So I’ve come to the conclusion – embarrassingly enough I suppose – that I’ve been neglecting the most important element when it comes to my goal of building my passive income snowball and achieving financial freedom (FIRE).
What might that be?
- It’s not making more money. I had thought this was the most important factor to financial freedom, but I’m seeing it’s not.
- It’s not discipline & getting out of debt. I’ve paid off my $90,000 in debt over the past 2 years which is an awesome step forward, but that’s not it etiher.
- It’s not frugality. I’ve gone as frugal as possible, even getting rid of my car & moving home for a spell
Certainly all of these are important elements to becoming financially independent & retired early.
But I realized quite recently that I’ll never hit financial freedom in 10 years, unless I take a step back, a hard look and what I’m doing, and reassess my plan.
The most important factor to become financially free is having a well-thought out plan
With this blog I’ve set myself a goal to be financially free in 10 years.
A good goal, no doubt.
But a goal is not a plan.
It’s a timeframe I set mostly because it seemed doable, and compressed enough so that I could make up for some lost time & bad decisions.
The problem is that to date I’ve been thinking about financial freedom in a completely ethereal way. Like as in – I’ll just earn as much money as I can and then put it into the market.
And then somehow magically in 10 years I’ll have enough passive income and capital gains to cover my expenses.
It’ll all just sort of happen in magic world.
But then I realized that in 10 years I’ll still be under the “official” retirement age, and most of my assets are going into my retirement accounts. And if I want to access some of that money, I’ll get penalized.
So duh. This whole thing isn’t going to really happen unless I think things through a bit more.
My plan to becoming financially free in 10 years
I spent today creating a simple plan to becoming financially free given my current situation.
It’s a plan I’ve created for myself. I suppose you could use it too if you wanted and your goals and lifestage matched, but I should note right about here that I’m not a financial planner. So caveat emptor, this is for entertainment purposes, and all the standard disclaimer stuff applies.
Ok with that out of the way, from a generic point of view of planning, the main things to make sure you hit the goals you want is:
- Determine where you are today
- Quantify where you want to go tomorrow
- Figure out your path to get there
That’s basically it.
So with that in mind, here’s my new – and I hope logical, and achievable – plan:
1) Get out of Debt
I accomplished this goal as of September 2016.
It took 2 years and a bit of sacrifice to dig out of $90,000+ of student loan, lawyer, tax, and credit card debt, but it’s done. And can be done by anyone.
If you’re still in debt – whether it’s student loans, mortgage, whatever – it’s up to you to decide if this is a step you want to take before building your income snowball.
However, for me all it took was reading a Dave Ramsey article asking about the eternal question – invest vs pay off debt – where he answered by asking if you’d be willing to take out a loan with the same interest rate and invest that into the market.
In any event, being debt free is a nice, solid foundation from which to build your income snowball. So again, it’s up to you.
2) Define Your Financial Freedom Numbers
This number – the financial freedom number – is based on your total average expenses.
To me at least, you have financial freedom when
passive income => your expenses.
At this point, a good deal of options open up to you, and you no longer have to live to work, but can work if you choose, or do something completely different with your time.
So this number will vary from person to person.
Some people, like Jason Fieber, has so cut his expenses to the bone, that he is more than financially free at 33 after earning $1,242.42 in one month. He decided long ago that the pursuit of material “stuff” didn’t hold a candle to having the freedom to spend his days as he chose. And so he worked hard and hit financial independence years ahead of schedule, by building an income snowball and keeping his lifestyle modest.
For me, my road will be a bit longer, as my choices have left me with higher monthly expenses. These are rough approximations, and don’t take into consideration inflation, but good enough to set a rough baseline number.
Child support (for 12 more years) – $1588/ mo – This is by far my largest monthly expense.
Medical – ~$600/mo –This varies, but for general calculation
Shelter – $800/mo
I don’t currently pay rent, but this isn’t a sustainable path for any length of time. Being financially free doesn’t mean taking advantage of others’ kindness and being a mooch, which is exactly what I’m doing here. I can justify not paying rent for a while longer since my family is happy to let me stay and it’s really helping me accelerate my path towards my goals, and getting going is the hardest part of getting any income snowball going.
There’s a whole argument about whether it’s best to rent or buy, but if I could pick up a small, modest studio, I could put down 20% and take out a mortgage for about $800/ mo. This would have the added benefit of keeping me inflation neutral. If I’d rather invest the downpayment, I could rent and use the dividends to help defray rent.
Food/ Lifestyle inflation/ Misc: ~$700 – This is probably on the low side, but definitely doable.
Uncle Sam: $600
I’m not sure if this is right or not, but assuming I’m pulling in $3,688/ mo in passive dividend income (I’ll round this up to $4,000 just to account for unexpected expenses, etc), I’d be taxed at an extremely favorable 15% rate. This assumes of course we don’t get a Bernie Sanders style socialist in the future who would remove this favorable tax treatment in the future.
Phew! This seems like an awfully high number and hard to pull off in just 10 years. How the heck am I really going to get there?
Next, you’ll need to reverse engineeer needed portfolio value.
So based on a $4,600/mo passive income stream, or $55,200/ yr, using a completely back of the napkin rough numbers, here’s how I could pull it off:
Back of napkin calculation
|Yield on Cost||Approx Portfolio Size|
Given that I’m not interested in chasing yield for yield’s sake, and only owning high quality companies, I think a stretch yield goal would be 3% yield on cost with 4% at most, which would mean I’d need to have between a $1.38M and $1.84M sized portfolio.
** 10/15/16 Update: A reader correctly pointed out that these numbers don’t take into account that the child support obligation will be ending 2 years after FI. As a result, I will only need to save an extra $38,000 in cash. So this means I’m adding ~475K (at 4%) or ~625K(at 3%) to the portfolio requirement that won’t be needed past those two years.
Thus updated numbers: $943,000-$1.34M
Again, this wouldn’t include my tax advantaged account assets, as I’d need to be able to access this money before 59 1/2.
3) Get Your Mind Right
Tony Horton in P90x had a great phrase he’d say just when he knew his audience was about to collapse in exhaustion:
Get your mind right!
It’s a great quote since being successful in such a long, repetitive, physically demanding program like P90x ultimately was more more about the mental battle with yourself than the physical challenge.
The idea of generating over a $1M portfolio in 10 years in my taxable account from nothing feels like the P90x challenge of personal finance.
And something that will ultimately be won or lost in your mind.
But as they say… the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
Looking at this task, I’m really starting at almost zero, because as mentioned, my portfolio is mostly concentrated in retirement accounts, and only have only 2 dividend payers in my taxable account.
So this seems like a completely daunting task.
But…with some faith and hard work I have to believe it’s possible, even if right now I don’t know exactly all the details about it’s going to be constructed or how I’ll be able to generate that income.
And it’s even more possible if I can reorient my perspective, and realize that perhaps financial freedom is not a fixed point in time, but perhaps is a continuum of increasing freedom.
So how much more free would I be if I could cover 10% of my monthly expenses. Or 25% of my expenses. Or half.
And soon it becomes clear that any small step you or I take in this journey will get me closer to the ultimate goal, and serve to lower the pressure that we’re putting on ourselves to not only hit our monthly expenses, but contribute to growing the income snowball.
4) Create Achievable Milestones
I broke my continuum of milestones into manageable chunks of 10% increments, as follows:
|Milestone||Monthly Passive Income||Yearly Passive Income||4% Yield Portfolio||3% Yield Portfolio|
** For the purposes of this analysis, I’m keeping the original non-adjusted numbers vs the lower non-adjusted numbers of $943,000-$1.34M
Monthly (& yearly) passive income is how much passive income I’d need to generate each month (& year) to hit the milestone based on my expenses.
The portfolio gives me a rough approximation of what the value of the portfolio might have to be to generate this kind of passive income.
I chose increments of 10% as it seemed like there would be a lot more “little wins” along the way, and feel like the journey overall is more achievable. You could easily choose increments of 25% if you wanted.
Now in terms of timing, if I’m doing this in 10 years, then I’d need to generate an incremental $138,000-$184,000 in portfolio value in my taxable account each year.
This is a pretty tall order, given that I’m stretching to hit that goal for this year, and it looks like my $52,000/mo income earlier on in the year was a bit of a one-time anomaly.
This means I’ll have to get creative & manifest new opportunities in my life to generate this kind of portfolio value, in ways that I cannot forsee at this time of this writing.
5) Earn -> Save -> Invest
Any good strategy comes down to execution. Here’s how I plan to pull it off:
Generate active income I’ll continue to freelance and side hustle to generate online income. I believe that increasing your income is the fastest way to financial freedom and I’ll need a lot of it to hit these numbers.
Reduce expenses I’ll look for savings wherever I can, and try to reduce my “moochiness” while doing it.
Educate myself & increase my value I’ll continue to study & learn more about finance, as well as other topics related to my work that have the potential to increase my value to clients.
Transfer excess cash opportunistically passive income vehicles in a taxable account To date I’ve been focusing on deferred tax retirement accounts as that’s been the traditional advice.
However, I’ll need these equities to live in a taxable account so I can access the income before traditional retirement age.
Basically I’m starting this plan from today debt free, but next to zero in income generating assets in my taxable account.
My taxable account currently has two dividend payers – 100 shares of GE for $2,908 (which I purchased today) and 31.47 shares of CSCO for $3,173, for a total portfolio value of $6,081.
As mentioned, I will be building my passive income snowball for “early retirement” in a taxable account so I have access to the funds prior to age 59 1/2. I plan to trade & sell as little as possible. For the purposes of tracking this, for now I will be calling these holdings my “FIRE” fund, which stands for financial retirement, retire early.
The stocks I have in my retirement fund will stay put, and I will continue to focus on this to act as additional “turbo boost” fund for when I hit the “real” retirement age.
I’ve gone ahead and reorganized my portfolio page, to reflect this update in strategy.
Dividend investing Maybe it goes without saying, I’m planning on the majority of my passive income generation will come from dividend investing, mostly because I’m completely lazy, and it’s one of the best ways to generate passive income without breaking a sweat. However, I may feel like I may want to diversify in the future, with municipal bonds, derivatives, or other instruments, depending on how things develop.
No automatic reinvestment, probably I will not automatically reinvest in my early retirement taxable account, and automatically reinvest in my late retirement taxable account. This way I can use 15% to pay taxes, and use the rest to either reinvest into securities or use to pay bills.
20-25 long positions max I do not plan on holding more than 20-25 stocks in my portfolio, as any more makes management a bit of a pain, would be too time consuming to stay up to date with, and the diversification benefits of adding more equities tends to yield diminishing returns.
6) Eat Cake
Essentially every time I hit a milestone, then I get to eat a big fat cake.
When I hit the final milestone, I will eat 2 cakes, possibly. (Edit: Maybe substitute Scotch instead – Catfish Wizard. A good point.)
We’ll see when we get there.
In this way, I hope to train myself like Pavlov’s dog to stay on the straight and narrow.
What It Will Take to Do All This in 10 Years Besides Cake
- Desire & discipline – I’ll have to want this. It won’t just happen. These are “stretch” goals, and so I’ll have to both work hard to amp up my income and stay as frugal as possible, and to do that takes desire & discipline.
- Consistency – It’s going to take consistent work to keep building the income snowball
- Powerful manifestation – I’ll have to manifest new opportunities that I haven’t yet imagined in order to do something that honestly, I’m not 100% sure how I’ll pull off. But I have faith that the answers and opportunities will come at the right time.
There is no equity strategy that comes without risk, and this plan is no different.
First, companies are not obligated to pay a dividend. Depending on macro or other factors, companies can choose to cut or suspend their dividend at anytime (former DGI darling KMI anyone?)
Further, most dividend equities are already somewhat stretched in terms of valuation, which makes it easy to overpay for quality. If and when inflation starts to pick up, we may see a sharp rise in interest rates. At which point there is the potential for bonds and other fixed income instruments to become more appealing and thus a flight from the “riskier” stocks, causing a collapse in the market.
Also, some argue that holding individual dividend stocks in a taxable account is a sub-optimal strategy, so there is a risk of lower returns than one might have otherwise received with a more tax advantaged strategy.
Finally, we could move into a period of hyperinflation at which point society implodes and we move into a postmodern Mad Max beyond Thunderdome world where we all drive around with Jeeps with turret style machine guns to protect ourselves. In that case, all this effort will of course be for naught.
So that about covers potential risks, some real, and some with only a peripheral chance of happening.
Well that’s it. What do you think of my plan? Is this feasible? Not? Am I missing anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for dropping by!