Years ago, Willowfinch founder, Andrea, dove in deep to find the best retirement scenario for her and her husband. The surprises they found in the data led to Willowfinch.

29 April 2024

The Story Behind Willowfinch

AKA “I Might Have Gone a Little Bit Overboard.

When Willowfinch founder, Andrea Brice, started thinking about retirement, she realized the decisions surrounding her house hunt and potential plans were much more complex than any of the pros were sharing.

Wanting to make sure they had all the information needed for a real comparison of staying put or packing up their place in Washington to move near her mom in Georgia or set up shop near an international airport and explore the world, she did what any data wonk would do: She decided to start a spreadsheet.

It quickly became obvious what many of us think we know about the high or low taxes in certain areas isn’t reality when the numbers come in. Washington held its own, even against the stereotypical “low cost-of-living” spots. Interesting, right?

(If you want to see more about the impacts of taxes in different states, check out more about our Nationwide Data Maps, which came from Andrea’s work here!)

What about everyday life?

After pulling in the local sales taxes, state taxes, 2016 presidential election data, and more, it was time to look at timelines and scenarios.

The first thing to consider was social security.

When you take it impacts the amount you’ll get. Is the lower amount worth taking if it means a few years earlier retirement? Or does it add up to a big enough difference to delay? It depends on your situation!

Andrea and her husband realized that the numbers over time weren’t as different as they anticipated. Add in the lower taxes they’d pay once they drew their social security, and it made an earlier timeline much more appealing:

Screen shot of a map of the contiguous 48 states in the US with color codes from yellow to red to show income before Social Security

Before Social Security

Screen shot of a map of the contiguous 48 states in the US with color codes from yellow to red to show income after Social Security

After Social Security

The true cost-of-living isn’t as simple as the magazines say.

You’ll see income calculators and magazine write-ups that break each city down by average house costs and generic daily “needs,” but there’s so much more to it than that.

First, what your house would cost right now is likely not what you actually owe on it. Would you lose a great interest rate by selling? Or do you stand to make a huge amount of money because of pent-up equity? Is the house you have now the same size as the house you would buy?

If you really want to know how it lines up, you need to run numbers on your property and the kinds of properties you would be buying or renting. (Sounds a lot like the power behind Willowfinch’s tools, doesn’t it?)

Andrea and her husband bought in Seattle long before the average cost of properties shot up. That made the math for their personal comparison very different than a typical summary in the latest write-up of housing market trends.

The unexpected big one? Health insurance.

The last 8 years have brought a new level of data to our fingertips with the ACA marketplace. Now you can see how the monthly health insurance costs in different states and even different zip codes are likely to compare. We go much, much more in-depth on this topic in the post on our Nationwide Data Maps, but here’s the big take-away:

If your health insurance shoots up $1000 a month, those $150 mortgage payment savings disappear really quickly.

What’s next?

Andrea and her husband realized that not only would they miss their garden, kitchen, library, and other cozy corners of their house in the neighborhood they’d loved for decades…it wouldn’t save them much to sell up and hit the road to places unknown.

Meanwhile, other Willowfinch users will find a hide-away location that saves money and puts them in that dream spot of walking to their favorite museum, food spot, family, or daily walks on the beach!

The point is you won’t know if no one gives you the right data.

When Andrea’s friends started asking question after question about the massive spreadsheet hobby she was spending so much time on, she realized that level of personalized data hasn’t been available to most of us. It’s something people either need a lot of time and computing power to dig up and pull together, or they need an expensive crew of financial advisors doing it all for them.

That’s the power behind Willowfinch. Everything Andrea uncovered in her story is ready for users to explore with their own needs and goals, any time they want.

Want to give it a try? Get in touch! 

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