Saturday, 10 January 2015

2014 In Review

Retirement Investing Today charts my financial journey to hopefully Early Financial Independence with Early Retirement then being an option at any time thereafter.  This is not a model or a demonstration journey.  It is my real DIY financial life warts and all.  Get it right and it’s smiles all round.  Get it wrong and I have a long compulsory work life ahead of me followed by a derisory State Pension thereafter.

The headline numbers are that in 2014 net wealth has increased by 13.2% and spending has decreased by 5.1% allowing me to move significantly closer to Early Financial Independence.  In line with my Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) approach let’s now Check in detail by focusing on the three key focus areas that I believe are essential to get over the Financial Independence line - Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early.


Saving Hard is simply defined as Gross Earnings (ie before taxes) plus Employee Pension Contributions minus Spending minus Taxes.  Earn more and one is winning.  Spend less or pay less taxes and you’re also winning.  Savings Rate is then Savings divided by Gross Earnings plus Employee Pension Contributions.  To make it a little more conservative Taxes include any taxes on investments but Earnings include no investment returns.  This encourages me to continually look for the most tax efficient investment methods.

On the Gross Earnings front it’s been a great year with total earnings having increased by 37.7%.  Spending on the other hand has decreased by 5.1% by continuing to challenge all spending.  My one fail is that taxes are up a long way.  This is caused by the earnings increase but also more investment taxes as the portfolio continues to grow and is now significant.  The end result is the chart below which shows an average 2014 Savings Rate of 48.1% against a target of 55%.  The majority of the big gap was all caused by my good friend HM Revenue & Customs making a pigs ear of my taxes in years gone by and then chasing me for it at the start of this year.  By the back half of this year that Savings Rate had recovered to 52.8%.

RIT Savings Rate
Click to enlarge

Saving Hard score: Conceded Pass.  Savings contributed 7.8% of my net wealth increase.  I’m also earning more and spending less but my big problem is taxes which I’m struggling to control.  Any extra £ that I now make is taxed at the Higher Rate of 40% plus 2% National Insurance plus as my non-tax efficient investments grow in size I’m being taxed on these as well.  I could solve some of this by increasing personal pension contributions but I don’t want to go there for 3 reasons:

  • They’re very open to tinkering by government which includes extending the age at which you can access them.  That’s not conducive to Early Retirement.
  • I’m already making big pension contributions.  2014 saw 71% of Savings put into them.
  • I may need a big cash or cash like pile to be able to buy (not mortgage) my family home in the not too distant future.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The High Yield Portfolio (HYP) – Year 3

We've just completed the 3rd calendar year for my real life, warts and all, High Yield Portfolio (HYP) that’s still in the accrual stage.  While at the moment it only forms a small portion of my total wealth I keep a close eye on it for 2 reasons:
  • Ideally at the point I reach Early Financial Independence I can have enough dividends being spun off that should I choose to Retire Early I can be in a situation where living expenses can be covered by dividends and interest only plus a bit.  I think psychologically this would be easier than having to sell down assets to live from.  With me targeting a withdrawal rate of 2.5% of wealth I'm targeting dividends and interest after I net off the cash I’ll need for a home of 3%.  Today I'm at 2.4% so have a way to go yet and the HYP is key to increasing that value.
  • With the majority of my wealth being tied up in index trackers this is one of the few areas where I'm stock picking and trying to beat the market.  It’s fine to have a high dividend yield but if my total return (dividends + capital gains) can’t beat a simple FTSE tracker over the medium term then I might as well pack it in, buy that tracker and accept I may have to sell down some assets in retirement.

The HYP today now has 12 stocks.  These are:
  • Sainsbury’s.  Bought on the 28 November 2011 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -5.7% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.4%.
  • Astra Zeneca.  Also bought on the 28 November 2011 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of 17.2% and a forecast dividend yield of 3.9%.
  • Scottish and Southern.  Again bought on the 28 November 2011 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of 7.7% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.5%.
  • Vodafone.  First bought on the 21 December 2012 and then sold on the 21 January 2014 to avoid the Verizon Wireless sale palaver.  Then re-bought on the 30 April 2014 for an annualised capital loss of -1.9% since re-purchase and a forecast dividend yield of 5.1%.
  • Royal Mail Group which is not strictly speaking HYP but I lump it here as I have no other holding like it within my portfolio.  I saw it as a government bribe and it’s turned out to be exactly that with an annualised capital gain of 22.4% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.0%.
  • HSBC.   Bought on the 30 March 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -2.6% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.3%.
  • Royal Dutch Shell.  Bought on the 30 June 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -22.4% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.3%.
  • Pearson.  Also bought on the 30 June 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of 2.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 4.3%.
  • GlaxoSmithKline.  Bought on the 01 August 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -8.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.8%.
  • Amlin.  Bought on the 29 August 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of 14.8% and a forecast dividend yield of 6.3%.
  • BHP Billiton.  Bought on the 29 September 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -54.7% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.1%.
  • Tate & Lyle.  Bought on the 31 October 2014 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -13.4% and a forecast dividend yield of 4.8%.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Saving Hard – We’re An Interesting Bunch

Thanks to all readers who took part in the earnings and savings poll.  The results make for some very interesting reading but before we go there let’s just take a second to review what we were really looking at with this poll.

I see three distinct phases when it comes to personal finance.  I summarise it as Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early but these phases could be called many things.  In a little more detail:
  • Save Hard is how we go about building capital that we can then deploy to investments that hopefully with time will give a return on that capital.  For me, and I'm sure many other readers, that is earnings from the day job that aren't spent on living today.
  • Invest Wisely is how we go about maximising the return on the capital we've built from Saving Hard.  For me that’s a balanced portfolio of different asset classes invested as tax effectively and at as low a cost as possible.
  • Retire Early is how big the capital pile needs to become before the goal is achieved.  For me I’m chasing enough wealth to be Financially Independent and have the option of Early Retirement but there are many other reasons why we might want to build capital.  Having a Retire Early reason is important.  Without it there is no reason to build the capital in the first place and you’re probably then just hoarding.
The polls were really looking at the Save Hard portion.  The first question asked was what are your gross annual earnings?  The results are surprising particularly when I chart them below against UK individuals who have some liability to income tax.  The surprising part is just how much we all earn.  For example 19.4% of us earn more than £100,000 a year!  In the UK that puts those readers in the top 2% of UK tax payers.  The median reader earns between £40k and £50k per year where across the UK median earnings are only £20,300.  A median reader is earning somewhere between 2 and 2.5 times that of the UK as a whole!  The mode of readers is also £40k to £50k however across the UK it is only £10k to £20k.  These high earnings then give us all a fantastic chance to save if we live below our means and we don’t disappoint there.

Gross Annual Earnings
Click to enlarge

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Typical Reader

When presenting my current financial situation or giving quantitative examples about financial problems (whether as thought experiments or actual experiences) regular readers will have probably noted that I typically always try and talk in percentage terms rather than absolute numbers.  Why do I do this?

Firstly, let me demonstrate what I’m talking about with a simple example.  Let’s say in Early Retirement I have calculated that my spending will be £20,000 per annum before tax and I've decided that I will drawdown on my wealth at the rate of 2.5%.  Running the maths tells me that I’ll need to accrue £20,000 / 2.5% = £800,000 of wealth before I'm financially independent and can take an early retirement that doesn't require any extra earnings other than those that come from the portfolio in the form of dividends, interest or capital gains.  I’m still a bit short of the target at the moment having only £500,000 stashed away in various asset classes.  There would be two ways I could present these facts:
  1. Simply state that I’m going to draw down at 2.5%, will therefore need £800,000 and have currently amassed £500,000; or
  2. State that I have now accrued 62.5% of the wealth I need to Retire Early which requires a little more work.  The calculation is simply £500,000 / £800,000 = 62.5%.  I choose to present this way.
So back to the original question, why only talk percentages rather than absolute numbers?  Simply because every reader including myself is an individual with different earnings, wealth targets, wealth requirements, needs and wants.  Therefore the fact that I have £500,000 currently invested is completely irrelevant to every reader but me.  However some of the principles or theories that I or other readers valuably contribute via the Comments could be very relevant making it worthwhile to go off and conduct further research.  What I have however found is that when I stray away from percentages the thought I’m trying to get across can be lost amongst the discussion about the numbers used.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

It’s All About Living Well Below Your Means

I've mentioned previously in passing that as I build the wealth necessary to reach Early Financial Independence I'm noticing that the major wealth contributor for me has actually been the Saving Hard portion of my strategy rather than the Investing Wisely.

Let’s firstly quickly remind ourselves of what each portion contains.  Saving Hard is the methods used to acquire Capital for investment.  For me that is a full time professional career with Megacorp where I’m continually working to Earn More, as well as continually working on methods to spend less, while achieving the standard of living my family desires.  The spending less is typically called Living Below Your Means or LBYM in the financial independence blogosphere.  Investing Wisely is the methods used to maximise return on that Capital.  For me it includes low investment expenses, tax minimisation, modern portfolio theory, tweaking of asset allocations based on market valuations and even my HYP.

The below chart separates the wealth I've personally built each year from both Saving Hard and Investing Wisely.  Every year except 2012 more wealth has been built from Saving Hard.  It even includes the last couple of years where significant monthly savings are given to my better half so that Financial Independence day is synchronised.  So as I alluded to at the start of this post for somebody like myself who’s trying to become Financially Independent in 10 years or so Saving Hard is essential.

Year on year change in wealth
Click to enlarge

So Saving Hard is important.  Let’s look at each element in turn.  When it comes to Earning More I've been fortunate, having been able to increase earnings by 128% since 2007, however I can also say it has come at a price.  I am also very aware that in the modern continually globalising economic climate where average earnings in the UK are increasing at a less than inflation 1.3% this is currently not easy and importantly is not 100% in our control.  I'm going to ignore Earning More for the rest of this post for these reasons.