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I’m going to fill you in on a tool I’m trying out called “OnTrajectory.” It’s a sophisticated early retirement simulator that takes a bunch of inputs and then shows you on a timeline where you’ll wind up by age 90 (or whatever end age you prefer.) When I first heard about OnTrajectory over at BudgetsAreSexy.com, I was skeptical. I’m a spreadsheet guy. I love the control I have over each cell, formula, and so on.
Let’s take a look!
As soon as you hop onto OnTrajectory, you’ll be asked right off the bat to enter in some basic information:
- Your birth date (age)
- Your total savings
- Household annual income, before taxes
- How much you save each month, after expenses
After you submit all of that, you’ll get an initial trajectory line that shows what you’ll wind up with at the ripe old age of 90. Pretty slick, right? The tool takes into account all sorts of variables:
- Social Security
- Income from spouse
- 529 savings for the kiddos
- Any Roth IRAs you might have
- Traditional IRA accounts
- Brokerage Accounts
- Health Savings Accounts
- Your home equity
Here’s what our Trajectory looks like, after about 45 minutes of fairly easy data entry:
OnTrajectory will set up a “Deposit Account” for your net income (total future savings after expenses.) I like that the simulator uses this data to establish your effective tax rate. Why does this matter? Before you retire early, you’ll want to know whether you will qualify for health care subsidies. And it helps to get a picture of your future tax bills, if you’re on a trajectory to pay in each year.
You can set Age Ranges and adjust “Growth Override” to plan for future changes in income. For example, you can set the date of your early retirement to tell the simulator when to stop factoring in your old cube job salary. You can also set predicted raises by adjusting percentage growth by year. I really like these features since it’s not very easy to set this up in Excel without having to replicate tabs or set up fancy macros.
Entering your expenses is a breeze. All you need to do is enter your current average monthly total. But the beauty of the simulator is the ability to model future changes. It’s as easy as entering a new expense line and setting the age range. Why this matters for us early retiree wannabees is that our monthly outflows will change a bit as mortgages are paid off, as kids leave the house, and so on.
It’s all about that data
Since I’m all about spreadsheets, I find it very handy to pull up a data view to see how the dollars grow over the years. You can also select an option to convert to “tomorrow’s dollars”, if you want to see the effects of the time value of money (inflation.)
The simulator makes some assumptions that may not be readily apparent, until you look closely at the data. For instance, I noticed in the graphs a couple of big spikes in our 401K at two points on the timeline. I found out by using the data table that the simulator will assume the sale of your home and any rentals will go straight to a “401K like” IRA / retirement savings account. That’s the “Deposit Account” I mentioned earlier.
I dig that. I’m pretty sure we’ll plunk all of our profits from the sales of our home and rentals straight into Vanguard.
Here’s a snippet of my Accounts data, in today’s dollars:
I did run into some issues with the tool while I was writing up this review. The first time I entered all of my income information, the site froze on me, and I ended up losing everything I had entered. Not a huge deal, but it was about 15 minutes of wasted time. And re-entering all that stuff makes me grumpy. I use Chrome on Windows 10 and fresh boot every day. You know I run a solid beast of a machine here.
Tyson Koska, the founder and CEO of OnTrajectory was very responsive. And since this initial blip, I haven’t had any further issues. There is an auto save feature that, outside of the glitch I ran into, keeps all of your information as you go. OnTrajectory’s hosting service was apparently applying a patch while I was entering data at 5:30 AM on a Saturday. Who does that? (The data entry part, not the server patch…)
There’s also a minor flaw where the tutorial pop-up can get “stuck” on the screen if you drag it too high, such that the pop-up header can’t be clicked to close it. I did this a couple of times and had to restart my session, but that did prove the auto-save feature was doing its job. So I wasn’t stuck re-entering data on Sunday morning. And I was sure not to move the tutorial pop-up around anymore. Read – Close – Update!
OnTrajectory offers a free plan and a PowerPlan that costs $5 per month. Full disclosure: I’ve been granted PowerPlan access for posting this honest review of the tool. I don’t shy away from calling out the warts, as you know by now. I would suggest taking the FreePlan for a spin to see if OnTrajectory is right for you. After trying the PowerPlan these last couple of days, I’m convinced of its value as a complement to my amazing spreadsheets.
I like OnTrajectory. What I appreciate most is the attention to detail in providing you with the necessary “levers” to adjust the many variables with early retirement planning. I wasn’t sure how the tool would handle real estate investment properties, but it’s solid: The simulator factors in appreciation, equity, and discounts at time of sale.
The interface is well-laid out. But, I think they’d be wise in future versions to expand on their data input approach, taking a cue from Turbo Tax’s decision-tree input method. This would certainly attract more users who might otherwise be intimidated by having to enter in data without guidance.
What do you think? Is OnTrajectory the tool you’ve been looking for all this time? Give it a try and comment below!
*Tyson got back to me the same day this review got posted. His team is planning a bug fix for the tutorial window getting stuck that I noted above, this coming weekend. For you software nerds out there, this is true agile development!