Category Archives: Investing

The Money Panic

The other day for no apparent reason I sudden had a shock of fear go down my spine that I didn’t have enough money for my retirement.  I worried that I had made a horrible mistake and that I should have worked longer  and saved more money before quitting. There was no particularly logical trigger for the feeling of mild panic that passed through me and the feeling left me shortly afterwards.  Yet it did make me double check a few numbers to prove to myself (again) that we had enough money for years.

So as I looked at my account balances and faced the fact that I am in fact fine for the next few years then I relaxed back to my usual state of calm.  In reality nothing had changed about our situation during this episode, it was merely a bit of doubt stuck in my brain and likely the result of me adjusting to our changing sources of income.

Previously with my old job, I knew there was risks with a job as your major source of income.  I knew you could get laid off, shifted to another job, or have a rollback in wages or cut in benefits (I honestly had experienced all of those during my career at some point).  Yet I understood those risks because I had been living with them for a long time.  So oddly comfortable with those risks.

Now that we are mostly living off our investments I have a different set of risks.  We could see a stock market correction, cuts in dividends from companies we own or drops in our bond portion of our investment portfolio.  These aren’t new risks but I honestly didn’t pay as much attention to them in the past because with my old job we had other sources of income to cover expense when those events occurred.  Now I’m feeling those risks more acutely than in the past.

The reality is you don’t have less risk once you retire.  You just changed which risks you are managing.  Yet oddly some of the same principles  you learned getting to retirement still apply such as it is better to have multiple sources of income (not just investments or  just a job).  Which is why partly my wife continues to run her daycare from our home and I continue to run my little publishing business.  Neither produces much income but it does help balance out the risks of sudden investment swings.  Also both businesses give us something to do and provide options for socialization with others.  We do them because we like to and less because of the income they produce.

One other things that hit me during my little panic feeling was I asked myself the following question: what is the worst thing that could happen?  This is a great question to force yourself to face what you are fearing.  And in my case the answer was simple: get a job.  Notice the word ‘job’.  I don’t have to go back to my old career or employer begging for a job.  I can find something, somewhere that I might enjoy a bit and brings in some money.  Honestly with our relatively low expenses making even $10 to $15K a year makes a huge difference to balancing out our spending.  And if that truly became required it isn’t really the horrible of a fate…hell it’s sort of normal for most people my age (including myself until recently).

In the end, I’ve come to realize these little flares of panic or worry are just me adjusting to my new normal.  Nothing on a fundamental level has changed in my situation other than my thoughts and luckily those can be changed rather easily.

So do you think you would have problems living just off your investments?  What would you do to help balance your risks?

The Master Retirement Plan

I talk a lot on this blog about my plans for retirement, but it occurs to me I usually discuss just parts of the plan and I rarely if ever tie all the parts together.  So I decided to spell it all out in a master plan post, which by the way may get a wee bit long.

Part 1 – Debts

My plan has always had one important part I almost never discuss anymore: we have no debt and don’t plan on getting any after I leave my day job.  So we paid off the mortgage back in 2012 and we pay off our credit card bill every month in full.  Yet this doesn’t mean I don’t have access to some debt if required.  For example, we kept a line of credit for $100,000 on the house.  Why?  Debt can be used for some additional flexibility to manage your cash flow.  For example, if we get a unexpected expense for $10,000 I could sell some investments to pay it off at once, but if the investments are making more than I can borrow the money for I would consider using debt to initially pay off the $10,000 and then slowly reduce the debt.  As interest rates increase this may not be a good idea, but flexibility is useful if nothing else.

Part 2 – Expenses

We have always had rather low expenses around $30k to $32k per year for the day to day costs.  This might seem low for a family of four to you but keep in mind we don’t have a mortgage payment and we have a very optimized spending towards what matters most to us.  Then on top of that we have had some odd one time expenses like our big trips to Hawaii (~$5k) or our month long tour of the Maritimes (~$8K).   I haven’t put money aside to fund all of those forever, but rather I built in a slush fund of money ($20k) to initially cover trips, car replacement costs and non-regular house maintenance items.

Part 3 – Work

So that last statement of not funding trips might seem odd until you realize for me that early retirement isn’t about leaving work forever, but rather the ability to choose work that I will enjoy and the hours I want (around half time or less).  My hobby of writing even manages to make me some money every once in a while.  So every dime of money I make post leaving my full time day will feed our slush fund.  Therefore if I want to travel more I know exactly what I will be working towards.

The other major part of this is my wife fully plans to keep running her daycare for the first five years.  She likes her job and doesn’t feel the need to quit so when she committed to that I added that to our plan which makes our withdrawals from our investments lower for the first five years.

Part 4 – Investments

Beyond having a paid for house we will have about $600,000 in investments (we also have another $75,000 we have in an RESP for our kids’ educations not included in that total).

The investments are basically in three main buckets:

  1. My Work Pension –  This is mainly concentrated in bonds and has really low fees, but I can’t access most of it until I turn 50. But I can unlock about 30% of this when I leave work and move it an RRSP (which I plan to do).
  2. The RRSPs – These accounts are setup to invest in Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) which has low fees because they are index funds that mirror major stock indexes.  It’s called the Potato Portfolio and it takes me 15 minutes a year to manage.  So it has a low amount work to manage and provides a reasonable return and balances risk nicely.  We plan to use some of this money to make up the shortfall from the next bucket.
  3. TFSA and Taxable – These are the highest risk accounts because they invest directly in individual company stocks and an ETF for preferred shares.  Yet those companies are dividend paying ones so the plan here is to avoid selling the stocks to provide income and instead just use the dividends and distributions from the companies to fund our spending.

Part 5 – Cash Flows

So the fall out of our investing choices  and my wife’s plan to keep working are our cash flow plans for the next five years.  We expect my wife’s business to provide about $8000 a year of income to the house accounts while our dividends and distributions should provide another $9,500 per year.  So in total that is $17,500 which would be about 54% of our budget spending (assuming the $32k spending level).

Then on top of that I’ve saved an additional $16,000 in cash to initially fund our spending after I leave work.  So this should cover at least the first year year off combined with the above.

Then finally because our income will be so low, we will get a substantial increase to our Child Tax Benefit about 20 months after I leave work to the tune of roughly $12,000/year.  This won’t be for long but does mean our initial withdrawals from our investments will be minimal (ie: average of around 2% of the portfolio) for the first three to five years.  So the plan is basically don’t touch most of the investments and let them keep growing until I’m 45 or so.

Part 6 – Income Tax

With my day job, I currently make over $100,000 a year and I provide the majority of our current household income.  Of course, this means I pay a LOT of income tax.   Like over $22,000 in income tax last year.  So going forward that number should drop to less than $500 a year or if I do my planning right it should hover around $0.

How?  Simple, the basic deduction for each adult is around $11,600.  So between that for both my wife and I and the tax free income from our TFSAs we should be able to reduce our tax bill to almost zero and thereby removing my single biggest expense right now.

Part 7 – Withdrawal Methodology

Of having investments is nice, but most people want to know how do you turn them into income?  Well in my case, someone on the blog pointed me this source which I have decided to adopt for my method to take out funds (which I can’t seem to find the link for so when I do I will add it).  So the plan is to avoid selling the TFSA investments and only use the dividend and distribution income from those accounts.  Then we will sell our bonds first to fuel any additional income requirements up to a total of 4.5% of the overall investments in a given year (if you want to know why 4.5% rather than 4% read this).  Then as the stock part of the portfolio grows I will sell off the gains (when they exceed 20%) and buy back some bonds.  The point of this is to avoid selling your stock side of the portfolio when the market is down.

Of course, if our slush fund gets too big from any additional income I get from my hobbies then I would also break off a chunk and also buy some bonds.

Part 8 – Purpose

A number of retirees will fail to properly plan their time after they leave work and can end up bored without their day jobs.  So to combat this I’ve already considered what is more important to me and I have decided my primary purpose on leaving my day job will be writing.  I don’t have to make much money at it, but if I do that is nice.  I will also focus on supporting my kids in school to ensure they get any help they need and down the road helping out in organizations that I care about.

Part 9 – Hobbies

Beyond the obvious writing hobby I also expect to pursue these items which should leave me with the same problem I have now: not enough time to do it all.

Part 10 –  Back Up Plans

Of course like all things in life, it never really goes according to plan.  So that is why I insist on keeping several backup plans.  A few of them are:

  • Downsize the house and move the excess money into the investments (up to $75K).
  • I will likely get a decent size inheritance despite my plan has assumed a value of $0.
  • We will qualify for OAS and some CPP so I actually don’t need my money to last for 50 years, but rather until I turn 65 or so.  Then we can reduce the investment withdrawals if needed.
  • Finally, I can go back to full time work for a while if things are going REALLY bad.

So I think the covers the majority of the items about my plan, but if I have missed something do let me know and I’ll add it in.

Windfall

It’s it wonderful when you get money you were not expecting?  A windfall where money almost seems to fall out of the sky into your hand.  It almost doesn’t seem the matter on how much it is or how you get it.  You still get that burst of excitement when you pick up that $5 bill on the ground or get a big bonus from your work.

Yet regardless of how you get the extra money just about everyone seems to have the same thought right after getting it: how do I spend this?  Oh, should I get a coffee with this money or perhaps some donuts (mmm, donuts so sweet and…what was I talking about? Oh right).  Which I do understand the reaction, but I should point out it isn’t a particularly healthy habit to have.

Why? Because you really should set some reasonable limits about investing some of your windfalls in life.  This isn’t to say you should always invest all of your windfalls, but rather consider investing most of them.  While I don’t have any particularly hard and fast rules about mine I do have some general rules of thumb regarding money that fall into my lap.

Rule #1 – If it is less than $20, do what ever you want with it.  This rule then allows me to not bother tracking small amounts of extra money.  Of course I could still invest the money, but I usually don’t for very small amounts.  I generally just put it in my wallet and send it on something that catches my eye later on.  I’m usually not in a rush to spend small amounts of found money.

Rule #2 – Celebrate your big windfalls (greater than $100).  I don’t know about you but I once won a colour contest and got like $75 as a prize and that was a BIG deal to a little kid.  So while I’ve adjusted the amount slightly upwards I still tend to celebrate windfalls.  Now the term celebrate usually means I either buy something small or do something fun to note the occasion.  My most recent one I picked up some beer ($14) on the way home and enjoyed a glass with my wife that evening.  That’s it.  Why? Because this allows me to get the buy something with unexpected money out of system and to note the occasion.

Rule #3 – Invest the vast majority of the money into your priorities in life.  Now your priorities change in life but windfalls can provide a nice boost to what ever you happen to be working for in life.  So if you are focusing on paying off the mortgage, then you make a lump sum payment.  Or if you are going back to school, then you put the money towards your tuition.  Or if you are saving for an early retirement, then you put that extra money in an investing account.  The point here is to move things along a bit faster than you expected and then you really do appreciate the extra help of the windfall.

Rule #4 – Do NOT depend on windfalls.  I used to have a job that I would get huge bonuses (I mean like in the range of $5000 to $12,000) ever quarter (if we met our targets). Yet I never lived off that bonus money.  The mortgage was paid and our groceries bought with our tiny base salary, because I never spent or investment a cent of my quarterly bonus until it was in my bank account.  Why?  Because you can’t depend on variable money…what happens when things beyond your control take that money away?  You end up borrowing money to keep  going and you are breaking one of the core rules of money: don’t spend more than you have.

So those are my guidelines for windfalls, how you handle bonuses, tax refunds or 50/50 draws winnings?