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Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-27-2004, 01:01 PM   #1
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Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Hello everyone!

I've been reading these forums for about a year now (and posted a couple of times), but thought it was about time for me to introduce myself. My name is Scott, my wife and I are in our mid-30s (no kids yet), and we're planning to ER in about a year. Interestingly, my father ER'd, too (in his early 50s).

As one of the younger ones here, I thought it might be interesting to share how I did it. About a month after I graduated from college, I started my own business (which was a bit strange; everyone else was getting a job). I tried several things related to computers, and finally thought I hit it big when I was making about $60K/year (compared to the $15K or so I was living off of before, between income from the business and a part-time job) -- but that good year was just one year. The business went downhill; I then spent two years employed as a software engineer. Then, about 4 years ago, I developed a couple of programs that did really well -- well enough that I was able to save up just about enough to ER early this year.

I sold the business about 6 months ago, as I was approaching burnout, and saw that I wouldn't be able to grow the company further myself (I made very little money from selling it -- under 1x sales, which is low for a software company, especially one in a 'hot' field with a very high profit margin like mine). I've now got enough saved so that my wife and I should be able to ER at any time.

The one catch is that when I sold the business, I had to sign an employment agreement. Although I can technically get out of it ahead of time (kudos to my lawyer!), I've essentially got a year that I'm morally obligated to them. That's why I say we're a year away from ER'ing. My wife could ER now, but doesn't mind working another year.

I believe one of the main reasons it took me about 10 years to get my business to be extremely successful is that I had an attitude towards money that our society (United States) helped form. I couldn't imagine making more money than I needed to live off of. The year I made $60K, I was thinking to myself 'This is all the income I really need'. Just like you're expected to spend all you make (and then some), I figured that you're only supposed to make what you spend. One day, I had an "aha!" moment where I realized that making more than you spend is OK, and early retirement became my goal at that time.

How did I manage to run my own business in such a way that it allowed me to retire after just 4 good years? The 6 years beforehand were vital -- it's hard to run a good business without learning from your mistakes first-hand, and I made plenty of mistakes. The most important thing, though, was efficiency -- I did almost everything myself, thanks to the Internet. All contact with customers was done via E-mail, my credit card processor had a website that took care of the ordering process, and I found lots of little ways to save time (or expand time, by multi-tasking, such as reading an E-mail instead of watching the printer for the 30 seconds it takes to print something out). I went for some small niche markets, where the total possible customer base was in the 10,000s, which allowed for word-of-mouth marketing, and attention to customers provided an extremely loyal customer base.

Running your own business isn't for everyone, and while it can be very rewarding, it can take a lot of patience and hard work. There is no guarantee that you'll succeed, even if you spend as much time trying as I did. I tried my hand at about 5 different (but related) businesses before finding the right one for me.

As for ER, I can't wait. I think one of the biggest challenges, as a younger ER, will be figuring out how to raise kids without raising our income. We'll manage somehow.

I expect that after ER'ing, I will spend a lot of time volunteering (I used to volunteer on the local American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, going to local fires, which I really enjoyed).

As for investing, my initial thought is to take the majority of the money I've saved and place it in a living revocable trust, which would be managed by professionals (the rest I would invest myself). While I know that most people here would recommend index funds, the professionals (if chosen *extremely* carefully) should be able to help protect against many potential problems (stock market crash, failing US dollar, inflation, deflation, better performance in foreign markets, etc.), which is even more important for me as the money has to last longer. I also like the idea of investing some of the money myself, as I think that I have a good feel for investments and their potential (and would consider it to be fun, not a chore). By investing only a relatively small portion of the money myself, I help minimize the risk of my ego causing problems, if my investments do well.

That pretty much sums it up.
-Scott

P.S. As for the name "IDunno", I chose that when there was a post I wanted to respond to, and my first choices for names were already taken, so I came up with a name hastily!

P.P.S. I'll admit I *am* confused about dryer sheets -- I have no idea why someone would spend money on dryer sheets and then rip them up; why buy 'em in the first place?
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-27-2004, 02:14 PM   #2
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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I believe one of the main reasons it took me about 10 years to get my business to be extremely successful is that I had an attitude towards money that our society (United States) helped form. *I couldn't imagine making more money than I needed to live off of.
As a non-US citizen who is living and working in the US that comment is different from what I observe. It seems to me that US society encourages making as much money as you possibly can no matter the damage that you do to yourself, your family, your community, or the environment. It also encourages you to spend every single penny of it on immediate consumption.

Quote:
While I know that most people here would recommend index funds, the professionals (if chosen *extremely* carefully) should be able to help protect against many potential problems (stock market crash, failing US dollar, inflation, deflation, better performance in foreign markets, etc.), which is even more important for me as the money has to last longer.
There is no evidence that they can do this. While the index funds usually do somewhat poorer during falling markets than they do in up markets (dropping in their percent ranking in their category) it is mostly due to the fact that managed funds have a higher %age of their assets in cash. With no statistically valid evidence of over-performance investing in managed funds seems to be "faith-based" investing.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-27-2004, 03:13 PM   #3
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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There is no evidence that they can do this. *While the index funds usually do somewhat poorer during falling markets than they do in up markets (dropping in their percent ranking in their category) it is mostly due to the fact that managed funds have a higher %age of their assets in cash. *With no statistically valid evidence of over-performance investing in managed funds seems to be "faith-based" investing.
I'm not referring to mutual funds -- I'm referring to professional money managers that go beyond just mimicking/beat an index. For example, if you invest 100% of your money in an S&P 500 index fund (or any other mutual fund), and the stock market goes down 50% (it *can* happen), you lose 50% of your money. Yes, everybody else in the S&P 500 loses money, but that isn't much consolation. In this case, a put option on the S&P 500 would provide insurance against a major loss. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. You might make 1% less per year, but if stocks tank, you don't have to go back to work.

Or, what if the S&P 500 goes up 5% next year -- but Chinese stocks go up 50%. Or what if the US dollar declines. Or what if it is 1999 and real estate is about to take off. Or what if there is inflation/deflation/depression.

Diversification helps answer many of those questions, but knowing how and where to diversify and handle some of those risks aren't easy. I'm not talking about cookie cutter money management (or worse, salespeople such as stock brokers and financial advisors that make a commission on what they sell you). I'm talking about a companies that have been around forever (ones that had to deal with their clients during the great depression), only deal with high net worth individuals, and are honest and tell you can only safely withdraw 3%-4% to have your money last a long time.

Given that I plan to continue to learn as much as possible about investing, I feel pretty confident that I can make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. If they aren't, I can start controlling the money.
-Scott
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-27-2004, 03:50 PM   #4
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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*For example, if you invest 100% of your money in an S&P 500 index fund (or any other mutual fund), and the stock market goes down 50% (it *can* happen), you lose 50% of your money.
You're equating using index funds/ETFs with investing solely in the S&P500. It certainly has a place in most allocations but it is not the only equity class needed.

Quote:
You might make 1% less per year, but if stocks tank, you don't have to go back to work.
The only place you'll see 1% fees with a "money manager" (really a stock broker as Cut-Throat says) is in the wrap fee they put on your account. This is the money that they'll charge you to tell you which of their 5% load 2.5% MER funds to buy this year.

Try running FireCalc (see the link above) and use 3-4% as your investing expenses. You're not going to survive very long.

Quote:
Or, what if the S&P 500 goes up 5% next year -- but Chinese stocks go up 50%. *Or what if the US dollar declines. *Or what if it is 1999 and real estate is about to take off. *Or what if there is inflation/deflation/depression.
This is why a smart retiree/investor has diversification in their portfolio. You should take the time to study this yourself.

Quote:
Diversification helps answer many of those questions, but knowing how and where to diversify and handle some of those risks aren't easy.
Nobody knows the perfect allocation and anybody who claims that they do belongs either in Bellevue or Sing-Sing. (to paraphrase one of financial writers that you should be reading - William Bernstein).
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 03:56 AM   #5
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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The only place you'll see 1% fees with a "money manager" (really a stock broker as Cut-Throat says) is in the wrap fee they put on your account. *This is the money that they'll charge you to tell you which of their 5% load 2.5% MER funds to buy this year.

Try running FireCalc (see the link above) and use 3-4% as your investing expenses. *You're not going to survive very long.
The one I'm most interested in charges about 1.25% (about .75% plus a percentage of income, so in down/flat years, the fees are lower). I don't believe they ever use mutual funds. I know someone who uses them, and there isn't a single mutual fund (or variable annuity, or any other commission-based product) in their portfolio.

They don't deal with the average joe that comes to them with $50K or $100K. They deal with quite a few families that are wealthier than almost anyone here (many with 8-9 figures).

Quote:
This is why a smart retiree/investor has diversification in their portfolio. *You should take the time to study this yourself.
I have studied it. Quite a bit. The problem is that it takes a *lot* of time to learn how to properly diversify. Think of how many people a few years ago thought that diversification meant buying many different stocks in the NASDAQ.

Look at the thread about gold -- there isn't even a consensus there about whether or not gold should be included in a diverse portfolio. What about foreign stocks? What about foreign currencies? What about bonds (if interest rates go up over the next few years, bond values go down)?

All it takes is one simple "Oh, you should consider X in your portfolio, just in case Y happens" to make that ~1% fee priceless. They've even dealt with the complete devaluation of U.S currency, so they know a lot more than the average stock brocker or commission-based financial advisor.

If history doesn't repeat itself, I think that a reasonably well designed portfolio should do OK. But if history does repeat itself -- another depression, currency devaluation, massive inflation, deflation, stock market crash, etc., that a porfolio that is designs by experts (not self-proclaimed ones) would be much better off. Remember, even FIRECalc only goes back 130 years. And it is quite possible that people being born today could live 130 years.

Perhaps a thread about optimal diversification and protection against various threats would be a good idea?
-Scott
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 06:06 AM   #6
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

So what makes you think that this guy has the magic answers on these questions? For every "industry expert" you find that thinks a portfolio should hold gold and foreign bonds, I could find another "industry expert" that thinks they have no place in a porfolio. How are you going to determine a priori who is right? Even two "experts" who agree that you should hold asset class XYZ might disagree substantially on how it should be weighted.

I'm not saying this guy would necessairly do a bad job of managing your money, just that you could probably get very similar results without his 2% fee. Not to mention, if he is hedging you against all sorts of risks (currency, interest, political, terrorism, etc.), those hedges cost money (just like any form of insurance).

I agree with your point that FIREcalc only goes back 130 years and a young guy like you could live that long if you're lucky...but do you really think your expert could've predicted the structural changes in the last 130 years (rise of the US economy, the wars we've endured, the growth of technology, the sting of terrorism)? If not, what makes you think he could predict the changes in the next 130 years? I don't recall many money managers telling their clients to hedge against terrorism before 9/11...who knows what the next major event will be? This is one of those "unknown unknowns."

Don't know if you've read the story of LTCM in the late 1990s, but this was a group of guys who were considered by almost everyone to be "experts" in the field of finance, and they had the nobel prizes to show for it. Might be worth checking out "When Genius Failed" to see how their story played out. Again, not saying that your "expert" is bad, just that many "experts" (with both academic and applied experience) have come up with mediocre (or worse) returns over the years.

Quote:
Look at the thread about gold -- there isn't even a consensus there about whether or not gold should be included in a diverse portfolio. *What about foreign stocks? *What about foreign currencies? *What about bonds (if interest rates go up over the next few years, bond values go down)?
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 06:36 AM   #7
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

If you are bound and determined to utilize the expert you have found - by all means do so.

I would humbly suggest that you keep some side money to invest yourself and begin the journey of reading/educating yourself. Nothing like real money - invested by you to understand what you've been reading. Whether - individual stocks, mutual funds, some form of real estate - you will learn your particular groove.

Heck - you might do something exotic like building and selling wooden kayaks.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 10:44 AM   #8
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

I Dunno;
If after reading all this, you still want to hire a (fee only!) advisor, you might kill 2 birds with one stone and get one who is DFA certified, and thus can get you into DFA funds. (That is the only way to get those funds). You can get a list of them on DFA's site. www.dfaus.com

That will weed out a large % of the guys, talented though they may be, who will try to funnel you into high fee, actively managed funds. DFA funds are generally index or index-like funds with very low fees, and their 'approved' fee only financial planners have got religion on the kinds of investing we like to do around here.

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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 11:16 AM   #9
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Scott is clearly determined to hire a professional money manager, and I wish him well. I wasn't going to add anything because others have already covered my concerns. But since he sounds like a very smart guy and is quite articulate, he may sway others who come here for information. So I'll throw in my support and just add this:

Don't be impressed by statements like this:

Quote:
They don't deal with the average joe that comes to them with $50K or $100K. They deal with quite a few families that are wealthier than almost anyone here (many with 8-9 figures).
The nations largest pension plans have the very best managers. The managers Scott is talking about (the ones who deal with accounts in 8-9 figures) are small-fry compared to these heavy hitters. Nevertheless, they have failed, dismally, to beat the indexes. The very biggest players are abandoning Scott's approach, and firing their managers in droves. And these managers don't get anything close to what Scott is planning to pay (~2%). If you add that in, the failure rate would go from terrible to worse than terrible.

There is no panacea. Professional money managers will dramatically increase your costs and they will probably increase your risks simultaneously. The very best one can do is to educate oneself and invest accordingly. It takes very little time, education, or effort to put yourself into a better situation than you would be in with a professional money manager.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 11:30 AM   #10
 
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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The very best one can do is to educate oneself and invest accordingly. It takes very little time, education, or effort to put yourself into a better situation than you would be in with a professional money manager.
Scott will get an education. The only question will be is - How much will the education Cost?
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 12:07 PM   #11
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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Scott is clearly determined to hire a professional money manager, and I wish him well.
Yes, I am determined to -- unless I hear a good reason why I shouldn't. And I haven't heard that reason yet. Everything so far boils down to [1] most financial advisors will indirectly charge hefty fees (such as in loaded mutual funds), and [2] financial advisors can't do anything I couldn't do on my own. #1 is irrelevant in this case (I know the exact fees, and I will take my money away if they invest in anything that has its own fees that they would profit from). #2 is true, but I feel that the 1% or so fee would be worthwhile to combine their knowledge with mine.

I haven't made a definite decision yet, but those are the only two arguments against my case I'm seeing.

Quote:
I wasn't going to add anything because others have already covered my concerns. But since he sounds like a very smart guy and is quite articulate, he may sway others who come here for information.
I do hope that I do not sway others -- I hope they realize that my situation is different from most. For the average person ERing looking at an average financial advisor, I'd definitely recommend against it -- for exactly the reasons that have been mentioned so far.
-Scott
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 12:38 PM   #12
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Don't know if you have a finance background, but the true cost of a 1% reduction in compounded returns over a long period of time is substantial. Let's do some DCF analysis -

Assume:
$10m portfolio today
30 year time period
Expected market return: 10%
Advisor fee: 1%
No distributions

Future value of your portfolio with no fees:
10000000(1+.1)^30=174m
Future value of your portfolio less the 1%:
10000000(1+.09)^30=132m
A future value difference of: $41m
Which is equal to a present value of:
41000000/(1+.10)^30=$2.4m or nearly 25% of your starting portfolio. If your adviser actually takes a 1.75% fee, you lose about $3.8m, or nearly 40%.

For that kind of money, the advisor better have some REALLY good advice.

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I feel that the 1% or so fee would be worthwhile to combine their knowledge with mine.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 12:41 PM   #13
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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Don't know if you have a finance background, but the true cost of a 1% reduction in compounded returns over a long period of time is substantial.
Not to mention the fact that you're going to need some hobbies once you retire. Most of us stopped paying people for the things that we can do ourselves. Sure, we might not do them as well as the pros, but you get to learn something, get your hands dirty, and discover that there's not a whole lot separating pros from amateurs in many fields.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 01:02 PM   #14
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Quote:
... A future value difference of: $41m
Which is equal to a present value of:
41000000/(1+.10)^30=$2.4m or nearly 25% of your starting portfolio.
Thank you -- putting it in that perspective definitely helps.

I had plugged numbers into FIREcalc several times over the past year, but the difference between 95% and 99% probability of success didn't seem so bad. However, essentially giving up nearly 25% of the starting portfolio seems a lot more drastic.
-Scott
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 02:45 PM   #15
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Might I recommend William Bernsteins The Four Pillars of Investing?

An absolute must before you start investing and hiring chimpanz...er money managers.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 02:47 PM   #16
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

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I do hope that I do not sway others -- I hope they realize that my situation is different from most. For the average person ERing looking at an average financial advisor, I'd definitely recommend against it -- for exactly the reasons that have been mentioned so far.
Scott, William Bernstein has a section in his book on this very thing. He calls it "The Country Club Syndrome." Here's how he introduces it:

"This is a peculiar affliction of the very wealthy... surely you can't use the same money managers as the little folks. You're above all that. You must engage investment firms and apply techniques available only to the elite...".

Then he goes on to describe why this approach is dubious [basically, you're exposed to additional management risks that can (and often do) blow up in your face, and the costs will kill you]. Anyway, at least you're going into it with your eyes open. Good luck.
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 05:50 PM   #17
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Geez, everyone on this board is really against "financial advisors." I just wanted to congratulate Scott on his ability to grow his business and amass enough wealth to retire in his 30's. Good job, Scott!
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 06:01 PM   #18
 
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

"financial advisors'? We don't need no stiiiiiiiiinking
financial advisors

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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-28-2004, 07:25 PM   #19
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

I guess the fundamental question is why someone who "knows" how to make lots of money would bother working for some brokerage or financial management firm...
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.
Old 10-29-2004, 07:42 AM   #20
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Re: Planning to ER next year, in my 30s.

Actually there are a relative few who do "know" - they are usually partners or own the firm. But you have to ask yourself - do they know investing? Or selling?
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