SIP – In India, the mutual fund industry has popularized this term for drip investing, dollar cost averaging or similar. The full form is “Systematic Investment Plan” and allows normal people to invest in Mutual Funds gradually and is proven to build wealth over a long time.
For me, there is a bigger SIP in Personal Finance – Sleep in Peace.
It may sound like RIP – but lets keep life going strong in these trying times. We will do another article on that, and in personal finance terms we will call it Retire in Peace.
SIP is a concept that is important throughout your earning and retired life, and defines a way you can manage your Personal Finance to effectively “Sleep in Peace”every night.
As we know with the current COVID-19 situation, many people are losing sleep over their financial situation.
While some can still be corrected with discipline, those following the basic principles of SIP will be unaffected by such pandemics and sail through it.
The Five components of a SIP method
1. Emergency Fund – The sleep in peace fund
The Emergency Fund is the first of SIP rules. It can be called the Sleep In Peace Fund too.
In the current situation where everything is uncertain from jobs to ability of paying mortgages and bills to medical situations, there cannot be a better cushion than possessing an emergency fund.
People who have not been able to build this fund, are now feeling the brunt of their careless handling of personal finances.
2. No Debt – borrower is slave to the lender (there is no good debt)
In US, due to low interest rates on some loans like mortgage and auto-loans, some experts justify using leverage to build your wealth. While that may sound smart in good times, in trying times like now even a so called good debt can nosedive to a bad debt.
For example, the government is now directing banks to suspend mortgage payments (for a short period, of course), giving stimulus to real estate investors and trying to bail out or let leveraged people and businesses go down.
So greed and over-smartness with debt are now taking the sleep away from people who have bought and financed huge houses, expensive cars, invested into rental properties with no-money-down. Here are 3 situations where not having an emergency fund and being over leveraged, is disastrous now.
You spend more than 30% of your income in mortgage payment. If you lose your income, even the emergency fund will quickly run out paying the mortgage.
You bought an expensive car with bank financing and very low down payment. The auto-loans will not get any relief from Government, and your car may be repossessed in case you fail to make the payments. Also the payments could have been used in more protective ways, if the car was bought with cash in the first place.
You invested in rental properties with low down payment (< 20%). What happens now when many tenants are refusing to pay rent due to financial hardship or even just taking advantage of the situation (evictions are deferred now). You still need to pay the bank their share of interest and principal.
No matter what is happening in the world, nothing can derail you in personal finance if you manage your finances based on your goals.
Every person has life goals like buying a house, opening a business, travelling the world, educating your children and RIP (Retire in Peace).
If you allocate your money to the various goals and keep adding to the corpus month after month in your earning years, then in trying times such as now – you have nothing to fear. Some of your goals are funded and some are in the process of getting built-up.
Just continue doing what you were doing.
The worst case scenario can be that one or two goals may need to be postponed. For example, if you were trying to retire early and lost your job or income, you may have to work longer for a few years more. But that does not completely cripple you or force you to liquidate your retirement funds.
Taxes and death are certain – everything else is uncertain.
There is no way to avoid taxes (except the legal ways to reduce or defer it – consult a CPA) and hence every personal finance system has to take into account – taxes. Not paying your due taxes and trying to be over smart, can really take your sleep away.
Whatever it takes, plan for your taxes throughout the year and pay the legitimate share to Sleep In Peace.
In the US, Internal Revenue Service and in India, the Income Tax Department are both quite aggressive in following up with cover-ups, non-payment and mistakes. And for working professionals like me, who has to deal with both – there is no other way than honesty, prompt action and discipline in keeping track of your tax liabilities and payment obligations.
Keep your documentation up-to-date and file away returns on time to avoid major headaches.
Conclusion – Ride the wave and learn something new
While this is the time for great financial worries and the clouds of a multi-year recession looming over us, there could not have been a better time for us to introspect and re-organize.
This is the time to take a hard look at your financial and other priorities in life. Locked down inside our homes, with more family time and me-only time – when is a better time to introspect and find your real dreams?
When the world was open and running, the rush of the morning and the fatigue of the evening left little for us to think beyond the next day.
If you want to sleep in peace when all this is over, maximize this opportunity and start something new.
I am working on starting a financial coaching business where I can help people with their finances globally. What better time to serve the world than now and next few years?
A company which is listed in the stock market has to publish 3 essential financial statements.
The balance sheet
The profit and loss statement
The cash flow statement
Briefly, the balance sheet shows the health of the company at the reported time, profit and loss statement shows how much profit the company is making after all expenses and taxes, and the cash flow shows how the company is generating the cash from its operations as well as investments.
Free Cash Flow (FCF) is an important metric that is used by investors to evaluate the real worth of a company.
In personal finance, while balance sheet (Your net worth) and profit and loss (how much you are making and spending) are important, managing the cash flow is key to achieve your financial goals.
In this blog, we will talk about how to manage your cash flow – no matter whether you earn a lot or earn an average paycheck.
Most people do not manage their cash flow, forget about doing a budget or any other conscious form of tracking.
At the end of the month or year, we wonder where all the money earned went.
Conventional ways of managing cash flow
There are several techniques Personal Finance experts have championed time and again.
Do a budget, track every dollar.
Create an envelop for groceries, utilities, fun etc.
Use separate accounts.
New automated solutions like Stash, Digit etc.
All of these are good methods, but the problem is sticking to the discipline of maintaining it day after day, month after month.
Isn’t that boring and worrying at the same time? Few issues with these approaches are:
Writing down expenses every day
Stuffing that envelop and counting the money every time before spending
Keeping track of multiple accounts
Not knowing how much the AI driven savings app is going to deduct next month
So is there a simpler and better way?
Just like most posts in this blog, I seek simplicity and automation.
The simpler way of managing your cash flow
There are 4 goals to managing the cash flow every month.
Invest for the future
Save for the short term
Pay your bills
Spend the rest
In fact, any wind-fall is also a one time cash flow, and can be fit into the same framework. Lets say you got a bonus of $1000, for example, the Govt is sending a check to all Americans. And if you want to keep it simple, allocate 25% to all the 4 goals.
Invest $250 in your long term (retirement, child education) plans. The market is down and you can invest $250 in a mutual fund or an ETF.
Save $250 for any short term goals that you have. It could be added to your monthly savings goals, towards anything like vacation, buying that new phone, or simply emergency fund.
If you have consumer debt, why not allocate some to pay it off? Use $250 to pay off the highest interest or smallest balance credit card.
Now you have $250 to splurge on. Buy that favorite book, order the special meal or decorate your home.
But how do we automate and manage the cash flow every month?
Invest – Direct deposit investments. In fact most employers have systems to auto-deposit 401-k investments or direct deposit to your chosen brokerage firm.
Save – Auto transfer to a savings account from your checking account.
Pay Bills – Setup auto-pay with your credit card or debit card. Set the bill payments mostly towards beginning of the month.
Spend – Use your debit card to spend – it will tell you when the money runs out.
Once setup, the only stress you have is the last bullet, where you have to make your spending within the limits, or rather the residue after all obligations are set aside or paid off.
How it can snowball into Financial Freedom
As you get consistent with stashing money away for investing and savings, those may generate additional cash flow or assets which will come back to bolster the spending budget.
Thus cash flow is a virtuous cycle once set up the correct way. Lets take some initials and approach this from a math perspective.
J – Job Income
R – Retirement
I – Investment
S – Savings
B – Bills
E – Expense
P – Portfolio Income
J + P = R + I + S + B + E
Ican produce Pin terms of interest, dividend or rental income.
In the wealth accumulation years, the goal should be to increase J, so that Ican be increased, which when invested can increase P. Pis added to J and a part reinvested, saved or used.
As you reinvest P, it will generate more P till at a point, J becomes less and less important.
This cash flow situation is called Financial Freedom.
We just presented a simple and fully automated cash flow management system for personal finances. It does not take much discipline and will power to stick to it, once correctly setup.
As I started to write this post, I decided not to rant about the Corona Virus and its effects anymore. The last two posts were dedicated to the topic and frankly it is becoming a little bit weary to add to all the deluge of information and opinions on it.
Let’s look at the current situation as nothing unexpected, at least financially. Being a financial blog, let us generalize this to another black swan event, and not worry about the statistics of no. of confirmed cases vs. deaths etc.
What is a Black Swan event?
A quick Google search yields the following:
An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict. This term was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.”
Lets leave it to that and consider we are in the midst of one such situation.
The keyword in the above definition is “would be extremely difficult to predict”.
No matter what financial experts say about the markets, about investments, using sophisticated algorithms to trade stocks, the fact remains that such events are not predictable by even the multi-PhDs of Finance.
In the beginning of 2020, most of us did not know that a black swan event is so much closer, although experts have been predicting recessionary clouds for last 2 years or more.
The effect of such an event is the havoc it can do to your savings and investments. Yes savings too, as we don’t know which banks or financial institutions will go under the water, and whether government stimulus can rescue them.
It may be a rare event so far, or some rescued in 2008 but we cannot guarantee with every black swan event. Just in Feb 2020 (when it was still normal business), a very large private bank in India went bust taking with it hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of deposits of very normal people. Ironically the bank was named “Yes” bank.
Similarly by end of March 2020, the stock and mutual fund portfolios are down 20%-50% depending on how much risky the portfolio was to begin with.
The only respite from all of this is to maintain a good asset allocation as each investment avenue has its own risks. Some of the typical risks are:
Cash – Banks going down and Government struggling to insure the deposits.
Stocks – Markets tumbling for an extended period of time due to economic fears.
Bonds – Risk of default as even good companies’ bonds can turn into junk debt very quickly. Lot of mutual funds in India were invested into Yes Bank bonds. Long term bonds can also run into interest rate risk.
Real Estate – Somewhat resilient but affected by vacancy, interest rates, unemployment.
If your finances are severely affected by this storm, how do you achieve a good asset allocation once the clouds are gone and the sun is shining again on the stock market?
KISS – Keep it simple, stupid
Its not overly complicated although some financial experts make it so. Let’s say I want to hold 25% each of the 4 asset classes and distribute my assets accordingly.
Here is a step by step method on how to achieve this. It is better done in an Excel sheet as the calculations can be automated and even graphs can be plotted, although equal allocation is easy to visualize anyway.
List down all your assets into one column which comprises your Net worth including your home and any other property you own.
Now in a second column, list the value corresponding to the asset. Be conservative, do not add any speculative value.
For your home, just take the equity value that you have.
For stocks or mutual funds, take the present value.
For any bond investment, take the invested value or the expected maturity value (if the term is not too long).
Now add 4 columns for the asset classes.
The chart should start to look like this. Here is a simple example of a $100,000 Net worth.
Now based on the asset class for each, fill the right side columns in the right proportions. For example the mutual funds may consist of equity funds, bond funds and REIT funds in equal proportions. For each mutual fund, a look at the fund report will reveal the proportions of these asset classes that it invests in.
Fundrise is just an example of a private REIT that is considered real estate asset class but in paper form. It is only for illustration and I am not an affiliate of the investment fund.
Once you allocate the numbers to the 4 asset classes and add up each column, it will become visible how your asset allocation is skewed.
A visual inspection of the numbers reveals that this portfolio is heavily skewed towards Real Estate due to the largest investment in the Home. This is true for most people, as their largest investment is their home.
A more vivid depiction of this can be drawn using the Excel chart.
How to balance it? There is no ideal asset allocation as it depends entirely on the person’s situation, age, risk appetite, goals and many other factors. It is only after this simple analysis that one should approach a financial coach or investment adviser.
For example, if the person (who’s portfolio we have just analyzed) is not happy with the Real Estate skew, he can allocate future investments more towards Equity or Bonds (or even Cash), than buying more real estate or paying down his mortgage aggressively.
Being overweight in Home Equity can mean house poor and the person will find it difficult to raise funds or access cash in times of emergency or other life goals.
The beauty of this asset allocation method is that in a simple exercise which takes less than 10 mins and one sheet of Excel, you can look at your entire financial picture.
It gives you a quick overview of your Net worth.
It gives you the current asset allocation you have.
It tells you where your financial situation is vulnerable to market, liquidity or economic risks.
It tells you what action you need to take (whether to sell some or boost up another) regarding the various asset classes.
It directs how your future investments should be structured.
The value of this exercise is immense and a good asset allocation can let you sleep in peace when the entire world is savaged by another Black Swan event.
In the last few weeks the world has changed quite a lot. With no sight to an end to the corona-virus spread, cities after cities are going into lock down and people are forced to stay at home.
This will impact the economy in a very bad way and many businesses like entertainment, travel and food will be severely affected or shut down. In these unprecedented times, the current situation of the stock market and its decline is understandable.
Since this blog is concerned with personal finances, let us look at the impact this black swan event can have and how to get over this crisis.
We will examine 5 adverse scenarios and how my previous posts (in good times) suggested recession proof way of managing personal finance.
This has been enforced in many cities and people are not allowed to be meet each other face to face.
This will impact people and their livelihood when it depends on teams and network. For example, direct real estate investing like house flipping, buying houses, wholesale deals and likes.
Financial, insurance advisors and their clients who depended on face to face interactive sessions. While this can still be done over video conferencing and online communication, the personal coaching sessions may be less personal after all now.
Investments which depended on a broker or branch are impacted since offices are shut down or low on staff.
The key to solving these issues is to setup systems that enables you to transact virtually from anywhere in the world, including your home. If you have automated your financial systems using FinTech, those systems are not affected by the current situation.
Your stomach will have a strange feeling when you look at your stock, ETF or mutual fund portfolios under 401k and Taxable accounts.
Almost all portfolios are beaten down 25-30% and may go further down to 50% or more.
With the risk of financial institutions and other companies going out of business, even fixed income portfolio is not safe. There may be large scale defaults in the bond market, as companies struggle to meet their short term debt obligations.
The key to solving such challenges is to remain invested and not panic sell out of it at this time.
While there had been virus spread earlier, the scale of the COVID-19 is unprecedented and growing.
This type of lock down has never happened before, and after what happened in Italy and China, we are gripped in a fear of the fatality rate caused by the virus.
This has stopped us from behaving rationally and with our investments, people may be reacting with the same fear. I have read many discussions on Quora where people are predicting a long recession and advising others to pull out investments or completely stop investing more.
Fear is the worst enemy and negativity is biggest killer of future prospects.
The key is to remain calm and take necessary precautions (staying at home, frequently washing your hands etc.). Similarly for finances, do not take up unnecessary debt at this point but just remain invested and keep your monthly investments ongoing.
One of the questions all investors consider is how to spread their investments. This is super essential in a volatile economic environment that we are now being forced by coronavirus.
Coronavirus is already sending stock markets across the world in a downward spiral, companies may find it difficult to service debt and hence affect bonds, and interest rates going downwards put cash and money market funds into useless investments.
How do we then allocate our funds and make sure we are not into an all-or-none, boom-or-bust kind of situation?
There are essentially 4 kinds of investments that a simple investor like us will hold over time.
Cash and cash equivalents – CDs, money market, timed deposits etc.
Debt – Fixed duration and fixed income products like bonds bought and held till maturity.
Market Linked – Index Funds, Mutual Funds, ETF, direct stocks, REITs.
Real Estate – Properties (homes and rentals), Private REITs.
The 4 Quadrant approach
The below table shows how these investments fit each quadrant of a time horizon vs. liquidity.
Q1 – Cash and Cash Equivalents
Q2 – Debt (Bonds till maturity, other lending investments)
Q3 – Market linked (funds and stocks)
Q4 – Real Estate
For example, cash and debt instruments are typically short term reserves. While cash in savings account is highly liquid, bonds typically have a fixed maturity duration unless they can be traded in the secondary market.
On the contrary, stocks and funds may be liquid but typically yield best results only over the long term, due to short term market volatility. Real Estate is both long term and highly illiquid since it may take months and years before a property investment can yield profit or get sold.
If we allocate our resources with the 4-Quadrant principles in mind, then the short term market volatility or conditions will not bother us much. Each of the Quadrants will have enough invested/saved to go through the current phase.
For example, if I need immediate cash or want to maintain an emergency fund, Q1 is the place. There is no need to panic sell Q2, Q3 or Q4 investments.
Similarly for a medium term (2-4 years), the required funds can be maintained in fixed duration bond products (Q2) matching the maturity to a goal horizon.
At last, stocks and real estate are for the long term (> 10 years) and should be left to grow on their own. We can keep adding to them in a well defined proportion. But we do not need to panic sell them if the Q1 and Q2 are in place.
Simplest Asset Allocation
Another advantage of this approach is automatic asset allocation. Sometimes without realizing we may be overweight in one Quadrant. For example, some people may be just lazy to invest and keep their money lying in savings accounts, hence Q1 heavy.
While others may be so overweight in Stocks and Real Estate that in case of an emergency or reaction to market movements, they may sell or trade unnecessarily and hastily. Worst is premature withdrawal from retirement funds and paying penalty and taxes.
A balanced allocation to each Quadrant based on goals is the right approach.
For example, lets say I have $200,000 net worth. I can allocate the following after estimating my monthly expenses ($3000) and near term goals (Education, buying a house etc.).
Q1 – 6 * $3000 = $18,000 in money market fund
Q2 – $40,000 for a new house in 2 years – Treasury Bond Fund
Q3 – $42,000 in 401-k and Roth IRA
Q4 – $100,000 in present home equity
Lets analyze few scenarios here.
I suddenly lose my job – Assuming it will take 4-6 months to get a new job, I can withdraw from Q1 my monthly expenses and tide over this crisis.
I need to save for a new house in 2 years – I keep saving every month in Q2 and buy investments maturing in about 2 years.
Whether the above events happen or not, the Q3 keeps growing as the funds remain invested in the market. In fact, as long as there is no crisis, I can keep making dollar cost averaged investments every single month into 401-k and Roth IRA accounts.
Q4 is even longer term and can be one’s own personal residence and additional rental properties. If Q1 and Q2 are in place, there should not be any hurry or knee-jerk reaction to sell or lose these valuable assets.
The actual amounts or assets can vary depending on a person’s goals and needs.
Overall this framework will also avoid a person to go into debt unnecessarily. Similarly paying off debt or mortgage can be considered money invested in Q2 and Q4 respectively.
The 4-Q is thus a simple financial planning framework. Sticking to this 4-Q framework and directing one’s monthly investments to the relevant quarter helps build wealth in the long run, as well as take care of short term obligations.
A picture is worth a thousand lines of a spreadsheet.
Managing your personal finances can be scary at times when you visit a financial coach or financial planner.
Any good financial planner worth your money will present data in a nice spreadsheet or make you fill a template form which has 30-40 questions about your current situation and your goals.
After filling out the form or trying to decipher the complicated spreadsheet and charts, you wonder if you have made any progress in your financial planning. The concept of simplicity gets ignored in the data and jargon.
Personal financial planning has to start with your goals, what you have today and where you want to reach. It is not about numbers on a spreadsheet, but more about what is your current life situation and where you want to go in next 3, 5, 7 or 10 years.
How do your write your goals in a spreadsheet or a predefined questionnaire? The answer is you simply can’t. These tools are built for data collection and analysis and not for top down planning.
The solution lies in a much traditional tool, pen and paper – even better pencil, eraser and paper. I find it extremely refreshing to write or draw my goals, current situation and how I want to go where I want to go.
It is what I call the Financial Planning Scribble.
It is a lot of fun and creativity as you design your own symbols to represent personal finance as possessions,liabilities, plans and road map.
Lets say you are assessing your Net worth (your assets – your liabilities). Your assets may contain real estate, cash, stocks, bonds, gold. Now think of a symbol for each along with a space to write the present value of the asset.
For example, for each real estate you can draw a house (remember the 3-D cube with triangle for the roof) and write the value in between the figure. Similarly use an envelope symbol for your cash (even though it is not hard cash but balance in your checking account). Your vacation fund can be a picture of your favorite spot (beach or mountain) and so on…
Go creative with your assets… you have built them with sweat, sacrifice and planning. They deserve to be given a life and make you happy about them.
The second part of Net worth are the liabilities, or in other words, what you owe. You should not feel good about these unless you have a plan for strategic leverage, like building your rental real estate portfolio with debt or student loan to finance a good education.
Your liabilities can be depicted as something that may scare you and force you to act to reduce them. Again go creative here as per the kind of debt. High interest credit card debt is a demon with blood in its mouth, as that is what it is doing to your life and finances.
The idea is to depict your personal situation today as accurately and vividly as possible. This is not always apparent in a numerical spreadsheet. The demons should scare you and the vacation fund or investments should make savings feel worthwhile.
The difference between the two (assets and liabilities) is your Net worth. See if the residual picture (your bright side covering the dark) is positive or not. You can find a symbol for the net worth, positive or negative.
Once you get to the habit of scribbling and sketching, you will find it so useful and refreshing that you can extend it to beyond Net worth.
Your investments and asset allocation can also be depicted through sketches and you can even draw your plan and ongoing monthly investments.
The idea of financial scribble is not to get too complicated and lose interest in tracking finances. Finance can be fun once you depict it in your own way, not in a financial planner’s jargon and spreadsheets.
Financial scribble helped me internalize my personal situation and plans, in a clear and concise way that anytime I can draw it on a piece of paper and use it to make bigger decisions. A very rough scribble (you can be definitely be more artistic) from one of my recent planning sessions is shown below.