3 Forces Standing Between You and Your Financial Goals

Time

Often all the things we want to accomplish aren’t feasibly achievable in a set period of time. When this is true, we have to make the often difficult decision of determining which path matches with our values. In other words, we probably can’t achieve every goal we have so we have to prioritize.

This is very true with short term goals like making it to your kid’s basketball game verses watching the football game live. But it can also be true with long term goals. For example I certainly would enjoy the process of being a masterful accountant who has both technical skills and people skills. However I have come to realize that I might never become the world’s greatest accountant if I have other goals more worthwhile (for example like becoming a great financial advisor).

Goals

You might think a strange thing to add to this list is goals. After all, aren’t goals things that empower us and keep us on track? Yes and no. In one sense goals are essential to producing the results we want in life. In another sense, goals by themselves, without effective plans to get there and way to streamline actions towards them, are meaningless.

As Warren Buffet and Bill Gates agreed in an interview: one of the greatest factors to success is focus. Putting all your energy on one task, both with your mind and body, is a powerful thing.

Having too many goals, I have found, can get in the way of this powerful focus. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the things that are worthwhile and the things that can wait.

Inflation

Lastly on this simple list of 3 is inflation. This is more of a technical obstacle than a mental one. However the force can be equally important. If you were to buy a house in a stable neighborhood today, do you think the same house would be worth more in 30 years? Yes, I would hope so. This fact that we can all bet on, the fact that prices will overall rise year after year, is called inflation.

Inflation is powerful because it covers both the consumption side (for example like purchasing gum) and the investment side like stocks or investment real estate. Inflation is such an important force that I will be covering a brief history and action steps around it tomorrow in my blog. Tune in!

Money: Where it Comes From

Most people like money. They either collect it, or simply view it as a means to buy their next meal. The fact remains: money is useful. But why do we used money and where did it come from?

It is commonly thought that money arose as a result of the need to barter. This isn’t necessarily the case. There isn’t any society that we know of run completely on barter, even in ancient times. However people did barter a little, and the rest they either gifted or gave away as a form of debt.

At some point the use of debt was coupled with the use of commodity currency. Depending on the people group or the time period in which it was traded, money could be shells, wheat, precious metals, and eventually physical coins. It was after this first occurrence of coins around 600 B.C. by the Lydians that coins started to become more commonly used.

As time progressed, and more and more groups of people used coins, a representative form of money emerged. This was basically paper or some other useless thing, that was available to trade for something of value, like gold. These “certificates” became more and more widespread.

Other societies have since gone back and forth between representative money and actual commodity currencies. The U.S. started out with gold and silver coins as its money. At some point it started a gold certificate or what’s known as “the gold standard”. These could be traded in for a physical amount of gold. Then, with the actions of President Nixon, the gold standard was abolished and we have since been using what’s called fiat currency.

Fiat Currency is just paper, or electronic money, that can’t be turned in for any amount of gold or silver. The only way it has value is because the government says it does. The very nature of fiat currency, as with most currencies, is one of inflation. Since we have gone off the gold standard, prices have “gradually” gone up. What used to cost $1 now costs $10.

The beauty of our current system is that instead of bartering or becoming indebted every time we want something, we are able to trade currency for things of value. In giving someone a dollar, we are giving them something that is widely able to be “traded” for something else of value.

While our system of money in the U.S. certainly isn’t perfect, it has done a great job in facilitating the transfer of assets, resources and services from one side of the economy to the other.

When Should You Sell Stocks?

The old saying, “buy low and sell high” is a very noble goal to have as an equity investor. And during times of extreme prosperity, when the stock market is regularly reaching all time highs, it can seem easy to turn a little into a lot. However, most of the time, history has shown, investors get the timing wrong.

I made this mistake as well in my own life. When I was 16 or 17 I got $100 for Christmas along with a brokerage account, in my parents name, that I was allowed to trade with. After adding $10 of my own I opened it with $110 of fresh money to invest. I was excited!

My first trade, which wasn’t really researched, was the Walt Disney Company. The first month or so it went up. I became so elated as it continued to climb that after I took a “brief” fall I panicked. I told myself, “You’ve got to think long-term.”

So I didn’t sell. As the stock continued to fall gradually I continued to tell myself it would rebound eventually. At some point I caved and sold the stock, regrettably at a $5 loss. After this I purchased a Vanguard real estate ETF along with two shares of GE, which had recently been plummeting.

I have held onto these stocks for a while now and they have finally rebounded back to around $110 in value where I started. The real bummer though, is what the Disney stock has been doing. After I sold, it dropped a little more and then has continued to rise to around $117 per share.

If I had just held on I’d be $7 richer!

This silly little example shows that investing isn’t a day-by-day or even a month-by-month game. It’s a long-term play. When you buy a stock you’ve got to be willing for it to go down temporarily and eventually rebound. The important thing is making sure the fundamentals of the business are strong and then buying at a discounted price.

So, when exactly should you sell a stock?

You should sell when the stock is overpriced. And when is that? When the value you place on the overall business is significantly lower than the value the market is placing on it. That’s when you should run.

 

Investing in Gold: Should You do It?

There are usually two camps to the gold issue. One group says that gold has always been a medium of exchange and that, as a physical resource, the demand for gold will never go away. The second group argues that gold isn’t really worth much except what people are going to pay for it. It just sits there, collecting dust, not producing income or ROI.

So which is it? Is gold a legitimate investment or should we consider it a gamble? Well first let’s look at a brief (very brief) history of gold and how it has been used.

For thousands of years gold has been seen as a valuable resource. The ancient greeks at around 700 B.C. valued it enough to issue the first gold coins. This was under the reign of King Croesus of Mermnadae, who was a ruler of Lydia. They formed coins using a mixture of gold and silver that is called electrum.

As time progressed, more and more civilizations recognized the value of gold as a medium of exchange. For example the use of gold spread to Asia Minor as well as Egypt. The next big champion of gold were the Romans. They developed more technology that helped mine it in their vast empire.

As China and Indian economies developed, they began trading their valuables like silk and spices to the western countries for gold and silver. Gold continued to be used by civilizations for trade. It was always seen as a “precious metal.”

Fast forward a bit and we come to the early U.S.. The largest advancement in the case for gold occurred in 1792 when the U.S. adapted gold and silver as our currency standard. For decades after the U.S. used these two forms as money until paper currency was adapted in the United States. However even when we adapted paper, the backing behind it continued to be gold.

Eventually in the late 20th century, the gold standard was ended and fiat money took over as the form of currency for our country. Ever since gold’s price has moved up and down with demand and supply.

So, has it been a good investment?

The answer depends on what time frame you look at. For example after the crash of 08 and 09 gold skyrocketed in price. However recently the price has been dwindling. Overall, since we went off the gold standard, gold has gone up around 3% per year. How does that compare to stocks? Pretty poorly. Stocks have produced around a 6% return above inflation during that period.

So, does gold have any place in a portfolio? The answer is maybe. Looking at how modern successful investors view this resource, we can see that gold is best used as a small percentage of any portfolio. It can balance out times of panic when the stock markets plummet. Ray Dalio, a successful hedge fund manager and billionaire, has invested in gold only as a small portion of his overall investments.

Finally, the choice is really up to you. Talk to your investment advisor and do some research on your own. You may find that a 10% allocation of gold can significantly reduce the risk for your retirement account. Or maybe you decide not to because you realize you can produce better returns without it. Either way, don’t consider gold a true investment for any meaningful percentage of your investments.

How Much Should I Put in Savings?

As interest rates have risen considerably over the last year or so, many people have come to wonder if saving now “makes sense”. The characteristic of saving as a give or take isn’t quite right because saving should always be a part of someone’s financial picture. Let me describe the reasons one would want to save and ways in which to go about doing this.

1. Emergency Fund

The emergency fund is one of the universally required parts of any financial plan. Without emergency reserves the risks of anything, whether a personal household or a business operation, increase exponentially.

Savings for an emergency fund need to be accessible at a moments notice. Keep them in either a bank account or money market account.

2. Short-term savings

Short term savings, for things like buying a house are usually best placed in a short-term CD or money market. For example if you know you want to purchase a home in three months or so, getting a three-month CD can make sense.

If the timeframe is less certain, stick with a money market or basic savings account.

3. Long-term savings

For savings intended for expenses that are further out in the future, your best bet is in either a CD, government note, or a combination of more riskier investments. For example if you’re saving up for a car in 3 years, it might make sense to put the whole thing in a CD.

However if you’re able to take a little more risk, you might consider putting 25% in an S&P 500 index, 25% in a short-term government bond index, 25% in a gold bullion ETF and 25% in a money market. These four together over the last forty years haven’t lost money over any 3-year period as long as their rebalanced annually. (However past returns doesn’t guarantee future performance.)

4. Other Savings Goals

Any other goals should be taken in a case-by-case basis. Talk with your financial advisor about any questions you have before making investing decisions that you aren’t sure about.

The Most Advantaged Retirement Account

When it comes to picking a place to keep your retirement savings, there are two basic types of accounts to be aware of. The first is what is called a taxable account. This simply means the growth is taxed like most other investments. The second type of account is what is called tax-advantaged. In other words, this account has tax advantages like either  tax free or tax deferred growth.

In the category of tax advantaged accounts, there are a few popular names. Names like 401K and IRA are often used. When setting up a retirement account you can either set one up through your employer, or independently through a broker.

The types of accounts usually provided through an employer are 401K’s and 403B’s. Essentially these accounts are the same, but talk to your tax advisor about the differences and what applies to your specific situation.

If you decide to take the route of setting up a retirement account on your own, you can set up what’s called an IRA  (individual retirement account). IRA rules, for this current year, allow you to put up to $5500 of income away, tax deferred. In other words, you can avoid paying taxes on $5500 of income this year.

So the major employer-sponsored plans are 401K’s and 403B’s. The major independently funded retirement accounts are IRA’s. Within these options there is what’s know as a Roth. Whether it is a Roth 401K or a Roth IRA, the Roth has a few characteristics:

  1. Instead of deferring taxes upfront (and deducting the contribution from your taxable income) you pay taxes from the start.
  2. Instead of paying taxes on the growth, you avoid paying taxes in the future if it is taken out after 59.5.

In other words, Roth accounts are different in the fact that you pay taxes up front, but avoid paying it in the future if all the requirements are met. In recent years, the Roth has become more popular for these reasons.

Generally speaking, the Roth is better than the conventional account because of the power of “tax free” withdraws”. There are a few other types of accounts, but for most people, some form of IRA or 401K is the best option. I hope this helps on your retirement journey, whether you’re starting out, or in the midst of major changes.

Renting Vs Buying – 4 Factors to Look At

Most people will spend the largest percentage of their income on housing. Deciding what kind of housing, and how much can be the most crucial financial decision you’ll make. Choosing between renting or buying can literally be the difference between retiring in the next decade or not.

I am going to cover the largest factors that determine which option is better. In a later post I will outline what my math and research has shown, and which options work best for which situations.

Time-frame

For the vast majority of cases, the rent vs buy scenario comes down to timing. If, for example, you plan on moving in the next few years, renting is almost always better because of the closing costs associated with buying. However as we begin to look at longer time horizons, renting generally becomes more and more expensive, relatively speaking.

Location

In certain locations, like San Fransisco for example, it makes proportionally more sense to rent than it does to buy over shorter periods of time. This is due to the fact that there lies what I call a “Cali Premium” for people who buy real estate in any of the large metropolitan areas along the California coast. Because of this higher pricing, the cost to rent is comparatively lower than most areas of the country.

Discipline

The numbers only make sense if the person doing the renting is investing the difference (assuming there is a difference between renting and owning) consistently. If someone simply rents over buying, the numbers skew back in favor of the homebuyer, who has automatically enrolled in a “forced savings plan.”

The Numbers

The last major factor to look at is the actual numbers and data. These are questions like, what is the interest rate on the loan, what is my rate of return on my investments, how fast does my property increase in value, and how fast does the rent rise year-over-year? These four questions are some of the most impactful when it comes to analyzing the numbers, but there are a host of others to ask as well.

Hopefully these insights are beneficial when making these important decisions. I looking forward to seeing how the actual numbers pan out in real life in the years to come.

3 Factors to Look at When Determining Where to Live

As a financial blog, I have dealt a lot with individual personal finance issues, like what to invest in, how to budget, and what to do in different areas financially. Here I want to step back and cover 3 financial factors that you should think about when considering a city to live in. While these three aren’t the only things to think about, they certainly will cover the broad range of financial determining factors:

Job and Career Potential

Here you’re just trying to get an idea as to how easy or hard it will be to have employment, and sustain employment in your chosen career field. Two of the things to consider are the unemployment rate, which is a good indicator of how many people who want jobs have them, and job growth. With job growth you want to look at the number of new jobs being created, specifically in your career field, over the last decade.

Cost of Living

Housing costs will be broken down into to two big areas: housing and everything else. When looking at housing, there are usually two broad options available. You can either rent or you can buy. You are going to want to compare the costs of rent vs the rest of the country. Pay special attention to the rent increases. For example maybe your area currently has slightly higher rents than the national average, but over the last couple years the rents have been skyrocketing. You want to be mindful of areas in which the costs of living, including rents are rising quickly.

The second housing option to look at is homeownership. What is the average costs of a home in the area. This can vary greatly from one neighborhood to another. For example one neighborhood might costs $300,000 but just across the road might be $250,000 for a similar house. Find the area you’re thinking about and start comparing prices.

After paying for housing there are the rest of the general costs associated with living and breathing. These costs can include food, insurance, transportation, recreation, and especially taxes. Taxes are a huge part of your yearly expenses. There are income taxes (both federal, state and sometimes city), as well as sales tax and property tax. Look at these rates for you area.

Long-Term Stability

The last thing you want to look at after job potential and cost of living is the general stability in the area. The stability of the area is both the economic factors and the political factors.

For example look at one of the leading factors of growth for cities: population growth. Take a look at the recent trend in population. For example are massive amounts of people entering or leaving the area? This might be a sign that things are changing. With the change in demographics and population comes changes in political preferences.

Maybe these changes will lead to political leadership upheaval in the local government. Think about how these changes could potentially impact your life in terms of local taxes, regulations, social programs, and building projects in the future. Are you okay with these potential changes and the uncertainty that comes with them?

Conclusion:

Overall, these three factors can paint a pretty clear picture of the financial concerns about one area over another. After going through them, you should know whether this area is something you would want to consider moving to. Naturally though, there will be others things of concern, like climate, education, health and other issues. While these concerns might not directly impact your finances, most of them should be looked at closely for the effects they could have down the road.

3 Things to Have in Your Wallet

While most Americans are saddled with credit card debt, student loans, and monthly car payments, the underlying issued usually relates to how we view money in general. Most people would like to say they are responsible with their finances, but their actions tell a different truth.

Out of this basic mentality toward money often comes many damaging habits we see today. For example the uncontrollable, erratic spending that characterizes consumers can go back to the root cause of lack of responsibility.

Responsibility over every area of your financial life, especially what is in your wallet, comes from an understanding that personal finances are a crucial area to match with your values.

When someone takes responsibility over their wallet they should be aware of three items:

1. Cash

Most have heard the saying “cash is king” whether on the Dave Ramsey show or elsewhere. But is cash really that powerful? The truth is that sometimes yes and sometimes not so much.

For example if you’re buying a table on craigslist, cold, hard cash will probably be the most powerful negotiator. However if you’re buying a home, pulling out cash might make you look a lot like a drug lord…

Make sure to always have a good amount of cash in case an expense comes up that you can’t use your cards for.

2. Debit cards

Even more important than the credit card is the debit card. A debit card gives you access to your bank checking account and can often be the most popular means of payment. While you certainly don’t need to have multiple debit cards and different banks, there is certainly a case to having at least one.

3. Credit cards (maybe)

Some of the most daunting debt in the US is the credit card loans. According to the NY post, credit card debt in the US is approaching $1 Trillion. Why would you want to have a credit card?

When it comes to credit cards I believe that about half of people should not have them because of lack of discipline. The other half of people should have a few quality cards that are used regularly but sparingly to build credit. There might be some points or cash back in there, but that’s just icing on the cake.

Ultimately your use of credit cards should depend on your discipline and self-control. Everyone should have debit cards. And everyone should carry an adequate amount of cash in both fives, ones and a ten (maybe $50 total?).

Besides the payment-related items there are of course things like ID and insurance cards but I hope you have enough common sense in those areas. I hope this helps your spending habits on your financial journey for many years to come.

2 Things I learned from Ray Dalio’s Book

While often seen on TV and financial journals, Ray Dalio is somewhat of an unheard of figure outside of the financial world. He started broke, developed his skills, knowledge and habits, and today is the billionaire funder of the largest Hedge fund in the world.

In his new book, Principles, Dalio focuses on the principles or set of beliefs that have been the baseline of his success in both life and business. Throughout the chapters he illustrates just how crucial principles are, not matter the principles, to how you perform in each area of your life.

From his book I have taken 2 main points:

1. The things we do know are much smaller than the things we don’t know

While everyone would say they believe this idea in theory, when it comes to the actions we take, many of us, including myself, will puff up our egos higher than is actually the case.

Dailo states that people who have more knowledge, success and experience on a topic, should carry more weight in our decision-making.

2. Set up systems, or processes that help make decisions and see around emotions

While emotions are a natural and good part of life and human interactions, when it comes to making the best decisions, especially the business decisions, logic should be the ultimate decision maker.

Two of the greatest roadblocks to making quality decisions are the ego and the blind-spot barriers, which are both covered by the entrepreneur’s planet in their post: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/150799291/posts/16

Ultimately being committed to integrity, open-mindedness, and self-improvement, are the largest factors that have contributed to Ray Dalio’s success and the principles he teaches.