Ramblings of an Extreme Man


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Shared Finances: The Tragedy of the Commons?

cow-smiling

A long time ago, in a university far far away a guy called Garrett Hardin wrote an essay called The Tragedy of the Commons, which was about a key concern of many at the time, human over-population.*

 

He argued that the resources of the world are finite and that if the human population continued to expand we would reach a point where the quality of life per person would be reduced as more people were added to the world. An example would be that the capacity of the roads in which traffic will flow freely in a city is finite, and as you add more traffic to the road each motorist experiences greater congestion and a lower quality of transit.

 

Here’s an excerpt from his essay in which he describes the concept of the tragedy of the commons using an example of farmers sharing a common paddock for their cows:

Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly, or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks: “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is the function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another, and another …But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit — in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

So, the title of this blog post included the words shared finances. What does a paddock full of cows and greedy farmers have to do with shared finances?

I’d argue that, to a degree, if a couple share their finances, the same concept of the tragedy of the commons applies as the income that the couple bring home from their jobs each month is of course finite.

With each individual purchase decision that each member of the couple makes the percentage of benefit that the member gains from the purchase is 100%.

However, the negative component that they receive from that purchase, which is, of course, the extra time they need to work in their job to pay for the purchase decision (as described in more detail here) is shared between the couple, that is the individual share of the dis-benefit is 50%.

For example if one member of the relationship decides to buy a really cool brand new mountain bike, like say a 2019 Giant Reign SX, or a YT Capra 27 AL; he gets 100% of the benefit of the extra traction that 180mm of bump eating front suspension provides, along with the street cred that comes from taking a masterpiece of space-age fluid formed aluminium out of the back of the car at the mountain bike trail car park on the weekend in front of his mates.

However in the case of shared finances he has actually only contributed his share of income to this particular purchase, hence he’s getting 100% of the benefit of the purchase, but only contributing 50% of the income required to make that purchase.

This, of course, is not the only thing that’s considered during each purchase, but over time, faced with thousands of purchases the asymmetry in the individuals share of the benefit vs dis-benefit will influence many purchase decisions and hence affect the financial health of the couple overall. Of course there’s other affects that may have to be dealt with, possible resentment, potentially having to negotiate for non-communal purchases and the fact that financial stress tends to be the biggest contributing factor to relationship breakdown.

Sharing finances is a very personal topic, I’m sure there will be a lot of people that disagree (potentially emotionally) with my opinion that sharing finances is probably more problematic than it’s worth. That’s cool, no problem, people think I’m wrong about all kinds of things, but if you’re at the point of your relationship where you’re deciding whether you should share finances with your significant other or not, at least take into consideration the above and work out some methods that work for you to manage the problem of the tragedy of the commons and think about how to disarm any other problems that could arise from shared finances such as  resentment.

Bonus Discussion:

One solution to the problem of the tradegy of the commons is to impose more rules and regulations onto the “herdsmen” as the number of herdsmen increases. Travelling around Australia this becomes very apparent. In a city like Melbourne, there are a million rules and regulations so that the vast number of city dwelling herdsmen don’t spoil the environment for the rest of their fellow herdsmen. Contrast this with Queensland or the Northern Territory and the number of rules and regulations is dramatically less. You could argue that in general, the quality of life in a less populated city is higher, not just due to the lack of traffic, often cheaper housing etc, but also the lack of excessive rules and regulations that have been imposed to address the problem of the tragedy of the commons.

An example of the difference in the number of rules is that in Victoria, (Melbournes state) you’re not permitted to drive a car on the beach, the common reason given that driving a car on the beach will kill the birds that live on the beach. While in Queensland, everybody drives their car on the beach. If a Queenslander mentions this to a Victorian, the policeman that’s slowly been installed within the Victorians mind over time will often cause them to judge the Queenslander. I often wonder what this rule following inner policeman mindset does to the tendency of the population to take chances, risks and innovate over time.

*Reading the essay through the lens of todays cultural norms many people would label the essay racist.

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The Opportunity Cost of Private Schooling

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It’s a common belief that private school children are given better tuition, better resources and a better peer group that helps them to succeed in life and have better careers than their public school counterparts.

This belief is used by parents to justify spending often ridiculous amounts of money per year, for a private school education.

The problem I have with this is that a fancypants peer group and a more attentive teacher are intangible assets, intangible assets that are paid for with very real tangible dollars. It’s a qualitative thing that demands a very large quantitative price.

In business, when there’s a decision to make upon which investment should be chosen from a few options a concept called Net Present Value (NPV) is used to assess each option. This consists of estimating the future cashflows from each option and discounting them exponentially over time using an appropriate discount rate that considers the cost of money, inflation and the risk of the investment. This is a solid way to make investment  decisions.

In the case of a cash outflow NPV is called Net Present Cost and the cost is inflated over time to account for the opportunity cost of not being able to allocate that cash elsewhere.

 

Let’s analyse the Net Present Cost of sending a child to a Private School from Prep to year 12. To discount the future cash-flows we’ll consider the opportunity cost of spending that cash rather than investing the money in a diversified group of stocks in the stock market, such as could be bought easily via an index fund or listed investment company.

Assumptions:

  • The child goes to private school from Prep to year 12 – a total of 13 years.
  • Private school fees from Prep to Year 6 are $20,000 per year
  • Fees from Year 7 to Year 12 are $22,000 per year (these fees are typical of what I could find with a little bit of googling of Australian Private School fees, it could be more, it could be less. I encourage you to make your own spreadsheet if you are considering this)
  • Expected average yearly return from diversified group of stocks – 8%

table 1

At the end of Year 12 the parents have paid $272,000 for their child’s education. However the money they have forfeited by tying up so much capital that could otherwise be invested is $444,577.

We all tend to be puppets dancing the same dances to our preconceived ideas; as such I’m sure some of you are saying, well hang on Extreme Man, the value of a Private School education is much more than that. The better education, more attention from teachers and sophisticated peer group lead to better outcomes later in life, a better career, high income etc. To that I would say, this is not Ramblings of a mild mannered social science and statistics based man, this is Ramblings of an Extreme mathematics and hard science based man. All of those things are either qualitative or only able to be measured statistically – correlation is not equal to causation.

The assertion that there’s a quantifiable difference of a Private School education resulting in greater pay later in life is a pretty speculative argument to make, there’s a lot of variables.

I’d like to assert that even if there is a difference in pay between private and public educated students later in life, due to the power of compounding over time there is no way at all (seriously, not a chance in hell) that the difference would make sense from a Net Present Value perspective. To highlight this, let’s build on the table a little more. Let’s assume that the student spends 5 years at university and then a few years in the workforce which brings them to the ripe old age of 25.

table 2

If instead of the parents spending a large amount of money on private schooling they instead invested that money until year 12 and then made no further contributions; using the assumptions above the portfolio of stocks would have grown to over $822,000 by the time the child is 25.

Taking this one step further, if the objective is to give a child a head start in life so they can get a better job and hence earn more money, then you should really consider sending them to public school and investing the difference in the stock market on their behalf. The hypothetical private school child, no matter their career or salary will never be able to bridge this gap in wealth of the public school child. In addition to overall net worth, a diversified group of Australian stocks (such as is easily purchased in a listed investment company) will pay greater than 5% gross dividend per year, rain hail or recession. Modelling this for the table above gives:

table 3

I track all of my living expenses and I live off approximately $25,000 per year.

In the scenario above, if the child had similar spending habits to me they would be financially independent and able to retire in their second year of university. At the age of 25 they would have far more money than they ever need, hence rendering any need for a high salary career completely redundant. On top of this, dividends tend to grow at approximately twice the rate of inflation.

Even if, the private school educated child is earning more money at the age of 25 it doesn’t matter, the public school hypothetical student could be retired. Their time could be free to volunteer, travel, start a business, pursue their passion, etc without the need to earn a salary.

In the words of the model Private School student, Summer Heights High’s Ja’mie, “Sorry, no offense, but it’s true.”

 


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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.

FACTS:
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:

Free

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. 


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    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

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    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:

    Books:

    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

    Websites:

    Apps:

    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.

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    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

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    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!

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    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:

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    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:

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    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.

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    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:

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    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.

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    Investment Tab:

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

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    Each time you buy a share / ETF you record the transaction details in the bottom yellow section and refresh the pivot table in cells a5:c10.

    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.

    To calculate the number of dividends you’ve been paid by each stock refresh the second pivot table in cells n20:o25. Make sure you capture the stock-code accurately in the comments for the share dividends in the data entry tab.

    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.