Before taking the plunge into retirement, early or traditional, you need to consider factors that will reflect the rest of your life. Handled correctly, early retirement can be a fulfilling blessing. Without proper planning you risk a return to employment you wanted to get away from.

Retirement means different things to different people. Some want to sit back and enjoy a life of leisure. Others wish to travel extensively. And there are some who consider retirement the grand opportunity to start the business of their dreams (maybe not technically retirement, yet still fulfilling), write a book or engage in charitable work.

The path you choose is up to you; there is no right or wrong answer as long as it suits your temperament. There are considerations with right and wrong answers. Get these wrong and retirement can be less than the blessing planned.

Money and taxes play a large role in when you retire and what activities you engage once in retirement. Meaningful activities and family are also serious considerations. 

To help you prepare for retirement, I will discuss 10 things of vital importance to smooth the transition. I provide a starting point. You need to prepare from the starting point I provide so retirement plans are retirement realities.

 

1.) Meaningful Activities

Money gets all the attention. What you do with all the extra time available to you is even more important.

The planning takes on heightened significance when a spouse, significant other or children enter the picture. Will you travel or be a homebody? Where will your travel plans take you? World or domestic travel? And what activities will travel involve? Hiking? Mountain climbing? Tourist areas or off the beaten path? Tours or on your own? These and other questions need to be addressed.

Travel duration also needs consideration. Some people are wired for long duration trips, with the itinerary stretching months to even years. Other folks start feeling anxiety after a week or so on the road.

Between travel you will have time to explore things you may have wanted to do in the past. Charitable work now becomes more than just a small donation periodically. You can put serious work in at the food bank or homeless shelter. Animal lovers might consider animal shelters.

When working on retirement issues I remind clients, “Retire to something, not from something.” Don’t turn retirement into an empty shell. Make it the most exciting time of your life. So exciting you wonder why you didn’t start retirement sooner. That requires moving to something better than you have right now.

 

2.) Dream Business

There is always that one thing you wanted to do, that business you wanted to open. Early retirement is the perfect opportunity. Not that you can’t start your dream business if you retire at an older age; you just have more years to explore and evolve your business if early retirement is on the menu.

The time to start planning your dream business is before you punch the clock the last time. Every business idea requires research, and the time to start that research is now. You might discover your dream business pays better than working for the man, which means you get to retire to the life you want as a business owner a lot sooner.

The business ideas that excites you will determine your course toward and in early retirement. Many businesses are full hands-on operations. Restaurants, for example, are not a side hustle, while forensic accounting can be.

 

3.) Share Your Knowledge

Retirement is not death. If you look up the definition of retire in the dictionary it isn’t something you want to aspire to. Who wants to be “used up”, “obsolete”? When you don’t plan your retirement it can end up that way. Not you! The most important part of your life is about to begin.

You have a story and you need to tell it. You have acquired skills and experience from years of work and living. Don’t let it go to waste.

A large part of life outside formal work, what we call retirement, is sharing. You never know when an opportunity to help someone arrives.

Retirement should offer a comfortable pace in living life. This means you have time to notice things and help as needed. 

You can also create the opportunities to make a difference. Consider mentoring a child or even an adult. 

Write a book. I mean it! It doesn’t have to be an 800 page doorstop. It doesn’t have to find a home with a traditional publisher either. It should be a long as it needs to be and not a word longer or shorter. Offer it for free as an e-book if your story doesn’t fit traditional book categories. Your personal experiences are a story you need to tell. Your experiences in your profession are another story. You may need to write several short books or maybe a long one will do. Regardless, get your story, knowledge and experiences on paper. Let your story continue on with all your readers. Let your readers grow from the base you built. I call it the pay-it-forward revolution. Join the greatest army ever envisioned.

 

4.) Where Will You Live?

As you consider your options in retirement be sure to think in three dimensions. Planning your finances are important. Planning life activities are important. Where you live is of vital importance.

Your favorite accountant lives in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. I love it here and will spend my remaining days on this hallowed ground. You may feel the same about where you live. Or, maybe not.

Thinking in 3D means opening your mind to options. Living in a home bolted into the ground is traditional, but not required. I know many people who took to the road in an RV once they retired.

Challenging vacation destinations are still on the table since you probably still possess the vigor of youth. (Note: Never grow old. It’s a trap!)

Little pink houses might be the traditional course expected of you. Instead, living in the mountains might fill you with the juice of life. Then you should do it! Maybe you want to live in another country, enjoying a new culture, people and language. If that is you, then do it! 

And remember, you are not wedded to any choice you make. You might have an itch to RV for a few years before settling down. No problem. While on the road you can open your horizons and start planning where you will live as you enter the next phase of your life.

Planning your early retirement is planning your future. Who you travel with makes all the difference.

5.) Manage Assets

We started with the fun stuff to consider as you prepare for early retirement. Now we need to get serious and talk about money and {ugh!} taxes. 

First, debt in retirement is an unacceptable risk. Paying off the credit card in full each month is not considered debt in my book. Credit cards used this way are a money management tool. Some debt isn’t the kiss of death. Still, if you enter retirement, early or traditional, with debt, you need to have a firm action plan to reduce and eliminate that debt.

Your investments now need attention. The current economic environment will determine the stock/bond/cash mix. As I write, I do not consider bonds a viable option for most investors. Maybe a few bonds in the right situation, but when interest rates are low, bonds will not do the job. And long-term bonds have high risk if interest rates climb.

Having all your money in stocks (index funds preferred) isn’t a smart move either. Instead, you need the right mix of index funds and cash. How much you need in cash takes some explaining. Good thing I fleshed out the details in a previous post. I highly recommend you read, bookmark and re-read that post. It is vital information.

 

6.) Taxes: Overview

Like it or not, you need to spend time considering tax consequences in retirement. Taxes take a serious bite out of your wealth. Retirement does not change that.

We will spend a few minutes discussing the more important issues surrounding taxes in retirement. Nearly every consulting session I have in my office involves the issues I discuss below. 

Taxes are complex. Even the Tax Court disagrees with itself on what the tax code means in certain instances. You might think you understand tax law. You don’t. No one human can understand the entire U.S. tax code. That is why I strongly recommend you build a relationship with a competent tax professional. Pay them for consulting! My wealthiest clients demand 2-3 consultations per year on taxes alone. That is why they are the wealthiest. Read and study tax issues that apply to you. Then bounce it off a tax professional with the experience to show you the cause and effect over all tax years involved.

 

7.) Taxes: Converting Traditional Retirement Accounts to a Roth

A common issue I have in consulting sessions is the client’s focus on required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional retirement accounts. While it is a tax issue, it usually should be third or fourth on the list.

A primary concern as you plan for early retirement is using low tax brackets. Unless you have a high income from a side hustle, business or investments, converting traditional IRAs to a Roth is a primary concern. Over your working career you built a retirement account. The non-Roth retirement monies will be taxed at ordinary rates when they are distributed. Using your lower tax rate once you retire allows you to move money from traditional retirement accounts to a Roth with little to no tax pain. Under current tax law, the 0%, 10% and 12% tax brackets are where you want to play. Your facts and circumstances will determine your course. For most, utilizing low tax brackets is a powerful wealth retention tool.

I want to toss another tax planning tip into this section. Long-term capital gains (LTCGs) and qualified dividends are taxed at preferential rates. On a joint return in 2021, for example,  LTCGs and qualified dividends that fall under the $80,800 threshold are taxed at 0%. Knowing this, you now have an interesting interplay between converting traditional IRAs to a Roth and maximizing the LTCG 0% tax bracket. A tax professional can help you maximize the benefits of converting to a Roth while considering the LTCGs preferential tax treatment.

 

8.) Taxes: Social Security Benefits

Early retirement has benefits few consider, but should. Social Security benefits might be in the distant future. But time counts and before you know it you will actually be retirement age. (Good thing you were practicing all the while.) 

In Point #7 we discussed the interplay between tax rates for ordinary income and LTCGs. Here is why it is so important to use those lower tax brackets when you can.

Social Security benefits are sometimes tax-free. There are income levels where Social Security benefits start getting taxed. For example, on joint returns, combined income (see link for calculating combined income) over $32,000 can see up to half of benefits added to taxable income and 85% of benefits for combined income over $44,000. These numbers are low so it is getting harder each year to stay below these limits because they are not indexed to inflation. Early retirement changes that! You might save serious taxes currently and down the road with proper planning. Utilizing low tax brackets optimally can reduce taxes even more once you start collecting Social Security benefits.

 

9.) Taxes: Required Minimum Distributions

The Secure Act raised the age where you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from 70 ½ to 72. As I write, Congress is working on the Secure Act 2.0, where RMDs will gradually more to age 75. Both sides of the isle like the higher RMD age and passage is likely.

People worrying about RMDs at a young age might be focusing on the wrong issue, as a result. Yes, contributions into a traditional retirement account feels like taking out a loan sometimes, since you later have to pay tax back on all the distributions, your original money, plus gains. With RMDs getting pushed to higher ages, you have more years to maneuver your finances for lower taxes. 

As easy as the RMD concept is, it is really very complex. The interplay between LTCG rates and traditional IRA distributions taxed at ordinary rates, requires a seasoned hand in the planning process. This is where your tax professional comes in. Your facts and circumstances will determine your optimal tax and financial course. 

 

10.) Legacy Planning

 

Early retirement means you are still young. Thinking about your legacy doesn’t always cross the mind. It should.

As you review early retirement considerations, commit time to legacy planning. Are there charities you would like to support? How much do you wish to leave the kids (enough to help, but not too much to spoil)? Are there family members that could really use financial help? Friends?

Planning your legacy means seeing an attorney. You need a will and a durable medical power of attorney. Consider a living will. Your legal and tax professionals team can help you determine which tools are best for your situation. There are so many vehicles out there to accomplish your goals. Who know? You might end up with a NIMCRUT

 

11.) Bonus: Dealing with Medical Issues

I write for an American audience primarily. That doesn’t mean incredible people around the globe shun your favorite accountant. For my friends around the world, you can sit this first bonus tip out, since this is solely an American problem.

Early retirement has once serious flaw, health insurance. Prior to age 65, when Medicare kicks in, you need to have a budget that includes medical insurance and out-of-pocket medical expenses. I wish I had a magic bullet that serves all readers. Instead, I have a few options to consider. 

There is medical health sharing to consider. However, these are Christian based and not all readers are of the Christian faith. I published previously several choices when it comes to health care coverage. Having a side hustle or small business helps. If you are looking for health insurance options, be sure to read the linked post.

 

12.) Bonus: Loneliness

No matter what age you retire, time will keep counting. Friends will move on to different things. Family and friends may not retire when you do. Health issues may change your best-laid plans.

And worst of all, couples need to talk about the inevitable. The odds are one of you will leave this world first. The crushing pain can become unending loneliness.

Talk with your significant other, children and friends about life when one of you is gone. Build a network. 

The best time to start planning for loneliness issues is yesterday. You never know when the Good Lord will call. I have ample examples in my small tax practice of people dying at a young age. It will be a difficult time regardless the age the Reaper comes knocking. By planning ahead you give ample consideration to your options. There will still be times of loneliness, but they can be kept to a minimum.

As you discuss with your significant other about life where one of you is gone, topics to discuss include: travel plans, activities, support, living arrangements and friends. 

 

Coda

Retirement is a major lifestyle change. This accountant would like to manage his business forever, but reality suggests that is not the best plan. The earlier you retire the more financial resources you will need. Your health plays a powerful role. 

Early retirement isn’t a solo journey. Many will travel with you, if only for a short distance of the journey. Have a team. Family and friends, of course. But seasoned professionals, experienced in working with people on a life journey.

Remember, you only come this way once.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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.

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.

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

 

The backbone of financial wealth is built on hard work. Yet, physical, mental, spiritual and financial wealth cannot coexist with uninterrupted labor. Every business owner knows, or should know, the power of a vacation. And if you want optimal health and wealth, you better know, as well.

There is a misunderstanding in society of what a vacation really is. Americans think of it as a two week power getaway. (As an American I admit my culture burns at a higher heat and needs to slow down, at least when we take time off. Much of the world already understands this.) The Continent shuts down for August.

Many countries around the world have extended holiday opportunities for employees. Yet, we idolize the hard working business owner that never takes a day off. 

The employee who never takes a day off is not only less effective, but also the employee most likely to embezzle from your firm. (You can’t take a day off over fear of being discovered.)

Vacation time is a great time to read and relax. Enrich your mind while your body destresses.

We idolize those perceived as working endlessly. Who can forget the dedication to detail of Steve Jobs? Does anyone work harder than Elon Musk? Or Bill Gates in his younger days?

While some can work for longer at higher levels of efficiency and creativity, that is not the default for most people. As much as we idolize the accomplishments of Jobs and Musk, each found time to get away and relax. From Albert Einstein to Bill Gates to Jobs and Musk and every other great accomplishment prodigy ever created by the human race, it was the moments of quiet where the magic happened. 

Elon Musk is famous for saying he hates vacations or even the idea of vacations. Yet, Musk steals away when he can to focus his thoughts and increase creativity. Bill Gates has “think weeks”. Einstein would think quietly and alone. This is how he imagined such wonderful things that help us understand our world better and is the basis of so many of our modern technologies.

 

Long time readers of this blog are quick to point out my disdain for travel. The truth is I don’t mind traveling. I much prefer a quiet retreat, unrushed, so I can focus on ideas and creative endeavors. Still, I know deep inside when it is time to pack my bags and visit folks outside the backyard.

So why does a guy that limits his vacation time write a blog post on vacations? Well, it is personal and I would like to share the story.

There are five distinct types of vacation. Each type can be sliced and diced into smaller and smaller components, but in the end there are really only 5 to choose from. 

Where you are personally will determine the most appropriate vacation for you at this time.

My youngest daughter, Brooke is heading for her fifth surgery since early December. (For people reading this much later, I am writing in mid-April at 4 a.m. the Monday before the surgery.) She heads UW Health in Madison late Wednesday for a very early surgery Thursday morning.

Brooke had a series of strokes the past few years and she had very serious strokes last autumn. What started as two surgeries opening her head turned into six due to complications. This week they are replacing the large piece of skull removed from an infection that set in from two surgeries ago. You can read more of the background here.

It is these personal events that have me taking an unscheduled vacation and where we will begin our discussion of each type of vacation and when each is most appropriate to take.

The best vacations avoid the tourist traps. The out-of-the-way places can satiate the spirit more than any other vacation destination.

The Five Types of Vacation

The Long Weekend Vacation

Needless to say, time off daily is a necessity. A good night of sleep is vital to good health. And since fatigue does not bring out our greatest productivity, time off, rest and a vacation can actually help you get more work done than if you never took a minute of rest.

Tax season is brutal for me. Long hours with few days off take a toll. I often get to the office at 4 a.m. and go all day, and sometimes even work into the evening. 

Outside tax season is a different story. I work the early morning hours from home as often as possible. The office is closed on Friday, for a 3-day weekend. 

Just because the office is closed for a 3-day weekend all summer doesn’t mean I can’t think about work. I still read books that educate, answer emails and talk with clients. There are fewer interruptions and the pace is slower so my mind is settled. Just as time off should be.

 

A subset of The Long Weekend Vacation is The Unplanned Vacation. That is where I am at this week personally.

The Unplanned Vacation usually involves the unexpected. A death, illness or other unplanned event surprises us. 

In my case, we knew of, and planned, Brooke’s surgery. It still falls under the “unplanned” column because we have no choice in the timing and the time off is not voluntary.

I will be in the office Monday through Wednesday, probably with shortened hours. Thursday will begin my weekend this week. The early week in the office will keep my mind distracted and Thursday I will be unable to focus while my family awaits news from the surgical theater so I’ll sit and wait. 

 

The Long Weekend Vacation, planned or not, is a short-term break from the routine. It doesn’t have to be every week, or seasonal, as it is in my business.

The important part to remember is the power of the pause that refreshes. When you can walk away and clear your mind, the best ideas will bubble to the surface. The extra day or so of down time can super charge your effectiveness and efficiency the following week.

Vacation time is an opportunity to discover your history and make new friends.

The Two-Week Vacation

Let’s call this the American style of vacationing. Two weeks crammed full of as much as you can stuff into it as you can. Maybe it is a power job around the house or a hyper-planned vacation. In either case, it is filled with as much as can be packed into it, plus a bit more. 

The week-long, 10-day, and two-week tour package fits nicely into this category. Several years back my parents invited Sue and me to a 10-day tour of Costa Rica. It was very nice, but waaaay too rushed. You really can’t really see an entire country in 10 days! I prefer to bed down deep in a community and really get to know a few people.

The Two-Week Vacation doesn’t have to be rushed. Too many Americans use some hectic version of this type of vacation, in my opinion. 

Two weeks is long enough to start to unwind and relax. If you fill too many spaces it becomes your new job, stress and all, for a few weeks before you are happy to be back to the old grind.

Work should never be a grind! The Two-Week Vacation can offer plenty of relaxation and recharging. It is a real opportunity for undivided family time, reading and reflecting.

Don’t underestimate The Tw0-Week Vacation. Just slow it down a bit from the American Style.

 

The European Vacation

My friends across the pond really know how to take a vacation. The Continent comes to a stop during August (except for those in travel, food and entertainment) as people of all ages take a collective deep breath. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Europe, August, or any vacation time for that matter, is at a much more relaxed pace. While The Long Weekend Vacation and Two-Week Vacation have a lot going for them, a full month at a slower pace does more to revitalize. 

This brings up a good point. Short vacations are important, but a longer, deeper vacations periodically are also a requirement. 

The American Style vacation wasn’t always so rushed in America. My grandparents took extended time in Hawaii and Europe in their younger days. And we were farmers where cows had to be milked every day! If there is a will, there is a way. My frugal grandfather proved you can slow down, enjoy, without breaking the piggy bank. American need to get back to this.

It takes time to enjoy an exotic vacation. Extended vacations allow for discovery of true delights.

The Australian Vacation

I hope I am not crossing a line with something stereotypical. Many years back I made the mistake of identifying a man as Oriental (as he also introduced himself as) in a blog post. The outrage was swift and deafening until I asked what I was supposed to say? “Asian!”

Oh! 

When you live in the backwoods you sometimes don’t understand or know what the rest of the world thinks about phrases used “when I was growing up.”

No offense is intended if this is one of those cases.

 

I was told on more than one occasion that when you travel the world you will meet a lot of Australians. I don’t know if it is true or not, but since I heard it more than once from different people I think there might be something to it.

My understanding is that the fine folks from down under take vacations and travel seriously. As in 6-weeks or longer serious!

What I like about the extended (my term for what I consider really long vacations) time off is that you can really settle in. This allows you to really get to know people on a more personal level. With time, people share more things about themselves and their communities. The slow pace has massive advantages.

My oldest daughter, Heather, enjoyed a full summer in China. She stayed with a host family as she taught their daughter, Dora, English as a second language. It has been years and Heather still talks with her host family and Dora on a regular basis. There is a connection between our families that runs deep. Sometimes our eyes wander to the East as we contemplate friends far away.

 

A subset of the Australian Vacation is the Gap Year Vacation. This extended vacation runs to a year or longer. 

When people in high stress jobs burn out they frequently take one of these Quasi-Retirement Vacations, only to discover they miss the excitement of the battlefield and head back to the mosh pit after extended time off to gather their thoughts.

A Gap Year (or three) is valuable for young people, too. Immersing in a culture or a personal project for a few years brings life-long benefits. Traveling the world, if that is what excites you, gives you multiple perspectives and worldviews. (Might I suggest to my American friends you don’t only hang with Americans. If you bring home with you, some of the benefit is lost.)

Rekindle love or build on a new relationship. A vacation offers plenty of time for you.

Retirement

The ultimate vacation is retirement, where you leave and don’t come back. I know too many people that rush this type of vacation. Unfortunately, it is a one and done. (Unless you made a mistake and it was only a Gap Year/s.)

There is an American flavor to retirement, as well, where you rush to get there as early as possible only to rush to travel the world only to rush to. . . 

You get the point. Slow down, take a break and enjoy. Retirement is overrated. Desires of retirement usually mean you are in the wrong profession or just need one of the vacations listed above. 

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the long walk (retirement). Just make sure it is what you really want. 

 

Now my mind drifts to personal issues again. The surgeon is opening Brooke’s skull for a fifth time with a guaranteed sixth time in a few months. Of course my thoughts as distracted. 

I will enjoy many three-day weekends this summer. I will read and write and plan and work around my farm and. . . 

I’ll have fun, is what I’m saying.

This weekend will be a 4-banger, four days filled with a lot of sitting, waiting and praying. It is an important vacation, if you can call it that.

 

And you, my kind readers, all vacations are important. Make sure you don’t skimp. It is as important, or more so, than the work we fill our time with.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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.

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.

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

People pay me a lot of money for advice. It’s called consulting. Questions on taxes and money are what start the conversation. But once we get under the hood it becomes clear there is another motive. The real questions involve medical issues, raising children, starting a business and retirement.

It would be easy for me to give a short pat answer. It wouldn’t do much good, but I could do it. Instead, I ask a series of questions helping the client to come to her own conclusions. Some crazy tax guy from the backwoods of northeast Wisconsin will never have clever enough words to convey the right message. I have to help the client find there way there  on their own. If I say “Yes” to the best business idea ever and the client is not ready or in the right mindset, they will fail. 

And it always comes around to the finish line, aka, retirement. When can I retire? Should I retire? 

I could give you a simple formula if you want. Better yet, skip the whole post and scroll to the bottom for the quick and easy answer, for all the good it will do you. 

However, it might be better if I share a story and ask a few questions first.

 

Old Man Take a Look at My Life

I’m feeling old this tax season. At 56 years of age my eyes stray to the horizon. I’ve seen a lot over the years and this tax season is already one for the record books. 

I entered the profession full time in 1989. Since 1982, my senior year in high school, I have been stenciling in numbers on tax returns for side hustle money. I am at a total loss when I look back and realize I have nearly {gulp} 40 years into this career. There was no clue when I planted that first number on a 1040 for a quick twenty bucks how much it would dominate the remainder of my life.

After 40 years it might be time the cleats get hung up. There are entire communities dedicated to early retirement. I was nearly sucked in all the way 5 or so years ago when I met Mr. Money Mustache, a guy whose claim to fame is retiring at 30. The falling out is totally my fault. I found nothing familiar in the lifestyle presented so we had nothing to talk about. We came from different worlds.

So, if I’m going to help people reach retirement, shouldn’t I have a clue about my own? Well, I think I am more than qualified to help people attain and transition to retirement without ever planning on doing so myself. The best sports coaches are not always pulled from the greatest players of yesteryear. Sometimes, but not always.

If my retirement plans are a fantasy, why do I feel so old? Is it the clock and its incessant ticking? Do I think my skills are waning? All good questions. 

Tax professionals are a unique crowd. I belong to several Facebook groups dedicated to tax professionals only. The crowd is quite friendly until mid-February when things take a left turn. Normally quiet individuals start complaining about clients and their behaviors. Mid tax season changes by Congress and the IRS adds to the stress, and don’t think the folks with pocket protectors don’t let the rest of the crowd know about it.

To the best of my ability I do not complain about the tax code and especially clients. This tax season, only half over, has provided ample reasons for complaint. But it doesn’t help so I focus on what does; the things I can change.

You don’t live long in my profession before you notice strange things. Things most people never think about. 

You can’t imagine — unless you’re a tax professional — how many clients die every year.

It is rare for a tax season to pass where I don’t hear of a client that has lost a child. If not their child, a nephew or niece. I have at least two clients with a child that committed suicide. Clients that had a child drown, killed in an automobile accident and one that died playing a choking game. 

I prepared two decedent returns (a person’s final tax return) this year already. The first was for a 26 year old woman. I never know what to say to the client. The pain must be unbearable.

The second decedent return was picked up last night late. He was 38 when he died. 

In both cases medical issues were involved. They were sudden issues so no one had a chance to prepare or even say goodbye. The wounds are deep.

When should I retire? Reflect on your life and what matters to you. Do the things you most love. Never give those thing up.

Love Lost, Such a Cost

You can’t understand how much I love my work. This morning I was at the office at 4 a.m. Instead of knocking a few more tax returns out I decided to write and publish this post after a few months break due to medical issues in my family, still ongoing. 

With the exception of one tax return stalling me out, everything on my desk is fresh. I’m getting my work done and in a timely fashion so I had the luxury of writing for a few hours. Lucky me!  

I often get to the office early. It allows me more family time later in the day. I have the great fortune of satisfying both my great loves as a business owner.

But there is a cost for not retiring! Every time I walk in the door I take the chance the news of another dead client will reach me. So many of my clients from the early days of my practice have left this world.

A few weeks ago an elderly client came in with her son. She couldn’t get out of the van easily so we took her papers, prepared the return and brought her a copy of the return and signature pages to the parking for her to sign. She is 81 years old. She doesn’t need to file anymore, but worries so we file for her anyway.

We charged her $25. She has no money and was struggling to put food on the table. She asked for time to pay and we granted the offer. When Dawn, the preparer, brought this to my attention I told my assistant to delete her invoice. Dawn called to inform the client. The client cried. You see, people are good; all of them. They have pride. They are okay with a discount, but free makes them feel like they have taken advantage. It hurts no matter what you do. 

I am feeling very old.

A former employee is good friends with Dawn. The former employee visits a Feeding America food bank weekly to bring food to people shut in. Dawn asked for two packages. She delivered the food to the client. She cried again. 

I don’t know how long before the client will no longer need my services (dies). She has a son. Her husband died long ago. All I know is it makes me feel old.

 

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

 

When you practice as long  I have something else happens. I prepared taxes for young people back in the 1980s and 1990s. They got married, had children and sometimes retired themselves by now. Their children are now old enough to file a tax return and are having children of their own. Those children are starting to grow up. If I last much longer I will have filed tax returns for three generations in some families, if I haven’t already! 

And this is the part that hurts.

A husband and wife have been clients since about 1990. They worked with me many years ago when they and I had rentals. They were more than clients; they were friends. The husband’s health has deteriorated for years. He was admitted to hospice and was given less than six months. He is down to just over 100 pounds. It breaks my heart. The wife is suffering from dementia. 

Their daughter brought the news when I prepared (actually Dawn prepared) the return. A few days ago they had a fire at their home. It made the news. I don’t watch TV so I missed it. Dawn informed me the next day. I’ll never complain about bad luck ever again.

Ambition to reach the dreams of your life. Know what you are retiring from and retiring to.

When Should I Retire

The answer is different for everyone. There is no disgrace in wanting to keep doing what you do to fill your days. There is no disgrace in retiring, at any age.

I ask you these questions: What are you retiring from? And what are you retiring to? 

If your job is a drag it might be time to move on. Maybe a different job, one that fulfills you, or retirement. 

Before you take the long walk, consider this. Have you thought about an extended vacation or gap year? Do not confuse tired or exhausted with being ready for retirement. 

Maybe you are ready to retire, maybe not. 

For me, retirement is a hollow promise. The faces in my office are changing. Clients so familiar all these years are disappearing; first one-by-one, now in droves. With each passing minute I become the old guy with lots of crazy stories from history. 

I am desperately afraid of the night. This is what I do and what I am. I will not complain about complex tax law changes or clients sending me unreadable photos of their tax documents. I will gently nudge them in the right direction. They meant no offense and do not understand what it is like on my side of the desk. Age has granted me more patience; an example of a blessing from growing old.

Whatever path you choose, know you can always make additional changes in the future. You are not wedded to what you are doing now. Plans should be changed when things don’t work as planned. 

Most of all, do what you love. Life is too short for anything else.

 

We close with a few more words from Pink Floyd.

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

 

I have High Hopes for all of you.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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.

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.

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

 

COVID-19

Five months ago COVID-19 was just getting started. Fear was rampant. People and businesses made rushed decisions with long-term consequences. In the U.S. fewer than 10,000 people had died from the virus, yet fear was many more would die. 

Over concerns clients and readers (that is you my kind friends) would make poor financial decisions, I published an article encouraging caution and recommended people relax, breathe deeply and think before making a decision. By thinking before acting, I felt my people would be in a better position to make decisions that would serve them well. 

Then I watched my readers act and react on social media. The spread of COVID-19 should have run a chill down the spines of any normal human being. But social media does not bring out the “normal” in people. Some over-reacted with the attitude everyone should shelter in place forever. But as always happens, the disease became “normal” as we saw it every day. Before long people wanted to get out and act as if nothing was wrong or that the risk had ended. The middle, sensible, ground somehow lost out. 

It is sad the intelligent solutions lost out. Again, social media was rife with conspiracy theories, questionable remedies and outright lies. Social distancing, washing hands and masks are three simple things everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus until a vaccine can end its rein of terror.

Logic didn’t work 5 months ago, so now I have to get blunt. This is a financial blog so there is a reason for the focus on a medical issue. Your reaction to COVID-19 is a large part of the way you think. If you conduct stupid, risky behavior with your life, you probably do even worse when it comes to money. The best way for me to convey this message is with the good cop/bad cop routine. 

There are two parts to this post. Part 1 is a mild comedy sketch of the facts. In Part 2 we will put it together and pull out meaningful and valuable data you can use. This value will increase your wealth and allow you to live long enough to enjoy it. Remember, Part 1 is dark comedy and not my opinion. I don’t want hate mail before you read the whole story.

 

Part 1: Dark Humor

I have noticed some interesting posts on my Facebook page recently. It seems people are eager to spread the word that COVID-19 is either a hoax or not that bad or the people dying from the virus would have died in a short time anyway. I also noticed on Facebook (and even in my office) people claiming they have a medical reason to not wear a mask. 

This is just stupid! Doctors have been wearing a mask for over 100 years when working with patients and when in surgery. To date, there is no record of any doctor passing out while wearing a mask. None! In the winter, folks here in NE Wisconsin (and other northern locales) bundle up with thick clothing all over their body and one or more layers covering their face. Then they venture outdoors and slog through snow, wind, ice and frigid temperatures. No more than 5% or so of the population ever passes out in any given week while doing this. The police simply come by and pry the dead bodies from the ground as they clear the roads and sidewalks. Acceptable losses.

Of course that isn’t true. Very few people have any issue with a mask during cold weather. Those that pass out or die don’t do so because of wearing a mask, but because of the cold weather and heavy clothing. And it is usually from a heart attack.

Perhaps people up nort (only folks from northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will know how to pronounce that correctly) are built of hardier stock. Warm weather year-round could be making southern people soft and ruining their lungs, preventing them from wearing a thin piece of cloth over their face. Manufacturers will need warning labels on shirts and undergarments similar to plastic bags. WARNING: RISK OF SUFFOCATION! DO NOT COVER FACE WITH THIS UNDERWEAR! The CDC needs to warn people to put their t-shirt on fast for health reasons.

The face mask is a real problem for the majority people, all whom struggle to breathe even with no facial covering. I understand. I once had a hair from my beard get in my mouth and I thought I wouldn’t make it. Witnesses said I was turning blue from lack of oxygen.

Enough about masks; they aren’t needed anyway because COVID isn’t killing all that many people in the first place. The government is padding the numbers to scare us and most people who die from COVID would die eventually anyway. (You read that right.) 

Let’s look at the facts; you know, statistics.

I’ve heard it so often on social media it must be true: COVID is just like the flu. Only old and sick people are dying from COVID, right? They were all going to die anyway. Right? So why the fuss. Who cares if some old guy 35 years old dies? Young people need to get out, party and have fun. They’ll be 35 soon enough so they need to get their partying in now! Those young people dying from COVID is fake news and a hoax anyway. Saw that on Twitter.

Talking about flu season, only 12,000 Americans die each year from the flu. A really bad year can be as high as 61,000, but that doesn’t happen more than once or twice a decade.

And you don’t worry about dying from the flu, do you? Do you wear a stinking mask just because some slim ball sneezes, do you? No you don’t! You are an adult and have your rights! Besides, NyQuil ™ makes you feel happy. 

So COVID isn’t that bad. It’s like a bad cold season. When was the last time you worried about dying from a cold? during the summer?

COVID only killed 174,165 Americans as I write this.  That isn’t that many. And don’t use that sorry line COVID did in 5-6 months what the flu does in a year. We all know the flu doesn’t do its damage in just a short period of time. Who ever heard of a summer cold? Thought so.

It really isn’t that many! I mean, think about it. I have to give up my God-given rights and wear a mask? and social distance? and wash my hands!!! I’m an American and have my rights! I don’t want any of that socialist stuff from Europe (well, actually pretty much everywhere, including the U.S. is socialist, but I digress). 

Now that we have that straight, that my rights are more important than your scaredy-cat facts, I propose a few more changes to our American lifestyle. If we can have a biker rally in Sturgis during a pandemic we can have a lot of other things, too. As Americans, we have our rights. 

First, we have to stop acting like wusses when a mere 3,000 Americans die in a terrorist attack. Taking off my shoes at the airport, along with the rest of the security check, is unacceptable to a man from a free country. And why should I pay for all that waste? And as long as we’re at it, the cockpit (the boys are giggling now) doesn’t need a bullet proof door. One terrorist attack and billions are spent. . .  of our money! Besides, what happens if the pilot and co-pilot have a heart attack at the same time? It’s possible! Go long enough and it is bound to happen. Just as many dead and broken people as 9/11. Insane! (FYI: Prior to 9/11 I secretly hoped a flight deck would go down so I could land a 737 the way a civilian with no fight experience does in the movies.)

We need to put death into perspective, too. Only 174,165 dead from COVID to date? More died in WWII than from COVID (so far); 291,557 American soldiers died in combat during the Big War. During the entire Vietnam War America only had a mere 47,434 battle deaths. And we started the nightly news back in the 1960s with the number of Americans who died in Vietnam each day. And there were protests! On college campuses! I don’t know what they were protesting for. Today Americans should be protesting for a re-institution of the draft so we can go back to Vietnam and finish the job. The military will also save money since Americans can now bring their own gun to work

As long as we are at it, there are a few more rights we have lost, my fellow Americans. Talking about gun rights, only 15,498 Americans were killed by firearm in 2018. Such a small number of dead Americans and we pass laws restricting firearms, a constitutional right! Heck, COVID kills that many in 10 days and we don’t bat an eyelash. Toughen up America. 

Here is another right we lost. The government, yes that insane group of left-wing liberals, passed laws requiring you to wear a seat belt. Can you believe that? Over half the people killed in auto accidents in 2017 were wearing their seat belt. Lot of good that did them. And the rest of us have to suffer with the constraints of a belt to hold us in our vehicle in case of an accident. That’s as bad as wearing a mask.

Here is the worst government intrusion of all on our rights: drinking and driving laws. In 2016, 37,461 people died in vehicle accidents. Only 10,497 involved alcohol! A week of COVID deaths at best!

For some reason the government has decided it was no longer okay to have one more for the road. Here you are, enjoying a pleasant evening out with friends, and a bored police officer pulls you over, delaying your return home. You get arrested for only having one drink. One! They put you in jail, waste the court’s time and fill the prison with your carcass. All over a measly drink! 

Now I know what some of you are thinking. People who drink and drive have more accidents, but you miss the whole point. The people who drink and drive are just fine, except for the people with impairment problems. These people were going to die sometime anyway.

I hear you. What about the children? Well, in 2016, we saw 1,233 children die in alcohol related auto accidents. But when you think about it, that is a really small number compared to COVID. I also bet you noticed all those young people out partying during the current pandemic. These people aren’t afraid of dying. The number of dead kids is a fraction of a percent of all kids in the country. A small price to pay for their freedom. Besides, some of them will die in Vietnam when we start the war back up.

Then there are. . . 

No. I can’t take it anymore. These arguments are insane alright. COVID deaths are too high and people are making excuses because they are either callus, ignorant, lazy or all of the above. Let’s turn the discussion to something more serious; something that will make the world and our life better.

Part 2: The Fuzzy Math of COVID-19

The statistics above are all true, only twisted in a way to distort the truth. This is prevalent on social media and even from trusted news sources. I included links for your review so you can find answers closest to the actual truth based on facts. 

The faulty logic used in our dark humor skit is more than a risk to our physical health; it is the same mindset that harms you financially. We actually have people who believe 1,000 or more dead Americans a day isn’t that bad. There are people who think it is okay to carry on as if nothing has changed because only old people suffer the consequences. They forgot their Hemingway: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (For exact quote use the link.) The clock keeps counting for all of us and since I see no old people saying, “I don’t care if young people do stuff that might kill me,” I assume today’s young people will want respectfully behavior from the future’s youth.

Except the young are not exempt! Some young people do get sick from COVID. Fortunately, many have few or mild symptoms. Yet, some younger people get very ill and even die from the infection. Worse, there seems to be long-term health issues in some young people. The medical community still doesn’t have answers to why this is. (The Economist, pgs. 65-6, August 22, 2020 print edition

If anyone really believes this faulty logic they would be demanding (and protesting) for the end of seat belt laws, drinking and driving laws and incarceration. But nobody actually protests these laws seriously because we know they do good things for all of us. These laws flatten the curve, so to speak. It is estimated that 14,955 people died in 2017 in auto accidents that would not have died had they been wearing a seat belt. 

Drinking and driving laws are even more advantageous. The 10,497 people who died in 2016 in alcohol related accidents doesn’t tell the whole story. I never heard the argument from young people that “only” 1,233 children died in alcohol related auto accident in 2016 and conclude drinking and driving is less risky for young people. We know that stiff laws on drinking and driving flattens the curve. 

Many social media arguments claim that anyone who dies with COVID is listed as dying from COVID. This isn’t true. Yes, it is possible some people who died in an auto accident with COVID were inadvertently included in the COVID statistics. The number, if there are any, would be extraordinarily low. Making such a claim is like arguing people who die in alcohol related auto accidents would have died from other reasons anyway. Who can say the guy that wrapped his car around the tree would not have died an hour later at home of a heart attack? It is a fallacious argument and should not be used for COVID or alcohol related auto accident deaths.

We could write a book of examples on the faulty logic used to downplay any medical situation. Tobacco companies have been doing it for decades and you are better than a tobacco company, I hope. Instead, we need to turn our attention to what matters in this journal: personal finance and taxes.

Part 2a: The Fuzzy Logic of Personal Finance

We see the faulty logic every day on social media and news outlets. The issues of faulty logic were quickly debunked in Part 2 above. Unfortunately, too many will be distracted from this message before they even read this far. That is too bad because the same faulty logic, carried into your personal life, will cause great financial harm.

The lesson should be simple: Spend less than you earn, invest in broad-based index funds and wait. You tell me how much less you will spend compared to your income and I’ll tell you your net worth at any point in the future within a few percentage points. Then insane illogic takes hold.

Like COVID, young people are less affected in the near term if they don’t heed the mantra above. And even if you do internalize spending less than you earn and investing the difference eventually, you need less money set aside each month to reach retirement or financial independence goals the younger you start. Waiting to start saving and investing is the crime! It’s a simple product of time, as in, the more time your money has to grow the more it does. Call it Keith’s Rule 34. 

Again, like COVID, young people feel invincible and spend to their desire rather than to common sense. Somewhere between youth and their 50th birthday they have a come to Jesus moment and realize the clock really is ticking and who keeps tolling that bell! Then the crazy logic used to start this post is tossed out the window because stupid doesn’t cut it anymore. 

And some never get the message. They don’t walk into my office much anymore since I’m not the kind of tax office you visit if you are 80 years old with a 30 year mortgage and working a job for the man at that ripe old age because you have debt and bills to pay. So much for the gold in the Golden Years. Long-time readers know I’m not a big fan of traveling, but I do like to get out of the house now and again. In retirement it would be nice to visit a few places, even if they are only a skip, hop and a jump away. If I’m working when I’m 80 it’s because I want to and doing the things I want to work at, not out of necessity.

You can delude yourself into believing it’s not that serious when you are young, but it is. Everyone has seen the chart where twin brothers take two investing paths. The first brother starts saving (and investing those savings) $2,000 per year at age 18 and stops when he reaches 24. His twin starts saving $2,000 per year at 24 and keeps at it until age 65. Both brothers end up with about the same amount of money. Only, the first brother invested a mere $14,000 while the second brother invested $80,000 of his earnings.

It is serious: COVID and starting yesterday to save and invest money. The stock market is on a tear after the initial COVID scare. There are people who hit it out of the park owning Apple, Facebook, Tesla and a few other stocks. What we don’t hear about is the people who got taken out behind the woodshed for a whooping. 

The faulty logic of COVID is, “I am young so it will not affect me, I can carry on a normal, I don’t have to wear a mask.” The faulty logic of the poor is, “I’m young and have plenty of time to start saving and investing, I can party and have fun while I’m young because I can, I don’t have to worry about my health because I’m young and healthy.” Notice the overlap?

Too bad a couple percent will not be so lucky. If you have your health you are already wealthy. Medical problems are expensive. Medical bills are more painful than the disease! And lost income due to health reasons is the financial double-whammy health issues can cause.

You will never get another chance to spend less than you earned today and invest the difference. Sure, you can start tomorrow, but today is lost as it bleeds into history. The only questions is: Will you keep buying into the faulty logic of COVID-19 and extending that faulty logic to your retirement and financial independence plans?

Only you can decide that.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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.

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.

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

In April of 2011 a young Canadian man decided to share his philosophy on work, living life well and early retirement by publishing his first blog post. His message of fiscal responsibility and frugality landed with a thud at first. 

Prior to starting his blog and before claiming the early retirement mantel, our young hero moved to the United States. The first year of blogging was brutal. He published a massive load of very useful information without the traffic or revenue matching his efforts. 

And then it hit. The right message at the right place at the right time struck a chord and the Mr. Money Mustache blog was no longer an internet backwater blog, but on a destiny to change the world.

It is only proper at this point I provide full disclosure. I served as the tax preparer/consultant for the Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) blog and its owner, Pete Adeney, for a few years. It was in a conversation with Pete and his wife at the time that I learned the first year of blogging was not all roses for Pete.* The first post didn’t automatically attract traffic. That came later.

If you produce good material they will come, and so it was for our hero. Pete kept telling his story. It was real so it resonated. He retired at 30 by design. Of course, if you retire at 30 you do not necessarily spend the remainder of your life planted in a chair. And that caused the largest complaint Pete faced in his blogging career: that he really didn’t retire.

Once you reach a level of success there will always be a few who want to tinkle on your shoes. Pete was not exempt. Once retired, Pete entered into a partnership, starting a construction company with a friend. As so often happens with partnerships (ask any seasoned accountant), it went south. You can hear the story straight from the source. It wasn’t pretty. It also placed a real risk in Pete’s retirement plans.

Pete also bought a property to fix and rent. That went much better. Pete loves working with his hands and building stuff. Working on a property at a casual pace (to assure quality and avoid burnout), Pete manged to hone his carpentry skills. From a failed construction company, to a rental property to the MMM headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, Pete found the prefect path to engage his passion.

Then we come to the MMM blog. Pete once again filled his time with something constructive (pun intended). Retirement is not short-hand for death! Pete decided to share his accumulated wisdom. But some were not having it.

 

That is NOT Retirement!

It didn’t take long before it was pointed out Pete didn’t actually retire since he was running a business for a while, remodeling/renting out a property and kicking out a massive quantity of material on his blog. Some of his readers were calling BS. 

A certain wayward accountant from the Northwoods of Wisconsin noticed our hero about this time. When the two met Pete instantly took to this wayward accountant for about 15 minutes. As good fortune would have it, the sickness passed.

I love Pete’s work and philosophy of living the good life, financial independence and frugality. But when it comes to retirement we are about as far apart as any two people can be. The 15 minutes we connected was limited to such a short time due to my attitudes about retirement. 

Climbing to the top is worth the effort.

The good news is that neither of us are right for the entire crowd. Some want a Pete style retirement and some, like me, start a business doing what they like and refuse to stop. (What am I supposed to do? Something I like less just so I can brag I retired?) I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out differently if the partnership Pete had with his friend had actually worked out.

My argument with Pete’s philosophy was not about living a productive, meaningful life. Rather, I always felt Pete’s encouraging others to retire just like him had a timing issue. 

April 2011 was a really good time to retire. Pete actually retired a bit prior to that which made it an even better time to retire early.

You see, we had a financial crisis that smacked the economy and stock market around pretty bad in 2008-9. If you had enough money to retire at the market low I would be far more comfortable with you taking said retirement than with all the fine folks who followed in Pete’s footsteps who wanted to push the retirement envelope to the limit when the market and economy were on a sugar high. Retiring on the edge financially when the market is pulling 10 years of near straight-up gains is not the best idea.

 

The Best Time to Retire is Now

Right now, this very day, is the best time to retire since Pete took those same steps! If you have the resources to retire when things are down you have an excellent chance of staying retired. 

True, the economy is still declining from the pandemic while the market has regained much of its losses. And the market is likely to get cranky when the reality of the economic damage done sets in. Still, it is during these trying financial times when you learn if you really are ready for retirement, early or otherwise.

Pete found the sweet spot in picking his early retirement date; he just happened to be 30 at the time. Many considered it a challenge to retire younger than Pete without remembering Pete still maintained financially gainful activities. 

Retiring younger than 30 will take some luck. Skill is unlikely to get you there much faster. 

Many claim they have retired in their 20s, hoping to strip Pete of his early retirement mantel. Deep down I think they hope they will be bailed out by publishing a profitable blog before anyone notices the emperor is not wearing his skivvies. 

How would I know all this? Because people pay me a lot of money to talk to them about their personal situation. And the theme is recurring. I don’t think Pete has a full grasp of the effect he has on some people. They are not really listening to what he said. They pick what they want and forget the rest. It turns out as expected. 

If you have thought of retirement, now is the time you can practice the process. The pandemic has left many forced to deal with a retirement lifestyle whether they like it or not. It takes talent to have a meaningful day when there are no pressing demands.

Pete retired after the bottom of the economic collapse of 2008-9. It was the perfect time to make the transition. If you can do it when all your assets are at or near lows, the chances of retirement going as planned increases dramatically.

Maybe today isn’t the ideal time to take the early retirement you planned. But the day is fast approaching. The pandemic will pass, economic activity will increase and the market will travel to new highs. Beginning retirement when the economy is at the beginning stages of a bull market allows for the longest period of growth before your budget is seriously challenged with declining asset prices.

Disaster Planning

Many clients have bent my ear the last few months as the financial pressures have increased. Discussions of taking early Social Security, and the consequences thereof, are common. 

Another frequent discussion involves people who took retirement too early. Instead of following the Pete plan and building multiple sources of income, they retired as soon as they thought they could get away with it and took up traveling. That fantasy came to a screeching halt.

Retiring at 28 just to say you beat Pete to the finish line is insane! Some of these early retirees are now looking to reenter traditional employment and it isn’t by choice. 

When planning early retirement with clients I use a formula for determining if you are ready to retire, assuming you are mentally prepared. In my formula I ask clients to consider a really bad economic decline where the stock market declines by 50% and real estate is hard to sell at any price. I also assume a decline in rent, interest and dividend income. If we can map out a serious economic disruption and it is nothing more than background noise in your financial plans you are probably ready financially for retirement.

This should not be confused with what I do, which is never retire. My plan is to work at my preferred tasks (taxes, accounting, business planning and consulting) until my body can no longer cash the check. Not everyone has that luxury. I’m lucky I found what I love doing at a young age and feel compelled to keep doing it. 

Most people want a designated time in life where they don’t have the stress of a job or of running a business. Many want to travel or explore other avenues of living. Those goals are no less valid than mine.

What I am saying is that the two ends of the spectrum have Pete on one side and me on the other. There is a large amount of middle ground for you to consider. 

There is no competition! There is no prize for retiring younger than Pete! And for crying out loud, don’t try to be like me. God knows the world has a hard time dealing with one of me. 

Find your path. Pete and I have provided excellent templates for the extremes. Finding what fulfills your life is what is important. You only live once; don’t waste it.

If you have been planning, saving and investing for retirement — and getting close — now is the time for a serious look at taking that step. Today (the day I’m publishing this) might not be the exact perfect day to pull the trigger. But the sweet spot is coming soon; probably within a year to year and a half at most.

There will be no bragging rights if you planned wisely and are now ready to make the transition. If the numbers still work when the markets finally move on from the current economic issues, you should be ready for a smooth entry into retirement.

There will be no excitement, but that is what you are trying to get away from in the first place with traditional work.

 

* As an insider I cannot share everything I know as it is confidential. Friends of Pete will know I have left out parts, as I should. The important parts for this story are all publicly available so I mention them. The links to the MMM blog provide greater details if you want to know more. In some cases there are multiple blog posts, but I don’t link to all of them. I leave it to you, kind reader, to take a deep casual dive into the MMM blog if you already haven’t.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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.

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.

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

  • Following the 4% rule is not enough when accumulating wealth.
  • The recent market decline brought on by the pandemic requires around a third more index fund shares to be sold to maintain spending patterns if you are in retirement and are fully invested at all times.
  • How much money you should keep in cash depends on where you are in the wealth building cycle. How close you are to retirement, or if you are in retirement, determines the appropriate level of cash that should be held.
  • The 4% rule fails too often if not coupled with appropriate cash levels.

 

Rules of thumb are an easy way to quickly see where you stand financially. Once you reach 25X your spending in liquid net worth (the 4% rule presented as a multiple of spending) you are assumed to have enough to retire under the 4% rule, regardless your age.

However, as we are seeing with the current market turmoil, the simple rule of thumb has one fatal flaw. If you reached your 25X goal a few months ago and decided this was the time to step away from traditional labor, you now face a withdrawal rate from your index funds a third higher than expected. This will reduce the account value early in the distribution phase, lowering the total amount you can get from the investment over your lifetime.

Another rule of thumb is to keep 6 months of spending in cash in case you become unemployed. Under a normal job loss or economic decline this would be a reasonable policy to follow. Unemployment insurance can provide additional cushion to the 6-month cash reserve.

Black Swan events (unexpected negative economic events such as the housing crisis or pandemic) throw the whole rule of thumb out the window. Black Swan events do not happen often, but they do occur every decade or so. Looking back at U.S. history, it seems something always happens every decade to knock the markets lower and slow economic activity. The 2010s are the only decade to avoid that fate and 2020 seems to be making up for the oversight.

Black Swan events are impossible to plan for, but you can manage your investments with the understanding something unknown will shake the market’s confidence every so often.  You can prepare contingencies to deal with unexpected market breaks, or take your chances and hope you get lucky… this time.

 

Determining Your Proper Cash Level

One of the hottest topics of discussion in consulting sessions with clients involves how much liquid net worth be held in cash. Emails and even social media requests from followers press on how much cash is the right amount of cash to keep on hand as a percent of investable money.

The 4% rule doesn’t consider a cash position. It just assumes you take 4% every year from your portfolio to live. If the market declines, the 4% rule says you either need to cut back on spending or risk running out of money before death. Cutting spending enough isn’t always possible. And when markets are down many goods and services become cheaper so you should be stocking up at these times.  The 6-months cash rule also falls short in many cases. A down market can last for years and selling at a low to fund living expenses is a painful exercise.

Where you are on your journey to retirement determines the amount of cash you keep on hand. Many times readers of this blog, and those who follow me on social media, think I am timing the market when I carry a substantial cash position. But that isn’t true. I have no desire, nor skill, at timing the market and do not waste any time trying to do so. I do, however, increase my cash position when the sun is shining and decrease my cash position when it rains. This isn’t a timing issue. As I near retirement and have substantial financial resources, I have no desire to maximize my returns. I already made it. No room for heroes anymore.

You are probably at a different part of the wealth creation cycle. Maybe you are older and well into retirement, collecting a pension and Social Security. Or just starting out.

The advice I give clients is based on their specific facts and circumstances. I will give you the same advice here based on where you are on your journey to retirement, early or otherwise. I will finish with my advice to clients already in retirement. You can use these guidelines to prepare for your retirement. Knowing the appropriate way to invest at each stage of the wealth creation cycle is helpful; looking to the next step in advance can be very motivating, knowing you will have plenty of financial resources once you do retire.

Before we start I need to define some terminology. When I say cash I mean money market accounts, bank deposits and CDs. Everything else is invested, meaning broad-based index funds, most notably Vanguard’s S&P 500 Index Fund (VFINX or VOO for the ETF) or the Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTSAX). 

 

Starting Out: When you start out you have the fewest resources. Time is your best friend, however. The sooner you get money invested the sooner it can start growing. And time invested determines your level of wealth. Cash reduces the level of wealth years down the road, but keeps an unexpected expense from turning into a disaster that sends you back to square one. It is a delicate balancing act between investments and cash.

The problem with too low a level of cash is twofold. First, any minor emergency (flat tire, furnace repair, medical bill) and your financial plan is in crisis. Second, job loss or disability can destroy all the work done to-date.

Starting out is the riskiest place financially. By default you will be closer to the red line; income and savings are generally lowest when you are young and starting out. Six months of spending in cash is probably impossible. And if your employer matches contributions to your retirement account you need to find a way to contribute at least to the matching level.

If you are at day 1 you want to take a page from Dave Ramsey’s book (and workbook). His Baby Step #1 is to get $1,000 into a bank account for emergencies. It’s a good plan I agree with. If you have an employer retirement plan with matching, try to invest at least to the matching level as well. A good way to start is by adding $50 every paycheck or per month to your emergency fund until it reaches $1,000. When an unexpected bill shows up you have the funds to deal with the issue. Then start adding $50 or so each pay period to restore the emergency fund to at least $1,000.

The balancing act would be reasonable if all you had to worry about is building a reserve while you are earning starting wages. Add to that the expenses of starting out (furniture, transportation, home furnishings), a mortgage or rent and it can quickly become overwhelming. 

There is one advantage you have when starting out; you are young. With youth comes resilience. Starting a family, paying down a mortgage, building a retirement fund while working many hours to achieve these goals takes the vigor of youth. It can also wear you down.

Regardless your level of energy, financial problems can wear you out. That is why even a modest emergency fund, Dave Ramsey style, can be such a powerful tool to keep you on track. The real risk is job loss, medical issues and disability before you build your finances to a level where you can withstand larger financial assaults.

That leads us to the next level.

 

Building Wealth: You will spend more time at this level than the starting out phase. A $1,000 emergency fund really isn’t enough, especially as you grow older and medical bills have a greater chance of messing up your plans. Job loss is a strong possibility at least once in your working career. The 6-months of living expenses rule now comes into play. The truth is, 6 months still isn’t adequate. An extended economic decline can put you into a bad position where you are tempted to add more debt or tap into a retirement fund to pay for day-to-day expenses.

In the wealth building phase you want to secure your finances to withstand as much as possible. Many people don’t keep an official emergency fund once they build a modest net worth. (This accountant never had any funds earmarked for unexpected expenses.) However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a tidy stash of money tucked away to get you through an income drought.

These are the priorities in the wealth building phase:

  • Pay down and eliminate debt
  • Build a cash reserve for surprise expenses and to tide you through a reduction in income
  • Grow your retirement savings
  • Invest outside your retirement account (non-qualified accounts)

There is no fast way to accomplish these goals, but there is an easy way. Consistency wins the race. Paying a bit extra each mortgage payment will eliminate the mortgage years early; every paycheck should add to your retirement fund in good or bad stock markets automatically; merge your emergency fund into your other non-qualified investments and make investments automatic.

I use Vanguard. You can use Vanguard or any similar investment house. Retirement and non-qualified investments will grow as the years peal away. The tax advantages of retirement plans are the best deal in America for the middle class. Adding to your retirement funds with each paycheck is about the easiest and most painless way to dollar-cost-average there is.

Once you fill your retirement account it is time to build some non-retirement funds. Non-qualified investments can be an appropriate surrogate for an emergency fund. A modest $1,000 worked when you were starting out. As you build your wealth $1,000 is inadequate; you are no longer interested in borrowing money to buy a car or anything else for that matter. You need larger sums of liquid money to replace a car or repair a roof. Investing in a broad-based index fund is the perfect way to grow your non-qualified monies. 

This is where common sense comes in. As you grow your non-qualified account some money will be held in a money-market fund or bank deposit. When a planned, budgeted or surprise bill shows up you will have the resources to pay the expense immediately. To reach this financial position you need to add consistently, just like with your retirement account. You can make the investment automatic in your non-qualified account, the same as with your retirement account. Set up automatic investing with monthly contributions. Part of each payment should go into the index fund and some into the cash portion of the account. When the stock market is acting like the world is about to end again, put most of the new money into the index fund. If you are uncomfortable with the high level of the stock market, put most (not all) of the new money into the cash account. It isn’t a crime to have a lot of cash! Sleeping well is better.

If the economy sours you can always move cash into the index fund. Once you determine your income is not at risk and will remain steady or climb, you can lower the cash position. This is more art than science. There is no exact level of cash you must have. Rather, if you feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with sitting on the sidelines. In fact, the more wealth you have the less likely you want to be 100% in equities all the time. Cash is always nice because it gives you the opportunity to invest when the right investment comes along. It is hard to buy a cheap income property if you can swing the purchase. And cash is always available for spending needs without worry about selling in a bear market.

My point is that you decide what is best for you. Almost everyone should have at least some portion of their portfolio in equities in the wealth building phase. The first goal should be to increase your liquid funds to around 6 months of expenses. This should provide an adequate cushion if things go south. Then get serious about growing investment accounts.

The greater your wealth the better able you are to weather a storm. As your non-qualified account grows, the 6 months of living expenses in cash are supplemented by dividends if the need become great enough. Dividends and capital gains should be reinvested into your index funds. However, rather than selling an investment when the market is down, consider diverting dividends and capital gains distributions into your cash account when the cash account begins to deplete. This will provide added cushion while you decide the best financial move if a recession hits the family income stream.

 

Nearing, Entering and in Retirement: The last phase of your financial life is when you approach, enter and are in retirement. The following advice works regardless the age you retire. Early retirement still requires a proper financial plan. My clients pay me a lot of money to tell them what you are about to read.

The 6-month rule is nowhere near acceptable once you enter retirement. Side hustle income, pension and Social Security keep cash flowing into the budget, but your maximum earning years are now part of history. And besides, even if you can go back to work, is that really the goal here? The goal now is to structure your finances to keep your financial life simple with as low a level of risk as possible.

There might be times when you still add to investments once you enter retirement. We will assume retirement is a consumption of wealth phase. This doesn’t mean your accounts lose value! Your level of consumption can, and ideally should, be lower than the rate of the investment growth. 

Outside cash, investments will fluctuate in value. Only the fluctuating investments provide a potential acceptable return. Cash provides a low, or even no, return and is earmarked for expenditures in the relatively near future. Selling index funds at or near market highs and consuming cash when index funds are not at a high is an easier strategy than you might think. 

Market timing is a sucker’s game. Dollar-cost-averaging when you were growing your wealth was not a market-timing call. The opposite behavior when consuming your wealth is also not market timing.

The stock market is always climbing with short down periods lasting from a few months, to a few years, to rarely a decade or longer. Selling at a market high does not mean the market will not be higher in the future. What I am saying is that selling at or near a current market high is easy to do. Look at the index level. Is it at or near a high? Then it is an appropriate time to sell if it meets the criteria discussed below.

Your cash position in retirement needs to be at least two years of spending! Preferably 3-4 years of spending. With 4 years of spending in your cash account you have plenty of money available to live without consideration for the economy or stock market levels. If the market declines, use the cash account to fund spending. If the market is at or near a high you can sell enough to cover your needs on a monthly or some other schedule. You can rebuild the cash position when the market returns to new highs if the cash account becomes depleted.

When the stock market has one of those wonderful moments where it predicts yet another zombie apocalypse, you have several options. Rather than reinvesting dividends and capital gains distributions, you can divert those to your cash account instead. This effectively stretches your cash account to cover more than 4 years of market decline. Only as a last resort would you be forced to sell below a market high and/or cut back on spending.

The stock market rarely goes down and stays down for more than 4 years. Anything is possible. With dividends mixed in, your cash position can extend to 6-7 years or more, depending on the amount of your investments in index funds. Virtually all situations become background noise then as you enjoy your retirement.

 

As you can see, a simple rule that works for everyone does not exist. When you are starting out it is unlikely you have the resources to have even 6 months of liquid cash available to cover a job loss or serious expense. The goal is to move from that risky early position to a more stable and secure level. Eventually you will reach that 6-months cushion. But then you need to keep pushing because your needs will change as you approach retirement. 

The more wealth you accumulate, the more comfortable you become with cash earning a meager return. Many people lose interest in remaining 100% invested all the time once they enter the 7-digit net worth arena. As the 7 figures keep climbing, cash looks better and better. Of course, virtually everyone should have some invested in an equity index fund at all ages. What I want to impress upon you is that in the early days of your wealth accumulation journey you will be nearly 100% invested all the time with a modest sum available for an emergency. As you approach and enter retirement it is not uncommon to have 20% of more of your investable funds in cash. Find your comfort level and enjoy the well-deserved retirement you worked so hard to attain.

 


 

 

More 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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

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.

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.

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

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Is the FIRE movement too good to be true? Are dreams of financial independence and early retirement a fool's errand? Discover where FIRE is destroying your wealth for their own benefit. #FIRE #wealth #earlyretirement #financialindependence #bloggers #personalfinanceThe first time I encountered the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community I had an uneasy feeling. Sure, the people were friendly and nice, but their message sounded familiar, like I had heard this all before and it ran a shiver down my spine.

The original goal was to start a business partnership with a popular blogger where the income would be shared on an affiliate program unavailable to most bloggers. I had access to this program. Now I needed to find a blogger willing to work with me.

I discovered what is probably the most popular blog in the demographic and found his frugality appealing. 

I attended one of the now numerous camps in the FIRE community to meet the populist blogger. He took to my message and passion quickly, but didn’t want to participate in the affiliate program, a DIY online tax preparation alternative to TurboTax. 

Instead, he wanted me to be his tax professional. In a few moments this new offer would change my life in two fundamental ways. First, my small tax practice was swamped beyond human understanding by people wanting the same tax guy this blogger had, and second, I was thrust into the center of the FIRE movement, a movement never my own.

As an insider I saw things differently than Suze Orman. I didn’t hate the FIRE community for frugality and dreams of financial independence; I hated the FIRE community for what they planned to do with their new-found freedom and power.

 

Everything Wrong with the FIRE Community

Suze Orman felt the FIRE philosophy promised the good life with too small an investment account to enter retirement, especially the early kind. 

That isn’t even a problem with FIRE. Depending on your temperament and lifestyle, you can retire on almost anything, even nothing if you so choose. Nobody has the right to tell you your preferred level of expressed affluence is wrong. If you want to live life large, do so; if you want to live a Spartan existence, you have my blessing.

The real problem of FIRE is arrogance; the all-consuming desire to let the world know you are right and everyone else is wrong. There is no room allowing people to live life on their terms if it doesn’t fit the FIRE canon.

Perhaps the most egregious sin is the desire to turn the movement into a cult. Yes, one of the leading bloggers in the demographic brags he has started a cult!

This is a serious allegation and requires proof. Without calling anyone out, it doesn’t take long to figure out who I’m speaking of. A quick Google search should assuage your curiosity.  

The term cult does not imply good things. A dictionary definition begins with the religious connotations. Since a large percentage of FIRE members claim no religious faith these explanations can not be the ones implied.

The only explanation remaining is the “misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person.” 

Cults are never a good thing. Don't drink the Kool-Aid! Cults destroy your wealth for their own benefit. You do not need a cult to have a good life. #cult #money #wealth #finance #income #retirementCults are not pretty things. I thought it was cute or at least worth pursuing to grow this blog. The instant I crossed that line a reader explained to me what his family went through when caught up in a cult. I could never be something so evil. That was the last I desired to have a cult or cult-like following. I care about my readers more than that.

And cults tend to end badly. Think Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians. Sane people do not want to belong to a cult.

I’m not picking on only one blogger, either. This illusion of helping people while helping yourself to an over-sized helping is not endearing, it’s sanctimonious. Another word with less than a honorable meaning. 

The fake-ness and hero worship bothered me from the beginning. Most in the community are wonderful people, yet too many acted in a manner I found disturbing.

There is a level of entitlement in the FIRE movement. There are bloggers who use their position to get as many goods and services for “free” as they possibly can, justifying the behavior as deserved due to their position. Sounds abusive to me. Sounds like a cult, all right.

Some handouts are okay. Getting free travel by working the credit card system is acceptable as long as you acknowledge you are not frugal when doing so; you are just shifting your spending to someone else. 

Many bloggers advocating frugality are far from it when you consider all the spending they do by getting other to pay their way. 

It is even worse when the attempt is to shift spending to someone who doesn’t want to make your payments. Banks trying to get your business want to issue rewards as an enticement for patronage. Individuals and small businesses are less inclines because it hurts more when forced to give in this manner. And if you act entitled to special treatment . . . 

Every expenses should be included when you review your budget. You are spending even when someone else pays! Acting self-righteous by claiming frugality when your carbon footprint is higher than the average of the highest polluting nation on the planet is not frugal; it’s vulgar. 

But all this is background noise to the greatest crime of the FIRE movement:

People in FIRE want to retire as soon as possible so they can demand others do a job they refuse to do themselves. They become the boss they would never work for. They lack humility, demanding respect because they learned to game the system better than most.

My mind is numb watching these people retire as young as possible to travel the world, sending a steady stream of photos to Instagram so friends and family — but mostly strangers — can have their faces rubbed in it. The news feeds are filled with these stories, encouraging the unhealthy hero worship.

Back in my day (I walked to school uphill both ways in snow) the equivalent was when grandpa brought out the slides and projector at a family gathering.

Slides are an old technology where pictures are imposed on a plastic slide, used in a projector to show the photos on a large screen.

Everyone dreaded the slides. Grandpa would go through a long line of pictures of their last vacation. Nobody cared and if they did it wasn’t to celebrate with grandpa, but to loath him. It was boring! 

Instagram is the modern version of the slide. The only reason people show up is because they want the opportunity to flaunt their pictures, too. It really is about bragging and jealousy. Life is too short for that.

I suggest people enjoy their round-the-world adventure. Keep the updates for close family and friends so they don’t worry about your well-being. If the rest of us wanted to go we would have. Write a nice article later, fleshing out the details (with photos), for people planning a trip to where you have been.

There is a hedonism in FIRE. I’ve enjoyed working with many people in the demographic. It amazes me the level of incredible people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with. I am equally amazed at the level of solipsism. No humility whatsoever. Can this really be setting a good example for the world at large?

Let us not be desirous of vain glory. Provoking one another, envying one another.

 

Phalanstery

Pointing out the emperor has no clothes is a sure way to lose your card-carrying status within a community. The alternative is to deny the truth and be part of the problem. If I’m out, I’m out. At least I was honest.

This brings us to the scariest part of the movement no one wants to talk about: phalanstery. 

At the turn of the 19th century the French utopian socialist thinker, Charles Fourier, created the term phalanstry to illustrate the arrangements for living in a future communal society. Dostoevsky alludes to this in Crime and Punishment*

Discover financial freedom where you can live your dreams. Cut your own path. Live life on your terms. #freedom #life #live #faith # discoverYou would think 200 years would lay such foolishness to rest. It hasn’t. 

There is a group within FIRE that wants to create small communities without roads, only  bike paths. The language and terminology of these plans is what finally triggered my memory. A quick search of my bookshelves verified my fears.

The FIRE community is made up of the most intelligent and educated people in our society. The same can be said by contemporaries of Fourier and Marx.

Need I remind you the utopia promised by these intellectuals gave us a 100+ million body count in Stalin’s Russia and perhaps as many as 130 million dead in Mao’s China. 

These utopian bike cities** could be the new Gulag Archipelago in the not so distant future. 

Before you protest this would never happen, remember that is exactly what was said in the 19th century. This new world order was supposed to bring in a worker’s paradise. FIRE promises a similar paradise of world travel, ecology, environmentalism and early retirement paid for by the backs of those outside the movement. It never turns out as planned when everyone wants to play and no one wants to work. Hedonism is a bad ingredient in any recipe.

FIRE saw its reflection in the water and fell in love with itself. Remember, this was a curse placed on Narcissus by Nemesis, the god of revenge. 

We must always be cognizant of Solzhenitsyn’s warning.

 

 

Hope and a Bright Spot

Everything wrong with FIRE still does not make it a deal-breaker. Spending less than you earn and investing for the future is the best financial advice you can receive. If it stopped there it would be a helluva movement. 

But it never stops where it should. Yet, in all the debauchery and self-aggrandizement there are beacons of hope.

Before J. Money sold Rockstar Finance he had a charitable arm to that blog. Even thought the funds were small they made a big difference. Best of all, they were given to people who had no chance of ever paying it back (the only real charity). 

J. Money isn’t the only one walking the talk. Several bloggers are paying-it-forward in heroic fashion without fanfare or chest thumping. It gives me hope in humanity.

Utopian bike cities will not solve the world’s ills if you hop on a plane and travel the world on someone else’s dime. The carbon footprint is still outsized. 

We need more J. Moneys. Giving without expectation (or possibility) of repayment is the only real giving. I wish a blogger with massive traffic would spearhead this. It would show real leadership. This blog manages an average 70,000 page views per month. If nobody wants to pick up where J. left off I will take the lead. It would be truly sad if the jet setters sending us constant Instagram updates didn’t make this a priority.

Of whom much is given, much is expected.

 

Membership Revoked

I imagine my membership in the FIRE community is revoked after this rant. I didn’t expect anything different.

My choices were to remain silent and allow the insanity to continue or to say what I think (and know) without calling anyone specifically out. 

We are all guilty of hedonism now and again. It’s natural. When it becomes your whole lifestyle and you flaunt it as “the only correct way” to live life you have crossed the line.

Believe it or not, I like most people in the FIRE community. Many are clients. My guess is I will not be welcome around the FIRE anymore. I’m okay with that. It was never my tribe anyway. I’m more of a country boy who enjoys a good card game Friday night with neighbors and family. None of them care a lick about FIRE and what it stands for, yet they are financial set. And it is a short 1 1/4 mile bike ride.

I’m not alone in pointing out issues with FIRE. No one has mysteriously disappeared for calling the FIRE community out on its cult-like behavior and utopian bike cities.

Yet.

 

Coda 

I’m serious about the benevolent fund built in a similar style J. Money used on Rockstar Finance. If we are so rich we need to show more gratitude by paying-it-forward to those who have no ability to pay back. That makes the world a better place than any self-serving bike city ever can.

If a big-name blogger doesn’t take this project I will quietly (no self-aggrandizement allowed) start the program myself. 

Jordan Peterson said the meaning of life is to end “needless suffering.” Viktor Frankl ended his book Man’s Search for Meaning with: the meaning of life is to help others find meaning in theirs. 

I could not have said it better.

 

 

* Note 7 of Part Three of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation gives a short description of Fourier’s phalanstry in action, something that got Dostoevsky in trouble with the law.

** Of course bike friendly cities are a good idea. A city built with the environment in mind would also have retail and office space within walking/biking distance as well. If you want to see a city designed around sound environmental ideas and bike friendly go to your library and check out the April 2019 issue of National Geographic. Best of all, Nat Geo will not try to sell you something. Just good reporting.

 

Final Note: After finishing the rough draft of this post I sent out a trial balloon on Facebook to see the reaction to a post on Everything Wrong with FIRE. To my surprise the leading suggestion involved health insurance. Many felt FIRE doesn’t deal with the health insurance issue appropriately. 

I solved this problem some time ago for my family. I use health sharing. It does require faith, but shouldn’t we have faith in something?

In the Resources section below I have a link for Medi-share. It is an affiliate link.

After careful review, my family signed up with Liberty Healthshare. For $399 per month we get 100% coverage after a $1,750 deductible. That alone is enough to build faith in God. If you mention this blog I might (not certain how their referral program works) get a referral fee.

 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

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.

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.

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

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Build goals that motivate you, allowing you to live your dreams. Dream big, but follow these steps to keep balance in life. #Life #work/lifebalance #success #goals #motivationWhen I was a child I wanted to be President of the United States and an astronaut. At the same time, if possible.

My uncle, Kev, wanted to be the first person to farm on the moon. 

Growing up poor in the backwoods of Wisconsin caused us to dream of a life like that on our old black and white console television. The world looked so much more exciting on the glass teat (a term from the days when the television screen was a protruding bulb) than in our settled rural lifestyle. 

Such are the dreams of youth when our imagination knew no limits.

Many children dream of growing up to be a doctor, policeman or fireman. The visible (and exciting) occupations all make the list.

Some keep the extraordinary dreams. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are modern examples of people who created a whole new world we all live in. 

A hundred years ago it was Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla creating the world people lived in. Amazing how a century can turn incredible technologies into mundane necessities of life we only acknowledge when the electricity goes out or the car refuses to start.

 

Big Dreams

Dreaming big is what made our modern world. It is hard to believe electric vehicles would be where they are currently without Elon Musk.

In the past few days Richard Branson is reported to be floating the idea of the first publicly traded space tourism company. 

A hundred years ago industrialists gave us the airplane, automobile and a host of household conveniences. In one century we went from horses and wood stoves to space travel and computers. Space launches are becoming so common few get excited anymore when a rocket lights up unless Elon Musk has something exciting for us.

But you, like me, probably don’t have dreams quite as big as Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin). And even if you did you probably don’t have the resources, or access to the resources, to have any chance of realizing the goal.

Branson, Musk and Bezos are in a unique position of possessing the resources to realize the space dream. 

For the rest of us with fewer resources, we find goals that large the equivalent to Don Quixote chasing windmills.

 

Appropriate Goals

Goals of space travel are good to have. The space cowboys in the private sector must have had these dreams long before they could reasonably undertake their projects. Their dream of space travel, and more to the point, people living in space and permanent colonies on the moon and Mars, evolved from dream to goal. And once a dream reaches goal status it takes on a life of its own.

Most of us understand large goals are a step-by-step process. In other words, smaller goals are needed to attain the significant. 

You might not get a star if you reach for one, but you sure will not come up with a fistful of dirt. Dream big! Create goals that motivate. Create goals that make your life better. Create goals you will use to better your life. #life #goals #stars #goalsettingStarting a business and planning for retirement are large goals. The business doesn’t have to be a S&P 500 company to be significant. A local company is just as important as the big guys. Communities are more vibrant if there are more local businesses. A one-company town lives only as long as the board of directors thousands of miles away don’t decide to downsize or outsource. Small business does provide stability.

Retirement planning is something we can all understand. If your ultimate goal is to build a $1 million nest egg you don’t start by investing $100,000 per week until it’s done 2 1/2 months later! No, you plan. Each paycheck half goes to the retirement account. This allows tax advantages over several years so you can save even more.

A decade of investing in low-cost index funds leads to serious sized retirement accounts. Each pay period is a goal. Increasing contributions annually is a goal. 

Big goals require consistent smaller goals. Early retirement is a process you start at an early age. If you decide to retire at 45 you better have taken steps before you turned 44. Unless you are already loaded or a trust baby, one year is not enough for that large a goal.

We see the same practices in massive firms attempting the near impossible. Elon Musk has a goal of putting humans on Mars. But first he needs a reliable rocket! Musk has pushed the envelope with interesting reusable rockets that land themselves. It is a sight to behold. Then he needs to figure out. . . 

Ultimate endgame goals often require more time than anticipated. Musk may not get humans to Mars as soon as he wants. (He has a hard time keeping to his delivery promises at Tesla.) He will get a lot closer if he focuses on the task (goal) at hand.

 

Shooting for the Stars

We used to call lofty goals “shooting for the stars”. Today we are actually shooting for the stars. For real!

The advantages to society will be even greater than those provided by the Apollo program. In the 1960s the government (NASA) ran the program for the U.S. The only competition was the Soviet Union. Today many private firms are vying for a piece of the space market. More enter every year.

One of these new space ventures will succeed. Probably more than one. More competition will keep coming assuring humans will call more than Earth home. 

If you share the space dream it can be disheartening. Most people reading this will not lead a company blazing a trail into space. Most will not even be lucky enough to work for such a company.

But there are lessons we can all learn from these modern pioneers. Life on earth has never been so grand. Steven Pinker has done the research. We live longer and better than at any time in history. There is even less war. Check the data. Fewer of us die of violence than ever in history! And by all accounts it looks to be getting even better!

Small goals can motivate for a short time. A goal to visit Spain next spring is a good goal. If you had to plan for 30 years for that one trip and everything else was sacrificed, you might not hold interest in said goal for long.

Large goals hold our imagination. Financial freedom and retirement occupies the majority of adult thinking. It never gets old dreaming of retirement, or planning accordingly once retired, so we can continue enjoying the life of luxury. 

 

Goals that Motivate

Like my uncle, Kev, you might have extreme goals like farming on the moon. These massive goals will change mankind forever (when achieved) and have the ability to motivate, especially if you can take steps (smaller goals) toward achieving the large goal today.

However, life is a series of smaller goals. We want to pay off the mortgage, building a plan (goal) to do so. Starting a business is a serious undertaking many want to explore. And retirement is always looming (time keeps counting). 

Yet, before we can pay off the mortgage we must save a down payment and buy the house! 

This illustrates today’s message. People waste time thinking about paying off the mortgage when they should be thinking about saving as large a down payment as possible. You need a mortgage (or will have one soon) before you can plan to pay it off. Or as we say on the farm: putting the cart before the horse.

Retirement is the same. Too many spend time thinking of all the awesome things they will do in retirement and forget to actually plan to have a retirement. (Saving and investing.)

As an accountant I have several examples of clients who died shortly after retiring. In the last year a business-owner client died three days after retiring. He wasn’t that much older than your dearly, not yet departed, friendly accountant. My staff has reminded me of this with my recent personal health scare (not yet resolved). 

Goals should help you live better. Yes, grand goals of jet-setting around the galaxy with Captain Kirk is fine as long as you don’t forget to live while still walking God’s green earth. 

Musk and all the others are working to make space quotidian. They are also making the world a better place now in our everyday life with electric cars and with new ways to buy and sell goods and services.

 

Goal is a Four-Letter Word

The word goal has taken on dreaded status. Over the decades I’ve attended several informational and motivational seminars. Whenever the topic of goals comes up, heads duck. It shouldn’t be that way.

I think people dread goals because they feel obligated once they are on paper. There is also some fear of stating your goals because they entail your deepest desires. 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for someone to throe sand into the gears. Learn how to properly set goals for business, financial independence and retirement. #retirement #goals #financial goalsThe thing is, goals should change. Not every goal deserves consideration. It would be nice to skydive. Sure it would. But after careful consideration other goals might interest you more. More family time might be the goal you wish to pursue instead and the rewards (in your mind) might be better than falling from 10,000 feet.

Goals can take on a life of their own, taking you where you don’t want to go. A wise person will notice the subtle course change and review their direction to ascertain they are heading where they want to go.

For a decade now I’ve worked hard on a course change for my tax practice. I dived head first into the DIY tax preparation opportunity. The first foray was a disaster costing me nearly $80,000 in loses. (Tax deductible, I should add.)

My second attempt was rebuffed and fundamentally changed the normal part of my practice. What was a quiet tax office turning a reasonable profit erupted into a madhouse ending with burnout and health issues. 

My goal took a different direction and I felt obligated to more people than I really was.  The goal turned into a four-letter word. And a goal should never be treated as such.

Goals are guidelines you set up so you stay focused. When the telescope is moved you need to reevaluate. 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for someone to throw sand in the gears. You can get comfortable (I got comfortable). Then things can go really wrong which causes bitterness and loss of direction.

Yeah, you might have fewer clients and less income, but you will have a more satisfying life; you might have to work one year longer before retirement , but you can slow to a reasonable pace instead of trying to beat the record earliest retirement among your friends. Always, quality over quantity.

When used properly, goals are the most powerful force on earth. They can take us to the moon and make electric cars mainstream. 

Goals should help you manage dreams and help you live a better life. Maybe all the way to the stars.

And sometimes a quality goal is to quietly read a good book (or blog). To slowly absorb the story.

Take the time to live, kind readers. We only get one go at this. May as well enjoy the journey.

Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together. (Red Green)

 

 

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