THE BIG PLAN
Exactly 5 years ago, I came out with a big plan to aggressively save a considerable portion of our combined income to invest and grow our stock portfolio with a focus on dividend stocks. The objective is to have enough dividends generated from our stock portfolio to cover our annual expenses in 10 years time so that we could get out of the rat race and live on our own terms. The plan was first conceived when we first got married in 2012 and if everything goes according to our plan, we should be able to achieve financial independence (FI) in 2022, just after I reach my big 40.
Why do we want to achieve financial independence early?
We want to achieve financial independence early so that we have more options in life as explained by Kate in her previous post on achieving financial freedom. As for myself, I am looking forward to embrace and opening up other options in life, including projects that I had always wanted to do to fulfill my aspiration of making a difference. Some of which might include volunteering, spending more time to maintain this blog to inspire others, speaking at a Ted X Talk (if I get invited to one), becoming a de-cluttering specialist like Marie Kondo, participating in more adventure challenges (like the Patagonia Adventure Race or climbing the Seven Summits), more family time, startup a non-profit company, travel to the seven continents, slow travelling or living in another country for a few years like a nomad, the list goes on and on. The possibilities are endless and the thought of achieving that level of freedom to do what you want in life never fails to excite us every second. There are a lot of things in this world that we can buy with money. However, money alone can’t buy us time and health (some might want to argue this time but it’s probably going to be a separate blog post to discuss). Spending your time on things that matters to you rather than being too caught up in the rat race or herd mentality. Make all these dreams your priority rather than some extraterrestrial goal that no one could ever reach. Do it when you still have the energy to do so rather than procrastinating until the time that you are too physically challenged to fulfil them. These are the main motivations for us to achieve financial independence early.
We are exploring all the options we have to either semi-retire, FIRE or take a mini retirement. We might scale down our career or choose a part time flexible employment as “Work is better when you don’t need the money” as highlighted by Pete Adeney aka Mr Money Mustache in this video. But all these are completely optional and we have complete autonomy on what we want to do post FI. That is the beauty of it.
How the thought of financial independence started?
I started my investing journey in 2004 when I was only 23, thats when I first opened my brokerage account with POEMS. Investing then is more about trial and error and I only became more serious about investing when I met Kate in 2008. Prior to that, I tried all kinds of professions, businesses and side hustles to find the “way” that could bring me to financial independence which was heavily influence by the book call “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. It emphasizes on building up your assets and generate passive income to achieve financial freedom. After trying out all these possibilities, I figured that I had a higher rate of success in stock investing with a focus on dividend stocks. I also read more books about investing psychology. Of course, life is not always rosy as it seems as I lost money in business ventures and investing in my twenties. But those experiences provided me with a strong platform to find where my main strength is. Also, having the youth and courage to try out many other types of ventures (which were not all successful), molded my resoluteness towards our ultimate FI goal. We were very discipline towards our FI plan so far as we plough a reasonably large percentage of our income into growing our stock portfolio and recorded our expenses diligently to have a feel of how much we might need to sustain ourselves post FI.
Early retirement is possible
I used to play this board game call Cashflow by Robert Kiyosaki and the objective of the game is to get out of the rat race and join the fast track to wealth. Initially in the game, we are required to choose a profession. Options include a pilot, teacher, doctor etc. I observed that most of the players who had chosen the high income professions had a much harder time getting out of the rat race during the game. Even though they have a high income, correspondingly, they are also saddled with higher expenses which reflected their lifestyle (example like a pilot normally drives a sports car and lives in a bigger house). Players who had selected professions with a median level of income actually managed to get out of the rat race much faster and got richer. Once you are out of the rat race, your wealth grows exponentially as your focus is all about growing your wealth on the fast track.
Dr Thomas J Stanley, my favourite author who wrote “The Millionaire Next Door” famously quoted that ” Wealth is not Income; Income is not Wealth“. His research shows that most high income producers are Income Statement Affluent which means they have high income but relatively low networth. So the focus is more about growing your networth and not just about growing your income. Even though these two components should work hand in hand but I personally think that it might be tougher to live frugally when you are a high income producer as you will be tempted to keep up with your social status. Our local financial blogger Kyith from Investment Moats also mentioned that “No Matter How Much You Earn, If You Spend Too Much, You Cannot Retire“. This is what we will always advocate to our readers or people who aspire to achieve financial independence early.
Mr Money Mustache, the man who shows us that early retirement is possible draws an amazing comparison in his recent Fincon talk about who will retire earlier in the below example:
- Doctor who earns $400k/pa and saves $40k/pa (Saving rate 10%)
- Carpenter who earns $40k/pa and saves $4k/pa (Savings rate 10%)
And his answer is that both of them will retire at the same time as your savings rate actually determines your time to retirement as shown in the graph below (you can read about his interesting post on the “Shockingly simple math behind early retirement“).
How do we determine if we had reached FI?
I guess most people have different definition on reaching FI. For us, it means the below:
- Having enough passive income in the form of stock dividends to cover all our post FI expenses
- Having set aside sufficient money in CPF / cash to pay off our bank mortgage anytime (its the one and only debt we have right now and we believe in maintaining an abitrage like our local financial blogger 15 hour work week. Thus, we will only pay off the mortgage should there be a spike in the interest rate)
- 2 years worth of expenses in high interest savings account (UOB One account or OCBC 360 account) and 1 year worth of expenses in Singapore Saving Bonds / fixed deposit.
We basically will be drawing on our savings account for our annual expenses and will get yearly top up from our stock portfolio returns dependent on the market returns and dividends for that particular year. The longest bear market for S&P 500 as illustrated below lasted about 2.8 years and the average bear market lasted between 3 months to 2 years. Thats the reason why we kept almost 3 years of expenses in savings and bonds to ride through any future bear market. This is to mitigate the possibility of force selling any of our stocks.
- At the same time, most of our stocks are mainly in REITs and strong dividend paying blue chips which provides us with dividends even in a bear market like the one we personally experience during the 2008 financial crisis.
- We could easily scale down our expenses with our minimalist lifestyle should there be prolonged bear market.
- Lastly, we did not rule out going back to the workforce as we are highly employable working professionals. (I doubt we will reach this stage but just in case)
The birth of “Minimalist in the city”
Our big plan was further reinforced when we discover this thing call “Minimalism” last year which led to the birth of this blog. Initially, we were contemplating whether we should start a financial blog or minimalism blog. As there are a lot of financial blogs out there, we wanted something more about living a meaningful life and curbing the insatiable appetite of having more stuff in today’s consumer driven world. Thus, we started “Minimalist in the City” in Sept 2016 which aims to promote living a simple and meaningful life with less yet achieving financial success at the same time. Its a platform that we use to share, challenge and experiment on how we could live with less. Other than talking about minimalism, our blog is more about questioning your financial decisions which might derail your financial goals rather than sharing about investment tips. As there are countless financial blogs and books teaching you on how to invest your money out there, I personally think it is more about being discipline and consistent towards your financial goals. Discipline in the form of watching your spending (self control as described by Dr Thomas J Stanley in his book “Stop Acting Rich”) and sticking to your investing game plan by using the magical effect of compound interest. Consistent in the form of saving and investing on a regular basis. I can’t say i’m a good investor nowadays but I’m definitely a calm and discipline one with a big plan.
The official date to FI
Minimalism and financial independence seems to complement each other very well. We kept our lifestyle inflation in check and managed to carve out a minimalist lifestyle that focuses on quality rather than quantity. We were able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary expenses and live with less. Of course we are not perfect and we are still learning on how to further optimize our lifestyle. But we are certainly living in an intentional and deliberate manner not adhering to the social norms in our consumerist society. Minimalism boosted our financial confidence as we know that we could survive very well without a lot of things in the modern world we live in.
Therefore, we brought forward our plan by two years and our official date to FI is 30th June 2020 which is exactly 1000 days away (just before the Tokyo Olympics 2020 – as we might be there to catch it live and also its just before Ally starts her primary school in 2021). We will be doing countdown posts for every 100 days closer to FI. This is to make ourselves accountable and motivated towards our journey towards FI. At the same time, we hope to inspire more people that financial success can be achieve by adopting a minimalist lifestyle.
We hope to spread the message of simple living with less yet finding happiness without having more.