Money

Smart Money Podcast: Wrinkles and Wealth: Navigate Skincare Costs and Net Worth Goals for Retirement

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Welcome to NerdWalletโ€™s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Learn how much anti-aging treatments may cost you (and how to budget for them), plus how to understand your net worth.

This Week in Your Money: How much does it cost to look younger? What can you do for free to maintain your youthful appearance? Hosts Sean Pyles and Sara Rathner discuss the costs associated with various anti-aging treatments like moisturizers, Botox, dermal fillers, and laser skin resurfacing, and how to budget to be able to pay for them over time. They also touch on preventative care, underscoring the effectiveness and affordability of daily sunscreen use and topical serums as foundational elements in maintaining a youthful appearance.

Todayโ€™s Money Question: Charlene, a 29-year-old listener in Texas, joins Sean and Sara to discuss her questions about net worth. They talk about the significance of net worth as a financial metric and the common pitfalls of comparing one’s net worth to that of others. Charlene shares her disciplined approach to saving and her aspirations for financial independence and an early retirement, and how net worth relates to her progress towards achieving her goals. Sean and Sara address the concept of net worth beyond just 401(k) balances and the potential pressure of societal expectations on financial milestones, with information that could serve as a guide for listeners aiming for similar goals.

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Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Hey, Sean. What’s your take on cosmetic procedures?

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

If it makes you happy, go for it, but be mindful of your budget and the risk of body dysmorphia. What about you, Sara?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

I am team never say never. It’s your body, it’s your face and your money, so if it would make you happy to do it, then do it. And if you don’t ever want to do it and you’re really opposed that’s okay, too.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. And maybe mind your business.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. In this episode, we’re going skin deep into what it costs for some folks to keep feeling good about their appearance.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast. Our job today is to empower you to make smarter decisions with your money, and answer your questions about how to manage it. I’m Sean Pyles.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

And I’m Sara Rathner. So, Sean, what have we got on tap this episode?

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Well, we’re talking with a listener about net worth, what it’s good for, what yours should be, and whether you should compare your net worth to those of your peers. But, before that, let’s touch on that whole cosmetic procedures thing that you mentioned at the top of the episode.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Okay. Sara, you recently wrote an article with the headline, Forever Young: The Cost of Literally Keeping Your Chin Up. And, first of all, congrats on writing such a great headline. I LOL’d when I read that, but I need to know what inspired you to write this piece?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

It’s probably one of the best headlines I’ve ever written, and I’ve been writing headlines for 20 years. I am turning the big 4-0 this year and I kind of start noticing some of the sun damage and other mistakes that you make in your younger years when you reach this point. All those years not washing my makeup off before going to bed. I know, I know, it’s not a good thing. Wash your face.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

You’re thinking about maybe putting some money into that?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Well, it got me thinking about how, now the millennial generation is hitting an age where they might be interested in pursuing something a little bit deeper than moisturizer when caring for their skin, because they’re starting to notice some stuff that maybe isn’t making them happy when they look in the mirror. And for me it’s not to come at a place of judgment or to tell you, “Well, you’re hitting 40. You have to do this, this, and that.” No, you don’t. Aging is a beautiful gift.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Every gray hair, every smile line, every frown line, that all comes from somewhere in your life and it deserves to be celebrated in any way that you want to celebrate it, even if it means covering it up temporarily. Ultimately, it is your decision whether or not you want to pursue any sort of anti-aging treatment or procedure or product. But if you do want to pursue that, then let’s look at this from a financial standpoint because it can get very expensive, and it can become a large part of your self-care budget.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And we should say that, on Smart Money, we are very anti-ageism. I think what you just said about age being a gift, growing older being a gift, is very true. Even though I am a very youthful 32 years old, I have a number of gray hairs and I wear them like a badge of honor. But, that said, we are products of the society that we live in and our society cherishes youth, or at least the appearance of it, and keeping up that youthful appearance can be very expensive. So, Sara, when you were reporting this piece, what did you find as the general price range folks hoping to look young can expect to pay?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Well, according to data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the current average cost of botulinum toxin injections, that includes brands you’ve probably heard of, like Botox, Dysport and Jeaveau, and a few others that are available in the United States. That’s $528 for a treatment. That’s on average. Another population treatment, dermal fillers. You might have seen Juvรฉderm, Ultra, Voluma, Restylane. Those start at an average of $794. And then another population treatment for people in their 30s, early 40s, is laser skin resurfacing. There are a number of different laser types. So, again, talk to your doctor about that. That’s often used for things like acne scarring and sun damage. Those cost an average of $1,489.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Okay. That’s a lot of money.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. And all of these things are ongoing. This is not a one-and-done situation. In order to keep up the effect over time, you do need to continue to do things. Laser surfacing is probably the least often. That could be up to maybe once a year. Sometimes you might do three treatments in a row and then let it rest for a while. Dermal fillers also, depending on what you’re seeking, could be one or two times a year. Botulism toxin injections like Botox, that could be quarterly. But also depending.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Your mileage may vary, yeah.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. So this is an ongoing cost.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

It’s a very significant investment and I’m guessing there are a lot of people who hear these numbers and kind of balk at that.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And they’re wondering, is there a more affordable way to get this sort of youthful appearance? And in this article, you point out that preventative care can be some of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of holding onto your youth. So what does that entail?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. So anybody who’s 25 and listening to this podcast, listen up. This is the moment you turn the volume up, okay? Sunscreen, wear it every day, SPF30 or higher. That is one of the main ways to prevent future damage to your skin, in addition to scary things like skin cancer. Don’t sit out in the sun or, God forbid, go to a tanning bed. That’s number one. That is the foundation of preventative skincare, according to all the dermatologists I spoke to to write this article.

Another thing you can look into are just topical serums and lotions. You can buy some very well-regarded ones at the drug store, or you could get medical-grade “skincare” at your dermatologist’s office. That’s often a significantly higher cost. There are options at a variety of price points. You might have heard of something called retinol. It’s like a vitamin A concentrate that helps with cell turnover on your skin, so that help unveil fresher skin. Vitamin C serums and other antioxidant serums that could be used in conjunction with your sunscreen to boost protection on your skin. What you can do is, if you work with a dermatologist that you really like, you can bring your products to them at a future appointment and go over your skincare regimen with them and they can make recommendations.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And one thing I wanted to mention is that you just listed a number of different products and the price range of these items can vary greatly. You can get a thing of sunscreen at the pharmacy for maybe $10. Then there are others that are upwards of 30, maybe even $40, depending on how much you want to spend and what you’re getting from the product. And that also can be a little bit intimidating. If people are new to this and they’re trying to figure out, “Hey, I just want to wear sunscreen so I don’t look old and I can avoid getting skin cancer,” just start with something easy. Try it out, see how your skin responds to it, before jumping in and getting the most expensive, fancy thing on the market, because you might not need that sort of intense product.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. And some of these products can also irritate your skin, like retinol. That’s why you want to work with a dermatologist because, as you might have reactions to these products as you try them, then it could be nice to have somebody in your corner who could help you figure out a different way to approach your skincare regimen in a way that hopefully is less irritating to your skin. There are also times where you might be using two products that actually cancel each other out, which is why it’s a really great time to talk to your dermatologist to make sure you’re not inadvertently doing that and then wasting your money.

There are also times where there are certain skincare ingredients you don’t want to use. For example, no retinol while you’re pregnant. If that’s something that you’re in the life phase of, many millennials are, you do want to tailor your skincare regimen around certain times in your life where you can’t use those ingredients.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And I really do want to emphasize, again, the importance of going slow with things like this, both to save your skin and to save your wallet. I say this as someone who has sensitive skin and has spent too much on products where I was like, “Oh, this is going to be great. It’s going to help everything.” But there can be a temptation sometimes with something, particularly like skincare, where you think, “If I buy this $50 tube of snail mucin, then it’s going to fix every problem that I’ve ever had in my life and I’ll look dewy and glowy and gorgeous.” And it might actually result in you having a horrible breakout and then you feel bad about yourself, you’re out all this money, and you’re feeling quite stressed. So go slow, take it easy, don’t buy into all the hype that you might see on TikTok about a specific product, and do what’s best for you.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yes. We talk a lot about financial influencers on social media. Let’s talk about skincare influencers. A lot of them are being paid to promote products to you that may or may not work for your skin. So, again, talk to an expert who is actually treating your unique situation, because they can make recommendations that work for you and you will probably end you spending less money or at least, if you are spending a lot of money, or at least if you are spending a lot of money, it’ll be on things that will more likely work for you.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Well, let’s turn to a couple of other areas of preventative care that you mentioned in your article. And one is not smoking and not drinking. Those will help you keep looking young and they also have the added benefit of helping you not feel like a dried up corn husk after a night out, so that’s great.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. No vaping, either, by the way.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. Not good for you. Are there any other preventative actions that people can take that don’t cost them money?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Don’t spend time out in the sun during peak sunlight hours. Staying indoors could be free, I guess, depending on what you’re doing when you’re indoors. If you sleep on your back, you’re less likely to cause wrinkles on your skin because you’re not smooshing your face against your pillow. So if you wanted to retrain your sleeping habits and give up side-sleeping or stomach-sleeping, sleeping on your back, over time, can eliminate one reason people get wrinkles on their face. Or you can just sleep however you want because sleep is delicious. Why-

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

There is something so deeply satisfying about being fully smooshed into the pillow like that and I’m not willing to give that up.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

So, Sara, what is the bottom line for those who want to take care of their faces but not spend an arm and a leg?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Well, start with the preventative care, especially the earlier you can start it, the better. It’s like saving for retirement, start young. And, over time, you will see benefits. You’ll see better skin quality over time because you have worn sunscreen, stayed out of the sun, quit smoking, all of those things. And then if you think you might want to pursue cosmetic dermatology or plastic surgery in the future to correct any sort of issues that you have, begin saving up. Have a budget, have maybe a high-yield savings account for self-care. Save a little bit over time. And that way, when you’re ready to actually interview a couple of providers and pick the right one for you, you’ll have the money available to pay for these procedures, and not go into debt.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

All right. Solid advice. Well, I think we are about really to move on to this episode’s Money Question segment. But first, listener, a question for you: What is your money question?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Do you need help figuring out your new budget for 2024 or figuring out your spring travel plans or how much you want to spend on Botox? Whatever money question you have, we Nerds are here to help you answer them.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

You can text your question or leave a voicemail on the Nerd hotline at 901 730-6373. That’s 901 730-NERD. Or you can email your question to [emailย protected]. Before we move on, listener, I have an exciting announcement. We are running a book giveaway sweepstakes ahead of our next Nerdy Book Club episode. Next month, we’re speaking with Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse, which is about exactly what it sounds like.

To enter for a chance to win our book giveaway, send an email to podcast@nerdwallet.com with the subject “book sweepstakes” during the sweepstakes period. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on February 29th. Include the following information: Your first and last name, email address, zip code, and phone number. For more information, please visit our official sweepstakes rules page. And, one last thing, if you find this show helpful, please take a minute to write a review. Reviews help us reach more people, which means everyone else is getting smarter about their money and we can live in a world where people are all making good decisions about their finances. So please take a minute to write a review. We really appreciate it.

And now let’s get on to this episode’s Money Question segment. This episode, we’re talking with a listener, Charlene, who’s 29 and lives in Texas. We’re going to talk with Charlene about net worth, what it’s good for, what it’s not good for, and how much you should compare yours to those of your peers. Charlene, welcome to Smart Money.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

It’s great. I’m so happy to have you on. Before we get into the conversation, I want to just say, on behalf of our legal team, that we are not financial advisors. We’re not going to give you direct financial advice. This is just to talk about your financial circumstances for general educational and entertainment purposes. So, with that out of the way, Charlene, can you tell us about your financial life right now, what you do for work, how much you’re able to save, current money goals, all of that fun stuff.

Sure. I am currently working as an environmental health and safety manager and I’m currently able to save about over, I think, half of my bi-weekly paycheck. And a lot of my financial goals, I’m thinking a lot about financial independence and ways that I can generate more passive income and also really want to see how I’m doing on track to retirement.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

When you say you’re saving about half of your income, first of all, congratulations. That’s really impressive.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

You mean that you’re putting that into a savings account, are you investing that? In what way are you saving it?

I have some in my 401(k) that I put aside. I also have some deductions for my employee stock purchase plan with my employer. I put about 15% into that. And then I have another 10% or so going into just high-yield savings for emergency funds.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Great. That seems like a pretty solid balance.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. I’m impressed. Yeah. So what got you thinking about your net worth and how it compares to your peers, to other people in similar ages to you?

A lot of the times they say comparison is not really great but I always just wonder, am I on the right track? Because I did do some home remodeling in the past two years that I moved to Texas, when I bought my house, and so I did take some of my retirement contributions. I reduced them. I used to do 20% when I was in California, and now I’ve scaled it back because I had to pay for some wedding expenses, as well. I wondered if those things put me off track and, with a lot of the talks about the economy, recession and such, it just made me wonder, am I on the right track, how is my net worth? Now that I’m getting closer to 30, the number seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. You’re describing how you were saving more for retirement, then you pulled back a little bit. Reminds me of something that Sara has talked about, which was advice she got early on in her career, which was to save as much as you can for as long as you can, because things will happen in life. You will have a wedding to fund, a home to remodel, maybe a kid to have one day. All of those things are going to be expensive and they might mean that you can’t contribute as much toward a 401(k) but, in general, it’s great to take advantage of those times where you have fewer expenses, to funnel money toward retirement savings because you’re still pretty young. You have the great fortune of time ahead of you and compound interest that can make it so that the little bit that you contribute now will add up to a lot later down the road.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. I kind of think about life and seasons and no season is permanent. But the season of your life when you’re younger and you are less likely to have done super expensive life stuff, like buy a home and fix it up, have a wedding, have children, have pretty serious medical expenses. And these things can happen to people at a variety of ages, but generally, the younger you are, the less likely that is to have all happened to you. That means that season of life is one where you can, if you’re able, set aside money, because later on in life things get a little bit more complicated. But that’s also not forever.

You’re not going to be paying college tuition forever for your children, you’re not going to be paying a mortgage forever. These things all have deadlines. So it’s just acknowledging where you are in life and saving while the saving is good and then sometimes you’re in a phase where things just get more expensive and that’s what you save for.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Charlene, I know that you’re curious about average net worth by age, so what specifically are you curious about in that regard?

I’m just curious. I think a lot of times, like I did a quick Google search and there was a chart. It was this age bracket, and then, “This is how much you should have saved in your 401(k).” But it doesn’t really talk about net worth. But maybe people don’t even consider that as part of their thinking. Maybe they just think more about the balance in the 401(k).

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. Well, for a lot of people, their net worth is made of that balance in the 401(k). You mentioned the word “should,” how much someone should have, and there are a lot of benchmarks around that, which we can get into in a little bit. But I tend to bristle at the word “should” because everyone’s circumstances are so different, and if you look at what a financial advisor might tell you you should be doing, it might not be realistic for your current goals or finances. So that can be discouraging if you’re not in that place where you should be able to meet these things that you should be doing.

But we’ll get to that in a bit. But I do want to talk about net worth at kind of a high level, because some folks may not be fully aware of what it really is and how you can use it. So, net worth in general is great for just giving you a financial snapshot of where you stand right now. Because your net worth tells you how your assets compare to your liabilities. It accounts for things like your student loan balance, the equity that you have in your house, a car loan that you might have, a retirement account balance and so much more.

Because, really simply, it’s just a measure of how what you owe compares to what you own. And so, if your net worth is positive, you have more assets than liabilities. If it’s negative, then it’s just the opposite. And it’s really not uncommon for people who are in their 20s and early 30s to have negative net worths, and that doesn’t mean that someone who’s in this situation is a financial failure. It just is where they are at that current moment. It’s a useful gauge for progress on goals like paying down debt or building up a retirement nest egg. But early on in life it’s, again, really not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

And a net worth number is a moment in time. And what it doesn’t mean, necessarily, is that someone has “made it” compared to their peers. Because you could have a high net worth because you have an asset like a house that’s gone up in value significantly, which has been true for quite a few people recently. But, day-to-day, your cashflow might be pretty tight. So you’re not really living large, you just might have a house that is worth a lot of money. And so using your net worth as a basis for self-esteem or your worth or how much you’re worth in comparison to your friends or family members is just an exercise in futility.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

I want to go in on comparing net worth averages, and we’ll talk about some medians, as well. Because you mentioned that you maybe saw a chart that had benchmarks of how much someone had saved or what their net worth might have been. We actually have a great page on NerdWallet that allows you to compare net worth by age, average net worth by age. And one thing that’s talked about in this article is that average can be really misleading. Because the average net worth for folks under 35 is $183,500. But the median, which is just the middle point between the top and the bottom, is $39,000, so a really stark difference. And that’s because we have extremes at either end. So median can be a little bit more representative of what’s more common for folks than an average in this situation.

Yeah. I mean, that definitely gives me a good idea. And you’re probably right. Everyone’s circumstances are different. And also location, too. When I lived in Bay Area, a lot of the employees I would see and talk to, their numbers blew my mind when I first moved to Bay Area. And then later when I would go home and see friends and family and just hearing their stories, I realized they would not understand the community that the Bay Area people are working in. Because those salaries, they could not even fathom.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. I mean, I lived in San Francisco for a period of time, as well, and people talk about their net worths all the time, in part because they have so much money coming in. And that can really lead you to this comparison of how much you have or don’t have, which can leave you feeling kind of bad if you don’t have as much as someone who is a tech multimillionaire. But for a lot of people, as long as you are doing the best that you can and working toward your financial goals, that’s more important than a number on a balance sheet, which is going to change over time.

That’s something that I had to work through in my 20s, as well, and I was talking with a lot of friends who went to prestigious schools in the Bay Area, and they would be worried that, “Oh, I don’t have this career that my colleague had, or my classmate had.” And they would get hung up on that and then what I would always try to tell them is, look, this is where you are right now. You will probably have a very different trajectory in even a few years and you don’t know where that classmate might end up. So just focus on what you can do for your situation and your circumstances to get you where you want to go, and don’t get too hung up on what someone else is doing because it doesn’t really affect you all that much.

Right. Yeah, I definitely agree.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

You sent us a couple of other questions. What do you say we get to them?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

So, Charlene, your first question to us had to do with optimizing savings in order to increase net worth. So what is it you want to know about that?

Should I be directing a lot of my savings into 401(k)? There were some people online that I was reading about and they said 401(k) is not necessarily the best vehicle for retirement, that they should tell people to diversify their investments and look into more stock-based, instead of just a regular 401(k), because it grows not as well as some other stocks.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Again, we are not wealth managers here but what I will say is what’s interesting about some of the guidance you’ve been hearing about 401(k)s is it seems that people are misunderstanding what a 401(k) is, because a 401(k) is merely an investing account that can hold not only cash but also investments in many forms, whether that’s index or mutual funds or individual stocks or bonds. So you can invest within your 401(k) in a way that is in line with your own goals and your own risk tolerance. And also what’s available to invest in, and that can depend on what your employer provides as options, so that can vary.

But what you can invest in in a 401(k) versus a taxable brokerage account that’s not connected to an employer or even an IRA that’s not connected to your employer, you’re going to see some overlap. So it really comes down to how you want to invest and what you do within those accounts. So I would just caution people to not think of a 401(k) as investing. It’s what you do with it, that’s the investing.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And I think sometimes when it comes to diversification in a 401(k) or retirement account, people can sometimes conflate investment diversification in terms of an index fund or an annuity or whatever, with diversification from a tax perspective. And so, with a 401(k), the money that you’re putting into that is pre-tax. You are not being taxed on it now, but when you make withdrawals, there will be a tax that you have to pay on that. And that is in contrast to something like a Roth IRA, where the money that you put in is post-tax. It’s money that’s already in your debit account, for example, then you’re transferring that to this IRA. And then, when you make those withdrawals, it will not be taxed. That is where diversification can be really important, from a retirement perspective, is how you’re being taxed. Does that make sense, Charlene, the tax differences between those?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

And obviously, optimizing your investing and being thoughtful about your investing is one side of the coin. And then spending less is the other side of the coin. You mentioned saving a pretty high percentage of your income and you talked about financial independence or the FIRE movement, Financial Independence, Retire Early. And people who follow this movement are really hard core about building their net worths and their retirement savings by aggressively saving their income. So, Charlene, this is a question for you. Why do you feel called to this? Why does this appeal to you, this idea of attaining financial independence by saving very aggressively?

Obviously, I don’t know if anyone will recognize my place from this podcast, but I just feel like life is not meant to be working the entire life. I’m just really tired and I’m looking for a way to maybe retire earlier and so that I don’t have to spend my time working for someone, and just be able to do the things that I enjoy in life and be with my family and my friends.

Obviously, knowing that it takes time to get there, but if I can work hard earlier in my life, then maybe I can enjoy the remaining years of my life with my family earlier. And, also, to help out my family because they’re not in as fortunate a situation as I am with my husband and so I want to be able to also share some of my good finances and early retirement with them.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Have you and your husband talked about what you envision your life like when you do retire if you’re able to retire early?

We thought about traveling to some places because, honestly, in all the years that I’ve been working, I haven’t really taken a lot of time off and, with COVID, as well, we just want to be able to travel a lot. There’s a lot of places that we want to visit, so that’s top of our lists.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Do you make a lot of sacrifices in your day-to-day spending and saving so that you can funnel more toward retirement savings or general savings? I’ve talked with folks in the past who are in the FIRE movement and they’re using an iPhone 6 and their car is from 1997. Are you living any of that type of lifestyle?

I have not changed my phone in almost three years. And before that I had an iPhone 7 for almost five years, something like that. And so I tried really hard not to upgrade every iPhone model that comes out.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

So you’re being frugal in ways that you can.

Yeah. And I did switch out my car. I had to because the AC was not working anymore and, in the Texas heat, it was very unbearable.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. So I did get a new car but I did put down a good amount of down payment and so I’m not as concerned about the monthly payment. Because my previous car was paid off so I used all of that money that I sold to partially pay for the new car. And then just usual meal prepping at home, avoiding buying lunches, making my own coffee, things like that.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

All right. Well, I know you were also wondering about how to know if you’re saving enough for retirement. So I did want to mention a couple of benchmarks. A common one is that you “should,” in air quotes here, have around one times your salary in a retirement account at age 30, around age 30. And then, by the time you reach your mid-40s, that jumps to around three to four times your salary. But this is assuming that you’ll retire in your mid-60s-ish, and then have 30 years to live off of that retirement nest egg.

If you retire early and join the FIRE movement, the calculation is totally different. And also, for many people, trying to save one times your salary when you’re working 40 hours a week and still planning to retire around 65 isn’t realistic. But saving for retirement isn’t an all-or-nothing game. If you’re at one times your salary at 30, less is fine. Saving between 10% and 13% of your salary earlier on in your career is a pretty solid goal that a lot of financial advisors will recommend to get you to a place where you have a built-up nest egg by your mid-60s. But, again, it seems like you might be on a different path.

Yeah, I’m trying to really save as much as I can so that I’m not as worried later or feel like I don’t have a sense of security.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Have you looked into how much you might need to save ahead of a potential early retirement, or even just regular old retirement?

On Fidelity, they have this little exercise that you can move some buttons around to see if your contributions are keeping you on track for retirement. And currently it says, because I’m at 10%, that I still need to contribute a little bit more in order to hit the goal. And so I think if I bump my contribution back up to 20%, it said that I’ll be able to reach and exceed my goal at 35 or something like that, like double what I have.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. And a quick note about Fidelity. They are a NerdWallet partner but that doesn’t affect the way that we talk about them. There are some calculations that you can do, as well, to try to see how much you might need in retirement. One way to do this is to look at your monthly expenses now and then you can multiply that to get annual expenses. And this is things like housing costs, car payment, electricity. You might want to throw in some restaurant meals in there just so you’re not living off of canned beans in retirement.

And then, once you have your annual expense, multiply that by how many years you anticipate being retired. For a lot of folks, that’s going to be 30 to 35 years. You might have more years of that. And that’s a pretty rough estimate of how much money you may need to save for retirement. I also say that, if you don’t want to do that math, NerdWallet has a really handy calculator that will do this for you. And it has a very visually appealing graph that compares where you are and where you will need to be to meet your goals.

I, ahead of this recording, spent way too much time playing around with that because it’s so fun to see how much contributing even a little bit more each month can pay off down the road. But another thing to consider is Social Security, too, because you’ll likely qualify for some kind of benefit from that, but figuring out how much you’ll get can be challenging. We also have a calculator at NerdWallet that can tell you or give you an estimate of the benefits that you’ll receive.

Okay. Yeah, I’ll definitely check it out.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Another thing that you could use just as a template is that oftentimes people will live off of between 60 to 80% of their pre-retirement income. So if you wanted to forego the calculator, although they are really fun to play with, you could use that number as a starting point. Because some expenses become lower in retirement, especially as you head into your 60s and beyond. So maybe you’re at a point in life where your house has been paid off, you’re no longer putting kids through school. If you retire earlier, maybe those things are not true for you yet.

But something also to keep in mind for retirement as you get older is medical expenses can become significantly higher, especially as you need more medical assistance, possibly home health aids, things like that. And so hopefully you have a long and healthy retirement, but as people get older, they do need more help and that help costs a lot of money.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

I want to circle back to net worth and how to use it for you as a gauge for your goals and what you want out of retirement, whether it’s earlier or a more typical timeframe. How do you think you’ll be using this metric as you talk with your partner and begin to make more solid plans for your future?

We’ll look at what our goals are in the next five, 10 years, 15, 20 years, and see are there any more life changes happening, maybe some medical expenses come up, like you mentioned, that might require us to reassess our financial situation. I think it’ll give me a gauge of do I need to change up my strategy of how I contribute to retirement or even pull some money out of any other investment accounts. Because I also have my E-Trade account, so if I decide to maybe invest in something else, that might help me understand where my journey is when I reassess my net worth years down the road.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah. I would also recommend looking into some of the FIRE communities online. There are a handful on Reddit. There’s FatFIRE where people are in the FIRE movement but they’re still enjoying their day-to-day life, not living off of canned beans, that kind of thing. And these communities can be tremendous resources as you figure out what sort of retirement you might want to work toward and how you might be able to gauge your net worth in comparison to that. Because the hard part about saving for retirement is that we’ve never done this before and we really only have one shot to do it. So, to the extent that you can learn from other people who are going through this or may be further down this journey than you are, the easier I think it’ll be for you, as well.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Well, today I learned that Sean’s biggest fear is having to live off of canned beans.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

I like canned beans, but they need to be within another kind of recipe.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah, you can’t have too much of a good thing.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

When I say canned beans, I imagine myself over a fire in the middle of the desert, trying to open up this old can of beans and that’s all I’ve got to my name.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah, exactly. Is there anything else on your end, Charlene, that you wanted to ask us about?

What does net worth mean? What is included in the definition of net worth, and does the definition of net worth differ from coast to coast or different people?

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Your net worth is basically your assets, which means the things that you own, so that could be cash, it could be a home, it could be artwork, it could be jewelry, it could be a car. And then it could also be your investing accounts. And then it’s also a listing of what you owe, so your debts, mortgage, student loan, car loan, personal loan, those sorts of things. And you subtract the debts from the assets, in terms of the value of the assets minus the value of the debts, and that’s your net worth.

I don’t know if the definition of net worth changes geographically, but the variations you see might be what people choose to include in their net worth. Sometimes people include the fair market value of their car, sometimes they don’t, things like that. It just comes down to what you decide to include and maybe what free template you download online to input numbers into. And there are lots of free templates available.

Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

Yeah. Sean, do you have any thoughts on net worth and its various forms?

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

That’s the gist of it. Again, for someone in your late 20s, really not uncommon to have a net worth that could be zero or negative. But over time, as you pay down debts, you have a house, so you’ll be paying down that mortgage. Your net worth will begin to go up. And ideally, when you are in retirement, your net worth will be fairly high, so you don’t have a lot of debt obligations that you’re paying off when you’re in retirement.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Well, Charlene, thank you so much for coming on and talking to with us.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate your answers.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

Yeah, please keep us posted on any changes that you and your husband decide to make around net worth and saving for retirement.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And that’s all we have for this episode. If you have a money question of your own, turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901 730-6373. That’s 901 730-NERD. You can also email us at [emailย protected]. Also, visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode, and remember to follow, rate, and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast. This episode was produced by Sarah Rathner and me, with help from Tess Vigeland, Sarah Brink, and Kevin Tidmarsh mixed our audio. And a big thank you to NerdWallet’s editors for all their help.

๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—ฅ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฟ:

And here’s our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general education and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

๐—ฆ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ฃ๐˜†๐—น๐—ฒ๐˜€:

And, with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.


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