Reader Case Research: Ex-Pats in Hanoi, Vietnam


Celebrating Tet in Hoi An

Laura and her husband Ethan are from Philadelphia, PA, however have been dwelling in Hanoi, Vietnam for the previous two years. Ethan teaches English literature at a global college and Laura is incomes her Grasp’s diploma in public well being. They’ve beloved their time in Vietnam and plan to be there for at the least one other 12 months, however are much less sure of their plans after that.

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

What’s a Reader Case Research?

Case Research deal with monetary and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods ship in requesting recommendation. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, pricey reader) learn by means of their state of affairs and supply recommendation, encouragement, perception and suggestions within the feedback part.

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The Aim Of Reader Case Research

Most attractive vegetarian lunch in Seoul

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

The Case Research collection started in 2016 and, thus far, there’ve been 101 Case Research. I’ve featured of us with annual incomes starting from $17k to $200k+ and internet worths starting from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured homosexual, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous individuals. I’ve featured girls, non-binary of us and males. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender individuals. I’ve had cat individuals and canine individuals. I’ve featured of us from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’ve featured individuals with PhDs and other people with highschool diplomas. I’ve featured individuals of their early 20’s and other people of their late 60’s. I’ve featured of us who reside on farms and folk who reside in New York Metropolis.

Reader Case Research Pointers

I in all probability don’t must say the next since you all are the kindest, most well mannered commenters on the web, however please be aware that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone the place we endeavor to assist each other, not condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness right here. The objective is to create a supportive setting the place all of us acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, however we select to be right here collectively, workshopping our cash and our lives with optimistic, proactive solutions and concepts.

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

I encourage everybody to do their very own analysis to find out the most effective plan of action for his or her funds. I’m not a monetary advisor and I’m not your monetary advisor.

With that I’ll let Laura, immediately’s Case Research topic, take it from right here!

Laura’s Story

A stunning stroll in Seoul

Hello Frugalwoods! My identify is Laura and I’m 32 years outdated. My husband Ethan (38) and I are each from Philadelphia, PA however we’ve got lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for almost 2 years now. We don’t at present have any youngsters or pets however would really like a number of of each within the close to future :).

We moved to Hanoi for Ethan’s job as an English literature trainer at a global college. Earlier than shifting right here I labored at a non-profit in Philadelphia for 7 years the place I labored my means up from answering telephones within the name middle to software program engineer, after my firm paid for me to go to coding bootcamp. Studying to code was an superior alternative and I preferred it within the context of the group’s mission but it surely finally shouldn’t be what I need to do with my life. I’m at present in graduate college full-time pursuing a Masters in Public Well being in Maternal and Baby Well being and a Certificates in International Well being. I’ve a Bachelors in Public Well being and it feels nice to get again into one thing I’ve all the time been enthusiastic about. College is nice, however I’m desirous to get again into the workforce in a job I really like!

Laura and Ethan’s Hobbies

Ethan and I’ve a lot of hobbies we get pleasure from independently and collectively. I discovered to knit through the pandemic and bought a bit obsessed. I really like spending a day watching knitting “podcasts” on Youtube and knitting sweaters and hats for myself and household. I’m an avid reader and I like to go for lengthy walks, do yoga and dance. Ethan can also be a giant reader, a runner, and a newly obsessed rock climber. Earlier than we moved to Hanoi, Ethan was part climbing the Appalachian Path each summer season break from educating and we might frequently go tenting.  We like to journey, which was a giant draw for shifting to Southeast Asia. Within the final 12 months we’ve: spent a month in Indonesia, met my mother and aunt in South Korea, rock climbed on the seaside in Thailand, feasted on sushi in Japan, and traveled Vietnam from prime to backside. 

Whereas I really feel like we’re doing fairly properly financially, we’ve had an intense 5 years since we beginning courting. Inside the first 4 months of assembly Ethan, he made his ultimate pupil mortgage fee on $80k of debt. I’ve all the time been frugal, however I used to be extra of a squirrel hoarding away financial savings, avoiding my debt. He impressed me to assault my pupil loans and, inside 11 months, I paid off practically $60k of debt. Final 12 months Ethan bought an accelerated Masters in Schooling, which was vital for him to take care of his educating certification. Between selecting a value efficient possibility and a few skilled growth funding by means of work, he solely paid $4k out of pocket. I’m paying out of pocket for my MPH, which after scholarships will run me about $17k over two years. I’m happy with these accomplishments but it surely’s felt like some huge cash going out for a protracted stretch.

We’re EXTREMELY debt averse because of paying off tens of 1000’s of {dollars} in pupil loans. We aren’t positive precisely after we need to transfer again to the States however we do know that we’d like to purchase a home when that day comes. We’re afraid of taking out a mortgage, particularly with the excessive present rates of interest.

What feels most urgent proper now? What brings you to submit a Case Research?

Espresso by the ocean in Phu Quoc for Christmas

We haven’t had a great stretch of us each working good jobs whereas not both paying off debt or paying for graduate college. Whereas Ethan feels good about our funds, I’ve lots of nervousness about cash, which I believe is because of:

  1. Not at present working
  2. The cash stress I’ve inherited from my dad and mom

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

I’m additionally frightened concerning the transition to shifting again house in a number of years. We at present have extraordinarily low bills and the considered having to pay a mortgage, purchase a automotive or two, all the pieces being dearer, and so forth and so forth is actually tense. I need to take into consideration methods to melt that blow and make the transition much less jarring.

I’m involved that we haven’t contributed to retirement in practically two years. I’m confused about if we are literally allowed to contribute to the Roth IRAs we have already got. Proper now we’ve got a great amount of money saved that’s earmarked for a home. I’d like to discover with you, Mrs. Frugalwoods, if it ever would make sense to maintain piling up money to pay for a home outright or if we’re being silly right here.

What’s the most effective a part of your present way of life/routine?

Life in Vietnam is simple! Ethan is well-compensated given the price of dwelling right here and his expat package deal consists of hire and flights house for each of us each summer season. Academics are well-respected in Vietnam and the job is usually much less tense than it was again in Philly. He will get numerous lengthy breaks from college which we’ve got used to journey internationally and discover throughout Vietnam.

We have now each been capable of spend money on our hobbies in ways in which we by no means would have beforehand. I’ve a health club membership so I can go to bop and yoga lessons 4-5 occasions weekly; I’ve a basket of pretty yarn to knit sweaters and hats and socks. Ethan has an infinite mountaineering health club membership and climbs with buddies 3 nights every week. We will get pleasure from exploring our metropolis and feasting on the insane Vietnamese delicacies — a bowl of pho is 75 cents, our favourite vegetarian stall is $2 for a large plate of meals, bowl of soup and inexperienced tea. We not often went out to eat at house so this appears like such a deal with.

I had a job in Hanoi from October 2021-January 2023, however give up to give attention to college full-time. It appears like we’ve got an unimaginable quantity of freedom to make selections like that, which was by no means an possibility earlier than. Whereas I nonetheless have lots of nervousness concerning the future, I actually do really feel much less confused about cash than I ever have. 

What’s the worst a part of your present way of life/routine?

Dinner in Thailand

It’s onerous to be so distant from house. This 12 months we are going to go to the states for the primary time in two years. I missed my niece’s start in January in addition to 4 good buddies changing into first-time dad and mom prior to now 12 months. My dad and mom are getting older and I’ve lots of guilt about not being shut by. Hanoi can be actually difficult — the air air pollution within the winter will get actually unhealthy, site visitors is insane, and the temperature is simply too scorching to go outdoors for months at a time.

I really feel like we’re usually accountable with cash, however we don’t have a plan mapped out for the longer term. As a planner, this makes me nervous/really feel uncontrolled! I actually hate not having an earnings of my very own, however I’m so grateful to have the ability to focus solely on college proper now.

It’s onerous to make a plan when there are such a lot of unknown variables:

  • The place are we going to reside after the 2023-2024 college 12 months? Will we keep in Hanoi? Will we transfer to a brand new nation?
  • What job will I get and the way a lot will I make?
  • How a lot cash do we’d like for a home? Does it make sense to maintain saving money to purchase a home outright?
  • How can expats contribute to retirement? How far behind are we?

The place Laura and Ethan Need to be in Ten Years:


  • I’d prefer to have a paid off home within the states, ideally close to mountains/climbing
  • I’d prefer to have a mixed $500k in financial savings (between money and retirement)
  • I need to really feel financially snug and never beholden to 9-5 jobs


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


  • I need to have labored in a world well being function overseas for a number of years after which discover a hybrid function within the states that permits me to reside the place I need and go to the workplace sometimes — a dream is to maneuver to Staunton, VA and discover a job in DC that solely requires 1-2 visits to the workplace month-to-month. I do not know if that is life like.
  • Ethan want to nonetheless be educating at a faculty that provides him the identical autonomy in his classroom he has loved in Hanoi.
  • He additionally has goals of proudly owning a motorcycle store sooner or later, however I believe that’s extra like 15 years away.

Laura and Ethan’s Funds


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

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

Money owed: $0


Merchandise Quantity Notes Curiosity/sort of securities held/Inventory ticker Identify of financial institution/brokerage Expense Ratio (applies to funding accounts) Account Sort
Ethan Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $76,500 We view this as home financial savings. 3.90% Marcus – Goldman Sachs Money
Laura 401k $51,867 401k by means of earlier employer. Vanguard Goal Retirement 2055 Voya Retirement
Ethan PSERS $20,692 PA Academics pension We couldn’t determine this one out Retirement
Laura Brokerage $18,783 That is my taxable funding account, which I opened (prematurely) a number of years in the past. I think about this home financial savings. It says I’ve 13 completely different securities: FDIC, MUB, SUB, VB, VBR, VEA, VNQ, VNQI, VO, VOE, VTI, VTV, VWO however I do not know what this implies!! Ellevest Investments
Ethan 403b $17,362 Retirement by means of earlier Vanguard Goal Retirement 2050 PenServ Retirement
Ethan 403b $14,764 Retirement by means of earlier We couldn’t determine this one out Alerus Retirement
Laura Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $10,165 Again up cash for grad college tuition and home financial savings. 3.90% Marcus – Goldman Sachs Money
Ethan and Laura Vietnamese Checking $9,477 We plan to run this empty, as spending the VND earned right here is the most affordable strategy to spend cash right here 0% Normal Chartered Money
Ethan IRA $5,544 Vanguard Retirement
Laura Checking $5,228 0% TD Money
Ethan Checking $3,000 0% TD Money
Laura Roth IRA $2,326 Similar as brokerage acct. Ellevest Retirement
Complete: $235,708



Merchandise Quantity Notes
Tuition $700 I bought a division scholarship and hoping to get extra!
Groceries $250 Contains all meals, alcohol/beer, family and private provides (corresponding to rest room paper, shampoo, and so forth)
Journey (flights, resorts, taxis, meals out) $250 We journey loads, it’s a part of the enjoyment and alternative of dwelling right here. Worldwide flights are low cost and comfy lodging is normally $25-40/night time. We’re reimbursed for the price of two spherical journey tickets to the States each summer season (whether or not we purchase the tickets or not).
Eating places, cafes, bars $150 We frequently exit to eat however prioritize consuming native meals (like pho and vegetarian buffet which price as little as 75 cents) fairly than costly Western eating places. We like to spend a weekend afternoon at a espresso store which is a large a part of Vietnamese tradition.
Transportation $60 Motorcycle rental, fuel for bike, occasional taxi
Electrical $50 On common. We don’t ever run the warmth though it DOES get chilly within the north and we reduce AC utilization as a lot as attainable
Gymnasium $50 We paid for our health club memberships upfront. Laura paid $400 for two years and goes to lessons practically every day. Ethan paid $400 for a 12 months at a bouldering health club
Garments, sneakers $45 We purchase good trainers every year and don’t low cost out on these. We don’t typically purchase new garments however issues pop up a number of occasions a 12 months.
Consuming water $30 Faucet water is unsafe right here so we at present purchase 20 liter jugs a number of occasions every week
Presents $30 We aren’t large present givers – we view our frequent journeys as items for birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth – however have had shut 5(!) family and friends have kids this previous 12 months and ship small items for rapid household birthdays
Netflix $22 I’d prefer to cancel this as a result of we don’t actually use it however I pay for my household’s account
Charitable donations $20 I take advantage of the Libby app with my Kindle. It feels good to make a donation to my library again in Philly each month. Would like to do extra.
Knitting provides $15 That is an estimate. I bought actually into knitting through the pandemic and spent $187 on needles, yarn, patterns final 12 months. I’ve sufficient yarn and unfinished initiatives to final me the entire 12 months after which some so it’s probably this shall be a lot much less.
Spotify $14
Cell telephones $10 $60/12 months every will get us limitless knowledge however no minutes or SMS which is okay as a result of we simply use WhatsApp and by no means make calls
Massages, haircuts $10 Massages are ~$12/hr and we go a pair occasions a 12 months. Ethan will get a $15 haircut 2x/12 months. I’ve been giving myself little trims at house since we’ve lived in VN.
Misc (books, and so forth) $10 We use the Libby app with our Kindles however sometimes order by means of Thriftbooks for issues unavailable on the library.
Dentist $8 We every get enamel cleanings 2x/12 months (very cheap however prime quality right here – $15 every out of pocket with none insurance coverage!). I had two fillings in January ($40) and hoping to not want any extra work executed within the close to future
Shrole $6 Web site for worldwide college job postings
Air and bathe air purifier filters $5 Air air pollution will get actually unhealthy right here throughout winter months so air purifiers are important. The water is closely chlorinated and getting a filter has been immensely useful for pores and skin and hair points! We modify each each 6 months or so.
The Atlantic $3
VPN $2 $56/26 months. Lastly bit the bullet this 12 months as a result of we couldn’t entry some banking websites from overseas
The New York Occasions $1 Bought a deal on a brand new subscription for this 12 months, will go up subsequent 12 months or we might cancel
Hire $0 Ethan’s college pays our hire on to the owner
Month-to-month subtotal: $1,741
Annual whole: $20,892

Credit score Card Technique

Card Identify Rewards Sort? Financial institution/card firm
Ethan – Blue Money On a regular basis 3% money again American Categorical
Laura – Citi Double Money card 2% money again Citi
Joint – Enterprise One Rewards* 1.25 miles per greenback spent Capital One
Laura – Chase Freedom Limitless 1.5% money again; 5% on journey Chase

*I bought this one after we moved right here as a result of it doesn’t cost international transaction charges. I don’t like having this many bank cards. We barely use them since we pay for many issues with money from our Vietnamese checking account.

Laura’s Questions for You:

  1. Consuming our means round Seoul

    Are you able to assist us suppose by means of saving for a home?

    • We aren’t even positive when precisely we’d do that, but it surely appears like the subsequent large factor to avoid wasting for.
    • Given how a lot money we’ve got at present and that we wouldn’t purchase a home valued at greater than ~$300k, ought to we proceed saving? Is the thought of paying for a home in money horrible?!
  2. Are expats allowed to contribute to retirement?
  3. How far behind are we on retirement?
  4. Our earnings and bills are more likely to change after subsequent summer season once I now not need to pay for grad college and begin making an earnings once more.
    • What ought to we do with this extra cash? Retirement? Money financial savings?
    • Ought to we begin a separate financial savings earmarked for ‘shifting house’?
  5. How can I really feel much less anxious concerning the future?
    • I’d like to get to a spot the place I’m snug with what’s coming in and understanding that we’re automated to satisfy our targets for the longer term.

Liz Frugalwoods’ Suggestions

I’m thrilled to have Laura and Ethan as our Case Research topics immediately! They carry an attention-grabbing twist with their work overseas and need to sooner or later transfer again to their house nation. I really like that they’re taking the time now to map out their monetary strikes for the subsequent few years. Even when issues don’t go completely to plan, it’s normally greatest to begin with a plan! Let’s dive into Laura’s questions:

Laura’s Query #1: Are you able to assist us suppose by means of saving for a home?

Laura and Ethan have already got a hefty quantity–$76,500–saved up for a home, which is fabulous! My concern right here is their acknowledged need to pay money for a home. Laura requested:

Is the thought of paying for a home in money horrible?!

The reply is that it relies upon. If you’re ridiculously rich–as in, a billionaire or multi-multi-multi-millionaire–then it doesn’t actually matter. Pay money, don’t pay money–both means, you continue to have a ton of cash. However, if you’re within the class of most of us–as in, you might have some cash, but it surely’s not limitless–it very not often is smart to pay money for a home. There are a selection of causes for this, so let’s discover all of them!

Why You In all probability Shouldn’t Pay Money For a Home (or repay your mortgage early)

1) It’s a large alternative price.

Egg espresso within the Hanoi Outdated Quarter – iconic!

Whenever you purchase a home in money (or repay a mortgage early), you’re lacking out on the potential funding returns you’d get pleasure from in case your cash was as a substitute invested within the inventory market or a rental property.

The take care of that is {that a} paid-off home returns the speed of your mortgage rate of interest (or the rate of interest you’ll’ve gotten on a mortgage).

For instance: in case your mortgage rate of interest is fastened at 3.75% and also you pay if off, you’re getting a 3.75% fee of return, which is fairly low. By comparability, historic inventory market developments show that–over many a long time of investing–the market delivers someplace within the vary of seven% yearly. That doesn’t imply 7% yearly, however fairly, a 7% common over the lifetime of an investor. Since 7% is the next return than 3.75%, you’d be higher off–on this hypothetical–with carrying a mortgage and as a substitute investing your further money within the inventory market.

→The place this logic doesn’t maintain up as properly is when mortgage rates of interest are excessive. 

Nonetheless, even within the case of upper mortgage rates of interest, it nonetheless normally is smart to hold a mortgage due to the chance price of that money sitting round incomes nothing for all of the years it took you to reserve it up. Most of us don’t get up sooner or later with $300k in our checking account. As an alternative, we’d need to spend a few years–probably a long time–saving up that a lot money. Throughout that point, we’d be constantly exposing ourselves to the chance price of not having that money invested.

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

  • Money doesn’t sustain with inflation (every single day, your money is value lower than the day earlier than)
  • Whenever you spend your money, it’s gone (versus drawing down a sustainable share of an general funding portfolio)
  • Money doesn’t have the potential to understand (past the rate of interest you earn in your financial savings account)

2) Saving this a lot money may restrict your retirement contributions.

Because you’re solely permitted to place a sure greenback quantity into tax-advantaged retirement accounts yearly, in the event you’re as a substitute placing that cash in the direction of money financial savings, you’re taking pictures your self within the foot twice:

  1. You’re lacking out on the tax benefits conferred by retirement accounts
  2. You’re lacking out on the potential development of these retirement accounts (alternative price)

When you have the monetary capability to take action, you need to max out your entire tax-advantaged retirement accounts yearly. Once more, there’s an annual cap on how a lot you possibly can funnel into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which is why it’s vital to take action yearly.

3) A paid-off home is an illiquid asset.

Gili Air Indonesia

That is one other salient concern as a result of you possibly can’t use a paid-off home to purchase groceries or repair your automotive or pay for medical insurance in the event you lose your a job. Sure, you may be capable to get a Residence Fairness Line Of Credit score (HELOC), however that’s not a assure and definitely not very probably in the event you’ve misplaced your job.

Tying up ALL of your extra money in a paid-off home is a harmful proposition. Certain, you would promote the home, however then you definately’ll must pay for someplace else to reside.

4) Earlier than shopping for a home in money (or paying off a mortgage early), you have to have all the following:

  1. A sturdy emergency fund of, at minimal, three to 6 months’ value of your dwelling bills, held in an simply accessible checking or financial savings account.
  2. No excessive rate of interest debt.
  3. Retirement investments (i.e. a 401k, 403b, IRA, Roth IRA, and so forth) which might be totally funded as acceptable on your age, targets and anticipated retirement date.

I’d additional argue that you just must also have at the least one different type of funding (along with your retirement), corresponding to:

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

You definitely don’t want to have this whole second listing of things lined up, however you need to completely have the primary three on lockdown.

5) A mortgage is a pleasant hedge towards inflation.

Grilled scallops in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis

Inflation is when cash turns into much less helpful. The advantage of a mortgage is that it’s denominated within the {dollars} you initially paid for the home. Thus over time as inflation will increase, which usually occurs, the cash you’re utilizing to repay your mortgage turns into “cheaper.” That is one other means by which a mortgage can actually work to your monetary benefit.


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

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

This reply relies upon fully upon Laura and Ethan’s tax state of affairs. In line with H&R Block:

With a purpose to contribute to an IRA whereas dwelling overseas, you have to have earnings leftover after deductions and exclusions. In the event you exclude your entire earnings with the FEIE and haven’t any different sources of earned earnings, you aren’t eligible to contribute to an IRA. Nonetheless, in the event you solely exclude a part of your earnings or declare the international tax credit score (FTC) as a substitute, you should still be capable to contribute to an IRA.

To place this extra merely, Laura and Ethan must have sufficient earned earnings leftover after claiming the international earned earnings exclusion (and some other exemptions, such because the international housing exclusion). Since we don’t have Laura & Ethan’s tax returns, we will’t exactly reply this query, however I hope this helps level them in the precise route. In the event that they’re utilizing an accountant to arrange their taxes, it is a nice query to ask them.

→The opposite factor to notice is that Laura must have earned earnings so as to be eligible to contribute to an IRA. Since she doesn’t have earned earnings proper now, she will be able to look into opening a spousal IRA.

Right here’s the IRS documentation on this (management F for “Contributions to Particular person Retirement Preparations”).

Laura’s Query #3: How far behind are we on retirement?

Let’s check out what they at present have of their retirement investments:

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

Path Race in Moc Chau Vietnam

Whereas this whole technically places them behind on retirement given their ages, it additionally doesn’t precisely account for the three mega wildcards right here:

  1. Ethan’s pension
  2. Their anticipated Social Safety
  3. Their future jobs and potential future employer-sponsored retirement plans

As we’ve mentioned in earlier Case Research, pensions are a wild card. In some instances, a pension means you’re set for all times when you retire. In different instances… not a lot. Laura famous that they weren’t in a position to determine Ethan’s pension, however they should. There’s somebody whose job it’s to elucidate the PA pension system to lecturers and they should name that individual. I can’t reply this for them since I don’t know the dates of Ethan’s service or his job title, however, it is a worthy rabbit gap for them to go down. I’d begin with the PSERS web site and/or the trainer’s union rep.

→One other a significant factor is whether or not or not Ethan plans to return into public college educating as soon as they’re stateside.

If that’s the case, he’ll probably be eligible for one more pension system and he’ll need to guarantee he understands the ramifications of totally qualifying for that pension. Notice that in some instances, receiving a public worker pension disqualifies you from receiving Social Safety. Moreover, if Ethan teaches in a public college underneath the identical PSERS pension plan, he’ll need to spend some high quality time with HR and/or his union rep to make sure he’s capable of apply his earlier years of service.

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

Laura’s Query #4: Our earnings and bills are more likely to change after subsequent summer season once I now not need to pay for grad college and begin making an earnings once more. What ought to we do with this extra cash? Retirement? Money financial savings? Ought to we begin a separate financial savings earmarked for ‘shifting house’?

I really like that Laura’s planning up to now forward! Nonetheless, I believe this reply will rely upon the place they’re of their technique of shifting again to the states.


In the event that they decide that their tax state of affairs makes them eligible to contribute to their Roth IRA and IRA, they need to completely go forward and max these out. Notice once more that Laura would want to both have earned earnings or open a spousal IRA.

Moreover, if their future US jobs supply employer-sponsored retirement accounts, they will max these out.

Money Financial savings:

Laura and Ethan are already overbalanced on money, as we will see beneath:

Merchandise Quantity Notes
Ethan Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $76,500 We view this as home financial savings.
Laura Excessive Curiosity Financial savings $10,165 Again up cash for grad college tuition and home financial savings.
Ethan and Laura Vietnamese Checking $9,477 We plan to run this empty, as spending the VND earned right here is the most affordable strategy to spend cash right here
Laura Checking $5,228
Ethan Checking $3,000
TOTAL: $104,370

In gentle of that, I’m hesitant to advocate they stash much more cash in money, for all the explanations I outlined above associated to alternative prices.

Handknit child sweaters

I do, nevertheless, totally help their present money stash because it represents:

  1. A home downpayment
  2. Buffer for grad college tuition funds
  3. Their emergency fund
  4. Vietnamese foreign money they intend to spend down
  5. Shifting-back-home cash

→Now I’m going to disagree with myself: regardless of the chance prices of money, it’s additionally true that Laura and Ethan are in flux proper now.

They’re not sure the place they’ll be dwelling in a number of years, how a lot a home will price, after they’ll have youngsters, how shortly they’ll discover new jobs, what their shifting prices shall be and what their bills shall be again in America. That’s lots of unknown variables! And the most effective factor to have when there are a bunch of unknowns is further money. I do need to warning them, although, that money shouldn’t be a longterm funding technique. Neither is it the place to maintain massive chunks of cash for lengthy durations of time.

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

If Laura and Ethan know they received’t be utilizing their home downpayment for the subsequent 12 months or so, they might definitely see if there’s a 12-month CD providing the next fee of return than their high-yield financial savings account. That will be one strategy to basically maintain their money, but additionally have it earn extra. A CD locks your cash up for a specified time frame after which delivers you a specified return while you money it out. It’s not a terrific long-term funding automobile–because the returns sometimes lag behind the inventory market–however it may be nice for short-term targets.

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

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I personally don’t see something of their monetary state of affairs to be notably anxious about. Their bills are low and so they clearly have good monetary habits ingrained. I get the sense that Laura’s nervousness may be extra concerning the many unknown variables of their life proper now. I additionally don’t know that she’ll be capable to “automate” issues till they’ve moved again to the states and ironed out the place they’ll reside and work. It’s actually too many variables to manage for at this level, however I need to emphasize once more that they’re doing a terrific job! The important thing shall be for them to retain their glorious cash habits as soon as they return to the US and expertise a dramatically larger price of dwelling.

In lots of means, they’re in a holding sample whereas dwelling in Vietnam. However that’s not essentially a nasty factor! Saving up extra money is all the time a good selection. When and the best way to deploy that cash will change into clear as these different way of life elements fall into place. I understand that that is straightforward for me to say since I’m not dwelling it, however, from an outsider’s perspective, Laura and Ethan are doing nice!

Analysis Your Funding Accounts

One ultimate piece of recommendation for Laura and Ethan is to look into their funding accounts. Whereas it’s incredible that they’ve retirement investments in addition to a taxable funding account, they didn’t present a lot element on what these accounts are invested in. That is the “satan within the particulars” of investing. The primary vital step is to open these accounts and put cash into them. The subsequent most vital step is to ensure you’re investing in a means that matches your priorities and limits the charges you pay.

Rollover the Outdated 401ks and 403bs

Since they’ve a lot of accounts from earlier employers, I encourage them to look into rolling over these accounts–the outdated 401ks and 403bs–into IRAs. The rationale to do that is with the intention to management what you’re invested in. When you might have a retirement account by means of a present employer, you possibly can solely select investments which might be supplied by your organization’s plan. In some instances, that’s completely wonderful and you’ve got nice choices to select from. In different instances, you’re locked into funds with excessive charges and/or poor efficiency. Regardless of that, it nonetheless is smart to max out employer-sponsored accounts. However, as soon as you allow that employer, you’re free to roll that account over into an IRA that falls totally underneath your jurisdiction.

Roll right into a Roth IRA or a Common IRA? In case your 401ks/403bs had been arrange as Roths, you possibly can roll them right into a Roth IRA. In the event that they’re not arrange as Roths, you possibly can roll them into a conventional IRA. You sometimes don’t ever need to roll from a daily to a Roth as you’d then need to pay allllll the taxes in that calendar 12 months. Not good!

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Right here’s the best way to execute a rollover:

  1. Name the brokerage (or do it on-line) that at present holds your 401ks/403bs to ask about doing a “direct rollover” into a conventional IRA (both at that brokerage or a distinct one).
  2. You’re probably not going to need to roll them into Roth IRAs since you’d then need to pay taxes on the total quantity all on this calendar 12 months (assuming these accounts aren’t Roth). If they’re Roths, they will solely be rolled right into a Roth.
  3. Your new brokerage will need to know what you need to make investments your rolled over IRAs in.

Right here’s an article explaining rollovers: Your Information to 401(ok) and IRA Rollovers.

What to Make investments In?

Now that we all know the automobile Laura and Ethan shall be using–both a Roth or conventional IRA–what ought to they make investments them in? I can’t inform them particularly what to spend money on, however I can inform them the broad strokes that I observe with my investments.

If it had been me, I’d put all the pieces into one whole market, low-fee index fund that matched my asset allocation wants and threat tolerance. The rationale for that is that, generally, investing in a complete market index fund provides you the broadest attainable publicity to the inventory market (in addition to the bottom charges).

In a complete market index fund, you’re basically invested in a teensy bit of each single firm within the inventory market, which supplies you a ton of range. If one firm–and even one sector–tanks, your whole portfolio isn’t toast. It’s the “not placing your entire eggs in a single basket” model of investing.

Know Your Threat Tolerance

One other key think about investing is knowing your private threat tolerance. Investing within the inventory market is inherently dangerous. In gentle of that, Laura and Ethan have to find out how dangerous they need to be with their investments. A great way to mitigate threat is thru diversification, which is why many people have each shares and bonds of their funding portfolio.

The simplest means to consider that is that always, excessive reward = excessive threat and low reward = low threat.

Discover Your Expense Ratios

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

As Forbes explains:

An expense ratio is an annual payment charged to traders who personal mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Excessive expense ratios can drastically cut back your potential returns over the long run, making it crucial for long-term traders to pick out mutual funds and ETFs with cheap expense ratios.

I’ll use Vanguard’s Complete Market Index Fund (VTSAX) in an indication of the best way to discover a fund’s expense ratio:

  1. Google the inventory ticker (on this case I typed in “VTSAX”)
  2. Go to the fund overview web page
  3. Have a look at the expense ratio

Screenshot beneath for reference:

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

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

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

Investing 101

I extremely advocate the guide, The Easy Path to Wealth: Your Street Map to Monetary Independence And a Wealthy, Free Life, by: JL Collins, in the event you’d prefer to deepen your data round investing. It’s well-written and simple to observe.


  1. Familiarize yourselves with the drawbacks of paying money for a home:
    • Know that not all debt is unhealthy. In some instances, leveraging debt is essentially the most financially prudent transfer.
  2. Look at your tax state of affairs to find out whether or not or not you might have sufficient earned earnings to contribute to your IRA:
    • Since Laura doesn’t have earned earnings proper now, she will be able to look into opening a spousal IRA
  3. Analysis Ethan’s pension:
    • This may very well be a pivotal a part of your retirement and it behooves you to know the parameters.
  4. Take into account rolling over your outdated 401ks/403bs into IRAs:
    • Analysis funds, learn JL Collins’ guide on investing and find a brokerage that’ll give you low-fee funds that match your required asset allocation and threat tolerance
  5. Plan to max out your future US employer-sponsored retirement plans:
    • If Ethan returns to public college educating, make sure you perceive the pension system
  6. Really feel assured that you just’ve made nice monetary selections up up to now and that carrying these good habits ahead will serve you properly.

Okay Frugalwoods nation, what recommendation do you might have for Laura? We’ll each reply to feedback, so please be happy to ask questions!

Would you want your individual Case Research to look right here on Frugalwoods? Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Research topic right here. Rent me for a non-public monetary session right here. Schedule an hourlong or 30-minute name with me, refer a good friend to me right here, schedule a free 15-minute name to be taught extra or electronic mail me with questions ([email protected]).

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