Sometimes folks ask me what has been my best investment ever. I normally answer that this is not the right question to ask. We didn’t have one lucky break that made us rich overnight. We never owned the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google/Alphabet) outright, only through index funds. No lottery winnings, neither literally nor figuratively (tech company stock options, IPOs, etc.). Building our Net Worth is mostly the result of many years of small and large contributions to brokerage accounts, never losing our nerves and staying the course through volatile periods.
But the other day, I ran the numbers on how well we did with the apartment we just sold in January (not pictured above!!!). Over a period of just under 10 years, the IRR was almost 16% and beat stocks pretty handily! Again, this did not single-handedly catapult us into Financial Independence, but in the ranking of good investments, it’s clearly way up there, probably even at the top!
Of course, all this assumes that we do the math right. And that’s what today’s post is all about…
February is “Macroeconomics Month” on the ERN blog! And the topic of inflation fits right in. My blogging buddy Actuary on FIRE suggested doing a series on the “Inflation Risk for Early Retirees” and I like that idea because this topic hasn’t gotten all that much attention in the FIRE community. Even though inflation is a top concern for 78% of retirees, according to this recent article.
In addition, the topic is not just extensive enough to span multiple blog posts, but it also greatly benefits from the viewpoints of two experts in their respective fields: An actuary and an Econ Ph.D. each with their own expertise in number crunching. AoF started the series last week with the introductory post, Part 1, and this week it’s my turn. Just like AoF, I like to start setting the stage and give a little bit of an overview – think of this as another introduction to the inflation topic, just by a different kind of numbers geek. So, today I’ll take a brief look at the U.S. inflation history and the different ways inflation can ruin our retirement. Let’s jump right into this…
Talk to anyone in the FIRE community and ask how folks will deal with market volatility (especially downside volatility) during the withdrawal phase and everyone will mention “flexibility.” Of course, we’re all going to be flexible. Nobody will see their million dollar portfolio drop to $700k, $600k, $500k, $400k and so on and then keep withdrawing $40k every year no matter what. Rational and reasonable retirees would adjust their behavior along the way and nobody will really run out of money in retirement in the real world, as I noted in my ChooseFI podcast appearance. In other words, we’ll all be flexible. But is flexibility some magic wand we can swing to make all the worries about running out of money go away? Or is it BS? It’s a bit of both, of course. For example, I would put the following into the BS category:
I’ll do “something” with my asset allocation and recover the losses. Good luck with that!
I will skip the Starbucks Lattes for two months until the market recovers! Ohhhh-Kaaayyy….?!
I will sit out one or two years of inflation adjustments. Qualitatively, a good idea, but it won’t work quantitatively.
I will rely on Social Security. That may work for middle-aged early retirees but not for 30-year-old early retirees!
But flexibility will work through significantly reducing spending. And again, let’s be realistic, foregoing a 2% inflation adjustment for a year is not enough. Flexibility would involve being prepared to cut spending by probably around 20-25%, maybe more. A different route and maybe a better solution might be the side hustle. Specifically, one reader, Jacob, emailed me with this proposal:
Your series is quickly covering a lot of financial acrobatics to discover and maximize safe withdrawal rates while working to reduce the risk of running out of money. However, so far the most tried-and-true solution to the “not enough money” problem has not been considered: Get-A-Job. I acknowledge that for most job-hating FIRE-aspiring people this is the nuclear option, but it’s still an option.
Great idea! Get a side hustle and solve the safe withdrawal rate worries and (hopefully) salvage the 4% Rule! But there are two very important limitations:
The side hustle might last for longer than a few months or years. Withdrawals plus the market drop equals Sequence of Return Risk and might imply that the side hustle will last much longer than the S&P 500 equity index drawdown. How long? Try a decade or two, so if you want to go that route better make sure you pick a side hustle that’s fun!
For some historical cohorts where the 4% Rule would have worked even without a side hustle, flexibility would have backfired; you would have gone back to work for years, maybe even a whole decade and afterward it turned out it wasn’t even necessary!
A controversial topic for today. Or maybe not controversial at all – we’ll see. This topic has been on my mind for a long time and I’ve mentioned this in passing in some of my posts over the last few months: The stock market isn’t really precisely a random walk! And just for the record: I am not saying that I am in possession of any kind of formula to perfectly predict tomorrow’s equity performance. My guess is just as good as anyone else’s. On a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is a Random Walk and 0 is perfectly deterministic and forecastable, I’d still call the stock market a 9.9. But there are few peculiar features in the last 140+ years of equity returns that are clearly at odds with the Random Walk Hypothesis. So, let’s look at some of the small quirks I found and what they mean for us in the Personal Finance community… Continue reading “How much of a Random Walk is the Stock Market?”→
Last week, we published the Tenth Safe Withdrawal Rate Study! Amazing how time flies! I did about one case study every three weeks for the last 6 months! And I could even include another one if I were to count the one I did for the ChooseFI podcast back in 2017. In fact, the ChooseFI appearance (Episode 23R and Episode 26R) started the idea because our first volunteer reached out to me after he heard me on the podcast. Since then I’ve published 10 posts, worth almost 30,000 words that generated tons of clicks, feedback and encouragement:
“John Smith”: Seven-figure net worth, but not quite ready for FIRE yet. Big ERN would recommend a few more years in the workforce!
“Captain Ron”: Early retirement on a sailboat. How much can they withdraw from their $3m portfolio to stay afloat (pun intended) in retirement?
“Rene”: No need to worry about the recent layoff: You are more than ready for early retirement!
“Mrs. Greece”: More than ready to retire due to large portfolio size and moderate living expenses, especially if the husband keeps working!
“Mrs. Wish I Could Surf”: Alternative investments (real estate hard money loans). Keep the mortgage or pay it off? Either way, more than ready to retire!
“Mr. Corporate”: Geographic Arbitrage by moving to a low-cost European country. Roth Conversions and zero tax liability!
“Ms. Almost FI”: Your name is a misnomer. You are ready to retire now even when self-funding substantial long-term care expenses in the future!
“Mr. Corporate Refugee”: How to deal with a large portion of the net worth tied up in a house in a high-cost-of-living area?
“Mrs. Wanderlust”: Substantial supplemental cash flows due to buying an RV and then selling it later.
“Mr. and Mrs. Shirts”: Ready to retire this year, but should Mr. Shirts work for another nine months for some additional big payday?
But, alas, all good things have to come to an end! I have decided to take a break from the case studies, at least for now. I might revive the series again later but for next few weeks and months, I will pursue other topics! Thanks to all volunteers who submitted their data. And thanks to all other folks who didn’t get their case studies published. I’m not even sure I properly responded to everyone whose request was denied. I think I may have some inquiries from October last year that I haven’t responded to. If you submitted a request for a case study and haven’t heard from me back, sorry, I’m just a bit disorganized!
Sooooo, ten case studies: what have I learned from them? Plenty, because that’s the topic for today’s post…
Welcome to the 10th episode of our Case Study Series! Today’s case study is for Mr. and Mrs. Shirts. They run their own blog Stop Ironing Shirts and I encourage everyone to head over and check out their outstanding work. Mr. Shirts and his wife face a dilemma; they have already amassed a pretty impressive nest egg, probably large enough to retire later this year. But the temptation to work a little longer to cash in that next financial milestone around the corner (bonus, vesting date, etc.) is a pretty strong incentive to stay onboard for just a little bit longer. Otherwise known as the One More Year Syndrome. In fact, in the Shirt’s case, it’s only nine months (June 2018 vs. March 2019). So, what are the tradeoffs, what are the pros and cons of retiring in 2018 vs 2019? Let’s look at the details…
Welcome! We hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! Between the holidays when we are all still digesting all the excess calories there’s probably less demand for heavy-duty safe withdrawal rats simulations, so let’s do something on a lighter note today. I have always been wondering, what is it with MMM? Mr. Money Mustache started it all, of course. Now we have Mad Money Monster, Millenial Money Man, and Miss Millenial MD. Am I forgetting anyone? Even some obscure corporation up North, Minnesota Manafucaturting & Mining, jumped on that same MMM bandwagon, no doubt to leech off Pete’s fame. Obviously their lawyers were smart enough to put the label “3M” instead of “MMM” on their little post-it notes packages, otherwise, they’d probably get a nasty letter from the lawyers in Longmont. OK, just kidding about 3M. But still, it got me thinking, if I hadn’t picked “Early Retirement Now” as the blog name what would I have picked in the MMM universe? Easy!
Mr. Millionaire Math!
That seems to convey the essence of the blog pretty nicely, don’t you think? I also got a nice project for Mr. Millionaire Math: How much (or how little) effort and how much time would it have taken to become a millionaire by now? We’ll do some (light!) number-crunching on that topic today. And I’ll throw in some last-minute, end-of-the-year smart-money moves as well…
It’s time for another Safe Withdrawal Rate case study today! Believe it or not, but this is already the ninth installment of the series! Check out the other case studies here. Today’s volunteer is Mrs. Wanderlust (not her real name), a frequent reader of the ERN blog. She and her husband plan to retire in 2018 (more or less voluntarily) and asked me to run their numbers. One challenge in pinning down a safe withdrawal rate: large additional cash flows because they plan to purchase of an RV and then sell it a few years later. They will also have different budgets during different phases in retirement. And not to forget, a four-legged family member that’s factored into their planning. So without further ado, let’s start calculating…
This post has been on my mind from day one and it’s also been a topic that was requested by readers in response to previous installments in the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series (click here for Part 1):
Is the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community setting itself up for failure by making retirement conditional on having reached a certain savings target?
If we specify a certain savings target, say 25x annual expenditures, as in Mr. Money Mustache’s legendary “Simple Math” post, we are more likely to retire after an extended equity bull run. And potentially right before the next bear market. Very few savers would have reached that goal at the bottom of a bear market! Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some of the calculations from my post from a few weeks ago: The Shockingly Simple/Complicated/Random Math Behind Saving For Early Retirement. Specifically, let’s assume that every month, starting in 1871, we had sent off a new hypothetical generation on their path to FIRE. They start with zero savings, then save 50% of their income (adjusted for CPI-inflation), invest in a 100% equity portfolio and retire when they reach 25-times annual spending. Even though the starting dates are perfectly spread out, one each month, the retirement dates are not. They follow the big bull markets with extended gaps in between, see the chart below. The endogenous retirement dates are in red. Using the Mr. Money Mustache Simple Math method, you’ll mostly retire during a bull market, and often during the last part of the bull market, right before the peak and the next bear market!
Welcome! It’s time for another Safe Withdrawal Rate case study! Please click here for the other seven installments. Today’s volunteer is “Mr. Corporate Refugee,” not his real name, obviously. But as the name suggests he is ready to pull the plug on the corporate grind. He and his wife did everything right to prepare for early retirement. Pay off the mortgage on their house (as recommended by yours truly) and accumulate a nice nest egg close to seven figures. The only problem: they reside in a high-cost-of-living area in California and more than half of their net worth is tied up in their primary residence. Even a portfolio as large as $1 million will likely not be sufficient to cover expenses in your current location. What to do now? I’ll propose two routes to early retirement. Move to a cheaper location, a “secret” low-income-tax paradise – more on that below, and be able to retire now. Or work for only four more years and retire in the current location. Let’s go through the math…