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ESR? Coloradans advice appreciated
Old 02-17-2010, 10:30 PM   #1
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ESR? Coloradans advice appreciated

Mostly because I am losing my mind trying to cope with my work situation, I am casting about for unconventional alternatives. One that waggles in front of me is the thought of ESR. DW and I fully intend to relocate when we get to FIRE as NJ is unaffordable long term and we would prefer to be elsewhere. Colorado is top of the list as a destination, both on its own merits and because DW's family is there. We like a number of areas, but Fort Collins seems like a pretty nice place to live and appears to be affordable. I penciled out a simple budget to get a rough idea of the numbers, and I get to an annual budget of about $55k/year for a family of 4. Rough monthly numbers are:

taxes
200
utilities
400
Insurance
250
food
750
clothing
100
House maintenance
250
gas
150
car maint
100
student loans
100
subtotal
2300
entertainment
1000
misc
500
total
3800


Add in a (very rough) guesstimate of $700/month for health insurance. It appears that we could sell our current home in NJ and purchase something larger and nicer for cash with the equity we have in our present home. And from what I understand the schools are quite good, so I would not be spending time worrying about private school tuition.

So sitting on my butt, contemplating my navel I would need to draw $55k, suggesting a minimum portfolio of something like $1.3MM. We are shy by a few hundred thousand. OTOH, if we generated something between $20 and 50k a year in income, we would pay bupkis in income taxes and draw little or nothing from the portfolio. If one of us managed a job with health insurance, the budget would be noticeably lower and so would the portfolio draw.

Obviously a larger portfolio would make this "safer" but I am thinking the concept has some merit. What am I missing here? Probably lots, but figured getting a reality check by people not being driven nuts would be helpful. A realistic view from any Coloradans would also be helpful.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:07 PM   #2
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Your annual budget and portfolio numbers are actually very close to ours and we too are looking at the possibility of ESR in a 3-4 years. When we ESR, we would like to continue making enough money to cover the bills (so that our portfolio can continue to compound, untouched, until it can support a 2.5-3% SWR) which would mean making only a fraction of what we are making now.

What about car replacement costs? Medical co-pays? Kids' college?
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:31 PM   #3
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What about car replacement costs? Medical co-pays? Kids' college?
All important considerations, to a greater (college) or lesser (cars) extent. But if the portfolio is untouched for regular expenses and is sufficiently large to begin with, that would probably cover most or all of that stuff.
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Old 02-18-2010, 08:04 AM   #4
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Sounds like half of NJ will be in CO in the next 5-10 years! This is something we are looking into for RE landing locations. Friends of ours ditched their place in Morristown and moved to Crested Butte. They are having a ball! He telecommutes and she is still a RE agent technically based in NJ still.
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Old 02-18-2010, 09:00 AM   #5
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Sounds like half of NJ will be in CO in the next 5-10 years!
Yikes! Well, if they leave their attitude behind, I guess it will be alright.

Anyway, Brewer, I am unsure how I can help -- I am much too biased. Obviously, with as much traveling we do, I still consider Colorado the ideal place for permanent residence. Fort Collins is an excellent choice -- consider it being midway between the big city (Denver) and the wilderness; close to both. That and it is large enough to provide a wide range of employment opportunities -- particular in the education, medical and government sectors.

I have mentioned in other posts how great the climate is here so I won't bore you further. (I should point out, however, that we do not have an ocean close-by in case that's important.)

A household budget is simply too personal for me to comment on. I would, however, suggest that you do the "due diligence" in comparing tax & housing comparisons using the usual websites.

And, oh! The leisure-time opportunities -- even Arches National Park is less than a day away. Rocky Mountain National Park less than an hour.
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Old 02-18-2010, 09:25 AM   #6
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An important consideration re: Fort Collins is that it is close enough that we can see DW's family without too much travelling, but far enough away that we stay out of the soap operas that frequently break out with her older sister. But Denver is nice as well, if more expensive. I am kind of done with big cities, so something smaller than Denver has a lot of appeal.

In poking around, houses are even less expensive than I thought and RE taxes are half my assumption. Suspect I have too large a line item for non health insurance as well. The online cost of living calculators suggest that COL is about 30% less than our current location, which seems to be in the right ballpark as far as I can tell. Time to twiddle firecalc. Ultimately this probably boils down to waiting to accumulate more portfolio (although nowhere near as high as I have been shooting for) and deciding if we really are ready to move.
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Old 02-18-2010, 10:39 AM   #7
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Brewer, I have lived in Colorado Springs for the last 26 years. I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area. I moved here because of the natural beauty and the weather. Believe it or not it is a very mild winter on the front range, and the summers cannot be beat. Since I have moved here my sister, parents, adult nieces, and adult nephews have relocated their family here. My brother is relocating in the next month or two. I have a sister in law that lives in Fort Collins and love to visit her as well. They have a lot of bike trails, breweries (Budweiser and microbrews which I love to visit), and great schools. Even the University to in Fort Collins is one of the best financial deals you can find. Private schools are not necessary.

I have never lived on the east coast but can say that it is much less expensive to live in Colorado than the Bay Area. One thing that is definitely cheaper is utilities. When I had five sons living at home our winter utility bill would be about $300/mo and in the summer it is cool enough that we don't have air conditioning so our utilities are even less. Also, plenty of room to get lost if you feel the need. DIA offers good connecting flights to anywhere we want to travel.. So, from my perspective it is a great place to live.
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:15 AM   #8
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Not to hijack the thread, but what's the "S" in "ESR"
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:22 AM   #9
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ESR = Early Semi Retirement
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:33 AM   #10
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Fort Collins is a wonderful city and your budget seems reasonable to me. But then I am biased in favor of Colorado. I love to travel but suspect that Colorado will be my permanent home base because there is so much to do and see and such good weather for doing it. Beware though, every nice day we have, every single Coloradan is out enjoying, its really quite insane.
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Old 02-18-2010, 12:09 PM   #11
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FWIW from a two year plus ESR'd person. The following is long but the upfront summary is that it was the 3rd best decision I ever made! Christ and DW are the top two. It has been wonderful and to date it has worked out better than we ever expected: financially, emotionally, health, and family time.

We are a family of four close to your ages. ESR'd at the end of 2007. Our budget includes Health care since we purchased individual policies a year prior and full deductible funding. The Insurance pays 100% after the deductible. Our total budget is very close to yours in total dollar amount. The only difference is no debt what so ever at all and we hold separate amounts for each kid that should pay for a state college education outside of the portfolio balance. Carrying any debt is a personal decision and one that can certainly work for you with your background.

Our port. could provide the budget at a commonly accepted SWR when we quit in 2007. We also will get Pensions at 55 or later if we chose to wait. Luckily due to procrastanation we avoided most of the 2007 and 2008 market drop. This happened as we at the time had planned to follow Bob's recommendations and had moved all 401K and IRA funds to cash as of July 2007 with the expectation that we would re-allocate in 2008 as we had time and thus know exactly what our starting point would be when we ESR'd. We also had moved out of individual stocks and into cash in our after tax accounts. That was a pretty decent tax hit but was part of the plan. We then started moving back into the market through out 2008 but into only bonds and mutual funds mainly at Vanguard. This due to luck only has payed off very well. We do not in anyway think we can time the market and do not plan to make that kind of move again. Our allocation is probably somewhat conservative but it works for us now.

What we have learned is our planned budget was very close to our actuals for the last two years. We had kept very detailed budgets for years and still do for the most part. The Total dollar amounts were very much in-line but some of the categories changed more than expected. We also had a good dollar amount of padding in it and that is very important. We use 15% inflation for Medical and 3% for everything else. Medical has gone up about 12% per year so far. We additionally planned increases in spending above normal increases as the kids get older to cover cars, dating, etc. I have been told bail is a good category also!

All the above is to say that for us anything near 4% was to high a starting withdrawal at our age and our kids age knowing that costs would go up much more than inflation for years to come. The current market and our luck has lowered what our draw would need to be to a more comfortable level even if I did not have the part-time business. We also could sell the lake house and that would take us to a very comfortable draw amount with no work. That is not something I want to do for several more years and is not necessary. We can also rent it if needed. We did that in 2007 as a test and it rented very well. This is a fall back income stream if needed. All this to say diversified income streams are a good thing also.

I have also found that since we do have kids in school we have to stay home during the school year or at least one of us does! We travel extensively as a family when they are out. We were on the road 112 days last year! Since we are tied to the school schedule it does provide time for consulting work. This economy has been great for my business and it has actually covered all expenses for the first two years and even allowed us to put money into the owner K. We should cover all expenses again this year also. The budget calls for the business to fail next year however. We plan this way each year to make sure our budget is sustainable from our portfolio if needed. At our ages I think the normal retirement wisdom will not work and the above actions are prudent. If we were in our 50s and did not still have kids in the nest then I would be more comfortable following the conventional wisdom.

The part time work (I am able to control my hours very well and averaged across a year it is probably around 15 per week) has easily given me as much joy as all the free time. I really enjoy the clients I have. It is indeed possible to make a part-time income to cover your expenses since as you very accurately said you taxes will be nothing. Full disclosure I have been consulting on the side since 1993 so I had a very good feel of what could happen. With a good education and excellent inter-personal skills it is not hard at all to build and maintain a good part time income. Have faith in your abilities but also try to have something lined up first if possible. You will be more comfortable in the decision and it will problably work out better than you think but do plan low as upside suprises are a good thing.

You might make a very detailed budget and then look at the worst case of not making any money at all. If you would be willing to live at that level then ESR will probably be the best decision work related you ever make. It certainly has been for us.

Your choice of location is good also. We spent a few weeks in CO this summer camping and loved it. Arches, Bryce, Canyon lands are all great. The dry air and sand where quite an adjustment but not a problem. Our relatives there love it also.

In summary you only get one life make it count!

YMMV and these are just our experiences and are not any kind of guaranteed plan but life does not have a guarantee anyway!
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Old 02-18-2010, 01:00 PM   #12
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fisherman, thanks very much for your detailed explanation. Extremely helpful and gives me a lot to think about. I have not really had ESR on the table as even a consideration, so I have a lot to think about and research.

The budget line item for debt is misleading. We have wiped out everything except the mortgage (which would go away in the move given that we have enough equity to pay cash for a home in CO) and a small ($8k) student loan. I would have killed the loan off as well, but it is locked for life at under 2% and the payment is small enough that it adds negligible cash flow strain to our budget.

I poked around at firecalc this morning and have a pretty good sense of what things look like. I now have a feel for the minimum portfolio size such that if we generate enough income to leave the port alone for 5 years after the move, the port would survive even when I add in the withdrawal of some quite generous sums to fund college.

The big piece of all this is figuring out how to generate the required income. DW has a portable skill and has been part time self employed since 2003. With the kids entering school, she finally has had some time to build the business and revenue is growing rapidly, albeit from a small base. I will have to think about what I could do to bring in ducats, although I would imagine that with my background and skill set it should not be that hard to come up with a plethora of ideas.

So I know where the port has to be, have a reasonable idea of costs, and have to figure out what I could do to bring in the scratch for a few years. The other piece is contingency plans. The most obvious would be the continuation of the part time stuff for longer than 5 years. DW or I (with three masters' degress between us and lots of letters after our names) could make the monthly nut simply by getting a basic white collar job. Will have to give it more thought.

And of course I will have to discuss it with DW. The portfolio is a few years away from where it needs to be, so we will have time to think about it and do the appropriate planning. Somehow I do not think it will upset DW. The other consideration is uprooting the kids (and ourselves), but I suppose that if it is a one-time thing we can probably deal with it.
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Old 02-18-2010, 01:43 PM   #13
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Obviously a larger portfolio would make this "safer" but I am thinking the concept has some merit. What am I missing here? Probably lots, but figured getting a reality check by people not being driven nuts would be helpful. A realistic view from any Coloradans would also be helpful.
When I started college my family moved to Parker from Pittsburgh. 30 years later my brother still lives in Denver and my father's tried a couple of the smaller towns. They love it.

The good news is that moving from your current state to almost anywhere else is bound to be a step up. Even the pollution in Denver is cleaner.

The downside is that you're gonna need a lot of nasal lubricants until you adjust to 2% humidity. Every time I visit I get nosebleeds for the first couple weeks. IMO it's also brutally cold in the winter, to the point where you want to greet the sentiment "Yeah, but it's a dry cold!!" with automatic weapons fire. But if I lived there year-round for a couple winters I'd probably get used to it. Probably.

Overall you'll be in a much better location to raise a family. And with your background/résumé you'll have no trouble finding part-time/full-time work.

Land might be more plentiful than your current location, but you'll want to xeriscape. Depending on your location you'll also want plenty of home insulation against both the heat and the cold.

I think there are two other posters on the board with Fort Collins knowledge. I'll point them to this thread.
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Old 02-18-2010, 02:02 PM   #14
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Thanks, Nords. I spent a summer in CO in 1994 and have been returning there on a regulat basis to visit DW's family (at all times of year), so I have some appreciation of the climate. RonBoyd has indicated in the past that the winters are not especially awful most years. Coming from a state that has unpleasant winters and having spent several truly miserable winters near Cleveland, I suspect I would not find them all that bad. This may sound funny, but the thing I would miss the most about teh East is the Fall. Easily the best weather of the year and with spectacular foliage to boot.
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Old 02-18-2010, 02:33 PM   #15
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This may sound funny, but the thing I would miss the most about teh East is the Fall. Easily the best weather of the year and with spectacular foliage to boot.
Rocky Mountain National Park (as an example) will give you all that AND trumpeting elk -- a sound you won't soon forget.
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Old 02-18-2010, 02:34 PM   #16
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This may sound funny, but the thing I would miss the most about teh East is the Fall. Easily the best weather of the year and with spectacular foliage to boot.
I suspect that Colorado scenery is spectacular enough in its own right, and you won't miss the fall colors as much as you think you will. *

* Bear in mind that I have never been to Colorado other than the Denver airport, and my only visits to New Jersey were just one brief excursion to give a paper at Princeton (beautiful! but not autumn), and a weeklong visit to a facility further north inside the Naval Weapons Station (not a paragon of scenic beauty, IMO). You get what you pay for.
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Colorado dreaming...
Old 02-18-2010, 02:49 PM   #17
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Colorado dreaming...

* Property taxes are waaay lower than most places.
* Insurance rates are waaay lower---for car, health and house.
* Wardrobe budget goes way down (once you buy a few high-tech functional seasonal items). Even business attire is informal (once you're out of the Denver big-city-wannabee ethos). Think comfort, function, ease.
* Colo is consistently ranked healthiest state, so medical costs may go down.
* Colo is a balanced-budget state, so the public debt cant run amok (in leans years like now, we are forced to efficiency and cuts).
* Colo income tax is fixed %, not graduated. Easy to plan.

* It is jaw-dropping beautiful. Every day. There are vast open spaces, wilderness and wildness.
* So much free recreation, extensive cultural events and lifelong learning opportunites.
* The weather is marvelous except for spring ( the time of the year when most other regions experience their only good weather, so that's when you visit the relatives).
* Many of us still don't lock our doors, and we leave our keys in the ignition and our bikes and skis on the porch.
* Water is pure, air is clean. (The further you are from Denver metro the truer this is.)
* People are friendly, honest, easy going, live-and-let-live.

You will need more sunscreen and high-tech sunglasses (depending on where in Colo you settle, you'll get 300-330 days of sun..it's not NJ). You will need lots of moisturizer, because it's an arid geography and climate. (Rocky Mtn Health Plans is currently running a tv ad which touts "We understand Colorado, where lip balm is an object of worship." and it is very true.) Living at altitude has many health advantages (unless you have high blood pressure or heart problems).

You will miss the ocean. You will miss lushness of vegetation.

I moved from NY to Colorado 32 years ago. And every time I go back there for a family function, I thank my lucky stars (and there are a gazillion of them in our night sky!).

PS Consider the Western Slope as well as the Front Range.
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Old 02-18-2010, 02:58 PM   #18
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Whoa. You Coloradans and hope-to-be-Coloradans better quick come up with your top ten (or 100) list of reasons not to move to Colorado a la REWahoo's list to keep people out of Texas, before it's too late:

Quote:
Texas is infested with scorpions, rattlesnakes, fire ants, crazy raspberry ants, cockroaches on steroids, killer bees, mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, tarantulas, brown recluse spiders, love bugs, swarming crickets, copperheads, cottonmouths, rabid skunks, wild hogs, alligators, oppressive heat & humidity, bleak desolate scenery, dirty beaches, polluted air, dust storms, drought, wildfires, water shortages, recurring floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, rednecks, huge piles of flaming mulch, spontaneously combusting playgrounds, roads hot as flowing lava, the stench of natural and unnatural gasses, amoebic meningitis lurking in area lakes, recurring Ebola virus outbreaks, flesh eating bacteria, staggering homeowner insurance rates, unbelievably high property taxes, mandatory death sentences for DUI convictions, polygamous religious sects, and, lest we forget, doesn't look kindly towards Yankees
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Old 02-18-2010, 03:10 PM   #19
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To quote "Kahn" "I would sell a kidney before returning to Mega Cr*p" . After two plus years of ESR that is a fact for me.

This is a better live than I ever dreamed! If you are the business type I think you will be very happy. If you just work part time in something you enjoy you will very like be happier.

Start by applying for health Ins. with a company that will let you move to CO and if that result is good then consider moving on to the next step. It just might change your life for the better.

Oh and I am sorry for the extremely long post earlier but I heard many a familiar ring in your recent posts to my situation a few years ago. Best of luck in your decision.
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Old 02-18-2010, 04:29 PM   #20
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fisherman, the detail was very helpful.

I need to see my port up from where it is before this is feasible. And of course there are discussions with DW, research, and so on.
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