Financial security is what everybody wants, especially during a pandemic. The best way to get financial security is to develop financial buffers. The more financial buffers you have, the greater your chance of making it through even the worst financial crisis.
Let me share with you how to gain financial security so you can live your life on your terms.
The Catalyst To Leave My Job
Leaving my job in the spring of 2012 was not an easy decision. Even if you have all your ducks in order, it’s still a leap of faith to leave your job. You hope fluffy pillows await instead of jagged rocks.
One of the main reasons why I wrote my book, “How To Engineer Your Layoff” was because negotiating a severance was the key financial buffer that gave me the courage to break free.
Before figuring out how to get laid off in order to gain a severance, my only real financial buffer was my various passive income streams which equaled about $78,000 a year at the time.
I did input a Blue Sky scenario of $118,000 a year gross if things worked well on the rental property front. But Blue Sky scenarios are never to be used in important life altering decisions.
$78,000 a year in passive income might seem like a healthy figure. However, I live in San Francisco where the median single family home costs around $1.6 million as of 2021. Food and gas are also expensive and entertainment costs can quickly spiral out of control if you let them.
Financial Security Through Income And Savings
We’ve had a terrific 100+ comment discussion on my post wondering how people in expensive cities live a comfortable life making less than six figures a year. It’s definitely possible as the comments have suggested. But it’s not easy, especially if you’re over 30 and have a family.
I didn’t want to compromise my lifestyle in early retirement by eating dog food. I didn’t want to live in the boondocks just to have all the time in the world. Otherwise, retirement is counterproductive. When I started writing this post, I could only recall two financial buffers. But as I kept on writing, I realized there were many more.
I’m confident you’ll find more of your own financial buffers than you first realized as well. Building financial buffers is the key to having financial security.
Financial Security Buffer #1 To Passive Income: Severance
It took a year of planning before I finally got the courage to negotiate a severance. I made sure my subordinate was properly trained to do my job as I mentored him over two years. During that time I made sure my relationship with HR was top notch.
I also thoroughly investigated the staffing needs of my department to make a realistic case for having them let me go. Think about negotiating a severance as trying to pitch someone to hire you, but in reverse.
What came out of engineering my layoff was a severance worth six years worth of living expenses. I also received WARN pay, deferred compensation, health care and other bonuses.
The irony is that I made more in 2012 “working” two months before negotiating a severance than if I stayed for the full year and received a bonus. If I had quit, I wouldn’t have received anything except for maybe a pat on the back. OK, maybe I would have gotten a cake for the 11 years of service.
With six years of living expenses I was emboldened to try my hand at online entrepreneurship. I made very little money my first year. However, by 2016, I was earning as much as I was making as a banker.
Financial Security Buffer #2: Eating My Own Flesh
After publishing my book during the three month WARN period, I thought hard about figuring out an online plan for the next 12 months to build my sites into reputable destinations that provide the best financial advice possible through story telling.
During this time period I also looked for jobs in the internet startup space. I spoke with competitors of my previous firm. I got rejected from a journalism fellowship. Further, I even considered the foreign service and even toyed with getting a PhD.
All my searching resulted in a goose egg because my heart kept pulling me towards online entrepreneurship. People can easily tell if your heart isn’t into something during an interview. I constantly felt a need to fake my enthusiasm which felt wrong.
For those who are desperately looking for a job to pay the bills, I feel for you. Job searching online is practically a waste of time. It’s all about leveraging existing connections to receive introductions.
I was feeling a little paranoid that given my results ended up with nothing, I would not only be unemployed but permanently unemployable. Yes, even with a $78,000 a year passive income stream and years of living expenses as severance I still felt financial and reputational concern.
One morning I realized I had another financial buffer I did not consider: my financial nut. If for some reason my existing stream of cashflow was not enough, I would simply slaughter my golden goose to make up for any cash flow problems.
I never once thought about eating my own flesh if I began starving. I follow the best retirement withdrawal rate doesn’t touch principal. But people do desperate things during desperate times.
Financial Security Buffer #3: Optimization Of Passive Income
Touching principal reminds me of not being able to live within my means. I’ve developed a habit of saving the majority of my income for most of my life. Even the lump sum severance payment was quickly invested in several structured notes in 2012.
I was bullish on the market, but also wanted to protect myself from my spendy self. I clearly remember itching to buy a new car for roughly $50,000 to replace then 12-year old Moose. I’m glad I didn’t because the markets have done well since.
I promised to live off only my passive income stream of $78,000 until I could finally make more money on my own. I knew I had room to improve my passive income. One way was if I refinanced my mortgages lower and raised the rents. That’s exactly what I did.
My primary residence was refinanced to 2.625% (from 3.25%). As a result, I saved roughly $3,800 a year while I raised my rent for two properties by a total of $6,000 a year.
The vacation property is showing faint signs of recovery, but it’s still a dog of an investment. But, I was able to get a free loan modification by BoA for the vacation property out of the blue. It lowered my payments by $8,220 a year starting in January 2013. The interest rate went down from 5.875% down to 4.25%.
The total optimization of passive income came to roughly $18,000 a year. This brought the total passive income figure to roughly $96,000 a year. As a reminder, the ideal mortgage amount is $750,000 million dollars for your primary residence if you can afford it.
Financial Security Buffer #4: Online Income
With $18,000 more a year in breathing room thanks to optimizing my passive income streams, I resumed a steady diet of ramen noodles, water, and the occasional aged ribeye as I sought to build an online revenue stream.
Building a sustainable income online is brutally difficult because it takes a lot of traffic and discipline. Even if you have a lot of traffic, you run the risk of alienating your readers if you highlight too many ads and products.
Only if you love to write for free for years should you consider blogging as a business. Learn how to start a blog with my step-by-step tutorial.
If you are a regular reader, just ask yourself how much you’ve ever spent on my site. I’m pretty sure 96% of you will say $0. That’s the secret to an online business. Work your ass off, get your readers to spend nothing, take insults like a champ, and get rich in the process! Am I crazy? Don’t answer that. WhatsApp makes no money and sold for $19 billion, so maybe I do make some sense.
Despite the curious case of 96% of you never spending a dime, there is income trickling in due to the advertisement you see around this site. I only add things that I’ve used before and are relevant and helpful within the content.
How else am I supposed to properly write about a product I’ve never used? I can’t and it wouldn’t feel right to do so. Sticking with my goal of only living off passive income, any income generated from this site was swept to another account not in my name.
If you can last for over two years, I’m pretty positive you’ll be able to make some real money online. Here’s a post showing exactly how much professional bloggers make. You’ll be surprised!
Financial Security Buffer #5: Building A Business
The Yakezie Network was created in December 2009 as a place for new bloggers to grow their sites. The Network has since grown to about 100 personal finance bloggers strong. It was s recognized in the community as having some of the best online publishers around.
One goal was to create a personal finance advertising network which offered great products and market-leading payouts. So I launched YakezieNetwork.com in the fall of 2013. I failed six months later when I decided to shut it down.
One client generated 99% of the revenue so I created a mini-version instead without all the costs and time associated with running a bigger platform. You can read about my business failure in the post entitled, “What I Learned From Business Failure“.
The other idea I have is to build a business off the Financial Samurai platform. I’ve got to either come up with a product or a partnership with a bigger business. Things are in the works, but I’ve already failed at getting into a couple startup incubators. If anybody has any ideas and wants to be a co-founder CTO, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.
Financial Security Buffer #6: Investing
I’m at risk of confusing brains with a bull market. The markets have just been going up since 2009. Although 2020 was a rocky year, we’re now back to all-time highs.
When the stock markets are returning 10 – 20%+ a year like they have been since 2009, practically anybody can return a “measly” 7-10%. The real test is when the markets finally turn for the worse. Bad years are when good investors really earn their money.
If you’ve got a large enough financial nut, a 7-10% return is good enough. But I’m really just looking for a 4% – 5% given my financial nut has grown tremendously since I left my job in 2012, and I don’t want to ever lose money.
Large financial nuts are meant to be protected, not whipped around like a lasso. I’ve got a whole category on Investing which you can peruse. I’ll discuss more about private equity investing in the future as well.
One of my favorite posts is encouraging younger investors to invest in growth stocks over dividend stocks. This way, investors have a change to build their capital faster.
If all goes to hell, hopefully you have enough investing acumen to find some new investment ideas. New ideas are all around us every day. We just need to spend time looking.
Financial Security Buffer #7: Raiding My Rollover IRA
My rollover IRA comes from 13 years of maxing out my 401(k). It’s large enough to provide an extra $11,000 a year in 3% yielding dividend income if I implement Rule 72(t) until perpetuity.
Rule 72(t) allows for the penalty-free early withdrawal of IRA money. If I wanted more than just a 3% dividend income, I can withdraw down principal based on “substantially equal payment periods.”
I’m going to do my best to never touch my IRA. It’s just good to know it’s there for penalty free withdrawal if absolutely necessary. I suggest all of you continue to max out your 401k and IRA and mentally write them both off until you’re 60+.
Financial Security Buffer #8: Physical Labor
I will be the best damn burger flipper there is at In N’ Out Burger because I’ve got experience working the grills at McDonald’s. When you start working minimum wage jobs, no job is beneath you. I will earn my $10 an hour with pride and stuff my face during breakfast, lunch, and dinner with complementary cheeseburgers, animal fries, and milkshakes in order to save money. The great thing about In N’ Out is that they also provide health insurance for full-time employees as well. Starbucks does the same, but I don’t drink coffee.
After my eight hour shift is over, I’ll build a website to market my tennis instructor services. $60 an hour for one student, $80 an hour for two students, and $95 and hour for three students.
I’ve done it in the past. I know I can build a 10 client roster who will pay for 20 hours worth of instruction a month because I’ve now got the title, “San Francisco 4.5 City Champs 2012” under my tennis resume.
Whoo hoo! Given teaching tennis is more lucrative than flipping burgers, I will eventually quit my In N’ Out Burger job once my tennis roster gets large enough. I’m also a two-time high school tennis champion coach.
With $1,000+ a month from tennis + $1,600 a month from In N’ Out Burger, things will be tight living in San Francisco if there is no other income. But I’ll survive. I’ll move out of the city if I have to.
I’ve gone ahead and given over 500 Uber rides. In the process, I made around $10,000 if you include my driver referral income. If anybody is too spoiled or clueless, they should join me in working a minimum wage job as an adult!
Financial Security Buffer #10: Mental Labor
If for some reason I can’t get a fast food job or the ladies find me too ugly to hire as a tennis instructor during the day, I’ll ramp up my personal finance consulting services. I currently put a limit on working with three clients a month.
So far, so good as I’ve helped several dozen people negotiate a severance package, negotiate a salary, and plan their finances for the best retirement possible. So many people just need someone who’s been there and done that to be a sounding board for them.
One woman I recently consulted with is 54 years old. Sh can’t stand her job at the local utility company anymore. She comes home tired and unhappy every day because work doesn’t appreciate her. She knows she’ll never get promoted anymore. As a result, I worked with her to negotiate a severance equaling 45 weeks of pay.
Helping clients with the last mile or their personal finances takes a lot of work and is highly rewarding. The end game for this site is to simply lead better lives with less stress, increased security, and more happiness.
Financial Security Buffer #10: Startup Consulting
After a year and a half of working for myself, I found some consulting work with Personal Capital, my favorite free money management tool company based right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’ve raised over $100 million dollars and have over 1 million clients tracking over $200 billion in assets.
Working at a Silicon Valley tech company has been on my bucket list since 1999, and I’m glad I was able to experience two years of fintech consulting work between November 2013 to November 2015.
I also consulted with a couple smaller fintech companies up until 2015. I stopped because although I was easily making $10,000 a month for each consulting for 2-3 days a week, I wanted to focus on Financial Samurai. With almost 10 years of experience in online media, digital marketing, SEO, and community building, I’m sure I can find consulting work now if I wanted to.
Financial Security Buffer #11: The Bank Of Mom And Dad
I’ve always prided myself on never depending on my parents after college, even in expensive Manhattan where I landed a meager $40,000 base salary job. But I did get my sister’s boyfriend to co-sign a studio apartment for me with my equally poor roommate. I felt bad asking my parents for more help, even though my sister’s boyfriend never had to shell out a nickel since we were good tenants.
But gosh darn it, if I’m financially gutted, I’m coming back home to live with you momma and papa! I will clean the house, prune the garden, take out the trash, wash the dishes, mop the floors, paint the rooms, give you back massages, shuttle you to doctors appointments, and help you spend your pension income to its maximum every month! I promise to not get in your way if you promise not to knock on my door if I have a lady friend over. It kinda ruins the mojo.
If you’re interested in figuring out a way to get your parents to pay for everything as an adult child, I interviewed five people who learned how to do just that in the linked post.
The Bank of Mom And Dad is very real. After all, they are the wealthiest generation in our history with lots of money to pass down. Be nice to your parents!
Financial Security Buffer #12: All Of You!
If my parents deny me shelter as a 41 year old adult, I will have to ask for donations from all of you!. I’ve never asked a penny for writing all these articles that take sometimes 10 hours each to write for your free consumption (this one has probably taken 8 hours). But if I’m dying for money, I hope at least some of you wealthy readers will be able spare me at least $10 bucks. If not, I may have to shut this puppy down as I’ll be too busy working at In N’ Out Burger.
Over the years I’ve probably received 500 hundred e-mails of thanks from readers about how so-and-so article helped them to save, invest, get out of their funk, laugh, or make them feel more confident and happy about their future.
Such feedback is one of the big three reasons why I write. The e-mails are like spinach to Popeye. The other two reasons I get up at 5am to write are to keep in touch with my family who are spread all over the world, and to keep a journal for my potential children and grandchildren long after I’ve lost my mind.
Below is a lovely hand-written note from a reader from 2016. I still get some really nice e-mails and notes today. Thank you!
Financial Security Buffer #13: Sugar Mama
Man, I don’t know what I’ll do if none of you donated anything and if my parents don’t let me back in. I know. I will work out like crazy, go read books on better communication skills at the free library, and go to places where financially independent women hang out.
Then I will look them in the eyes and listen with great intent as they share their stories with me. Only after they’ve said everything they’ve wanted to say will I then share my roller coaster of a ride life story. With a vulnerable good heart, I hope at least one of them will take me under their wings until I can fly on my own again.
I have friends who retired early because their wives work. I have one friend who does a lot of good work for the arts and the poor around San Francisco because his wife inherited over a billion dollars. There is no shame in being a kept man. Stay at home men of the world, UNITE! We just gotta do a little more manscaping, that’s all.
Financial Security Buffer #14: Big Government
I’ve already contributed over seven figures in income taxes to the state and federal government in my working lifetime, so I’m not too proud to ask for some help when I’m most in need.
As part of my agreement to receive government assistance, I will change my tune against Big Government and promise to write laudatory words about government-backed things such as Clash For Clunkers, the marriage penalty tax, ROTH IRA conversions, and taxation based on sexism.
I will serve the machine by no longer empowering individuals to fully understand the true intent of our politicians. I also promise to raise taxes on everyone (except for the middle class) so that we can benefit without paying for the benefits ourselves.
With Joe Biden as president, expect to see bigger government provide financial assistance to millions. In fact, retiring under a Democratic president could be ideal.
You Have More Than You Think!
I hope that this exercise makes you realize that you have more financial buffers than you think. I no longer fear financial ruin after writing this article. Financial security is all around us.
Everything starts with savings, so make saving ’til it hurts a priority in your financial life. Once you get the ball rolling you’ll discover a lot of synergies to creating financial buffers. The more financial buffers you can create, the less stressed you’ll be about money. The less stressed you are about money, the more willing you are to take risks to go after your dreams.
Wealth Building Recommendation
One of the best ways to become financially independent and track your financial buffers is by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize.
Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing. I can also see how much I’m spending every month.
Check out their Portfolio Fee Analyzer which runs your investment portfolio through its software to see what you are paying. I found out I was paying $1,700 a year in portfolio fees I had no idea I was paying.
Personal Capital slo have the best Retirement Planning Calculator I’ve ever seen, pulling real data from your linked accounts and running Monte Carlo Simulations to highlight your financials. There is no better free financial tool online.