Are Your Short-Term Actions Ruining Your Long-Term Wealth?

Long Term Gain

Long Dhosas Taste Better

I must be the biggest donkey on Earth because I just spent an egregious amount on a handyman to fix some things. I’ve had a funky bathroom window that would not close properly for years in my main San Francisco rental. I tried to fix it, but couldn’t. My tenants never complained over the years, so I let it be. The window is in a small bathroom without a vent, so having the window slightly cracked open helps relieve moisture.

Then one fine summer day my tenant’s neighbor below decided to start grilling on their little deck. Smoke would waft into the bathroom and through the rest of the apartment. So when my tenant texted me to fix the window, I said “no problem” and found a handyman on Craigslist immediately. He is actually a licensed contractor on Craigslist with “no job too big or too small.” In retrospect, I used a sledge hammer to push in a thumbtack.

He stopped over to visit my tenant directly and gave an estimate for $225. I told my tenant to tell the handyman everything else she’d like fixing while he was there besides the window. She mentioned a broken dimmer switch, and a faucet cap that needed replacing. Perfect. Fixing three things in one visit every year or two isn’t that bad.

Although $225 sounded steep at the time, I agreed to the estimate because I figured he would take at least an hour to do all the work, buy the parts, and commute back and forth for two visits. I was also happy to not have to physically go out there and meet the handyman for either visit. I asked the handyman whether I could get a discount if the work took less than a couple hours, and he said it was flat fee. Fine.

I told my tenant to tell me how long he took to fix everything so I could see whether I was getting my money’s worth. She texted back, “Maybe 15 minutes, no more.”

Damn! What a moron I am!

Five Sure Signs It’s Time To Move On From Your Job

move-on

Grey Skies On The Horizon

At some point or another, you will be passed over for a raise or promotion. The goal is to actually start strategizing about your future BEFORE this unfortunate event occurs.

Perhaps part of the reason why some men make more than some women is because men are more aggressive in having the compensation talk with management. Back when I was working on Wall Street, I made sure I had a very serious heart-to-heart talk every two years with my bosses about compensation and promotion. I very clearly laid out my goals about when I wanted to get promoted, and how much I was looking to make, in a respectful way of course.

Before each sit down, I made sure my performance to date was solid. I included a short five-to-eight page powerpoint presentation to demonstrate the progress of the business under my leadership. The goal was to make it easy for them to pay and promote me, and it worked. By 27 I was promoted to VP and then to Director by 31 where I stayed for three years until I left to focus on writing.

Towards the end of my career I knew that I would never reach Managing Director. I would have needed to relocate to Hong Kong or New York, and then prove myself for another three years before getting the nod. My manager was at least five years older than me based in NY and wasn’t even an MD. How the heck was I ever going to get ahead? I wasn’t. Once we realize our limitations, we must be happy with what we have or do something. I always like taking action, so I negotiated a severance.

Feel You Have To Donate To Your College Alma Mater?

Jon Stewart W&M Alumn

Jon Stewart W&M Alum

Recently I was contacted by an old college classmate to donate to our 15th reunion at The College of William & Mary. He told me our reunion fundraising goal was $500,000 and we’re at about $323,000.

I told him, “Sure, no problem,” and proceeded to forget about the pledge until I got the gift request in the mail. The solicitation gave me the options of giving $19.99, $50, $100, $250, $500, Other, or a 5-year pledge of $X. Payment methods included credit card, check, or donating directly online with the option of designating where my gift will go. Nice job making it easy for alumni to give guys.

I was all ready to write a check for $200, when I started thinking back to my interactions with my classmate. We studied abroad together in Beijing in 1997 and I remember him hooking up with a girl right after I had hooked up with her a month earlier while we were still in Virginia! The girl and my ex and him were all going to Beijing. It made for a somewhat awkward situation where our small study abroad group ended up being dividend into two groups: 1) the super cool group, and 2) the not so cool group (his group and the girl of course).

By the time we landed in Beijing, I had already made amends with my ex-girlfriend, so it’s not like I was jealous or angry of my classmate for messing around with this other girl. It was just weird as can be – like a love trapezoid. As a young man, you’re trained to emotionally move on quickly or else. Think back to your college days when it was just one big love fest. You don’t recall? Hmm. Maybe it was just us then.

Anyway, thanks to the wrong reunion co-chair contacting me, I’m not so sure if I should give anything at all. Instead, I’d rather spend an hour writing this fun post and discuss the topic with all of you.

The Financial Samurai Podcast Episode 1: Genesis

PodcastDear 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.

The Conquer Cancer Foundation: Funding The Hopes Of Many

Conquer Cancer Foundation Tom RobertsRecently I had the pleasure of participating in a Conquer Cancer Foundation event at the home of my friend, Dr. Thomas Roberts and his beautiful wife Susan. Tom used to be an attending staff oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School before joining Farallon, one of the first hedge funds in the world to manage university endowments.

My favorite thing about Tom is not that he’s a very smart and successful guy. The thing that stands out most about Tom is how nice and thoughtful he is. You might think a man of his stature wouldn’t bother hanging around with someone like me, yet he’s been nothing but kind and magnanimous with his time. We met on the tennis court several years ago and have been good friends ever since.

Tom is on the board of the Conquer Cancer Foundation and I’ve promised to help him spread the word about this devastating disease that has affected so many. Although I cannot match the funds that many generous benefactors have offered, I do have an online platform to help raise awareness. My grandfather died of skin cancer before the age of 65 and my good friend’s father was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. It seems like everybody I know has been affected by cancer to some degree, whether it be a family member, close friend, neighbor, or colleague.

Here are some cancer statistics:

* One out of every two men and one out of every three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

* There will be over 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed and nearly 600,000 cancer deaths in the US in 2014.

* Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.

* There are nearly 14.4 million survivors worldwide.

How Much Is Optionality Worth To You?

D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

When we first graduate, we have little-to-no options since we know nothing. We’re a cost center that does what we are told and likes it. We develop skills that provide us more options over time. We look for better opportunities or ask for raises with more skills. Sometimes we get complacent and just stick with a company for way too long like a bad boyfriend or girlfriend.

Eventually we stop being so parsimonious with our money because our financial nut grows to the point where we can afford luxuries otherwise foreign to us in the past. The luxuries I’m willing to pay up for now are convenience, time, and less stress. I used to be OK waiting at the DMV for 3-4 hours to register a used car. No more. I used to be fine waiting 45 minutes for a bus instead of taking a cab. But no more. Waiting in line for hours to get cheaper event tickets was no big thang. Now I am more than happy to pay a premium to get access to nice seats.

I think most of us who really care about our finances have a strong frugal side. Savings is in our DNA. We know that so long as we always spend less than we earn, we’ll eventually reach an amazing financial place. But due to the confluence of old age, awareness, and more money, we eventually change our spending habits.

Deciding On Leasing Or Purchasing A New Car: Saying Good-bye To Moose!

Ferrari Enzo

My new Ferrari Enzo

After 10 years, I’m sad to say that Moose is gone! He just had too many problems that cost too much to fix as a 14 year old Land Rover Discovery II. I hated to let him go because he was like my big boy. I still remember finding him with 87,000 miles at the orphanage (Craigslist) for $10,000 in early 2005. The owner got a sweet consulting gig in Amsterdam from Pricewaterhouse Coopers and she had to sell quickly. We agreed on the steal price of $8,000 and the fun journeys to Tahoe, Napa, and Carmel began.

I actually hate driving today. There are just too many cars in San Francisco and the Bay Area now that the economy has roared back. Traffic was very manageable just three years ago, but condos are sprouting up everywhere downtown next to main arteries, making driving very stressful. The worst is when delivery or garbage trucks double park during rush hour and traffic backs way up. Dear local politicians, please outlaw such activity.

There was a point where I almost thought about not buying a car at all, and just using UberX as it is so cheap and signing up for a ride-sharing program since prices have come down so much. But in the end, I still valued my freedom of being able to get in a car and drive anywhere whenever I wanted. 

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!

What Is A Good Short-Term Investment? A $280,000 Windfall Needs A New Home

Searching for a new home. Canoe on the lakeGreetings fellow Financial Samurai. Bruce here. I recently dropped a note to Sam about a financial conundrum that I was working through as I appreciate the analytical approach on this blog. Sam suggested that I write it up and engage the Samurai community to help with the alternatives analysis.

Background

My wife and I are in our early 30s, are currently child-free, and live in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. About three years ago we sold the condo we had purchased as our first marital home and bought a suburban house northeast of Atlanta in an area with the best public schools in the city called Marietta.

The house was the cheapest house in the best school district and definitely on the low end of the neighborhood as well. We paid 167K and there were only one or two other homes less than 200K in the high school district at that time. As luck would have it, we just happened to be buying within 30 days of the market bottom in January 2012 for the suburban Atlanta area.

We invested a decent chunk of change (~50K) in renovating the finishes of the home to give in a semblance of the style we like from watching exorbitant hours of “Property Brothers” and other similar shows on HGTV.

After living in this area for the last two and half years, my wife came to me with a proposal that we look into moving further south from the suburbs of Marietta closer to the urban center of Atlanta. She laid out the logic including the following:

  • She works closer to downtown Atlanta and her commute would go from 45 mins to an hour each way to around 20 minutes each way
  • The neighborhood/area we currently live in is dominated by families and children with very few single couples. This affects making friendships and means we will always be driving somewhere else if we are going out with our fellow child-free friends. Basically, why don’t we live in the city of Atlanta and enjoy the more active community while we have the opportunity? We can always move back to the suburbs if and when we do have a kid and they don’t start into public schools until they are six or so years old anyway.
  • The restaurants and bars in the suburbs are typically chain restaurants and sports bars. All the music venues, hip restaurants and bars are in Atlanta

I heard my wife’s impassioned appeal and decided to get on board with her plan to move to the City of Atlanta. I think the part that excites me the most is the opportunity to live in a walkable community. Everything in the suburbs involves getting in a car, but the area we are moving to allows for a ten minute walk to one of the most popular bar and restaurant districts in the city.

When we purchased our suburban house, we had pictured being there for the long haul (probably ten years or so), but with the renovations adding value and the market appreciation we felt confident with the numbers and changing our plans to move in-town.

However, we both agreed that because we have never lived in-town before, we would rent for the first year as opposed to buying a home in the city. The houses in the area we are going to be renting are almost twice as expensive as the suburbs we currently live in, and we want to make sure we are buying in the right area where we will want to settle in for at least 4-5 years so that we don’t repeat the same mistake of moving to an area that doesn’t end up being our cup of tea. By renting a home in the city, I think we will be able to figure out what makes the most sense to buy when we are ready after our 12 month lease is up.

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.

The Secret To Perfect Happiness Revealed! Make Over $500,000 A Year

Wealth And Happiness Chart

In an amazing Gallup poll highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, it says that 100% of those who make more than $500,000 are “very happy”! That’s right. Not 98%. Not 99%. But a pure 100%.

This is a breakthrough research finding that has amazingly received little publicity. When you find perfection, it must be revealed! Surely this study is more earth-shattering than a University of Alabama PhD finding that those who ate more fried chicken had a higher chance of a stroke. More money, more delirious happiness, not more problems, silly Biggy. Read: Evidence Making Money Has Never Been Easier

Hence, the simple solution to eliminating wars and eradicating all levels of sadness is to make over $500,000. Folks like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, Li Ka Shing, The Walmart clan, Ray Dalio, and anybody who just inherited a bunch of money can make a difference in the lives of so many. All they have to do is donate $449,000 a year to median families given the median household income is roughly $51,000.

I want to see a tag-team cage match between Princeton economist Angus Deaton and Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman who say that $75,000 is the ideal income for maximum happiness vs. Michigan Public Policy professor Betsey Stevenson (currently serving as a Member of the Council Of Economic Advisers) and Michigan economist Justin Wolfers who conclude that $500,000 is the magic number. Don’t you?

Is An MBA A Big Waste Of Time And Money?

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business MBADuring the summer of 2014, Personal Capital had the luxury of hosting three MBA interns in the marketing department where I consult part-time. One was actually a Harvard JD/MBA, which is darn impressive because she has to get into both schools separately. The other two were from Stanford. They did a great job brainstorming and executing fantastic ideas.

In addition to our summer MBA interns, our head of business development (Stanford), our head of client engagement (Stanford), our digital marketing executive (Michigan), our CMO (Cornell), and our CEO (Harvard) also have MBAs . Then there’s me, a Berkeley MBA grad. In other words, the marketing department is a majority MBAs. But having an MBA isn’t a requirement for joining. Relevant experience is much more important.

Most MBA graduates will probably say that an MBA is money and time well spent. It’s kind of like spending big bucks on a fancy dinner. To justify the extravagant expense, of course you’re going to tell yourself and all your friends, how incredibly amazing the dinner was. But we all know that spending $250 per person at Jean Georges isn’t worth 100X more than a tasty In N’ Out cheeseburger for $2.5.

For similar reasons why going to private university without a scholarship is probably not the best use of your money unless you have plenty of it, getting an MBA is also becoming a tougher choice today.

For those of you with MBAs, be forewarned. This is not a cuddly, feel-good post on why getting an MBA is a no-brainer. There are a lot of hard truths from what I witnessed as a manager who consistently interviewed MBAs during multiple bull and bear markets. I’m also providing the perspective as an MBA eight years after graduating. Readers trust me to speak candidly, so that is what I will do. 

What Is Capitalism? To Understand Let’s First Explore Communist China

Chongqing, ChinaWhat is Capitalism but a way of life for many who want to get rich. Communism gets a bad rap for its ability to stifle innovation and effort. However, when you look at Communist China, growing at 7-9% GDP per year, do you really think its citizens have no desire to improve their living standards beyond what is generally proposed?

We all have an inherent nature of wanting to do better. Not only do we want to continue improving, we also want to one-up our peers! After all, what’s the point of making $100,000 dollars a year if everybody else makes the same?

We learned a good amount about how the happiest people on Earth live after my 2.5 week trip to Scandinavia. So, I decided to take a trip to Chongqing, one of the fastest growing cities in China to learn more.

THE CHONGQING FIREBALL

Tenacity And Faith – Do You Have It?

Stone HengeI’m not sure if it’s by coincidence or because I’m spending more time listening, but I’ve noticed more people sharing with me how they lost a lot during the 2008-2010 financial crisis, and how they’re doing everything possible to get back on track.

I was at Bed, Bath & Beyond the other day when I met a sales clerk in the home decor section. He was probably around 65-70 years old with withered skin and dark patches all over his arms and head. He looked quite ill and smelled like he had been hitting the bottle the night before. His name was “Bob” and he was full of smiles as he sought to help me find the perfect barstool.

I selected a set of four handsome barstools from the choices he showed me for my kitchen. I didn’t have the famous 20% off coupon BBB sends in the mail, but Bob gave me a wink and told me, “I got you, don’t worry.”

He asked me whether I had recently bought a new home, and I told him that I did. “I finally found that room with a view I’ve been searching for all this time,” I replied.

“I used to have a view, but then I lost my business of 20 years and then I lost my partner. It was just me in this old house for a couple years until I realized I could no longer afford the rent, so I moved. I have a small place now with the view of the street and another apartment’s window, but it will do,” Bob lamented.

I gave Bob my condolences and tried to cheer him up by continuing on the conversation, “Hopefully your new place is comfortable and at least much cheaper yeah?”

“Oh, yes, much cheaper,” Bob responded with a smile. “I miss the view, but I’m just thankful to have found an affordable place to live in the city.”

To lose money is one thing. I did that spectacularly well during the downturn. To lose love and money at the same time is unbearable.

But Bob showed an incredibly positive attitude during our time together, and he made me a very happy customer that evening. I even ended up doing some research on BBB and bought some of their stock. Fingers crossed their debt offering will help their financials and they can compete effectively with the likes of Amazon and other online retailers.

Maybe all Bob wanted was for someone to listen to his sorrows. Unless we die first, we might also one day end up alone. 

How To Pick A Robo-Advisor In The Digital Wealth Management Era

Old Coins by Financial SamuraiOne of the reasons why I’m an Apple user is because I appreciate good service. When I dropped my Macbook one evening and my hard drive stopped working, it was incredibly easy to schedule an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. They fixed my hard drive and recovered my data within 30 minutes and away I went. Peace of mind is worth the premium, which is why I’m a fan of technology-assisted financial advisory firms with human financial advisors.

But what if you have time and know how to upgrade your RAM, swap out your hard drive, and do your own diagnostics? (I remember doing all that as a teenager.) Then going the robo-advisor route may very well be a good option because their fees are even lower. There’s just no person to guide you through life’s myriad changes.

Robo-advisors, aka algorithmic advisors deploy sophisticated investment algorithms to help invest your money in the best risk-adjusted way possible. You essentially fill out a profile about yourself and the algorithm will go to work to recommend and implement their recommendations for you.

I used to have a hard time trusting computers to do anything for me. But after spending 13 years covering some of the largest mutual funds and hedge funds in America, it’s clear that algorithmic investing, or more commonly known as quantitative investing or scientific investing have done extremely well. For example, Bridgewater Associates run by Ray Dalio is the largest hedge fund in the world with over $120 billion dollars and it’s a macro quantitative fund with tremendous performance. Famous hedge funds run by George Soros, David Tepper, and Steve A. Cohen can’t even compare.

A good quant fund or algorithmic advisor is all about having good people. At the end of the day, the investment variables are created by people and continuously tested for maximum returns. Spending time understanding people’s backgrounds and then trusting them to do the right thing is a huge part of letting other people run your money. After all, the reason why you want someone else investing your money is because your expertise lies elsewhere, and you’ve got more interesting things to do with your time.

In this article, I’d like to provide a brief primer on the three main robo-advisors that exist today: FutureAdvisor, Betterment, and Wealthfront. Because I’ve personally met Bo Lu, Founder of FutureAdvisor, I’m going to compare and contrast FutureAdvisor to the other two. They are all based here in San Francisco.

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.

Confessions From A Spoiled Rich Kid

Flying Over San Francisco

Flying Over San Francisco For Fun

The following is a guest post from long-time reader, Samurai Marco.

When Sam first mentioned that he was accepting guest posts from his readers, it made me wonder what, from my financial journey, I could share. After all, you’re already all a bunch of financial samurai’s yourselves, right? Is my journey interesting enough? At 43 years old, have I made enough mistakes?

I grew up a spoiled rich kid in Cupertino, California, about an hour south of San Francisco. My father was a one of those, and I hate to use this term, “Serial entrepreneurs.” He started a lot of technology companies, a couple went public, some were acquired and, of course, a few failed. I remember my Dad, back in the early 80’s, bringing home the first prototypes of the Macintosh and Compaq computers and even the first cell phones.

His summer parties were filled with the “who’s who” of Silicon Valley. I remember, in particular, one Christmas party in 1997, Gil Amelio and Steve Jobs made the deal for Apple to buy NEXT that night at my Dad’s house. The Forbes reporter, who was there, leaked it the next day I’ve gone flying with my Dad and Larry Ellison. I’ve talked stocks in the swimming pool with Eric Schmidt. So yes, I was surrounded by a lot of money and power and got a lot of attention for being my father’s child.

To say I grew up spoiled really is an understatement It’s taken me a long time to realize how “out of touch” my reality was back then. We flew first class to Italy every summer, sometimes twice a year, to visit family. We lived in a big house with a swimming pool in a “safe” neighborhood. My parents bought us whatever we wanted.

Increasing Passive Income Through Leverage And Arbitrage

Sunset in San Francisco, Golden Gate Heights

Priceless View Of The Sunset In Golden Gate Heights, San Francisco

Earlier in the year, I had a nice conversation with a well-known San Francisco angel investor about risk and reward. I had a chunk of money coming due from an expiring 5-year CD and I wanted to get some advice on what to do with it. I asked him whether he would be leveraging up or paying down debt in this bull market. He responded, “Sam, I always like leveraging up. It’s how I made my fortune.” This angel investor is worth between $50 – $100 million dollars.

Of course you can’t just leverage up into any old investment. The investment has to be something you know fairly well and has a good risk/reward profile. The only thing I have confidence leveraging up on is property. Everything else seems a little bit like funny money.

Although I quit my job a couple years ago to try my hand at entrepreneurship, I’m a relatively risk-averse person because I’ve seen so many fortunes made and lost over the past 15 years. If I was risk-loving, I would have done what so many brave folks do nowadays and quit as soon as I had a business idea, instead of methodically moonlight before and after work for three years before negotiating a severance. The breakfast sandwich guy I used to go to for 10 years while I was working told me he was worth $3 million dollars during the dot com boom in 2000. I went back for old times sake last month and he is still there!

Despite my risk-aversion, I do believe money should be used to increase the quality of your life and the people you care about. As a result, I did something recently that might seem financially risky, but I think the move actually lowers my financial risk profile now that I’ve had a chance to fully process the situation.

I finally found my panoramic ocean view Golden Gate Heights home! A room with a view has been on my bucket list forever. But it never occurred to me to look in San Francisco, despite being so close to the ocean because I thought such homes would be unaffordable. San Francisco already has the highest median single family home price in the nation at $1 million. To add on a panoramic ocean view would make prices outrageous, or so I thought.

It’s the same curmudgeon as never asking out a super model because you think she or he will say no. You’ve just got to ask and I’m sure you’ll be delightfully surprised once you try.

After spending months aggressively looking for my next ideal property within my budget, I found a view home for less than half the cost of my existing home on a price/square foot basis. How is this possible you might ask? The farther west you go from downtown and the established neighborhoods, the cheaper prices are in general (see the graphic I created in The Best Place To Buy Property In San Francisco Today). But the farthest away you’ll ever be is 7 miles because San Francisco is 7 X 7 miles large. Given I’m only going into a downtown office two times a week, I don’t mind the extra 15 commute. To be able to watch the sun go into the ocean every day for the rest of my life is priceless.

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.

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

Retiring early on the beachOne can either work hard for their wealth, inherit their wealth, or marry into wealth. No way is the right way to get rich. Although the most honorable way is probably getting wealthy with your own two hands.

When I wrote the post, “Stay At Home Men Of The World, UNITE!” in February of 2012, I was being a little silly. The post was just a fun way of forecasting life as a stay at home man as I sought to build my online media business. Two years later there’s still a huge bias against men who are stay at home dads or non-breadwinners. Men who work traditional day jobs love to poke fun at men who don’t. Women, on the other hand, don’t seem biased at all against men who don’t work. In fact, I know several men and women who don’t work who ended up being secret lovers!

One of the strategies to retiring early is to have a working spouse. I have a couple lady friends who retired at 32 and now enjoy playing tennis and drinking chamomile tea during the day at my club as their husbands work their private equity jobs. One lady worked in advertising, and the other lady worked in corporate retail. When I asked whether either of them missed working they laughed in unison and said, “Not at all!”

During my time away from Corporate America from 2012-2013, I also met a lot of guys at Golden Gate Park (where I also play tennis) who retired early because their spouses worked. They were a little older on the early retiree spectrum (40-50). One husband’s wife is a cardiologist at UCSF Hospital. Another guy’s girlfriend is an executive at Salesforce.com. No doubt both their partners are doing well. All of the early retiree guys employed nannies to take care of their children during the day so they could play tennis as well. Gotta love it.

Thanks to the strengthening equality of men and women in the work force, more men are able to break free from corporate bondage to live alternative lifestyles. Men can be the stay-at-home parent now. Men can drink beers at the country club after a round of golf with their buddies and not have to worry as much about money anymore. The equalization of the sexes for career advancement and pay have been a big boon for men as well.

In this article, I’d like to share some tips from early retirees who successfully convinced their spouse or partner to continue working so they don’t have to. 

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.

What Is Considered Mass Affluent Based Off Income, Net Worth, And Investable Assets

Average Net Worth For Above Average Person

The middle class is the best social class in the world because nobody messes with the middle class. Politicians endlessly pander to the middle class in order to gain votes to stay in power. When you’re in the upper class, you become a target for hate groups who can’t stand success in the great USA. If you’re poor, well that just stinks.

But what about the mass affluent? You might have heard the term bounced around here and there on the TV, online, or on the radio. Surely including the words “mass” to signify a large population and “affluent” to signify wealth is an even better class than the middle class? As far as I can tell, the mass affluent are yet to be negatively targeted by hate groups.

In this post you’ll learn about the various financial definitions that aptly describe the mass affluent. Furthermore, we’ll discuss why being part of the mass affluent has its benefits.

In Search For A Good Travel Rewards Credit Card: Barclaycard Arrival Review

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard Sea TurtlesWith my new goal of traveling at least 10 weeks a year, I’ve come to the realization it’s wise to get a credit card whose primary design is to rack up maximum travel rewards points so I can travel even more. I’ve found the card in the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

Before publishing this post, I had a grand total of one personal credit card – the Citi ThankYou card. I’m not a believer in getting multiple credit cards because I’m all about simplifying my finances. I also pay my credit card bill off in full every single month, so there’s no need to take advantage of those 0% introductory rates. But with my new mission to travel post retirement, it’s only prudent to take advantage of great benefits.

If I got the Barclaycard Arrival before my four week trip to Europe this summer, I would have been able to accumulate over 18,000 awards points! Better late than never because I’m going on another two week trip to attend the US Open tomorrow in NYC. The last time I went to the US Open was twelve years ago and I can’t wait to return!

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.

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!