How To Not Get Pulled Over For A Traffic Ticket: Race And Sex Matter!

Never get a traffic ticket, rolls royceWhen I got my speeding ticket for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone, all my friends laughed and jibed.

Are you sure Moose can even go 35 mph in two blocks?” (Moose was a slow, 14 year old Land Rover Discovery)

How the hell can you speed during rush hour traffic at 6:45pm? It’s bumper to bumper then!” (SF traffic is horrendous thanks to robust employment compared to five years ago)

Dude, you’re a victim of racial profiling. Out of all the cars out there, they chose your piece of shit? Don’t they have something better to do?

I laughed at all three responses, but then I was asked again, “What color were the police officers?

They were both White,” I responded.

Ah hah! Proof right there. You were targeted!” responded my Hispanic friend.

Come on, that’s just a coincidence,” I replied, even though I was miffed at getting pulled over when everybody was going the same speed during rush hour.

Never forget Rodney King, Don Sterling, Trayvon Martin, and now Mike Brown and the town of Ferguson!” shouted my friend with one fist raised up high!

Motif Investing Review: The ETF And Index Fund Killer?

Various MotifsAfter spending 13 years in equities on Wall Street, I’ve been able to personally speak to some of the most successful institutional investors around on how to invest and manage money. The one consistent piece of advice I always hear is to invest in long-term trends and forget about the day-to-day minutiae. For example, shorting/underweighting Japanese equities since the late 1980s and going overweight commodities in the 1990s have been great winning decisions.

As a result of my experience working with successful fund managers, I weaned myself off of trying to constantly trade around the market after the NASDAQ burst and have been focused on long-term, idea-driven investing ever since. I’ll always have a Unicorn Fund to punt around for the next multi-bagger stock, but the fund is always less than 5% of my net worth or 10% of my entire equity exposure.

Motif Investing is a fascinating company based right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been following them for the past couple of years after they raised a $25 million round of funding led by Goldman Sachs in 2013, won the Finovate Fall 2013 and Finovate Spring 2014 “Best In Show,” and raised another $35 million round in 2014 led by JP Morgan. Motif Investing makes most of its money off transactions (trades) when you buy or sell one of their “motifs” based on an investment idea you have. They might also expand into the money management business as well.

A motif is essentially a basket of 30 stocks you can invest in, which are aimed to profit from a specific idea or underlying theme. Let’s say you think new housing construction is going to quicken in the US next year. You could buy a housing motif which might contains Lennar, KBH, Home Depot, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Zillow, and more in various weightings. Given my focus on buying winning long-term ideas and ignoring the short-term volatility, I really like Motif’s value proposition for retail investors.

The Epitome Of Perseverance: Joe Locke’s 14-Hour Swim Through Cold And Darkness

Farallon Islands Incredible Swim Joe Locke

Joe swimming at 2am in the Pacific Ocean

Life is funny. I remember looking out my new living room window one morning and seeing the Farallon Islands for the first time. Even on a sunny day, they sometimes don’t appear given they are 30 miles away. But everything was crystal clear this morning and I could see the island’s entire silhouette.

I distinctly remember thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be crazy if someone swam from the Farallon Islands to the San Francisco shore and grabbed a cheeseburger for lunch at Outerlands Restaurant?

Then that afternoon I saw on the news a man had just finished swimming from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge in 14 hours! What’s more, I knew the guy from my previous career in finance. Small world!

I reached out to Joe to have him share his incredible accomplishment of swimming in frigid 53-55 degree waters for 14 hours straight, starting at midnight. I’m constantly looking for motivation, and I just cannot believe Joe was able to persevere for so long. After two hours of swimming in 78 degree Hawaiian water I’m done!

For those who have a propensity to quit way too soon, please have a read. There are just too many people who never achieve their full potential due to not sticking things out.

Why Are People So Ashamed About Inheriting Money?

InheritanceHow did I get my million dollars? It was simple. One day, I bought an apple for a nickel. That night, I cleaned and polished it. The next day, I sold it for a dime. With that dime, I bought two apples. That night, I cleaned and polished them, and sold them the next day for twenty cents. I repeated that process every day, without fail, until I had amassed $6.40, whereupon my grandfather died and left me $999,994 in his will…” – A Yahoo commenter named Dave

A funny thing occurred on Yahoo Finance the other day. A fellow blogger by the name of Anton was able to get interviewed for a focus piece on how he became a millionaire by age 27. When I first read the article, I was pretty pumped. I thought to myself, Neat! Another guy showing the world that it’s possible to get rich through disciplined savings and investing! I had experienced some similar luck with investing, earnings, and savings in my 20s as well so I thought his overall story was believable.

I never once questioned how he got to $1 million because he offered solid tips, invested in real estate, and spoke so eloquently on camera. But I guess the massive amount of attention he got from being featured on Yahoo’s front page for a couple days wore on him. He admitted on his Facebook page just days later that he had actually inherited 75%-80% of his net worth from his parents who died years ago!

Immediately, everybody started bashing Yahoo Finance and Anton for the deception in the comments. They’ve got the toughest crowd online. Despite all the blowback, if his new revelation about his inheritance is true, he’s still a millionaire!

Bankers, Techies, And Doctors: You’ll Never Get Rich Working For Someone Else

Although I estimate an entrepreneur needs to make at least 35% more to replicate his or her day job income to run in place, I’m truly beginning to realize after two and a half years how much more upside there is to entrepreneurship than to working for someone else.

I came from the world of banking where 23 year old graduates with one year of experience can clear $100,000 no problem. Despite ascending from Financial Analyst, to Associate, to VP, to Director within 10 years, and earning Director level compensation for three years before leaving, I still wasn’t able to earn and save enough money to buy my dream home in Kahala, Oahu.

Dream House In Kahala, Oahu, Hawaii

Contemplating on never being able to afford my dream home

The above is a picture of me sitting on a lanai, looking down the southeast coast of Oahu towards Koko Head. The home is on Blackpoint Road in the exclusive Kahala/Diamond Head neighborhood. Since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamed about living here one day. But I’ve come to realize my childhood dream will likely never come true.

The asking price for this 6,000 sqft Kahala home with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms is $3.5 million ($583/sqft). The lower level is a 1,800 sqft rental apartment that is going for a below market rate rent of $2,500 a month. The main house is therefore not that huge. $3.5 million is actually great value given the view and the size of the house. Other houses in Kahala are easily asking for $900/sqft or more.

If I had $4 million cash, I would buy this house in a heartbeat. It needs at least $300,000 in renovations given it is quite dated. But the lanai and the spectacular view are priceless. All I think about when I’m looking for my dream home is being able to sit outside in 72-85 degree weather with an ice cold beer and write about various adventures. 

How To Prevent Your Wealthy Man From Straying

Kissing During Sunset

A female friend asked me over a drink one day whether I had any tips on how she can lock down her husband forever. I immediately started imagining her throwing her hubby in a dark cage after sunset and maniacally laughing as she twisted a thick key to keep him hidden from the world. Her husband is a wealthy fella who is charming enough to have a whole lot of extracurricular fun if he wanted to. She’s attractive and successful as well, but still she has fears.

My friend’s situation reminded me of a UC Berkeley study that found wealthier people are more prone to cheating, taking candy from children, and failing to wait their turn at four-way stops. This is pretty obvious if you think about the correlation. When you’ve got more money, you’ve got more options. When you’ve got more options, you’ve got more temptations. When you’ve got more temptations, the chances of fulfilling those temptations goes up.

Men who know you’re the best thing they’re ever going to get are much less likely to cheat. They’ll probably appreciate you much more, be more attentive to your needs, wash the dishes, do the laundry, vacuum the floor, take out the trash, keep the bathrooms clean, give you foot massages, buy you flowers every week, take you on romantic trips to Target, and maybe even let you go out for drinks with your handsome physical trainer. Nirvana right?

I’m always on the lookout for any type of correlation between relationships and money because the topic is so fun! Several years ago a blogging buddy sold his personal finance site for $4 million dollars. Soon after, he divorced his wife and decided to travel the world with another woman. Coincidence? Or did money give him the courage to break free? It’s like Obamacare allowing millions of Americans to no longer be tethered to a job they despise anymore. Screw you boss! I’m outta here!

Let’s discuss three strategies women can deploy to lock down their men and create happier relationships. 

The Maximum 401k Contribution Limit: What You Could Have If You Max Out Every Year

Mega yacht in HawaiiThe government has blessed us with the ability to max out our 401k to $18,000 a year starting in 2015, up from $17,500 in 2014. If you are 50 or older, you can add up to $6,000 extra per year from $5,500 in 2014. Although $500 isn’t that big of an increase, it’s still better than a sharp stick in the eye!

I always recommend trying to max out your 401k as fast as you can. Once you get into a max habit you’ll rack up some nice bucks in no time.

So many people don’t even bother to try because they don’t feel like it’s possible. But once they try, they kick themselves for wondering why they didn’t max out sooner. Remember, the contribution to your 401k is pre-tax so an $18,000 contribution is more like $13,500 less from your paycheck a year if we use a 25% effective tax rate.

Here’s a simple chart to see how much you can accumulate in your 401k by age or years worked if you contribute $18,000 a year starting today. The chart is obviously more helpful for younger folks, given older folks had lower maximum contribution limits in the past. For example, when I first started maxing out my 401k in 2000, the contribution limit was only $10,500.

I’ve also included my high-end 401k target amount by age based off continued maximum contributions plus a constant 4-8% annual return. My high-end 401k savings target can also be considered your overall total savings target, which includes after tax savings as well. The numbers are for “ideal” conditions. We all know that life, recessions, and buying things we don’t need get in the way of savings and returns all the time.

Should I Buy A Fixer-Upper Property?

Home Remodeling Gut Job

Breathe in fresh sawdust air

“Forget money. Remodeling is the number one cause for divorce.” – Anonymous

Before my current house, I had never bought a fixer-upper before. The most I did in the past was build a new bathroom out of a closet, put up a wall to create an en-suite bathroom, and remodel my ground floor by adding a shower and blowing out a center divider so one could fit a bed. Oh, I also changed all of my windows, which wasn’t so bad.

After my remodeling activities, I swore never to do another remodel project again because it kinda feels like hell on earth. But that was almost 10 years ago.

After getting ferociously outbid on a particular piece of property ($1.2 million ask, went for $1.8 million), I decided to look away from nicely done properties. There seems to be a massive embedded premium for new or recently remodeled properties that I wasn’t willing to pay. All I really wanted was a view, gosh darnit it. The property itself almost seemed secondary!

Invest With Investors You Respect And Trust: I’m Following USAA’s Lead

US Military - Fallen Soldier MemorialWhen the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my grandfather was there to serve as a Captain in the Army. During the Vietnam War, my father also served in the Army and was sent overseas to be a stockade prison guard in nearby Thailand. Then there’s me. A man who did not carry the family tradition of serving one’s country. I felt unworthy.

I wanted to join the US Foreign Service to help America in a more diplomatic way, but I felt too stupid to pass the Foreign Service Exam, so I did not try. One of the duties my father had while serving at the State Department in Washington D.C. was to be an oral exam examiner. He shared with me stories of the difficulties in making it through.

I’ve discussed a lot about having money guilt in the past, and I think part of my guilt comes from not being able to serve our country as my father and grandfather have done. A part of me is driven to make up for my lack of contribution by helping people with their personal finances. Money is a means to a better life, and I hope to make some sort of difference.

It’s an atrocity that there are homeless veterans in America. The government needs to do more to make sure that every single veteran finds a job when they come home. The private sector has to take the lead as well. If there are veterans out there who would like to share their story or become a writer for Financial Samurai, shoot me an e-mail.

The Best Place To Rent A Vacation Property In Lake Tahoe – The Resort At Squaw Creek

Lake Tahoe Summer At The Resort At Squaw CreekWinter is coming and I’ve just renewed my season pass at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe! One of my favorite activities in the world is writing for a couple hours in front of a fireplace in the early morning, hitting the slopes for four hours in the middle of the day, and then relaxing in an outdoor hot tub with a couple cold beers. One for me, one for you.

Lake Tahoe, California is one of my favorite places in America. The other two favorites are San Francisco and anywhere in Hawaii. Lake Tahoe is situated roughly 205 miles away from San Francisco and it’s a place I’ve been going to for amazing skiing/snowboarding during the winter and golfing, hiking, swimming, biking, and fishing during the summer since 2001.

Most people think of Lake Tahoe as a winter destination given the 1960 Winter Olympics were hosted in Squaw Valley USA. Squaw is one of the largest mountains with a 2,850 foot vertical; a top elevation of 9,050; 4,000 acres of skiable area and 270 trails after joining forces with Alpine Meadows in 2012. The mountain is so big that even during peak holiday weekends, there’s hardly ever a wait for the lifts when they are all open. Squaw is great for beginners and advanced skiers alike.

But if you’re a summer lover, summer in Lake Tahoe is even more beautiful! Every year I spend 4-5 weeks up at my place during the summer and fall for a writing retreat. I love to hike and there are scenic trails all around. 

The Financial Samurai Podcast Episode 3: Men Of McLean

Financial Samurai PodcastDear Readers and Listeners,

My favorite podcasts are National Public Radio style monologues. I really enjoy the methodical and soothing voice of NPR speakers. I plan to emulate their style over time.

I also want to continue to practice storytelling. We all grew up listening to stories as kids, and I don’t think there’s a more effective way to connect and teach than through storytelling. I could tell you to do XYZ and explain ABC in my podcasts, but I think such instructions might be better suited towards writing.

Today’s podcast explores why men have a difficult time expressing their feelings, and how men constantly feel the pressure to conform to society’s expectations. Such constriction not only negatively affects men, but also negatively affects women as well.

It’s funny how nobody every talks about men’s issues, even though we make up half the world’s population. Why is this?

WHY MEN SUFFER IN SILENCE OUTLINE

* What does it mean to be a man?

* Why it’s important to allow men to be themselves to bring more happiness to women.

* A story of why my high school let NOW live, but MOM die.

* The solution to gender income inequality, and my attempt to figure out why some women don’t want men to gain equality to help the family.

* A discussion on the problems that result from men not being able to open up.

* Three tips for people who are unable to express their feelings and be themselves.

If you are a woman who believes this podcast does not pertain to you, think again. One of the best ways to understand men is to listen to the problems and issues they go through. We’re all in this together!

Related Posts:

How To Convince Your Spouse To Work Longer So You Can Retire Earlier

Stay At Home Men Of The World, UNITE!

My Fear Of Becoming A Father

Listeners, what are your thoughts on why men suffer in silence? Do you believe if men were allowed to share their feelings more freely, there would be more equality in this world? 

Are You A Real Millionaire? $3 Million Is The New $1 Million

True Millionaire. SF Giants Win The World Series

The Day After The SF Giants Win Our Third World Series

Although being a millionaire sounds nice, it’s not that impressive anymore thanks to inflation. If you retired today at 65 with $1 million and no Social Security, you’d only be able to spend $40,000 – $45,000 a year for 25 years until you’d run out of money. $40,000 – $45,000 a year is not bad for an individual or a couple with no debt. But it’s not like you’re popping Crystal in the hot tub on your luxury yacht in the South of France – not that that’s what everybody wants to do of course.

The first thing we should do is pray the government doesn’t raise the minimum Social Security age to something absurd like 85 years old or simply cut payouts drastically. If our prayers aren’t answered, let’s hope our 401ks and IRAs don’t get taxed out the wazoo come distribution time. If our hopes for a well-managed government are crushed, then surely we’ll have developed multiple income streams by retirement so no one event can get us down!

When I was working at McDonald’s for $4.25 an hour, I filled up my 1987 Toyota Corolla FX16 babe-mobile for $1 a gallon. I distinctly remember not being excited about making $4.25 an hour, but I had to do it because my parents didn’t give me much spending money. Besides, I wanted to do more than treat the ladies to free apple pies and Mcflurries.

The minimum wage in America is now close to $10 an hour ($10.75 here in San Francisco), and gas is around $3.5 a gallon depending on where and what type you get. I think it’s interesting that the minimum wage used to be 4X the amount of one gallon of gas. Now the gap has fallen to only ~3X as the cost of goods have surged faster than wage inflation.

I’m not sure whether this post will motivate people to accumulate more wealth or demoralize people who don’t think amassing a $1 million net worth is remotely possibility. I constantly need motivation to try harder because I tend to kick back too much. Only until we fully understand reality can we come up with a realistic financial plan. 

Do You Have The Right Money Mindset To Get Rich?

Money Mindset, Financial Samurai

A blank canvas can be worth millions

A 63 year old man knocked on my garage door at 9:30am. I let him in because he was one of my contractor’s helpers. His task for the day was to install baseboards in my downstairs hallway and put up crown moldings in my master bedroom and master closet.

For a couple months I deliberated whether to put crown moldings in my downstairs rooms to match the upstairs rooms. I was so tired from sanding and painting all the walls that I thought “good enough is good enough.” But as I went to view several nice open houses for design inspiration, I realized that what differentiated the truly nice houses from the average houses were the detail, i.e. crown moldings, wainscoting, draperies, wood panels, furniture, and electrical covers.

The total cost for the baseboards and crown moldings, including materials was $780. If Bed, Bath & Beyond can force me to buy $1,300 worth of curtains (ridiculous!), I figured I could spend $780 on some woodwork.

The older gentleman greeted me with a smile and told me in Mandarin, “Son, great job on choosing crown moldings. You will be elevating the feel and stature of your home! And when you turn around and sell it, you will be able to sell the house for much more.”

I thanked him and wished him good luck in the walk-in closet where the space was extra tight because I had built in some shelves the day before. The man and his helper were supposed to come a week before to install the baseboards and crown moldings, but their boss changed the schedule last minute as is commonly the case when dealing with contractors.

He proceeded to ask, “What about the lower level part of the house? Do you plan to develop it so you can rent it out in order to pay off your mortgage sooner? I’d definitely do that!”

I wasn’t evening thinking about developing the storage area downstairs. All I wanted to do was get the existing footprint squared away. “No plans, sir. I’ve had enough of remodeling and I just want to keep things simple,” I responded.

When I came back home from work at 6pm he was filling in the staple holes with silicon. He was proud of his work, and I was impressed with his work ethic. The crown moldings definitely made both rooms look much more luxurious.

Now all I have left to do with my remodel is blow a hole in the closet wall to install a window, install sliding glass doors in the bedroom, build a 250 square foot deck, create a new bathroom and I’ll be done!

Should I Contribute To My 401K Or Invest In An After-Tax Brokerage Account?

foragingThe great thing about a 401k is that you are contributing with pre-tax money. The higher the tax bracket you are in, the more tax savings you will have. If you can start withdrawing from your 401k when you’re in a lower income tax bracket, then you’ve successfully conducted some tax engineering to boost your wealth.

The problem with the 401k is the 10% early withdrawal penalty before age 59.5. If the government gets desperate, they can raise the early withdrawal penalty percentage or increase the age limit. I ascribe a 75% chance one of these two things will occur over the next 30 years.

It’s easy to understand why saving for retirement is difficult. The value proposition is that you put your money away in an institution like Fidelity, which operates under the confines of the omnipotent government, who punishes you if you err from their rules, all for the chance that your money will grow decades down the road.

With no assurances from your money manager or the government that your money will be there in retirement, spending money now on instant gratification makes perfect sense. Give me the latest iPhone vs. the potential to have $25,000 more in retirement! Therein lies the dilemma of the 401k contributor who can’t max out his or her account every year, and who therefore doesn’t have excessive after tax savings for liquidity and other purchases.

How To Overcome Money Guilt

Couple Gazing In The Fields At Stone HengeMy parents came to visit me for only three short days recently and I miss them already. One of the reasons why I wanted to leave my stressful job in finance was to spend more time with them. I flew back to Hawaii four times in 2012 and three times in 2013 to visit for two-to-five weeks at a time. But our first meeting of 2014 was in September.

Totally my fault. Life seems to always get in the way.

Ever since going to college, I’ve longed to make my parents proud. My goal was to do well in school so I could earn enough money to support myself, a family, and them. They took care of me for the first 22 years, it’s only right I take care of them.

Some children have no problem accepting financial help from their parents as adults. That’s probably because they weren’t bad like me. I got in a lot of trouble as a teenager, and I really feel guilty for giving my mother so much heartache. I wanted to make up for all the money they spent on me by proving they didn’t raise a dead beat, but someone who could be independent as soon as he graduated college.

I also suffer from money guilt because I grew up in developing countries for the first 13 years of my life (Philippines, Zambia, Malaysia, Taiwan), and frequently went to China and India for work. Every time I’m about to buy something I don’t need, I think back to the times when I witnessed destitution. Every time I eat, I try and eat more slowly in order to be mindful of the starving.

Developing countries are full of hope and growth, but the juxtaposition between the haves and the have-nots is very stark. The poor are extremely poor and the rich are obnoxiously rich. You want to help, but after a while of helping, you come to the realization that the poverty is endless – like trying to catch a rain drop moments before a monsoon washes you over.

The Cheapest International City In The World: San Francisco

9,500 sqft for only $8.9 Million in Presidio Heights, SF

Guess the price of this 9,500 sqft, SF home.

I have been everywhere, and it is clear to me that San Francisco is one of the cheapest cities in the world based on its wealth creating potential. So many of my friends who live in New York City or around the country like to say that the median rent and home price in San Francisco are our country’s highest. It’s simply not true. Rent and property prices in Manhattan are the highest AND they only get to enjoy the outside for six months a year! Related: East Coast Living: Is It Really That Horrendous?

If I had to pay $2,500 a square foot for a condo in Greenwich Village, I’d be a little bitter too about equally amazing SF property costing 40% less. Heck, you can even get panoramic ocean view properties in San Francisco for under $800 a square foot. There’s no other city in the world that can boast such value.

The media have a great way of misleading the public because they like to take averages and extrapolate. I am in the trenches, actually visiting open houses in NYC and SF and bidding on places. I’m also a landlord who is very in-tune with market rents and wages for the 22-35 year old crowd. Based on the rents and incomes I’ve seen, San Francisco is affordable if you can land one of the many tech, internet, software, healthcare, consulting, and finance jobs.

I was just in London for Wimbledon, and places in Knightsbridge and Chelsea make Pacific Heights in San Francisco feel like Costco prices!

Better Investing: Figuring Out How Much More To Dollar Cost Average

Confused on when to investDollar cost averaging is the act of consistently investing in a particularly security over a set interval of time. Most like to invest every two weeks or every month since that’s when most get paychecks. For example, let’s say you’ve got $2,000 left a month after you contribute to your 401k and pay your basic living expenses. You invest $1,000 every single month into the S&P 500 ETF, SPY, regardless of whether it’s reaching record highs or going into the crapper. That’s dollar cost averaging.

The great thing about dollar cost averaging is that you don’t have to think too much. All you have to do is not forget to invest, and eventually your financial nut will grow so large you’ll achieve make it rain status. Growing your wealth is all about practicing good financial habits that last over the long run. Sticking with a system of saving and investing will do way more than trying to uncover than unicorn stock for most.

At some point in your life you will either have a financial windfall (year-end bonus, inheritance, gift). There might also be violent corrections in the stock market as you’ll see in a chart below. Given the stock market trajectory over the long-term is up and to the right, you should come up with a framework on how to best take advantage of opportunities in a methodical way.

Here’s how I think about how much to dollar cost average. It’s kind of an oxymoron to “figure out” how much to dollar cost average, but hear me out. Hopefully my framework will help you better deploy your cash. 

Why Home Remodeling Always Takes Longer And Costs More Than Expected

Amazing, Expensive, KitchenMy general contractor, who is also my tennis teammate, was making fun of me for spending $6,000 for replacing my 40 year old gravity furnace that was lined with asbestos. I needed to replace all my ducts and vacuum seal my house for a day to prevent any asbestos from escaping as part of the replacement and permit process.

“I could have done it for $2,000!” he said as he tried to make me feel bad about my decision.

So when my general contractor came back to me with a bid of $9,000 to paint the interior of my house, patch, tape, and sand all holes in the walls, I almost threw up in amazement. My house has some nice crown moldings and standard baseboards, but everything else is pretty normal. “$9,000 is a great price,” he said with a serious face.

Because I thought $9,000 was ludicrously expensive, I declined his bid and found another fella I worked with in the past for $7,000. After he discovered I was going with another fella, my general contractor then came back to me and said I was wasting my money because these new guys he knows can paint my interior for only $5,800!

What the HELL! How is it possible that he honestly thought $9,000 was a good initial price when he now says he can do it for $3,200 less (36%) after I found someone else? Once again, he’s trying to make me feel bad for spending more than I should. He was hoping I’d take his bait at $9,000, and was gambling that I had no other resources. Little did he know that I’m the most resourceful person ever. If I am wronged, I will go to any length to fix the situation.

Everything began to unravel after this incident.

The Financial Samurai Podcast Episode 1: Genesis

Financial Samurai Podcast Dear Readers,

Welcome to The Financial Samurai Podcast! I decided to start a podcast to try and connect with readers in a new way. I’ve been writing online since 2009 and I feel very comfortable whipping out any sort of writing fairly easily. I thought it would be fun to mix things up and good practice since I hardly ever speak in a public setting. Things will probably be a little rough at first, but I’m sure the podcasts will get better through practice over time.

The initial goals of this podcast are to:

1) Provide a new medium of communication for those who prefer listening, rather than reading.

2) Provide a new way to convey ideas that aren’t as easily captured in my writing.

3) Improve as a speaker.

4) Be a friendly voice when you’re feeling confused, lost or down.

5) To go on a new adventure. It feels great to do new things.

Free Uber Rides! Changing Lives By Disrupting The Rules

Uber App Dashboard

Uber App Dashboard

For the past several years, I’ve seen Uber grow from a scrappy startup to an enormous success based right here in San Francisco. In the Fall of 2013, the company was “only” valued at $3.5 billion. A year later, the latest round of fund-raising puts the company’s value at $18 billion! Instead of driving for them, the best way to get rich would have been to work for Uber when it first started in March 2009.

Jabir, the “richest poorest person I know” actually became an Uber driver a couple years ago. He was unemployed for almost three years with a wife and daughter to support. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, he was always available to play tennis. We’d also drive all around the Bay Area to watch struggling professional players battle up the ATP points ladder for eight hours a day sometimes. As tennis junkies, we were in heaven!

Then one day Jabir stopped being available. No longer could he play pick-up tennis at Golden Gate Park at 2pm. No longer could he be my pal when everybody else had to work, so I had to find a new friend to pass the time after my morning writing was done. When I asked him what was up, he responded that he decided to drive for Uber.

For the next 12 months, I didn’t see Jabir at all. He drove ~10 hours a day for six days a week like a mad man. It was as if he was making up for lost time. When I asked him how much he was pulling in, he said well over $7,000 a month. Not bad coming from $0.

Uber allowed my friend and many other unemployed or underemployed people to find a way to earn some money and improve the inefficient taxi system in San Francisco. The disruption has been huge. I was even considering driving for them during my spare time, but Moose was too old as a 2000 Land Rover Discovery.

Starting in early 2014, Jabir began to come out and play again. When I asked him how were things going, he said that he was no longer driving for Uber, but driving a black SUV for a specific hotel instead. “Sam, I was getting too tired driving all those hours. Hotel driving is so much easier. Also, Uber kept cutting its prices so I was only making like $3,500 a month. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore.”

Jabir actually started outsourcing his car to his brother to drive for Uber so he could start collecting a percentage of his earnings and free up time for him to drive for the hotel. Smart man. There’s passive income opportunities everywhere!

Pay Down Debt Or Invest? Implement FS-DAIR

Financial Freedom In AmericaThe decision to pay off debt or invest is a personal one that depends on a lot of factors: risk tolerance, your number of income streams, liquidity needs, family expenses, job security, investing acumen, retirement age, inflation forecasts, and bullishness about your future in general. I’ve had hundreds of people ask me this question over the years, and I’ve also struggled to figure out a good guideline for myself.  As a result, I’ve been racking my brain to figure out a viable solution that can be used by many.

The solution I’ve come up with is called, “Financial Samurai’s DAIR” or “FS DAIR” for short. The idea is to come up with something easy to remember, challenging, logical, and effective, much like the 1/10th rule for car buying to help folks maximize their wealth. Even though plenty of people have objected to my 1/10th rule for being too restrictive, I strongly believe the rule has helped people minimize financial regret and boost the incredible feeling of progress and financial security.

Since we are all CFOs of our finances, we need to figure out the most efficient use of capital. My goal is to make personal finance simple so ACTION can be taken. All talk and no action leads to nothing. I’d like to “DAIR” you to follow my debt pay down rule to achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later.

Why I’m Paying Down My Mortgage Early And Why You Should Too

Pay down mortgage haveAfter buying my latest primary residence, I now have four mortgages. Three mortgages felt OK since one was a primary home mortgage, the other is a vacation home mortgage that produces income, and the last one is a rental property mortgage that is cash flowing nicely. But four mortgages feels like too much, and I plan on doing something about it by paying one off!

I’m sure only a small minority of you think having four mortgages is OK. Even though being leveraged in a rising real estate market is good for building net worth, eventually the good times will end.

What’s interesting about personal finance is that we all have different levels of risk tolerance. Some people aren’t comfortable with any debt, hence they don’t borrow anything. I admire such people for their ability to live thoroughly within their means. Other people let lifestyle inflation get the best of them and take out massive debt that is not comfortably supported by their income. Obtaining credit is so easy in America. The only people who annoy me are those who expect others to constantly bail them out.

One of the curiosities about debt is the joyous process of getting into and out of debt. There’s a certain thrill of buying things with debt. Everybody wants something they can’t have or fully afford, including myself. Then once we reach a maximum debt limit, it’s almost equally as fun getting out of debt. Each $1 that is paid down feels like a victory. We tell our friends about our progress and look like heroes. It’s a win both ways!

This post will review my thoughts on the ideal mortgage amount based off the ideal income amount, discuss the history of my first mortgage, share more reasons why I’m paying down that mortgage, and my new mortgage pay down strategy. 

Focus On Building Net Worth Even More Than Growing Income

Grow Your Net WorthIncome and net worth amounts are intricately linked. However, I’m going to argue that building a sizable net worth is more vital for early retirement/financial independence than generating a high income. Creating passive income is definitely a very good endeavor as well. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved in the viability of your passive income. For example, my 4.2% CDs eventually came due, but nothing matches such a risk-free return any longer.

There’s even more uncertainty involved with your day job income. We all think our income will continue to grow to the sky for decades, but one day it’ll likely stop growing. We might get a new boss who doesn’t like us. Our company might get sold or go bankrupt. Departments might shutdown. We might absolutely burn out. All sorts of things could happen that will assail our income growth.

I thought my income was going to keep on growing to “make it rain” status by the year 2017 (age 40), but my income was slashed in half during the 2008-2009 downturn. It recovered in 2010 and 2011 before getting completely cut in 2012 after I left the finance industry. Only after two and a half years of working online has my income finally got back to my day job income days. Needless to say, my income is highly volatile and should not to be counted on at all! The only thing I have counted on is my consistent discipline to put away at least 50% of my after tax income every year, no matter what.

At the end of this post, let me know if you agree or disagree that focusing on building net worth is more important than growing income.

Financial Samurai Passive Income Update 2014-2015

Financial Freedom Through Passive IncomeWelcome to my annual passive income update. I don’t do these updates more often because nothing changes too much on a month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter basis. Do you really want to see that I increased or decreased my passive income by $1,000 from the month before? I think not.

Here are some immediate reasons I can think of for why building passive income is a good idea:

1) You likely won’t want to work forever, no matter how much of an eager beaver you now are.

2) Unfortunately bad things happen all the time e.g. layoffs, financial meltdowns, theft, etc.

3) It’s nice to provide as solid a financial foundation as possible for your family and loved ones.

4) You broaden your knowledge and expertise across various topics so you can seem erudite but remain a little dumb.

5) You’ll reduce financial stress and feel happier that not all your income is tied to one main source.

6) You will decrease your chances, your spouse’s chances, and your children’s chances of ever having to depend on the government to survive.

7) You will have more freedom to do things you truly want to do. This feeling becomes more intense as you grow older given you become more aware of the finality of life.

8) You can push yourself financially beyond what you think could ever be possible. Who doesn’t love a good challenge except for the people who have everything handed to them?

This is my third annual passive income report where I have a goal of making $200,000 in relatively passive income by mid-2015 after leaving my job in early 2012. I started off with roughly $78,000 a year and I’m currently up to a projected ~$150,000 a year if all goes well after renting out my old primary residence. Life is uncertain, and I’m sure things will change.

To clarify the meaning of passive income, I do not include income from consulting, freelancing, asset sales (stocks, bonds, real estate, baseball cards etc), and business income. I’ve got other targets for these revenue streams that I might discuss in a future post, but probably not. The goal of passive income is to have the income largely come in without doing much work at all. But in order to not do much work for money, we’ve first got to work very hard for our money!

One thing to note is that I started my passive income journey before writing about Stealth Wealth. $78,000 a year is roughly the median income in SF, so it wasn’t a big deal. But I promise that if I ever breach $200,000, I will go dark and never write any specific figures again. If I do, you’ll know that I’m lying to blend in because that’s what Stealth Wealth is all about. 

A Massive Generational Wealth Transfer Is Why Everything Will Be OK

Bank Of Mom And DadWhen I bought my previous home 10 years ago my 68 year old neighbor stopped by to say “hello.” He was the godfather of the block, having bought his building back in the early 70s. He gave me the inside scoop on all the neighbors, and one neighbor stood out in particular.

He said the house across the street was purchased a year before mine by a family who wanted some place for their son to live as he attended UC Hastings School Of Law. The purchase price? $1.45 million for a 2,100 square foot three bedroom, three bathroom house. The son would host at least one fraternity-like party every year, but other than that, the house was pretty tame. The son continued to live in the house after law school and now it looks like they might sell.

For 10 years, the son not only lived for free, but he probably made rental income as well thanks to his two roommates. His $120,000+ law school tuition was also probably full paid for by Bank of Mom and Dad and I’m not sure how he paid for his $60,000 Audi S4 unless you make a lot of money as a law student? If the house ever sells, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets to keep the $1 million+ in profits.

It’s clear to me that my neighbor is going to be quite alright, even if he doesn’t work for the rest of his life. If you’re willing to accept so much assistance that’s beyond what you can afford, then why bother working at all? Just mooch off your parents forever!

My Other Neighbor

About two years ago my 32 year old next door neighbor came home in a brand new, $48,000 Toyota 4Runner Limited. I thought it was a quizzical purchase because the car couldn’t easily fit in his garage. I saw him struggle for five minutes just to get the beast in.

Even so, I was intrigued and wrote a post about it called, “Dealing With Money Envy” because I was jealous. He’s lived in his parent’s flat for the past 11 years since college while his parents lived in their other home in the South Bay. With the average SF rent for a two bedroom at $3,800 a month, of course he could afford a new 4Runner. He’s saved $400,000 in after-tax money by not paying rent for 11 years.

My neighbor is a nice fella who now works in real estate with his father. For 2.5 years he got to travel around the world in his 20s without holding down a job because he could. His mother would stop by and share with me how his son was having so much fun. Meanwhile, I worked my ass off all throughout my 20s just so I could be able to afford the house at age 27. His carefree lifestyle is what made me the most envious. The car was just an extra kick in the nuts.

When I was moving out he asked whether I’d like to sell my house to him (to the family really). If he could really afford my house, then his finances must be in great shape because valuations have gone a little nuts as you can see in this chart.

Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?

Are You Smart Enough To Be Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?The smartest people in the world are listeners, not speakers. If all you’re doing is speaking, how do you learn anything new?

There was once this portfolio manager I covered who had this uncanny ability to make you feel uncomfortable without saying anything at all. He had a poker face when you spoke to him, and when he felt like changing expressions, he’d go from solemn to smiles in a millisecond. We nicknamed him Crazy Eyes. It turns out that he was literally a genius with an IQ over 160. He also consistently beat his index benchmark for eight years in a row and made millions because of it.

The earliest examples of acting dumb to get ahead starts in grade school. You know what I’m talking about. Those kids who were too cool to study and too cool to sit still in class as they flicked spitballs from the back of the room. These kids weren’t just acting dumb, they really were dumb.

When you purposefully waste your opportunities growing up, you’re not only disrespecting your parents, but also the millions of other kids around the world who will never have the same opportunities.

This post will do the following:

1) Argue why acting dumb is a smart move to get ahead.

2) Provide some tips to help you look and seem a little dumber than you are.

3) Share three personal examples of how acting duhhh, has helped in work, stress management, and relationships.

The Average Savings Rates By Income (Wealth Class)

costWe all know that Americans as a whole don’t save a lot of money. The latest savings statistics for 2014 shows that the average American only saves ~4% of their income a year. 4%! In other words, it takes the average American 25 years to save just one year’s worth of living expenses. That is a disaster.

When you’re 60-something years old and only have 1.6 years worth of living expenses to buttress your declining Social Security checks, life isn’t going to be very leisurely. You’ll probably be mad at the government for lying to you and mad at yourself for not saving more when you still had a chance.

The problem with averages is that averages distort reality. For example, the average household has a net worth of approximately $710,000. You and I know that this is impossible based on common sense. But simple math doesn’t lie. Take the total household wealth in the US of $81.8 trillion (according to the Fed) and divide by 115,226,802 US households (according to the Census Bureau) and you get $710,000. (Related: How Much Should My Net Worth Be By Income?)

I’m absolutely positive more than 90% of Financial Samurai readers save more than 4%. We are personal finance enthusiasts after all. Therefore, what’s the reality behind this ~4% national savings figure? The truth is that savings rates vary by income.

The Best Area To Buy Property In San Francisco (Or Any Major City) Today

Golden Gate Heights View

View From Grand View Park, San Francisco

I realize not everybody lives in San Francisco, but there are insights into this article that can help you find the best area to buy property in your respective city as well. I’m just going to use San Francisco as an example since I live here.

If you want to buy real estate as an investment, it’s important the area not only has a strong domestic demand curve due to a robust labor market, but also a strong international demand curve as well. It’s the international demand curve that really lifts prices higher during good times.

Less than 0.5% of the housing stock is for sale at any given moment. It doesn’t take much to create a property bidding frenzy if you add international buyers to the mix of domestic buyers. Prices in London are being driven by Russian and Middle Eastern tycoons. Prices in Hong Kong are being driven by the wealthy Mainland Chinese. Prices in Singapore are being driven by wealthy Indonesians and expats. While prices in San Francisco are being driven by the tech boom, low interest rates, restrictive building codes, limited land and foreign buyers from China and Russia.

To sell property now is like selling Apple Inc. at $390 a while ago. Your property may have appreciated a lot since purchase, but there’s still a long ways to go if you can hold on. Thankfully for buyers, couples will always get divorced, homeowners will always want to upgrade or downgrade, and companies will always lay off or relocate their employees. There just isn’t enough supply to meet demand in San Francisco, and it’s unlikely there ever will be enough supply with the rise of tech powerhouses such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple.

Apple alone has gained more than $100 billion in market capitalization in 2014 and employs over 20,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now imagine what will happen to housing demand when Pinterest, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Uber go public in the next several years? They are hiring like crazy at $70,000 – $200,000 a pop and already have valuations in the $5 – $17 billion dollar range, each.

How Much Should My Net Worth Or Savings Be Based On Income?

Mallorca Sunset Net WorthIf you’ve been making $500,000 a year for a decade as a 40 year old but only have a $1 million net worth, you’re probably a donkey with some serious financial issues. If you’re making $80,000 as a 30 year old but have a $500,000 net worth I’d classify you as a hero who is on their way to bubbles and unicorns!

I’ve written about The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person that provides charts on where highly motivated people who want to achieve financial independence should be. The only problem with my analysis is that it doesn’t tie income levels specifically in the charts. This post will bind the inextricably important link between income and wealth to ensure as high a chance of financial freedom as possible.

To create a good net worth guide based on income can be very tricky based on variables such as how long someone has been making X income, the return on investment, and the state of the economy. Hence, a more conservative assumption is to replace net worth with savings. Let’s first understand the current state of the world and break down our assumptions.

The Proper Asset Allocation Of Stocks And Bonds By Age

Endless Variety Of Gouda CheeseTo start, there is no “correct” asset allocation by age. Your asset allocation between stocks and bonds depends on your risk tolerance. Are you risk averse, moderate, or risk loving? I’m personally risk loving or risk averse, and nothing in between. When I see “Neutral” ratings by research analysts, I want to slap them upside the head for having no conviction. Then the optimist in me thinks what a great world to have occupations that pay well for providing no opinion!

Your asset allocation also depends on the importance of your specific market portfolio. For example, most would probably treat their 401K or IRA as a vital part of their retirement strategy because it is or will become their largest portfolio. Meanwhile, you can have another portfolio in an after-tax brokerage account like E*Trade that is much smaller where you punt stocks. If you blow up your E*Trade account, you’ll survive. If you demolish your 401K, you might need to delay retirement for years.

I ran my current 401K through Personal Capital to see what they thought about my aggressive asset allocation. To no surprise, the below chart is what they came back with. I essentially have too much concentration risk in stocks and am underinvested in bonds based on the “conventional” asset allocation model for someone my age. To run the same analysis on Personal Capital, simply click the “Investment Checkup” link under the “Investing” tab.

portfolio-analysis

I am going to provide you with five recommended asset allocation models to fit everyone’s investment risk profile: Conventional, New Life, Survival, Nothing To Lose, and Financial Samurai. We will talk through each model to see whether it fits your present financial situation. Your asset allocation will switch over time of course.

Before we look into each asset allocation model, we must first look at the historical returns for stocks and bonds. The goal of the charts is to give you basis for how to think about returns from both asset classes. Stocks have outperformed bonds in the long run as you will see. However, stocks are also much more volatile. Armed with historical knowledge, we can then make logical assumptions about the future.

How To Reduce 401K Fees Through Portfolio Analysis

Do you know how much in mutual fund fees you are paying a year? I didn’t, so I ran my 401K portfolio through Personal Capital’s 401k fee analyzer and I’m absolutely shocked by the results! I always figured that from a percentage point of view, my mutual fund fees were small. But, when you take a small percentage multiplied by a big enough number, the absolute dollar amount starts adding up.

401K Fees Add Up!

As you can see in the picture above, I’m paying $1,748.34 a year in fees across four mutual funds. In 20 years, I will have paid roughly $84,000 in fees based on only this amount. The second portion of the above chart shines a light on the specific fund that costs the most. In my case, it is the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund with a 0.74% expense ratio.

I’ve got another fund worth about $22,000 as part of my 401K which does not show a fee, because it is a hedge fund whose fees are baked into the performance. Typical hedge fund fees are 2% of assets under management and 20% of upside. This is called 2 and 20, which is egregiously high, but it’s the only way I can get short exposure to hedge my bets.

I’ve been wanting to do a 401k/mutual fund fee analysis for the longest time, but was too lazy to do the analysis until I realized I didn’t have to do the calculations myself. Every year I want my portfolio to be as optimized as possible.

Investing In Peer-To-Peer Lending With Prosper.com

Retired On Beach With ProsperWith savings interest rates under 0.3%, the 10-year yield under 2.5%, and stock market dividend yields under 2.5%, investors are starving for yield. I’m looking for a relatively hands off investment class that can provide superior yields as my long term 4%+ CDs start rolling off in 2015. I think I’ve found it in peer-to-peer lending with Prosper.com. Many of you have asked about P2P lending forever and I’m pleased to embark on this new income stream.

I’ve known about San Francisco based Prosper for years, but I’ve never bothered to invest because the industry was still defining its own rules. P2P lenders sprang up in 2005 to provide needy borrowers with viable alternatives to normal commercial bank loans. The idea was to reduce borrowing costs by removing the bank intermediary, and utilize the internet to connect lenders and borrowers to make more and save more.

The concept is good, but default rates prior to 2008 were commonly as high as 20% vs. 1-5% default rates for traditional commercial bank loans. In response to higher default rates and a determination that P2P investing is a security asset class, The Securities And Exchange Commission (SEC) put stringent regulator oversight on the industry and forced P2P lenders to be more vigilant in screening their borrowers based on their credit histories and submitted information. Also, if a borrower’s loan becomes delinquent, P2P lenders will appoint a collection agency.

PEER-TO-PEER LENDING IS SAFER NOW 

The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person

Average Net WorthEverything is relative when it comes to money.  If we all earn $1 million dollars a year and have $5 million in the bank at the age of 40, none of us are very wealthy given all our costs (housing, food, transportation, vacations) will be priced at levels that squeeze us to the very end.  As such, we must first get an idea of what the real average net worth is in our respective countries, and then figure out the average net worth of the above average person!

According to CNN Money 2014, the average net worth for the following ages are: $9,000 for ages 25-34,  $52,000 for ages 35-44, $100,000 for ages 45-54, $180,000 for ages 55-64, and $232,000+ for 65+. Seems very low, but that’s because we use averages and a large age range.

The Above Average Person is loosely defined as:

1) A person who went to college and believes that grades do matter.

2) Does not spend more than they make because that would be irrational.

3) Saves for the future because they realize at some point they no longer are willing or able to work.

4) Largely depends on themselves, as opposed to mom and dad or the government.

5) Takes responsibility for their own actions when things go wrong and learns from the situation to make things better.

6) Has an open mind and is willing to look at the merits of both sides of an argument.

7) Welcomes constructive criticism and is not overly sensitive from friends, loved ones, and strangers in order to keep improving.

8) Has a healthy amount of self-esteem to be able to lead change and believe in themselves.

9) Understands the mental to physical connection in everything we do so that that a healthy mind corresponds with a healthy body.

10) Enjoys empowering themselves through learning, whether it be through books, personal finance blogs, magazines, seminars, continuing education and so forth.

11) Has little-to-no student loan debt due to scholarships and part-time work.

Now that we have a rough definition of what “above average” means, we can take a look at the tables I’ve constructed based on the tens of thousands of past comments by you and posts I’ve written to highlight the average net worth of the above average person.

How Much Should People Have Saved In Their 401Ks At Different Ages

Saving Jar Colleen Kong

Art by Colleen Kong at KongSavage.com

The 401k is one of the most woefully light retirement instruments ever invented. The worst is the IRA which limits you to contributing only $5,500 only for individuals making under $60,000 a year and married couples making under $116,000 a year. Meanwhile, you have to make less than $114,000 a year as a single or $181,000 as a married couple for the privilege of contributing after tax dollars to a Roth IRA, which I do not recommend before maxing out your 401k.

Give me a pension that pays 70% of my last year’s salary for the rest of my life over a 401(k) any time! With the government only allowing individuals to contribute $17,500 a year in pre-tax income into their 401ks in 2014, once again, our politicians fail us with their regulations.

The average 401k balance as of January 2014 is around $99,000 thanks to an incredible 30% rise in the S&P 500 in 2013. Even so, $99,000 is incredibly low given the median age of an American is 36.5. As an educated reader who is logical and believes saving for retirement is a must, I’ve proposed a table that shows how much each person should have saved in their 401ks at age 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65.

We stop at 65 because you are allowed to start withdrawing penalty free from your 401k at age 59 1/2. Meanwhile, I pray to goodness you don’t have to work much past 65 because you’ve had 40 years to save and investment already!