Financial Independence Progress Report for September 2017

I was eagerly waiting for September dividends to come….it is the third highest grossing quarter after Dec and June. So, what is not to like? But, September has come and gone and there is not much excitement in reporting the numbers. The numbers are not that bad year-over-year, but I guess it is the slow progress towards the goals’ end that has made me a bit less excited. But, I told myself…One step at a time….build the dividend streams and the dividend snowballing will start for sure!

That said, lets look at the numbers for September 2017.

10/06/2017
Emergency Fund $60K Done
College Fund (80K) 57.59% 58.61%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $1176.20(09/2016) $1547.52 (09/2017)
Retirement Fund 77.79% 78.74%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 4.18% 4.20%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for September 2017 is approximately 31.5% higher than September 2016. The main reason for this increase is Investments in a couple of International funds…..VTMGX (International Developed Markets Index) and VEMAX (Emerging Markets Index).
    • I have tried to diversify away from investing only in US market funds and I am just seeing the fruits of that this year on. Roughly 17% of my total dividends this year have come from International funds. I want to bring this up a bit more to reduce the risk of all dividends coming from the US markets.
  • Additional Investments
    • Investments in tax-deferred account (IRA)
      • In July, I sold portions of some funds to capture accumulated capital gains and created a cash fund inside my IRA.
      • In August, I deployed some of the cash in the cash fund to buy two international mutual funds…the US funds have not come down from their super expensive valuations.
      • In September, I continued more of the same and invested in the same funds again.
        • VTIAX: Vanguard Total International Stock Fund
          • Lower expense ratio
          • Covers the entire international market (large, medium and small caps)
        • VIHAX: Vanguard International High Dividend Fund
          • Higher expense ration
          • Covers a portion of the international market only (mainly large caps)
      • The curious reader may ask: why not just invest everything in the cheaper VTIAX?
        • I am following my old rule of risk diversification….in the same class of mutual funds (international market), I always have two funds compete for your money.
      • So, both VTIAX and VIHAX will now compete with each other to make more money for me 🙂
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Financial Independence Progress Report for August 2017

August has come and gone and it is time to look at the numbers for August 2017.

09/08/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 85.34% 87.32%
College Fund (80K) 56.83% 57.59%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $391.93(08/2016) $535.78(08/2017)
Retirement Fund 76.87% 77.79%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 4.14% 4.18%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for August 2017 is approximately 36% higher than August of 2016. Past investments in VCADX (CA MUNIs) and VWUIX (National MUNIs are the main reasons for the increase.
    • But, since I re-distributed the sale proceeds to other funds that follow the regular quarterly payout cycle, my total dividends for 2017 year-to-date is higher than that for 2016 at the same time. So. nothing to worry!
  • Additional Investments
    • Captured gains in taxable account and paid off car loan
      • Sold rest of Tax managed Balanced fund (VTMFX) to capture capital gains and add to my cash fund.
    • Paid off our car-loan
      • I did not find any deals worthy of investing among the mutual funds I own….out here in the US and outside. So, instead of keeping it in the bank and/or a money market fund, I repaid the remaining portion of our car loan! Now, every month, I will have some extra savings to be applied for home down payment and/or to replenish the emergency bucket.
    • Investments in tax-deferred account
      • Last month, I sold portions of some funds to capture accumulated capital gains and created a cash fund inside my IRA.
      • I deployed some of the cash in the cash fund to buy two international mutual funds…the US funds have not come down from their super expensive valuations.
        • VTIAX: Vanguard Total International Stock Fund
          • Lower expense ratio
          • Covers the entire international market (large, medium and small caps)
        • VIHAX: Vanguard International High Dividend Fund
          • Higher expense ration
          • Covers a portion of the international market only (mainly large caps)
      • The curious reader may ask: why not just invest everything in the cheaper VTIAX?
        • I am following my old rule of risk diversification….in the same class of mutual funds (international market), I always have two funds compete for your money.
      • So, both VTIAX and VIHAX will now compete with each other to make more money for me 🙂
  • Add to the cash fund..details 
    • I started a small cash fund accumulated a couple months back to take advantage of any market dip(s) in the US market. This month, I again captured some gains in a couple of my investments to add to this cash fund. 
    • Now, the waiting game begins for a significant stock dip. What is a big dip? I will wait to employ my cash fund at least until the NAV drops 10% on any of my passive income streams.

Financial Independence Progress Report for July 2017

Belated July progress report. I was out of town on work related matters.

July is here and has the super tough goal of going against June…one of the best dividend months of the year! As expected, July got beat hands down 🙂 Lets look at the numbers for June 2017.

08/12/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 84.97% 85.34%
College Fund (80K) 54.72% 56.83%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $579.61(07/2016) $486.86 (07/2017)
Retirement Fund 75.19% 76.87%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 2.6% 4.14%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for June 2017 is approximately 20% lower than July 2016. This is an expected decrease. I sold off an investment which used to produce dividends off cycle in Jan, April, July and October. So, passive incomes for those months will be less.
    • But, since I re-distributed the sale proceeds to other funds that follow the regular quarterly payout cycle, my total dividends for 2017 year-to-date is higher than that for 2016 at the same time. So. nothing to worry!
  • Additional Investments
    • Captured gains in taxable account
      • Sold some of Euro-Pacific Developed Markets (via VTMGX) and Tax managed Balanced fund (VTMFX) to capture some capital gains and pad my cash fund. Details below.
    • Captured gains in tax-deferred account
      • Some funds in my IRA had developed some nice gains over the past 6-8 years since the last major downturn in 2008. Sold some portion of a few funds to capture capital gains and created a cash fund inside my IRA to fund a future dip.
  • Add to the cash fund..details 
    • I started a small cash fund accumulated a couple months back to take advantage of any market dip(s) in the US market. This month, I captured some gains in a couple of my investments to add to this cash fund. 
      • Captured some gains (10%) from VTMGX (Developed Markets in Europe and Asia
      • Captured some gains (12%) from VTMFX (Tax Managed Balanced fund)
    • Now, the waiting game begins for a significant stock dip. What is a big dip? I will wait to employ my cash fund at least until the NAV drops 10% on any of my passive income streams.
      • Was disciplined enough in July…and was rewarded with a 1.5% drop in August…lets see how much more disciplined I can be on this one….waiting for a 10% drop!

Financial Independence Progress Report for June 2017

June is here and welcome to one of the best dividend months of the year! I had both good news and bad news. Good news was all the dividends coming in…bad news was that I could not resist raiding the home down payment fund and putting that money to work for me 😦

Since I have to travel for work next week, I am publishing the report ahead of time….most of the dividends are deposited anyways…so, I am not going to miss anything. So, lets look at the numbers for June 2017.

06/23/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 84.73% 84.97%
College Fund (80K) 53.24% 54.72%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $1741.69(06/2016) $2392.05 (06/2017)
Retirement Fund 74.27% 75.19%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 2.6% 2.6% (site down)
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • June is one of the best months of the year for me (and all dividend investors I am sure!). My passive Income for June 2017 is approximately 37% higher than June 2016.
    • I was weak this month also in that I stole some money from the house down payment fund to fund my passive income streams. The longer I delay the home purchase, the higher seems the risk of me stealing from it. In some ways, it is good…the money is employed in the market and working hard for me….but my flexibility w.r.t. home prices is lost. Lets see….
  • Additional Investments
    • International exposure
      • Just like prior months, I have continued to increase my exposure outside the US market. US stocks seem so overvalued that I just can’t bring myself to add to it.
      • I added some more funds to my existing investments in Emerging markets (via VEIEX) and Euro-Pacific Developed Markets (via VTMGX).
    • Vanguard Intermediate Term Tax Exempt MUNIs (VWITX)
      • Dollar cost averaged my existing investment in VWITX.
        • Last June at this time,  the price was $14.61….now it is $14.21. So, lowered my cost basis.
      • This will add to my monthly federal tax free income stream.
    • With this, I am done with monthly automated investments for this year….ran out of money 🙂 Except for the cash fund in case of a dip.
  • Build a tiny cash fund again
    • I want to have a small cash fund accumulated to take advantage of any market dip(s) in the US market. I am done accumulating….no money left to steal anymore 😐
    • Now, the waiting game begins for a significant stock dip. What is a big dip?
      • Take a broad based index like the S&P 500. A well known fund that tracks this is SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEARCA: SPY).
      • Compared to October of 2016, this fund is almost 20% more….for no good reason. The market seems to have gone crazy. To get a nice view that summarizes what I feel, take a listen to this wonderful podcast: http://www.financialsense.com/when-things-get-crazy-dont-get-lazy Valuations have truly gone crazy.
    • So, I will wait to employ my cash fund at least until the cost drops down to 10% on any of my passive income streams. Lets see how disciplined I can be on this one.

Financial Independence Progress Report for May 2017

May is a one of the super-special months in the year. Why? Because it comes before June….one of the two biggest dividend months in the year 🙂 Other than that, May was a dull month. And I have missed my update for April 2017….I do remember writing it…but I guess I forgot to publish it…I found it in my Drafts folder. So, it is going to be a 2-month update for some categories!

Let us look at the numbers for May 2017.

06/02/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 84.135% 84.73%
College Fund (80K) 51.35% 53.24%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $371.51(05/2017) $470.72 (05/2017)
Retirement Fund 71.45% 74.27%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 2.6% 2.6%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for May 2017 ($470.72) is appx 26% higher than May 2016 ($371.51).
    • I have stolen as much money I can from all my other goals to fund my passive income streams…especially from our home down payment fund. This has resulted in double digit year-over-year gains. But, next year, I will not see this kind of gains…I will enjoy them while they last hey!
  • Additional Investments
    • International exposure
      • Just like prior months, I have continued to increase my exposure outside the US market. Dividend investors are not supposed to look at the stock price…but US stocks seem so overvalued that I just can’t bring myself to add to it.
      • On the other hand, I want my passive income streams to come from many countries all over the world to spread the risk of a single part of the world going through a bad phase. So, I added some more funds to my existing investments in Emerging markets (via VEIEX) and Euro-Pacific Developed Markets (via VTMGX).
  • Build a tiny cash fund again
    • I am accumulating some money in a money market fund. I want to have a small cash fund accumulated to take advantage of any market dip(s) in the US market.
  • Capture gains in my IRA/401K
    • Seeing the insane manner in which the US market stocks are going up, I can’t shake the feeling that we are at the top. I see all the signs of a big drop except the market is going up and up. It is tapering now and I feel that a major dip is quite near.
    • My IRA lost a lot of its value (total return) in the 2008 downturn and I had to wait almost 6 years for it to come back up. I was a financial fool at that time and did not even attempt any corrective actions….I could have moved to preserve some of my gains…but did not know any better.
    • For the upcoming downturn, I do not want to lose the gains in my IRA. So, I cashed out most of the gains accumulated in my IRA over the last few years and have parked them in cash inside my IRA. When the next dip happens, I will put them back to work. Until then, I am okay with losing 2-3% in dividends versus losing 10-20% of the stock price.

2017 Goals and Quarterly Updates

NOTE: Third Quarter, 2017 Update….on 10/07/2017

I started my humble journey towards Financial Independence in 2014. But, I really did not have any formal goals for 2014. I just wanted to create multiple passive income streams, protect my family with life insurance, etc. I established what Financial Independence means to me and what the goals were. I accomplished all the implicit goals I had for 2014.

For 2015, I was a little bit more formal about goal setting and set my 2015 goals and updated my progress quarterly (here). In addition, I also tracked my progress via a Monthly Progress Report (here). At the end of year 2015, I reviewed my progress towards FI and I was happy to have reached and/or exceeded most goals I set (here).

For 2016, I achieved most of the goals I set out for myself (here). The two goals where I failed badly are: Keep eating expenses under $200 per month & Estate planning. I will try again this year i.e. in 2017.

The Financial Independence criterion for me (2017) are:

Financial Independence Criterion
Emergency Fund $60k (as of 2017)
College Fund $80k
Passive Income Streams $4000 per month
Retirement Fund $900k
Roof for our Family $750k….HCOL area 😦
Medical Fund $100k
Life Insurance To protect my earning years…..

For 2017, I have thought about the following goals to get me closer to the above financial independence goals.

Financial Goals

  1. Keep scouting for a possible home/multi-family residence/rental real estate
    1. 03/31/2017        Visited many open houses…single/multi family…prices still crazy
    2. 06/30/2017        Visited two open houses….prices even more crazy this quarter…
    3. 09/30/2017        8 more….we finally know what we want….need the $$$ now 🙂
    4. 12/31/2017        
  2. Contribute $15000 towards Home Downpayment Fund
    1. 03/31/2017           $10272/$15000            $4728 remaining
    2. 06/30/2017           $13772/$15000            $1228 remaining             
    3. 09/30/2017           $16701/$15000            Done..but price rises outpacing savings 😦
    4. 12/31/2017        
  3. Contribute $3600 to 529 College Fund 2 
    1. 03/31/2017        $305/$3600 done                     $3295 remaining (behind…)
    2. 06/30/2017        $1966/$3600 done                   $1634 remaining 
    3. 09/30/2017        $3467/$3600 done                   $133 remaining
    4. 12/31/2017    
  4. Contribute $3000 to 529 College Fund 1
    1. 03/31/2017        $605/$3000 done                    $2395 remaining (behind…)
    2. 06/30/2017        $1767/$3000 done                  $1233 remaining
    3. 09/30/2017        $2427/$3000 done                  $573 remaining
    4. 12/31/2017       
  5. Contribute $16k to Passive Income Streams (stretch goal of $24k
    1. 03/31/2017        $10150/$16000                       $5850 remaining ($13850 for stretch)
    2. 06/30/2017        $29970/$16000                       $0 remaining 
    3. 09/30/2017        n/a
    4. 12/31/2017
  6. Max out 401k contributions for both me and my wife ($36K total)
    1. 03/31/2017        $10489.19/$36K                     $25510.81 remaining
    2. 06/30/2017        $19774.94/$36K                     $16229.06 remaining  
    3. 09/30/2017        $33890/$36K                          $2109.47 remaining    
    4. 12/31/2017        
  7. Keep eating out expenses under $200 pm
    1. 03/31/2017       $358.61                                      Way above budget…
    2. 06/30/2017       $401.83                                      Out of control 😦 
    3. 09/30/2017       $301                                           Pulled in the expense some…
    4. 12/31/2017   
  8. Start and finish Estate Planning (Will, POD beneficiaries, Caretaker for children, etc)
    1. 03/31/2017  No progress yet      
    2. 06/30/2017  No progress yet
    3. 09/30/2017  Set up an appt with a financial planner….will discuss and decide
    4. 12/31/2017  

Personal Goals

Starting this year, I am trying to track some personal goals. Without adding all the details and boring everybody, I will try to keep this simple. I am hoping tracking this in my blog will keep me motivated to reach my goals. Here they are:

  1. Health Body goals (healthy eating, gym visits, popping multi-vitamins, etc)
    1. 03/31/2017       21.4% success rate  ….nothing but improvement ahead 
    2. 06/30/2017       17.1% success rate ….oh boy…eating too much/no exercise…. 
    3. 09/30/2017       20.0% success rate….behind on flossing, popping vitamins mainly
    4. 12/31/2017  
  2. Simplify Life: Donate unused books once a month
    1. 03/31/2017       0/3 done                                
    2. 06/30/2017       3/3 done
    3. 09/30/2017       2/3 months done….got my kid to donate old books 🙂
    4. 12/31/2017  
  3. Simplify Life: Donate unused (old and new) clothes once per quarter
    1. 03/31/2017       1/1 done 
    2. 06/30/2017       1/1 done
    3. 09/30/2017       3/3 done….this time, it was clothes, toys and garage junk!!
    4. 12/31/2017  
  4. Simplify Life: Shred all unnecessary documents once a month
    1. 03/31/2017       1/3 done
    2. 06/30/2017       2/3 done….only 10 folders left…even found 10 year old docs! 
    3. 09/30/2017       1/3 done….a few more folders done….cabinet is so empty now 🙂 
    4. 12/31/2017  

Possible candidates for 2018 Personal Goals

I decided to start this section in the last quarter of 2017 (Oct-Dec) so that I can capture possible candidates for Personal goals in 2018.

  • Get together with a Financial Planner and checkpoint the overall state of our finances.
    • My goal was to generate $1000 pm in dividend income and then purchase our primary residence. I am close to the former but way behind the latter.
    • So, I want to set a plan for the next five years and getting a plan review from a qualified professional is timely now.
  • Prepare to find a new job with a better compensation package.
    • To support the house purchase, I need something more that the salary. I would like to add some additional options like a better bonus option, stocks, etc
    • This means I need to do really really well in the interviews…need solid preparation before I look into the market.
  • Get into a PE class of some sort and get my health in order.
    • Need the disciple of a class to help my will power.

Uncertainty….some thoughts.

I met a few friends for lunch recently and I was struct by the randomness of events that each one of us was going through…

  • Friend  1 developed kidney stones suddenly and spent a couple of painful hours in Emergency….just came back from a visit.
  • Friend 2 developed twitching on one side of the jaw and that was diagnosed to be a neurological condition….
  • Friend 3 experienced an unexpected job loss…we are trying to help out with job leads…
  • Last year and a half, I have experienced unexpected hospitalization, unexpected job loss and an unexpected crisis of confidence….so, I am not that behind 🙂

Some friends expressed the inability to forecast how the next 5-10 years will look like and how it was creating a lot of stress in their respective lives. Ironically, a similar pattern is what forced me to discover Financial Independence 🙂

That led me to think about Uncertainty about the future and its effect on Happiness today. I came to the sudden realization that the dramatic popularity of FIRE (Financial Independence and Early Retirement) over the last few years is directly proportional to the level of Uncertainty in the society as a whole. Let me think aloud on this a bit. Read on if you are interested!

What is Uncertainty?

There are many definitions of what Uncertainty is.

  • According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Uncertainty is defined as the quality or state of being uncertain.
  • According to probability theory, any event can have many possible outcomes. If the result of many of these outcomes cannot be predicted ahead of time OR worse yet, the outcomes itself cannot be predicted, then there is supposed to be Uncertainty.
  • I remember reading on a bumper sticker that the oldest emotion of man is fear and the strongest of the fears is the fear of unknown. Not sure who said it, but it seems right to me. When there are unknowns in our life, there is Uncertainty.

Uncertainties in life

Let us take me as an example. There are four main uncertainties that I can think of in my life.

  • Income uncertainty
    • I am in a profession where assuming income certainty does not exist. I got half a day notice to pack my bags and leave in my previous job.
    • Planning for the long term like buying a house, paying for college, saving for retirement, etc requires sustained income for atleast 15-20 years.
  • Health uncertainty
    • All the years spent slogging, both student years and work years, have taken their toll on my body. Another decade of stress and the certainty of failing health is guaranteed!
  • Family Relationships Uncertainty
    • Uncertainty of aged parents’ health on both mine and my wife’s side
    • Uncertainty of a vagabond life (moving to different rental houses) on kids and wife
  • Social Network Uncertainty
    • Social network includes family and friends whom I can count on in case of an emergency. The pressures of the HCOL area economy has driven a couple of close people out of town and out of state….some due to job loss and some due to high cost of living issues.

Priority of Uncertainties

Uncertainties about the future can eat away at the happiness. Not knowing all the outcomes and if the outcomes are known, not knowing the results can cause stress and anxiety. If I were to rank the uncertainties in the order of severity to me, here is what I came up with:

  • Severity High
    • Income Uncertainty
    • Health Uncertainty
  • Severity Medium
    • Family relationships Uncertainty
  • Severity Low
    • Social Network Uncertainty

Importance of Income Certainty

Achieving Income Certainty has an impact on all the other uncertainties. Take the example of a Government employee who has the most certain income situation I can think of. The size of the income is less important than the certainty of it is. With income certainty, I see the following advantages:

  • Improved health
    • When sustained income is assured, then long term decisions like housing, etc can be taken with less stress and anxiety.
    • Health uncertainty is reduced
  • More time to work on getting healthy
    • I have found that more uncertainty leads to working longer and harder to try and make the outcomes more certain…whether it be work OR relationships or something else.
    • More working leads to missing out on gym time, eating unhealthy food, etc
    • Income certainty to me would mean more time work on improving my health.
    • Health uncertainty is reduced
  • More time to spend with family and friends
    • When working longer and harder to overcome income uncertainty, time with family and friends is usually a casualty. When sustained income is assured, spending time with family and friends is is much easier.
    • I once went to a baseball game on a Thursday afternoon as part of a team outing from work and I found the train station overflowing with families. There was no standing room even in the station! I then realized that I had not gone to a baseball game in years and the station was packed on Thursday…a full blown working day!!
    • One person I met on that station many years ago was a post office worker. I saw a lot of happiness and joy in that man and he was the one who taught me the difference between the size of an income (small in his case) and the certainty of that income (high in his case).
    • Family relationships uncertainty and Social network uncertainty is reduced.

Conclusion

In the last two decades of my life, the uncertainty that has grown the most around me in Income Uncertainty. I used to hear about this topic rarely in social events…now it has reached me and my inner most circle of friends and families. I have seen family and friends go through it…and I have seen what devastation it can cause in life…divorces, bankruptcies, three kids and 2 adults in a 2 bedroom apartment, depression, etc etc

With so much income uncertainty, is it any surprise at the wave of populist movements sweeping across the entire developed world? With this background, is it any surprise that FIRE has taken hold in our society and across the world.

Life is meant to be enjoyed. Life with complete certainty is most probably boring. Uncertainties in life are supposed to be indicate exciting new possibilities….new places to visit, new people to meet, new adventures to experience. But, is all of this possible without Income Certainty? Does it take a certain kind of personality to live with Uncertainties but no income certainty?

I am so glad that I discovered FIRE and thanks to the education and support of the FIRE community, I am on my way towards income certainty 🙂

Financial Independence Progress Report for March 2017

Three months already over in the new year….this year is definitely going faster than last year! Nothing interesting this month. My passive income streams boosted by appx 16% but somehow I feel unsatisfied…not sure why. Maybe the pace of reaching my goals is slow 🙂 Anyways, let us look at the numbers for March 2017.

04/01/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 83.00% 84.135%
College Fund (80K) 50.57% 51.35%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $1052.01(03/2016) $1219.83 (03/2017)
Retirement Fund 68.61% 71.45%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 2.6% 2.6%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for Mar 2017 ($1219.83) is appx 16% higher than Mar 2016 ($1052.01).
    • I did not add more funds this month since all my investment vehicles are trading at peak values. Waiting for the next dip to invest more. One exception is listed next.
  • Additional Investments
    • International exposure
      • Just like prior months, I have continued to increase my exposure outside the US. Stocks in United States seem too overvalued to my simple mind. I want my passive income streams to come from many countries all over the world to spread the risk of a single part of the world going through a bad phase.
      • So, I have added some more funds to my existing investments in Emerging markets (via VEIEX) and Euro-Pacific Developed Markets (via VTMGX).
  • Build a tiny cash fund again
    • I am accumulating some money in a money market fund. I want to have a small cash fund accumulated to take advantage of any market dip(s).

Financial Independence Progress Report for February 2017

Two months already over in the new year….somehow feels that this year is going faster than last year!

I am still not sure on what should be my yearly goals for 2017. I am carrying forward some goals from last year…college fund, retirement fund, etc. Thanks to valuable comments on a blog post from Vivienne, Baba Joga and AmberTreeLeaves, I am getting close to a decision. By next month, I will decide one way or the other…else quarterly update in in jeopardy 🙂

Lets look at the numbers for Feb 2017.

02/05/2017
Emergency Fund $60K 100% 83.00%
College Fund (80K) 49.58% 50.57%
Passive Income (2016 vs 2017) $269.65 (02/2016) $408.50 (02/2017)
Retirement Fund 65.07% 68.61%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 0.5% 2.6%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Emergency Fund changes
    • It is looking more likely that my next significant goal will be a real estate investment. Before that, I want to seed my passive income streams with as much money as possible to get it as close as possible to my intermediate goal of $1000 pm. My final goal is $4000 pm as documented here.
    • So, to get closer to $1000 pm, one change I made I reduced my emergency fund by appx $10K and pushed the money into a cash fund….to roll this into my passive income streams.
    • I have initiated a per-month contribution towards rebuilding my Emergency fund, but that can happen in the background.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for Feb 2017 ($408.50) is appx 51% higher than Feb 2016 ($269.65). This increase is an expected one.
    • In July of 2016, I welcomed some new members to my mutual fund family. One of the new arrivals was VWITX (Vanguard Intermediate Term National MUNI fund).
    • A good portion of the year-over-year increase in passive income for Feb comes from VWITX. This pattern will repeat the rest of the year as well.
  • Additional Investments
    • International exposure
      • Just like prior months, I have continued to increase my exposure outside the US. Stocks in United States seem too overvalued to my simple mind.
      • And I want my passive income streams to come from many countries all over the world to spread the risk of a single part of the world going through a bad phase.
      • So, I added to my existing investments in Emerging markets (via VEIEX) and Euro-Pacific Developed Markets (via VTMGX).
  • Build a tiny cash fund again
    • I am accumulating some money in a money market fund. I want to have a small cash fund accumulated to take advantage of any market dip(s).

Housing Dilemma….Part 1

As I have mentioned in previous posts in 2017, I am struggling with a Housing Dilemma which has paralyzed me for the last month and a half. It took me some effort to break out of it and write this post. In this post on my Housing Dilemma (Part 1), I will try to detail two big dilemmas I am facing. Your feedback will be very much appreciated. In Part 2 of the post, I will write about my decision…which hopefully will give me some peace and closure.

Looking back…

I discovered Financial Independence…kind of by accident around 2003. My first blog post ever via this blog was on 07/21/2014. I re-read that first post again and realized that my goal of FI was 10 years from 07/21/2014 i.e. by 07/21/2024, I should have achieved Financial Independence . To be honest, it was more of a stake-in-the-sand kind of goal rather than a well thought out date based on pure math. But, setting this date has got me far ahead of my expectations from when I started this blog.

My goals when I started this blog…

I went back to read what Financial Independence meant to me. From there, I got the following goals. These early goals were refined a bit more…but they still are the main pillars of my FI strategy.

  1. Emergency Fund for 12 months of expenses
    1. Achieved
  2. Multiple Passive Income Streams that produce $50000 per year for years 50-70
    1. On hindsight, this goal was too aggressive at my current funding level 🙂
    2. Depending on my housing decision, I may need additional funds OR more time. But I am happy with the current progress (Jan 2017) and will surely continue with this goal!
  3. College Fund for my kid
    1. Will be achieved in the next 8 years
  4. A retirement fund that covers 30 years of expenses for years 70-100
    1. Will be achieved in the next 8 years
  5. A paid off roof for my family
    1. The biggest question mark 😦 More on this later
  6. A $100K medical fund to help fix emergency health issues…not sure about insurance with preexisting health issues.
    1. In 10 years, if I do not dip into the emergency fund, that fund will be folded onto the medical fund. And I will need to add some more money of course.
    2. But, will surely be achieved.
  7. Life Insurance to cover my family.
    1. Note that this is insurance coverage outside of work to protect my family.
    2. Achieved!

Biggest Question Mark

Financial Independence to me meant that the family abode was paid off. Basically, zero debt with a healthy passive income to boot was my dream. I have come to realize that the big decision of buying a family abode is comprised of a few smaller decisions:

  • Location:
    • I live in a HCOL (high cost of living) area…can we move out of here to a LCOL (low cost of living) area?
    • For various reasons, moving is not an option for our family. All our connections (family and close friends) are here and uprooting everything is not practical.
  • Money:
    • The best case scenario for me is a mortgage amount of somewhere between $425K to $525K. I analyzed this in three posts….the final one was this. Links to the other two are within.
    • No mortgage => no tax deduction on the mortgage interest. I have been paying more tax than needed for the past couple years while I was building my passive income engine. Need to correct this.
  • Kid’s Deadline:
    • We have moved 3 times within the last 7 years and that has taken a toll on my kid the most…3 different schools and zero long term friends. My kid enters middle school next year and I want to drop down roots before that…most possibly another school change but hopefully the last one until high school. So, I have appx 1.5 years left to buy a house.
  • Satisfaction:
    • After visiting many open houses and considering the needs and wishes of our family (size, school district, space, layout, etc), I have come to the decision that a “satisfactory” house is a 3B/2B SFH in a reasonably good school district with low crime. This will cost me anywhere between $850K to $950K…depending on how far into suburbia I am willing to move to. Trust me, you will not get a mansion for this…welcome to my HCOL area 😦
    • In waiting to buy a house, our family spent a few vagabond years. We were saving up for the down payment as well as building the passive income streams. Whatever house we buy will be the one we will stay for the next 18 years atleast. So, the criterion of a 3B/2B SFH is not something I can relax.

So, it seems to me that the only criterion I can relax are:

  • Money
  • Kid’s Deadline

Depending on which of the above two criterion I relax, there can be a few different directions I can go in. And here comes the dilemma.

Housing Dilemma 1: Relax Money criterion and stick to Kid’s Deadline

A mortgage size between $425K and $525K will fit into my FI window. Assuming the worst case cost of $950K for a house, I will need a down payment of $325K to even bid for the house. I have some down payment money but accumulating $325K will take me many many more years.

Vivianne suggested one way: sacrifice some retirement funding to build this down payment up.The stock market is at insane levels…so, perhaps not investing in 401K for a year is not a bad idea. Cons are:

  • Even if I stop investing in 401K and stop adding new funds to my passive income streams, I can save a max of $20K to $25K over the next year and a half.
  • 401K funding is the only tax-efficiency move I have going for me….don’t want to lose this…
  • Can I sacrifice my passive income streams? Hmm…..

So, lets say I relaxed my mortgage limit and took a $625K mortgage (analysis)…the jumbo loan limit in my HCOL area. This means my FI plan will need to be extended to 15 years at least. Say, I am agreeable to this as well. So, what is the dilemma then? Buying at the peak.

One of the good articles that explain what I am trying to say is Case-Shiller House Prices Bubble 1.0 vs today. 2006-2007 was the largest housing bubble in history. And in my HCOL area, prices today are much much more than 2007 prices. If 2007 bubble was the largest bubble, what does it make the house prices we have today? It is really insane 🙂

I concur with the above article as I have personal proof of it. Here is one example of a sfh that a friend bought in Dec 2007….

  • Dec 2007: 922K
  • Dec 2009: 699K
  • Dec 2013: 883K
  • Dec 2016: 1200K

Even if I assume that 2016 is Bubble 2.0, if the bubble pops, I cannot expect the prices to go back to 2009 prices…at best, the prices might settle around 883K (2013 prices).

Conclusion: With this background, is this the right time to bug a house? Is this the right time to commit to a huge mortgage that will require mandatory full employment for the next 15-20 years? Even if we deduct mortgage interest deduction of $20-$30k ($625K mortgage @ 4.5%), if the house price drops by 200K, would it be a smart buy? I am not so sure….especially since even refinancing will be ruled out for underwater homes.

Housing Dilemma 2: Relax Kid’s deadline and keep Money 

Lets say I will wait for the house prices to fall to a reasonable value…say appx $800-850K for a sfh 3br/2b home in a reasonably good school district with low crime. Let us say that this price reduction will only happen in 2020 i.e. three years from now. I can save money for the home down payment and still stick to the $525K mortgage. But, this means I have to continue to rent and potentially move again for my kid’s middle school i.e. continue the Vagabond family life 😦

I hate to put my family through another temporary move, but lets see what this option of delaying a home purchase till 2020 brings us.

  • I can save enough money for a down payment to let me pick a $525K mortgage i.e. stick to my FI schedule of 10 years….
  • I am not buying at the peak of the market….a peak which is really really historic. I have seen my close friends struggle in the 2008 housing bubble , lose jobs and houses and saw first hand what devastation it can cause for families.

So, what do I lose by postponing my purchase?

  • Obviously, I feel that I am not being a responsible parent and husband by elongating the vagabond life by another three years.
  • I am going to lose the tax benefits of a mortgage…most probably in the highest earning years of my life….i.e. when I could most benefit from a deduction in taxes.
  • House prices may rise up even more….hey, anything is possible 🙂

I cannot do anything about the first con and the third is not realistic in my opinion. But I can do something about the second. What if I purchased one or more cash-flow positive rentals in a LCOL area? Here are some positives:

  • Use leverage to add one more income stream
  • Diversify my income stream to include rental income along with dividend income
  • Get the mortgage tax deduction

Some negatives are:

  • The rental purchases also will be at the top of the housing market bubble…unless I identify a market that is not so frothy.
  • Remote rental management…lack of time is so prevalent in my life now…so, how does one manage remote properties? Can I identify a rental management agency to help me out? Doable but will take some work.
  • If housing market falls in 2018, I will not have enough money to take advantage of it.

Conclusion: With this background, is this the right time to postpone purchase of family residence and buy a rental property instead? I will be getting the tax benefit and hopefully get the renters to pay off most of the mortgage. And over time, diversify my passive income stream as well. Am I being too selfish in signing up my Kid and wife for few more years of Vagabond life?

Readers

If you have read this far, I truly appreciate it! As I said before, the above two dilemmas have paralyzed me for the last month and a half. If I may ask one favor, do you have any thoughts on how I can solve my dilemma? Which option should I pick: Dilemma 1 OR Dilemma 2? Am I missing any pros/cons in each dilemma? Feel free to share your valuable opinions! Thank you very much!