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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Stock Market Yo-Yo

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 25, 2015

I sort of laughed at some of the media stories on Monday based the the sharp drop off of many stock markets…reading the articles you would swear the world had just shifted on its axis a few degrees.  Yet then on Tuesday the markets spiked back up and the media then sounds all positive about everything.  Do you know what I did during all of this….nothing.

Yes, I didn’t sell anything and I didn’t buy anything since I had already moved around $10,000 into the markets last week.  I noticed the market was down a bit and we needed to shift over some cash into ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds) in our RRSP accounts.  I bought some US stock index ETF and my wife had a bit more cash so she did the same US ETF and also picked up some Canadian index ETF.  So we missed the bottom…so what?  We aren’t stock market timers anyway.

I think the problem most people have with this big swings down is they feel the need to do something…when in fact when you are down the answer is usually to buy something rather than sell anything.  Selling just locks in your losses while buying can provided an option to load up on some good investments on the cheap.  Yet if you don’t have cash handy the right answer should be chanting to yourself: this too shall pass.  Because in fact, in the stock market on a whole, just about everything does pass at some point or another.

I’m not saying this isn’t easy to do the first few times.  Being active in managing my own investments does make you want to do something when these big things occur, but in fact a lot of the time the right way to approach things is doing nothing.  Sit on your hands if you have to but don’t login to your trading accounts…that just gets way to tempting to do something.  Instead, pick up a good book and distract yourself for a while.  See if the one day drop or spike is turning into a longer term trend and then decide if you need to make any adjustments according to your plan.

Yes, your plan.  You know your highly emotional at this point and perhaps you already planned for this by writing out your investment objects and plan.  Pardon…objective and plan?  Yes you know that one page document you know you really should have written out ages ago that outlines when you buy and sell things when were rational rather than your current emotional state.  See if you put in anything for drops of less than 5%…likely you didn’t which means you previous rational self is reminding you to keep sitting on your hands.  No trading for you.

In my case it would look something like this:

“Invest the money into your trading accounts approximately once a month…do not let it build up in the chequing account (you may get delusions that you are rich otherwise).  Our investments are broken into three buckets: pension, RRSP and TFSA.  Pension is the long term money and invested in the second most conservative option available from my plan provider.  The RRSPs are in index based ETFs.  The current ideal ratio is about 40% in bonds, the rest even split between Canada, US and world. Only rebalance about once or perhaps twice a year.  TFSAs are the high risk investments in individual stocks.  Seek out mature companies providing monthly billing services that pay dividends (ideally Canadian -remember that the US doesn’t recognize TFSA yet as a tax shelter and you will pay tax on US dividends).  Target average payout from TFSA accounts is 5%.  So some high risk ones are allowed if they are balanced off by lower risk ones. When you max out contribution room in all RRSP and TFSA then consider adding taxable accounts. You may only borrow to invest from the Line of Credit if you have put the money back in less than three months.”

That’s it…notice I have nothing about market drops in there.  It doesn’t prevent me from shopping a downturn, I just need to have the money into the accounts to do it or be able to put there in a short period of time.

So how do you handle these downturns or upswings?

The Month Off Report

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 14, 2015

So today is my last day of my currently month long vacation.  This will have been the third time I’ve done this now and I have to say I’ve learned a few things that I found interesting.  Perhaps the most telling thing is this I’m just starting to think about bit about work now and what I have to get started on when I get back and oddly enough I’m not dreading it.

I think what happens to me after taking off a longer period of time is I actually managed to detox from work.  I really do cease to care about it, think about it or even want to do anything about it.  I was contacted once during my vacation via text to confirm one small fact which I was able to answer in two sentences.  Perhaps the most difficult thing I had to adjust to was since I had a work issued cell phone was getting in the habit of not even reading the subject lines of work emails as they came in.  Otherwise, I didn’t do anything related to my job and as I mentioned to my boss: work had become a hazy memory.  I recalled it, but I no longer felt it effecting me.

In my case, I can detox fairly quickly from my job since I have set it up to be lower stress and have learned to let go of things that happen there.  I can’t control much at work, so why waste the energy pretending that I can.  Also it helps that I have a great boss now that really just cares about the results.  He is the kind of guy who gets when you say: I’ve finished what I need to get done and now I’m leaving early to my kids swimming lesson.  He replies: sounds good, have a good night.  Yes, I’m very lucky in that regard…I know.

Of course I did do some traveling on this trip, but rather than being a burden of trying to shove in too much we took it easy and did two main trips: one to Vancouver Island (where I got the chance to meet up with long time reader jon_snow, hi jon) and the other to visit family in Alberta.  Both were fun and I enjoyed doing them but at the same time we did have a week at home as well in there so it was nice to get a few things done around the house and of course play some video games (it is a vacation after all!). I even managed to be interviewed for story for CBC see here.

Yet if this life were to continue on in early retirement I can easily say I don’t think I would ever get bored.  I mean I had full days as is and could have easily tried to cram in more stuff, but resisted the urge and made sure to have some relaxing time in as well.  I have so much that I want to read, watch, write, or do around the house that I can see just going along forever with out running out of things to do.  I noticed my to do still filled up rather quickly without much effort on my part.

So in the end, I think I’m ready to leave work at least mentally able to do it.  I won’t be begging to come back after getting bored or even worry about it after I go.  Only about 20 more months of work left…I’m looking forward to the end of it.

Did you ever take an extended break from work?  Did you enjoy it or what did you learn?

Too Independent?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 4, 2015

I was reading a book the other day that pointed out something that honestly had not occurred to me as a danger of seeking financial independence: that you can end up being too independent. To which I initially thought: pardon?!?!

Then as I kept reading the author made his point a bit more clear.  Seeking financial independence is a fine goal for anyone to do.  The danger becomes when you apply the same thinking to everything in your life.  When you seek to be independent of everything does the trouble start to come home.

You see you can start to apply the idea of being independent of your job to other parts of your life. For example, why should I buy power from the power company when I can setup my own solar and wind power?   Or why should I buy my vegetables from the store when I can grow my own?  These types of independence aren’t really a bad idea depending on how much you enjoy the project, the costs versus the benefits (not all power generation systems make economic sense) and how much time you have to work on them.

The trouble can really kick in when you start applying the idea to people and think:  I don’t need to be nice to the people I work with since I’m leaving in a few years or perhaps I don’t have to hang out with my friends that spend too much.  This is where you start to become too independent.

“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne

It may pain people to recall this but you can’t live without other people.  We are social beings and while I’m a strong introvert even I realize that I need other people at times.  So that means you can’t just focus blindly at savings money and ignore the social impacts of your choices.  By never going out with friends you are social isolating yourself at the cost of a few drinks or a meal out, which really shouldn’t make or break your plan to retire early (because if it is, then your margin is far too thin and you need to go back and increase your spending estimate a bit).

The same idea applies to being a self absorbed egotistical ass to other people just because you are good at saving money and they are not (yes, even I have done this and regretted it).  Everyone has their particular gifts and skills so don’t just burn bridges to stroke your ego, you might find out that you being an ass has a much higher price in your life than you realize.

You see your social network also provides a degree of support to your early retirement plan.  For example, a friend will typically look after our house when we go on vacation.  Or if you need help moving something heavy to the dump a friend with a truck can save you the cost of a rental.  You in turn also help your friends with projects like painting a fence, installing a patio or putting up a garage.  It’s called social capital and it is just as important to have access to as financial capital and it works on a give and take basis…you help others and they help you.  I caution you not to underestimate the value of this…I mean having a friend to call when the world goes to shit on you is nearly priceless at that moment in time.

That same capital even applies outside of your good friends.  Think for a minute about work when you have two tasks to do to help two different people: the first one is for a nice guy who helped you out of jam last month and the other is an over demanding prick who is never helpful back…which one do you help first?  Sort of obvious, right?

So in your focus to financially independent don’t forget to also grow you social capital as well of your financial.  Both will serve you in the long run to getting to a better place in life.  Also there is the nice side benefit of feeling better by helping others…especially those you actually know and like.

Have you ever gone too far and become too independent?  What was your wake up call and how did you turn it around?