Charged Up! podcast: How smart couples can retire rich
Episode 66 with personal finance expert and author David Bach
Personal finance guru David Bach talks about one of his all-time best-sellers, “Smart Couples Finish Rich,” and how partners can set themselves up for comfort, prosperity and security – no matter where they currently stand financially.
You don’t have to make hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a comfortable retirement. You just need to make the right moves now to ensure your future.
So, let’s get Charged Up! about learning how smart couples finish rich!
Jenny Hoff: David, thank you so much for joining me today. It's a real honor to talk to you.
David Bach: Well, Jenny, thank you for having me on your show. I know it's super popular and I appreciate you wanting to interview me. So it's good to be with you.
Hoff: Yeah, and I mean we have a lot of really good information talk about. You've written numerous best-selling books including, “Debt Free For Life,” “Automatic Millionaire” and “Smart Couples Finish Rich.” These are just a few of them, and I love that in your book, “Smart Couples Finish Rich” you talk about how you learned about money from your grandmother. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how it propelled you into the career you have today?
Bach: Yeah, well you know it's amazing. I have a little boy who is 8 years old right now and his name is James. He reminds me of being his age and at the time I was just 7. Whenever I visited my grandmother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she would take me to my favorite restaurant in the whole world, which was McDonald’s. So one day at McDonald’s my grandmother said to me, “You know, David, you could get rich by coming to McDonald's and not just be a kid who comes and spend money here,” and I was like, “What are you talking about? I’m too young to work here grandma.” She said, “No, today I'm going to teach you how to get rich.” She said, “I'm going to teach you how to buy stock at McDonald's.”
She literally made me go up to the cash register to ask the manager if they were publicly traded. The manager looked at me like he was on Candid Camera, he came back to where my grandmother was sitting and explained to her that yes, McDonald's was publicly traded. She said, “I knew that. I just want my grandson, David, here to learn how to ask the question, because today I'm going to teach him how to buy stock in McDonald's.”
That was how I started out investing at 7 years old. She literally opened up The Wall Street Journal, circled MCD, taught me how to buy my first stock, helped me to open a brokerage account where I bought my first share of McDonald's and at 9 years old I bought my second share. I bought it in Disney and it changed my whole life and made me look at the world like the game of Monopoly could actually be played for real.
When I think about my grandmother today, her legacy is just amazing because she didn't have a college education, she started with nothing, she was absolutely broke at the age of 30, she was living paycheck to paycheck, and she started saving a dollar a week between her and my grandfather; and by saving a dollar a week, she started taking that money and investing it in the stock market.
Also, in her story, she failed at the beginning. She didn't succeed when she first started investing, so she started taking classes and finding money mentors and she really taught herself how to be smart with money and by doing that, over a lifetime she became a self-made millionaire. She taught my father how to do it, he became a self-made millionaire. She taught me how to do it, my sister how to do it and we became millionaires; and, now I've been teaching my grandmother's lessons for over twenty years. I've taught millions of people and it’s really my grandmother's lessons which started it all. The first book I ever wrote was actually for women; it was “Smart Women Finish Rich.” I'm actually working right now on the update. I’ve just got the brand-new cover sent to me fifteen minutes ago and now the book is coming out as a twenty-year-anniversary edition in September of this year. So my grandma's legacy continues.
Hoff: That's a fantastic and an inspirational story because it really does show you that it's just education that you need. If you have education and any kind of an income, any kind of a job, you can start making this future for yourself. You don't need to inherit it, you don't need to have an extremely high paying job and you talk about that a lot in your book, “Smart Couples Finish Rich,” as well as your other books too. I want to briefly talk about the background to “Smart Couples Finish Rich,” because you mentioned in the book that even though you were obviously successful already in the financial world, when you and your wife got home from your honeymoon, the decisions had to be made about how you guys were going to deal with your money and there was a lot you had not communicated, and that's how you really realized you had to write a book like that. Can you tell us a little about that story?
Bach: Yeah, well we didn't live together before we got married. As soon as we came back from our honeymoon we moved into our first apartment and the bills start coming in. I’m dividing up the bills; I’m taking the bills with her name and I'm putting them in her pile and the ones with my name, I'm putting them in my pile. I'll never forget when she came into the kitchen and asked me what I was doing, and I told her I’m separating the different bills and she just pushes all the bills together into one pile and says “Honey we're married now, it's all one pile. Go pay the bills.” It was really kind of funny the time. We started arguing about how we were going to manage the money that first year. What was really kind of like an eye opener for me was that we were both financial advisers, so we met at Morgan Stanley, we had gone through training together, we had a financial background, we knew how to manage money, we did it for our clients and yet here we are, a newlywed couple, trying to figure out how to do it on our own. At the time we were fighting about it, I got a letter from a woman who read “Smart Women Finish Rich” that said she was fighting with her husband about money, they weren’t on the same page and she said you really need to write a book to help couples. I showed the letter to my wife and she's like, “Yeah, you should write that book because we could use it.” That was kind of what the catalyst was because I looked at her and thought you know, I have all these incredible clients that have done it; they retired, they've done well financially and most importantly they're still in love and they're happy. I'm going start going back to my office and I'm going to start interviewing my clients and looking at the ones that really did it right, versus the ones that didn't do it right and that is what became the basis for “Smart Couples Finish Rich.” The beauty of being a financial adviser and working with clients is that I had all these incredible role models both of what's worked and what hadn't worked, and I was able to really dig into what they had done right and then go back and share it.
Hoff: Yeah, and you even mentioned in the book about how people had read “Smart Women Finish Rich,” wrote to you they said, “I'm on board, I'm ready to get started on this but unfortunately my spouse isn't, and they're not buying into it or they're not willing to cooperate. What do I do?” So what is the difference between planning how to be rich by yourself and doing that as a couple? What kind of different mindset do you need to have?
Bach: Well it all goes back to the days of my clients. What I saw with the clients that were really successful, I mostly recognized that they had very ordinary income. They had made between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. They were not high-income people, but they retired in their early fifties to early sixties with really no debt. Their home was paid off, they often didn't have any student loans for the kids and they were able to retire and live happily ever after. I was like wow they did well, and asked what they typically did. They worked on their financial life together for decades, so they agreed on fundamental things, like they’re going to spend less money than they make. I think it’s really simple but that was something they agreed on. We're not going to go into debt for things we can't afford to pay for, we're going to pay our mortgage off early. Most of the couples I had that retired early was able to do so because they pay their mortgage off early. They agreed on what percentage of their income they were going to pay themselves first, so they all paid themselves first and they saved money automatically. Most of them were using their 401(k) plan, saving the money automatically and gaining interest. A lot of them got financial planners early so while they were coming into my office, we used to work on their financial retirement plan in their fifties. In many cases they and sat down with a financial planner at some point in their 30’s and in their 40’s and they had done all the core critical things that they needed to do which I laid out in the book. They had life insurance, they didn't wait to get life insurance, they had a will done – all that would need to be updated. They had done all the basics. Sometimes the couple that is successful, they worked on it as a team; sometimes they divided up who paid the bills. There might be one person in charge of paying the bills, but they still sat down together and worked on it. At some point throughout the year they checked in with each other to see how they are doing, they do annual review together to see if they made progress this year. I'm sitting here right now as I'm talking to you and on the left-hand side of me I have my retirement plan, my financial needs analysis updated and it's printed, so I can go through it with my wife to just show her like, “Look, here's where we were five years ago and here's where we are today,” and she's probably going to look at this with me for ten minutes although I might have spent two hours on it. But the good thing is she's going to know that there it is, there's our update, it's in the file. I know where to go to get it if anything happens to David. That's really important too which I want to make sure we cover and get into the importance of knowing where all your financial documents are, and I gave the whole program the workbook on how to do that.
Hoff: Your book is incredible because it isn't just tips, you give specific lessons on exactly how you organize your finances, how you create this wish list, how you make this plan with your spouse, here are the different places you can go to get these resources that you need. So I mean it's really not just a book with some advice, it's a total workbook that somebody can use and get all the information and resources that they need right there which I think is great because the minute somebody has to go do extra work to find that they start to get a little bit discouraged. I do want to go through some of your nine steps; obviously we're not getting into the nitty gritty of all of them, but I do want to talk about what those nine steps are and go over them a little bit. Your first one is to learn the facts and the myths about couples and money and one of those myths is you need money to make money. Now you say in the book that's not true and you give an example of how saving just a few dollars a day can turn into a million dollars over time. Can you go into that? You called it the couple's ‘latte factor.’
Bach: Yeah. So the big thing that often holds people back from saving is that they say they just don't have enough money to invest. For years I have said that if you've got five dollars that you can invest today, you can change your whole life. In the book, I gave an example of a dollar a day at five percent. How long does it take to grow dollar a day at five percent? Well by the way, five percent will probably take ninety-nine years. So how about a dollar a day at ten percent? It probably takes fifty-six years to get to a million dollars. A dollar a day at fifteen percent, it takes forty years. Now here's the thing, most people can invest more than a dollar so that’s why I ramped it up and I show you in the book; what if you save ten dollars a day at ten percent, which is the average of the stock market since 1926 - it takes thirty-four years. What if you save twenty dollars a day at ten percent? It takes twenty-seven years. So, I walk through the miracle of compound interest and the couple’s latte factor is a metaphor that helps couples look at where they are wasting small amounts of money on little things that could literally be lattes, bottled water, cigarettes or Netflix. Think of a million different things that you spend money on that you maybe don't even use anymore, and if you took that money and you redirected it toward savings or paying down your debt, you can change your whole financial life. There are people right now who pay for a gym every month and they don't go to the gym and they are spending one hundred or two hundred dollars a month. That amount of money, if it was redirected and put into an IRA account and invested, that alone could be the ticket to get them at least quarter million dollars in additional savings. So it's making you realize that you might have the money you just have to go find it and make sure you keep some of it.
Hoff: Right and stop telling yourself that as soon as I make more money, or if I get some sort of a windfall, or I win the lottery then I’ll invest it, but I don't have that much money at the end of every month, so I'm not interested. But you say even a small amount, just start small, think of it in day to day terms and that can make a huge difference in your life down the road. I can't tell you how many interviews I've done where people say if only I had known how to invest, I would invest whatever I could in the beginning and let it go as long as possible, I wouldn't have been in a bad situation when it came to retirement.
Step two is to determine the true purpose of money in your life and you talk about values first and steps second; can you go into this?
Bach: Yes. What I did was to update “Smart Couples Finish Rich,” and the book was updated this year in 2018 and it is the seventeen-year anniversary edition. So I wrote this book basically as a full blown financial planning guide, this is exactly what I did for my clients. If you came into my office as a financial planning client, the first thing I would do is to start with your values. I'd start by helping you take a look at what's most important to you and looking at who do you want to be, what do you want to do and lastly what do you want to have. Most of financial planning focus is on having first; it's about the numbers and the money. We just talked about the money with the latte factor. What I find that was really powerful is to get total and vivid clarity around your true values, know what your most important values are – both individually and as a couple and get those down on paper. So I would give you an exercise on how to get them down on paper and create your values circle, then I show you how to align how you spend your money so it's aligning with your values and bringing you closer to your values. It’s kind of like using your values to pull you toward your financial decisions, because what I say in the book is that when your values are clear, your financial decisions become easy. Most people actually do know what they should do when it comes to their money; they don't they should spend less than they make, they know that they should start saving when they're younger, but they don't do it. When you're clear on your values it makes your ability to make the decision quicker and easier, and that can be all it takes to change the entire direction of your financial life.
Hoff: Yeah. You even gave examples and I've talked to other people before about how they've did it. They've saved their money but then they're still at an impasse when it comes to what do. The couples that don't have a plan together, they don't know what their higher calling is, they don't know what they want to do now in retirement. That's where they actually fall into disagreement, they never really discussed together what they will do once they're a little bit more financially independent. What is Purpose Focus Financial Planning?
Bach: That's such a big point you just brought up there that I don't want to want to just fly right by. You were about to go into what is Purpose Focus Financial Planning. Purpose Focus Financial planning is making sure that all those hard work that you did to build up your wealth and that you're able to use your wealth to live your best life. The money that you saved, now that you reached a point where you have what we call time affluence – it’s one thing to be wealthy, it's nothing to actually have time – the reason people are so happy in their 60’s when they retire if they actually have the time to really go out and enjoy their life, they’ve get a lot of extra time to use. But not if you don't have clarity around your values. Often people retire and they don't really know what they should be doing with their retirement and they're not aligned as a couple and their purpose isn't clear. So I give examples in the book, like a couple comes into my office and said the husband was about to retire in three weeks, and I asked the husband, “What do you want to do in retirement?” Now he said, “I’m so excited David. I'm going to build a house on the land we have in North Carolina and we're going to go fishing every day,” and the wife looks at him and turns to me and goes, “I don't know who he’s going fishing with but it’s not me.” Then he is like, “What are you talking about honey? We bought that land eighteen years ago, that was we're going to build our dream home.” And, she says, “We haven’t even talked about that land in eighteen years. I thought you forgot about it but we're not leaving California, our grandkids are here, our family is here, our friends, we're not moving to North Carolina.” He looks at me and goes, “Well what do you think?” I'm like, “I'm surprised you haven't talked about this yet.” But believe it or not, that's surprisingly normal. People will get all the way to their fifties or sixties and they haven't actually had a real conversation around when they want to retire, where they are going to live, what they want to do. So Purpose Focus Financial Planning helps you would all stages of your life to get clarity, as a couple, what’s really most important to you and how to use financial planning to get close to that. That's all it is in financial planning, it’s not just about the numbers, but doing it based on your heart and your values and that changes everything. People call it a holistic view of financial planning, but I've been doing this for over two decades and I call it Purpose Focus Financial Planning.
Hoff: Absolutely, and it's surprising how common it is, as you mentioned - people just don't discuss it and I've even known family members where they're retired and one's like, “OK, let's go travel the world now,” and the other person is like, “no I want to build a new deck on our house.” And, one may wonder how they never discussed it. They’ve been married for forty years. But it's very common and it's very normal. You give a lot of great advice in the book, including having a higher purpose together, volunteering together about being happy together, even outside of just thinking about numbers, like what you talked about. Now getting back to numbers, another step is building your retirement basket. Is investing in your company’s 401(k) enough, or is there more that you should be doing? What do you do if one person stays at home so they don't have a company 401(k) or they're working part time? How do you figure it out so this doesn't become an issue in the long run?
Bach: So I'll make this really simple. If you have a 401(k) plan you should absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt use it. You should be using it and you should be putting the maximum away. The number that it takes to become a millionaire is fourteen percent of your gross income. How do we know it's fourteen percent of your gross income? Because Fidelity, the largest 401(k) provider in the world has done an updated study every year that shows in America how many people are millionaires. The latest study that came out showed that there are over 150,000 401(k) millionaires in their plans. They had about seventy five percent of money in stocks and twenty five percent of the money in bonds. “Automatic Millionaire” is my most popular book and the book I launched on Oprah. That book has one simple formula: save one hour a day of your income, whatever you earn the first hour a day of your income comes right off the top and goes into your 401(k) plan. That happens to be twelve and a half percent of your gross income. One hour a day of your income should be the minimum goal to get to. I would tell you if you can do more, do more. Then for the spouse who is at home who might have bills on the side, you need to open up a self-employed retirement account or a solo 401(k) plan.
Hoff: In your book. you give really all the tips, you give all the steps, you give all the resources you give the worksheets. People just have to take the time to sit down with their spouse and go over this. I think that they're pretty much really well set up and it’s up to them if they want to get a financial adviser after that, but this really gives all the information that you need. Would you say that $18,000 would be the maximum that you should put into your 401(k) plan? Then if it's not going to be tax deferred, put it into a more flexible investment?
Bach: Yeah, I think the reason I recommend 401(k) plans or 403B plans or all the different plans that are available, firstly it is automated, so you don't even have to touch the money because it's going to come right out of your pay check. That's the game changer. When you look at the way in which the average American does well, it’s because they had money pulled out their pay check automatically every two weeks, before they could touch it and it grew tax free until they took it out. Once you've maxed out your 401(k) plan, then you should be saving money if you can get yourself to do it in other investment vehicles. I go through different options in the book; you can look at everything from money market accounts for security purposes to mutual funds to muni bond funds to you know you name it. I even talk about annuities and insurance and again what you need to know before you can shoot.
Hoff: You also talk about, in the book, that one of the mistakes that couples often make is not taking credit card debt seriously. Can you go into that a little bit? Is this something they should take care of before building a security basket, or just do it at the same time?
Bach: Let’s just talk about credit card debt for a second because credit card debt can be like financial quicksand and it's really easy to fall into credit card debt, especially today, because the credit cards today are offering twenty-five thousand points to fifty thousand points at zero percent interest. We're using a record amount of credit cards and what happens to those credit cards is that people typically are not paying them off every month and then the rates go up. If you're late on one those of credit cards, the rate can jump up to nineteen percent and the next thing you know they're only making minimum payments and then you end up with five thousand dollars in credit card debt which can turn into fifteen to twenty thousand dollars by the time it is paid off. I am just a believer that you should pay your credit cards off every single month. Credit cards are great, provided you use them responsibly. If you've got credit card debt, I tell people not to pay them off in a month. I teach a process which helps you look at which credit cards to pay off first. Briefly, I want to take you through the snowball effect which is a term developed by Dave Ramsey. You take the smallest card and you pay if off first and then you go to the next card then the next card, and by doing that you get the momentum and there are a lot of people who read my books and find that process much easier than the typical thing, which is to pay off the highest interest rate card. I'd rather see you make minimum payments on every card, starting with the card that can be paid off the fastest; pay it off first and then go to the next one.
Hoff: It’s so important to make sure you make those minimum payments because your credit score just plummets when you start missing payments or making them late and then that messes you up for all different types of things down the road. If you want to get a loan for a car, for a house etc. or for college. You also talk about not necessarily putting money in the bank and that we should be looking at other kinds of accounts, like money market accounts, and that you can get more interest. Can you talk about that? Where should people be looking to keep their savings?
Bach: Yeah sure. The banks right now, in some cases like for checking accounts, are paying 0.001% and are basically charging you to have a checking account. At the same time there are online banks or online saving accounts or online money market accounts and they're paying up to one and a half percent. So, I suggest different websites that you can go and look at, to shop online for different options that are available to you. I don't tell you which one to use because you've got to go do your own research, but I will tell you that there are online saving accounts are they paying up to one and a half percent that are ten times more than what might be paid by your local bank.
Hoff: It's so incredible when I think about, when I was growing up, how much interest you would be paid if you put your money in the bank. But even that one and a half percent can make a big difference if you have a significant amount of money saved up in your bank account. Don't leave free money on the table.
Bach: Even if you have ten thousand dollars in savings at the bank, and they're paying you 0.001%, so you're basically making like $10 or you go and you move it to an online bank - like Goldman Sachs has launched a new online banking and it's called markus.com, and right now they're paying 1.5 percent. You know that's huge right? Those are the kind of things with just a little bit of shopping, you know that's $150 bucks more in your pocket at the end of the year.
Hoff: As you talked about earlier, even that $150, you invest that in a fund and you just let it grow and it becomes a lot more money. So it might not make a difference to you now in your immediate life but it could make a big difference down the road. Again, take every dollar seriously. I think you make that point very well in your book. You also talk about building a dream basket; what is that, and how do we build it with our partner?
Bach: So, first I go to the retirement basket and then I go to the security basket. In the security I talk about three key things with your insurance: how much you need, how much money you should set aside in case of an emergency and the importance of having a will. After that I turn to the dream basket. The dream basket is really about five years between now and retirement. There's a whole lot of life and a whole lot of living that you want to do. So tell me what your dreams are and I'll tell you how to get them, how you'll pay for them. Some of them are like, “Gosh, it's really our dream to go to Europe and we want to spend four weeks and then we want to go to Greece to travel to Greek Islands.” OK, great. Go to a travel agent or go online and tell me how much is going to cost. Do the research, get it very specific and come back so we can take a look at that. They say the trip is going to cost $9,500. Now let’s look at how long it's going to take you to save $9500. Open an investment account, save money every two weeks from your pay check automatically, put the money into an online account where you can save and invest automatically and let's come up with the twenty-seven-month plan. I am being very specific here; in twenty-seven months, based on how much you're making, you put the money aside and you guys will be able to go to Greece. Let's name that account your Greece Account, and that's a dream account. Couples love this, and I see for couples, what they enjoy the most is their dream account. That's what really gets them excited.
Hoff: Absolutely, and like you said there's a lot of life to live before retirement, so it's making sure that you're planning for that. You really go into how to plan how to organise, how to keep these different baskets so everything is getting fed, the need to be fed at the same time you're building toward the goals that will really make a difference in your life as you head toward retirement. What are three things that a couple listening to this can do right now to get them on the path to being in a rich and fulfilled relationship?
Bach: Wow, three specific things. So the last chapter of the book is called, How to Plan a Money Day; you sit down together and you start to talk about what is that you both want. So take a book like “Smart Couples Finish Rich” and use something like this as your planning guide to have your first ‘money day.’ I literally walked you through the steps of how to have your first ‘money day,’ then once you have this ‘money day’ I recommend using the file folder system I created which has these thirteen file folders to get your financial life organized at home. It will take you less than an hour to do and doing that is a great project do together as a couple. The third thing I would do is I would agree on pay yourself first. Come up with a goal for 2018 on what you're going to pay yourself first, automatically agree to it as a team and then go do that. Then I'll throw a fourth one in. Start tracking where your money goes; download an app that does this for you. One of the apps that I’m a huge proponent of is Clarity Money; these guys are just phenomenal. I invest in this company; you can download the app and in minutes you can see where all your money is going once you link everything. You can link your credit cards, you can link your bank statements, and one of the special features in Clarity Money is a feature that automatically shows you where you're spending money. It lists and summarizes for you all the things that you signed up for and then it has next to it an unsubscribe button. So really fast way to cut expenses is to download the app, see where you're spending money automatically and then sit down together and be honest. I'm embarrassed to admit this but there's this big article on Huffington Post about me because I told this story before that I downloaded this app and one of my expenses was Equinox, my gym in New York and I also have a gym in my building. So I was working out with Equinox a couple times a month and looking at my app and it’s telling me that the cost is two hundred some odd dollars a month and I'm like why am I paying for this. So I made a phone call and disconnected that. Well that’s over $2400 a year now in savings; that's twenty-five thousand dollars over a decade.
Hoff: Those are absolutely great tips; and I love the idea that you can just unsubscribe like that with a click of the button because I don't even know what I'm subscribed to. Everything is so subscription based now that you join and it's $10 or $15 a month and you kind of forget about it. But it can make a big difference in the long run, especially if you invest that money instead. Finally, our show is called Charged Up, you've been doing this for a while now and you've written so many books, what charges you up about helping people gain financial freedom?
Bach: That's a great question. I have written twelve books, which is kind of amazing to me, because I'm working on two more right now. I’m going to have fourteen books out by the end of next year. What charges me up at this point is hearing people’s success stories. That has been my fuel for over twenty years; in the books, I have an email: email@example.com, and we've gone through like thousands and thousands of e-mails from people thanking us for all these books that changed their lives. I think what keeps me going every day is that the stories you contribute become more specific and significant. I happen to be sitting here on Amazon right now, looking at the reviews for “Smart Couples Finish Rich” and somebody just posted a review that she had credit card debt and read “Smart Couples Finish Rich” and now has over $700,000 in savings. That's amazing right and the fact that people can send me e-mails, they can give me reviews that are so specific. It's not just like, “I read your book and thank you it’s good.” It's like, “David I saw you on Oprah, I saw you talk about the ‘Automatic Millionaire,’ and today I have a million dollars because I did exactly what you told me to go and do, it was easy and it worked.” Not every story is a million dollar story, but I've had people come up to me in tears at the airport and tell me they're in credit card debt on the verge of bankruptcy and they had given up hope and then they read one of my books and that they heard a podcast like this and it changed their whole life and they just wanted to thank me. I think that is what charges me up. I feel really lucky that I've been able to be of service for so long to so many people and I'm just grateful that I got to do something with my life I love to do and that’s helping a lot of people. That's been the best.
Hoff: We're grateful too. Your books are fantastic; it's a very cheap way to have a fantastic financial adviser and just working through the book. I mean, I have the digital version and I'm actually going to go buy the hard copy so I can sit down with my husband, we can do all of these things and make sure that we're on track and ready to go, because who doesn't want to be rich when they're ready to retire? David, thank you so much for joining me today and it's really been a pleasure to talk to you.
Bach: Thank you. It’s been my pleasure. I really appreciate the time and continued success to you and your show. I know it's going so great and I'm so happy for you, so thank you so much.
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