Financial Independence Progress Report for September 2018

September is done and so is the third quarter. End of year is coming closer and that means yearly evaluations also 🙂 But lets not jump ahead…lets see how September fared.

I am seeing a lot of red in many parts of my portfolio….bonds and stocks in both taxable and tax-advantages accounts. Feels like we have reached the turning point in the market and nowhere to go but down. I.e. buying opportunity! Need to build up cash reserves again to profit from it. I have a note on this later in this post.

How much closer did I get to my financial independence targets in September? Lets look at the numbers for August and find out.

Emergency Fund 24.21% 24.56%
College Fund 56.98% 57.67%
Passive Income (2017 vs 2018) $15495.52(9/2017) $1451.35 (9/2018)
Retirement Fund 87.91% 88.97%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund (via HSA) 10.18% 12.45%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance policy)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Passive Income Stream
    • My passive Income for September 2018 is a bit less than August 2017. It is by design and not unexpected.
      • Earlier this year, I redistributed where my funds are invested. Cashed out some gains and converted quarterly dividends to monthly and more importantly more tax efficient monthly dividends.
      • The June, September and December dividends are going to be much less. But, the total dividends for the entire year will be higher though.
      • Compared to this time last year, the total dividends this year through end of September is 32% more than 2017….just distributed differently.
  • Additional Investments
    • Investments in taxable accounts
      • Nothing new to report here as I am out of cash 😐
      • Continuing to rebuild my emergency fund.
    • Investments in tax-deferred account (IRA)
      • No cash here too 🙂
      • But, need to build a cash fund because I am seeing a lot of red here.
        • I.e. time to invest more and dollar cost average down the investments will be here soon!!
  • Miscellaneous
    • I was walking through all my investment categories and I am seeing red in many of them.
      • Investments in the  GREEN
        • US Equities :
          • VDIGX
      • Investments in the RED
        • International equities:
          • VIHAX, VTIAX, VEMAX
        • Municipal Bonds:
          • VCADX, VWIUX
        • REITs:
          • VGSLX, VGRLX
        • Investment Grade Bonds:
          • VFSTX and VFICX
        • Bonds:
          • VTABX
    • In my experience, when I see such broad declines across many investing categories and across many geographies, then it usually indicates that a storm is gathering. The entire world is connected in many ways and bad markets have a way of spreading fast.
    • It is time to shift focus on how to not only prepare for a downturn but also how to benefit from a downturn.

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.