Military Finance Report: October 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Big Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Returns


In my previous blog post titled, Active TSP participation, I recommended taking advantage of the recent market dip by changing your portfolio allocation or by doing an Interfund Transfer (IFT). In less than two weeks, you could have earned over .5% in most of the funds besides the “G” and “F Funds”. Considering that the national average for the ANNUAL return of savings accounts is less than .5% (http://www.bankrate.com/checking.aspx), then you could have made more in two weeks than all year in a typical savings account while keeping your money in your TSP accounts.

Date
L Income
L 2020
L 2030
L 2040
L 2050
G Fund
F Fund
C Fund
S Fund
I Fund
14-Oct-14
17.11
21.98
23.55
24.84
14.00
14.55
16.71
24.66
32.31
23.94
22-Oct-14
17.24
22.38
24.11
25.53
14.44
14.56
16.68
25.63
34.15
24.35
Gain/(Loss)
0.74%
1.79%
2.32%
2.72%
3.04%
0.06%
-0.20%
3.78%
5.38%
1.67%

*Data as of 23 Oct 14
You don’t have to be passive when it comes to major market swings and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). I understand most people want to invest and forget when they participate in the TSP. “Dollar cost averaging” or investing at regular intervals can earn you average results compared to the market; but by taking a passive approach to investing, you can achieve above average results.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Active Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Participation

In the past week, the DOW Jones has dropped 1,000 points (6%). If you're like me, then you should get excited when you see quick market drops because they offer better buying opportunities. It's like your favorite pair of shoes went on sale. Even if 100% of your retirement savings is in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), you can still take advantage of stock market dips and rallies.

The easiest way is to log into www.tsp.gov and change the percentage you contribute to each month. The default fund is the "G Fund" which is the safest but offers the least return. It's very important to check that you don't have 100% of your retirement savings in the "G Fund"; especially if you're under 40-years old. When the stock market dips for a couple of months, you can increase the amount of money you have from each paycheck into the C, S or I Funds. When the stock market rallies, you can reduce the percentage if you're uncomfortable with the risk.

Another way of taking advantage of stock market dips and rallies is to request an Interfund Transfer (IFT). This changes the percentage of your overall portfolio by moving the selected percentage into a different fund. You can increase the percentage to the C, S, or I Funds during stock market dips. TSP has a limit to only 2 IFTs a month. You can request an IFTs by logging onto www.tsp.gov or you can call the TSP ThriftLine. (https://www.tsp.gov/planparticipation/interfundbp/IFTs.shtml)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Budgeting Made Easy

For most people, being on a budget feels like being on a diet. The first thing people think of when they consider a budget is restrictions. Having a budget isn’t about restricting; it’s more about knowing where your money is going and knowing where your money goes is one of the most crucial steps to financial planning. I recommend doing the 30-day spending challenge I wrote about here: 30-day Challenge to track your expenses. Creating a simple budget is easy. Here’s how I recommend starting.
1.       Income. On the left side of your excel sheet or piece of paper, list how much you make in a month. Then on the right side, list your bills.
2.      Fixed bills. Start with listing your fixed bills. These are the bills that never change regardless of how you conduct your life and/or the minimum payments on installment loans. This typically includes rent/mortgage, insurance, car and student loan payments and sewer/trash bills. Generally speaking, you have no control over these bills.
3.      Variable bills. Next, list your variable bills. These are bills where if needed, you can reduce them if you need additional money. This typically includes gas, food, cable, phone, electricity, water, etc. When people come to see in dire financial need, it’s easy to reduce fast food consumption or simply downgrade current internet and cable service freeing up additional income to get out of their predicament. Use an average or use the last month’s bill to keep track of the amount.
4.      Take your income less your fixed and variable bills. Subtract your bills from your income and see how much “discretionary” funding you have available. The amount you have left will determine how you should proceed with your budget.
5.      Credit Card debt. Always list your credit card debt as a bill last. It is important to understand the negative impact of credit cards. Depending on your financial situation, you may only be able to pay the minimum payments from your available funding. If you have more money after you pay the minimum payments, then put more towards your credit card debt to help pay it off sooner.
6.      Savings. After paying your bills and credit card debt, the rest can be put to whatever savings strategy you are pursuing.
Creating a budget is that simple. It doesn’t require complex excel knowledge, a mathematics degree or expensive apps. If you get a promotion, you can quickly see the impact so you can increase your credit card payments or your savings. If you get into financial trouble, you can start reducing how much you pay towards your credit cards or you can put more money towards your variable bills. One quick tip: Don’t round your bills. People who round their bills, miss an opportunity to focus fire on financial objective. That being said, here’s a sample budget.
Income
(Step 1)
Fixed Bills
(Step 2)
Variable Bills
(Step 3)
Income – Bills (Step 4)
Credit Cards (Step 5)
Savings
(Step 6)
$5,000
-$1,500
-$500

-$200


-$750
-$250

-$150


-$250
-$200

-$75

$5,000
-$2,500
-$950
$1,550
-$425
$1,125


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Travel Policy Changes

Starting 1 Oct 14, there will be significant changes in authorized reimbursable expenses. The Joint Federal Travel Regulation (JFTR) and Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) has been merged and the changes have been made. In my opinion, the JFTR/JTR are very complicated to read and analyze. Here's a quick update from what I can see. Full details can be found here: (http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/news.cfm?ID=29).

BL: ATM Fees, CONUS laundry fees and transportation tips are now covered in the FY15 incidental rate and are no longer reimbursable.

Most customers tend to be very familiar with Appendix G of the JFTR and significant changes have been made to clarify what will be covered in the Incidental portion.

Starting 1 Nov 14, the long-term TDY rate has been significantly lowered. The reason behind significantly reducing the rates is quoted here.

"The commercial lodging industry considers stays greater than 30 days to be “extended stays” and typically offers reduced rates to ensure occupancy.  Travelers may also consider furnished apartments or similar types of lodging which are typically cheaper than room rates in commercial lodging.  Data analysis demonstrates the flat rate per diem adequately covers lodging, meals, and incidental expenses, more accurately reflecting actual costs incurred."

During times of fiscal constraints, it's important for the Department of Defense to identify cost savings but are these cost savings at the expense of travelers on mission-critical TDYs? What are your thoughts on this?