Ramblings of an Extreme Man


BVRT, yeah you know me

What’s really dirty, results in a sore arse, guys tend to like more than their girlfriends and isn’t anal sex? Bike touring on the Brisbane valley rail trail.

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT for those fond of acronyms) is an old railway line that’s been converted to a multi use trail, multi as in bike, hike or horse.

It’s about 160km long and goes from Yarraman to Wulkuraka.

With the last of the start of the year long weekend bounty coming to a close Katie and I decided we needed to squeeze some adventure into the last one.

Riding from start to finish with hiking gear it was.

Day 1.

We drove to Wulkuraka station near Ipswich and got a lift to the Yarraman end with Josie from Out there cycling for the reasonable price of 50 bucks per person.

We rode 69km from Yarraman to stop at Harlin for the first night.

The section from Blackbutt to Linville is a highlight, steady long downhill through the forest.

Rail trails are nice because they’re never too steep, but currently the section from Moore to Toogoolawah isn’t complete and there’s a detour that consists of riding through some paddocks and a lot of back roads that can get a little steep at times.

Day 2.

Day 2 we rode 68km from Harlin to a little past Coominya.

This was the hardest day for Katie, the hills on the detour really took it out of her. Luckily just at the point where it looked like all hope was lost the track turned downhill and she stepped back from the edge.

We ended up sleeping under a bridge like homeless people. I think I could get used to this.

We also rode past a pretty big fire.

Day 3.

Day 3 we finished riding 39km from near Coominya back to Wulkuraka station.

Once we’d finished first stop was to see the Colonel for a bucket of his finest. I demolished most of a family feast on my own, delicious.

Other highlights included Katie eating almost 2 packets of ibuprofen over the 3 days. Impressive.

It was pretty quiet on the trail but we met a few people, 2 of whom volunteered for rail trails Queensland. They also mentioned there is another one from kilkivan to kingaroy which you could join onto the start to make it into potentially a week of relaxing riding, or if you wanted to get really serious you could ride the whole Bicentennial Trail of which the BVRT is but a small part. I’d never heard of the bicentennial trail before, and after going all the way down the bicentennial trail rabbit hole on Google I could feel the seriousness slowly but surely building.

How to get there:

Drive to one end and give Out there cycling a call to drop you at the other end. They can also drop you off and pick you up from any town along the way.

Camping Cost:


Other Resources:

BVRT website


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Annual Leave optimisation 

So I’ve just recently returned to work after a two week holiday in Sri Lanka. Surfing, eating curry, drinking banana juice. 

It was my first holiday since I’ve been back at work, besides the mandatory time off over Christmas last year while the office was closed. 

It was great to have again the freedom to choose what I was going to spend time on during the week and I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I’d taken time off.

I realised that if I’m going to have any chance of staying at work until I reach retire I need to come up with a regular, sustainable way to take time off.

I thought about this a lot and decided my goal is to have reasonably regular holidays. I’d rather have 4 x 1 week holidays per year with 3 months of work in-between than 1 x 4 week holiday per year with 11 months of uninterrupted work. 

By taking 1 week of leave you get 5 days off plus 4 days of weekends. The weekends work out to be a bonus of 44%. Whereas if you take 2 weeks of leave you get 10 days off plus 6 days of weekends, where the bonus weekends are 37.5%. Taking holidays longer than 1 week reduces your weekend bonus as a percentage. 

Before any holiday I always find that I work twice as hard the week before and after the holiday. I think if my holidays were in general only a week the extra effort before and after would be minimised. If I work out a years worth of holidays now I can also block out my calendar so everyone has plenty of notice which should also help. 

So the constraints I have to work with are 

  • 4 weeks of annual leave per year 
  • The office closes for 2 weeks after Christmas inclusive of new years, taking this leave is mandatory. 

The mandatory 2 weeks off over Christmas has 3 public holidays in those 2 weeks, so this consumes 7 days of leave out of a total 20 per year. 

I came up with an idea that if I found another two public holidays that I could wrap a week of leave around it would turn 4 weeks of holiday per year into 5 weeks of holiday per year, 2 weeks at christmas and one week spaced out evenly roughly every 3 months. 

A quick google of Queensland public holidays turned up this: Queensland public holidays 2017/2018

Next thing was to Google the school holiday dates and cross reference with the public holidays to make sure I wasn’t going to be camping with 500 people next door on my holidays.

For me the optimum dates turned out to be :

  • Christmas 2017 – 23/12/17 until the 7/1/17. 2 weeks including 3 public holidays 
  • 21st to 29th of April 2018. This includes the Anzac day public holiday.
  • 11th to 19th of August. This includes the Ekka day public holiday. 
  • 3rd to 11th of November. 

So there you have it, 4 weeks of annual leave per year optimised into 5 weeks with the added bonus of not holidaying during school holidays. 

    I’m sure a lot of people have already worked this kind of thing out, but I thought I’d share for others who may be slow like me. 


    Money, Retirement, Life – 3. How much do you need

    “Plain dishes offer the same pleasure as a luxurious table, when the pain that comes from want is taken away.” Epicurus 

    So how many of these paper life force tokens do you actually need? What sets the upper limit on your spending?

    Think about when you were younger and you had less money, I assume you spent less. Then over time you slowly started to earn more, got pay rises, promotions, changed jobs etc. Chances are that your spending increased as your income increased. Did this stop at some point? Should it stop at some point? 

    Are you happier now, spending more money than you were when you were younger and spent less? Say you earn a hefty income every month, are you proportionally more happier than the people you know that earn less? You may have more things, go to more fancy restaurants, but has the extra money that you’ve spent added any more happiness or convenience to your life after hedonic adaption is taken into account?

    For many people the only thing that puts an upper limit upon how much they spend, is how much they earn. If this is you; you are placing something very important, the cost to maintain your lifestyle in its current state into the hands of something that you cannot control, the amount of and regularity of your income. This is a risky way to live.

    I propose that as you spend more you reach a point where your happiness or convenience you receive from the purchase doesn’t increase. The law of diminishing returns kicks in and you hand over more of your paper life tokens and get less or nothing back in return. 

    You should optimise your spend so that you are not pissing your finite paper life tokens up against the inevitable wall of diminishing returns.

    The first step to doing this is to start to track your expenses. **

    In order to know if all of your expenditure is actually making you proportionally happier, you should track how much you spend per relevant categories, and then reflect upon that spend each month. 

    You should actually stop and consciously think once per month, am I happy about spending that much on said category?

    To optimise anything you need a feedback loop, measuring and reflecting is a feedback loop that will allow you to optimise your spending so that you are not spending more on things that do not make you happy.

    For example, here is how my spending on Recreational activities has changed over time since I started measuring and reflecting on all my expenses. This includes capital and operational expenditure on Hiking, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Camping and Surfing:
    And here is how my spending on Food has changed over time, since I started measuring and reflecting on my expenses:

    I know you’re probably thinking, gee Extreme Man, that seems like a lot of effort, I’m not sure if I’ve got the time. But you see, the thing is you traded a part of your life that you are never going to get back for that money, and then you decided to spend that money on things. Surely you owe it to yourself to keep a record of how much of your life you traded for those things, and time to consider if trading your life for those things was worth it? And if it’s takes too much time to record the expense, perhaps you should save even more time and not make the purchase in the first place?
    Once you do this, you’ll find that over a few months your spending will go down. You’ll slowly work out the actual cost per month to maintain your life in a fashion that you can consciously justify to yourself. 
    This is a very powerful moment. If money is a paper life force token that you have traded your life for, you’ve now worked out how much of those paper life force tokens you are trading back each month to sustain your life. 

    If your salary gives you a certain amount of dollars per month, you’ve now inverted that relationship and worked out the number of months per dollar.

    Once you know the number of months per dollar the way you think about the cost of things changes, you now know the conversion rate between the price of things, and the amount of your life.
    People generally compare buying something to not buying something because they don’t know what else to do with their money; the decision is to buy and have it or not buy it and don’t have it, often this comparison inevitability results in buy it and have it as there’s no down side. Once you work out the number of months per dollar this comparison is a lot more valid. You’re comparing buying something and having it versus not buying it and keeping X months of freedom saved up.
    Once you know the number of months per dollar you can immediately look at your savings and say, my savings will support me for X weeks/months/years. You now know how much of your freedom you can buy with the amount of savings that you have. You can also work out using (the cost of travel) how much freedom in certain places you can buy with your savings.
    Knowing this empowers you to make informed decisions to change things about your life.
    But what if looking at your savings and knowing you have X weeks/months/years of freedom saved up isn’t enough? What if you don’t want temporary freedom, you want permanent freedom? What is the cost of perpetual do anything you want, whenever you want freedom? That’s up Next.
    **In the final topic in this series I’ll provide a spreadsheet that makes tracking all of your expenses easy.

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    Money, Life, Retirement – 7. Reading List 

    “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” Charlie Munger


    As mentioned in the first rambling of this series there is very little original thought in this entire long winded series of ramblings. I can take credit for some bad jokes, an overly long passive aggressive hashtag and I’ve put a fair bit of effort into the spreadsheets over time, but all the thoughts that have prompted this series are covered elsewhere by people who are no doubt my superiors in rationality, mathematical ability, turn of phrase and attractiveness to the opposite sex.

    Anyway, if you’d like to learn more here are some of the things I have read that I recommend:


    Your money or your life by Vicki Robin – https://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0143115766

    The four pillars of investing by William Bernstein – https://www.amazon.com.au/Four-Pillars-Investing-Portfolio-ebook/dp/B0041842TW

    The millionaire next door – Thomas Stanley – https://www.amazon.com/Millionaire-Next-Door-Surprising-Americas/dp/1589795474

    A random walk down Wall st by Burton Malkiel – https://www.amazon.com/Random-Walk-Down-Wall-Street/dp/0393330338

    The Simple Path to Wealth by Jim Collins – https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Path-Wealth-financial-independence/dp/1533667926

    Common Sense on Mutual Funds by John Bogle – https://www.amazon.com/Common-Sense-Mutual-Funds-Anniversary/dp/0470138130

    The Bogleheads guide to investing – https://www.amazon.com/Bogleheads-Guide-Investing-Taylor-Larimore/dp/0470067365

    Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker – https://www.amazon.com/Early-Retirement-Extreme-Philosophical-Independence/dp/145360121X



    If you’d like to suggest any others please leave a comment below.

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    Money, Life, Retirement – 6. If God is a DJ, life is the dance floor, love is the rhythm and you are the spreadsheet**

    “A wise mans life is based around fuck you”  John Goodman in The Gambler

    When I’m not being extreme or rambling about things on the internet I’m sometimes paid to get things done in a certain way for a certain cost in a certain amount of time as a project manager.


    A project is basically a methodical way to get from a starting point to an end point. A lot of the formal project things that you do for a project apply equally well to other things where you are going from a starting point to an end point . One of the key things at the start of any project is the part where you spend time planning and analysing by considering things like the following:

    1. Working out what the end point looks like
    2. Working out the steps and order to get to the end point
    3. Forecasting the amount of time to get to the end point in enough detail so that you can track progress
    4. Forecasting the cashflow for the project in enough detail to know if you’re on track
    5. Analyse the constraints
    6. Analyse the assumptions
    7. Analyse the risks

    We took care of number 1 in the above list in a previous rambling. By using the 4% rule (or similar) you know where you need to get to.

    We’ve somewhat taken care of number 2 in the above list in the previous rambling where I gave an example about my investment approach, which provides an example of how to get to the sum that the 4% rule requires to reach financial independence.

    To take care of the rest, you need to make a plan. It’s important to do this for two reasons:

    • If things aren’t written down they don’t really exist; due to the fallible nature of human memory and our psychological biases it’s likely that things that aren’t written down will change over time. For instance I think that my childhood landline phone number has 1 different digit than my brother does (he’s obviously completely wrong of course….)
    • You need something visible to act as a prompt to remind you of your goal, track your progress and remind you of your plan when required. Investing can sometimes be an emotional and exciting affair, but it shouldn’t be. When emotions come into investing is when mistakes happen. You need to plan how you’re going to manage your investments in mathematical, rational, broad daylight so that when there is a time of excitement or emotion you can refer back to your boring plan and stay the course.

    I can’t emphasise this enough; write it down. This is supposed to be serious and boring. Stick it up on the back of your toilet door so you need to look at it every day. Think about your future while lightening the load. Any good project manager would not try to deliver a project without first writing down the project plan. Your freedom and investment plan is a whole lot more important than a project, it deserves a written down plan.

    Your investment plan should:

    • State your goal
    • Document your approach and the decisions that you’ve made so you can refer back to it in times of doubt, including the following:
      • Asset allocation
      • If using ETFs which ETFs
      • If using a managed fund, which managed fund
      • Rebalancing policy if applicable
    • List all assumptions and constraints
      • Income
      • Expenses (before and after Financial Independence)
      • Assumed average return
      • Withdrawal Rate (4% rule or similar)
      • Current savings
    • Forecast progress in a method that can be tracked at appropriate intervals
    • Do a risk analysis, capture the relevant risks and what your actions will be if they eventuate so you won’t be making decisions on the fly, you’ll be executing well thought out plans.
      • What if you lose your job?
      • What if your assumptions are wrong?
      • What if the stock market crashes?
      • What if you come into some money or get a pay rise?

    When I went through this exercise I put together a spreadsheet that took all constraints and assumptions and turned them into the following outputs:

    • Time until financial independence
    • Savings needed to retire, and
    • A forecast to measure progress against.

    This spreadsheet lets you analyse your constraints and assumptions and modify them to see how the outcomes change. It’s a powerful tool to crunch the numbers for hypothetical situations.

    You can get download a copy here: Financial Independance Calculator 1.0

    Here is an example for someone who:

    • Earns $60,000 after tax
    • Currently has $20,000 of savings
    • Spends $2,500 per month and expects to spend $2,000 per month when they retire


    You can see that they need ~$630,000 to reach financial independence, and that will take approximately 12.7 years.  You can also see that when they reach financial independence and stop working their wealth will continue to snowball. In 28 years time they will have been retired for 16 years and will be a millionaire. If you take their Superannuation into account they will have a substantial wealth of $1.8M, and this is after not having worked for 16 years!

    If you change some of the variables you can really start to get a sense of what things matter on this journey to financial independence. For example, here’s the same scenario but with spending $300 less per month while working and spending $200 less per month after retirement. You can see that it take almost 2 years off your working life!


    Combining that with some of the other things you might need to consider as part of your investment plan (some things were mentioned in part 5) may look something like the following example:


    Writing down your investment plan and sticking it up somewhere in your house so it’s visible shows your high level long term goal and your annual progress in tracking towards that goal. This will provide a readily available reminder of the core decisions that you’ve made and show what those decisions will compound to over your investment plan timeframe.

    For a large important project such as buying your freedom; the planning and tracking should go that one step further into the detail than what we’ve covered above. High level plans are great, they show where you’re going and how to get there, but for something as important as buying your freedom back from wage slavery, you should take the detail that extra step further to allow you to monitor progress to a detailed level, at least until your trajectory is well known and stable.

    To go into this level of detail you should track every expense and every income. You should already be convinced of the necessity of knowing your average spend to allow you to use the 4% rule to work out how much money you actually need to retire (as mentioned in part 3 and part 4). If you track every expense and every income you can use the power of spreadsheets to track in real time:

    • your net worth,
    • the amount of money needed to retire and
    • the amount of time to get there.

    This is a worthwhile exercise as this provides a feedback loop that reinforces the relationship between expenditure and time until you can actually buy your freedom.

    I’ve made a spreadsheet template to do this which you can download here – Your life in a spreadsheet 1.0 – TEMPLATE

    Here’s how it works:

    Data Entry Tab:


    This tab is split up into Expenses on the left and Income on the right. Here you record every transaction date, category, sub category and amount. You do similar on the income side. I’ve included sample transactions in the spreadsheet to demonstrate how it works.

    The next tab is the Dashboard:

    While this looks like an intimidating tab, it provides a lot of information to allow you to track your progress.

    The main things you need to input are the safe withdrawal rate and your assumed rate of return, given in yellow below.

    You will also need to refresh the two pivot tables to reflect new information as it’s entered into the data entry tab. The two pivot tables are the Income and Expenses tables given below.

    From the transactions entered into the Data Entry tab a number of useful things will be calculated per month to allow you to track your progress. In the top left corner your performance will be calculated for 3, 6, 12 month averages as well as from the beginning of when you started tracking your data.

    A task you should do at the end of each month is reconcile your recorded transactions from the data entry tab with your account balances in the Balances section . This will make sure that you haven’t missed any transactions, expenses or income.





    This tab also provides information to allow you to review your expenses in the columns to the left of the expense pivot table. For each expense subcategory the following information is calculated:

    • Your average spend per month
    • The amount of money you need to save to be able to support that average spend indefinitely, and
    • The time you need to work to be able to spend your average amount in that subcategory.

    This is a powerful thing, for example, using the sample numbers given in the spreadsheet gives the following two different outcomes for hypothetical take-away food spends per month:


    For an average spend of $300 dollars per month on take away food the hypothetical person would need to save $90,000 to maintain this average spend indefinitely, which would take 4.21 years.

    However, if by reviewing their expenses every month, considering if that expenditure actually makes them happier or not and reducing the average take-away spend to $150 per month; the amount of savings the hypothetical person needs to sustain that average spend indefinitely drops to $45,000 and they save 2 years off their working life! And that’s just from take away food…

    People are generally really bad at relating short term actions to long term consequences. Some examples are fat people eating too much and smokers smoking until they get lung cancer. The power of this spreadsheet is that it shows the direct relationship between your short term expenditure actions and the long term consequences of how long you need to work to support these short term actions.

    Charts Tab:

    The next tab shows your progress in 2 charts. The first chart shows your Total Income, Expenses, Net Savings and Income from Investments per Month. The second chart shows how your total savings have increased over time. Every time you update the pivot tables these charts will automatically update.


    Investment Tab:

    The investment tab provides a way to track your investment performance and asset allocation:


    Each time you buy a share / ETF you record the transaction details in the bottom yellow section and refresh the pivot table.

    This provides a way to manage your asset allocation. By entering your target allocation and market value for each share the table will calculate how much you need to buy or sell to get back on target. It’s worth noting that if you wish to include your emergency fund in your bond asset allocation you will need to modify the formula in the Current Weight column to include this.

    At the end of each month you capture the Market value and gain / loss numbers from the top table in the monthly reporting columns. This will allow you to input the Portfolio Unrealised gain or loss into the data entry tab for the month from the Gain / Loss per month row. This will then count to your total net worth over time.

    It’s also worth noting that if you choose a managed fund rather than managing your own ETFs / shares you will only need to record  the monthly reporting information for input into the data entry tab.

    Lists Tab:

    The last tab of the spreadsheet contains the lists for the categories and subcategories of income and expenses. You can configure the categories and subcategories to match your needs. Just make sure for the Expense Categories that you use Name Manager to make sure the name of the Category matches named ranges that contain the values for the subcategories. Also make sure that you put in nil cost entries in the data entry tab to reflect the new sub categories (these are hidden in the top rows of the data entry section), you may also need to re-point the total expenses column in the dashboard tab to the bottom of the expense pivot table.


    And that concludes this rather long winded series of ramblings. As this has been an epic multi-post ramble I’d like to summarise some of the key points for emphasis:

    1. Money is a direct result of a bargain you make with your employer to hand over a very large portion of your life. In effect it’s special paper life force tokens you can exchange with other people for other things.
    2. Your life, and by association money, is not a renewable resource, it is finite.
    3. There is a counterparty to every transaction and they are only entering into the transaction because they think it will be beneficial to them. By inversion it will probably be net negative for you
    4. Due to hedonic adaption you shouldn’t spend large amounts of your paper life force tokens on things that make you temporarilly happy that you will become used to and don’t increase your happiness in the long term. You should invert and spend your paper life force tokens taking things out of your life that make you unhappy.
    5. By committing to full time employment you’ve actually limited the time you are free to be in control of your life to only 2 days a week. Two days a week is but wafer thin Monsieur. Only when you’re in the position where you don’t have to work is any choice to commit to full time employment valid, up until that point it’s a decision made under compulsion.
    6. To optimise anything you need a feedback loop. Measuring and reflecting upon your expenses per category each month is a feedback loop that will allow you to optimise your spending so that you are not spending more on things that do not make you happy.
    7. If your salary gives you a certain amount of dollars per month, by tracking your expenditure per month you can invert that relationship and work out the number of months per dollar. You can then work out the conversion rate between the price of things and the amount of your life you are trading for that thing.
    8. The amount of money needed for indefinite retirement equals your yearly expenses divided by the safe withdrawal rate.
    9. It’s been shown historically that a 4% withdrawal rate could probably last indefinitely with a 75% stock, 25% bond mix.
    10. The most important thing that determines the amount of time until you can retire is your savings ratio. With a 4% withdrawal rate, no current savings and a 7% assumed return a savings ratio of 50% means you can retire in 15 years, a savings ratio of 75% means you can retire in 6.8 years.
    11. People are generally bad at relating short terms actions to long term consequences. In order to get to a point where you can buy your freedom you should forecast your plan to financial freedom and track every expense to turn that forecast freedom into actual freedom.

    I hope that this has provoked some thought. No matter what the end outcome of that thought is, critically analysing your life choices or lack there-of is a good thing and should be encouraged by everyone.

    I also hope that the spreadsheets and methods involved in this series provide some insight for some.

    If you have any comments, suggestions or if you agree or disagree with anything that I’ve written and would like to let me know why I’d love to hear it. Please comment below.

    In the next post I’ll provide a recommended reading list.



    **You know when I first came up with the name for this rambling I thought it was some half remembered chorus from some techno dance song from my alcohol fuelled irresponsible youth. Later I realised it’s from a Pink song. The same Pink that teenage girls, “I used to be cool” mothers and effeminate men like. Wow.

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    Money, Life, Retirement – 5. How to get to where you want?

    “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Zig Ziglar


    So now that you know how much of the paper life tokens you need to be able to buy your freedom permanently, how do you manage to roll up a sufficiently fat wad of them to get there?

    You spend a lot less than you earn, and you invest the rest. Put your money to work, let compound interest do the heavy lifting for you.

    There are a lot of ways to invest; some people invest in shares, some invest in real estate, some invest in bonds or term deposits, some invest in magic beans or bit coins. You should probably speak to a professional before investing (or at least read a lot of really good books). I’ve spent a lot of time reading investing books and I’m going to give an example of my approach and a description of why I made the decisions I did. I set myself a goal of reading a certain number of books on investing and to decide and write down my strategy only when I had finished.

    I doesn’t matter how you manage to build enough wealth to satisfy the 4% rule; only that you earn an appropriate average return above 4% that will account for the compounding affect of inflation, and that you don’t lose your principal. What follows is only an example of the method that I am using, there are many others. This is not advice, only a description of the choices I have made and why.

    I first of all set myself some principles to guide my decision making:

    • I wanted it to be simple. I already have a full time job and didn’t want another
    • I did not want to use any leverage. Leverage won’t make a bad investment good, but is more than capable of making a good investment bad. Furthermore if there’s a counterparty to every transaction and if that counterparty is a bank who is more sophisticated than and understands mathematics and risk better than you do, it’s more than likely that they are getting the better end of the deal.
    • I wanted diversification. Humans are fallible (even me), and I didn’t want any one mistake costing me my freedom.

    Asset classes and allocations: Growth vs Income

    I then decided what asset classes I wanted to invest in.

    Here is a chart showing the performance of some different asset classes over the last 20 years with $10,000 initially invested and all dividends reinvested:


    Source: http://insights.vanguard.com.au/VolatilityIndexChart/ui/advisor.html?utm_source=IndexChart&utm_medium=LandingPage&utm_campaign=Ret2016&utm_content=Ret

    Over a long time period stocks perform better than all other asset classes, however the price can be quite volatile. Hence I decided I also needed bonds to smooth out the fluctuations in my total portfolio. Appropriately rated bonds are safer than stocks, pay regular coupon payments (interest) and the price should be reasonably stable.

    Stocks and Bonds are both reasonably liquid assets, but I didn’t want to have to sell any if anything unexpected happened and I needed cash. If you need to sell you’ll either have to pay capital gains tax if the market is up, or realise a loss if the market is down. So I also decided I needed an emergency fund which would sit in a high interest savings account and would pay for my living expenses if I lost my job or some other emergency occurred. I decided a year of living expenses (known from part 3) would be more than enough.

    I then needed to decide my asset allocation. As stock prices can move quite substantially based upon fear, greed or the greater economy, your tolerance for watching the variation and potentially the total value of your portfolio plummet should feed into what percentage of stocks you hold. If you are likely to panic and sell if your portfolio plunges in price you will lock in the loss and demolish your returns. If you can set the asset allocation so that you can remain comfortable to stay the course through any kind of future crisis your returns will be good in the long run.

    Here is a graph showing the best, worst and average yearly returns based upon the percentage of stocks and bonds that make up a portfolio over a long period of time. Stocks are seen as a growth asset with higher risk, bonds are seen as a defensive asset with lower risk.


    Source: https://static.vgcontent.info/crp/intl/auw/docs/corporate/principles-for-investing-success.pdf?20170426|161125

    I thought that for me the 70% stocks 30% bonds seemed like a good compromise between a good average return and lower magnitude negative returns in the negative years.

    I also did an asset allocation questionnaire which you can do here which suggested that for me an allocation of 70% stocks and 30% bonds was appropriate.

    Asset classes and allocations: International Exposure

    Having decided upon the asset allocation to growth and defensive asset classes the next thing to decide was the weighting to Australian assets vs International assets.

    A common split seems to be 50% Australian assets, 50% International assets. The theory goes that if your Australian assets go bad due to problems with the Australian economy your wealth will be somewhat protected.

    I intend to spend a large part of my retirement in Australia or New Zealand and all things being equal, if the Australian economy goes bad Australian asset prices will head south, but prices of things you need to buy to live in Australia or New Zealand should get cheaper as well.

    Furthermore when you invest in Australian publicly listed companies you have the benefit of being able to receive franking credits. Franking credits are a tax bonus when you get paid dividends. As Australian companies have generally already paid 30% tax on their earnings franking credits are a way to compensate you so that you aren’t taxed twice on the same earned income. For instance, if a company pays you a $100 dividend that is fully franked you receive $30 in franking credits which is used to offset the income tax you pay on the income from the dividend. For example if your marginal tax rate is 30% you don’t need to pay any tax on the $100 dividend. Taking this to the extremes, if you intend to live on an income low enough to pay no tax, your fully franked dividend payments will increase by 30%. For exampe a 5% dividend yield will turn into 6.5% gross. This is free money.

    As I will live on a lot lower income that I do now in retirement (I save a large percentage of my income currently) I will drop down several tax brackets and franking credits turn out to be a pretty powerful bonus.

    After considering all of the above I settled upon 70% weighting to Australia and 30% International.

    Combining these gave the following Asset Allocation:

    Australian Shares: 50%

    International Shares: 20%

    Australian Bonds: 20%

    International Bonds: 10%

    I included the emergency fund high interest savings account cash holding in calculating the bond allocation as well as they are similar asset classes.

    If you’d like to model your own ideas about what your portfolio should look like, the returns, yields and exposures you should check out this site.

    Investing approach

    Having determined my asset allocation I needed to work out what type of investing to fill the respective allocation buckets with.

    There are a few different types of investing; there is the active type where you are actively choosing which stocks to buy and sell based upon some kind of calculated or perceived value (value investing) or where you trade based upon trends in price movements (technical analysis), or there is passive investing where you buy small chunks of the entire market via a low cost fund that contains parts of the whole index or part thereof (index fund) not attempting to find better companies than the average, simply owning everything.

    I have throughout my life tended to settle on the value investing side of the argument. This is the type of investing Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, Ben Graham and the like are proponents of. I have believed that the market is often irrational and through being  rational and patient you can take advantage of Mr Markets irrationality and make greater returns than average. More recently I’ve come around to a more passive investing approach. The men listed above are actually my heroes in a nerdy kind of way, and it’s been very hard to take a good hard look at one of my core beliefs and actually change my mind, but here are the reasons I have:

    • If you’re actively investing you’re competing against highly paid investing professionals who have significantly more time and training than you do to put into their trades. They often have access to CEOs etc to obtain greater insights than you. When I say competing against I mean they can be directly on the other side of the trade from you with their greater time, knowledge and access to management.
    • Research for active investing takes a lot of time, time that I don’t have. I used to enjoy reading financial statements and building discounted cashflow models, but now I’d rather go fishing or surfing.
    • By picking individual stocks there’s always the chance that the financial reports are fraudulent and the company’s stock price can go to zero. If you buy the whole index there is no chance the entire index will go to zero.
    • Once you work out how much money and the time it will take to reach financial freedom the variable that affects it the most is your expenses. Performing sensitivity analysis upon your rate of return will show that an increase in the return above what can be expected by an index fund perhaps won’t provide the benefit in time to reach financial freedom it should once the additional time, effort and risk is taken into account.
    • The majority of professional active investors aren’t able to beat the average market return once transactions costs and fees are taken into account, my ego can be large at times, but not so large to think that I, as an amateur can do what many professionals cannot.

    Market timing and rebalancing

    While I had changed my ideas about Value investing, by implication this also meant that I needed to acknowledge that I probably shouldn’t be attempting to time the market. To reinforce this I needed to examine a key decision I made way back in 2008. During this time I was looking at buying a house in Melbourne. At the time houses were selling at a gross rental yield of approximately 2-3.5% depending upon the house, which was of course a lot worse from a net yield perspective. The more I looked into the market, the more convinced I became that this did not represent any kind of investment value and that any purchase of a house wasn’t investment grade due to the extremely low yield. I was convinced that anyone buying a house as an investment was in fact speculating with leverage for capital gains, and I thought that at any time there could be a market correction or mean reversion back towards the long term averages for several housing value metrics leading to a permanent loss of capital. Fast forward to 2015 and Melbourne house prices continued to increase as follows:


    Solving for the amount that house prices in Melbourne could drop in 2015 and not be below 2008 prices gives a total of 35% before you would start to be behind where you were in 2008. This is of course ignoring inflation, interest on mortgage repayments, stamp duty, council fees etc. The humbling lesson I was forced to acknowledge here is that even though I may be convinced that the market is completely irrational it doesn’t mean at all that the market will become rational at any time in the future. In the words of John Keynes, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”.

    Instead of trying to time the market I decided that as the different asset classes I had chosen to invest in weren’t 100% correlated I would periodically rebalance my holdings. This would by comparison of the different asset class prices force unemotional purely mathematical buying low and selling high from a relative comparison point of view. I decided that during the time that I was pumping cash into my portfolio I would rebalance with input funds, and after retirement I would periodically rebalance once a year.

    Investing vehicle

    Having decided upon my asset allocation and that I would be investing in index funds the next question was how? There are two main methods for index investing, I could either purchase Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) through a stock broker, or use a managed fund that matched the asset allocation I was looking for. The way I made this decision was based upon the fees that I would be charged. I compared the fees that I would incur by using a fund such as the Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund or using ETFs. Here is how the fees as a percentage of funds invested compared:


    The ETFs would allow me to vary the asset allocation simply if I needed to, however the managed fund rebalances automatically and requires no effort, set and forget. In the end I decided to go with the ETF approach as it would let me change my asset allocation in retirement if I wanted to and it was slightly cheaper, however based upon the work by William Bengen there’s probably no need to change the allocation from 70:30 and the simplicity of the Vanguard LifeStrategy fund is appealing.

    The next and final step is to write all of this down in an investment plan where forecast progress can be tracked and turned into actual progress over time. I’ll ramble about that and provide some useful spreadsheets that tie all of these ramblings together in the next post.

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    Money, Life, Retirement – 4. How much do you need to retire and how long will that take?

    “You really don’t need to begin saving for retirement before you reach 60. At that point, simply save 250 percent of your income each year and you’ll be able to retire comfortably at 70.” Jonathan Pond

    If you were to guess how much you needed to retire indefinitely how much do you think that would be?

    • One million dollars?
    • Two million dollars?
    • It depends upon how long your retirement is going to be for?

    Well it depends upon two simple things:

    • The amount of money you need to spend each year to sustain your life,
    • A withdrawal rate that will not diminish your savings over time (safe withdrawal rate).

    This can be expressed by a relatively simple equation:


    When you save the amount above you have enough money to buy your freedom. You have reached financial indepenence.

    If the safe withdrawal rate is going to make your savings last forever it needs to be less than the average long term return of the asset classes you invest in to account for the variability in their return from year to year.

    Some historical returns of different asset classes is given below:

    Asset Class 20 year historical return
    Australian Shares 8.7%
    Global Shares (hedged) 7.6%
    Australian Bonds 6.8%
    Global Bonds (hedged) 7.7%
    Cash 3.4%

    Source: http://www.asx.com.au/documents/research/russell-asx-long-term-investing-report-2016.pdf

    To work out an appropriate safe withdrawal rate, it’s useful to refer to a study done by a guy called William Bengen, which you can read about here (it’s actually really good). He showed that for a historical period of 50 years that included the great depression and periods of rampant inflation that a 4% withdrawal rate would in almost all cases see your initial savings last for at least 50 years. There are some caveats of course;

    • If you are unlucky enough to retire just before a major stock market crash you should probably reduce your expenditure and increase your asset allocation to stocks
    • You need to get your asset allocation right (his data showed a 75% stock and 25% bond mix worked well)
    • You should rebalance your asset allocation about once a year
    • It’s worth noting that if you are an Australian reader you’ll have access to your Superannuation at approximately 65, in which case you could potentially use a higher number than 4% depending upon your age. (your super and non-super total withdrawal rate should still be 4% or below though)

    Here’s some examples of how much money you would need to satisfy the 4% rule for different yearly expenditures:

    Expenditure per year (before tax) Amount of money needed to retire
    $15,000 $375,000
    $20,000 $500,000
    $25,000 $625,000
    $30,000 $750,000
    $50,000 $1,250,000
    $70,000 $1,750,000
    $100,000 $2,500,000

    Additionally there’s a great calculator here which will calculate the percentage chance of your initial savings lasting for a certain number of years based upon historical analysis of years of previous changes in asset prices with the withdrawal amount taken out each year.


    Modelled for a starting portfolio of $500,000 and $20,000 expenditure per year (4% rule) where the yearly expenditure increases with CPI every year over a period of 60 years gives the following:

    There is an 82.6% chance of having money remaining at the end of the 60 year period (historically). In most cases the modelling tool predicts a substantial amount of money left over at the end of the 60 years (an average of $2,700,000). For Australian readers, this also doesn’t include Super windfall which you can access at approximately 65.

    However a guy by the name of Ty Bernicke did a lot of research upon spending habits as we age and found that over the age of about 56 yearly inflation adjusted spending actually decreases by approximately 2% per year. Modelling for this, assuming a retirement age of 35 and the same starting portfolio and expenditure above (4% rule) gives the following:


    A 96.5% chance of success and an average portfolio size at the end of the 60 years of $3,700,000. Again this is ignoring Superannuation.

    So having established that the method to determine how much money you need to retire is a function of your yearly expenditure and the withdrawal rate, which should be close to the 4% rule, it’s now time to work out how long it will take to save that amount of money and buy your freedom.

    The main thing that determines this is your savings ratio, which is given by:


    Coupling this with the previous equation for the amount of money needed for indefinite retirement you can see that the effect of expenses on the time you have to retire is non-linear.

    Using the NPER function in a spreadsheet you can calculate the time to save enough money to satisfy the 4% rule. Here is the time to retirement for some different savings ratios, assuming the following:

    • 4% safe withdrawal rate
    • No current savings
    • Average return on your investments per year of 7%


    You can see at the Savings Ratio boundaries if you save 0% you will never be able to retire, while at the other end if you are saving 100% of your income that means that your expenses are zero and you can retire right now. Also of interest for the Australian reader is the 12% employer Super guarantee gives a time until retirement of 38.8 years, which seems close to general retirement age.

    Referring back to the previous rambling, tracking your expenses and minimising them has a very powerful effect on the amount of time until you can retire.

    I’m sure some are reading the table above and thinking there’s no way they can save any more than 10% of their after tax income. It’s all about priorities, do those expensive take away coffees, fancy restaurant dinners and designer clothes really mean more to you than being able to do whatever you want whenever you want? Is not having to bite your tongue with your terrible boss at your place of employment worth less to you than a new handbag?

    Even with an Australian wage of $50,000 before tax, if you optimise your spending it’s possible to save above 60% of your after tax income per year and be in a position to retire in approximately 11 years.

    Now that you have an understanding of the basic maths, it’s time to come up with a plan, which we’ll do in the next rambling.