Posts Tagged ‘FIRE’

The FIRE Community Needs to Make Room for Semi-Retirement

The FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community is a growing demographic still trying to find its way. The FI part of the equation is easier to understand than the RE part. The issues revolve around the definition of retirement and what constitutes the appropriate lifestyle once FI is reached.

Some of the wealthiest individuals of the last half century provide an example. When Sam Walton was the richest man alive on the planet he still drove a beat up old pickup truck. He saw no reason to spend money on a new truck when the one he had was comfortable, did the job and gave him pleasure (a bit of a status symbol). In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Warren Buffett confessed he has been semi-retired for decades. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s right-hand man at Berkshire-Hathaway, joked Warren is good at doing nothing.

Like Walton, Buffett doesn’t go for the extravagant spending so common among the rich. Buffett’s suit is off the rack and he eats at McDonalds. He also lives in the same home he bought in 1958.




Spending Decision

This last week an email arrived chastising me for my frugality. I was reminded my net worth is at the top of the list on Rockstar Finance. (I haven’t updated my net worth status in a while so the number listed is a bit shy.) The sender was concerned over how it looked for a blogger like me with an eight figure net worth to have an annual spending habit in the low twenties.

I responded with the same stories on Walton and Buffett above. I also reminded the concerned reader spending more would not make me happy and I was in no way interested in what people thought of my spending habits. If folks think I’m cheap that is their deal and doesn’t concern me.

What the reader missed (and he was exceptionally polite, and worried my spending level might offend some) was what really mattered in my life: joy and happiness.

Living in the boondocks makes it easier for me to spend less. The nearest retail outlet is nearly a half hour drive. I could shop online, but I tend to break out in a severe rash when engaged in the shopping experience. (For Father’s Day — yesterday here in the States — I wasted spent $3 in gas to visit a restaurant in Forest Junction (my old haunt) for a free glass of milk and dish of ice cream for the whole family. Life really is good in boondock country.)

At the end of the day I really don’t want for anything. I have a beautiful, loving wife and two awesome and wonderful daughters. Books are on my shelves waiting for consumption. The level of contentment I feel is greater than any other activity or spending could bring me.




Lessons Learned

There is a difference between happiness and joy; joy is more important. I’m happy most of the time, but always joyful. I found the right path to a joyful life at an early age. I was lucky. The noise of urban living never distracted me. My grandparents lived downstairs of the farmhouse and we lived upstairs until I was in middle school. Growing up in the 1960’s and 70s with grandparents you were sure to hear the lessons they learned living through the Great Depression. Like most kids, the lessons had a hard time sticking. As I grew older I remembered the stories and took them to heart. It made a difference.

There is a significant difference between granddad and me. Grandpa, who we called Doc, would never in a million years have told anyone his net worth. It was none of your damn business. I’m more open, but experience is showing me I should have listened closer to my grandparents in that arena too.

Growing up on a farm in a very rural area of 1970 Wisconsin meant we did things differently. We had more fun than you can imagine. My brother, uncle and I played cops and robbers on our bikes every summer. The dog days of summer always had a water fight or two. Those were good days I miss tremendously. They are gone now and only exist in here (pointing to my temple).

As hard as life was we always found time to laugh and tell jokes. We worked and played hard. Free time frequently meant a quick run to the creek (we pronounced it “crick”) to fish. When we were older we raced around the back forty on mini-bikes. The best we could do was 40 mph; we could also jump ramps.

We missed out on nothing. Nothing! I was as oblivious to the world at large back then. Buried deep in the recesses of my mind I was aware of a brave new world that hath such people in it as I am now.

We were happy as a tight knit family. We felt joy with rare exception. These days we play cards Friday night at my parents’ house. Afterwards I hug my mother and father and tell them I love them. Yes, even my dad. You see, money will never buy you the things that matter, will never buy you joy. And the happiness money buys is fleeting.

Money, after a certain point, is nothing more than a game to occupy one’s time. Money is a scorecard in the grand scheme of daily life. Nothing more.




Back to the FIRE Community and the Nouveau Riche

The FIRE community is comprised of highly intelligent people with honorable intentions. Lately we see the focus turning more toward the FI part of the equation. I like to pretend I had a bit to do with that.

Retirement is still a hotly discussed topic! Professor Jordan Peterson said it best when he stated most people don’t have a career and will never have a career. What they will have is a job. A job is what you do to keep a roof over your head and put food on the table. It is rarely a lovely experience. It’s work you have to do to earn money. A career, on the other hand, is something you enjoy immensely. Only 5% of people ever have a career. Most only have a job.

That explains the reason why so many in the FIRE community want to save like crazy so they can check out of the job and into a life that fills them with joy. Too many people trade a traditional job for a self-imposed job: income properties, small business or side hustle even though it doesn’t bring fulfillment, only a bit more free time.

Warren Buffett is pushing toward 90 and still goes to the office. I understand his drive. There is a certain comfort in doing what one loves. Charlie Munger is 94 and spends a serious percentage of is waking hours reading. He, like Buffett, is still dedicated to learning daily even at their age. Some might argue it’s a waste of time, but Buffett has expressed on numerous occasions the pleasure he gets searching for good companies to buy at a good price.

Retirement is a trap! I see plenty of people in this demographic on my social media pages. They fill their days with all kinds of activities. Before long they are doing things that create value. This is no surprise. The human spirit is designed to build, grow, share, experience, create. One recently semi-retired member of the community is working on stained glass projects. Good for her. Many start blogs or podcasts. Many travel, at least for a while. Then they invest in real estate (the other RE) or start a business or fill their days with a variety of side hustles.

Hear the Wisdom

My grandparents imparted powerful advice to us kids all those years ago. It shaped and formed our lives. Warren Buffett admits he is semi-retired. What he is really saying is that he has to do something to fill his days so it may as well be something he enjoys.

The uber-successful seem to never want to quit. Elon Musk had it made financially and put it all on the line to start a litany of businesses which promise to revolutionize the world we live in. Steve Jobs worked until his body gave out less than a month before his death.  Even then he worked as much as possible from home.

Here is an old and often told story:

A scorpion came to the edge of the river and wanted to cross. The river was wide and deep. The only way across was if he received help.

The scorpion said to a nearby frog, “Frog, please take me to the other side of the river. I can ride on your back while you swim across.”

“Are you crazy!” said the frog. “If I let you ride my back you will sting me as we cross the river and I’ll drown. Scorpions sting frogs; it’s what scorpions do!”

“Why would I do that?” said the scorpion. “If I sting you while crossing the river  I’ll drown with you. My request is honorable. Let me ride your back across the river.”

The frog saw the logic of the scorpion’s argument. The scorpion would die if he stung the frog while riding his back across the river.

The frog relented and allowed the scorpion to climb on his back. The frog stepped into the river and started swimming across. About half way across the scorpion stung the frog. As the poison started working the frog began to drown. The scorpion fell into the water as well.

“Why?” asked the frog as he started to go under. “Why did you sting me? Now you will die! Now you will drown with me!”

The scorpion replied words of wisdom before he went under the waves, “I am a scorpion. Scorpions sting frogs. It’s what scorpions do.”

Do not be fooled. We are what we are. Our minds and bodies were not made to be unproductive. We play and work to our happiness, joy and health.

You and I are human. Humans play, love and create. It is our nature. It’s what humans do.

Don’t be in a hurry to RE. FI is an honorable and noble goal I strongly encourage. Find the things which bring you joy and happiness, then do them. And don’t let anyone convince you to live their version of life because therein lies sorrow.



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

How Much You Need to Retire is a Lot Less Than You Think

You can travel the world or stay closer to home. Beauty is everywhere. This piece is showing at a Beijing, China jewelry expo.

A common question in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community involves how much money you need to retire. Before I became a card-carrying member of the community I would hear the question something short of a dozen times per year. This blog means I hear the question a lot more these days. And people still don’t believe my answer.

There is a great misperception over how much money is needed to cash a check and walk your own path. I’ve consulted with 70 year old men worried they don’t have enough to retire. In the FIRE community younger people are more interested in the same question with a different set of rules.

Social Security changes all the rules. The 4% rule is wildly off the mark because they forget two simple facts; facts we will cover right now.



How Much is Enough

I will use one example to outline how much you need to retire. It is easy to adjust to fit your personal circumstances.

This exercise began when I started to wonder how much Social Security I’ll receive monthly at 70. We will not use my actual numbers. Instead, we’ll use a hypothetical married man my age. (I don’t use my actual numbers since they are atypical.)

Later this month I’ll tip the age scale at 54. Yeah, I know. Never thought I’d live that long either. It also brings up a few interesting facts. First, I qualify for early retirement (qualify for early discounted Social Security) in eight years. (Where the heck did the time go?) Full retirement for Social Security is 13 years away and I can get a bump in my benefits every year I wait until 70, or 16 years. Regardless, Medicare is for the taking at 65, or 11 years for your favorite accountant.

My daughter, Heather (age 23), and her friend, Katie (age 27), at the centerpoint of Beijing, China. They’re getting paid to travel.

So how much do you think I need to call it a career? A million? More?

It all depends on my spending habits really. Depending on the circumstances, most years I spend about $20,000. Some years I spend as much as $30,000 in the event the car dies (every twenty or so years) or some other personal adventure arises. Summertime is low spending season. An average summer month sets me back $600 – $800. Rare is the non-winter month that sees a four-figure reversal on my spending fortunes. Winter is another matter. December is property tax month. January (February, too) is cold in backwoods Wisconsin. The utility bill gnaws at me the entire time.  By the time the frost clears I’ve lost $20,000 of weight from my money belt.

The 4% rule (bantied about in the FIRE community a lot) says you need a cool $625,000 to be safe with a $25,000 annual withdrawal rate. This is just plain stupid! You don’t need $625,000 to retire with a $25,000 annual budget!

Here are the two mistakes most people make. First, it assumes you’ll never earn another penny after you retire. Oh, for God’s sake people! You will earn money after you retire, if only by accident. Heck, you can sell tradelines if you’re allergic to work and need a thousand or so each month to supplement your wants.



Time for Math Class, Accountants

Let me ask you this. If you have $625,000 at age 54 and withdraw 4% ($25,000) annually, how much do you have at age 70? Answer: More than Zero! The 4% rule is considered a safe withdrawal rate to never run out of money in retirement.

But this assumes you want to leave a legacy at least as big as your net worth pile right now! If 4% is a safe withdrawal rate then in all but the rarest of circumstances the account balance will continue growing!

The second mistake people make when deciding how much they need to retire is using the 4% rule rather than amortizing the liquid net worth balance over the maximum years needed before another form of income kicks in.

There are plenty of amortization calculators around the web. I’m using the program inside my tax software. I asked my amortization program a simple question. How much will I need today to withdraw $25,000 annually for 16 years (remember I’m 54 and want to wait until 70 before drawing Social Security) at a 4% return? Since many people consider the 4% rule safe (as do I) it is acceptable to amortize the liquid net worth balance at a 4% investment return rate.

My tax software says I need $291,307 (I rounded) to make this work. I’ll have exhausted my liquid cash at the same time Social Security kicks in. (Assumptions: withdrawals for the year are in one payment in advance with the money market holding the funds prior to use earning 0% with the first payment drawn the first day to account for an immediate retirement and the next full year withdrawal of the first day of each fiscal year.)

This is a far cry from $625,000! The amortization solution doesn’t take into account several factors. You are likely to earn at least a small amount of income in the next 16 years, but inflation is not factored in so  buying power slowly erodes. It also assumes the stock market (I assume we’re using broad-based index funds) only performs at half its historical average. That is a serious assumption! Odds are the market will do better and you will still not use up your nest egg by the time Social Security kicks in. If fact, it’ll probably be bigger than when you started.



The Crazy FIRE People

The crazy FIRE community needs even less than my calculations indicate. When a 35 year old walks into my office and wants to know how much more he needs to retire when he has $200,000 stashed away already with no debt I tell her she can retire today. After they break the dead stare they think I’m joking. I’m not!

Once again we are assuming the $200,000 will only throw off $8,000 per year under the 4% rule. Not so. Once you give up on the rat race you can join a race you really enjoy! If you’re 35 you need something to fill your time. First, you are likely to move to a lower cost area if you don’t already live in one. (My low living expenses are partly a product of geography. New Your City or most of the West Coast would force me to talk out of the other side of my mouth.)

You can live the good life with spending a fortune. This museum piece in Beijing, China requires a King’s Ransom, but you can enjoy the jewels for less than a $10 admission fee.

Second, you’re 35 years old!!! There is only so much travel or golf a guy can handle. It gets old fast, becoming the new rat race you want out of.  Then reality sets in and your interests bubble to the top. A side hustle you always wanted to try is now a viable option. It doesn’t have to pay tremendous amounts of money. Your cost of living will decline unless you engage stupid spending habits. If you have said habit it is unlikely you’ve read this far. (For the rest of you, this way.)

Using the assumptions above, the $200,000 amortized over 32 years will throw off a bit more than $11,000. Still not enough to retire.

But if you spot a 35 year old $11,000 per year and she only needs $25,000 per year to live you have a helluva start!

If you can swing $1,200 per month with a side hustle you can retire at 35! Yes, Social Security might be pretty small, but your side hustle will add to your account when calculating benefits. At full retirement a husband/wife team should realize around $2,000 a month even with the low earnings assumed here! Retiring at 35 with $200k is doable if you have any interest at all in any activity with potential to throw off an income stream.



Crybabies this Way

The information above has the tendency to bring out the crybabies. “I can’t do that! Waaaa!” “It’s impossible! Waaaa!”  “I want my mommy! Waaaa!”

Your mommy isn’t here so pull up your shorts and listen. $200,000 is a bit light to retire on at 35, but not bad for someone a certain accountant’s age. Amortized over a shorter period means you will have enough until pensions and Social Security kick in.

At 35 you will be required to still earn some coin. Notice I didn’t say work. Please don’t break out in a rash.

A seasonal or part-time job can provide enough money to enjoy a very joyful and full life. The first ingredient is cutting out all the stupid spending! The more you spend annually, the more you will need at the start to make it to the finish line!

If you live in a high-cost area it many require a move. If you stay put you need to adjust my numbers. Younger people need to calculate on their age, not mine! If you have a higher lifestyle than mine you’ll need more to start unless you plan on spending more time on your side hustle.

Until your health gives out or you die, you will bring in more income than you realize. Just doing the stuff you enjoy doing has a tendency to become an income source. Even small income sources do wonders to your investment account. Using your favorite accountant as an example, the lower spending habits of summer means money is left to earn more before it is spent. Every nickel earned on the side is one nickel less needed to appreciate the awesome retired life you’re living.

You probably worry as much as my clients about how much you need to retire. Financial advisors always scare you with big numbers. It’s good for them when they get more of your money. The truth is you don’t need as much as you think to have a comfortable retirement with spare change for some travel and entertainment.

And for God’s sake, please don’t be that guy who has $200,000 in cash, a $25,000 annual spending budget and is 65 with Social Security checks for him and his wife totaling over $3,000. Just don’t be that guy. You’re never going to run out. Now go and enjoy your life.



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Financial Independence is Getting Easier Every Year

We are not running out of energy. Think of how much value a single gallon of gasoline can provide for a few dollars.

It’s hard to see when watching at the speed of life, but there is no doubt it keeps getting easier to reach financial independence. Some in the crowd might disagree with me. The statistics are clear, however. As the hand of time ticks by the human race is finding greater and greater opportunity at every turn until now when it is laughably easy to reach virtually any financial goal.

But we need to start at the beginning.

In the Beginning

Depending on whom you ask, humans (Homo sapiens) have been around for around 300,000 years. For most of this time we were limited in our conversion of energy into useful tasks. Men, women and children all contributed to their subsistence lifestyle.

Because energy input determines so much of quality of life (as will soon become clear) we need to use a consistent measure of power. Energy is best describes in joules and power by watts (W). This allows a better understanding of inputs by humans over time.

A human can sustain around 100 W of labor. From the beginning when modern humans started its own branch of the family tree until the third millennium BCE, the most power mankind could muster was limited by the backs of the very same people. It took several hundred thousand years before mankind figured out a way to utilize more than the limited 100 W of power available from an average adult male.

Sometime during the third millennium BCE people learned to harness draft animals and their sustained 300 – 400 W of sustained labor. Not satisfied with the several fold increase, humans experimented with different ways of harnessing draft animals and even breed animals for greater labor.

Over thousands of years the maximum prime movers (draft animals in this instance) slowly increased until around 1000 of the Common Era when horizontal waterwheels came into wider use, providing up to 5,000 W of power. (The waterwheel was employed earlier, but not widely or in a modern sense.)

What took over a hundred thousand years to move from 100 W of manpower to draft animals and their approximate 350 W of power only took four millennium to reach the technology of the waterwheel. As slow as it moved it was still an improvement. Progress was slow because people needed to expend all their resources to survive. Draft animals allowed more land to be tilled which meant more people could be fed and better.

By 1800 steam engines surpassed 100,000 W (100 KW) of power. The late 19th Century brought water turbines, driving the maximum power of one unit to as much as 10 megawatts (MW).

The pace of energy use expanded rapidly. Life was still harsh for many people, but the goods and services available grew as more prime movers grew more and more powerful. Subsistence living was declining. Life was still hard, yet more people than ever had a better diet. Also, more people than ever before were able to live an upper class lifestyle. As power use increased due to technological advancement, fewer people had to work to cover the basics of living for the entire community.

The rate of increase accelerated until 1960 when the largest steam turbine reached 1 GW of power.




Modern World

The more technology increased the power of a single prime mover, progress advanced in efficiency.  The first draft animals could replace three or four men max. By the 19th Century better harnesses and certain horse breeds could do the work seven or more men.

Waterwheels increased in size and efficiency until steam turbines were invented, catapulting the power available in one unit (prime mover) to unheard of levels.

Thermodynamics places a limit on the maximum power that can be extracted per unit of coal or other energy source. Steam turbines also have theoretical maximums. The first steam engines were extremely inefficient. Advances in efficiency were slow at first, increasing faster until the gap between best performance and the maxima narrowed.

The first steam driven machines operated at less than 1% efficiency to over 40% today! While 40% seems like there is lot of efficiency left to wring out, there is only modest possible improvements available.

Home heating has come even further. Heating a hut with grass or dung has serious disadvantages. Wood was a major improvement once tools were invented to cut trees versus the limited supply of branches available on the ground. Early gas furnaces enjoyed 40% or less efficiency; today homes have gas furnaces up to 97% efficient.

Lighting has an even greater efficiency improvement. Candles convert between 0.01% to as much as 0.04% into light. Edison’s first light bulbs were 0.02% efficient. The first fluorescent bulbs in 1939 were 7% efficient. In the year 2000 a lumen of light in Britain cost 0.01% of what it did in 1500 and 1% of what it did in 1900 (see reference at the end of this post).




The Ease of Wealth

We will now switch from the historical use of power to how the above information yields increased ease in acquiring financial independence.

It seems like wages have been stagnant forever while prices continue to climb. The data tells a different story.

Overall Adjusted Average Salaries, Five Year Increments

Adjusted for inflation, wages have been flat for at least 50 years (see chart)! Before anyone become alarmed, know that wages are what drive inflation. When wages increase it eventually is reflected in the prices of goods and services, kind of.

Natural gas and gasoline prices have been steady to lower over long periods of time, adjusted for inflation (see charts). Natural gas has been up and down, but is basically unchanged since the mid-1990s even before considering inflation or the unadjusted growth in wages. All this while vehicles are larger than ever with more gizmos and home gas furnaces are the most efficient than they’ve ever been.

Historical gasoline prices in today’s dollars.

Inflation causes the most angst. In 1913, when statistics were first kept in the U.S., the CPI-U started at 9.8. The latest CPI-U (April 2018) stood at 250.546. What cost a dime is now 25 times more expensive. The average worker earned around $300 per year in 1910! (A competent accountant could earn $2,000! I would like to think I’m competent so, adjusted for inflation, I should make around $50,000. Looks like this competent accountant is doing a bit better than expected. Bet you are too.) In 1918, after the inflation of WWI, the average household earned $1,518, which is, adjusting for inflation, less than the average household income today.

Inflation is real and affecting household budgets. But while prices are increasing, wages are oscillating around the baseline, adjusted for inflation. At first glance we might be depressed to learn we’ve made no progress. However, wages and inflation only tell part of the story.

A hundred years ago many homes lacked indoor plumbing. We’ve rectified that problem since. Electric appliances have been added to the daily luxuries of life. Over the last 30 or so years we have added computers, internet and smart phones to our list of luxuries. You’re probably reading this on a smart phone.

Natural gas prices haven’t moved at all while wages and efficiency have continued to climb.

Increased efficiencies are where most of our increase in living standard comes from. Wages mimic prices as efficiency keeps rolling along. Energy costs have gone nowhere fast over the last century. But what we do with that energy has changed radically. Heating our home takes less than half the natural gas of 50 years ago. Of course, our homes are twice as big so we’re still broke. The electricity needed to light our homes has decreased to such a level that it is an insignificant part of our budget.




Money for Nothing: FI for Free

Frugal today is nowhere near what frugal was a century ago! What we consider austerity would get us laughed back into our time machine if we had such a machine to transport us back in time. Most households spend less than 10% of household income feeding the family. There was a time not that long ago when 50% or more of the budget went to feeding hungry mouths. Back then the house didn’t glow at night the way our cities do today.

As technology allows us to utilize energy resources like never before, we have a lifestyle never before enjoyed by any species in history. And it gets easier to reach financial goals!

Once upon a time all but a few worked till the day they died. A select few, very few, enjoyed a life of luxury supported by the backs of the masses. Then draft animals were put to work, allowing for a larger population and a better diet. Later coal, oil and gas powered the turbines of industry and heated our homes. More work horses (steam turbines, et cetera) meant we could delegate the most back-breaking labor to machines. We went from nearly 100% of the population working in the fields to under 2%. The freed labor did other things. Many spent more time in educational pursuits; some did nothing at all, choosing to live longer with mom and dad.

Some lived frugally for a few years and retired early.

In the U.S. 49% of the population works a traditional job. That percent has probably crept up in the last year so we might be over 50% as of this writing. Young children and the old are understandably unemployed. Still, of working age adults, we are near the multi-decade low labor participation rate. What gives!

The answer is rather simple. Our use of energy resources continues to become more efficient while wages remain stable and prices are moving in tandem with wages over time. Productivity slowly grinds higher. After centuries of progress, the cumulative gains have made it possible for large numbers of society to pursue other interests. Food is plentiful thanks efficient use of energy. Even with half the population not engaged in traditional employment, we still have abundant food, shelter and clothing.

Financial independence keeps getting easier and the trend will remain intact! There is no excuse to not have financial wealth. None. We are so rich today with abundant resources and technology we can throw away massive amounts of money on interest to support debt. This is unheard of in history. Debt was always considered bad, if not an outright sin. Governments had debt, but regular people who knew better followed the adage: neither a lender nor borrower be.

Mass media has brainwashed us into thinking things are hard. The 2008 financial crisis was not that bad compared to reality of 100 years ago. The Great Depression was bad. The Irish potato famine was bad! When was the last time you heard of a famine in a developed country? It’s been a long time and for good reason. The only reason less developed countries starve is because they have not implemented the prime movers the way developed countries have. Once you use the energy resources efficiently you can move food from any part of the planet to wherever a drought or blight is affecting crops.

We live in an age of abundance like never before. We need to start acting like it. We need to feel grateful for our largess. It’s easier than ever to save a massive percentage of our income and invest it safely into index funds. You can retire early with plenty of financial wealth because you live in the most awesome time in history. All thanks to the never ending increase in energy utilization and increasing efficiency of its use.

Reference

Smil, Vaclav 2017. Energy and Civilization: A History: Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press (Pages 397 – 407 were used in the writing of this post.)

 



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Price’s Law and Why the Early Retirement Community Will Not Harm the Economy

Square root employee?

The FIRE community has been educating the public in attaining financial independence and early retirement for a decade or so now. Whenever the topic arises it is sure to be followed by the exasperated rebuke, “We can’t all do this! Who will do the work if we all retire at 30? The economy will fail.”

The argument has a sort of logic on the surface. If everyone retired by their 30th birthday there could be a problem. A 50% savings rate could crush the economy! Right?

Or maybe not. A high national savings rate doesn’t harm the economy! The United States had a double digit savings rate in the 1950s and the economy roared. China and many other nations with vibrant economies have high savings rates. A low savings rate seems to be the real problem. In the U.S. we struggled more as our savings rate declined to its current low single digit home.

High savings rates don’t kill the economy; it provides a massive pool of ready capital to invest in infrastructure and future economic growth. No wonder our road, bridges, water and sewer works are subpar. The government decided it was good for the economy short-term to spike growth by encouraging excess consumption. As the savings rate kept declining less money was available for high speed rail and advanced internet services. And don’t even think of fully funding roads and upgrading the electric grid.




Price to the Rescue

Derek J. de Solla Price discovered an inverse relationship between how many people actually do most of the work in a given setting. Price discovered the square root of a group did half the work and the remaining members of the group did the other half. If you have a business with 10 employees, then 3 were doing half the work.

Here is where it gets scary. If you have 100 employees, 10 are doing half the work and 90 the other half! As an organization grows, incompetence grows exponentially while competence grows linearly! As the organization grows to 1000, thirty-two are doing half the work with 968 doing the remaining half! This is why it is so hard to grow a very large organization and keep it large.

Price’s law is visible in corporate America. In 1928 the Dow Jones Industrial Average expanded to 30 stocks. Of all the stocks on the original list, only one is still there: General Electric. The other 29 companies are either merged, bankrupt, dissolved or significantly smaller firms. Current financial difficulties at General Electric could soon remove the remaining holdout from the original Dow-Jones stocks. In less than 100 years every single one is off the list!

You don’t need as long a timescale to see Price’s law in action on the S&P 500. Of the ten largest stocks in the S&P 500, most were not on top a decade ago. Companies like Kodak, Sears, and Xerox are nowhere to be found at the top of the list, yet they were the crème de la crème at the height of the Nifty Fifty days of the early 1970s. A damning fact is the average stock in the S&P 500 spends an average of 30 years there. That’s it. Some make it longer, other less. But 30 years is all the leaders can manage on average to stay on top. This is why we buy index funds instead of individual stocks. Individual companies come and go, but as the economy keeps climbing, so does the size of the index.




Faulty Thinking

A quick reader might be thinking of how to game this information to her advantage. A few ground rules are in order before we get cute.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on January 1, 2016 the U.S population was 322,810,000 and 157,833,000 were in the Civilian Labor Force. You read that right. Forty-nine percent of the total population is in the labor force! As you can see, a very large number of people are not engaged in any kind of formalized labor. Children, the disabled, military personnel, incarcerated and the retired are not part of the labor force.

Running 157,833,000 through a square root calculator gives you around 12,500. At first blush we might be tempted to believe 12,500 people are doing half of all the formalized work in the U.S. with 157,820,500 doing the other half of all the work. Now you know why you’re so tired. You’re one of the 12,500!

Except it doesn’t work that way. As much as you may want to believe you’re carrying an unfair labor burden (and you might be), the truth is far more than 12,500 people are doing half the work of the country.

Price’s law works wherever there is creative productivity. It is certainly possible a mere 12,500 people are providing half the creative productivity as long as you narrowly define “creativity.” Elon Musk is a hyper productive individual. But you can’t discount the workers building the cars!

While Price’s law works wonderfully when applied to baskets scored or city sizes or a single business, it fails to adequately disclose who is productive nationally. If only 12,500 provide half the nation’s GDP there are not enough producers to have at least one productive employee per successful company.

No, the Civilian Labor Force is not “creative productivity” and therefore we should not apply Price’s law. Price’s law explains what happens within an organization. Again, if you have 10 employees, 3 are doing half the work. Thirty percent of employees are kicking out half of the company’s creative production. It could be tax returns or widgets. The percentage contributing to half the company’s production declines to 10% when staff increases to 100. The bigger the company grows the worse it gets.

The Pareto Principle appears more generous in stating 80% of results come from 20% of the inputs. In other words, 20% of employees are doing 80% of the work; 20% of clients are providing 80% of the profits; and so on. In the end Price’s law and the Pareto Principle are explaining a similar reality.

 

Price is Saving the FIRE Message

Back to where we started. The FIRE community message is you can save half or more of your gross income, invest in index funds and retire early, some as young as 30. And then the economy drops off a cliff and nobody is around to get the work done.

Except Price told us what we needed to know! If 30% of the people in a small business with 10 employees are doing half the work, 70% aren’t getting shit done! And business owners, tell me I didn’t just hit the nail on the head.

Square root kitty?

If so many people are unproductive it is easy to have fewer people in the work force and still get all the work done. What we need to do is train employees to be like the minority producers (the square root guys).

How can we do that? First we need to look back at our error in assuming you can apply the square root of the entire nation’s work force and conclude 12,500 people do half the work. A business can be just like the national work force. If you have one huge group within a company Price’s law is going to crush you.

But then explain companies that are large? How come some outperform for very long periods of time?

The solution is simple. By breaking a huge company into smaller groups you can increase the number of productive people. A major corporation can act and perform as nimbly as a smaller company by organizing human resources appropriately.

Of course another issue arises. If some schmuck in accounting can’t get off dead center, how will a smaller group make her more likely to increase productivity? And the answer is: it doesn’t. Merely cutting a larger group into smaller groups will not have a meaningful effect on overall productivity of the firm. Unless you organize the smaller groups to focus on specific tasks.

Large groups tend to get less done because they take on too much. By breaking tasks into smaller sizes handled by smaller groups you can unleash before unrealized creative powers. And there is an example that proves it.

The Richest Guy in the Room

Just as the largest companies don’t stay on top forever, neither do the wealthiest people stay on top of the Fortune 500 list of wealthiest people on the planet. The 1% churns. A lot!

Don’t get me wrong. Warren Buffett was the richest guy on the planet for a while. Now that Jeff Bezos jumped in front, Warren isn’t looking for gainful employment to put food on the table. Bill Gates was on top for a while. Back in the day Rockefeller was on top. What I’m saying is the list changes for people just like businesses.

The insight Price gave us and the understanding we have of the Pareto Principle allows us to better use our human capital. People are the most important resource. But an employee struggling in a large group is far more likely to excel in a smaller group.

You’ve experienced this yourself. You go to a conference and attend a breakout session where 10 people are in the audience. A significant percentage of the people participate by asking questions and adding additional information. If the room fills with 50 people a smaller percentage get involved. The bigger the group gets the more likely you are to keep quiet. A few step forward, but fewer than in smaller groups.

Also, productive people in one setting will be less productive in a different setting. Smaller groups only work if effort is applied into providing the right environment in the smaller group so more people become interactive producers. This is the solution to the problem presented by detractors of the FIRE community.




The FIRE Community was Right All Along

It is possible for people to save more and invest the difference without killing the economy. We can be just as productive as a nation, as a company, as an individual. Even more so if we apply only a small amount of effort.

Reaching financial independence at an early age does NOT harm the nation. Quite the opposite; it makes us tremendously stronger! A nation wallowing in debt loses vibrancy. So do companies and people!

Fewer people need to work when the ones who are working are more productive. The end of formalized work doesn’t mean the end of productivity. Early retirement frees times to explore new ideas. Some of those ideas are the Tesla’s of tomorrow.

Spending down household savings accounts for conspicuous consumption does provide short-term economic growth. Then again, snorting cocaine gives you a high that doesn’t last either.

FIRE is the only way.



Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Investing Alternatives When Index Funds are Unavailable

Note: This post is not intended as personal or personalized advice. It is provided for informational reference only and is the opinion of the author.

Anyone who has been around the FIRE, leanfire, FI blogosphere, podcasts and book tours know the demographic is heavily invested in index funds and for good reason. Active management’s record tends to be unflattering compared to index peers and with a heavier expense ratio for opportunity to enjoy underperformance.

People serious about building wealth as quickly as possible learn the index fund trick early on. But there are times when index funds are not an option.

Back in the 1990s I was a securities broker with H.D. Vest Financial Services down in Dallas as my broker/dealer. Broker/dealers have an obligation to monitor their brokers so they require all investments of brokers placed though the broker/dealer. Back then it meant actively managed funds only and the expense ratios were a heck of a lot higher back then. There was only one redeeming grace in the deal: all mutual fund trades were commission free with the exception of 12(b)1 fees which generally were 25 basis points of the account’s value. In a way all mutual funds looked like no-load funds for me.

My net worth grew significantly slower during my tenure with Vest. Actively managed funds with heavy fees caused underperformance. My choices were also limited. The worst part is the rule extended to my other businesses and immediate family. Mrs. Accountant and the girls couldn’t invest elsewhere either. Vest even wanted to know where I had money in the bank and a list of all income properties and loans. It was a pain in the tail. Now you know another reason why the dream of schlepping securities wore off fast.




Normal People with Abnormal Choices

Stock brokers aren’t the only people with restricted investment choices. Work retirement plans hold a large percentage of all investable funds in most households. 401(k)s and other work retirement plans are notorious for limited choices. The choices are frequently laden with fees driving down performance.

Matching and the ease of regular investing make work retirement plans the best options even when the choices are bad. I’m asked to help clients make the best choice in their 401(k) more than any other request. Most people are clueless to the jargon used to help employees invest their contributions and employer matching wisely.

In my stock broker days my investments were exclusively growth & income funds. Before I knew about index funds front-brain I already knew a basket of successful growing companies throwing off an increasing dividend was a solid decision. The advantage I had was the large basket to choose from. I had my pick of thousands of funds so I had options, even if they were limited to actively managed funds.

Now we need to learn how to pick the best investment from a limited pool. The right choice in your 401(k) could shave years needed to retire and add tens of thousands of dollars to your account value.




Needle in a Haystack

Employers offer more retirement plan options than ever before to limit their liability. However, most employers aren’t licensed to give financial advice so they steer clear. Large employers may bring in an investment advisor, but these advisors may not have your best interest at heart and they may not have the time to know you well enough to give quality advice.

Your best defense is knowledge. Certain choices tend to better than others. Specialized funds are almost always the worst choice as they usually have higher fees and are not broadly diversified. Sector funds are a good example. I know of no reason anyone would want a gold fund in their 401(k) portfolio.

International and aggressive growth funds also tend to have higher fees. They can outperform, but they still have a higher mountain to climb to offset the higher fees. All else equal, the lower a fund’s fees the better the long-term results.

Realistically there are only a few acceptable choices for most 401(k) investments. Money markets are out because you have no chance of growing your nest egg. Bond funds are a poor choice in a low interest rate environment and only a small percentage of the portfolio should be in bonds if you are approaching retirement and rates justify a modest investment. Company stock is not diversified and if your employer does poorly your job and retirement are both at risk. Insurance products are almost always the worst of all choices. That leaves broad based funds.

Acceptable choices (in this accountant’s mind) include: growth & income, growth and international or world funds. It is my opinion the largest investment in most 401(k) portfolios should be a growth & income fund when an S&P 500 index or total market index fund isn’t available. Growth & income funds will be the closest choice to an S&P 500 index fund and G&I funds tend to have lower expense ratios than other actively managed funds.

I’m content with one investment in a 401(k). A G&I fund is a diversified choice, grabbing a large slice of large growing companies. But it looks too barren to be correct so people want more. More isn’t always better.

Growth funds are similar to G&I funds with the exception that they can hold non-dividend paying stocks. Amazon is a large growing company that doesn’t pay a dividend. A growth fund can own Amazon; a G&I fund generally cannot.

You may also wish to have international exposure. BP (British Petroleum) is more likely to be in a world or international fund. (Some G&I funds may hold BP.) Toyota is another example. International funds have higher fees due to higher trading costs and travel expenses for the active managers.

G&I funds have the lowest expense ratio of my group followed by growth funds. Fees play such a large role in long-term performance that I have an allergic reaction to more than 10% or so of a 401(k) in an international fund.

If you can’t stand a simple G&I fund in your 401(k) there are a few mixes I approve of:

70% G&I; 20% growth: 10% international, or

80% G&I; 10% growth; 10% international, or

60% G&I; 25% growth; 15% international

Of course you need to modify to your personal situation. (I have to say that for liability reasons. Personally, I can’t think of a better mix than the first choice I offered unless index funds are an option.)




A Plethora of Choices

Studies have shown more choices aren’t always better. If you have a dozen choices in your 401(k) you are more likely to take advantage of the 401(k) than if it had 20 choices. The more choices added might reduce employer liability, but it also discourages employees from taking advantage of the 401(k) due to the apparent overwhelming nature of setting up the account.

I’ve seen this first hand in my office. Some employer retirement plans offer a small number of choices, but some come to a rabbit hunt with a bazooka! A hundred choices aren’t needed to offer employees quality choices!

When the stack of papers to sign up for a 401(k) plan exceeds an inch employees are lost. Even I need to spend time digging through the papers before providing reasonable options. Here is what I look for when reviewing employer retirement plan options.

First, most choices are junk. I dump all the specialty funds and insurance products. I’ve yet to see an insurance company fund outperform. The gold and bitcoin funds are removed from the list, too.

Next I separate my choices by investment house. I like Vanguard and Fidelity. If I’m unfamiliar with the investment house, but like the fund option I need to dig deeper. I want to feel comfortable with the investment house as well as the mutual fund.

Then I separate further into categories. I pray for at least one reasonable growth & income fund in the lot. If not, I have to settle for a growth fund.

Last, I review expense ratios. Once again, the lower the fees the higher the chance the fund will perform better. The change in the total stock market value is reflected in all investor accounts, minus fees. Unless you can prove you can outsmart the market, fees are a good determinant of return comparable to the overall market (peers). (Don’t even start with me. Even the pros can’t beat the market consistently.)

From my list I usually pick the fund with the lowest expense ratio with attention paid toward which investment house runs the fund.




The Final Choice

Employer retirement plans are often the best tool a person has to accumulate significant wealth. Many employers match contributions at some level. The money is tied up so it is difficult to withdraw; this prevents impulse decisions from ruining your plans. Employers are providing more choices than ever. This is a double edged sword. Move past the psychological deer-in-the-headlights response to a large number of options and hone the list to a workable few choices and then make the choice! Employer retirement plans also make it super easy to invest on a consistent and regular basis, the true foundation of any retirement plan.

Lack of an index fund as an option is no excuse to not invest in an employer retirement plan. Many people face the same problem. I did back in the 1990s and made the best of it. My current net worth would be well into the seven figures lower if I took a pass when I sold securities because of restrictions. The bank would have been a much worse choice.

Of course, you need to modify my suggestions to your personal situation. I think you will find the best choice for you will be very similar to what I propose. No choice is the absolute worst choice! Without investing you will never reach your retirement goals or financial independence!

It’s your life. You can get serious with whatever choices you have or work forever.



 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Peer Street Review

Show me the money!

Building wealth is simple when you understand the rules. Spending less than you earn provides seed capital for investments. Index funds provide the opportunity for superior growth with reduced risk due to diversification across the broad economic spectrum.

Once you have the basics it becomes clear you need additional cash management tools to serve your financial needs. Short-term cash for emergencies or living expenses are best held as bank deposits or in high-yield accounts like Capital One 360 or Discover Savings.

With long-term investments set in index funds and short-term needs covered by liquid money market type products it’s time to fill in the remaining gap. And there are some reasonable alternatives paying a respectable rate of return.

Business owners understand the need for liquid fund to cover seasonal fluctuations. In my office tax season fills the coffers used during the slow times of the year. November and December are traditionally slow in the tax industry while expenses tend to be high. Some year-end tax planning brings in some revenue, but the cost of mailing organizers, employee training and property taxes take an ax to the budget. This is the gap I refer to above.

Individuals face the same gap. Planning for a vacation or allocating funds for property taxes are an example. Individuals may also become uncomfortable with the level of the stock market. Selling index funds to store in a money market at a percent or two doesn’t make sense and becomes painful when the market continues climbing.

I never encourage market timing. However, there are times to take some chips off the table. Example: As you approach retirement (or if you are in retirement) I always recommend keeping about two years of living expenses in cash. If the market keeps climbing you can fund living expenses with dividends or small index fund sales. When the market has a temporary setback you can use the liquid funds to live. This assures you never have to sell at a market low! If the downturn becomes prolonged you can stop reinvesting dividends and capital gains to fund expenses. The goal is to never find yourself forced to sell in a down market.




Investing Gap Funds

Money market funds and online savings accounts at Capital One and Discover are good tools to store excess funds in retirement, for future investments or to pay large one-time expenses. The interest rate is low, but better than nothing.

For several years I used Lending Club and Prosper (notice I don’t include links because I no longer recommend these options) to serve as a high-yield investment for such funds. Then we had the Lending Club fiasco I was out the door. Where there is smoke there’s fire. I could be wrong, but I’d rather be a living coward than a dead hero.

Enter Peer Street.

Another bright idea.

Lending Club and Prosper issue unsecured loans you can invest as little as $25 in. The goal is to spread your investment over as many loans as possible to avoid one bad loan destroying your portfolio. There are lots of loans that default as borrowers have no skin in the game.

Peer Street offers loans in a similar fashion to the Lending Club/Prosper model with a few notable exceptions. Peer Street loans are backed by real estate with loan to value (LTV) typically below 75%. Borrowers have skin in the game!

The minimum investment is $1,000 per loan. This is still a micro loan, but not nearly as small as the $25 minimums at Lending Club or Proper. Since there is something backing the loan (real estate) the risk is likely much smaller. (Loans backed by assets default at lower rates than unsecured loan with rare exception.) You can still—and should—spread your investment funds over several loans to mitigate risk. (More below.)

Most Peer Street loans are short term (6-24 months) and generally yield 6-12% over 12 months. Peer Street periodically has very short loans (one month) that yield a lower rate, but more than Capital One or Discover currently. This can be a powerful cash management tool.

The short-term nature of the loans makes it easy to ladder your portfolio for consistent cash flow and liquidity. A small investment can provide a steady stream of available cash while earning a higher than average yield.




How I Use Peer Street

I don’t like to over-commit to any investment. My style is to dip my toe in the waters first and then stepping slow into the shallow end until I’m comfortable.

I started investing in Peer Street a few months back. Every loan I invested in is for the minimum: $1,000. So you understand my style, I currently have $6,000 invested with intentions of reaching $100,000 over the next year or two. As long as the wheels don’t fall off (remember the Lending Club issues) I’m happy. I’ll never put everything into Peer Street, but I will invest enough to move the needle eventually.

Every week or two I’ve been adding another $1,000 or so. Peer Street reports interest income and loan maturity funds on the 15th and last day of the month. The money appears in my account a few days later. I use this opportunity to add new funds to my account to bring the cash balance back to $1,000 so I can invest in another loan.

My slow approach is for two reasons. First, I can sample how Peer Street works before committing a level of funds that would hurt if I misstep. This allows me to acclimate to the investment. Second, the slow approach means I have loans spread out over a wide range. In a few months I will have loans maturing practically every month. Coupled with the interest stream I’m in a good position to benefit from the investment.

Investing in income properties can be a lot of work with plenty of risks. Peer Street makes real estate investing easier, smoothing the income ride along the way.




Taxes

Interest income is taxable. Landlords have several tax advantages due to real estate ownership. Peer Street investments are loans and income is treated as ordinary income. If you are familiar with Lending Club or Prosper you will find reporting Peer Street income looks a lot the same. The main difference is loan losses. Lending Club/Prosper have a lot of loans that default. This can play havoc on your tax return in some instances. Peer Street has had a few loans default, but according to a conversation I had with a Peer Street consultant on the phone, investors lost no money. The LTV metric does offer a level of protection to investors. (Loan losses would be handled in a similar fashion to Lending Club should they occur.)

Recommendations

Time for a reality check. Most loans offered on Peer Street hover around 7%. Yes, the sales literature says you can pull up to 12%. Real world experience says you will have plenty of opportunity to invest with a 7% return. Some loans are lower, more are higher. Loans paying 8% or more require a strategy.

Peer Street allows for automatic investing of funds in your account. What I do is keep $1,000 in the account and set the parameters of the auto-investing feature at 8% or higher, LTV up to 75%, loan term up to 60 months (I don’t mind a longer term investment, but you may wish to tighten this parameter) and $1,000 max per loan.

Peer Street sends an email when they invest in a loan automatically. If you don’t like the look of the loan you have 24 hours to cancel from time of notification.

New loans are available most business days. The higher interest loans usually are filled with automatic funds. The 7% and 7 ½% loans are frequently available for manual investing.

 

There you have it, kind readers. No fancy stories today. This is an idea I’ve been working personally on a small scale for a bit and wanted to share it with you. As a reminder, the links in this post are affiliates. Peer Street graces your favorite accountant with $30 for every new account I send their way. I have affiliate links for Prosper and Lending Club, but do not include them because I no longer support their programs. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I can’t make a real recommendation for you personally since I don’t know you personally, along with all the relevant facts. My only recommendation is to take it slow if you find Peer Street appropriate for your portfolio. No heroes; just another nice product to handle funds living in the gap.


Real Estate Investing Platform



Inequality is Welcome in the FIRE Community

Inequality isn’t all bad. I think we can agree Mrs. Accountant is smoking hot while yours truly is a bit drab. Then again, if you have a tax issue you probably want the drab guy.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published Harrison Bergeron in 1961. His short story illustrated the ultimate end of inequality as only the humorist could. Today we think of inequality in term of race, gender or income. Vonnegut knew this was only background noise to the real issues of inequality.

In Harrison Bergeron the attempt to erase all inequality is taken to a whole new level. Beauty, strength and mental capacity were also dished out in unequal portions to the masses. To compensate, the beautiful wore grotesque masks; the strong wore heavy weights to hold them back; and intelligent people were hit with a mental pulse of sound every twenty seconds to dumb them down.

Inequality is all the rage today. We demand income inequality between genders and race. On the surface it all seems good and honorable. Beneath the hood something else might be at play.

In Vonnegut’s story Harrison has a keen mind and wants to use it. He breaks free from the shackles holding him to the lowest level of mediocrity. The government action is swift. Harrison is killed, along with his newly discovered girlfriend of tremendous beauty. The government snuffed out inequality before anyone could feel infringed by another’s superiority in anything.

The inequality debate isn’t completely about levels of pay or rights. In many cases it’s about more about “me”. Groups of people demand more because they think as a group they have a better chance for more as individuals.

As we saw in Harrison Bergeron, erasing inequality doesn’t always lead to desired results. Making everyone the same lowers the bar for all involved and it doesn’t have to be that way.




The Joy of Inequality

Inequality is in part a choice. A woman may choose a lower annual income to garner more free time with family or to have a child. Men are starting to join that movement, asking for more paid leave, even if it means a lower salary or fewer other benefits, to spend time with family. On the surface, again, it appears—if you only consider annual wages—that an inequality has arisen between employees with a family and those with a smaller family or fewer family issues.

The perceived inequality is actually an increase in quality of life. What one person desires is completely different from that of another. Offering family leave has less value to someone with a small or no family. Those with family, young parents for example, might find family leave the largest inducement an employer could offer.

Another benefit growing in popularity is student loan reduction. Some companies now offer young employees additional services to help them reduce their student loans. The benefit is worthless to those with no debt.

Inequality can be unfair. Some is a conscious choice. Working part-time or a side gig fits the temperament of some people better than a stress filled, high pressure environment. Some thrive on pressure. It isn’t unfair to pay people in the high pressure jobs more. Putting a mask on the beautiful, weighing down the strong and interrupting the intelligent doesn’t make things more equal!

True income and wealth equality comes at a heavy price. I discussed in the past the only ways income and wealth became more equal historically: war, famine/plague, revolution and societal collapse. Walter Scheidel does a better job of fleshing out the details in his book, The Great Leveler.




The FIRE Community and Inequality

A powerful movement in our society today is the FIRE community. Their dedication to financial independence (FI) and the ability to retire early RE), or at least at a reasonable age, is making headway into previously cherished traditions of lifelong labor in the organized workplace.

From the beginning the FIRE community understood wealth and retirement was not a product of equality for all. Most of the inequality was either by choice or slight in nature. Some members of the community powered their way through to FI as fast as possible to engage the life they wanted. Others took a slower route. The gap year or years became part of the lexicon. Net worth became an interesting discussion in closed quarters.

What surprises the most is the range the group holds as FI. Some say a couple hundred thousand should do it. Others still want to pack the crate with several million. One unique animal in the crowd bows out well before FI to take a slower pace the remainder of her life. Part-time work or side hustles fill the gaps.

A millionaire roundtable meeting at FinCon17. All were not equal while all were equally welcome.

As a community it is felt: to each their own.

The FIRE community is special! Judgment is withheld when matters of finance come to the fore. If somebody is happy never engaging in a full-time serious career, nobody thinks twice about it. A few eyebrows are raised when a member want to work like a dog until death do him part. But desire to continue working doesn’t revoke membership.

The original Star Trek series has a unique underlying philosophy connected to Mr. Spock and the Vulcans called IDIC. It stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. The novels covered the topic more than the television series. What was meant by IDIC is that the more diversity, the more combinations of different people, makes us stronger.

A glaring example is shown us by the recently departed Stephen Hawking. Hawking was a genius on every level. Unfortunately, life didn’t give him an equal measure. His body suffered from a degenerative disease. His mind more than made up for it. Could you imagine Hawking in Vonnegut’s story? Society would be forced down to Hawking’s physical level while Stephen’s mind would be throttled to the lowest mental member of society.

Inequality can make us stronger. What we need to eliminate, or at least reduce, is discrimination. Race and gender is not a crime. Sexual orientation isn’t either. These are the hard problems to solve. Inequality, income for example, is not always bad.

Underpaying people is a form of discrimination. The FIRE community doesn’t discriminate. The FIRE community example is to accept all people from all walks of life. Workers should be paid a fair wage and provided a safe environment. That doesn’t preclude dangerous work. Risky jobs are secure when the company treats the team as family.

The FIRE community is the most diverse of any I know. It has the Vulcan IDIC philosophy. Color of skin doesn’t matter. Religious beliefs, or lack thereof, don’t affect membership. Both genders and in-between are welcome.

You will find people deep in debt taking their first steps toward financial freedom in the community and those with millions in investments. Side hustles abound. Travel is indicative while accepting those who prefer the closed quarters of home. The homebodies experience the world through the eyes of the world travelers. Once again IDIC turns weaknesses into strengths.

Vonnegut showed us the foolishness of demanding equality in all things. Too much inequality can damage the whole. But Inequality isn’t bad in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with accepting less, an unequal portion, for the same job. In my profession there is the free VITA tax service. There is also plenty of room for professionals to earn a living too. This is not damaging inequality.

As a society we need to embrace inequality. Differences force us to think in new ways. Those on the lower end may not enjoy the process. I get that. But it is rare to find a genius in the lap of luxury. Elon Musk is from South Africa; Steve Jobs had a difficult early life. Equal didn’t make them stronger. Inequality did.



Why I’m Retiring the Day I Graduate from High School

Today we have a special guest. My youngest daughter, Brooke, is 18 today. I have two daughters and I managed to keep them alive until adulthood. In my mind I’ve done my job. There is some trepidation, however, which will become clear in a moment. I raised my girls to the best of my ability. They’re fine young ladies. But their path to financial independence is a unique one.

Brooke is finishing up her senior year of high school and has some pretty big plans. I asked her to share her story. She listened to me talk around the house for years. She can repeat my financial rules with perfection. I think you’ll hear a bit of dad in her voice. Enjoy.

 

Why I’m Retiring the Day I Graduate from High School

By: Brooke Schroeder

I’m different. I’ve always been different. I was born with a big disadvantage. Before I was a year old I had more surgeries than most people in a lifetime. At twelve I started taking over a dozen medications. Pill after pill is cut and placed in a dispenser like that of a 90 year old man.

I’m on the right standing with my sister, mom and dad. We had our picture taken in Kentucky a few minutes before the total solar eclipse.

Dad picks on me that all the pills I take are a meal in itself. My parents are supportive, but they have no idea how much of a pain it is to be sick all the time.

I’m also different from my family in other ways. My sister wants to travel the world and teach English (more on that later). My dad hates traveling past the mailbox at the end of the driveway. He says he wants to build a wall around the farm. When Trump came out with his wall on the Mexican border dad said he needs to talk to Trump and see if he could get a section built around the farm.

Everybody in the family reads a lot except me. It’s not that I don’t read, I just don’t want to do it twenty hours a day!

My mom stopped working a normal job when she was around 30. My dad is a workaholic. He gets crazy ideas and can’t help himself.  He has the farm and his tax office. Then he writes his blog. He is always starting a business or doing something. And he reads more than my teachers at school. He reads everything. You would think it would get boring after a while.

There is one trait I share with my family: frugality. My dad is tight with money; I mean real tight. I’ve seen my dad pass on an ice cream cone just to say he didn’t touch the money in his pocket for the entire month. Like I said: tight.

I try not to spend too much money either. I certainly spend less than my friends. Every dime I earn goes into an index fund. My first money when I was a baby was invested. It wasn’t much, but it got the account opened.

After the eclipse we visited a botanical garden. It was research for me.

While everyone else is reading I head outside. When not working with my hands I play with computers. I’m not 100% sure yet, but I might go to college someday to learn more about IT. Too be honest, I’m in no hurry to go to college. I like school and get good grades. My friends are there too. As graduation approaches I already miss them.

My friends all have plans. A few plan on getting married. Many are going to college. I guess some will buy a home and car and all the other stuff that messes with your happiness in life. The kids at school don’t share my frugal ways as much as I do.

I started working for my grandparents when I was like eight or nine. My dad has an accounting business and I help out over the holidays getting organizers ready to mail, but my heart is outside an office. My grandparents (dad’s parents) have a landscaping business. Digging in the dirt doesn’t bother me and once I learned a few tricks of the trade there can be real money in it.

When I was younger I worked summers and weekends landscaping. Winter was either a few hours at dad’s office or homework. The money was slow during the school year back then.

I’m milking Bess for all she’s worth. Free is better than any car I could buy.

My dad was adamant I save most of my income. I stuffed my Roth IRA and regular Vanguard account every year. After all these years I have amassed $487,916.12. (My dad made me look it up because he says it’s impressive.) The stock market had a lot to do with it too.

The last few years my income exploded while my expenses stayed near zero. I use my dad’s old 2000 Honda Accord with duct tape holding on the spoiler in back. My plan is to milk that car until it dies. Dad picks on me he is kicking me out on my 18th birthday, but I’m staying. Free rent is good.

The income part has grown nicely over the years. I discovered I could find plants and supplies and sell them in projects for a lot more. We also have a 10 acre farm where I grow trees, flowers and other landscaping plants.

My sister is going to China this summer to teach English and is staying with a host family. I decided to not go to college, at least not right away. After graduation I plan on visiting my sister in China for two weeks. After that I have a few landscaping gigs I need to get back to.

Here is one of the first trees I planted. Dad isn’t taking care of it as you can see weeds and the need for mulch. It’s hard raising good parents.

When summer winds down here in Wisconsin I hope to live someplace warmer in the winter. (Dad keeps the house 60 so I have plenty of motivation.) I’ll probably travel the southern U.S. mostly this winter and the Mediterranean the next winter. It is hard finding people my age to travel with, however. They all have to work jobs.

So that is the plan my dad wanted me to share. I saved and invested. My investments are now big enough so that I don’t have to work after I graduate from high school. Like my sister, I like to travel and see stuff. I give my parents credit for teaching me how money works. I’ll probably always do some landscaping work on the side. If you know what you are doing you can make a year of income in a few summer months. Just finding one big rock a rich person wants in their yard can bring over a thousand dollars!

My dad isn’t kicking me out no matter what he says. If he does I’m still not leaving. My health is reasonably good right now, but with all the medical stuff I deal with it is no guarantee. People with my condition usually live to their 40s at most. Medical technology will probably let me live a long, normal life. But just in case, I saved so I didn’t have to waste time with a demanding career. There might not be enough time for me to do it the normal way so I’m making the most of the time I have.

 

This is where dad swallows hard. I’m so proud of my girls on one hand and sad they are living their own life of which some will be without Mrs. Accountant and me. Brooke is 18 today. She has a plan. I taught her all I know. I hope it is enough.