Financial Independence Progress Report for December 2016

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Here is wishing you a happy and prosperous 2017. May all your dreams and aspirations come true!!

December is a happy month for all dividend investors and so it was for me too! Passive income coming into my account is validation for the FI path and also motivation to continue the FI journey with even more vigor! Lets look at the numbers for Dec 2016.

Emergency Fund $60K 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 47.95% 47.95%
Passive Income (2015 vs 2016) $1281.58 (12/2015) $1983.06 (12/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 63.44% 64.27%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for December 2016 ($1983) is appx 54% higher than December 2015 ($1281.58). This is a big increase and a totally unexpected one.
    • The positive surprise was due to more than expected capital gains distribution from VDIGX and VWELX. I will take it…however they come 🙂
  • Additional Investments
    • VEIEX(Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund))
      • Just like prior months, I continued to increase my exposure outside the US. Stocks in United States are way to overvalued and frothy in my opinion. So, I have continued to increase my exposure to countries outside the US. I want my passive income stream to come from many countries all over the world as a good means of diversification.
      •  This time, I invested in a new fund: an Emerging markets fund called VEIEX. This fund invests in many emerging market countries like Brazil, India, Russia, China, Taiwan and 20 more countries around the world.
      • If you want more details on VEIEX, please get it directly from the horse’s mouth: VEIEX.
  • Passive Income Goal
    • My 2016 goal was to reach $750 pm in passive income by year end. December is done…and my per-month dividend stands at $801.99. Hurrah!
    • 2016 had lots of ups and downs…including a phase of unemployment and no salary for a month at least, a nasty health issue and what not. So, achieving this goal and exceeding it by a small amount of $50 makes me very happy.
    • Sometime back, I wrote an article called How much freedom did I buy today? I read that article again today and decided to compute the number of hours of freedom I have bought with $801 of passive income per month.
      • My Passive Income goal is
        • $4000 per month (Why $4000 pm?)
        • $48000 per year
        • $131.5 per day ($48K/365)
      • It is the end of 2016 and my passive income is $801 per month.
        • How much freedom will $801 pm buy me?
          • $801/$131.5  =>  6.09 days per month => 146 hours per month => 4.7 hrs a day (31 day month)
        • To put this in perspective, here is the amount of freedom $801 of passive income will buy me:
          • 4.7 hours      of absolute freedom every day!
          • 6.09 days     of absolute freedom every month!
          • 73.08 days    of absolute freedom every year!
          • 2.35 months of absolute freedom every year!
    • For 2017, I will aim for a challenging monthly passive income target of $850 pm. Wish me luck!

Financial Independence Progress Report for April 2016

April is a slow month for dividends in my portfolio. But, after a couple months of no paychecks, seeing regular paychecks in April was such a joy! In celebration of that, I pumped a couple hundred dollars into making sure that future paychecks via dividends are a certainty 🙂

Lets look at the numbers now.

Emergency Fund ($72K) 100.0% 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 39.33% 41.25%
Passive Income Streams ($4000 pm) $544.13 pm (04/2015) $509.15 pm (4/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 57.96% 61.08%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio changes continues this month….
    • I wrote about my Capital Gains gut check here. As part of that exercise, I divested all my holdings in VTCLX (Vanguard Tax Managed Capital Appreciation) and VTMSX (Vanguard Tax Managed Small Cap).
  • Additions to my new investment vehicle…
    • Last month, I initiated a position in Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VWITX). I wrote about it in my March Progress Report.
    • I took all the money from the sale of VTCLX and VTMSX and moved them into VWITX.
    • The gains are Federal Tax free and AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) free as well. I would still have to pay CA state tax for VWITX though.
  • Dollar Cost Averaging
    • Did not have cash to dollar cost average (DCA) my funds this month…but I did boost my investments to dollar cost average VTMGX (Vanguard Developed Markets Index Fund….my non-US exposure mutual fund). I want to have some of my passive income streams to not come from US companies. VTMGX diversifies my passive income streams to include companies from Greater Europe, Greater Asia and Canada.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive income for April 2016 ($1016.87) broke the positive trend of current year month winning over previous year’s month as April 2015 ($544.13). Hmm….
      • ….this was expected as my portfolio changes led to a some days where my money was not working for me…a gap of a couple days between closing of accounts and moving them into new accounts.
    • I compute Passive Income per month as (total passive income in this year) / number of months completed this year.
      • Total passive income is a sum of dividends + capital gains distributions.
      • April Passive Income = (total passive income in this year) / 12 == $201.98 which beat the 2015 April number ($172.40 per month)
      • Doing it this way keeps the monthly passive income more realistic because I can instantly know which of my monthly expenses are covered by this amount. I keep a separate tracker for this which I will write about at a later date.
    • My intermediate goal is to get $1000 pm in passive income first. My estimation for 2016 is that I will reach $750 pm. Lets see if I can push it some more 🙂

2015 Goals and progress updates

NOTE: Updated quarterly; latest update is on 12/26/2015 

I started my humble journey towards Financial Independence in 2014. I did establish what Financial Independence means to me and what the goals were. But, I really did not have any yearly goals for 2014. I just wanted to come up with a plan and create multiple passive income streams and let them fly, protect my family with life insurance, etc. I believe that I have accomplished all the goals I implicitly had for 2014. For 2015, I wanted to be a little bit more formal about goal setting and I will document my 2015 goals in this post, updated quarterly. Monthly Progress Report is tracked here.

The Financial Independence criterion for me are:

Financial Independence Criterion
Emergency Fund $72K
College Fund $80K
Passive Income Streams $4000 per month
Retirement Fund $900K
Roof for our Family $1 million
Medical Fund $100K
Life Insurance Done initiating.

For 2015, I have thought about the following goals to get me closer to the above financial independence goals. The updates are quarterly for each goal.

  1. Max out 401K contributions for both me and my wife.(Done: 12/31/2015)
    1. 2015 401K limit is $18000 => $36K worth of 401k contributions.
      1. 03/31/2015 $13K/$36K done       $23K remaining
      2. 06/30/2015 $26K/$36K done       $10K remaining
      3. 09/30/2015 $32K/$36K done       $4K remaining
      4. 12/26/2015 $36K/$36K done        $0K remaining
  2. Contribute $16000 to Passive Income Streams (stretch goal of $24000) Done (09/30/2014)
      1. 03/31/2015 $4K/$16K done         $12K remaining
      2. 06/30/2015 $8K/$16K done         $8K remaining
      3. 09/30/2015 $25K/16K done         $0K remaining
      4. 12/26/2015 $37K/16K done         $0K remaining
  3. Contribute $4800 to 529 College Fund (Done: 12/31/2015)
    1. Vanguard 529 Plan
      1. 03/31/2015    $1200/$4800          $3.6K remaining
      2. 06/30/2015    $2400/$4800          $2.4K remaining
      3. 09/30/2015    $3600/4800            $1.2K remaining
      4. 12/26/2015    $4800/4800            $0K remaining
  4. Deposit maturing CDs into passive income streams Done(01/17/2015)
    1. VCAIX: $35K   $30K
    2. VTMFX: $10K $20K
    3. VDIGX: $10K  $15K
    4. VHDYX: $5K   $10K 
  5. Keep scouting for a possible home (Not Done: 12/26/2015)
    1. A paid off house is a must for financial independence.
      1. 03/31/2015         No progress
      2. 06/30/2015         Finished mortgage analysis, finally!
      3. 09/30/2015         Scouting properties….not much luck.
      4. 12/26/2015         Prices way out of reach. Some discussions on relocating to a different state…not sure yet
  6. Start and finish Estate Planning (Not Done: 12/26/2015)
    1. Will, POD beneficiaries, Caretaker for our child, etc
      1. 03/31/2015        No progress
      2. 06/30/2015        No progress
      3. 09/30/2015        No progress
      4. 12/26/2015        No progress…definitely for the coming year
  7. Get a more stable job. (Not Done: 12/26/2015)
    1. Current job is on very shaky foundations
      1. 03/31/2015        No progress
      2. 06/30/2015        Interview preparation started!!
      3. 09/30/2015        Interview preparation slowed down 😦
      4. 12/26/2015        No resolution yet…need more will power 😦

How to prepare for the next recession?

For the past few months, I am seeing some excesses in the market that has brought back memories of past boom+bust cycles. For example,

  • A 2bed/2bath condo sold for a neat $1mil,
  • A 3bed/2bath townhome list for $850K and sell for $1.2mil…I am not joking about this 😐
  • I saw many people jumping in to buy $70K cars
  • I saw people bid more than $100K over the list price to buy a very old home
  • ……

The above observations remind me of previous boom cycles and I felt that it was time to revisit lessons learnt from past boom+bust cycles. Hence this post. Hope it is useful for you. If you have lessons of your own to share, please do so…it would be much appreciated.

Boom+Bust cycles

I have faced two official recessions OR you can say a few bubble-pops in the last two decades of my life.

  • Economy was doing comes the dot-com bubble pop in 2001
    • This was officially a recession
  • Economy was doing comes the market tank due to the Iraq war
    • This was officially not a recession, but job losses were the same…..
  • Economy was doing comes the real estate bubble pop in 2008
    • This was officially a recession

Before each recession, there is a period of bubble formation OR economic prosperity….pick your poison 🙂 One could go back in US economic history and one would find the same repeated pattern of BOOM and BUST cycles.

  • 2004 to 2007: Boom time; Bubble pop in 2008-2010
  • 1994 to 2000: Boom time; Bubble pop in 2001-2003
  • 1983 to 1991: Boom time; Bubble pop in 1992-1994
  • ……..

The current Boom cycle has been on from 2010 onwards…I.e. we are more than due for a Bust real soon…..can we benefit from this knowledge? If you are interested in how I plan to benefit, please read on.

What did I see or not see during these cycles?

  • For the 2001 bubble pop, I had no idea this was coming…I was a finance newbie and really did not even know what 401K meant. But, I did see a lot of job losses around me, close friends getting hurt bad and I myself barely scraping through..more luck than anything else….it was a very stressful time.
  • For the 2008 bubble pop, I could see it coming and did take some decisions like moving to a more stable job, creating an emergency fund, etc. But, I did not predict the severity of the recession….again, it was a lot of job losses around me and it was again a very stressful time. I was fighting so hard to retain my job and stay afloat that benefiting from it did not come to my mind.

But, since I was no longer a financial newbie, I was fortunate to be around people who, on hindsight, proved to be financial geniuses. I was not smart enough to financially benefit form the lessons at that time, but I plan to do so in the next recession. Here are some examples of a common patterns I saw during the boom+bust cycles.

  • A person I know dumped $150K into the stock market, in the worst of the 2008 bust cycle and by 2014, he had more than doubled…infact almost tripled his investment. At that time, I thought he had nerves of steel to do that but on hindsight, he was just making use of the recession. He has now officially retired and working part time just for the social connections.
  • A person I know, a financial newbie, bought a home in 2008, under pressure from family since a baby was on the way. She really hated the idea of buying and came up with all financial reasons not to…but, a relative who happened to be a real estate agent convinced her otherwise and  even dropped the commissions for the purchase. Her house is now $500K past the purchase price and she stopped working to spend time with the baby. She now looks like a financial genius and the relative loses no chance to rub it in.
  • A couple of people I know bought houses at the peak of the boom cycle in 2000, 2004 and 2007. They went through a lot of suffering with undervalued houses…especially with the threat of job losses hanging over their head. It took many many years to break even and some have not yet done it still.
  • Job loss means loss of two important things as well: Health insurance and Life insurance.
    • COBRA insurance premiums for a family of 4 can cost as much as $1900 per month
    • No job => no life insurance => no protection for family

What did I learn from these cycles?

The lessons I learnt can be broadly classified into the following points:

  • When you see excesses in the market, then it is a forewarning of an upcoming recession.
  • If your only source of income is shaky, then it is hard to take risks and benefit from the recession/bust cycle.
  • Big items (houses and cars) should always be purchased in a recession or bust period. A mistake make in either of the two can take years and years to recover from…especially the house.
  • Make yourself very valuable to your company….but at the same time, be prepared to interview for a job at any time

My plan for the next recession

An often heard sating is: Attack is the best form of defense. For the next recession, I plan to attack it with a goal to benefit from the recession, rather than take it lying down. Based on the lessons learnt from past recession cycles (previous section), here is the action plan I have implemented since April of last year.

  • Lesson: When you see excesses in the market, then it is a forewarning of an upcoming recession.
    • Action plan:
      • Watch for excesses in the market
    • Results:
      • I am already seeing the excesses in the housing market and luxury items.
      • Now, I am sure we are entering the first stage of a bust cycle.
  • Lesson: If your only source of income is shaky, then it is hard to benefit from the recession/bust cycle.
    • Action plan:
      • Create an emergency fund.
      • Develop passive income streams and take out the reliance on income from work
      • Remove reliance on life insurance from the place I work.
    • Results:
      • Starting last year, I have designed and implemented a Passive Income Plan
        • On average, it will pay me roughly $500 per month.
        • Of course, this is not enough to replace my income. But, it does take care of food expenses for the family.
      • I have a 12 month Emergency Fund to take care of any temporary loss of income
        • When the income source is shaky, it is hard to take a risk like buying a house.
        • But, if you can survive for a year without a source of income, the confidence to take a risk is very high.
        • Hence the one year emergency fund.
      • I bought Life Insurance coverage to protect my family.
        • Until last year, my life insurance was provided through my work.
        • But now, life insurance is independent of my work…so, even in a loss of income scenario, my family is protected.
  • Lesson: Big items (houses and cars) should always be purchased in a recession or bust period.
    • Action Plan:
      • Have patience to wait for the next recession to buy
      • Create a good down payment fund that is big enough to reduce the monthly payments
      • Learn how to evaluate a house
    • Results
      • The highest amount of pressure to buy a new car, a new house, etc comes from peer pressure. I can take it, but my family has a hard time dealing with it. I have managed to convince them to stick with my plan until now…they have sacrificed a lot over the last couple of years. Now, I have to deliver on the house at least in the next recession.
      • I have reduced my investments a bit to start accumulating $300 more per month into my home down payment fund. When the recession strikes, I will be ready with my home down payment.
      • I am learning how to evaluate a house for purchase by doing the following:
        • Watch home inspection videos on you tube
        • Watch how pricing is done by reading articles on the net and videos as well.
        • Watch how to not get fooled by real estate agents.
          • A staged house sends warning bells ringing in my ears now….
          • For example, I found a common trick of using undersized furniture (bed, chairs, etc) to make the room look bigger.
          • Damn…these real estate agents are good huh 🙂
  • Lesson: Make yourself very valuable to your company….but at the same time, be prepared to interview for a job at any time
    • Action Plan
      • Be rated near the top 20% in your company
      • Constant Preparation to make yourself ready to take a job interview on any day.
    • Results:
      • I have been working very hard to produce more things at work…but it has been slow digging. Likewise for my interview preparation.
      • But, now that I have plans in execution for all the other lessons, I will concentrate on this action plan for the rest of this year.

If you have read this far, then you really are a patient soul. Hope this info was useful in some way. Any tips you can share, please do leave a note in the comments section.

Money Stress…how I am trying to manage it.

I participated in a discussion on MMM forum today where a poster said the following:

More than 1 in 4 Americans report they feel stressed over money most or all of the time, and most say their stress over money has either remained about the same as last year (59%) or gotten worse (29%).

After reading the post and thinking about my own experiences, I realized that Uncertainty about the future is a big part of stress in any area…be it money stress, job stress, relationship stress or health stress. Unfortunately, I have been there, done that in all the areas I mentioned here. But, over time, I have managed to come to somewhat come to grips on each of them to varying extents. Today, I thought I will write about how I am handling my Money stress as a way to help some folks and as a way to learn from some more folks.

In my mind, there are three kinds of money stress I have seen/been around/experienced.

Type 1: Stress about money decisions made in the past

Examples in this type of money stress are:

  • Bought a home in the peak of 2007 in a HCOL area (friend)
  • Did not buy a home in 2009-2011 (me)
  • Did not invest money when I was young….(me)

Type 2: Stress about money decisions of today

Examples in this type of money stress are:

  • How will I pay my bills this month? (me)
  • My car broke can I pay for it?  (me)

Type 3: Stress about money decisions of the future

Examples in this type of money stress are:

  • How will I pay for retirement? (me)
  • How will I pay for my parent’s care? (friend)
  • Will I have a job in 3 months? (me)
  • Can I even buy a house? (me)

People can be in any of the above three OR all three. At many points in life, I have experienced the following combinations of money stress:

  • Type 1 only.
  • Type 1 and 2 only
  • Type 1 and 2 and 3

My attempts at overcoming Money Stress

But, as I have grown older and started chipping away towards FI, I have reached the following state of mind:

I am least stressed about Type 1

  • stress is not zero..but I have mostly come to peace with my past

I am about 30% stressed about Type 2

I am 70% stressed about Type 3

  • Figuring out what financial independence means to me really really changed my life. It reduced a huge amount of Uncertainty on what the financial future looks like for me and my family.
  • Putting a $ value to each goal helps me stay focussed.
  • Tracking my progress towards financial Independence via this blog really helps in the following way:
    • reminds me of my goals pretty much every day.
    • reminds me to work hard to protect my current income.
    • reminds me to keep expenses as low as possible
  • Working towards Passive income streams before buying a house.
    • Sacrificing current desires for certainty about the future
  • Worry about smaller periods of time.
    • For example, if I only consider tomorrow, I have some worries. If I consider 1 year, my worries increase dramatically.

The Future

It has been a constant battle with money stress and basically uncertainty in life and I am sure that the battle is far from over. But, the above tips I have been practicing have helped me control the stress by slowly chipping away at the Uncertainties in my life…one chip at a time.

Hopefully, the above tips are helpful to others as well. Please share your own tips with me so that I can better my life by learning from your experiences.

How I selected my life insurance coverage…

I defined what Financial Independence means to me here. One of the pillars of my financial independence is Life Insurance. In this post, I will talk about how I went about choosing life insurance coverage for my family.

General Principles for choosing Life  Insurance

There are few questions to answer when it comes to life insurance. Let us take each one and expand on it. After that, we can talk about the choices I made and why.

  • Yearly family budget
  • Term life or whole life
  • Policy Term
  • Policy value
  • Which life insurance company
  • What age to buy it at

Yearly Family Budget

The first step in planning for life  insurance is knowing what the yearly budget is going to be. There are many free budgeting tools available online and many financial planners as well. It is well worth the effort and/or the cost to come up with a solid expense budget. Make sure to include future expenses as well. For example, I do not have a house yet…we rent at $2500 pm. In future, when I get a mortgage, I anticipate the mortgage cost to jump to $4500. So, use $4500 as part of the budget. Likewise, if you plan to extend the family in future, scale  up the cost by the number of kinds you plan to have OR number of people you need to support. Run with this budget for a month OR two and see how accurate the budget is. It will take 1-3 months to iron out all the kinks….but if you are off by $1000 for the whole year, no big deal; if you missed a $20000 expense, it can prove painful. Once you have a yearly budget done, move onto the next step.

Term or Whole life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: term life and whole life.

  • Term life is for a fixed time interval…say 20yrs for example. If I buy a 20 yr policy && die within the 20 yrs, then the policy amount will be paid to my family. If I do not die during the 20 years, then I get *zero* dollars on policy maturity. I.e. term life insurance is a bottom less pit, a black hole, etc etc. The advantage is that it tends to be cheaper than whole life insurance.
    • There are options that can be added to term life insurance policies that can convert the term life policy into a while life policy when the term life reaches maturity. These options are called Riders, which cost a yearly premium. For example, a 20 yr term life with a rider to convert it to a whole life costs an additional $200 per year. NOTE that this $200 per year is just to have the rider. To convert it to whole life, some additional premium will need to be paid…the rider only gives the opportunity to pay the premium to convert to whole life i.e. the conversion is not free.
  • Whole life insurance is for the entire life of the insured. Whole life policies build cash value by way of premiums and dividends. Values for death benefits and premiums are usually determined at policy issue, for the life of the contract, and usually cannot be altered after issue. Since the person may live well into the nineties, the risk of payout carried by the Insurance company is higher too. So, whole life insurance tends to be an expensive proposition.
    • In the first few years of mortgage payment, the payment mainly feeds the interest and the principal does not reduce much. Just like that, the insurance agent gets a lot of the commissions in the first few years of the whole life policy and the policy itself does not build value.

Policy Term

If whole life is chosen, then this question does not arise. If term life is chosen, then what should be the policy term chosen? The idea I liked was to protect the family from any emergencies for the earning years of the primary income earner in the family. Usually, it is until 65 years of age.

Policy value

The idea I liked was this. When the primary income earner dies suddenly, the remaining spouse will be in no shape to start working OR continue working as the case may be. So, life insurance should provide sufficient buffer to replace the yearly budget for a sufficient number of years. I.e. if the yearly budget is $100K, then providing 10yrs of income replacement will mean a $1million policy.

Which life insurance company

Life insurance is offered by many companies….Guardian, Mass Mutual, Northwestern, Fidelity, etc etc etc….The company I chose to protect my family for the next 30 years should itself be able to survive for the next 30 years. There is no guarantee that past performance will lead to future performance as well. But, I went about collecting the ratings of all insurance companies from rating agencies like S&P, Fitch Ratings, AM Best, etc. The top ones came out to be the following:

  • Guardian and Mass Mutual (equal)
  • Metlife
  • NorthWestern Mutual
  • Prudential

What age to buy it at

Earlier the better 🙂 I say this because usually one’s health is much better in 20s than in the 40s. The insurance is much cheaper when one is younger and healthier. So, better to buy as early as possible…when there are people who start depending on your salary.

My design principles in choosing Life Insurance

The design principles I used were

  1. Protect my earning years
  2. Reasonable and fixed monthly cost
  3. Stable Life Insurance company

Protect my earning years

When I starting thinking about Life Insurance, I wanted to protect my family from any emergencies for my earning years i.e. until 65-70 years of age. I may achieve financial independence earlier than that..if so, the life insurance will be a luxury. If not, I did not want my family to suffer.

Reasonable and fixed monthly cost

I decided upon Term Life Insurance because of two reasons…it was cheaper was one reason and spreading the risk was another.

What do I mean by spreading the risk? I decided to invest the difference between term and whole life in the stock market. Historically, the growth from stock market has proved to be better than the growth of the whole life insurance. So, paying for term and investing the difference also spreads the risk….all risk on the insurance company (whole life) vs risk in the insurance company (term life) plus risk of the investments (in many companies).

So, my selection was Term Life Insurance and not Whole life with a policy term of 30 years i.e. until I am 70yrs of age. 65 would have been good, but there was no policy for that many years. By 70 yrs, I hope to have a reasonable financial plan for my family 🙂

The approval process took a long time but the policy has been approved! It costs me a packet every month…a bottomless pit…but, at least my family is covered until 70yrs of age.

Stable Life Insurance Company

Based on my ratings data collection, both Guardian and Mass Mutual were fine. I decided to go with Guardian Life Insurance…the Guardian folks were more prompt in approaching me and thus they were chosen 🙂


Hopefully, the above longish post has given a flavor of how to select an insurance policy and the knobs that are available for people to fine tune the choices to protect their family.