Category Archives: Financial Independence

Was it Luck or Good Habits?

Has anyone ever told you that you are lucky?  I don’t share my financial situation with many people.  I do on this blog, but I do so anonymously.  There have been a few times in my life when I broke my code of secrecy.  I share about my financial situation when someone asks me for financial advice.

I am not a financial advisor, so I cannot give advice on a professional level.  I can, however, share my experience with others.  People seem to get more out of a story than from a list of steps to follow.  This is where I started, this is what I did, this is where I am.

When I have shared my relative level of success, it was never to sound braggadocios.  It was always in the spirit of trying to help that person improve their financial situation.  Most of these conversations where started by them asking if I think they should take out a car loan or if they should start buying stocks.

I never share closed-ended answers.  I just share about how I navigated similar situations.  My approach is to let my results be their guide.

Most of these conversations were enlightening discussions for them.  The other person walked away surprised by what was financially possible if they applied some discipline in their life.  They thanked me for sharing my experience with them.  Some said that I was lucky to be in the financial shape that I was in.

That comment made me think.  Was I lucky?  I never thought of myself as unlucky, but I never thought about if luck contributed to my financial situation.

On some levels, I was lucky.  I was born into a stable and loving family who always supported me and would correct me when I needed it.  There have never been any major health issues in my life.  I also have been blessed with the most selfless person who I have ever met for a wife.  Yes, I do count my lucky stars every day for those blessings.

Debt

Debt causes me fear.  At a young age, I took out a small car loan.  The car ended up being a junk and I had a few grand in debt and nothing to show for it.  I swore off debt from then on.  Fortunately, debt spooked me at a young age.

Being afraid to go into debt forced me to work my way through college.  That allowed me to pay cash for my first two years of community college.  The only debt that I had to take was to pay for my second two years.  I came out owing only $18,000 and my student loans were only $156 per month.  Many of my coworkers had student loan payments of over $700 per month.  They lived in dorms, partied, took out the meal plan, and did not hold a job during college.

The same fear carried over when it was time to buy a house.  My wife had bought our house before we were married.  She was able to make payments on her salary alone.  Instead of moving to a bigger house in a new development, we just decided to stay in that house and pay it down quicker.

Savings

Saving money just came naturally for me.  I did not have debt, so I had money in my pocket.  The work that I performed for my first few years of full-time employment was hard manual labor.  It just felt like the right thing to do was to save the money.  It would have depressed me to blow it on what I felt was stupid crap.

My saving rate was always at least 30%.  Saving money was fun.  It was like a game.  How could I find ways to save more?

That mindset became ingrained in me.  As I earned more, I saved more.  Saving money gave me pleasure, so I kept doing it.

Saving is like exercise.  It is hard but addicting.  A hard workout is painful, but also provides pleasure.  There is a sacrifice with saving money, but the sense of accomplishment is more pleasurable to me than the feeling I get when money is wasted.

Investing

I did not want the money that I was working hard to save just sit in an FDIC checking account.  It would not grow fast enough there.  I wanted my money to grow and work for me.

After reading about compound interest, I decided to invest in mutual funds.  They felt like the right fit for me.  Individual stocks seemed to take up too much time with having to research companies.  With mutual funds, an investor can buy a basket of stocks in a single fund.

My approach to investing was based on life-cycle investing.  When I started investing, I did not have much money, so I wanted to maximize returns.  In my 20’s, I was invested 100% in stocks for about ten years.

After I had a nice little nest egg, I took some risk off the table.  I added some bonds to my asset allocation.  They helped reduce the volatility when the economy tanked in 2007-2009.

Ten years later, I reached financial independence and decided to add even more bonds to reduce risk.  The game is not over, but I have a big lead.  It is now time to run the ball and play stingy defense.  For the next ten years, I just need to earn about 6% based on my savings rate to reach my goal of early retirement.

Conclusion

I was lucky to be born with an able mind and body.  Yes, I have caught a few lucky breaks in my life.  However, I feel that I had taken the required actions and developed the right habits to put myself into the position to be successful.

Lottery winners are lucky.  I worked my butt off for everything I have.  I did not go into debt because I did not want to be backed into a corner by creditors.  Saving money seemed logical to me because I did not want to waste all that energy to just blow it.  As an investor, I took a risk and accepted market returns during booms as well as recessions.

Even though I do not believe that luck has had much to do with what I have achieved, I count my blessing every day.  Life has taught me that it is much better to be practice humility and to always help others.  As the result of all of that, I truly have a thankful and grateful heart.

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Successful Personal Finance Traits

I have always felt that how a person manages their finances is a good reflection of their overall life.  People who are successful with their money always seem to look for ways to improve everything they do.  People who are good at managing their personal finances share a few common traits.  Those traits are not the ability to demand an above average market salary, have an above average IQ, or have graduated from a top-20 university.  The traits that are required to be wildly successful with your personal finances can easily be looked over.

Tuning Out The Noise

There are ads everywhere.  Marketers use TV, radio, print, and digital to push their products and services to the world.  People who are in good financial shape are masters of tuning all of that noise out.  They can delay gratification.  They are conditioned to identify all ads as spam.  People who are struggling with their finances always seem to fall into the must-have-it trap. Most people who are doing well financially do not even notice the noise.

Happiness

They know that spending money on things that are marketed to provide happiness is a lie.  The short-term high of buying new stuff wears off quickly.  They see the live life for today crowd as being short-sighted.  Tomorrow might never come, but if it does, it is better to have the resources to support oneself.

Organized

People who are good at managing their personal finances are organized.  Obviously, they are good at managing their bank account, paying bills on time, and keeping up with their investments.  They are neat, structured, punctual, and live a more orderly life.  If someone looks like a wreck, odds are, so do their finances.  Sure, there is always the eccentric millionaire, but they tend to exist more in fiction than in reality.  People who are organized financially tend to carry that virtue into all of their affairs.

Value

The people who are good at managing their personal finances have diverse interests.  They do not waste their time shopping and buying stuff they do not need.  When they do spend money, it is about buying quality products or meaningful experiences.  They understand the concept of spending a little more for a quality product than spending less on an inferior product that will wear out and have to be replaced.  They have developed the knack for when it is the time to be cheap and when it is the time to be frugal.

Intentional

Sure, people who are getting ahead in this world know how to read financial statements, but they are analytical in everything they do.  People who are good at managing their personal finances are intentional.  They do not rush to decisions or fly by the seat of their pants.  They think before they act.  Being analytical does not require the use of advanced statics.  Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis.  A simple practice that anyone can apply is to make a pro and con list when it comes to making a financial decision.  If the pros outweigh the cons, move forward.  If the cons outweigh the pros, hold tight.

Balance

There will be many ups and downs in life that can lead people to make poor financial decisions.  The focus always needs to be on the big picture.  While money is extremely important because it is our life’s energy, it truly is just currency.  Most people have many responsibilities in their lives.  Health, family, community, and other areas of life are equally important.  Yes, we hear about the workaholic who has poor health and family issues.  Most of the people who I have met in the financial independence community are masters at living a balanced life.  By having a balance in their life they are in harmony with the universe.

Freedom

I have had sit-down discussions with many people who are in the financial independence community.  Some have their own blog and others just participate by being active on different financial forums.  While they all come from different backgrounds, they all seem to generally get it.  They better understand life, know that money cannot buy happiness, yet understand that many wonderful things come to pass for those who reach financial independence.  Their general understanding is that money equals freedom and freedom equals happiness.

This group has broken the chains that bind most people to their poor habits and financial woes.  They do not use leverage as a get rich quick scheme nor are they fearful of debt.  Their debt ratios are healthy.  They also know how to use debt in ways that can be extremely lucrative like credit card churning.

Be Present 

Everyone is on his or her own journey toward financial independence.  A person might be fresh out of college and ready to start a rewarding career where they have to manage their own personal finances for the first time.  Someone might be at mid-career where they are entering their high earning years and are trying to ramp up savings.  Another person might be near retirement or already retired and has to manage their personal finances during the drawdown period.

Conclusion

No matter where you are in life or what your financial situation looks like, always strive to get better.  Read blogs, listen to podcasts, or participate in constructive forum topics.  Learn from what others have to offer.  Create a blog and share how your own struggles were turned into victories.  By being active, I learn new ways to increase savings, pay down debt, and to improve earnings almost every day.

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Measuring Wealth: UAW, PAW, & AAW

How do you measure wealth?  There are many different approaches to measuring wealth.  Do you have $1,000,000 in the bank?  Some would say that makes you wealthy.  It might unless you have excessive spending habits and spend $1,000,000 or more per year.

Another way to measure wealth is based on years of annual living expenses that you have in savings.  I once read that if you have 10 years of living expenses in the bank, you can consider yourself rich.  If you have 25 years of living expenses in the bank, you are financially independent.  Any dollar amount beyond 25 years of living expenses would make you wealthy.  That scale is logical to me.

One of my favorite ways to measure wealth was created by the late Dr. Thomas J. Stanley.  In his book The Millionaire Next Door, he introduced three categories for people to measure how they stack up as creators of wealth.  Dr. Thomas J. Stanley refers to these three different groups as UAWs, PAWs, and AAWs.

Under Accumulator of Wealth (UAW)

An Under Accumulator of Wealth or UAW is a person who has a low net worth in relation to their income.  A person who is 45 years old, earns $200,000, and does not have a net worth of $900,000 would be considered a UAW.  That formula is based on (Age * Income * 10%).

Most Americans fall into this category based on their low savings rate.  Contrary to popular belief, however, many high-earners tend to fall into this category.  Based on Dr. Stanley’s research, many Physicians are not good at building wealth and are classified as Under Accumulators of Wealth.

You might be thinking, that is nonsense, Medical Doctors are rolling in dough.  How could they not be wealthy?  Yes, doctors earn a high salary.  General Practice Physicians earn around $200,000 per year and specialists earn over $400,000 per year.  How could they not be wealthy?

Doctors come out of school with large student loans.  On average, new Doctors come out of medical school with $167,000 in student loans.  I know of one who owes over $300,000 in student loans.  Doctors are faced with social pressures that members of other professions do not face.  They are pressured to look the part.  That requires living in a fancy housing development, driving luxury automobiles, sending their children to private schools, and joining exclusive country clubs.

I am not picking on this noble profession.  Not all Doctors fall victim to those social pressures.  There are many in the financial community who buck those trends including DocG who blogs at diversefi.com.

Average Accumulator of Wealth (AAW)

An Average Accumulator of wealth would be someone who has a net worth equal to the sum described above.  A person who is 55, has a salary of $150,000 plus $50,000 in investment income, would have to have a net worth of $1,100,000 to be considered an Average Accumulator of Wealth (AAW).  If they have a net worth less than that amount, they would fall into the UAW category.

Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth (PAW)

To be considered a Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth (PAW), you would follow the same formula, but multiply it by two.  From the example above, the formula would be (Age 55 * Total Income of $200,000 * 10% * 2).  In order to be considered a PAW, this person would have to have a net worth of $2,200,000.

Age is a Factor

This formula is better suited for people who are more mature in age.  I read The Millionaire Next door when I was age 26.  At that time, I was a student but had a full-time job.  My net worth at that time was $60,000.  Based on this formula, I was an Under Accumulator of Wealth.  In order to be classified as an Average Accumulator of Wealth, I would have had to have a net worth of $78,000.

This aspect of the formula has led it to be criticized.  In its defense, not many people who are in their 20s are focused on building wealth.  Most are in college racking up debt or trying to pay off debt after they enter the workforce.

In my opinion, a person should not focus on these calculations until they are at least 15 years into their career.  It takes time to build wealth as an investor or entrepreneur.  This calculation is more about where you finish the race as opposed to where you start out.

How to Become a (PAW)

There are plenty of steps that you can take to become a Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth (PAW).  Dr. Stanley has provided a complete outline in The Millionaire Next Door.  Below are some suggestions that will help you to reach these financial heights:

–        Spend less than you earn

–        Save 15-20% of your earnings

–        Invest in equities, bonds, real estate, private businesses

–        Don’t speculate on getting rich quick schemes

–        Invest in yourself by getting a good education and keeping your skills current

–        Avoid luxury items

–        Focus on building wealth for your children

Conclusion

I am a fan of the late Dr. Thomas J. Stanley.  I remember reading about him passing away as the result of an unfortunate car accident the day after it occurred.  His research has helped to spread a message that just about anybody can build wealth if they follow some basic principles and practices.

The UAW, PAW, and AAW classifications do receive some criticism.  It takes hard work to become an AAW and very hard work to become a PAW.  As many of my readers know, I am transparent about my income, net worth, and approach to investing.  With that, we are firmly planted in the Average Accumulators of Wealth (AAW) category.  We will not be in the (PAW) category for some time.  Being an Average Accumulator of Wealth (AAW) at this point in our life has allowed us to reach financial independence and one day retire early.

Are you a UAW, PAW, or AAW?  Use this calculator to find out.

What is your opinion of the formula that determines these classifications of wealth?

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The Rule of 72

Do you want to know how long it will take to double your money?  Most investors do.  Are you interested in the expediential growth of your money?  Have you ever tried to calculate the rule of 72?

When I first started to read personal finance and investing books, I learned about the math behind what makes investing work.  The big driver behind what causes your money to grow is compound interest. While I was studying, the one theory that I kept coming across was the rule of 72.

The rule of 72 is just a basic mathematical formula.  It is used as a tool to help investors determine when they should expect to double the money they currently have invested.  The rule of 72 allows an investor to know when they should expect to double their money based on a forecasted rate of return.

Start by taking the projected rate that you expect your investment to return every year.  Divide that interest rate by 72. That will give you the number of years that it will take for you to double your money.

Example:

72 / 6% expected rate of return = 12 years to double your principal

72 / 8% expected rate of return = 9 years to double your principal

72 / 10% expected rate of return = 7.2 years to double your principal

The rule of 72 is what makes stocks a more attractive option than bonds or other fixed-income investments.  For example, the Vanguard 500 (VFINX) has returned 10.97% per year between the years 1976 and 2016.  Currently, the average interest rate on an FDIC insured savings account is slightly higher than1.15%. What is the difference between these two investments based on the rule of 72:

Vanguard 500 – 72 / 10.97 = 6.56 years to double your principal

Saving account (national average) – 72 / 1.15 = 62 years to double your principal

Over the coming decade, stocks are not expected to return 10% per year.  Currently, stocks are expensive investments and there is not much value to be found.  Jack Bogle who founded Vanguard and the first S&P 500 index fund that was available to individual investors predicts a more modest return of 6 or 7 percent for the coming decade.  Based on that forecast and the rule of 72, how long would it take to double an investment of $3K in the Vanguard S&P 500 fund:

Vanguard 500 – 72 / 6.5% = 11 years to double your principal

Time is on Your Side

When I started investing, I received a brochure from the investment company that provided me with a few charts on compound interest.  The chart showed how the rule of 72 worked with different interest rates. The brochure explained the wealth-building power of stocks vs more conservative investments based on the difference in long-term performance.  It also showed how it benefited an investor who had a few decades to take advantage of this powerful wealth building formula.

For example, a one-time investment of $10K to grow in value to $40K based on different interest rates:

  • If an investor received a return of 3%, it would take 48 years for that $10K to grow to $40K
  • If an investor received a return of 6%, the time would be reduced to 24 years to grow to $40K
  • If an investor received 12%, however, it would only take 12 years to grow $10K to $40K

What to do Now

What can investors do now to follow the rule of 72?  What are some alternatives since the S&P 500 is projected to underperform its historical average?  Is it possible to try to reduce the time it takes to double your money without taking on too much risk?  Here are some options that might help in doubling your money quicker:

Save more money.  By increasing your savings, you will double your money at a faster pace.  Try to increase your savings by 2-3% per year.

Go beyond the S&P 500.  Add a small-cap blend or extended market index fund that includes mid-cap stocks to your asset allocation.  Small-cap stocks have historically outperformed large-cap stocks. If you go with a 4:1 Ratio, you will emulate the total stock market.

Go beyond the United States for investing opportunities.  Add some international stocks to your portfolio. Add both developed nations and emerging markets for their growth potential.

Remember to keep some bonds in your portfolio.  Many experts are telling investors to stay away from bonds because of their current low yield and the raising interest rates.  Bonds have an opposite correlation than stocks. When stocks go down in value, bonds go up. By owning some bonds, you can buy stocks at a lower price when there is a stock market correction.

Conclusion  

As an investor, you should keep the rule of 72 in the front of your mind.  You do not need to know the exact date as to when you will double your money.  From time-to-time, look at how your portfolio performed over the past 5 or 10 years to identify what your average rate of return is.  Apply the rule of 72 to know where you stand. If you are not satisfied with how long it is taking, look for ways to increase your returns that are within your risk tolerance.   

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Be Intentional

I recently attended a leadership training seminar at a local college.  This seminar was about managing the multi-generational workforce.  The facilitator covered many topics and I am not going to get into any of those details in this post.  He said many interesting things, but the one statement that made me think was that he said that we should always be intentional.

Everything we do should be with intent.  Our actions should have an intended outcome.  Our words should have an intended message.  Even our thoughts should be focused and have a purpose.

The purpose of this training was meant for workforce development.  The message can easily be applied into everyday life.  It is ideal for managing money.

Too many people just coast in life.  They walk around making noise and bumping into things.  By not having a plan, they will just land at a random destination.  What could possibly go wrong with that approach?

To be successful in all your affairs, practice being more intentional.  A great place to start is with how you manage your personal finances.  You should know the why behind everything that you do.

Savings

Do you know what your savings rate is?  You should be able to answer this question without giving it any thought.  Is it 10%, 20%, or more than 30%?  Your savings rate is the most important factor that will determine if you will reach financial independence or not.  It is also one of the rare aspects that you have control over.  Nobody can control what the S&P 500 will return this year, what direction interest rates are headed, or if there will be a spike inflation.  Everyone, however, can control what their saving rate is.

Spending

Your savings rate is directly impacted by your spending.  Do you just spend money without thinking?  Do you go to the mall, outlets, or online and buy things that you do not need?  If you want to change this trend, become intentional with your spending.  Before you buy something, ask yourself if you need it or truly want it?  If you must spend the money, did you shop around for the best price?  Is there a low-cost alternative to making the purchase?  Even if there isn’t a better alternative, at least you did your due diligence and gave thought to the purchase.

Debt

Does your credit card bill arrive, and you cringe when you look at your balance due?  Do you make late payments or just pay the minimum balance on your credit cards?  Do you know what your credit score is?  Do you know what your debt-to-income ratio is and what a healthy ratio should be?  Do you know how to calculate your debt-to-income ratio?  If you want to improve how you manage debt, take a more intentional approach.  Learn what your credit score is, identify if you have too much debt for what your income is, and ultimately establish a plan to get out of debt.

Earnings

I bet you know what your annual salary or hourly wage is?  You get a paycheck every week or bi-weekly, so you are reminded frequently about that rate.  Do you feel that you are underpaid?  Doesn’t everyone?  Maybe you are underpaid or maybe you are overpaid.  Before you ask for a meeting with your supervisor demanding a raise, you should do your homework.  Be intentional and research what the market rate for your position is based on your location and level of experience.  If you are under market rate, you might have a case.  If you are over market rate, but not satisfied, you might need to develop more skills or ask for a more challenging assignment.

Investing

If someone asked you what type of investor you are, could you answer them?  Are you a market timer?  Do you buy and hold equities?  Are you a passive investor who invests in a few different mutual funds?  Do you simply try to capture what the market returns with a total stock market fund?  Do you use value tilts?  Do you buy dividend stocks?  Are you trying to get rich by investing in Bitcoin?  You are free to decide how you invest your money, but you should know the why behind your plan.  Your approach to investing should be intentional.  Nobody knows what the future market returns will be, but you should at least know what you are intending to accomplish with your asset allocation.

Financial Independence

Do you know how much money you need to have in savings to reach financial independence?  To declare financial independence, the general rule is to have 25 years worth of living expenses in savings.  That is based on a 4% withdrawal rate that most financial professionals consider to be acceptable.  Do you know if you have obtained this milestone or how close you are?  Most people who reach financial independence do not get there by accident.  They live intentionally for many years.

Early Retirement

Do you have a target-date as to when you want to retire?  It might be next week, or it might be in 10 years.  If you have an established early retirement date, what are you doing to make that goal a reality?  Are you doing everything you can to maximize your salary and taking on side gigs?  Are you saving until it hurts?  Do you have the right mix of investments to both reach your goal and sleep comfortably at night?  If you do, you are acting in an intentional way.

Conclusion

The nice thing about being intentional is that you can start this process now.  Start by reviewing your current financial situation.  Can you answer why for all your financial decisions?

If you have a financial plan, use it as a guide.  If you do not have a written plan, write one.  That is a good starting point if you want to become intentional.  Review your plan for areas of your financial situation that might need to be amended.

Some fixes are quick, and others require time to implement change.  Moving forward, wherever money is concerned, ask yourself why before you make a final decision.  If you cannot answer why you are doing something, give it some thought and find out what your true intentions are.

This is just another example of how to improve your financial situation.  It provides a pause before you act.  Sometimes giving a decision an additional few seconds of thought can turn a bad decision into a good decision or a good decision into a better decision.

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