## A Hidden Measure of Investment Risk, Beyond Volatility

### Quiz!

Which is a riskier situation?

1. 1M invested in a stable investment that grows by 5% per year and never declines.
2. 3M invested in a highly volatile investment that grows by an average of 8% per year and suffers significant frequent declines of up to 60% from the peak.

### A Hidden Measure of Investment Risk, Beyond Volatility

This article debunks a conventional wisdom that equates volatility with risk, and ignores all other factors. The following example demonstrates a problem with this narrow focus. Compare the following two situations:

1. 1M invested in a stable investment that grows by 5% per year and never declines.
2. 3M invested in a highly volatile investment that grows by an average of 8% per year and suffers significant frequent declines of up to 60% from the peak.

By focusing on volatility alone, you would conclude that the first investment is less risky. This conclusion is wrong. The lowest balance that the stable investment can reach is 1M, since it never declines. The lowest balance that the volatile investment can reach is 1.2M, since it starts with 3M and can go down by up to 60% of the peak. The first investment is riskier for two reasons: (1) it grows more slowly on average, and (2) it has a lower worst-case balance. Your risk of running out of money with this investment is greater.

Since the starting investment amounts are different in the two cases, how can this apply to the real world? An example could help:

1. Say you have 1M invested in a stable investment.
2. The investments grow to 1.1M through a combination of investment growth and new savings. This allows you to shift your investments towards higher expected growth along with higher volatility. Specifically, the investments can potentially decline by another 100k (10%) during declines, to get you to the prior risk during declines.
3. You repeat the step above, leading to higher and higher expected growth, while keeping the risk level the same.
4. Your investments reach 2.5M, and you reached an allocation for maximum potential growth, along with potential declines of up to 60%. Your risk level is still the same with the lowest balance being: 2.5M x (1 – 60%) = 1M.
5. Your investments reach 3M, and you keep the allocation the same, since you already enjoy the maximum potential growth. But now the lowest your investments can reach is up to 3M x (1 – 60%) = 1.2M, giving you higher security, despite the much higher volatility.

Notes:

1. Risk is determined by spending/investments, not investments alone. To account for expenses going up or down, you should track spending/investments, not just the investment balance.
2. Another risk factor is the valuations (P/B = Price/Book, or price relative to intrinsic value or liquidation value). In diversified portfolios, high valuations lead to higher risk (greater potential decline), and lower valuations lead to lower risk (lower potential decline).
3. Some stable investments are exposed to inflation risk, making them riskier than seems.  On the other hand, there is no guaranteed maximum decline for any investment.  It is all a matter of odds.
4. If higher volatility leads you to panic and sell low, that is another risk factor that can take away the financial benefits described above.
5. While income from work can be lost at any point, some jobs are much more secure than typical (e.g. doctors), and can help your risk profile.

Implications:

1. A plan that may be risky for someone else, may be conservative for you (and vice-versa), depending on your respective ratios of expenses/investments & valuations.
2. A plan that would have been risky for you a few years ago, may be conservative for you today (and the reverse is potentially true if your expenses grow faster than your investments).

Which is a riskier situation?

1. 1M invested in a stable investment that grows by 5% per year and never declines. [Correct Answer]
2. 3M invested in a highly volatile investment that grows by an average of 8% per year and suffers significant frequent declines of up to 60% from the peak.

Explanation: See article for explanations.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

## 8 Principles for Happiness in the FIRE Movement

### Quiz!

Imagine this simplified case: You make 100k net income per year starting at age 30, put your savings in an investment with 8% annual growth, and spend 3% per year in retirement. Compare the following 2 scenarios:

1. You work for 40 years, save 10k per year (and spend 90k), and enjoy 20 years of retirement.
2. You work for 20 years, save 50k per year (and spend 50k), and enjoy 40 years of retirement.

Scenario #1 involved doubling the number of working years + spending an extra 40k per year during 40 years of work. How much extra lifelong spending was provided, and what was the extra ending investment balance?

1. +8M lifelong spending, with -8M investments left.
2. +4M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
3. +1M lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
4. Nearly equal lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
5. -3M lifelong spending, with -9M investments left.

### 8 Principles for Happiness in the FIRE Movement

FIRE stands for: “Financial Independence, Retire Early”. People aiming for FIRE save aggressively, as much as 50%-75% of their income, aiming to retire at a young age. They typically retire once they reach enough savings to support 3%-4% annual spending.

While the result may sound very appealing, the plan can result in an unhappy life or be abandoned, if not done right. Here are 8 principles that helped me in my process, and may help you:

1. Spend for happiness: Drop all expenses that won’t make you much happier in life today or in the future, but keep and emphasize the expenses that are important to the core of your happiness, or to build a good future.
2. Experiment and adapt: Keep dropping additional expenses, even if everyone tells you that the expense is as important as drinking water. Question every conventional wisdom, and you are bound to enjoy some pleasant surprises. When needed, reintroduce expenses.
3. Keep low-frequency & lower-scale expenses: Eating out once a week (or month) instead of never can add to your happiness far more than the 5th weekly meal out. Going on a road-trip to a national park off season, and sleeping outside the park costs a small fraction of a flight to another continent with a stay in a nice hotel. Such a trip still gives you time away, with family or friends, nature, and relaxation – providing the bulk of the happiness.
4. Save most when your spending/investment ratio is high: You will save more (1) early, compounding every dollar saved exponentially for longer – giving you free extra money, and (2) when your investments are low, and expected returns are higher.
5. Invest for high growth: High growth helps reach independence earlier. In addition, high growth investments tend to be more volatile, providing excess gains to a consistent saver (read https://www.qualityasset.com/2018/07/31/how-to-use-volatility-to-make-money/ to understand). Two caveats: (1) Stay highly diversified across sectors and countries; (2) Be prepared to stay consistent through multi-year declines – something that comes with all high-growth investments.
6. Aim for a conservative outcome: Aim for a 3% annual spending rate, to support a potential of many decades in retirement. Spending includes non-recurring and surprise expenses, including car upgrades, major home repairs, and healthcare costs, to name a few.
7. Keep working at what you love: Once you reached financial independence, keep working at something you love. It can be your current job, a new lower- or higher-paying job, or a new business.
8. Maintain 3% spending: As your investments reach higher peaks, you can raise your spending proportionately to enjoy the fruit of the optimizations leading to that point. You can call this modification the FIRES movement = Financial Independence, Retire Early, then Spend, Save or whatever makes you happiest. Whatever you choose, the compounded growth of investments is expected to grow the benefit exponentially over time.

There are several benefits to these principles:

1. Maximum happiness gained from every dollar spent.
2. Enjoying work in retirement from a position of power with no pressure.
3. Decades of financial independence + growing spending. You are likely to enjoy far greater lifelong spending than the typical person.

Imagine this simplified case: You make 100k net income per year starting at age 30, put your savings in an investment with 8% annual growth, and spend 3% per year in retirement. Compare the following 2 scenarios:

1. You work for 40 years, save 10k per year (and spend 90k), and enjoy 20 years of retirement.
2. You work for 20 years, save 50k per year (and spend 50k), and enjoy 40 years of retirement.

Scenario #1 involved doubling the number of working years + spending an extra 40k per year during 40 years of work. How much extra lifelong spending was provided, and what was the extra ending investment balance?

1. +8M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
2. +4M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
3. +1M lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
4. Nearly equal lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
5. -3M lifelong spending, with -9M investments left. [Correct Answer]

Explanation:

The frontloading of spending created a disadvantage that was impossible to recover from, despite doubling the number of working years. Details:

1. The extra spending in the first 20 years of scenario #1, led to a balance of 460k relative to 2.3M in scenario #2.
2. 7 years later, with 13 years of work remaining for scenario #1, the annual spending of 90k was lower than the spending level of the person who retired already 7 years earlier.
3. By the end of the working career, the 90k spending compares to 173k for the person retiring 20 years earlier. The investment balance grew nicely to 2.6M, but short of the 6.1M of the early retiree.
4. By the end of retirement, the spending jumped to 196k relative to 460k for the early retiree. The investment balance reached nearly 7M vs. 16M for the early retiree.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

## Quiz!

Say that you earn \$100k/year, and you save \$10k/year, or 10% of your income. You got a big promotion, and your income jumped to \$160k/year. What should your new saving rate be? Please select the best answer.

1. Increase your savings nicely to \$13k/year (but lower your saving rate to 13k/160k = 8%).
2. Keep your saving rate at 10%, increasing your savings to \$16k/year.
3. Increase you saving rate to 20%, increasing your savings to \$32k/year.

## Should Higher Earners have Higher or Lower Saving Rates?

Say that you earn \$100k/year, and you save \$10k/year, or 10% of your income. You got a big promotion, and your income jumped to \$160k/year. Should you keep your saving rate of 10%, increasing your savings to \$16k/year? Should you increase your savings by less than that or even more? For many reasons, you should increase your saving rate, leading to new savings greater than \$16k/year. Here are a few reasons:

1. Usually, the higher your income, the lower your job security. Many more people compete for CEO or VP roles, than a fast food restaurant employee. You need to build security through savings faster to make up for your declining job security.
2. If you lose your job, there are fewer jobs to choose from, the higher the income.
3. The excess happiness obtained by increased spending goes down quickly as the amount goes up. Reducing financial stress typically brings much greater happiness.
4. Social security covers a smaller portion of high incomes. If you earn \$30,000 per year, social security will give you a retirement greater than half of your earnings. But, at \$300,000 per year, social security income covers a small portion of the income you got used to. It is up to you to make up the difference. To get income of \$300,000 from a portfolio that can generate 3% per year, you would need to build savings of \$10,000,000. If you want to enjoy anywhere near the standard of living you got used to, you need a very high saving rate combined with investing for high growth compounded over many years.

The good news is that even at 20% = \$32k saving rate, your income available to spending grows by a substantial: (160k – 32k) – (100k – 10k) = 38k minus income taxes. You get the double benefit of higher spending along with a big increase in your saving rate.

Say that you earn \$100k/year, and you save \$10k/year, or 10% of your income. You got a big promotion, and your income jumped to \$160k/year. What should your new saving rate be? Please select the best answer.

1. Increase your saving nicely to \$13k/year (but lower your saving rate to 13k/160k = 8%).
2. Keep your saving rate at 10%, increasing your savings to \$16k/year.
3. Increase you saving rate to 20%, increasing your savings to \$32k/year. [The Correct Answer]

Explanations: Read this months’ article for an explanation.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

## Quiz!

Which rule of thumb for spending can be useful for all personality types?

1. Save 10% of your income and spend the rest.
2. Save 10% of your income for incomes up to \$200k, and 20% for incomes above that. You can spend the rest.
3. Keep your spending as low as needed to avoid chronic financial stress.
4. Save as much as needed to allow you to retire by a reasonable age such as 65 or 70. You can spend the rest.

## How Much Should You Spend? A Rule of Thumb for All!

This article offers a rule of thumb for a healthy spending level for all personality types.

Full sustainability: No matter your preferences, you can feel comfortable to spend an amount that is likely to be sustainable for as long as you live, whether you work or not. This is: your current social security payments, pensions and other guaranteed income, plus a sustainable withdrawal from your investments (e.g. 3%-4% for many globally diversified stock portfolios, reduced enough to account for surprise expenses).

Rule of thumb for all: Early in your career, full sustainability is rarely possible. A rule of thumb is to keep your spending as low as needed to avoid chronic financial stress. The benefit of this rule is that it can apply equally to different personalities. Here are a few examples:

1. Risk averse: If you are risk averse, you may become stressed by any income instability or large surprise expenses. It may be worth keeping your spending as close as you can to 3%-4% of your portfolio. It may involve a large initial adjustment, but in return you will get many rewards. You will take the fastest road out of financial stress. You will enjoy the extra savings, plus the compounded growth of the extra savings. This will lead to a positive snowball effect of fast growing sustainable income along with relaxation.
2. Time-sensitive spending: Some expenses lead to benefits that may not be available if delayed. Examples include children’s education & healthy eating. If you are risk averse, a compromise may be delaying most expenses, but still retaining your time-sensitive expenses.
3. Instant gratification: If you are averse to delaying gratification, and don’t get too stressed without much of a safety net, you may choose to spend the bulk of your income, no matter how limited your investments are. Any loss of job, and many surprise expenses will require quick adjustments and potential stress. With low total savings to enjoy compounded growth, you will likely have a lot less money to spend in your lifetime, and your dependency on work will stay consistently high. But if immediate gratification is your top desire, and the consequences don’t stress you, it may be worth the tradeoff.

Important notes:

1. Be realistic about upcoming expenses. Many types of non-recurring expenses are bound to happen. Examples include medical costs, house repairs, car repairs, new cars, loss of job and business downturns. I’ve heard people refer to these as bad luck. Switching your mindset, and seeing them as expected non-recurring expenses, can significantly increase your happiness and success in life.
2. The benefit: The rule of thumb of avoiding chronic financial stress can be helpful regardless of your priorities. If your spending creates ongoing stress, you are probably not living an authentic life, and the price could be greater than any benefit you are getting by the spending. This is true whether you think you are spending very little or a lot.
3. Stable jobs with guaranteed pensions. Because most jobs are far from guaranteed, the ultimate way to avoid chronic financial stress is to depend on sustainable withdrawals from actual money in the bank (investments). If you are lucky enough to have a very stable job that has a guaranteed pension, the pressure to reduce the dependency on work is lower. Please remember, though, that such jobs are rare, and pensions may not be as guaranteed as they used to be.
4. If you are married, it is worth discussing spending, with a clear goal of resolving and preventing chronic financial stress. To motivate the talks, realize that one person’s stress typically hurts both members of the couple – even the person who is less risk averse and eager to spend more.
5. Perspective: You can maximize your happiness by comparing yourself to people living in a basic structure with no running water and no electricity, and realize how fortunate you are. No matter how much you lower your spending, you are very fortunate in life.

Which rule of thumb for spending can be useful for all personality types?

1. Save 10% of your income and spend the rest.
2. Save 10% of your income for incomes up to \$200k, and 20% for incomes above that. You can spend the rest.
3. Keep your spending as low as needed to avoid chronic financial stress. [The Correct Answer]
4. Save as much as needed to allow you to retire by a reasonable age such as 65 or 70. You can spend the rest.

Explanations:

1. Your saving rate depends on how much you have saved, how soon you desire to retire, your spending rate, your income level, your job stability, and a number of other factors. There isn’t one percentage that applies to everyone.
2. All else being equal, you should save a greater percentage of your income, the higher it is, since it is tougher to replace higher incomes, and your basics are more likely to be covered already. But, spending and saving rates depend on many other factors, some of which are mentioned in #1 above.
3. Stress is a protection mechanism that tells you that you are not acting in an authentic way. If you are chronically financially stressed, you are acting against your internal beliefs. This rule of thumb can help everyone.
4. There are many problems with this advice. A few of them: You cannot count on a specific growth rate on your investments to know when you can retire, you cannot anticipate health problems, loss of job, volatile business income, and the list goes on.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data