How Compounding Really Works

It is interesting to me that while people sort of understand how compounding works with their investments.  They have been told they should start early and by reinvesting it will grow all by itself. Yet they really don’t get it on some level.  The reality is your first $100,000 in investments will feel like a climbing the biggest mountain in existence and then after that it gets significantly easier to build up your investments.  But rather than discuss this in a broad point of view, I thought it might be useful to go over my investment net worth and point out the time it took to grow between each $100,000 mark.

In the beginning, we have nothing.  Actually with student debt we have less than nothing.  After leaving university and getting married at age 22, my wife and I had debts around the $60,000 mark.  Yet we managed to get some jobs and start paying down our debt and also when I had the option of getting some free money at work via a RRSP matching program I took it.

Now guess how long it took us to save a house down payment, pay off our student loans and save our first $100,000 in investments?  Five years? Nope. Eight years? Nope, keep going.  In fact, I was 32 years old when we managed to hit that threshold.  It took us 10 years  (or 120 months) to save that much money and the thing was we were trying a big harder than the average person.  Now if that sounds like a prison sentence because in some ways it was.  THAT is the difficulty with saving your first $100,000. So when people talk about starting early, this is exactly what they mean.

Depressed yet?  Good, because now we get into the good news.  It gets easier after that first hurdle.  I mean a LOT easier and it just keeps getting easier from there.  Case in point it only took 3 years (or 36 months) to reach $200,000.  Or putting that in context it took 70% less time than the first $100,000.

Then it just kept getting easier.  Hitting $300,000 only took 16 months, so that would be 86% less time than the first $100,000.  Basically that one happened so fast it was like getting investing whiplash as compared to the glacial slow pace of the first $100,000.

Ironically getting to $400,000 took even longer at 19 months, but that did include the collapse of oil prices so somewhat understandable that it would take a bit longer, but still roughly about a 1.5 years.

Finally, while I’m not there yet, my current projection would be to hit $500,000 around Feb of 2017, so that would be only 13 months long, which if correct would be about 90% less time than the first $100,000.  And of course if you keep going it just keeps getting more and more easier to add wealth (no wonder the idea of working just one more year is so popular for people that are almost retired).

The point of all of this is when people give you some well meaning advice to start earlier even with a little bit of savings: PLEASE FOLLOW IT! You will be further ahead in the end and guess what, you don’t even need to consider retiring early when you start out.  Oddly enough you will have lots of time to make the decision in the future and guess what, the worse thing that happens is you have a large amount of savings to make other choices in life.  Some flexibility isn’t a bad thing, after all you never know where you are going to end up so some extra cash to consider starting a business, buying a cottage or taking a unpaid leave from work.  Do what ever you want, just please consider saving something to start climbing that mountain now.  Good luck on your climb.

March 2015 to May 2016 – Net Worth

The following is an update of Tim’s plan to retire early.  Please note we are mortgage free and because I have forgot to do this for a while I’m jumping through all these months in a condensed version of my usual update.

Our ultimate goal between investments and the home equity is a net worth of around $1 million.  The investment part of that target is ~$550,000.

Investments, Spending

March 2015: Investment Net Worth $362,440; Monthly Spending $2429

April 2015: Investment Net Worth $365,070; Monthly Spending $928

May 2015: Investment Net Worth $377,210; Monthly Spending $2418

June 2015: Investment Net Worth $375,750; Monthly Spending $5024

July 2015: Investment Net Worth $380,060; Monthly Spending $2599

August 2015: Investment Net Worth $374,800; Monthly Spending $1201

September 2015: Investment Net Worth $365,540; Monthly Spending $2534

October 2015: Investment Net Worth $381,830; Monthly Spending $2589

November 2015: I honestly forgot to write down the numbers; Monthly Spending $2185

December 2015: Investment Net Worth $384,230; Monthly Spending $3886

January 2016:  Investment Net Worth $401,640; Monthly Spending $2169

February 2016: Investment Net Worth $406,480; Monthly Spending $2020

March 2016: Investment Net Worth $426,310; Monthly Spending $940

April 2016: Investment Net Worth $433,400; Monthly Spending $2278

May 2016: Investment Net Worth $454,790; Monthly Spending $2060

Home Equity

Estimate $375,000

Results

May 2016 Net Worth ~$829,790

Commentary:

Did your eyes hurt reading all those numbers? Mine did just preparing them, but after putting this off for FAR too long.

Just a few broad comments, you likely noticed the big jump in investments from Dec 2015 to Jan 2016, well that was because I was being lazy about helping my wife open up a taxable investment account.  So the cash just hung out in our chequing account for the last six months of 2015, which isn’t included in these updates.  The other notable jump was Feb to March 2016 which was just a combination of stock market surge, and tax refund.

Any questions?

investment net worth May 2016

(click to make bigger)

The Retirement Investments

On my last post, Sherry asked for a bit more details on our investments and how that relates to our plan in retirement.  So basically, now that we have built the money up, how exactly does one use it to live on?

To be honest, while I had some vague ideas on this before I only really got to thinking about this in detail this year.  So I can say I’m not firmly decided on all of this, but this is the current plan. Please note, I’m not predicting the exact amount per account but I will give approximates if I can.  Our money at the end of this will be divided into the following groups:

  • Pension and Locked In Funds – the stuff with age limits on when I can actually use it.
  • RRSPs – Which actually don’t have an age limit, they just function like taxable income when you take the money out.
  • TFSAs – Which can be pulled out with no tax implications.
  • Taxable Investments – So your basic investment account where you pay capital gains if you sell something for a profit.

First up is the pension money, which the vast majority can not be accessed until I’m 50.  The good news on that particular account is when I leave work I am allowed unlock my voluntary contributions and move it to an RRSP.  Crudely this is about 1/3 of that accounts value (current value is ~$140,000).  I do intend to do this to allow the most flexibility on that money.  Yet even with that option I will likely have more than $100,000 when I retire that I can’t use for the first 10 years or so.  So the trick for this account is to basically leave it alone and let it grow until I need it more a more traditional retirement later on.  I intend to leave my  remaining pension right where it is for the long term as the fees are low and I’m not required to move the money out of the pension plan.

Next up is the RRSP accounts (current value is ~ $130,000) which I will be trying to reduce the tax on these account withdrawals as much as possible.  So even if we don’t need the money I will likely take out the full amount up to our basic income tax deduction each year (if our work income doesn’t make us use that up first).  Any unused money would then just get shifted over the TFSA accounts. The other side issue with the RRSP accounts is I’m accepting the fact I may be using some of the principle in these accounts to offset the fact I can’t access the pension money. The RRSPs are all index funds which do spin off some income but the vast majority of the money here will come from selling small amounts of the funds annually (or semi-annually – I’m still debating this point as there is the issue of withholding amounts for tax purposes on money taken out of an RRSP).  So the hope is the mainly use the capital gains in these accounts, but as I mentioned I’m okay dipping into the principle until I turn 50.

The TFSA accounts are a different beast all together.  These accounts are invested in individual dividend paying stocks and the plan here is to never touch the principle amount but rather just harvest dividend payments out of the accounts.  Yields here are averaging just over 5% currently on about $130,000 right now (so that will be slightly higher when I retire).  The longer term plan for this account is to grow it as we draw down the other taxable and RRSP accounts when we have contribution room available in the TFSA accounts.  That additional money will likely get used to cover living expenses, its just a matter of when we use the money.

Then the last pool of cash is the taxable investment account.  Currently this is rather small (~$35,000), but since we are maxed on TFSA and RRSP contribution room so it will grow to be around $60 to $70k.  Yet a portion of that will be our emergency cash float which will allow us to not pull money out of investments for up to a year in the event the markets take a major decline.  In the long term it would be nice to move that cash float into the TFSA from the taxable investment account, but given the low tax implications of that we will likely not do that anytime soon or do it slowly over a number of years. Except for the emergency cash float we will use up this money towards the early part of our retirement to ensure we keep any taxable capital gains to a minimum and again if required I would be okay using some of this principle money.

So long story short, we mainly plan to live on capital gains and dividends, but I am okay touching a bit of the principle if required.  I will actively avoid doing that (by having some employment income during the first five years), but as I previously noted I am fine with downsizing the house in the medium term to shore up the investments if required.

Hope that helps.  Let me know if you have any questions.