Of Decisions and Outcomes

Many a times we arrive at a metaphorical fork in the road, having to make a decision which way to go. Which dish to pick? which colour to choose for that bag? Which girl to choose? Which stock to buy? When to buy?

Fork in Road

For most people it comes naturally, decision making process learnt through parental influence, informed by knowledge through education, reading, friends etc. Do we choose the decision that feels right for us or do we choose the logically, rational decision. And then do we fear the decisions we make or potential outcomes that may come out from it that would paralyse our decision making process.

The classic analogy of how making decisions can be so overwhelming is an anecdote from the film, The Legend of 1900, think Forest Grump type of biopic lifestory about a musical piano genius who was born, grew up and died on an oceanliner.

Take piano: keys begin, keys end. You know there are 88 of them. Nobody can tell you any different. They are not infinite. You’re infinite…. And on those keys, the music that you can make… is infinite. I like that. That I can live by….

You rolled out in front of me a keyboard of millions of keys, millions and billions of keys that never end. And that’s the truth Max, that they never end. That keyboard is infinite… and if that keyboard is infinite, then on that keyboard there is no music you can play. You’re sitting on the wrong bench…. That is God’s piano.

Christ, did you… did you see the streets, just the streets? There were thousands of them! Then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one… one woman, one house, one piece of land to call your own, one landscape to look at, one way to die…?

Land? Land is a ship too big for me, it’s a woman too beautiful, it’s a voyage too long, perfume too strong…. It’s music I don’t know how to make. I can never get off this ship.

-Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon 1900

Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon never set a foot out of the ship, never existed out on land before, never knew what other wonders of the world, never know what love was or wasn’t out there because of the choices and decisions that he saw faced him and it overwhelmed him in the end.

You can never make the right decision

Faced with the idea of investing, it is equally a minefield of decision making process. What to buy? When to buy? How to buy? Are FANG stocks overvalued? Is the S&P overvalued? Is value investing going to provide better returns?

The thing is we will never know until after the event has happened and when we look back in retrospect, which is not very useful. And what every responsible mutual fund would have on their prospectus is the warning that past performance is not indicative of future results. What is useful though is evaluating the reasons why things played out the way it did. History tends to repeat itself after all.

What has been shown to affect performance of a portfolio are:

  • Expense Ratios
  • Trading Costs
  • Management Charges
  • Tax

Therefore, sticking to low cost index funds with a passive approach in a tax efficient strategy sounds like you might do pretty good enough in the long run.

Being Average is good enough

I used to have a friend who told me that if he had average grades, had an average girlfriend and lived an average life, he would be content enough in life. Thinking back, I thought how sensible this idea was.

The issue with chasing returns in investing through active investing is that it is a Zero Sum game. When someone in the system makes a profit, someone else has to be making a loss. (with the middle man taking his cut via the transaction costs). It is difficult to be make the right decisions again and again year after year. In fact there is evidence that over 10 years 83 percent of US active managers fail to match their benchmarks and perhaps only around 5% of managers do outperform the market for 3 consecutive years.

Perhaps for the average person investing for the long term, average is good enough after all.

Outcomes

Martin Lewis always had the knack of simplifying complex financial jargon and principles into bits that are easily digestible.

The Coin Bet

Say I offered you a bet on heads or tails of a coin flip.
If I win, I get £1 from you.
If you win, you get £100 from me.
50/50 Odds

We flip the coin and you lost! You lose £1 to me.

Was it a good decision (to take the bet)? Yes because there was a great potential upside to it.

But you lost £1 pound!

The crux here is that it was a good decision but the outcome was bad. The two are actually quite distinct really and we shouldn’t let the potential of a bad outcome affect our ability to make a good decision. Think of some of the decisions we make all the time that perhaps may not have had the desired outcome. Not neccessary on financial decisions, but perhaps in relationships, in choosing our habits etc. It might give us a idea of how closely related a decision is related to an outcome.

 

You can see the whole video of Martin’s lecture on Martin Lewis: How to teach your kids about debt here

Hope 2018 would be as kind as 2017.

FIREplanter

Dividend Series 2017 Q1

So a quick review of the first quarterly dividends of the year! Hurray I made it to the 1 year mark of my first post. The thing with writing and saving and many things we do in life is you need to be committed. If you want to get good at it, you need to be committed and be prepared to put in the hard yards. Many Ideas, Loads of Imagination but not so much production. I think I need to try harder. I think the key is to keep going at it relentlessly. No one said it was easy.

Similar number of units in the portfolio from the last quarter, according to my accounts department. The snowball is marginally gathering momentum I hope.

On another note, it was tough getting the site sorted past month with hosting my own domain and getting all the site content transferred across. I still have no clue how I did it myself. Too much confusing information and guides out there on the world wide web (more like the ‘wild wild west’) The theme is still not my ideal theme but I will have to make do with it for now. I hope to get a more professional looking interface that is easy on the eye when I have the luxury of thinking about it more. Life is a bitch when you are stuck in Prison Camp.

-FIREplanter

How to Be Your Own Independent Financial Advisor

–The Series of Questions you have to ask yourself to assess your own financial health and plan for your financial goals!!–

I frequently trawl through the excellent forum over at MSE to read through other people’s experience and circumstances and questions that they face on a daily basis. Very often, various questions of the nature ‘What should I do with my money’ will come up which I feel that everyone who has a reasonable income will ask at some point or another…

Where to invest £500 per month

Savings for rainy day / retirement / happiness

Where To Save £30k

Here is how I might approach this question..

  1. What are your life goals?
    • Habit 2# of the 7 Habits by Stephen Covey: Begin with the end in mind. To be effective with your money, you need to know what you want to achieve in life. Is it to retire at 65/60/55? Do you want to live in a bungalow/terrence/mansion? Do you want to drive a ferrari/BMW or a nifty Fiesta? How many kids are you going to have, how many holidays are you going to have in a year etc… You get the picture.
    • You need to have a vision of what is going to happen in your future to know how to effectively manage your money and not put your money in inapproprate risky investments that might not provide a reliable return.
    • A different version to this question is ‘What do you need in your life to make yourself happy?‘ because the only logical pursuit in life is happiness.
  2. What is your cashflow like on a monthly basis/yearly basis?
    • Monthly Earnings (Income) vs Expenses (Outgoings)
    • There are various ways to monitor this; ie. budgeting, spreadsheets, tracking all spending on one card
    • I do this very simplistically by tracking my monthly ‘Cash Worth‘ and tracking on Net increase/decrease of Cash Worth on a monthly basis. I can also figure out my savings rate from this.
  3. How much in an ‘Emergency’ Cash fund do you have?
    • The Emergency cash fund should be vital to everyone’s financial planning. The general rule is to have 6 months – 1 years of expenses in cash, preferably in highly accessible top interest paying savings/current accounts.
    • This cash buffer will allow you some leeway to take some more significant risks in investing and more importantly provide some mental relief that if things in life go south for you (eg losing your job, getting ill/accidents), there is some form of temporary self-insurance that buy you time to sort things out.
    • Imagine the alternative of not having a emergency fund and you get redundant. Most people will get into credit card debts/loans to pay for rent, utility bills and Debts are costly to maintain. Or if you don’t have access to those facilities, the cold flat or cold streets might just be your new reality.
  4. How much risk are you willing to take in investing?
    • Now how long is a piece of string? My own take on this is you wouldn’t know the answer to this question until you have taken on the risk yourself and learn the experience of holding a risky investment before learning about your own risk-tolerance. This is where the experience of an Independent Financial Adviser might come in useful or some input from an experienced investor.
    • Firstly, read and educate yourself about the various asset classes and their risk profiles and what role they play in various market cycles and various portfolio setups.
    • Start investing by regular drip feeding into a tax-advantaged account and choosing diversified passive funds or globally diversified multi-asset funds. You learn more about your attitudes to investing as you go along and you can make more informed choices later on when you have some experience. Life is a process.
    • Read this investing ultimate collection by Jacob from Poweroverlife for an introduction to investing.
  5. What are the Tax-advantaged accounts available to you?
    • If you pay 20% tax,
      • Every £100 you make, the Big G takes £20 OR
      • For every 5 day working week, you are working your ass off for the Big G 1 day per week, ie You are working for someone else.
    • If you pay 40% tax,
      • Every £100 you make, the Big G takes £40 OR
      • For every 5 day working week, you are working your ass off for the Big G 2 days per week
    • As noted above, what are you waiting for??? Start using all legally available tax shelters!
    • Have you subscribed to the yearly ISA limits for Stocks & Shares? (Cash ISAs are not too worthwhile at present of writing this article)
    • If you are going to be a first time buyer in the future, have you signed up for the Help to Buy ISA or plan for the new Lifetime ISA come april?
    • Are you paying into a pension scheme? What are the rules of the pension scheme? What benefits do you get from the scheme?
    • If you are in other countries, learn what are your local legislation, laws regarding this. I believe US has IRA, Roth IRAs, 401Ks etc. Basically educate yourself of how the system you are in works.
  6. Mortgages, Loans, Credit Cards, Mobile/Broadband contracts, etc

Okay this is an endless questionaire that most questions you probably would not have the answer to immediately. That is fine. But we need to start asking ourselves the hard questions to make ourselves being accountable to our future. Only then can we focus on the 20% of important decisions that will result in 80% of the results according to Pareto’s principle.

I have never met with a IFA, but I believe the above is what a good IFA should do for a client. In reality, I doubt that’s what will happen. I think IFAs still have a role to play especially to work round a increasing complicated system of financial/tax/pensions bureaucracy and also gearing your investments appropriately  to your goals and risk tolerance. How does your IFA help you in your personal finance and what other tough questions you had to ask yourself in your personal finance journey??

Start asking the tough questions and start learning about yourself as you try to answer them. Baby steps.

Good Luck!

-Fireplanter

Dividends Series 2016 Q4

Time to harvest the fruits of the FIREplant. The beauty of a plant is that you it grows independently as long as there is a fertile and conducive environment for it to grow. Light, water, nitrates, CO2… You can look at it day to day and it will look practically the same. However see it in a monthly, yearly basis and you may see the flowers developing, fruits riping, writhing of the flowers, leaves and then the warmth returns and there’s growth yet again in another season. Patience, my friend is virtue.

Q4 2016 Dividends hasn’t been great, even with the addition of just about 87 arbitrary units into my portfolio in Nov 16. The overall trend is that of decreasing absolute value of dividends over each subsequent quarter over the year. This may be general nature of the portfolio I have built or perhaps due to the marcoeconomic effects of Brexit etc. It probably doesn’t really matter much.

Overall Dividend Yield is about 2.0% in 2016 on the amount invested. (Note that this is with only 3 quarters of Dividend). It would be interesting to get several years of data on this. However I am too lazy to do retrospective studies, so I shall just do a prospective study as I go along.

quarterly-dividends

As I stated in Lighthouse for the Cruising Ship, I am looking for some growth of the Dividends in 2017. That is important for the momentum for Compound effect to build up.

Even the dung beetle takes time to roll up a ball of dung.

-FIREplanter

2016 in Review

The year of 2016 has been a year of growth, in many aspects of life. Financially, relationships, goals, prospects, meaning…

The FI journey is important in that you need to evaluate what is important in your life first and foremost. Most things in life we have is finite, time, money, food, resource.. The earlier you realise that the earlier you can focus on living in the moment and investing for the future.

The principles you value, the friends you enjoy just being with, the people you meet along the way that you look at them with your heart and think these are beautiful people with beautiful lives. The key thing though is that you need to live to figure these out. My predilection for stories, fiction or not and the moral of the story helps in some way to gain some sort of insight (whether true or false).

Net Savings

monthly-cash-savings-bar-chart

It seems that I am doing fairly well being in positive balance most months of the year. The missing months of July and August is down to poor record keeping. However because of how I track my net cash worth, it will likely reflect in the following months values, hence the yearly net savings value should still be fairly accurate.

One method I found that was very motivating for helping me keep up to speed on a monthly basis was to join a savings community online. There are various threads over at the MoneySavingExpert Forums where people keep each other motivated with their monthly savings and what’s been happening in their various lives that makes savings difficult or easier. Unfortunately, this is not so much as an exciting topic over dinner with friends or mates over beer, hence I have to do it over the online community to gain some encouragement.

Portfolio

portfolio-volatility

My YTD value of my portfolio is up just about 12%. How well have I done compared to the indices?? Worst than some, better than some… Does it really matter? Perhaps. Would it change anything I do? I hope I have better sense than that. I am waiting for a bear market at a appropriate circumstances where I am in a stable financial situation to sort out my mentality with regards to risk. That would be the real test of my mettle I reckon.

This is all really a big ‘experimentation’. I mean you can only know how much you hate or enjoy the rollercoster only after you have experienced it right? However, better buckle up my safety harness!

 

Decade of Deaths, Weddings, and all the rest.

2016 is also the year when my granddad passed away. This was a fairly novel experience for me and my generation and it has taught me some lessons. There are people you love, and you want to be with them when they need you. You want to be able to be with them when they need you. That is important. Two of my friends my age had similar experiences as well and I think I can see some similar reflections on their part. This will happen more often from now on, this is inevitable.

The ages of 20s is also when there are numerous wedding invitations flying across through the mail and where social media is just flooded with wedding photos. I attended 2 of them myself this year and I took it more of an opportunity to reminiscence with old friends and also to figure out what it is all about. I enjoyed it immensely but hope not to get caught up in the hype. I really wished them all well and hope to see them do well themselves.

So the Decade of 20s is now known as the decade of Deaths and Weddings.. Perhaps by the late 20s, I will be used to this.

Imagine a Life of You and I

Everlasting Strawberry Summers

Sneezing at pink blossoms

Sharing stories like no tomorrow of soft rye, work and  adventure

Morning coffees on rain fell weekends

Late night brews and chats

Train rides across the city

Napping in front of moving pictures

The heart yearns for The silhouette of my dreams and likewise the mind is occupied

yet Life is such a stoic existence that the only way is to

Swallow that bittersweet feeling and call it living

Pieces of Me by haleshine

I hope you had a decent 2016. Time provides all and takes all in the end. Enjoy the journey.

-Fireplanter

I Wished I had a Barbershop

I wished I had a business like this.

There is no future in house work.

Maybe when I save some money I can have a barbershop someday.

But I can never save.

Money slips through my fingers like that.

Trouble is I have lived up to every penny I’ve earned.

Why shouldn’t I?

We’re here today and gone tomorrow and then where are you?

Quote from Hannah from The Great Dictator

This classic from Charlie Chaplin has his stylistic style of satire slapstick and moving lines. And then I found this quote which made me stop and record it down.

Now we can all relate to the difficulty of saving, of living up to every penny  we have earned. After all, we have worked hard enough to make the dough, why shouldn’t we be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour??

“You Only Live Once!”

This is especially true in times of true hardship where there is no visible sight of the exit route, where your future looks bleak and you feel trapped by debts, lifestyle inflation and costs of living. The middle class trap. Hence it is very easy to take the easy way out and spend to release the steam or stress. Some even make the mistake of spending on credit, which is basically spending future earnings.

‘Money Slips through my fingers like that’

Ouch.

Fortunately, the start of the line offers us a solution. Own a barbershop. A Barbershop is a business which has a capacity to produce an income. In the real world, this translates to use your savings to buy assets and assets tend to produces an income. 

Assets

There are various asset classes that we can own. They are the following main classes:

  • Cash
    • We all know what cash can do. It appears to be the most apparently valuable and useful asset to us given its liquidity and ability to allow us to buy goods and services. It also can provides us a buffer from dipping into the our more volatile aspects of our portfolio in turbulant markets. Cash is King sometimes
  • Fixed Income assets
    • This includes Treasury bonds, UK Gilts, Corporate bonds. Basically a IOU from the government/company that you lend money to for a set time-frame and they agree you to pay you back a set percentage of interest. The complexity comes from the IOU having a value that can rise or fall with the markets.
    • Risk/Return is higher than cash but less than equities.
  • Equities
    • Owning a business or a slice of the business in the form of stocks/shares and getting a return from dividends. Nothing beats owning a business and it generating a return itself.
    • Key thing is the value of the business/stock/share is only as valuable as the next buyer is willing to pay for. Hence market sentiments and how well the business is run plays into this.
    • It is risky to own just one business but the idea is owning hundreds of companies through a tracker fund would diversify the risk of a few companies not performing as well.
  • Property
    • I call it the ‘Romantic asset’
    • People have this romantic idea that house prices never fall and always rise and will continue to rise and is the best to own as an asset. However the same has been the case for Equities. All asset prices tend to rise with inflation!
    • The disadvantage of property is that it is extremely illiquid and requires some effort in manging the property. 
    • If you are owning to stay in, it doesn’t even count as an asset as it does not provide a source of income. 
    • I would consider investing in it as a diversifer in my portfolio though through Real Estate Investment Trusts as it behaves differently to equities though the market cycles.
  • Commodities
    • The bad boy asset: Steel, Copper, Gold, Oil…
    • The most volatile asset out there! Just reading about Oil price drop over the past year, I get the sinking feeling of one that owns the oil companies. Same for minerals and rare materials, steel price drop affecting the Australia/UK markets.
    • Might be useful at some point but at the size of my investment, it would be a long while before I look at this asset class more closely.
    • Buffet hates these. They don’t produce anything.

Key message is to Diversify Diversify Diversify. Have your finger in every pie (that is worthwhile having your finger in). Don’t put your eggs in one basket. etc etc etc.

Well you get the message.

And hopefully I shall own my own Barbershop one day!

–Fireplanter

The Long Bet

The case for passive investing has been well put forward by this long standing bet between the Sage of Omaha and Protege Partners.

“Over a ten-year period commencing on January 1, 2008, and ending on December 31, 2017, the S&P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses.”

So the story goes that Mr Buffet postulates that within a 10 year period, the index of S&P 500 will perform better than a portfolio of selected stocks by portfolio managers. He actually bet US$1 million on that with Protege Partners, a hedge fund company.

To put simply, passive investing is to follow the stock market blindly by investing in all the companies listed on a particular index, such as the S&P 500. The S&P 500 index comprises of the 500 largest companies listed on the US stockmarket by market capitalization. By investing in the whole index, you are basically going to be tracking the performance of the stock market, ie. if the stock market does well, so will your investments, if it does poorly, your investments will follow suit. There is no activity in actively selecting stocks, hence the ‘passiveness’ of the investing.

On the other hand, to buy individual stocks or to invest in a mutual fund with a manager, you be will subject to picking stocks. You would be trying to better the performance of the stock market. (If not, what’s the point of picking stocks in the first place right?) However, to beat the performance of the stock market (which would the average performance of all the stocks), you would need to pick the stocks with ‘above average’ performance. To attempt to do that, you would need up to date information on the companies, knowledge on how the markets/companies/industries function, analyse all the above and then make a judgement which would be companies with the ‘above average’ performance and then you need luck as well for things to go well as you planned. And to make sure  you achieve that on a year on year basis, you would need to do that and reassess things regularly again and again.

Reasons the average investor would do better with passive investing compared to active investing more often than not:

  1. Fees
    • Current fees for passive investing via tracker funds costs as low as 0.07% (Total Expense Ratio) for instance for the Vanguard S&P 500 UCITS ETF. This is compared to managed funds which can be from anything from 1-2%. One of the more popular equity income funds Woodford Equity income fund has a Annual Management charge (AMC) of 0.75%. The Vanguard UK FTSE 100 tracker has a fee of 0.09% to compare with.
    • Hence the active funds have to perform signifcantly better perhaps 1-2% than the average market performance before fees just to meet the same returns as the index tracker fund. And this has to happen EVERY SINGLE YEAR to justify the fees.
  2. Diversification
    • The greater diversification of index tracker funds over hundreds and hundreds of companies makes the risk of investing less than choosing just a few companies. You have to be careful of certain indexes which may be overly populated by certain sectors, eg Tech stock in in S&P, Financial in the FTSE. Basically this is a case of spreading your eggs across as many baskets as possible. The first rule of investing is to protect your capital and we do this by spreading the risk.
  3. Not needing to choose
    • Not having to choose is a brilliant strategy! You avoid choice paralysis, you don’t get bogged down by inertia, you don’t have to worry about the specifics of each and every company if you are not interested at all. Owning a slice of every company on the index means you get the benefit of getting the average returns from the market regardless of what happens. And being average is mostly good enough.

As of end of 2015, the S&P index fund has been outperforming the hedge funds the past 8 years. It is surprising and perhaps counter-intuitive as to how such a simple strategy can be more potent then doing some research and picking out the better performing companies. This is apparently better shown after there has been year after year of changing market conditions. The active funds, just can’t keep up!

protege2016-720x400
 

Source: Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting 2016

 

On of my favourite writers on investing proposes that active investing is a Zero Sum Game. When there is a buyer, there has to be a seller. When someone profits from the sale, someone will lose from the buy or vice versa. The total net effect is that there is no gain or loss in the market. The only net gain is from the dividends being paid out from the companies. The price of the asset on the market will be volatile depending on peoples valuations. However the tendency of prices is to go up as companies become more valuable and produce more and as inflation pushes the prices of assets upward. Joining the active game is where you might just as well be the winner or the loser just the same at the cost of a fee to the active managers or transactions costs brokers charge!

We might as well settle for average and let time do the compounding for us.

 

 

 

 

Dividends: the Fruits of the Market

So August, September and now October is just passing me by since I last looked at FIREplant. Not exactly dedication is it? I am still keeping an eye on the finance bit side of things tho and continuing to read into the markets and news about Brexit and pound and elections and stuff that happens all around the world. And life just goes on…

This is just an update on the Dividends I have earned so far this year. Fruits of the market. Some dividends are paid yearly, some are paid quarterly but the funds that I have picked pays out quarterly dividends. I think it gives me somewhat of a bit of motivation when I can physically see the returns trickling in. Another benefit of quarterly dividends is the chance of rebalancing with the dividends if the portfolio allocation gets out of their desired allocation if I need to, although my level of dividends at the moment is not enough to do anything significant.

2016 Q1 Q2 Q3
VAPX 64.85 66.2
VEUR 132 45.45
VHYL 88.91 67.89
VFEM 25.28 69.63
VUSA 13.18 15.98
Total 0 324.22 265.15

I have not bought any more units since I dipped into the markets, so the dividends are coming off the same number of units I have bought.

Each quarter of dividends current equates to roughly 0.6-1% of the portfolio value, but given that the value of my portfolio has increased 20% since April 2016 it doesn’t seem to bad. A good learning point is that % yield on a portfolio may fall when the value of portfolio increases and vice versa, the % yield may increase when the underlying assets fall in price. Hence, looking solely at the yield doesn’t tell you about the whole picture but may be indicative of how the underlying price of the asset is.

It is interesting to see also that the same number of units for VEUR paid out a third of dividends from the previous quarter or how VFEM paid out 2+x in Q3 compared to Q2. Perhaps this is due to how the underlying companies in VEUR/VFEM pay out their dividends throughout the year or could this be due to other socioeconomical factors? I don’t reckon it matters much it the grand scheme of things but it would be interesting to see what happens next quarter.

All in all, I am quite satisfied so far with my picks and the dividends. Over the course of 1 whole year, the estimated dividends on the whole portfolio would be roughly 2-3%, excluding any underlying volatility of the price of the portfolio. The challenge is to focus on the dividends and try to ignore the volatility of the portfolio. I hope when the volatility shows up as a fall in price of my portfolio, I don’t get the butterflies in the stomach. That is the true test for any investor I reckon. Hence the importance for  Cash as a buffer/reserve as an emergency fund.

What is your Cash Worth?

So the month of June and July has not been kind to me in the slightest. Not in terms of the financial side of things but all the other aspects of life. If I were to be FI, there would probably be a lot less of these mental shenanigans.

It feels like I’m rowing solo across the Atlantic. The planning is done, the course is set and all I gotta do is row.

Behind me are hundreds of miles of flat, grey ocean. There’s nothing on the horizon. In front of me, are thousands of miles of flat, grey ocean. There’s nothing on the horizon.

It’s hard to tell I’m moving at all.

An ancient mariner would pass the time by juggling mortal danger and hallucinations. A modern mariner has the same options as well as their GPS tracker and calls from home.

All four are needed to keep the rowboat on an even keel.

– Financial independence – adrift in the vastness by Monevator

So your portfolio in stocks can go up and down. You can’t predict it. Everyone says the economy will be bad bad bad post-Brexit. Maybe it is bad, but my portfolio is about 8% up from beginning of April. Amateur financiers, economists should probably not even try to explain the phenomenon. I mean even if the experts can explain it retrospectively, it is probably just academic speak anyway. And with so many experts all around, it is difficult to recognize the truth from all the ‘noise’.

Now what can steady the ship as it sails along to shores of the promised land is your Steady Cash Savings! Hence I introduce the measuring your Cash Worth!

I like to keep things simple and easy so this is how I do it.

At the beginning of the month, I review all my accounts (current, savings, bonds, credit) and record the value of each account on a spreadsheet. I add all the sums together with abit of help from Excel’s excellent in-build functions and get a total sum. I then compare this month to month to see what’s the increase of my Cash Worth.

This is what it looks like on a chart since Nov 14 till now.

Cash Worth

I shall try to aim to keep 1 years worth of living expenses as buffer rather than fixing on a fixed percentage of my entire net worth. I think it is an interesting choice to make in designing your whole portfolio, and it needs to weigh in your risk profile as well.

  • How well can you take being out of job? (Let’s face it there’s no guarantees!)
  • How long do you expect to be not working?
  • How much interest can your cash be generating in a simple current,savings accounts strategy?
  • How safe is your cash in the above mentioned accounts?
  • What is the alternative? More Stocks/Shares/Bonds/Property? What is the outlook like?
  • Savings for short term big events? Weddings/Mortgage/Holidays

So many ideas and more questions to answer. (I think I am thinking like a Independant Financial Advisor now!)

I hope the steady stream of inflow is a constant, or even an exponential growth chart as I try to avoid lifestyle inflation as much as possible with hopefully income growth! This constant is so much more soothing than the volatility of  stocks and should be thought of as the fertilizer to the FIREplant. The regular drip feeding to my FIREplant portfolio is proudly starting to show signs of its first fruits last month of 1% dividends in the last quarter!

Let’s get the snowball rolling! 😀

A Brief History of Time: Compound Interest

People are living longer and longer. Back in the Victorian times, you will be lucky to make it past your 40s. 3 of my grandparents are still alive at 70s, 80s so given the average agesof my grands and ever growing medical and  technological advancements, I estimate myself living to my 90s barring any natural disasters or personal misfortune.

Now I hope I am not going to need to work for a living when my joints grow old and creeky and become deaf as a bat so I have got to plan for my financial escape!

What? Planning for the retirement fund 40-50 years in advance? Isn’t that too early?

I don’t think so and let me introduce you to the 8th Wonder of the World, Compound Interest. Taking 50 years as the average working lifespan of the average person, let’s see what compound interest can do for us.

CI graph
Compounding 100/200/300/400 monthly savings for 50 years with 5% Annual interest

Consider the following scenario,

Starting from Zero Savings,

  • Saver A saves £1200 at the end of Year 1, and at the same rate for the next 49 years
  • Saver B saves £2400 at the end of Year 1, and at the same rate for the next 49 years
  • Saver C saves £3600 at the end of Year 1, and at the same rate for the next 49 years
  • Saver D saves £4800 at the end of Year 1, and at the same rate for the next 49 years

Factoring in an annual interest rate of 5% and assuming all interest remains within the savings pot and not withdrawn, at the end of Year 50,

  • Saver A has £238,112 (From an input of £1200×50=£60,000)
  • Saver B has £476,224 (From an input of £2400×50=£120,000)
  • Saver C has £714,336 (From an input of £3600×50=£180,000)
  • Saver D has £952,448 (From an input of £4800×50=£240,000)

You can see with annual compound interest of 5%, over the course of 50 years, the sum just about quadruples (~3.96x the orginal sum saved). You can just about see that the compounding graph is an exponential equation and if time is unlimited, soon the line would be a vertical line soaring for space! 

Putting it into context, how difficult is it for us to save 100 or 400 per month over the course of our working lifespan? If you have a decent stable job, then it should only be a motivational issue to keep that consistency up for such a long period of time. For many, trying to make ends meet is a miracle by itself, so even 100/month might be difficult. But the point is this, saving any amount consistently over a period of time with compounding interests, you can make the graph exponential and for money to work for you!

5% interest? How realistic is that? The Bank of England base rate and US Federal Reserve rate is still at an all time low of 0.50%. Market savings account interest rate are roughly on average 1-2% with some accounts offering ‘special rates’ with balance limits up to 5-6%. It appears doom and gloom for savers globally. Quantitative Easing (QE) over post 2008 crash have screwed us over. Perhaps it is time to looks at other asset classes to diversify savings. Cash has historically offered the poorest return of all the asset class. Whatever the rate is, the compound effect still hold true (unless its negative rates) and it makes sense to make use of this knowledge.

Next consider this next graph where annual compound interest is 5%

  • Saver A saves 100/month for the whole of 50 years
  • Saver B saves 200/month for the 1st 10 years then 100/month for the next 40 years
  • Saver C saves 300/month for the 1st 10 years then 100/month for the next 40 years
CI 10 years boost
Compounding Savings with savings boosted in the 1st 10 Years

At the end of Year 50,

  • Saver A has 238,112 (3.96x of actual cash saved)
  • Saver B has 339,310 (4.71x of actual cash saved)
  • Saver C has 440,509.9 (5.24x of actual cash saved)

By increasing the ‘pain’ of saving more in the early years, and then easing off, the compounding on the increased savings from the early years really work its magic over the next 40 years to speed up the exponentiality of the curve! In fact, if you can squeeze in as much savings as you can into the early years of your working life, the latter part of saving life will be very much easier.The earlier you plant your seed to grow your FIREplant, the more fruits you have to enjoy later in life.

My Notes

  1. The Snowball Effect
    1. Notice that the first 10-20 years of savings might appear to be a linear graph, but after year 20, the graph becomes more noticeably exponential. Let me give you a horticultural analogy: Your plant a seed to grow a FIREplant. When the FIREplant matures and produces fruits and in turn seeds. You harvest the fruits and replant the seeds back into the soil and grow more FIREplants. The new FIREplants will produce even more fruits and even more seeds. You repeat the same, year after year and in no time, you will have fields and fields of FIREplants, more than you can ever need and it all started with that one seed! Time is your friend in this case.
  2. All You need is Time
    1. Look at the Forbes Rich list 7 out of 10 in the top 10 list are over the age of 70. I wonder how much of their wealth is due to compounding their gains over and over again over their decades. Interesting to note, the other 3 who are under 70 years old are masters of Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon. So the key to growing rich, live for a long long time.

Takeaway Messages

  1. Saving/Investing – Start Early to leverage the compound effect
    • The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

  2. Keep a Steady Contribution
  3. Reinvesting Interest Earned
  4. Stay Healthy and Live a Long Long life.

So Start Growing Your FIREplant Today! 😀

N.B. Try out Monevator’s excellent Compound Interest Calculator to see how fast the snowball grows!