Personal Finance

Financial Check-in 2019 H1

I’ve been asked by multiple friends, how do you save money? Save money, not in the sense of couponing or budgeting, but how my savings are allocated.

I think this is very personal and how people save money can really vary depending on what stage people are in their lives and what their goals are, but I think it’s nice to have different reference points.

I decided to start doing half-yearly check-ins to see how I’m doing financially.

DISCLAIMER: I am not qualified to give any financial or tax advice. The following is what I have done in my experience. It does not mean that I am recommending that you do the same or that it will work for you. This post is educational in nature and does not represent any tax or investment advice. All tax and investment decisions are ultimately your responsibility.

A crude drawing of where my money gets allocated. (I split rent with my boyfriend.)


  • FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early)
  • Move to Asia and travel around for a year
    • I might probably freelance when I’m living abroad, but that doesn’t mean that the cash flow will always be constant
  • Start my own company
    • I want to have enough money so that I can afford to live and pay myself when I start my own company


This is the money that I plan to live off of when I reach the retirement age.

  • I’ve maxed out my Roth IRA for 2019 and I’ve done the same for the past three years.
    • I wish I had learned about IRAs sooner in my life and I had started investing sooner.
  • I was contributing 18% of my paycheck to my Traditional 401k through work. Recently, I increased it to 26% and I should have my 401k maxed out by September.
    • I want to note that 18%-26% is high. When I first started working full-time, I was contributing anywhere between 0%-7% depending on anticipated expenses.
  • In addition to my retirement accounts, I have a monthly automatic deposit set up to transfer a portion of my monthly salary to a brokerage account. Three years ago when I first started putting money in the market, I started at $100-$200/month. At the beginning of this year, I increased it to 8.5%. Recently, I noticed that I had extra cash still laying around my checking account not doing anything at the end of the month, so I recently increased it to 17%.
    • This is the money I hope to use someday for (maybe early) retirement. All the shares I buy, I expect to hold long term.

Safety Net / Rainy Day Fund

This is the money I have stored in case some sh*t hits the fan.

  • I’ve been told that it’s good to keep anywhere between three to six months of expenses in an easily liquid-able account in case something comes up like an expensive repair, a hospital bill, or losing employment. Liquid-able account meaning a place that is easy to withdraw money from quickly, like a checking account with interest or a high-yield savings account.
  • I’ve reached my goal for my safety net, so I am no longer contributing to it.
    • Before I got there, I was contributing anywhere between $100-$500 per paycheck and it took me a few years before I got to a point where I felt comfortable.
  • It’s good to note that if you have debt, Ellevest advises you pay off high-interest debt before putting money in your safety net.
    • I don’t personally invest with Ellevest and I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I read a lot of the articles they post on their site and I find them really helpful!


This is what I do with the rest of the post-tax income that I am planning to use in the near future (within the next 1-2 years), either for traveling around Asia or for bootstrapping my own company.

  • Each month I was putting 35% of my monthly salary to a 12-month CD. However, the rates of CDs have dropped from 2.75% to something lower. Personally, for me, it doesn’t make sense for me to put money into a CD at a low rate because CDs have strict fixed terms, so I can’t access the funds easily without an early penalty. In addition, since I increased my 401k contribution, my post-income tax decreased so I can’t set aside as much. So I’m now putting 20% of my post-income tax into a high-yield savings account.
    • Since I am planning to use this money within 1-2 years, it makes more sense for me to put it in an account with predictable, linear growth, unlike the market, which can be unpredictable.

Looking back

I was really irresponsible with money when I was younger to the point where I made it a point to spend my entire paycheck each time I got paid from my part-time jobs and internships. I worked at the mall and I was hooked on social media, so I was influenced to spend entire paychecks on material goods. However, ever since I got my first full-time job, I’ve been saving aggressively.

To be honest, I am pretty bad at budgeting. I find it time-consuming to sort through expenses and categorize each item, plus I always forget the limits I’ve set.

Instead, what’s worked for me is prioritize saving first.

  • I have the money deducted from my paycheck automatically for my 401k, so it never hits my bank account and I don’t count it as a part of my spending allowance.
  • I have automatic deposits set up on paydays to move money into my brokerage account and high-yield savings account, so I don’t forget to manually move money over.
  • After that, I then pay off any necessities (think rent, utilities, etc.) and finally, anything remaining is free for me to spend as I’d like.

Don’t get me wrong, I still live pretty frugally β€” I meal prep every week, I do all my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s or Costco (the cheapest places for groceries in New York City), I buy the majority of my clothes on sale or at outlets, I don’t go out much, and I take advantage of the library (this has saved me so much on books, haha).

Update (7/29/2019): Earlier, I realized that some of my calculations were off since I didn’t redo the math after increasing my contribution to my 401k. I’ve updated the post to reflect more accurate numbers!


  • Anya Dryagina
    July 28, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    This is a really interesting topic! I’m glad I stopped by your blog and found out about it

  • Eena
    July 28, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    This is a great post! I was irresponsible with money when I was younger as well – but we can only learn from our mistakes. That’s great you’re putting in so much for your 401k and got your Roth IRA started!

    Eena ☼ cabin twenty-four

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      I know! I can’t turn back time, but I can at least help to share my experiences so that other people know to start younger if they choose to πŸ™‚

  • Ivana Split
    July 29, 2019 at 2:58 am

    Saving for an early retirement is such a wise thing to do. You can always keep working if you want to, but it is great having the opportunity to retire earlier and to do some travelling. Financial planning is so important. I like how you made the process of saving more automated so you don’t forget about the montly deposits. This was a really interesting article to read. Have you considered investing and saving in silver? Here in Europe, silver is higly taxable but I heard that in USA, many people keep their savings in silver coins or something like that. Not really an expert, it is just something I read about.

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:49 pm

      I haven’t heard about investing in silver, and it’s not something that my friends or family have talked about either. I have heard about people buying gold, but that’s pretty uncommon in my circle of friends.

  • Allie Mackin
    July 29, 2019 at 10:43 am

    WOW I have to say I am struck by how little of your money goes towards rent. Not in big cities like NY or Seattle unless you are pulling 80k or above then 40-60% of your income goes towards rent so leaves little behind to save. It is mind-blowing how little of income goes towards rent/mortgage it almost like you are living for free. From this pie chart it looks like your rent is only about %18 I don’t think I know anyone where this is the case. It is easy to save I would think when only %18 of your income goes towards rent. Kudos to you for finding such a great rent situation. And then being smart to save and not live like the Kardashians. Lol.

    Allie of

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      I realized that I made a miscalculation! It’s more like 26% since I’ve increased my 401k contribution (I’m not sure what math I was doing when I drew the bar chart). I do live with my boyfriend, which is something I should’ve mentioned in the blogpost, so splitting rent with him has made it really reasonable! I’d definitely be paying double for sure if I was living alone.

  • Soph
    July 29, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you for this post! Savings and personal finances are so important but they’re not something that a lot of people talk about openly. One of my goals is FIRE too- I absolutely love having savings- they’re so rewarding.
    Soph – x

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      I know! I wish more people talked about it openly because I feel like I would’ve gotten into it a lot sooner. But I get it because finances are really personal, so some people don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

      • Shin
        July 30, 2019 at 1:27 pm

        Mai! I’ve found a handful of FIRE bloggers that talk about their finances – like A Purple Life and Financial Mechanic. I have followed them on Twitter and now my feed is inundated with re-tweets of other FIRE bloggers talking about THEIR finances haha.

        ps. Liking the new design πŸ™‚

        Too Many Tabs ?

  • Rowena @ rolala loves
    July 29, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    It sounds like you’re on the right track. I too, wish that I was more fiscally responsible when I was younger and started saving for retirement earlier but I’m very proud that I worked hard, saved up and paid off my student loans within 3 years of graduating from college and have never incurred any credit card debt. We paid off our mortgage early a few years ago. Living debt free is very important to us. And my husband is like obsessed with retirement savings which is not a bad thing.

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      That’s amazing that you were able to pay off your student loans within three years and also paid off your mortgage! I haven’t even thought about buying property because I have nowhere near enough money to put a down payment on any of the places in NYC, but maybe if I ever leave the city. I’m lucky because both my boyfriend and my brother are really into personal finance, so they’ve been good influences!

  • Nina
    July 29, 2019 at 3:15 pm
  • SundayDahlias
    July 29, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    401k’s and IRA’s hurt my head ? I have one, but I honestly don’t even know what I’m doing with it!

    • Mai Nguyen
      July 29, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      I’m planning on writing a series of posts on personal finance 101, so that might help. I was pretty clueless about these things until I started talking to friends about it a few years ago.

  • Gemma
    July 30, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Really interesting! Thanks for sharing this.

    Gemma x

  • Ashley
    July 30, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    You’ve got this money management thing in the bag, babe! And I love your goals- FIRE is everything!

    Le Stylo Rouge

  • Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom
    July 30, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve always talked to my husband about living somewhere abroad our first month of retirement, a year would be amazing! And, yes… doing something freelance while living there would help supplement funds a bit. I really need to think about retirement more. We save a lot of money, but we also waist a lot! You are so organized with this!


  • Radi
    July 31, 2019 at 2:00 am

    I think you’ve done a great job with planning where and how to use your money.
    Love the details of this post.

  • Lovely
    July 31, 2019 at 11:31 am

    What a great post always a great Idea to save some money and thanks for the tips!


  • Natalia
    July 31, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    This is very useful! I think FIRE is in the back of a lot of people’s minds, but we need to work harder for it if we really want to make it happen. My sister just wrote a post on the importance of saving as early as possible for my blog, and I feel that your post really complements it. Our goals have to be clear in our heads so that we remain on the right track. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful advice!


  • Amy Aed
    July 31, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    I always find these so interesting! I personally would love to start monitoring my finances and maybe posting about it but I would definitely get judged by the amount I spend on magazines lol.

    Have a great weekend πŸ™‚

    Amy x Wandering Everywhere

  • Grace Louise
    August 1, 2019 at 9:32 am

    This is such an interesting topic Hun and it’s soooo important to be careful with money and really plan ahead and think about the future!! x

    Grace Louise ||

  • Nina
    August 1, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    This was interesting to read. Seems like you are on the right track now. xx

  • Millenial Financiera
    August 1, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience!
    It is very useful to save for different purposes and take in account all the things that you want to make not only save for only one thing.

    I’ll start applying your advice!

    Millenial Financiera</a<

  • Kinga
    August 1, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Very good point ?

  • Chynna`
    August 2, 2019 at 3:45 am

    This is such a great post! Finances are such an important topic to talk about and I don’t think there’s enough discussion around it. I’m so glad the Internet has so many resources though. I really got into a higher paying job, so I really want to focus more on saving because it’s something I have difficulty with.

  • Nancy
    August 4, 2019 at 1:20 am

    It is always nice to see how people handle their finances. Everyone lives in different conditions and it’s okay to spend however you want. It is so important that you save up for the future! I love that you are trying to start your own company. All of us are irresponsible with our money at one point – the important thing is to learn :). Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy β™₯

    • Mai Nguyen
      August 8, 2019 at 10:19 am

      Yep! I would’ve never started my personal finance journey had I not talked to other friends about it and see what they did. A few friends also told me that I helped them by talking about what I did, so I love sharing the information!


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