Saturday 25 April 2015

The £0 Budget

A lot of my posts in more recent times have been focused on how to earn more and spend less.  I acknowledge they’re pretty dry topics, quite personal and certainly nowhere near as exciting as deciding should I buy the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets UCITS ETF or the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets IMI UCITS ETF for the Emerging Markets portion of my portfolio.  So why do I keep coming back to the non-exciting topic of earn more and spend less?  Simply because my personal journey has shown me thus far that saving has a much bigger impact on reaching Early Financial Independence or even Early Retirement than investment return.  While investment Compound Interest is for sure a very important concept, particularly over the long term, and is certainly making a contribution it’s just not making as big a contribution as my saving.  This is not what I expected when I started on my journey.

Let’s have a look at my journey data thus far in the chart below.  This chart shows for each year (2015 is only until end of March and so shows as 2014.25) the percentage contribution made to my change in wealth each year from both Saving Hard and Investing Wisely.  Therefore the percentage for each year that shows as greater than 50% has been the greatest wealth contributor for that year.  So in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 the honour of most wealth growth contributor has gone to Saving.  In contrast 2012 and 2015 year to date has gone to Investment Return.  So even in year 7 of my Financial Independence Retirement Early (FIRE) journey Saving is still out in front.

Wealth Growth Year on Year
Click to Enlarge, Wealth Growth Year on Year

Of course regular readers will know my Savings Rate is quite high and I’m trying to reach FIRE quickly but I'm not going to make apologies for that.  As savings rate decreases journey time to the goal, whether it’s FIRE or some other objective, should increase with an average wind which should mean that Saving will make less of a contribution and Investment return a greater one.  So maybe I'm just an anomaly given I'm trying to reach Financial Independence in less than 10 years.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Buying Gold – April 2015 Update

With Gold well off record highs the mainstream media currently have no interest in the precious as they need sensational headlines.  Even the blogs, unless the owners are predisposed to tin foil hats, are these days rarely mentioning the yellow stuff.  I'm going to mention Gold today though and I can assure you that all tin foil is still firmly located in the kitchen.  I'm mentioning it as I've just bought a healthy dollop.  It was the fourth place I deployed my bonus.

I bought the ETF Securities Physical Gold ETC (Ticker: PHGP) which is physically backed with allocated metal subject to LBMA rules for Good Delivery, has UK reporting fund status, is ISA eligible, SIPP eligible, is priced in £ and has a Management Expense Ratio (MER) of 0.39%.  I paid £77.47822 a unit so with prices closing at £78.12 on Friday I'm up a little.  Not that I'm worried as I am prepared to hold for a long time.

Let’s look at some Gold numbers.

My first chart shows how the Monthly Gold Price in Pounds Sterling (£’s) has changed since 1979.  Over the past year its Price has risen 3.5%.

Gold Priced in Pounds Sterling (£)
Click to enlarge, Gold Priced in Pounds Sterling (£) 

Regular readers will know that I despise these nominal charts that are so often presented because the unit of measure they are presented in is continually being devalued by inflation.  Let’s therefore correct for that and show the Real Gold Price in Pounds.

Saturday 11 April 2015

A Retirement Investing Today Q1 2015 Review

The primary purpose of this blog is to hold myself accountable and chart my progress to Early Financial Independence (FI).  At FI my wealth will also be sufficient to make Early Retirement optional at the same time.  This is not a model or demonstration but my real DIY financial life.  Get it right and it’s smiles all round in a short period of time.  Get it wrong and my derisory State Pension is still a long way off and likely to get longer still given the financial and demographic state of this great country.

In line with my Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) strategy let’s today some Checking by examining 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.  It’s a different and tougher measure to most of my fellow personal finance bloggers who don’t include tax in the calculation.

Savings Rate for the quarter ends at 53.8% against a plan of 55%.  While a miss it’s a lot better than the 37.2% I managed for the first quarter of 2014.  Additionally in physical pounds, shillings and pence in my pocket it’s more than twice as much as Q1 2014.  The miss was also a conscious decision with the RIT family taking a winter trip to Puglia, Italy to assess the location as a possible Early Retirement location.  At these savings rates I'm also now in the surreal situation where my spending is significantly less than the tax I pay.

RIT Savings Rate
Click to enlarge, RIT Savings Rate

Saving Hard score: Conceded Pass.  Savings, including help from a healthy bonus where I saved 100% of the after tax amount, have added 5.7% to my net wealth in this quarter alone.  My big problem remains taxes which I'm struggling to control as I'm a simple PAYE employee.  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 continue to grow in size I'm being taxed on these as well.


Investment returns for the first quarter of 2014 were 5.8%.  An incredible amount given the structure of my portfolio.  This return means for only the second time in my investing career investment return has exceeded savings rate.  Is compound interest finally starting to do its thing or has Mr Market just become a little excited?

RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth
Click to enlarge, RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth

My investing strategy remains largely in line with that developed at the start of my DIY journey except in recent times I've started making 2 tweaks given my closeness to Financial Independence.  The first is to increase cash like holdings to give the option of a family home purchase.  Cash moves from 8.2% of portfolio value at the end of 2014 to 9.4% at the end of the quarter.  Increasing portfolio dividends to 3% of non-home purchase wealth on the other hand is not going so well even though I continue to add to my HYP.   At the end of 2014 I was at 2.3% and today this has fallen to 2.1%.  Not much I can do here as it’s simply been caused by the Mr Market price rises over the quarter and is not something I can control.  My plan is to just keep at it and see what washes out in the next 12 months or so.  The 3% number comes from a decision to drawdown at 2.5% after expenses which then leaves a little for reinvestment also.  Psychologically I feel this would result in a more relaxed Early Retirement than one where you are selling assets off continually to eat.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) Thoughts

Many of us in the Early Financial Independence, Early Retirement, community are chasing an amount of wealth which when achieved will allow us to as a minimum call ourselves financially independent and as a maximum allow us to head into full early retirement.  To calculate that target wealth number it’s likely (I know I have) we've ascertained how much we intend to spend per annum and then divided that number by a Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) we’re happy with.

The 4% Rule is a SWR that is bandied about freely as a rule of thumb.  Personally it’s too bullish for me and so as I type this I'm planning on an SWR of 2.5% plus 0.25% to allow for investment expenses for a total withdrawal rate of 2.75%.

When we choose a SWR we’re likely trying to calculate the maximum real inflation adjusted annual income we can take while ensuring we don’t run out of wealth before we run out of life.  In doing so what we are really doing is trying to protect ourselves from worst case sequence of returns risk.  In trying to protect ourselves from this sequence of returns risk (and assuming history repeats which we all know is not guaranteed) we actually end up with a scenario where in the vast majority of cases we end up with a lot more wealth than we started with at check out time.

Let me demonstrate with an example.  To do this I'm going to teleport myself to the US and use the excellent cFIREsim calculator as we’re pretty starved of decent free tools here in the UK.  I'm going to assume I retire with one million dollars ($1 Million), give myself a 60% US Equities : 40% US Bonds asset allocation, spend at an inflation adjusted $25,000 per annum (a 2.5% SWR), assume annual expenses of 0.25% and assume I need that level of spending for 40 years.  The output of that simulation is shown below:

cFIREsim output
Click to enlarge, cFIREsim output

Friday 3 April 2015

How about those falling iron ore prices – Adding Rio Tinto to my High Dividend Yield Portfolio

While those around me at work are talking about the holidays, fashion and gadgets they have bought with their bonuses I've kept fairly quiet as I have chosen to save 100% (after HMRC has of course taken 40% Higher Rate Tax and 2% National Insurance) of mine.  So having saved all of it where have I invested it wisely?  I've gone for 4 main areas and I’ll cover 3 of them today, saving the fourth for a separate post.

The first deployment was sending 35% of the bonus to my better half to keep both of our financial independence end dates synchronised.

With only 18 months or so to go until Financial Independence I also want to make sure that I have positioned my financial life to also give myself the option of Early Retirement.  From where I am today this means I need to do two things:
  • I am currently renting in London but want to give myself the option of buying a home in whichever country my family chooses.  I therefore need cash for this and lots of it.  My second deployment was therefore sending 33% of the bonus to my savings account and RateSetter P2P account (plus a little to my Stocks and Shares ISA which is yet to be invested so is currently cash but ensures I've at least used all of my 2014/15 £15,000 Allowance).
  • I don’t like the idea of having to sell down assets to eat in Early Retirement and would much prefer to be simply spending dividends/interest with a little left over to invest.  After I net off the cash I've saved for a home my investments are currently yielding 2.1% and I’m planning on drawing down at 2.5% after investment expenses.  I therefore need to find ways to improve my dividend yield and fast.  My High Yield Portfolio (HYP) is one way I have been trying to do this.  My third deployment was therefore 15% of the bonus into Rio Tinto (Ticker: RIO).  So why Rio Tinto?

The price of the FTSE100 is today near record nominal highs (the real high is something different altogether but that’s for another day). In comparison the price of Rio Tinto is almost half of previous highs:
Price History of Rio Tinto
Click to enlarge, Price History of Rio Tinto (Source: Yahoo Finance)