Do you have a SHTF plan?

For many folks, the advent of Covid played havoc with their work status, with layoffs, reduced hours, or just getting let go/company failing. This isn’t fun, and the economic fallout from the Chinese Flue hasn’t ended yet. The number of people who have chosen this time to retire (or had the time chosen for them) is large, and probably growing. Even if you don’t assume a virus causing havoc, you should still have a “S&$t Hits the Fan” plan. You never know when your company may fail (Enron?) or a change in management happens which causes job changes.

The first step is to try and understand how much money you may receive, both upon being let go, for the next several months, and then beyond.

  1. Vacation time: Check to see how much vacation time you have remaining. If you do, you’ll get paid this out with your last paycheck.  
  2. Severance/Separation Package: Its possible that the company letting you go  will provide you with a package, depending on your years of service. I’ve seen as much as 1-2 years, though the standard appears to be one weeks pay for every year of service. This package could also include medical care for a period of time, or other benefits.
  3. Unemployment: In the US the have unemployment insurance, which pays a percentage of your income (up to a certain max). As a US worker, you pay into that with your paycheck every week, so its not exactly “free money.” I’ve been paying into it for 30+ years, so I don’t feel guilty collecting it. The unemployment period can be up to 26 weeks, though it has been extended to longer in times of extreme distress for the US economy.
  4. Personal Investments: Its possible that your investments (dividends, real estate, etc.) is already paying you and income stream. Take this into account as well.

Now its time to look at your expenses. Are there specific expenses that you can cut out in order to reduce the outflow? Is there additional expenses that will hop up due to your being let go?

  1. Possible expenses reduced/eliminated: Investments (401K, IRA, other), Gas, Dining, Charity, Hobbies, etc.)
  2. Expenses that may go up: Medical. In the US, you are eligible for COBRA insurance, which is where you can continue to get your former companies health insurance – but it will cost more, as you are paying for your co-pay and the company’s share

Once you’ve got an idea of what your inflow and outflow is, you have some idea of how long you can last until you have to really start dipping into your retirement/other funds. The key is to do this sort of planning well ahead of time, so that when SHTF, you don’t have to react entirely with emotion.

Example SHTF plan:

Severance$17,395.16
Remaining Vacation$4,348.79
Unemployment (26 weeks)$20,306.00
$42,049.95
Cobra (12 months)($16,961.36)
Remaining Funds$25,088.59
Monthly after-tax income$2,090.72
Property Taxes($534.47)
Utilities($506.00)
Insurance (home, auto, life, flood)($297.76)
Groceries($450.00)
Other expenses($300.00)
($2,088.23)

As you can see, there is sufficient funds in the SHTF plan above, primarily due to a generous amount of unemployment for 26 weeks. Based on this, you could last 9-12 months before having to pull money out of your investments. Hopefully this will help you find another source of employment. Of course, the benefit of keeping your expenses low and paying off your debts/mortgage dramatically help here.

Luckily, this hasn’t happened to me yet, but I will say that I am expecting it in 2021. They’ve moved several new, young engineers into my group and are starting to train them in areas that have been my specialty. My assumption is that when the time is right for them, management will let me go. Since we’re in OK financial shape right now, I’m not fearing it – I’m just hanging out, doing work I enjoy, and collecting the paycheck till they make the decision.

Kevin

Hope your holidays are going well!

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

Is it the 4% rule, or the 5% rule?

The world of FIRE has been working with the 4% rule for a decade now. For those new to the concept, and analyst/statistician named Bill Bengen rocked the retirement planning world in 1994. He did an in-depth analysis on how much you could afford to spend of your “nest egg” each year, and still have money left over at the end of a typical retirement. He pretty much evaluated withdrawal rates every 6 months, starting in 1926 and going to the 1970s – and seeing what rate would allow you to still have funds at the end.

The rates ranged on average from 5% to 13%, depending on how lucky/unlucky your timing was when you retired. With the analysis he came up with the “Safe” retirement rate of 4% (actually a little higher). Even if you retired at the worst times in history to retire (1929, 1937, 1973, etc.), as long as you maintained a 60/40 allocation, you could safely take out 4% of your nest egg a year, and then adjust upward in line with inflation every year after that. This should leave you with  money at the end.

Since writing it, the FIRE community has lived by the 4% rule, or its derivatives (Fat-FIRE, lean-Fire, etc.). Most FIRE folks have said that, since we’re retiring earlier than 65, the need more than the 4% rule (some believe they can only spend 3% or as low as 2% since they’re retiring in their 30s). Bengen stated that the 4% rule was always the “worst case scenario” based on the worst time to retire (Oct 1968). This was when the stock market peaked, froze for 13 years, and inflation went through the roof..

Now Bill Bengen has gone back and relooked at his analysis in the time of low bond yields, low inflation, and high-priced stocks. He’s had another 25 years of data to crunch to add to what he already did. A lot of folks assumed he would drop the rate to reflect on these items. Instead, he’s come back and said the 4% rule is really now more of a 5% rule.

What?

In fact, he noted that at other points in history (when inflation was low and stocks/bonds were cheap) you could have withdrawn 7% – 13% and still been safe. With a 50/50 split of stocks/bonds, invested in index funds and US treasury bonds, Bengen believes you would be safe with a withdrawal rate of no more than 5%. He actually notes that “the average is 7%.” The key to the whole equation is the very low inflation right now.

Bengen does say there are still variables here (what will the Fed do, government spending, inflation, etc.) and the 5% rule should be a starting point in your analysis. Still, its nice to know that all of us panicking about saving 25X our spending (4% rule) might be ok with only 22X our savings.

Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank a Veteran if you can.

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

What Assumptions are you making for your Retirement?

Was listening to an earlier podcast from the Retirement Answer Man from May of this year. His four Podcasts during that month dealt with the assumptions people make in planning for their retirement. Obviously these assumptions will greatly affect the amount we save, the timeline of our retirement, and the potential happy future we will have.

Some of the areas covered by

  • Life Assumptions (how long will you live, how long will you continue to work, who will care for you as you get older, etc.)
  • Costs (spending, regular inflation, healthcare inflation, use of averages, etc.)
  • Markets (returns on stocks, bonds, withdrawal strategies, etc.)
  • Rules for making assumptions (recognize these are assumptions, be flexible, beware of extreme assumptions, etc.)

It made me think of the assumptions we are currently using, especially after our meeting with the financial advisor at the end of 2019.

Our base assumptions:

  • Longevity: Me 97 Years old, Mrs. 39 Months 99 years old
  • Work till I am 58, Mrs. 39 Months is 60
  • Take Social Security at 67
  • Social Security annual increases: 2%
  • Inflation: 3.25%
  • Healthcare inflation: 6%
  • Investment returns (60/40 split): 7.2% before inflation
  • Budget and pay our own medical until we hit 65. Medical costs will be roughly what they are now (plus expected medical inflation rate)
  • Budget of $78,000/year for expenses (including medical for first 5-7 years) – adjusted for inflation
  • Move to new home at some point, but it will be roughly same cost as what we sell existing home
  • Place we move to will have roughly same living costs as what we currently have (i.e. no savings)

So what are the assumptions you are using to do your planning?

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

Family

This week, I’ve had both of my brothers come by to visit us for the week. My younger brother is in town for business (his company does environmental testing, with software and hardware). He’s doing some software upgrades for one of his customers. He tried to get them to do it remotely, and offered to send them some pre-loaded hardware, but they wanted him to “do it live” so he’s up here.

My older brother, when he found out, decided to come down as well. His work allows him to travel on his own, and I think he just wanted to get out. His son is also a resident doctor, working just across the river, and this would give him the chance to see him. So my house turned into a hotel for the week. We were able to set it up so they each got their own room. Nothing worse than having to share a bed with your 50+ year old brother!

Its great having them here, although we get on each other a lot (politics!) We know and love each other, and while busting on each other constantly (as brother’s do) we know we would do anything for each other, including giving our last dime to help the other out.

Often folks in life lose sight of the family part of their social life, especially as they are starting out in life. They go to school, move away for a job, start their own families, etc. Its only later in life, as friends move away, as contacts fade, as job satisfaction ebbs, that we circle back to the ones that were always there, and always will be there for you. That is why, whenever asked, I urge others to make up with family members – because in the end, they are the ones who will always have your back.

Stay healthy!

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

Sometimes the simplest tools are the best

       

The world of FIRE has developed a wide array of analysis tools and software methods to optimize your finances, your schedules, your travel, and your lives. That is why reading the blogs is so fascinating, because there always seems to be something new to learn, to try out, to experiment with. It can be dizzying at times, the pace of change and new technology.

However, there is an old bit of wisdom that states “sometimes the simplest tools are the best.” I’ve heard a lot of financial experts say that picking the best stocks/mutual funds/bonds is secondary – the key is to start investing, as early as possible, and to continue with it. For budgeting purposes, many folks do fine without budgeting by just “paying themselves first” and then surviving on the rest. To avoid “lifestyle creep” a simple method is to set your lifestyle, and then every time you get a pay raise, you just take the lion’s share of it and automatically deduct it from your account and invest it.

All of these are very simple methods to achieve financial independence, and if you perform them, you are 90% of the way towards achieving your goals. Do them early in your life, and you can achieve FI early.

In the photo above, I was working on boxes for TKD woodworking. In order to reinforce the corners, I needed to cut 45-degree grooves in the box corners and glue in “splines” of wood. By making these splines of a contrasting wood (in this case Walnut) it enhances the look of the box. The simple “jig” used to do this on the tablesaw is literally four pieces of wood, glued and screwed together, running across the tablesaw. Simple tool, but very effective!

Look at the simple things first in your FI work, and you will be going a long way to getting to your goals!

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

Are you suffering from “FIRE Exhaustion?”

I was recently listening to the May 25th edition of the Stacking Benjamins Podcast, and they had on as their guest the host of the Marriage, Kids & Money Podcast, Andy Hill. For those unfamiliar, Andy also does a podcast where he “explores personal finance topics to strengthen your family tree and live financially free.” I’ve listened to a few, and they are fine podcasts, as is the Stacking Benjamins show. Please do not take the comments below as any criticism of any of the individuals involved.

As the interview progressed, it appeared that Andy filled in many of the perceptions a lot of folks (including Mrs. 39 Months) have of the FIRE movement. Both Andy and his wife had high-paying jobs almost from the beginning, and took the opportunity to maximize their savings. While Andy noted that they did spend money to live their life (moved to larger home, etc.) they also saved a massive amount of money. Even when his wife left her job to raise the kids, they had enough with his six-figure salary to continue to fund their lifestyle and sock away cash.

After reviewing the situation (Andy’s wife wasn’t completely on board with FIRE concepts) they realized they could take their savings and the extra money they made, and pay off their mortgage quickly vs. using that to move to a larger house. Fast forward less than four years, and they were mortgage free! Congratulations to them, and its great that they can share that story to the world.

The problem is that the vast majority of folks will never make six figures, or even have a combined salary of six figures. Because of that, it is almost impossible for them to see the lessons provided here as applying to them (even though a lot of people could benefit from the frugality and savings lessons). Because a lot of FIRE folks are like Andy and his family, it seems like that is what the FIRE story is all about – take your massive income, be frugal, and get independent in your early years.

It seems to me that a lot of the blog posts I read in the community are similar to this, and I’m starting to suffer from “FIRE blog exhaustion.” A lot of the same stories, told by similar people. I long to read more blog postings of folks in the lower middle-class, working and suffering as they slowly move towards FI. I think a lot more people would commiserate with the community if they could read stories like that. It would provide them with lessons they could see themselves learning from.

I know I’m not one to talk. As an engineer in his 50s, I’m earning a very good salary, and since my mid-30s, we have had more than enough that we didn’t have to struggle and could put away money in greater amounts every year. Still, I’ll be on the lookout in the months ahead, and hope to update my blog roll with some of this.

Read more

Mr. 39 Months

Asset Allocation – an old word that was in heavy use until the dot.com boom

Back when I was a young investor in the late 80s and early 90s, one of the big topics of discussion was “asset allocation.” As most of you know, this was how you broke down your investments in a variety of buckets (stocks, bonds, precious metals, real estate, etc.) in order to gain the benefits of each and to offset some of the drawbacks.

When you were investing back then, this was a primary part of the discussion, and even folks starting out in their 20s were encouraged to invest in a significant percentage of bonds. Of course, that was when bonds were paying close to double-digits in dividends/interest!

Something odd happened in the late 90s with the dot.com boom – everyone stopped talking about asset allocation, and just started pursuing a 100% growth stock strategy. Due to that, and many other causes, a bubble was formed as everyone bid it up, and then it finally popped in 2000. Many of the growth/IT companies lost 80%-90% of their value, or when out of business completely.

Then 2006-2008, the real estate market was the place to be, and folks ended up going “all in” for houses, condominiums, apartments, and REITS. The prices were bid up again, and then – pfft! Another great crash, this one close to 50% of the stock value being killed – and many folks underwater on their mortgages for a decade.

Now we have hit another “crash” where people using Index funds and Vanguards “buy the whole market” index have priced the market up (over 24 P/E ratio on the S&P 500 before the crash vs. a historical average around 15). While the market is showing signs of recovery (just look at yesterday’s jump), it still is down significantly and will take some time to work its way back, especially if the economy sputters coming out of the Chinese Flu.

I was looking through my investments and allocations, and realized that, if I had been 100% in the S&P500, I would have dropped over $350K during 2020, but since I am at a 70/30 split with our investments, I only ended up down $250K as of the March 23. My allocation helped “ease out the rough parts.”

I wonder if everyone’s pursuit of the “fast buck” or the quick gain (dot.com stocks, real estate, etc.) is one of the major causes of these bubbles. Instead of following the “get rich slowly” kind of attitude, everyone seems to want to chase the brass ring. Yet as we have learned in the FIRE community, just reaching FI does not make you happy – and you need to plan what you are going to do once you reach FI, or you will end up nuts (or going back to work).

It would be nice if that word got out to more people in our society – do not rush it, but enjoy the ride as you go. Plan, but do not try to short-circuit the process. Maybe then, we would have growth without as many mad crashes.

Mr. 39 Months

So how have your FIRE calculations been affected by the recent “Unpleasantness?”

As I write this, the American S&P500 Stock index is down 31.8% from its high on Feb 14, 2020. Trillions of dollars have been wiped out in the span of five weeks, primarily due to the uncertainty of the Chinese Corona Virus. Many folks, myself included, expected some sort of a market correction this year (the P/E ratio of 24+ vs. a historical average of 15 almost guaranteed it). Still, this as been a staggering loss for many, including myself.

My paper losses have been something around $250,000 from the beginning of the year (it would have been $350K if my allocation was 100% stocks). My plans to achieve FI on July 1st of this year are pretty much trashed (even without the recalculation that our financial advisor forced upon me). So how is my morale?

Actually not bad. I think this is due to my age – “with age comes wisdom.” In terms of the Chinese Corona Virus, my generation has been hearing about the end of the world so many times, that this sort of things bounces off. We will get through this like so many other things. In terms of market dropping, I’ve been through 1987, 2000, 2008 and now this. The market will recover, and the younger folks have even more time that we do. It does look like my retirement timeline will need to be reset, but even that doesn’t have me too frustrated.

Like many folks, I’ve been sequestered from work for this past week, working from home. While the workload has been heavy, I’ve been able to get it done. However, I find that I miss the comradery of my work peers, and it has made me realize that I can’t just retire and sit on the porch (most FIRE people can’t either). So when I retire, I am going to have to make sure I have a lot to keep me busy (side hustles, charity work, etc.) In the meantime, I think I will be OK with working a while longer in order to build myself back up to my FI number.

How are you doing in terms of your drive towards FI? How has this drop affecting your plans, if you are already retired or moving towards it? Are you handling this downturn well? What moves have you chosen to make (if any) in your investment strategy or allocation? I hope that you aren’t “overreacting” or panicking like so many folks I hear about. The S&P 500 is trading at a P/E ratio of 17.34 – which is still a little high vs. its historical average. Bonds aren’t selling well, due to the Fed’s interest rate drop. What do you do?

I’d like to hear from other people on how they are reacting to this. One great thing about our community is how much we share, including the “nitty-gritty” details.

Good luck in the weeks ahead!

Mr. 39 Months.

Now is the time of testing…..

Well, it has been an interesting couple of weeks in the market! My beginning of month post noted that I was down about 5.4% for the year on March 1st. Little did I know it was going to get a lot worse!

For the second time in 15 months, folks in the FIRE community (and everyone else) are dealing with a double-digit sell-off of the market. As of close-of-business Monday (Mar 9) the old FIRE standby, VTSAX (Vanguard’s index for the entire market) was down -19.3% from its previous high. The Price-Earnings ratio for the S& 500 in mid-February was 24.24. By Monday, March 9, it was 20.67. Note the historical P/E ratio is around 15, so we still have a long-way to go until the stocks are priced where they are historically.

So what to do? This is why I call this “the time of testing.” So many people in the US and the FIRE community have gotten use to the markets consistently going up, with a few “hiccups,” but nothing substantial. Now two large events within 15 months may have you questioning if it is not time to play it safe, buy some gold, or shift resources to bonds/savings. It would be the “safe play.”

Do not fall for it. All the financial advisors I have talked with, in 2000, 2008 and Dec 2018 say the same relative thing. Have your planned allocation and investment plan, based on your risk tolerance – and stick to it. Continue to invest when the market jumps up, or when the market drops like a stone. In the end, you will be rewarded.

I’ve often heard the story that, while the stock market returns around 10% a year, on average, the typical investor only gets half that. This is because when the market drops; they jump out – solidifying their losses. They then wait to get back in, and miss many positive gains before they finally jump back in. It is for that reason that most successful investors take the “buy and hold” strategy of investing. Warren Buffet is known for saying that the optimum holding period for him is “forever.”

So we are all being tested right now, especially those who are close to retirement, or who have just retired (sequence of return risk?). Will you pass the test?

Wealthy Accountant’s comments on the current situation

Mr. 39 Months