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June 02, 2011


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I think the dream car will need to be a dream for some time. You have some work to do. At least you realize that you have to sell the hobby car. Use any remaining proceeds to pay off the credit cards and then start paying off car 2. You can then work on the other debts. You need to free up cash asap, so stop any non essential spending (such as eating out), and focus all $$$ on debt. I would also stop the Roth contributions and pay off debt. It may take you a good 18 months to do it. Next, you need 6 months savings for an emergency account. No job is 100% secure. After that resume the Roth and max out retirement. After that, save for more education as you need to invest in yourself. DO NOT take out more student loans. After all this, save up and pay cash for the dream car.

Agree with jim above. The condo is a great idea bit once you do those things you will need to plan for repairs to the condo. Whats more, the market is continuing to be stagnant. The condo, even if very near dc and good location may not make much even over the medium to long term. Buying a condo with your salary and no savings as a single is ultra risky. You don't just want to drive fast, you want to live fast with ypur money also. You haven't talked about your lifestyle. Do you bring lunch or eat out? Dinners out or at home. Do you date/go out? How you spend your money for non essentials is a big indicator about whether you can make this work. In short, i would not even consider the car until the things mentioned above by jim are handled and you have enough separately saved in a safe bank account to pay cash for it. And remember you are basically lighting this money on fire. If that makes you cringe, then you probably want to rethink it. Any car depreciates. And car accidents ruin beaters and fancy cars alike.

Check into getting a military discount at Capella. I was able to get it as a DOD contractor, without being a veteran. Also check into utilizing your security certs as credit towards the degree. I had an associates, and was able to use certs to cover an entire year of upper class credits with my PMP, I know the CISSP counts for some also. Also, they have several scholarships, I was able to get a $10k one directly from Capella just for writing an essay based on my IT experiences with DoD. And your company should be able to pay for some of your coursework, since it will likely be in your field. Using those methods, I did the whole 2 years like you want to do for less than $10k cost to me. And then I was able to use the actual college course work as Continuing Education credits back towards my certifications, saving some more money and time.

With a similar background but 20 more years experience, I can say just having an associates only limited on some positions, and almost all of them were not ones I would want. What I found was that I was already in positions beyond what the degree would bring, so it was hard to justify all the time/cost to get the bachelor, when all it would do is "check the box". It does help if you want to be a manager or project manager some day though. I didn't switch from the technical to the PM/management role till about 36, about the time of getting married/kids. The good thing is you can always go back and get the degree later, though it will likely be harder once married and/or with kids. Also, the Capella IT courses, and likely all similar online IT courses, really like for you to write about actual job experiences, so the longer you have in IT, the easier the courses will be.

If you can get in as a Federal GS Civilian position eventually, they have lots of college loan forgiveness programs, and also cover college course costs. That would be ideal for you to get a Masters eventually.

Thanks for the comments so far...

As far as lifestyle...the picture isn't much better. I'm currently in a relationship so I'm not out dating multiple people. I do enjoy going out to it often actually. Starting this month I'm working toward cooking more at home (thanks to the g/f!), and bring my lunch with me to work. Prior to all of this...I was buying breakfast, lunch, and occasionally even dinner. Living at alone I didn't cook hardly at all...either busy running around with friends or the schedule didn't allow it easily with going to the gym 3-4 times a week. Got a free dinner from mom/dad every once in a while as well, they don't live to far away.

By far my biggest expenses are gas and food. I do tech work, but only at in I don't have the latest and greatest techy gadgets at home. I do have expensive taste in furniture, i.e. everything is very modern and I'm learning that comes with a hefty price tag as well.

@Easychange - "car accidents ruin beaters and fancy cars alike"...very true...not sure what I would do if I had my 60k BMW wrecked by a moron...

@CoolMouseLuke - Thanks for the insight. I'm currently working on my GCFE, and have already completed my CISSP, CEH, CICP, Sec+, and Net+. They take credits for most of those certs from when I emailed them. I will def look into discount since I'm a contractor as well, and the scholarship. Solid advice, and also good to know about my career options down the road not being to limited if I hold off on going to school right away.

Rob - Also, definitely check into if your company pays for college courses, most Government contractors do. If they pay a few thousand a year, you could do it over time without debt. The risk would be that the program requirements might change over time, the IT ones often do.

And I should say you have chosen an excellent career path. With computer forensics experience, certifications, and I'm assuming a clearance, you should be able to stay employed no matter what. If you moved to the DC area, you would be almost guaranteed employment. The worst case you would have to relocate or travel. But as a Fed contractor for 10+ years, you do have to live year to year, and build up an emergency fund, especially if you have have a one income family. I found to my dismay after becoming a Program Manager for a DoD contract, that any of them can be cancelled at any time "for the convenience of the Government". I usually put off any large financial decisions in the last six months of the contract option year, then once the option year renews, usually it is safe for another year, though not guaranteed.

Also, IT security positions are a huge push for the Government to hire as civilians. Of course you can make more money as a contractor, but the Fed Civilian positions have better benefits and stability. You will probably have a hard time fighting this off over time, I have had several IT security contract positions become "in-sourced" into FED positions. A lot of them are GS 14 paying well into the six figures.

Continuing above -

We had a top notch Security Forensics specialist recently leave because he got an irresistible offer: They gave him a $40k raise for a year as a contractor, paid off $60k in student loans, will make him a Federal civilian after the year with all those benefits, paid a full/complete relocation including buying his house, and he gets to work on the Space War program Forensics living on the beach in Charleston. He had a few more certs than you, and had worked in law enforcement before, and had just a bachelors degree.

@CoolMouseLuke - Thanks. The in sourcing actually occurred recently here when I worked in the Information Assurance division. They were only going to make me a GS12, and I wasn't willing to take the pay cut, luckily this Forensics position opened up within the same building as a contractor. I do have a clearance and currently being upgraded! :) A GS 14 slot doesn't sound to shabby! ;) though...I highly doubt they will give a 26 year old that much power haha.

Current employer offers $3500 a year toward furthering education. However...that figure doesn't even cover a single certification training course/exam usually, specially when it comes to SANS using that for College is probably unlikely (currently at least).

@CoolMouseLuke - There is hope in my future!! Between Forensics and Pen Testing...if I stick with it I should be ok it seems!

Look for other options as those mentioned above with respect to your education. There are plenty of ways for a guy like yourself to get an employer to pay for this. You just need to make them feel it is beneficial to them in some way.

However, suck it up when it comes to everything else in your life financially. You come across as making excuses for spending too much money for the financial position you are in. Do everything you can to get that debt paid off and build up an emergency fund. Sure you have 2 years left on your contract, but the reality is you need to take some responsibility for building yourself a safety net financially. And honestly, there is no better time to do it for a guy like you than now. You make decent money so you owe it to yourself and your future to start saving more money.

Just my 2 cents.

@ ES - Thanks for the reality check.

The amount you are making is great money. Its not "I get to own two cars" or "I get to drive an M3" money. I dont care how much you save, you need to get over the M3 desire. You're allowed to buy an M3 when you make 250k for 3 years in a row as a single guy at your current life style costs.

Im a big car guy. I tried to find a way to make money from my hobby.

Driving a nice car when you really cant afford it makes you a loser. Dont be that guy. What would people who know what you make really think about you if you showed up in an M3? I promise its not good. I'd consider firing you.

@Tyler - I respect your opinion. It may be taking a bigger bite than I can chew, I realize that. Would you care to elaborate why you would consider firing me though...based on my income and what car I decide to buy??


I don't mean for this to sound rude, but spend some time evaluating your decision-making processes. Two things stand out to me:

1) You spent at least $8,000 buying a civic because your preferred car (which you still owe on) uses gas that costs 20 cents more per gallon. It takes 32,000 gallons of gas to make up for the cost of the civic, not including extra in insurance and maintenance to cover 2 cars instead of one. Even assuming the civic gets twice the mileage, that's 16,000 gallons of gas.

2) You bought a new condo for $160,000 less than 3 months ago and have less than $1,500 in liquid savings? That sounds like about one condo payment + HOA fees.

You make an income that most 26-year-olds would kill for, but you spend way too much for someone who should know better (i.e., someone who reads this site). Also, as a contract employee I assume your work doesn't cover health insurance? That wasn't mentioned here...

As to getting the degree, I don't know much about it other than to say that if you know the cost of the degree ($20,000 plus the cost of any lost work income in the meantime) and you can evaluate the boost in income you'd expect with the degree, it's easy to calculate your "return on investment." Based on CoolMouseLuke's comments above, the degree might not be very valuable in your field.

Rob, I had a co worker who was a car guy. He had several cars where he got into accidents and lost more money than some people make in a year. Think health/injury. I have also seen people go through health scares. Trust me, you want that money as cushion not as a fancy car-- at least for the near term.

Also while it is easy to say tyler is wrong here; would be a good is important to realize that showing up in a car like that usually people will think you are making too much. Perhaps you dont need a good bonus or raise. Bosses with tylers mentality are more common than you think. In general it is a good idea to not flaunt anything luxurious. It can send a message you dont want to send.

@Jonathan - Not rude at all, welcome the open discussion.

1) I agree buying the civic seems excessive. I wanted a daily driver that had lower miles (hence higher initial cost) to eliminate initial maintenance. 87 octane, automatic for the long 110mile round trip commute, and all around comfy ride. My Mazda is turbo, 93 octain with gas prices right now was torture for the commute, worse mileage, bigger tank, and a rougher ride due to the suspension upgrades, etc. Long story short, the open road was just banging the car up, so I was going to make it my weekend toy, which I did...but now was thinking of upgrading.

2) The area I live in I initially looked to rent. Any area that I felt safe in was costing me about $1000 for a small two bedroom apt, little less for a 1 bedroom with no utilities included. Mortgage and HOA fees runs me $1142 a month. I understand it was a gamble considering my savings, income, bills, etc....but thought it was the better move and am genuinely happy with the place.

3) I'm a W2 employee so benefits are provided. I get health, dental, vision, 401k, etc. Good benefits.

@Easychange - Interesting perspective. I may talk about the car, but I wouldn't drive it to work. Nonetheless...something to consider about the work environment, etc. Good point.

Rob, the real question for you to answer is whether or not you are able to defer gratification. It sounds like you are in a great position to obtain all of your goals if you start deferring immediate gratification for long-term success.

Whenever I'm trying to make a big decision like the one you're facing, I always try to picture having a conversation with my future self (5-10 years out). Will that future person wished that you had spent what little money you had available or gone into debt in order to finance a lifestyle that wasn't sustainable? Or will that person be grateful that you cut back and starting building wealth in order to really be able to execute on some of the goals you have.

My advice would be to have some patience about obtaining some of these things (M3). Work on cutting back on non-essentials, developing some financial stability, and investing in your future earnings potential. Then, when you purchase that M3 with CASH in 10 years because you were disciplined, you'll appreciate it that much more.

Look into Western Governors University. Your current certifications will accelerate your progress and you will earn additional certs through their program. They are self-paced, accredited and very affordable. I recently graduated their BS in IT and loved the experience.

@RS - Dead on. Patience is one of my weakest areas that requires work. I've worked hard (or so feel I have at least) getting to where I'm at. Tasting the income as selfish as it may seem just drives the impatience at times. I agree...if in 10 years I could pay cash for such a car...that would be quite rewarding. Thanks for your comment.

@AJ - I looked into their school as well. Cost and everything was nice. What I liked about Capella is that the degree I want is recognized and backed by the NSA...brownie points IMO w/ regard to IT Security type stuff.

110 mile daily commute for a single guy making good money? Maybe this is off point, by why the heck would you do that to yourself?

@Strick - Trust is a LONG story. But for the time being, it is what it is.

Id consider firing you for being such an idiot kid with money/driving an M3 I know you cant afford. Such a silly purchasing decision, regardless of passion, would force me to question other decisions you might make. You're easily replaced and I look for someone who didnt drive a car they couldnt afford. If I am questioning your judgement, why would I want you to work for me?

The M3 is a status symbol. Its a great car, dont get me wrong, but if you are honest with yourself you want the status symbol. To have the symbol without the status to back it up makes one a fraud. Again, I understand a passion for cars- to me they are art.

Do you want the M3 now?

@Tyler - Harsh but true. I do want the status symbol, and I do think they are a work of art. I split hairs with you on what my "managers" perspective of my judgements would be, specially in my line of work. Integrity, authenticity, etc...are vital in what I do. Considering clearances are involved in my line of work...they look into your personal life, habits, activities, finances, gambling habits, debt ration, etc. If the govt deems me worthy of whatever level clearance, I think it's inappropriate for a manager to make a judgment call based on his opinion. doesn't change the fact that you may very well be right and it still happens.

The M3 maybe out of reach at this age/stage in the game...


Not to argue with your point, because I can imagine that happening, but what if Tyler has other income the boss doesn't know about? I'm working on building up passive income, and eventually that will be a very significant component of my income, which my boss may or may not know. Further, for Rob I would expect that his boss is not the owner of the company - he's more likely a middle-manager, working for a paycheck just like most people, and spending more than he should just like most people. Seeing Rob show up in an M3, he'd probably think something more along the lines of "Man, I wish I could afford an M3, but with all the expenses from my family and my 4,000 sf house, I can't! Wait...but if I sold my timeshare and cut back on retirement contributions, and could get a 0% loan for 6 years, maybe I can afford it after all! Sweet!" (hypothetically).

Jonathan- Its a possibility. I never said I would fire him, I said I would consider firing him. It would be a factor when renewing a contract etc.

If you ran a business on the side that was making the exact same as your current salary, do you really think your boss would have no idea? You wouldnt mention it to anyone? You wouldnt be forced to disclose it? I've always been forced to disclose all sources of income. I have to think a person working with security clearance has similar requirements... I know the process for D clearance and someone would know about your sources of income.

I dont know what others would do, I can only tell you how I would look at it. Rob will likely by an M3 someday. He makes enough to "afford" the payments. I am just providing a different perspective. Sometimes what our passions want, isnt what we really want.

Rob- It might be inappropriate for your manager to judge you on his opinion- that doesnt mean he doesnt judge you every single day based on his opinion. People, right or wrong, judge you every single day. You are sending a very strong message when driving an M3.

Not to get us off track, but Tyler's point makes me think of the boss I had that wouldn't let me buy a Honda Accord because it "didn't project the right image for an executive." (I was in the music industry at the time and the other execs drove BMWs, Mercedes, etc.) He told me he would fire me if I bought an Accord.

I'm not sure if he was joking or not, but I didn't want to test him. Besides, if it was that big of a deal to him, surely buying an Accord would impact my perception with others in the company (and they did pay me a car allowance that was pretty healthy). I eventually purchased a Nissan Maxima -- the lowest he would go and the highest I wanted to go. When it had only 3,000 miles on it, it was in a flash flood, but that's a whole different (and very long) story...

@Tyler - You do bring a different perspective, and it does have me thinking. The M3 does make a statement (agreed!), along with a list of other cars I can drool over, but that's irrelevant. As I commented earlier...and wrote in my opening post, I struggle to find the balance. The smart investor vs. the young, live life, and enjoy my hard work. Graduated in 2007, and got my first IT job making $28,800. In four years, I'm at $82k...who knows what the next 4 years will bring. Hard not to go out and "celebrate." :)

@FMF - I've never been in that kind of situation, but is eye opening that that kind of mentality is out there.


Sorry most people have been focusing more on the choices you've made thus far than on whether you should get the degree or not - but it's worth discussing. You're right, you've accomplished a lot in terms of income appreciation in your 4 years out of school, and you should indeed be proud, and excited for the possibilities in the future. But the income is only half the battle - hence the stories of 7-figure-salary athletes winding up bankrupt a few years out of the game. If you look back at the total amount of money you've earned over those 4 years, what do you have to show for it? You've got nearly $200,000 in debt and nearly nothing saved. That goes a little beyond celebration, I'd say. You say you want to be financially free, but the meager steps you've taken to that end are far outweighed by the major steps you've taken in the other direction.

There are lots of ways to live well within your means, save significant amounts, and still "live life and enjoy the fruits of your labor." My wife and I are your age, and manage to save 10s of thousands each year while still living very well. We actively invest our savings and have plans to become financially free (i.e. can live without holding down a W-2 job) within...15 years? Probably sooner!

Rob- I'm no Spartan. I'm a huge fan of celebrating successes. Life isnt a dress rehearsal. Celebration needs to be in context and not at the expense of future accomplishments. You've done well. You still have a long way to go. You have debts, you have too many toys, and you dont have enough saved. Time to get back to work and take care of those things. You might never have it this good again.

(I meant Q not D clearance in my last post by the way)

@Jonathan - "choices" my dad's favorite word. Life's all about "choices" as he puts it. I expected some of the comments to be geared in that direction, and rightfully so. There are plenty of what if scenarios along the way. The total debt/saved ration is off Quicken reminds me frequently. I hear your point loud and clear.

@Tyler - Since you are my car fan so far...I know you say you offset your car passion for finding hobbies that create income. Fair enough. Do you settle for a nicer mid range car to have a taste of both worlds (car/save&invest)? (i.e. EVO, STI, 370z...all used of course, not brand new)

Re-reading through the comments this afternoon does make me realize I should realign some of my priorities a bit.

I just wanted to second CoolMouseLuke's advice to look at having your current employer pay for any additional education and everyone's advice that you should defer gratification more, cut expenses, and pay off the debt. It's not uncommon for government contractors to have generous education benefits, but your company may be different.

With so little in savings I'd be reluctant to advise you to get the degree. Sure you'll get more use out of it the earlier you get it but the program's not going anywhere and delaying can only do your financial situation good if you're not looking at immediately switching jobs. The DC area is expensive but you should be able to payoff both cars and the credit card in one year without reducing your 401k contributions if you spend responsibly. After doing that and building an emergency fund you might consider the degree unless your employer will pay for it.

I try to make money off of cars. Its not my profession- just a hobby. Id rather not go into too many details; mainly because it's too hard to explain in a few sentences.

My daily driver is a s60r but I have a lot of personal cars. I am older and my world is different.

@NoDebtMBA - Thanks for commenting.

@Tyler - Fair enough. Not a bad DD either...and I'm sure reliable since it's Volvo. I gotta get to your world man!

I think its obvious someone making $82k should not be buying a car that is 2/3 his salary. Plus the 3 series is being redesigned soon, wait for the new design!

You are doing well but having that house debt technically makes you poor and have negative worth. Just give it time and build up some real wealth before doing anything major

You should absolutely finish that 4 year degree if it is just a few credits away.

I'm in the same field in a different sector. While I agree, the certifications are what you put in your e-mail signature and you must keep them current and relevant, there is an entire suite of jobs that are closed to you without the BS degree. The resume just does not get onto the pile without it for many jobs. Even if you had an leg-up via your personal network, or were grandfathered into a role via an acquisition or prior consulting work, there is an invisible ceiling on those without degrees in many industries. Ironically, once you earn the Bachelors, it is yours forever. All those other certifactions expire or drop out of relvance.

Before pulling the trigger, though, I'd want to know more about the school where you would finish the degree. Is it respected? Will you make contacts there to lead you to the next role? Personally, I prefer a brick & mortar place with online options as opposed to an exclusively on-line school.

@Catherine - Thanks for the comment. I agree and have thought about that ceiling as well. The school is respected, known...and I know a few people who have gone their for their Masters, etc. I like the fact that the school is recognized by the NSA. It is accredited. The problem I face with brick&mortar schools is the flexibility in how the classes are delivered (even online options within brick&mortar schools). As you are familiar with the certification rat is a never ending cycle of reading/testing/renewing, etc.

Getting a BS may be a good move for the long run. I don't see any need to rush into it though.

I would question the choice of school to make sure its a right one. Capella is a for-profit university. I've never heard of em. How do you know they are respected exactly? Getting a degree shouldn't be an easy thing that happens quickly.. if it is then I honestly can't see how I'd respect that degree much. Maybe Capella is great, but I don't know. Just make sure you do real diligence in checking them out. Most for profit schools are not very well respected.
Just be careful you don't waste years and money on an expensive diploma mill.

If the only two options you're honestly considering are going to school or getting the car, then please... go to school! You're still young and that degree will most likely pay dividends later in life. Not to mention that when you have a collector's habit (which is what your car hobby sounds like), there will undoubtedly be a next dream car once you have that BMW. Take care of business before you indulge.

He needs to calculate the the NPV (Net Present Value) of the education. You can do it in excel using the FV formulae or set up a spread sheet using the formulat R/(1+i)^n.

@Jim - I've spent a few months looking at schools, I pretty sure Capella is a decent school to attend. You are right though with choosing the right school.

@Jennifer - Those were my initial 2 options yes. Although after having FMF run this post, it looks like I'll be shifting gears a bit. The BMW is my dream car at the moment...but I'm sure there will be another model down the road that is just as enticing. Ideally I will always have on DD, and one toy...depending on what stage I am in my life I will keep some toys (collector) as you mentioned. The M3 would be one of those collectors...

@BankruptcyBen - I'll have to look into that formula and see what it nets.

This one is easy. Get rid of a car, focus on paying down your debts. You've got too much debt, not enough savings to have qualified for a mortgage in my opinion. If you lose your job, the outcome doesn't look good.

@ranch111 - Believe it or not...the bank actually approved me for a significant amount more than what I took out in a mortgage.


I think that most people need to have an "aha" moment to realize that they are broke and need to change their ways. Often times this happens after a financial crisis. All during this dialogue, it appears to me that you think it might be a good idea to change some things, but you don't realize that you acutally have a problem. Say it outloud, "I am broke". As an example, if the air conditioner for your condo goes out and this is a 3k repair you don't have the money.

Stop all of your retirement savings, stop all non-essetial spending, sell one of your cars, build up a few thousand dollars emergency fund and pay off your debts. With your currently salary that shouldn't take too long. Don't worry about college as that degree doesn't seem that important based on all of the dialogue and your current job and salary. Keep working on the credentials and stay current as the technology changes.

Most important is to figure out what is going to make you change from talking about the need to make financial changes to actually make them. (All of the talk about cars is what really has me thinking that you don't get it yet.)

Good luck. You have a great chance here.

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