Myth About Becoming Wealthy

One of the reasons I started this website was to help people regarding personal finance and investing.  One misconception that is popularized by politicians and reinforced by media is that it’s impossible to become wealthy, that the deck is stacked against the little guy.  In my view, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The following table shows investing returns starting with $1 in your account at a historical stock market return of 10% over a 40 year working career.

Savings Per month                           Total

$50.00                                                   $277,562.67

$100.00                                                 $555,080.67

$200.00                                                 $1,110,114.89

$300.00                                                 $1,665,149.70

$400.00                                                 $2,220,184.52

$500.00                                                 $2,775,219.33

Now let’s take a look at the latest data on Net Worth in the United States.  The following is from the 2016 Federal Reserve Study of Consumer Finances broken down by percentile.  This is a study done by our central banking system every three years.  This shows what Americans are worth by adding up their assets and subtracting their liabilities. 

Net Worth Percentile                     Net Worth

10%                                                        -$962.66

20%                                                        $4,798.06

30%                                                        $18,753.84

40%                                                        $49,132.21

50%                                                        $97,225.55

60%                                                        $169,550.64

70%                                                        $279,594.27

80%                                                        $499,263.50

90%                                                        $1,182,390.36

So, if you can manage to save just $100.00 per month it would put you ahead of 80% of all Americans.  This probably is a surprise to many people.  One has a high probability of achieving this by simply investing in a low-cost total stock market index fund and staying the course, in other words by not selling out and continuing to save every month through the good and bad of market volatility.  It really is that simple.  Better yet, invest the money within a retirement plan and either have taxes deferred in a tradition individual retirement account (IRA) or no taxes at all on the gains with a Roth IRA. 

Another tax advantage that many people don’t realize is when you invest with the total stock market index in a non-retirement account you don’t pay taxes on unrealized gains, meaning you aren’t taxed on appreciation until you sell the fund.  Unfortunately, you are taxed each year on dividends paid to you, but the non-taxation of unrealized gains is still a great deal.  This is available to anyone regardless of their wealth and is an incredible advantage in building wealth.  Currently tax law even favors low-income earners.  If you sell the funds in your non-retirement account and are in the lowest two tax brackets you pay no tax on capital gains.

Investing in the total stock market index can done through a variety of companies including Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity, and many others.  Currently Schwab doesn’t even have a minimum investment. 

Further research shows that the average millionaire is well, average.  In Chris Hogan’s book Everyday Millionaires, Mr. Hogan shows through surveys of over 10,000 millionaires that most of them work common jobs at average salaries.  This was also shown over 20 years ago in Thomas Stanley and William Danko’s book The Millionaire Next Door.  They saved and invested and didn’t buy into the consumer culture.  They invest simply and live simply and are very satisfied with their lives.

So, what are you waiting for?  Build your net worth and expand your opportunities.   

Read Two Things

If the only two things you ever read on personal finance and investing were The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and The Little Book on Common Sense Investing by John Bogle, you would be ahead of 90% of the general public in financial knowledge.  More importantly, if you followed the advice in these two books you would be ahead of 90% of the general public in net worth.  It really is that simple and both of these books are short and easy to understand. 

Let’s start with The Total Money Makeover.  It is focused on budgeting, living within your means, and erasing debt from your life.  Mr. Ramsey does a good job of showing examples of how our behaviors affect us negatively and then how to do things correctly.  He gives concrete examples of how much to save, how debt affects you, and personal examples from people who have followed his advice and turned their financial lives around.  In my view this book tells the truth about personal finance rather than how our culture currently tries to tell us what is important.  The only part of this book that I think can be done better than what Mr. Ramsey prescribes is the investing section which is why I recommend the following book.

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing is a concise book that shows simply how markets work and how you can receive the same returns as American businesses earn in aggregate by investing in low cost index mutual funds like the total stock market index.  Taken a step further, Mr. Bogle lays out the evidence showing how active investing (actively managed mutual funds or advisors picking mutual funds) clearly underperforms owning a broad-based low-cost index fund.  He goes on to show that market returns long-term are not speculative at all but simply reflect the earnings of business.  You share in those earnings when you own the total stock market index.

Most people don’t enjoy dealing with personal finance or investing whereas I find it to be incredibly interesting.  I have read hundreds of books over the years regarding these topics and although I pick up something new in almost anything that I read, it still boils down to just the core topics of these two books.  I would certainly encourage you to read as much as possible on any topic that will better your life, but I also understand the reality of most people’s lives.  That’s why I am suggesting just two short books.  You will achieve financial abundance but more importantly many personal options within your life.  Invest simply and live simply.

If I Could Do It Over

If I could start over in my adult life, I would save at least 25% of my income and invest in a low-cost total stock market index fund.  This would not only have increased my financial returns but more importantly it would have increased my personal returns.  Let me explain.

Throughout the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce income.  There were multiple business ventures that failed along with multiple real estate purchases that didn’t produce any real income. In my sales career I was constantly expanding my product lines as a way to increase my income as well. The problem with all of these methods isn’t the failures but the time spent failing.  This time could have been spent on my family and our well-being.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I neglected my responsibilities to my family but now that I understand how compounding market returns work, I just didn’t need to do all this stuff.  I could have been more thoughtful and intentional about how I spent my time.  I know this for sure- I would have been less stressed, healthier and more involved.  My lovely wife has been so patient with me over the years with the amount of time I have devoted to working. We have built a nice life, but it could have been done much easier.  I spent too many years like a pinball just bouncing around from one idea to another rather than taking time to evaluate things more thoroughly.  I really enjoy business and I’m sure that I still would have owned a business, but it would have been more thoughtful and in tune with the rest of my life, especially in my younger years.

We were married in 1983 and the US Stock Market has returned over 11% annually since that year and historically returns at around 10%.  Hypothetically, if one had saved $500 a month for 36 years, it would have produced around $2.4 million with only $216,000.00 in contributions.  Notice how little you had to contribute over your career to produce the overall total?  It’s phenomenal!  Five hundred dollars may seem impossible when one is starting out so you can adjust that number to come up with whatever fits for you, but don’t underestimate your ability to save with proper motivation. There are many online calculators that can help you with this.

The details of my story will be different than yours, but it is important to evaluate how one spends their time.  Do we give the things we value most, the time that we should?  By saving a large chunk of your income and investing appropriately the possibilities are endless. It will allow you to simplify your life and focus on the things that matter most to you.  These might include family, friends, your health, career, volunteering, travel, hobbies, etc.  The point is whatever brings you contentment.   Simple investing helps create simple living. 

There is detailed information on investing within my website on the investing page along with resources for investing and simple living under the recommended resources page.  Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions. 

Finance, Food & Alcohol

Recently I was browsing through a bookstore while on a road trip and happened upon a book titled The Whole Foods Diet by John Mackey (CEO Whole Foods Market), Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD.  This is not my typical fare, but it looked interesting and of course, it was in the bargain section, so I purchased it.  I spent the rest of the road trip completely engrossed in what I was reading.  It completely changed my paradigm on what I knew or believed about diet and nutrition and has led to me reading many additional books on nutrition.  This in turn, has led to many personal changes for me but what really struck me was how similar the food and financial industries are.  You may be thinking, what the heck is this guy talking about? 

Let’s take budgeting in personal finance.  If you have read any of my previous blogs or explored my website, you know that I believe a budget is essential to track where your money goes along with providing a complete picture of your financial status. Trying to lose weight is similar in a sense in that one needs to track what you eat.  One can track every calorie consumed or learn which foods are healthiest and incorporate those into your daily nutrition.  Either way it takes discipline to be successful financially or managing your weight/health.  If you trying to save money, one needs to budget and count every penny; if one is trying to lose weight – one needs to measure and count every morsel. 

The financial industry has many fees attached to the products they try to sell you or as they put it, have you invested in.  Many of these fees are “baked” into the product and are not visible to the average consumer.  These fees include management and fund fees along with loads, which is just another name for a fee.  The food industry operates in a similar way through their labeling process, which can mask ingredients in their products by using many different names for common ingredients Have you ever noticed any of the following when reading labels- fructose, lactose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, ethyl maltol?  These are all sugars!

Both industries try to make things more complicated by the way they market their products.  The financial industry wants you to believe that investing is a complicated process and they have the ability to enhance your investment returns.  Neither of these is true.  The food industry uses words like natural and fat free, which really have no meaning to most people.  For instance, lunchmeat can be labeled as natural, but both the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the World Organization (WHO) have labeled all processed meats as known carcinogens.  Yes, potentially cancer causing!  You won’t see that on the label.  To understand the label on most packaged food products, you would need to be a chemist.   

Neither industry may have your best interests in mind.  For example, your portfolio return over time can be reduced by a full 65% if your financial investments are being charged just a 2% fee. That’s a massive amount!  The food industry adds sugar and salt in approximately 80% of packaged food products for the sole purpose of getting people to eat and purchase more of their products.  That’s even worse than losing 65% of your money; you literally are losing your health!  Do you think that may be possibly why close to 70% of the United States population is overweight?

Dave Ramsey, a nationally known personal finance expert, has a famous quote he uses to people who are trying to get out of debt: “Nothing but beans and rice, rice and beans.”  He also says, “You shouldn’t be seeing the inside of a restaurant, unless you’re working there.”  Note the connection between food and finance. The irony of these statements is they can be perceived negatively, when in truth, they are excellent choices from a health perspective even if you aren’t in debt.  I find this rather humorous as it is a good example of how counterintuitive the information we receive can be.

If you lumped the beer, wine and liquor industry in with the food industry, there are similar comparisons that can be made.  Most people don’t realize that the chemical name for alcohol is ethanol.  Yep, the same stuff that mixes with your vehicle gas.  I was stunned to find out that both the NIH and WHO have labeled alcohol as a known carcinogen as well.  They also never mention that alcohol is one of the most addictive drugs in the world.  You won’t find that on any label. One of my hobbies is bicycling and I am always amazed at how craft beer and bicycling have become synonymous.  I’m not sure drinking beer and hopping on your bike is necessarily the best situation but many biking events are now sponsored by breweries.  From a healthy living standpoint these two don’t seem to fit together. 

Personal finance, alcohol, and food are all marketed in a similar fashion, often times with scenic backgrounds such as people sitting on a beach enjoying whatever “the good life” is. Their idea of the good life involves spending money along with eating and drinking in an unhealthy way.  The irony is that what I find to be “the good life” is generally the exact opposite of what they try to make us believe is important. 

The financial, food and alcohol industries operate pretty much the same way in that they have hidden fees, hidden ingredients, obfuscate the truth, make things complicated and undersell you on the risk of their products.  As my youngest daughter said to me after discussing this, “I feel we’ve been lied to all of our lives.”  I’m not sure we’ve been lied to, but one certainly needs to question most things before accepting them as truth.  Particularly, the most important things in your life.

Bottom line, it takes work to decipher the important things in life and not just accept things at face value.  You may be thinking who has time to figure all of this stuff out?  This is where simple living can help.  Eliminate all of the unnecessary things in life and focus only on the most important.  By living simply, it allows you the time to live a healthy lifestyle, nurture your relationships and build financial security. In my view these are the best and most important things in life and will bring one the most contentment.

My post titled Health, Relationships and then Finance has more information on this topic.  If you have any questions or comments please let me know.  If you’re interested in any of the topics above, check out my website and recommended resources section. dy Tex

Why So Many Retirement Plans Stink

Having owned a small business for seventeen years along with being self-employed for the fifteen years prior to that, I have some insight into why some retirement plans may not be good.  Owning a business is a division of knowledge.  In my case, I had to have an extensive knowledge of the shipping and packaging industry along with knowledge on running a business.  They are two entirely different things and it can be challenging to stay proficient at both.  Keeping up to date on the industry and competition is a full-time job in addition to understanding hardware, software, insurance, HR, customer service, legal, etc.  This is why many businesses end up outsourcing their retirement plans.  They simply don’t have the knowledge or time to take care of it.  This outsourcing to one of the many financial services firms that exist can lead to excessive fees and lousy fund choices to choose from.  Your employer may think they’re all the same, but they’re not.

For people that are starting a job, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out and the retirement plan is just one more box to check with questions many people don’t understand.  The HR department typically has no idea as well.  We all know we should save for retirement but how it works, what to invest in, how much to save and a variety of other questions are left unanswered due to no one understanding investing or the plan thoroughly.  Even worse, when they give advice, it can be bad advice.  I have analyzed several account portfolios where the owners of the accounts had no idea how they ended up with the funds they owned.  The funds were expensive, the asset allocation was inappropriate, and there were better choices available.  This can be very costly to the employee over time.  Literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be at stake over the long-term.

It may be human nature that people don’t pay attention to their personal finance and retirement due to lack of knowledge and understanding. If you are taking the time to read this, you understand the need to plan for your retirement and the change can start with you.  You can or may have already started by reading and educating yourself on investing and your retirement plan. Focus your reading by using independent sources that have no financial interest in your outcome.  I have many resources listed on my website from some of the most respected financial academics and advisors in the world and it will help you understand how these plans work. Login into your retirement plan and read through your options while noting any questions that you may have along with anything that you may not understand.  Start with your HR department after you have read the plan and see if they can answer any questions and then follow up with the plan provider.  Just be wary of what you are told to make sure it is accurate and can be verified if possible, through a third-party source before making any decisions.  Too many times people speak without understanding investing and can give some poor advice.

If your company offers a retirement plan, you need to decide whether you want to invest in the plan and the funds you wish to select within the plan.  If your company offers a cash match for your retirement, it may be worth investing the minimum to receive the match even if the choices are poor.  There are times when a plan is so bad you may want to walk away and invest outside your company in a traditional or Roth IRA.   If this is the case, you may want to suggest to HR staff about replacing the existing plan with a financial services company that offers low cost index funds that are simple and easier for people to understand.   They would benefit both the employer and the employees as it will provide higher investment returns long-term for their employees.   Nothing will change unless you are willing to take action.

Don’t take this lightly, remember there can be hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake long-term.  Don’t rely on HR or the plan provider with your investments.  By taking control of your situation today you are starting on the path to personal freedom. 

I have a recommended resources page that has lists of books, websites, videos, etc. that will help you become informed on investing along with lists of independent sources who have no financial interest in your outcome.  Feel free to contact me with any questions and I will do my best to answer them or point you to a resource that can. 4

Investing and Simple Living

What does simple living have to do with personal finance?  I started to make the connection years ago because I had made my life and personal finances far more complicated than they needed to be.  What really struck me though after reading the Millionaire Next Door multiple times was that the typical millionaire led a very simple life.  These people were wealthy but didn’t seem to overcomplicate things.  I would say that having wealth and living simply are not mutually exclusive.

The millionaires that are profiled in The Millionaire Next Door book seem to have the best human qualities.  They typically have good character, stay married, are frugal, humble, live far below their means, raise responsible children and contribute to society with high quality businesses and services.  They are not what people think.  They practice incredible thrift and frugality.  They typically enjoy their work and family.  They are not into material objects such as large homes, expensive cars, or other consumer goods.  They are excellent investors with their own money.  They believe financial freedom is more important than consumer purchases. They believe having financial freedom gives you choices in your vocation, your time and your life.  This to me is the ultimate in simple living.  Any preconceived notions that you have about wealth in America will probably be changed if you read this book.

I had spent most of my life on autopilot just going from one thing to another and mostly enjoyed what I did.  Whether it was career or personal I just did what I thought everyone else did.  Many years ago something changed and I started to read some books on simple living, minimalism and consumerism.  These books really struck a chord with me.  I started to think about always being busy, being tired, and being stressed.  The constant purchases, home remodeling, repairs, autos, etc. that everyone else thought of as normal.  I started to question the conventional wisdom of society.

My wife and I became fairly successful from an economic standpoint as our lives progressed.  I was very ambitious and have always enjoyed my business career.  One day while working on our personal finance and investing I realized that we had enough money for our current lifestyle.  What was more interesting to me at the time was that I realized I didn’t want anything more than I already had.  This is when it clicked for me.  I had spent many years working for things I really didn’t care about.  I am a simple guy.  Fortunately for me, my wife has agreed with me (for the most part) regarding my epiphany on simple living.

We both have made career changes that have freed up our time and made our work life simpler.  She moved out of a management position and cut back her hours and I have sold my small business.  We have been constantly selling things, giving things away and evaluating what is truly important to us since then.  Stuff isn’t.  Personal freedom is.