Archives For spending

Quiz!

Your friend told you about a business-class flight he took for a trip. Which of the following are most likely to be true.

  1. He values the pleasure of a business-class flight, and decided to spend on that.
  2. He is wealthy.
  3. He lives in a fancy house.

Your Neighbor’s Grass is Brown!

Have you ever seen a friend’s or neighbor’s fancy car, or heard about her fancy trip, and thought how lucky she is? After nearly 1.5 decades in this business, I’ve heard many people’s stories, and learned that things are rarely what they seem. Specifically:

  1. Each person emphasizes certain expenses, while often keeping other expenses much lower. A person can fly business class, while living an otherwise modest life. Another may lease a fancy car, while renting a modest home. A third may live a simple life in a fancy home. A fourth may pay for a very expensive private school for her children while living a modest life. These are all examples based on people I personally know. I believe that only a small fraction of people who spend big in a few categories, can afford to spend big in all categories. It makes sense to choose the most important things in your life and focus your spending on them, rather than spending evenly across all categories, whether important to you or not, leaving less money to your top priorities.
  2. Many big spenders are chronically stressed. It fits with a recent study showing that income above $105,000 in North America paradoxically leads to diminished happiness. Anyone with high income faces the temptation to spend a big portion of their income. Say you gross $1M and net $600k per year. You save what feels like a respectable 20% of your net income: $120k, and spend $480k. After a number of years, you built a nice investment portfolio of $1M. You are still highly dependent on your income, and replacing such high income can be a big challenge. This can lead to unusually big stress. In addition, high income often comes with big responsibilities (CEO, business owner), putting extra pressure. To sustain $480k of spending from a stock portfolio that can handle sustainable 3% withdrawals, you would need to reach savings of $16M. Such a level of savings is not common, and probably a lot less common than spending of $480k per year.

If you are able to satisfy your basic needs (food, a place to sleep, basic clothes, etc.), and spend modestly relative to your savings, you are under a fraction of the financial pressures of many big spenders. You may think that their grass is greener, but it is brown compared to yours. Peace of mind, lesser dependency on work, and appreciation for the little things in life are worth a lot more than what big expenses can buy along with the stress involved. You are the source of envy of some very big spenders who realize that your grass is greener. Next time you see a big spender, you may replace feelings of envy with some compassion.

Quiz Answer:

Your friend told you about a business-class flight he took for a trip. Which of the following are most likely to be true.

  1. He values the pleasure of a business-class flight, and decided to spend on that. [The Correct Answer]
  2. He is wealthy.
  3. He lives in a fancy house.

Explanations:

  1. People often spend money on things they value.
  2. People usually spend money based on their income, even if their total wealth (savings/investments) is low.
  3. People usually spend big money on several categories, but not all.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Which are conditions that are all necessary for not thinking about small expenses?

  1. Your income covers your expenses.
  2. You are withdrawing less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio, every year.
  3. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong.
  4. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness.

Sweat the Small Stuff

You can skip this article if all of the following are true:

  1. Your total annual spending equals less than 3% or 4% of your stock portfolio, depending on its allocation. Make sure to include infrequent items such as car upgrades, roof replacements, uncovered medical expenses, and a long stay in a nursing home. You can deduct amounts covered by guaranteed lifelong income such as social security payments, pensions or inflation-adjusted annuities.
  2. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong.
  3. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness.

Since I still have your attention, this article may help increase your happiness. You probably know that big financial decisions have a meaningful impact on your finances. Buying a large house, boat or a private jet will have substantial impact given the initial price and high maintenance costs. Having a high paying job, or two sources of income for a household can have a big positive impact.

As you work on getting the big picture right, you may follow the advice “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Indeed, you don’t need to sweat the small annoyances in life, but you may benefit from sweating the small expenses, especially the recurring ones. Here are examples.

  1. Subscriptions that you don’t utilize significantly. This could be cable TV with many channels, various software & apps, credit cards with annual fees and infrequently visited clubs.
  2. Infrequently used appliances that consume energy and require maintenance, including various refrigerators, lights, and computer systems.
  3. More employees than necessary, including nannies for older children, cooks and various maintenance staff.
  4. Eating out in expensive restaurants that you don’t appreciate in line with the cost.

The list above is a random sample of expenses. The list of expenses that can be reduced without a significant impact on your happiness is personal. You have to go through your expenses and find out what doesn’t makes you happy in line with the cost. One person may greatly appreciate a nice restaurant, while another may take great pleasure in having plenty of choices for TV programs.

Quiz Answer

Which are conditions that are all necessary for not thinking about small expenses?

  1. Your income covers your expenses.
  2. You are withdrawing less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio, every year. [Correct Answer, but read below]
  3. You are relaxed about your financial position, and have no concerns with investment volatility or surprise expenses when things go wrong. [Correct Answer]
  4. You feel that you are using your money in a way that maximizes your happiness. [Correct Answer]

Explanations:

  1. Jobs can come and go, bonuses can be reduced, and businesses can have fluctuating revenues. Income from work typically provides only temporary security.
  2. It is true that you need to withdraw less than 3% or 4% of your portfolio annually, but there is a much stronger condition – the 3% or 4% should be your total spending, ignoring income from work. Also, this applies to a stock portfolio. Bonds don’t grow fast enough to support lifelong withdrawals at 3% or 4%, growing with inflation.
  3. Even if you are at a sustainable withdrawal rate from your portfolio, if you are stressed with volatility or surprise expenses, you should build your resources to the point of a relaxed financial life.
  4. If you are sustainable financially (explanation #2) & relaxed about finances, but feel constrained, and are not happy with what money can buy you, you can be careful with your small expenses to free up money for other spending that may improve your happiness.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data