Tag Archives: work

Are Commodities A Good Investment?

When it comes to discussing investment options, commodities often pop up as something that is seen as a gamble. But are commodities actually a viable investment?

Commodities

There are a few basic kinds of commodities. There are metals like gold and silver. There are gas-type resources like oil and gasoline. There are animals like cattle and pigs. And then there’s also grown commodities like wheat and corn.

Commodities as an Investment

Not only are there many forms of commodities, there are also different ways of investing in them, take gold for example. If you were interested in investing in gold, you would have a few options to consider. The simplest route would to buy a gold bullion ETF, but you could also purchase gold bars and physically store them, or you could even buy gold jewelry and other gold-based products.

Generally as a whole, commodities are simply a resource used in the means of production, that is valued based on simple supply and demand. By very nature, the price of various commodities aren’t specifically predicable because of the way in which commodities are traded. Just like stock prices can’t be determined on a short-term basis, commodities are very volatile even in long periods of time.

However, this brings us back to our original question, should one invest in commodities? First off, I wouldn’t consider commodities a real investment because resources, just by themselves, aren’t growing enterprises that produce cashflow or even profit. So if one is going to discuss “investing” in these, let’s call it what it is: speculating.

My option speculation is that speculation as a whole is generally a bad idea for long-term investing. However if one considers the prices of certain commodities there are predicable supply-demand patterns that arise. Gold for example, has done considerably well in times of economic panic.

Overall, commodities aren’t a wise “investment” choice for the majority of investors. However as part of a broad portfolio, it might not be bad to put a 5% or 10% stake in gold as a hedge against economic disaster. Ultimately the choice depends on the individual.

Different Stock Investing Strategies

I am going to briefly cover the top most widely used “investment” strategies for stocks. Technically not all of these methods are investing because a few of them involve short term trading.

1. Stock Index Mutual Funds

There are many types of indexes. Indexes are essentially a predetermined basket of stocks that are formulated using a set of rules. For example the most widely used index, the S&P 500, is an index that incorporates the 500 largest companies in the US and weighs them in the index accordingly. There are other indexes such as small-cap indexes or tech stock indexes. The bottom line is that with an index you are purchasing a tiny portion of a large basket of US stocks that is going to reflect your sector of choice.

2. Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Actively managed indexed funds are very similar to indexes except for 1 key difference: They aren’t bound by a predetermined set of guidelines. For example an active mutual fund might have a focus on large-cap stocks or international stocks, yet there aren’t any rules on how much of each of these have to be purchased. This is different from an index where the predetermined weight of each stock is set in stone. Out of this difference comes an increase in management fees because of the funds active, and therefore more costly management structure.

3. Value Investing

This is the method used by the smartest and most successful investors (in my opinion). Warren Buffet is the most famous example of this. Value investing involves determining a company’s value (regardless of current perceived value) by looking at a balance sheet and income statements using fundamental analysis. As the investor sees a price drop well below it’s determined real value the value investor can seize up good deals and hold on for the long-term.

4. Day Trading

This is a common strategy by short-term investors who use primarily technical analysis (looking at charts and trends) to make “investing” decisions about which stocks to buy and then sell quickly for a profit. The risky thing about this is that if you accidentally buy a stock or ETF that suddenly drops in price, you could get stuck with a plummeting investment that was truly overvalued.

5. Random Strategy

This strategy is specifically for people who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t even pretend to try to act like it. They randomly purchase stocks that “sound cool” and then hope that they rise in price. By far this is the stupidest strategy just behind day trading. You can lose your shirt much easier with mindless/random investing or day trading than you can with the other strategies I outlined above.

Conclusion:

Whatever you do, please don’t choose route 5, and preferably strategy 4 as well. Not only is day trading risky and the fees expensive, it has also be statistically been proven to outperform traditional investing methods over the long-term.

6 Types of Financial Institutions and Which are Important

The following is a list of institutions that are useful to understand when dealing with money on a regular basis.

1. Conventional Bank (Retail, Commercial and Online Banks)

These are financial institutions that take up the task of performing regular financial functions for both businesses and individuals. The provide services like setting up savings and credit accounts, issuing credit cards, certificates of deposit, mortgages and taking deposits.

2. Credit Unions

These do practically the same thing as conventional banks yet are geared towards a specific group of people. For example a military credit union would be geared towards veterans or active members of the armed services.

3. Insurance Institutions

These companies provide wide rages of insurance intended to decrease the chance of loss. When you go to get car insurance this is where you go.

4. Brokerage Firms

These companies administrate the investing process. Whether someone is investing in bonds, stocks, mutual funds or ETF’s this subset of financial groups likes to help the individual or business execute their purchase of securities.

5. Investment Firms

These Banks or Companies are funded by issuing shares. These funds are mutually owned (thus the name mutual fund) and are usually invested in stocks, bonds and other securities.

6. Mortgage Firms

Generally these companies are geared towards individual mortgage seekers but there are some that specialize in commercial properties. These companies either fund or originate loans and mortgages.

Each of these institutions has their place in the financial world. See where you can recognize them in your daily or monthly financial activities.

Inflation: What it is and How to Use It

Inflation has essentially been around since currency was created. But what is it? The Marriam Webster dictionary defines inflation as:

“a continuing rise in the general price level usually attributed to an increase in the volume of money and credit relative to available goods and services”. That’s nice to know but how does this effect us in our daily lives?

Well the “rise in the general price level” can mean things like groceries, fast-food, restaurants, as well as other things like insurance, utilities and housing (both for buyers and renters).

With this cost increase usually happening year over year, what are some things we can do to minimize this?

Well the first big thing is planning. If you are considering retirement in a decade, realize that the cost to live then will be higher than the cost to live now. Do a rough calculation on the average rate of inflation (roughly 3.5%). Over ten years the cost of everything will most likely rise 41%!

After understanding the impact of inflation and incorporating it into your estimated retirement costs, it’s time to talk about investing. The best types of investments for inflationary periods are stocks and real estate. The reason for this is because stocks’ value (in the long-term)is based on the earnings of the company and earnings generally go up with inflation. So off the bat you have a built in inflation protector.

The second ideal investment, real estate, is a little more complicated to invest in. A common “investment” people choose to make is in their home. While it is certainly the case that homes usually go up in value, the decision isn’t a clearcut one. (Check out my blog on the rent vs buy debate)

Another way to invest in real estate is to buy rentals. This is more hands on and therefore takes more time and energy. If you are comfortable with this then by all means go forth and invest! However a lot of people find the intensive commitment inherent in this type of real estate investing too much to handle.

If this is the case with you you can consider another options, REIT’s. Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REIT’s as they are called, involve the investment of large groups who buy large quantities of real estate. The earnings and appreciation from this real estate is owned through a large quantity of shareholders who buy part of the ownership, like a stock.

While this is certainly an option, I find REIT’s to be remarkably unimpressive long-term compared to stocks or direct real estate investments.

Whichever path you choose to take, be wary of the inflation hurdles and the best ways to overcome them.

Combining Your Passion and Values With Income

Often when students or even middle-aged employees are considering which career path to choose they run into a dilemma. “Should I choose a greater income or sacrifice money to do the things I love?” many ask themselves. Even as a college student I have met and spoken with many older folks who find themselves still in a situation of questions.

Countless people go through their life without truly finding something that is both enjoyable and lucrative (or at least enough to pay the bills). Most people have heard of the classic situation of an artist or writer who lives in their parents basement. But what about the countless others out there who are in similar, yet less extreme situations?

Teachers a good example of this. Many of them make just enough to pay the bills, yet work long hours and stressful lives. Assuming they are doing something they enjoy (which I believe many of them are), how do teachers continue to do what they love while keeping the financial strain at a minimum?

There’s no easy answer to this question. I’m going to simplify a process I have used in my own life (before even exiting college) that has allowed me to understand myself better going into my “working years”. If your financial situation isn’t stable, you may have to work a J-O-B while you get these questions figured out.

1. What do you value?

Ask yourself, if you had only 24 hours to live, what people, places and activities would you care about? What would make your last 24 hours feel “full”? The answer to this can be revealing. As soon as you have grasped the things that matter most to you, begin looking at the things you want to pursue that match those values….

2. What do you love to do?

Everyone likes to do something. Maybe you love math. Or maybe writing or reading are your favorite. Or maybe science has always been a blast. There are numbers things you could find enjoyable. Find some of the top things and list them.

3. What are you good at?

This can be hard to know just looking at yourself. It may take honest questions with people who know you well to pinpoint what you’re good at. Maybe you are a eloquent or articulate writer. Or maybe you can organize things efficiently and effectively. Or maybe you are a natural leader. Or maybe you always have found analyzing numbers and facts easy. Whatever thing(s) you find stand out, those are some things you should double down on.

With these three questions answered you now have set the parameters. Your values dictate where you will never work. For example if you value family, your probably won’t work for a drug gang that breaks up families. Or if you value moral integrity, you probably won’t become a jail robber, even if your greatest skill is stealth and deception.

With values as your parameter, your passions are the arrow, pointing you towards a career field. Lastly your abilities and talents are the final part of the puzzle in determining what position best suites you.

For example what if you value family. You’re also highly interested in personal finance. As you become interested in the subject, you realize that you’re best at analyzing data and making good decisions. Upon looking at these three angles you will determine that becoming a personal financial planner suites you best!

I used the example of myself but you can use these questions for any situation or interest. Overall, these questions are simple, but they may take time to answer completely. And as if often the case, they may lead somewhere that doesn’t pay well. In that case you can either work somewhere on the side, take a pay cut or continue looking for that thing that is both fulfilling and pays the bills. Good luck in your journey!

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!

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 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.