Discussion Thread

"Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

  • 1.  "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-09-2021 06:57 PM
    Personal finances play a major role in the life of a civil engineer. Do you have questions about how you can improve your personal finances? You're invited to participate in an workshop on personal finances. Please post your questions in this thread until Friday, May 14. You will receive answers from @Salvador Bentolila and @Nicolai Oliden until Monday, May 17. Find out more about them here. You can find tips on personal finance here

    Quick reminder: All questions need to comply with the ASCE Collaborate Code of Conduct.

    I look forward to hearing from you! 

    ****This event is for ASCE members only. You can join ASCE here​​

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    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
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  • 2.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-10-2021 01:42 PM
    Thanks, Tirza!

    Let's start with an easy one: "What advice do you have for students who are graduating this year and starting their first full-time civil engineering role in terms of personal finance?"

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    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE (She/her)
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni
    Philadelphia PA
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  • 3.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 10:30 AM
    • put 10% in your 401k if at all possible
    • pay off any student loans ASAP
    • Build up some non-401k savings too - it will come in handy if you decide to buy a house down the road and give you a cushion if you are ever laid off or decide to go back to school.

    This can be tough when you first get out of school because you're typically on the lower end of the pay scale at that point in your career.  But if you cut back on little things - brown bag your lunch or make coffee at home or in the office instead of buying it at Starbucks or Dunkin - those little savings add up.  A little sacrifice up front pays big dividends down the road.  And with the automatic 401k deductions, you'll find you hardly miss it because you adapt your spending to the take-home pay that's actually in your check.

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    Greg Thein, PE
    Cleveland, OH
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  • 4.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 08:40 PM
    Hey Danielle,

    Great question and great answer by @Gregory Thein. I completely agree with that response. I would add that if your budget or current expenses do not allow you to max out your 401(k), it's worth contributing at least to whatever amount you need to maximize your employer's match, if any.

    Your 401(k) will probably give you a variety of pre-selected funds to put your money into. These can be target date funds or other type of mutual/index funds. Make sure to know the expense ratios of wherever you are putting your money into as they can a significant effect on your portfolio over the long term.

    For investing outside of your 401(k) you will probably have the option of investing in individual stocks, more specific ETFs or other alternative investments. Make sure to select the investment vehicle that aligns with your experience, how involved you'd like to be and risk tolerance. Each type of vehicle comes with a different risk/reward and is analyzed differently.

    Hope this helps and expands on the previous answer!
    Best regards,

    Salvador​

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    Salvador Bentolila P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    AECOM
    New York NY
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  • 5.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 08:29 AM
    Thank you Tirza,

    Quite interesting topic, what about how to manage your finances to ultimately start your own construction company ?

    Best regards

    Fresh graduate Civil Engineer

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    Chenguir Asma
    civil engineering student
    Casablanca
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  • 6.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 06:02 PM
    Chenguir,

    Paying off debts, building your credit, and establishing an emergency fund will be key. For personal only, I don't ever worry about focusing on your credit score. Be a responsible adult and pay your bills and your credit score will be good enough. However, if you want to start your own construction company, you'll likely need a lot of cash and loans to get started so you'll want to get the best possible rates. On top of building your personal emergency fund, I would create an emergency fund for your company. Cash flow is a huge deal for companies and you dont want to turn to a bank for help EVERY TIME you need a little cash to keep you moving forward. Running a company is stressful enough even without the financial stress.
    Even if you are years away from starting your own company, I would start researching now how much money you will need at start-up. You might need to make some decisions, sacrifices, moves, etc years before you actually launch. Good luck!

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    Nicolai Oliden P.E., M.ASCE
    Roadway Team Leader
    ETHOS Engineers
    Tempe AZ
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  • 7.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 08:38 PM
    Hello @Chenguir Asma,

    @Nicolai Oliden, thanks for that answer! In addition to everything you said, which I agree to, I would also make sure to learn or understand how accounting is run for business. This can be different from how one runs its own personal finances and is key to get a full picture of your company's financial health. I am specifically referring to the different entity types, how to record revenues and expenses, and the different financial statements (income statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet) are some examples of things I would like to know by the time the company is up and running.

    Hope the above helps and let me know if you have any other questions!
    Salvador​​

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    Salvador Bentolila P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    AECOM
    New York NY
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  • 8.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 10:31 AM
    Tirza,

    Thanks for this topic. I really appreciate this topic as this has become something I've personally begun taking really serious and something that I rarely see civil engineers discuss amongst us.  

    I'm doing freelance structural engineering work with the intent to go full time in the future. One of the things I'm working on is building an emergency fund to supplement income from my work if necessary. My questions is how large of an emergency fund should I consider and what should I consider in regards to where I stash it?

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    Jay Garth P.E.
    Structural Engineer I
    Progressive AE

    EWB: An Engineering Culture Shift
    Grand Rapids, MI
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  • 9.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 05:40 PM
    Jay,
    Awesome work with the freelancing! When it comes to an emergency fund, typically 3-6 months of expenses is what you want to shoot for. Not income, but expenses. The idea is to be able to support yourself if you lose your job and can keep paying the bills until you get a new one. Any more than 6 months you end up with too much cash that could be better used for investing.
    3 vs 6 is a personal decision. I am currently a single income household with 3 kids. I went for the full 6 months. Our low end budget monthly expenses are about $4k so we saved $24k. Right out of school pre-family, I would have been perfectly comfortable with 3 months of expenses saved ($6k-8k)

    ------------------------------
    Nicolai Oliden P.E., M.ASCE
    Roadway Team Leader
    ETHOS Engineers
    Tempe AZ
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 08:38 PM
    @Nicolai Oliden, thanks for that answer!

    @Jayvon Garth, I'd like to add that another personal decision of what to be done with the emergency fund is whether to keep it in cash or invest it. Currently, interest rates for high yield savings accounts aren't too high, and cash can lose value over time due to inflation. An alternative is to invest those funds into stocks or bonds for example. HOWEVER, have in mind that once the funds are invested, the balance will fluctuate and you may end up paying higher capital gain taxes also if the funds are withdrawn before a year. On the flipside, you have the potential of getting a larger return than by having your cash just sitting in the bank.

    There is no right or wrong answer here. It all depends on your situation, how well you can sleep at night if you have your funds invested, how experienced you are with investing, and what your risk tolerance is, among others. Very personal decision, so just wanted to share it so you can now the options and decided what you believe is best for you.

    Good luck and all the best,
    Salvador​​

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    Salvador Bentolila P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    AECOM
    New York NY
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 04:41 PM
    Thoughts on investing in crypto vs traditional investing (i.e. stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, etc)?

    Jaffer Almosawy

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    Jaffer Almosawy P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    Project Engineer
    Las Vegas NV
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  • 12.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-11-2021 05:41 PM
    I have 2 main thoughts on this
    1) don't invest in anything you dont understand
    2) I would invest 10-15% in traditional investing first. then if you happen to have any extra money that you dont mind gambling with, I'm not against the crypto option.
    I've tried gambling on some of the up-and-coming crypto currencies but to date I have not chosen a winner. Luckily I'm only down a few hundred bucks. I honestly think crypto will be a thing in the future but it's going to be a wild ride for a while. 
    If you do happen to invest in crypto, I'd diversify just like I would for traditional investing. Choose a "stable" coin, volatile coin, and foreign coin.

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    Nicolai Oliden P.E., M.ASCE
    Roadway Team Leader
    ETHOS Engineers
    Tempe AZ
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  • 13.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-12-2021 09:03 AM
    Agree with @Nicolai Oliden's response. Diversifying your investments is a good way to mitigate risk. However, if one of those investments is REALLY high risk and volatile, I would just make sure that any funds I put into it, I am completely fine with losing 100% of them.​

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    Salvador Bentolila P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    AECOM
    New York NY
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  • 14.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-13-2021 10:08 AM
    To summarize the co-founder and CIO of Meb Faber from Cambria Investment Management, "If you want to yolo 1% of your total investment assets, or light it on fire, do whatever you want." 

    For me when I was a few years younger, I yolo'd on Tesla. It worked out. Now I'm doing 3 things. 
    1 pulling the initial investment
    2 putting half the earnings in something more traditional
    3 yoloing half the earnings in something else. 

    The key takeaway here is to simply not let any high risk investment start to have a statistically significant impact on your portfolio.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 15.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-13-2021 12:09 PM
    This is a great topic! My question is what are the biggest mistakes that you have seen people made on managing personal finances? Thanks!

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    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA
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  • 16.  RE: "Ask Me Anything" - Personal Finances for Civil Engineers

    Posted 05-13-2021 02:24 PM