My Personal Finance Journey

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Monthly Review - September 2004 ($173,275, +$4,418)

Contributed by mm | October 1, 2004 9:33 PM PST

SUMMARY

Following a strong August, September sees another solid month in my personal finance journey. My net worth advanced $4,418 to $173,275, which pushed my Month-to-Retire reading down to 137 (February 2016). Some additional benefits from my annual bonus and salary increase and cost cutting in daily spending helped to lead to this better-than-average month.

At $173,275, I am within a stone's throw of the lower end of my 2004 goal of $174,000, and I'm optimistic to test the stretch goal of $180,000 by Christmas time.

RESULTS

(Please refer to definition of balance sheet line items.)

  Jul-04 Aug-04 Sep-04 Change Change %
Cash & Equivalent  $         2,406  $         4,508  $         7,111  $         2,604 57.8%
Saving  $       17,369  $       11,999  $       24,740  $       12,741 106.2%
Brokerage  $       16,742  $       15,866  $       14,870  $           (996) -6.3%
Roth IRA  $       15,493  $       15,481  $       14,060  $        (1,422) -9.2%
401(k)  $       18,259  $       20,675  $       24,370  $         3,695 17.9%
Stock Option  $         7,910  $         7,869  $         8,940  $         1,071 13.6%
ESPP  $         1,191  $         3,391  $         6,685  $         3,293 97.1%
Home Equity  $       71,529  $       72,374  $       73,221  $            846 1.2%
Other Assets  $       16,347  $       16,072  $       15,797  $           (275) -1.7%
Receivable (Payable)  $         4,427  $       15,193  $            162  $      (15,030) -98.9%
Reserve Funds  $        (3,621)  $        (4,021)  $        (4,421)  $           (400) 9.9%
Loans  $        (8,109)  $        (7,467)  $        (8,826)  $        (1,359) 18.2%
Tax Liability  $        (3,147)  $        (3,083)  $        (3,434)  $           (351) 11.4%
Net Worth  $     156,795  $     168,857  $     173,275  $         4,418 2.6%
Liquidation Value  $     128,046  $     139,648  $     143,411  $         3,763 2.7%

BALANCE SHEET DISCUSSION

Let me start by discussing some key drivers for this month's substantial balance sheet changes. First, the annual bonus from Microsoft, recognized in the receivable bucket in August, was finally paid out on September 15. Second, I didn't recognize some additional benefits from my large annual bonus in August, namely, 1% almost-guaranteed after-tax gain from ESPP and 3% 401(k) employer match; they are recognized in September. Third, I finally got an $8,000 credit refund check from Fleet, thus put a close to my failed balance transfer attempt.

Now some comments on changes by line:

1) Cash/Saving: The aforementioned cash inflow due to bonus payout and Fleet credit refund contributed to most of the month-to-month increase in my cash positions.

2) Brokeage: No transaction for the month (and since May); portfolio value declined further. (I am kind of procrastined to make a decision recentkly but I feel if I can improve on my investments I can help my net worth much further.)

3) 401(k) and ESPP received a big boost after the bonus payout.

4) Receivable: Receivable is close to zero now due to the removal of the Fleet credit refund and bonus payout.

5) Loans: At $8,826, this includes $4,800 in 0% APR revolving balance and everything else is the monthly balance I will pay off completely by due date to avoid any financial charges.

INCOME STATEMENT DISCUSSION

My total monthly operating expense for September is $6,398 compared to $5,052 in August. There are two extraordinary items in this month: first, we purchased a new dining room set from CostCo Home for about $1,300 (tax, shipping and installation included) after a $300 instant rebate. With one dining table, six dining chair and a china buffet included, it is definitely a steal. (At the same time, we sold our old dining table and chairs for $275.) Second, I paid out $360 to enroll in CFA Level II exam. CFA is a three-level certification program for investment pros and I passed the first level early this summer. Excluding these two one-item items, I contained my living expenses well below the $5,000 goal I stated in last month's summary.

IMPORTANT PERSONAL FINANCE ISSUES IN MONTHS AHEAD

- The new batch of ESPP shares were already purchased on September 30. As usual, I will sell these shares in early October.

- I intend to send a check to King County Treasury next week for my second half property tax of $1,693.

- I am running a quick model to understand my tax exposure. I changed my W-4 form and will start to pay $200 extra in income tax withholding every pay period from October.

- My social security tax payout will soon reach the annual IRS limit of $87,900. Based on my calculation, I will stop paying social security tax (6.2% of job ncome) starting in October, which will add several hundred dollars into my disposal income every month from now to December end.

- During the last benefit enrollment, I signed up for $200 before-tax deduction for healthcare flexible spending account. I only used $60 so far so I need to spend some more in the last quarter.

This Post Has Received 6 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.


jason Commented on October 2, 2004

One question, one advice:

Question:
I am about to add my stock options account to my accounting page of my website in performance metrics section. You seem to be in the financial area of expertise within your career and/or extra studies. I am curious if the percentage change of your stock options line item is including new vest, or is that mainly subject to underlying stock price movement?
The question would be: Is percentage change equal to ((equity value last month / equity value this month) - 1) * 100. Equity this month being affected by stock price movement and batch of shares vested.

The comment is on this:

" The new batch of ESPP shares were already purchased on September 30. As usual, I will sell these shares in early October."

I do understand your reasoning for the selling upon purchase and agree (mostly ;). I am curious if you'd exempt this batch as they are close to the one time special dividend and the effective tax rate on that would be lower than the tax rate on selling ESPP before 1.5-2 years of subscription-purchase date. The stock price would take a hit equivalent to the dividend value and you would write the stock as a capital loss against other gains this year.
I did see your analysis of arbitrage on the dividend, but I think this would be less risky than an arbitrage stance from no position as you are expecting to get this position due to ESPP contributions.


mm Commented on October 2, 2004

Jason, on the stock option question, there were no newly vested options in September. The movement is because MSFT edged higher from $27.30 on 8/31 to $27.65 on 9.30.

Now on the second question: The ESPP-specific tax treatment makes no difference. Why? If I hold the ESPP shares for the special dividend, no matter when I sell the shares, the tax treatment will always be:

- Initial 10% ESPP discount will be taxed as regular income (25%)
- The $3 dividend will be taxed as dividend income (20%)
- The $3 capital loss, assuming price is stable before and after the dividend, will become a long-term capital loss (worth 20% or 25% depending on other capital gains/losses status in the same tax year)

In other words, the 1% arbitrage I described on 7/22 still exists, but the ESPP status does not give me a better chance at all. The 1% potential gain is not high enough to let me bet MSFT price will be flat for two months (or longer).

Make sense?


jason Commented on October 3, 2004

Hi sir!

Makes some sense :).

1. If more had vested, would the accounting use a new baseline or take (((thismonth/lastmonth)-1)*100. Trying to get a sense of how to account for mine on my performance page.

2. I was kind of stating that the holding through dividend may be helpful as:
- Initial 10% ESPP discount will be taxed as regular income (25%)

Yes!

- The $3 dividend will be taxed as dividend income (20%)

Should be 15%

- The $3 capital loss, assuming price is stable before and after the dividend, will become a long-term capital loss (worth 20% or 25% depending on other capital gains/losses status in the same tax year)

Would offset the gain above.

- Two month hold

Election time, so tricky situation. Quite the fiscally conservative! ;)


mm Commented on October 3, 2004

On the stock option accounting, I don't feel adjustments should be made. This is a net worth accounting for me and I see ESOP as a passive asset so and monthly performance on ESOP is not important to me. What's important is selling at the right time -- you cannot buy ESOP as you may want, and you are not going to sell ESOP every month, right? So I only focus on getting the total value of ESOP right and give little attention to month-over-month number. I understand you are also making lots of option trading beyond ESOP -- you probably should list them separately.

For ESPP, my bad that dividend will be taxed at 15% and the capital loss will be at 15% or 25% depending on overall status. I was just arguing ESPP does not change the math at all.

Thank you Jason!


Jeff Commented on February 1, 2005

I'm curious why you are so conservative on home equity. I'm also tracking my net worth and have been calculating home equity based on a couple factors:
1) Paying down of principal each month
2) Fair market value of house (Puget Sound area has been averaging well over 5% increase in value per year. (I think 5% is very conservative based on market comparisons that I do around my area)

Maybe I'm missing something here........


mm Commented on February 6, 2005

Conservative accounting is a virtue ... why do you want your net worth to be affected by day-to-day swing of sale prices in the neighborhood?

http://www.pfblog.com/archives/764_conservative_net_worth_accounting.shtml


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