04 PM   #8
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Cal Poly SLO is the best choice for school reputation, then UCSD or UCI. But all of these require additional living expenses. In reality, the school reputation and your GPA are helpful for getting the first job. After that it becomes what you have done and your skills to offer as an engineer, rather than where you went to school.

Since money is tight when in school, the stay at home option may be the best choice. Any of your school options have accredited programs, so unless you have desire for the specific school, in the longer career perspective any can work.

Being extra low cost living is good, but have some fun along the way.
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Old 01-14-2015, 12:07 PM   #9
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"Your figure seems high for UCSD unless you plan on living in an apartment at the beach with no roommates."

50k is for 2.5 years at 15k tuition per year + 5k living expenses (300/month rent, 100 food-rice and least expensive healthy veggies diet +80 misc). My lover currently goes to UCSD and doesn't pay much since she's receiving lots of aid and lives in a living room blocked off with a curtain she installed herself. UCI offered her 11k/yr which would be enough to get me to move. I don't think 5k is high for living expenses per year, but we may have misunderstood eachother.

Thanks for Payscale- SJSU and UCI are pretty close (except end of career salary is higher for UCI by about 7k.) Environmental Engineers make a good amount in California, above average, same with Alaska and Texas but I have no plans of moving to either. I'm keeping the car till I at least graduate, I could sell if I lived biking distance of a good public transportation infrastructure and grocery store plus work virtually as an engineer.

I've talked to Engineers about the various schools, they say Irvine is a better school but nobody says either makes it much harder or easier to get a job as both have good engineering programs and internships/clubs available. Where do I find placement rates?

Thanks Travelover, definitely gonna bust my butt to do well and learn.

UCI and SJSU are similar in curriculum and both offer a decent amount of essential labs/design courses. I feel really comfortable at home, nice bed, solar panels for my car, moderately close to everything, 20 minutes from SJSU if I went. UCI feels a bit more exciting as it's new, nicer climate/by beach, it's a bit more focused on the environmental engineering (but SJSU would make it easier to pass the FE test to become a practicing engineer since it includes more Civil Engineering which is what Environmental falls under for California.)

By 2018 is totally ambitious and I agree, unlikely. I will have to reaccount for the tinyhouse cost, but I think I'll be able to make a better assessment for that with some more experience building stuff. I imagine I'd be saving 60k by taking home 65-70k and living frugally. Rent and food I couldn't imagine adding to 1200 unless I shopped exclusively at Whole Foods, stopped gardening, stopped eating rice, and chose an apartment all to myself. I want to keep my expenses low, I realize there's some comfort loss there. I also know 2018 has some assumptions that aren't likely so 2021 was included as a more realistic possibility. How would you recommend splitting it up?

I'm still thinking of waiting to see how much aid I get as a large factor since double price still seems like too much but thanks for all the wisdom. I feel more secure in either choice being totally compatible with a financially independent late 20's.
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Old 01-14-2015, 12:46 PM   #10
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I applaud you for wanting to truly do a cost-benefit analysis. It is important to keep control over cash flow - HOWEVER, also keep in mind that the greatest single variable in this equation is your starting salary and career, NOT the school you go to or what it's cost is. The differences in salaries for 30+ years will so enormously dwarf your cost differences on the cost side of the equation.

Having said that - it is true that there may not be much pedigree difference between the two state schools. So, given that, you really need to dig into what your specific major's graduates have done and what type of jobs they have after graduation:

--% with jobs IN THEIR MAJOR FIELD by 6 months after graduation
--salary ranges and averages for your major for graduates
--opportunities to possibly get internships for credit as well as pay at either program (one semester of working at a company as an intern could very well pay out as much as $10,000)

Ultimately, in the job force, it will be your specific skill set and drive and performance that will hopefully drive your earnings potential (assuming you identify appropriate employers who will reward you for YOUR skill set and performance). However, when fresh out of school, you are on a level playing field with everyone else, and employers have no way to identify you from anyone else, so certain employers will typically always interview and hire from the same schools. So find out which employers typically hire from which schools, and realize that for the first 5 years, you won't have any performance to set you apart, so that starting salary for the first 5 years will largely be set by which employers are recruiting at which schools (or how well you market yourself to other companies).
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Old 01-14-2015, 12:49 PM   #11
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As a Cal Poly grad, I'd highly recommend it. I used to work IT projects for lots of environmental engineers at MegaCorp, so I know a bit about them. Lots of people in school studying that now, so the competition will heat up if the demand doesn't support the numbers of graduates. Keep those grades up and get a good internship. Your savings goals are ambitious. Don't forget taxes will take a large chunk of your income as it increases. Insurance is also important, not just health insurance, but also to protect your assets as they accumulate. Continue to live below your means and learn to invest wisely, and things will work out. Just don't get disillusioned if it takes a bit longer than you plan. At least you have a plan which is a step ahead if most people your age.


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Old 01-14-2015, 01:02 PM   #12
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Sorry - I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying 50k/year.
Yes - you can live cheap in San Diego. The low cost fruits and veggies can be found at Ranch 99 and Zion Market... since you mention you have a car.

Is there a reason you didn't include UC Berkeley on the list? Since you have San Jose and San Francisco on the list - it makes sense to include Berkeley... they have a good engineering program, including, I believe, Environmental Engineering.
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Old 01-14-2015, 01:12 PM   #13
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The 80/20 or maybe more like 95/5 is probably major more than school, at least in techie type fields. Our kids' friends with low and no demand majors are unemployed or underemployed, even if they went to prestigious schools. And the ones with CS, engineering or other high demand majors are all doing fine, no matter where they went to school. One who is doing very well didn't even go to college but is an expert in a specific type of unique software.

Google is hiring more people without any degree at all these days:
Google hiring non-graduates - Business Insider
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Old 01-14-2015, 01:48 PM   #14
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I did grad school at UCI (cs) and lived in san jose for 10 years after that while working in silicon valley. Without a doubt, irvine is a much nicer area is especially if you like the beach/surfing/sailing/outdoors (actually irvine itself sucks but it's very close to places that are nice). You will be there for 2-3 years and it might be nice to enjoy the area.

With regards to the schools, one thing to keep in mind is that the UC's are research schools. What this means is that the professors will have much greater specialization, will work on cutting edge topics, will likely have greater connections, and may be more involved with commercializing their research. But you have to work/know/interact with your professors to leverage this -- most undergrads don't.

However teaching may suffer at UC as it takes third place to other criteria for evaluating professors.

If you know what area within environmental engineering you want to specialize in, I'd look at the faculty through that lens.
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Old 01-18-2015, 06:25 PM   #15
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Thanks to everyone here for all this perspective, haven't thought of some of these angles or ideas yet..

-% with jobs IN THEIR MAJOR FIELD by 6 months after graduation.

How do I find this?
I tried googling that but could not find it. I have average salary from multiple sources - online and engineers in the field. Salary between my top school choices is 7k difference at end career. I don't plan on being employees for over a decade. Long enough to retire with a cushion and then bootstrap a business.

Internships are something I'd love to find a good resource for. I've volunteered installing solar but I'd much rather work building self sustainable houses or in water treatment, cleaning chemical/oil spills would be awesome too. In exactly what to do I'm more curious in those 3 subfields than certain on exactly where to specialize - I'm assuming interning will fill in the gap in which challenge I'll find most satisfying.

My goal is between 2018 and 2021. I'm realizing my savings goals are ambitious as I have $74 left to spend this month to save 90% but I'm good on food and goods, just some gas and "entertainment", a little for my garden. It'll be a growth period, I feel the challenge in saving so much. I get it may take longer or shorter, more likely longer than shorter but the steady progress will be tangible.

School provides health insurance for good prices, not sure of how to get my paper assets insured, estate I have friends and family invested in but I don't want to invest in estate yet.

Berkeley would require another year of lower division as it requires more classes than any other school. I'm missing differential equations so I may not get into Cal Poly even with my GPA (3.81) since it's so competitive.

The UC research focus is something I've thought of as well. Some teachers won't care about teaching but any school will have some of that. I'd be excited to work with my professors on cutting edge topics. I imagined research oriented would be more in a lab than commercializing but if it's the latter than UCI may be more visible long-term. UCSD has an Environmental Engineering B.S but it's not accredited yet, it is currently under review.

If I pick SJSU - Civil eng will be a larger part where as UCI will have more Environmental eng, simply due to SJSU not having a pure environmental eng degree, it includes both civil and environmental.

I don't think which school is as important as what I put in, it seems like they'll all have opportunities to intern in cool areas if I know where to look. But to be certified requires a degree.

I should find out aid amount estimate in March and exact once I accept in April/May.

Thanks again for all the guidance.
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Old 01-18-2015, 08:51 PM   #16
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Our kid with the internship got it through a friend, but has also interviewed from companies recruiting on campus, plus I found this site for internship postings along the way for our kids that seems to have some name companies using it:

https://www.internmatch.com/

At least some of the community colleges have certificates in alternative energy systems installation. I've never been to this place but I found it online as an option for one of our kids interested in alternative energy:

https://www.solarliving.org/
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Old 01-18-2015, 09:37 PM   #17
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BSCE here. This is a relevant point:
Quote:
...the local schools offer only Civil & Environmental Engineering as a major so that'd be my degree instead of a strict Environmental Engineering-which might make passing the licensure exam easier as the exam is only for Civil & Env't in California and open more options.
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Old 01-19-2015, 12:16 AM   #18
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Investing in Education for Early Retirement

So even if you graduate engineering from an accredited school in CA you have to pass a technical test (instead of just a relatively easy eng. ethics & professional behavior test)?


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Old 01-19-2015, 08:17 AM   #19
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So even if you graduate engineering from an accredited school in CA you have to pass a technical test (instead of just a relatively easy eng. ethics & professional behavior test)?
Yes. The engineering field has some parallels to accounting, where getting a CPA is a professional milestone and a well-recognized standard that enhances one's career prospects.

I'm not familiar with California's details, but the basic requirements for a P.E. (Professional Engineer licensing) are common to all states.

Once graduating from an accredited engineering school and passing an engineering fundamentals test, one can register as an Engineer in Training. The test is identical for all engineering disciplines, but one can select some of the subjects within the test, i.e. a civil engineering major might skip thermodynamics in favor of fluid mechanics.

From an employer's perspective, a student with a passing grade on the fundamentals exam provides grade- and school-independent assurance the applicant has the basic tools. FelipeA should plan on taking this test just before he graduates, while all of the topics are relatively fresh.

Later - typically around 5 years out of school - the applicant for P.E. status submits an engineering experience record and supervisor references from each career engagement. The Board wants real engineering experience, and looks for key phases like "I designed..." and "I calculated...". Working under a P.E. is a requirement for at least part of the time.

When the registration board says yes to the experience and references, the applicant can take one of a couple of dozen discipline-, and practice-specific exams. (Civil, chemical, mechanical, etc.) Like the first test, there is some flexibility in topics. An environmental specialist taking the civil exam might choose to answer the problems on water treatment, skipping a foundation design problem.

Once that test is passed, and the fees are paid and a background check is completed, the applicant is granted a P.E. license.

The importance of getting a P.E. varies by discipline. In civil and environmental engineering, it's very important because so much of the work involves the design of public works projects or improvements that are approved by a government agency. State laws almost universally require that reports and construction plans for such projects must be prepared by a P.E.

Elaborating on my point of a couple of post backs, 80-90% of an undergraduate program in civil engineering would be the same as an environmental engineering degree. Also, all engineering schools allow for "within the major" electives in the senior year, where a student can choose topics of interest. Say "groundwater transport mechanisms" over "structural analysis for buildings".

When I give advice to students or new graduates, I emphasize flexibility and creating options. It's just one opinion, but I think the BSCE has an small edge over a BSEnvE.

Let's say FelipeA wants to apply for grad school after discovering he really prefers transportation over environmental work. A BSCE with an undergraduate emphasis on environmental classes might have a better chance of getting into his desired MSCE transportation program than a BSEnvE with less transportation exposure. The flexibility also applies to the job market. I would readily hire a BSEnvE into the environmental division of my engineering company or agency. Ditto for a BSCE with an interest in environmental work. The job posting would likely say "BSCE or BSEnvE required." But if business is good in land development, where environmental topics are only part of the work, I'd lean toward an applicant with a BSCE. And the HR department might even write "BSCE required" on the posting.
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Old 01-19-2015, 09:47 AM   #20
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HT Harry -- thanks for the detailed information. I studied engineering in Ontario (Canada) and I guess the requirements are a little simpler. For those that graduated from an accredited school, one only needs to take a professional practice exam (covering ethics, law, liability, etc) and there are no technical question on say thermodynamics etc. There are similar work experience requirements.

Of course there are far far fewer engineering schools in canada. Which probably makes it easier to rely on the accreditation process and having the school's weed out those insufficient academic skills (and they did not hesitate to fail students).
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