From a Charles Schwab survey of Chicago residents.
From a Charles Schwab survey of Chicago residents.
When I counsel people (including myself) on how to make their budgets work, I often find that they are much better at EITHER controlling spending OR earning money.
As a reminder, there are two sides to each budget/balance sheet:
The old cliché is that we tend to be ‘savers’ or ‘spenders’. While that is often true, it is very difficult to win with money if you a thrifty saver but don’t earn enough money. Likewise, no matter what my income is I can always find a way to outspend it.
To make a budget/balance sheet work, we need to earn enough AND spend it wisely. The majority of people that volunteer to come talk to me about their money (grad students), tend to be thrifty savers but are having a hard time making ends meet without going into debt – something they don’t want to do.
For them, they don’t have a saving/investing type problem. Instead, we have to put our heads together on how they can earn more money. That can be challenging with the time constraints of school and family. It also isn’t a quick fix – there isn’t one change to be made.
The good news is that there are lots of options. Earning more money is a skill that can be built. The reality is that someone that has earned more in the past is significantly more likely to earn more in the future. Why?
It may be that they are more apt to recognize financial opportunity, how to leverage their skills in the marketplace, how to ‘sell’ themselves as a bargain to potential employers, or how to provide and communicate their value.
More on that:
Step one to any change is making a decision. If we decide we need to make more money to make our budget work, we will begin to look for and see opportunities. Prayer is a powerful tool in this. God can open the eyes of our mind.
From the event organizers:
“I’m pleased to announce we are hosting a free webinar at 12pm (Eastern) on Thursday, October 5, with attorney Richard Hammar on a critical topic: retirement planning for pastors.
Unfortunately, statistics from the National Association of Evangelicals suggest that few pastors adequately save for their retirement years. Often, it’s because the pastors and their church boards don’t know where to begin. In this one-hour presentation, Rich will cover key topics that pastors and boards should know with respect to the various plan options, how they work, and how to navigate the legal and tax implications of each. The material will be relevant to pastors at any stage of the career spectrum (early-, mid-, or late-stage). And perhaps most importantly, the information will be offered in a completely neutral manner, providing pastors and boards with an objective perspective that aids their planning and decision-making.
The registration link is http://churchlawandtax.com/webinar.
If you want more background information, this free blog post explains the event further: http://www.churchlawandtax.com/blog/2017/september/planning-pastors-retirement.html
An article passed along to me this week with a lead that caught my attention:
A couple of brief observations:
1.) 2/3 Borrowers with more then $50k in debt aren’t paying down their balances. It’s ‘compound interest’ in reverse – if you owe a lot, the minimum payments just barely – or in some cases don’t – cover the accruing interest. I noted this has a striking similarity to Negative Amortization Mortgages that contributed to the financial meltdown a decade ago.
2.) One of my major concerns two years ago was that the government could change it’s rules anytime on loan forgiveness. This article mentions several proposals that are on the table to do just that including eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan altogether. It’s one of the main reasons I don’t think using any version of the loan forgiveness plan should ever be your primary payoff strategy.
3.) We’ve noted before about how the government makes over $50 Billion in profit from the student loan program each year. That enormous cash cow for those in power is the primary reason I don’t predict significant student loan reform for the benefit of the borrowers. In fact, this article says the proposed reforms will earn the government an additional $104 Billion over the next ten years. Incredible.
4.) If the government was actually serious about reform for the benefit of the American citizen, there are a number of options. For example they could put a hard cap on total student borrowing at the median household income ($55,775 in 2017), limit borrowing to the cost of tuition, or financially involve the educational institutions.
Last week I teased that aside from hoping to strike it rich with a miracle investment, there was a better route to go. Here is my brilliant three-step plan:
One: Earn More
Dave Ramsey teaches that your most important wealth building tool is your income. To build wealth, you need to generate income. Saving money (income minus expenses) and investing (return on saved money) are impossible without generating income. Obviously more income increases your chances (but certainly doesn’t guarantee) of having a surplus. If we aren’t currently generating a surplus, we need to either (or both) cut expenses and/or generate more income. Here is some advice on generating more income.
Two: Get rid of Debt
Getting out of debt accomplishes two super important things. First, you take over control of your income. Debt is a lien against your future income. Take control of your future income – it will allow you to save which is step one in accumulate wealth. Second, if you are paying interest on debt, you can have a guaranteed return on an investment by keeping that interest for yourself. See this.
Three: Save cash
This seems counter intuitive, but having a large cash reserve is valuable for several reasons. First, you can negotiate significant discounts on things you are forced to buy. Second, you are prepared when assets that we know and understand become significantly discounted. Like when we get our next recession. There is a lot more to be said about the advantages of liquidity, but I recommend trying it to see how it feels.
Concession from last week. While I’m steadfast that we should let go of the myth of being a great investor, it’s really important to understand that yielding a couple of extra percent yields a massive difference in returns over time. Over 20 years, the difference between earning 6% and 12% on an investment isn’t 2x the return, it’s 3x. This goes up even more over time and/or return.
Our country loves the “Horatio Alger” story – the old rags to riches. In our culture, one of the most popular narratives to riches is through being a great investor.* If I can figure out the market, I’ll be able to see something others don’t and it will make me wealthy. Warren Buffett is the hero of this story. I poured through his biography (The Snowball, 832 pages!) when it came out looking for secrets and clues. One potentially controversial belief I’ve developed:
I don’t believe being a “great investor” is a reasonable path to wealth.
We need to let go of the myth that we are one hot stock tip away from financial success. This narrative is baked into our entire culture. TV networks like CNBC and Fox Business are built on this myth (Here is the 8 best TV shows ranked by a website dedicated to investors). Entire print industries (Money magazine, financial help books) have this narrative intertwined in their unspoken promise to the reader.
I’m convinced it doesn’t work and in fact it’s a massive waste of time and distraction from actually accumulating wealth. Why? Here are three of many reasons:
A friend of mine recent came and asked for some advice on which stock to buy with a $1,000. I didn’t have the courage to tell them it didn’t matter. Warren Buffett, the wealthiest person in America and perhaps the best investor in our history has earned around 20% compounded return. Maybe you’re a better investor then Warren Buffett, but if you’re as good as him in 10 years your $1,000 will be worth $7,268.
The point is that most of us don’t have enough upfront capital to take advantage of outsized returns, even if we were to get them. Does this mean we shouldn’t save or make wise investments? Of course not. It should pop the bubble that I’m only one key investment away from financial freedom.
There is a huge separation between how it feels for my $1,000 to be up (or God forbid down) 8 points this morning and the actual impact that will have on my life. That’s why some of the best investors don’t follow the market or invest in individual stocks. That’s why it “doesn’t matter”. There are a dozen other more important financial decisions each month that will affect my financial future far more than the short term fluctuations a $1,000 investment.
My dad went to a three-day seminar on how to use stock shorts and options to make a killing in the market. One major problem (beside the fact that nobody actually “beat’s the market”) is that if my dad did this from home he’d still have to pay for his regular living expense from his earnings. For example, if he earned 20% on a huge sum of money like $250k, he would clear about $50,000 in income before taxes. The problem is that he’d use most of that money up, you know, eating and stuff. It would make it almost impossible to actually accumulate wealth unless you had your living expenses covered by an actual income or you had some amount of money large enough ($2M+) that $50k wasn’t a significant deduction from returns.
Another example. People have asked me about real estate investing. I think it’s a wonderful investment, but unless you have a significant amount of capital don’t plan on making a living doing it for many years. It’s a great side job, but if you’re living on the returns it’s a poor way to accumulate wealth. In fact, almost everyone I know that has done well in real estate has done it by working (improving, changing use, managing, etc.) rather then passive investing.
This one hurts a little. My pride tends to try to convince me that I know more then I really do. I’ve noticed that the professional investors from books like The Big Short and The Snowball spend a tremendous amount of time and attention learning their craft inside and out. I know several professional investors personally, and I’m continually taken aback by how much they put into understanding each investment. Even after exhaustive consideration, they build investment models around the inherent acknowledgement that they will be wrong some of the time.
If someone says you should invest in such-and-such because the kids are using it or something, I beg you to stay away. Virtually all public information is trash. One of the core tenants of all investing is “Invest in what you know”. Being honest about what I really know isn’t easy, but it will save me a lot of dashed expectations and refocus me back on activities that pay huge dividends.
Next week: If you aren’t going to waste time/effort/dashed expectations chasing the next great investing tip, what should you do instead?
A little mini-roundup today.
We’ve discussed at length the business model that is our student loan system, which earns the government over $51 Billion in profit per year. Cracks continue to show around the sustainability of this system.
“If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order. If we don’t have internal order, we will be controlled by our human passions and by the powerful outside forces…”
That quote opens Rod Dreher’s discussion on Order – one of the Rules for Living in his latest book The Benedict Option. As I read the book, the intersections of our personal finances and living a counter-cultural life are everywhere. Some obvious (forgoing materialism for simplicity), some subtle.
One common characteristic of people that win with money is that their personal finances are in Order. It doesn’t have to be a fancy system. It doesn’t have to be electronic with spreadsheets and apps. It doesn’t have to be super nerdy with detail down to the last penny. However, people that win with money have their “house in order”. They display what the author of Proverbs called “diligence”.
It might be infinitely practical; I might need to track my spending in writing. Maybe create a file folder for next year’s taxes. Do a simple budget every month. Balance my checkbook. These are all examples of creating a life of order.
It can also be a grand vision of my place in the universe. Dreher highlights three understandings of order:
This week, if it is as grand as seeking to live in harmony with the universe or as imminently practical as opening and processing all our mail each week, lets seek a life of order.