10 Financial And Helpful Moves To Make Every Year

Financial Moves To Make To Get To Santorini

Cheers to the best time of the year!

The end of the year is always the best time to reflect and plan. I’d like to share several financial moves you should make before the new year in order to protect your wealth and hopefully grow your wealth in a risk-adjusted manner next year.

Those of us who invested in stocks, real estate, and many other asset classes except for oil should be feeling fortunate. But don’t forget that good times seldom last forever. Never forget the Armageddon days of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2000 dotcom implosion, and the housing + financial meltdown that began in 2008. Those of you who haven’t been investing at all better get ready to deploy capital when chaos returns, or else inflation will eat your wealth alive.

If you just started investing in the past five years, lucky you! Don’t worry. Your beat down will happen eventually. But like every beat down, things always get better over time. Look at all of us old farts who are still around.

Losing A Property Bidding War Never Felt So Good

Amazing property

Party at my house!

It took about three months of intense searching to find my new home in the western portion of San Francisco largely because I was unfamiliar with the area and price points. Every house I saw looked cheap compared to where I used to live, hence I needed time to recalibrate my thinking. I must imagine Californians retiring to places like Florida, Texas, Washington, Nevada, and Oregon must go through the same recalibration process since everywhere is so much less expensive.

During my house hunt, I met a number of realtors. Some were good, some were clueless. There was this one fella I met who happened to be the listing agent along with his mother of a house I wanted to buy (mother son team). It was a great 2,200 square foot, 4 bedroom/4 bathroom house with two levels of decks overlooking the ocean. The house was perfect for $1.2 million.

San Francisco is currently no ordinary property market. Prices are purposefully set low in order to attract a bidding frenzy unlike many other real estate markets where prices are set high and negotiated down. Instead of earning his cut from his mother for selling the house with her (a sure thing), he agreed to represent me in the purchase of the house. It was a gamble he decided to take probably due to a little more money, his belief that he could convince his mom to sell to us, and to earn a good win for his own real estate resume.

Your Friends Really Do Influence Your Spending Habits

Wimbledon Center Court Roger Federer

Watching Roger Federer on Center Court at Wimbledon 2014. Bucket list item.

I met up with a friend of mine the other day for a function. He rolled up in a new Lexus IS350 that costs about $43,000 out the door. Immediately, I was envious of his wheels given I just drive a $20,000 Honda Fit named Rhino. My thoughts of doing the economical thing of buying out the residual value after the three year lease expires went out the window. I began fantasizing about what sports car to buy in 2017.

No, no, no! I told myself several minutes later. Sure, I’d love to drive a fancy car, but I reminded myself that I hate the stress of worrying about damaging expensive things. I enjoy parking in a crowded parking lot and not caring about a door ding. I’d much rather own stuff I can just throw away without any after thought.

Back in 2005-2008 I was extremely into collecting fancy watches. One friend had a FOMOYOLO mentality and bought a couple $8,000 IWC watches, just because he liked their style. So of course I started collecting watches because I thought, why not me too? I’ve got just as much money as him and I work harder. The funny thing is, before hanging out with my friend, the most expensive watch I’d ever purchased was a $500 Seiko. Now here I was spending $12,000 on a Rolex Stainless Steel Daytona. It was nuts!

How To Make More Money By Doing Nothing

Infinity Pool Makes More Money Doing Nothing

A still pool does nothing in Sao Paolo, Brazil

It’s been over a year since I swapped property management companies for my Lake Tahoe vacation rental (it’s snowing buckets btw), but it was only recently that I marketed the property here to help boost its income for the second year. The property used to be managed directly by the hotel, which would obviously garner the most amount of incoming calls and online inquiries compared to an outside property manager. When reservations were booked through the hotel, they randomly assigned which units those reservations went to. So when I was in their rental program, the only way I used to benefit was when the overall volume of guests increased.

That all changed when I moved to an outside property management company who charges a lower commission. They market my specific units on their website. Therefore, the challenge is for them (Vacasa Rentals) to get well known enough to be a favorable company for vacationers to book living arrangements vs. the hotel’s challenge of simply marketing The Resort At Squaw Creek as the premier Lake Tahoe vacation destination.

I used to try and help my cause by advertising my property on Craigslist while it was still managed by the hotel as well, but I stopped because it takes a lot of time dealing with inquiries and bookings. You would think I’d be worried about seeing a drop in income by switching management companies, especially if I didn’t market my unit on the side. But I wasn’t because I wanted to let them earn my business for the first year, so they wouldn’t take me for granted. They gave me a guarantee that I would earn at least as much as I did from the hotel, or else they’d refund the difference.

Career Advice For Women From Female CEOs

HappinessOne of my goals in 2015 and beyond is to publish new forms of content such as infographics, short essays, podcasts, and comedy. I’m working on the podcast part (takes forever), and I can write short and long form content with some comedy infusion no problem, but I’ve got no graphic skills other than being able to draw an arrow. The solution I’ve found is to simply ask permission from relevant personal finance companies to be able to republish their infographics.

It’s an amazingly small world because one of the leaders in producing infographics is a company called Visual.ly, also based here in San Francisco. They raised a $8.1 Series A round of funding in January 2014 from well-known VC investors such as SoftTech VC, and Crosslink Capital. I think they charge anywhere between $1,000 – $50,000+ for a customized infographic! With companies the world over spending more on content creation, they are in a sweet spot for growth.

You might think I’m crazy for continuously encouraging folks to move to expensive San Francisco to find their fortune since starting Financial Samurai in 2009. But I’m pretty confident that if you work hard, develop the right skill-set, and get on that $120 Greyhound bus from anywhere, you will have a terrific chance of finding your fortune here.

Lending Club in SF is now worth over $7 billion after its IPO pop. I could have joined them three or four years ago, but didn’t like a donkey. HortonWorks in Palo Alto went public, despite losses of $80+ million this year. Then there’s Box, Dropbox, Uber, and Airbnb in the pipeline. A $40 billion dollar valuation now for Uber from just $18 billion at the beginning of 2014 is amazing! It sure feels frothy when companies are valued on price-to-sales multiples instead of operating profit multiples, but you might as well ride the wave and get off before it crashes.

Should I Invest In P2P Lending? Prosper Performance Review

live-long-and-prosperAt long last, Lending Club went public recently with an estimated $5 billion market cap. It’s the first really big new generation fintech IPO, and boy is it going to make a lot of people a lot of money. To give you some perspective, at a $5 billion market cap, Lending Club is ~$1.3 billion larger than Yelp! I’ve been following both Lending Club and Prosper since their inception as their offices were right next to mine in downtown San Francisco.

In 2013, I finally decided to invest some money into P2P lending with Prosper to see what the fuss was all about. I had a friend working at Prosper at the time who helped teach me about the market place and the company over several lunches. I’ve written a post on tips for P2P borrowers from a lender’s perspective, a post highlighting the P2P lending returns by borrower rating and credit score, and how P2P lending can even get a little addictive due to the ability to pick and choose who gets to borrow your money.

I was relatively gung ho about allocating several hundred thousand dollars to P2P lending, but I didn’t because I still wanted to do more research given I expected rates to stay low and the stock market to outperform as a result. I also ended up buying another house, so I only invested several thousand in P2P lending as a result, and basically ignored the account for much of the year until now.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH PROSPER ALMOST TWO YEARS IN

Here’s a snapshot of my current performance: Prosper Annualized Return

A 7.43% overall return isn’t too shabby for 2014 given the stock market has returned about ~9% over the same period. I’m a very conservative investor with P2P lending since it’s only been about two years of actual investing. As a result, I pretty much invested in A and AA Prosper Rating borrowers along with several B Ratings to get some juice.

The Median Net Worth Of US Households Over Time Has Gone Nowhere

Median Net Worth Of US Households Over Time In 2013 Dollars

Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at NYU put together a really shocking median net worth chart over time in 2013 dollars I wanted to share with everybody. The main takeaways are:

1) The median net worth of middle class households has dropped by a whopping 44% since 2007 and has not recovered after the worst was over in 2010.

2) The median household today is 6% poorer than their parents were in 1969.

3) There have been periods of income declines before from 1990-1995, with large rebounds over the next 10 years.

Important Year End Tax Moves To Make

Year End Tax Moves SunsetThe good thing about having multiple income streams is the financial security it provides. The bad thing about having multiple sources of income is a much more complicated tax structure. With 70,000+ pages to the tax code, things can get confusing.

My income sources come from investment income, rental income, W2 income, deferred income, K1s, and 1099 income. My goal is to shield as much income from taxes as legally possible and keep Adjusted Gross Income to no greater than $250,000 a year due to AMT and deduction phaseouts that completely go away after this level.

But as my online business grows, it gets harder to shield income. For example, one can only contribute so much to a 401K and SEP IRA. Meanwhile, I can’t eat $300 business steak dinners every night with clients nor am I willing to buy a luxury car to write off or pay 4X the price for first class flights. Maximizing ROI and minimizing waste is the way I like to run my business and my personal finances.

The majority of actions to reduce your taxes must take place during the calendar year unless you’re filing as a business entity on a fiscal year. So if you want to pay less taxes, it’s worth setting aside some time during the holidays to wrestle this beast to the ground.

Candid Reasons Why You Didn’t Get The Job According To HR

Rejected From A Job

Rejection

There’s too much demand for any one job position. It doesn’t matter whether you are applying for a job as a barista at Starbucks, or as a marketing director at a tech company. If you get the job, it’s like winning the lottery. When demand is too great, companies deploy very quick and easy screening mechanisms to whittle down the pool. At Goldman, unless you were the son or daughter of a client or high level employee, you had to have at least an A- GPA to be considered for an interview. At least that was the case with my class in 1999.

Goldman hired roughly 60 Equities financial analysts total around the world my year. Somewhere around 8,000 candidates applied. By screening schools, GPA, and legacy, HR told me they culled the pool down to about 600 potential candidates for phone interviews, alumni interviews, and Super Day in NYC. Without screening mechanisms, the hiring process would take even longer than it already takes (my interview process took eight months).

Given the post, “Why It’s So Hard To Get A Mortgage According To A Loan Officer” was such a hit, I’d like to share with you some candid feedback I’ve received from several HR managers during my time.

Be Careful Justifying Your Spending As An Investment

Lambo Huracan For $237,000

The Lambo Huracan For $237K: Because You’re Worth It

One of my readers on The Spending / Savings Balance post asked why I should feel bad spending money on remodeling my house when it should be considered an investment, so long as I don’t go over board. The truth is that when I was cutting multi-thousand dollar checks every week, I was telling myself that all this spending was indeed an investment to make myself feel better about going outside my spending comfort zone.

But now that I’ve taken a hiatus from spending for a couple months, given it takes time to get my drawings approved by the San Francisco Planning Department, I’ve come to realize how dangerous it is to justify every single dollar spent as an investment. An investment has an implicit assumption that it may provide a return some time in the future. The reality is that there are no guarantees, except for the guarantee you no longer have the money you spent!

My hope is that by spending around $100,000 on my home, I’ll provide at least $200,000 in value at some point in the near future. Given I was so focused on this type of “investment return,” I cut checks with ease for the first $60,000. Now that I’ve taken a break and only have $40,000 left in my budget to spend, I’m going to be as scrupulous and strict as possible to make sure the contractors do an amazing job within budget. If I didn’t take a break from remodeling, I’m pretty sure I’d go over my budget by at least $20,000.

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, Eric Garner 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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 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!