Be the bank!

My son asked why I don’t just plonk by money into a safety deposit box to tap into those wonderful gross margins that banks earn buy ‘buying’ your money at 3% and ‘selling’ it back to you (or to other people/businesses) at 7%.

That lead to a great discussion on P2P lending, which partially addressed the problem of risk for me: P2P offers filters to allow you to sort loans; ratings to allow you to evaluate loans; and FICO-based ‘risk rated’ interest rates (circa 10%) to go along with all of this.

But, that doesn’t satisfy me …

And, it’s not because the banks have MUCH better systems to evaluate and manage loans and it’s their core business, it’s because I can do much better with my limited capital than P2P levels of interest.

Here’s two things to think about:

– Does P2P provide the annual compound growth rate that YOU need to reach your Number?

– Do you have the bank’s virtually UNLIMITED access to capital or is the amount that you can apply to P2P as a % of your Net Worth limited?

These points are critical: you have a limited amount of investment resource available to you and (probably!) a very large Number / soon Date to achieve using what you currently have as a springboard.

Now, let’s flip to the other side:

Banks dig into their ability to borrow (which IS the basis for their entire business, investment banking / asset management services aside) and lend to us for what?

Either to SPEND (on consumer items, if we are dumb) or to INVEST (in our homes, businesses, etc.) if we are smart.

So, let’s put those things together to create our own ‘bank’:

1. We have limited cash to ‘lend’ at our disposal, so we need to find a way to tap into vast amounts of borrowing power just like the banks.

2. Well, we don’t have the Regulations, Reputations, and Resources (e.g. access to the capital markets) that allow the banks to borrow (then lend) so much, but we do have something that allows us to achieve effectively the same huge jump in personal borrowing capacity: the spare equity in our houses.

[AJC: You knew there was a catch! If you don’t have a house, have GFC’ed your equity out the window, or otherwise don’t have enough equity built up yet, bookmark this post and take the rest of the day off …]

3. If you DO have spare equity in your house, and can refi. to a fixed rate loan that locks in your borrowings circa 4% or so then you are probably now sitting on a relatively large sum of cash to lend, just like a bank (relatively speaking!).

4. So, you can either:

– Do, what the banks do and lend to somebody who needs the cash at a higher rate; e.g. P2P where you may get 10% for each 4% ‘unit’ that you supply … a VERY healthy 150% gross margin (plus, you have NO staff or overheads), OR

– Do, what I would recommend: cut out the middle-man and lend the money to yourself!

What would you do with that money that you have borrowed?

What any sensible investor would do with money that they borrow from the bank – depending upon their Number and their appetite for risk:

– Buy some investment real-estate,

– Buy stock [AJC: a friendly ‘bank manager’, no margin calls …. sweet],

– Start a business … it could even be a P2P lending business 😉

That last one isn’t such a joke; I would be more tempted to invest IN a P2P business than I would be to lend VIA a P2P. Why?

It’s simple … the former gives me ho hum 10% returns (with some credit risk attached), whilst the latter gives me access to potentially, unlimited returns!

Are you worried about the risk of business failure?

Well, if the P2P site goes under, isn’t my risk of capital loss the same as if my cash was sitting in their investment accounts [AJC: which is one of the reasons why the SEC is VERY interested in regulating P2P, all of a sudden … but, until they do … 😉 ]?

Call me … make it happen!

OK, so he wants you to buy five houses this year … and, he gives you the quick ‘hard sell’ at the end … but, the basic philosophy – to me – is sound:

– Houses are depressed in the USA, but so are interest rates,

– Unless the USA ‘double dips’ prices will begin to go up (when?)

– You can fix an incredibly low interest rate on your primary residence (can the bank rewrite the mortgage if you move?)

– You MAY be able to receive enough rent to cover most/all of the mortgage

– Who says you need to buy five houses (except for this Realtor!?) … just think about one for now

Do the numbers for your area/s of interest (price of house, monthly cost of mortgage, likely rental income, other expenses such as 6% – 9% property management etc.) … if you can even come close to breaking even, could you find a better return on your deposit plus the cumulative cost of any monthly shortfall (or gain of any monthly excess)?

Now, run the numbers again assuming that the US market stays flat for another 5 years before some sort of rebound … maybe it still makes sense?

Have you run the numbers? If so, what do you think?

A Vacation Question – Part II

But, what about the other financial question that my son asked while we were on vacation?

Well, we were walking along the beach and Bill, the shaved ice vendor, drove past with his little all terrain vehicle pulling his ‘shop’ behind only to stop a few yards up the beach to tempt my son – and, the many other children running along the sand and swimming in the warm surf.

Naturally, I  quickly became $3.50 poorer and my son had his paper cone filled with shaved ice with various color sweeteners poured over it (he chose ‘rainbow’ flavoring), which got us talking:

You see, it’s popular folk-lore that Bill, who has been selling his flavored shaved ice along the beach for 20 to 40 years, owns many of the apartments in the vacation rental buildings all around [AJC: check out the aerial shot in yesterday’s post] … if true, then Bill is the poster-child for the Wealth Alchemist i.e. turning temporary cashflow into long-term assets.

It’s not hard to see that Bill turns over thousands of dollars a day, most of it costing him nothing (little staff, few overheads, little-to-no-cost-of-goods-sold), after all, how much can ice cost to make?!

Instead of spending all of that money, it’s not a great leap to assume that Bill saves up enough for a deposit to buy a property every now and then; we figure $1 million worth of property each year (with 20% initial equity).

Here is my son’s question:

“Would he pay cash for the properties, or would he just save up enough for a deposit and borrow the rest?”

Now, this is a seemingly simple – yet terribly interesting – question; one that we could labor over for many posts … instead, we’ll look at this another way, by asking:

“Does Bill need the property for income now or for its future value (hence, future income)?”

The answer is clear: Bill has plenty of income now, but what does he do if his income stops?

Presuming that he can’t rely on being able to sell his business (for example, the council could decide that they no longer want people peddling ice on their beaches), then Bill will probably want his properties to generate a replacement income “one day”.

So, which would do that better? When Bill moves into MM301, it’s likely that owning the properties outright and living off the rental treams that they throw off will be best …

… until then, Bill has to (in my opinion) work on the strategy that will produce the most properties by the time he wants to retire.

So, I had to explain the concept of leverage to my son:

SCENARIO A: If you purchase a property for $100k CASH and it doubles in 10 years, then you have $200k of property. Well done!

SCENARIO B: But, if you purchase TWO $100k properties, putting $50k deposit into each and borrowing $50k for each from the bank, then in 10 years (assuming they both double), you now have $400k of properties, of which you owe the bank $100k (assuming that you haven’t paid down any of the loan in the meantime), leaving you with $300k of property … a $100k improvement over Scenario A.

At least, that’s what the property spruikers would have you believe …

… because, they have conveniently forgotten that in Scenario A, you also have some rental income (after, say 25% costs) coming in, whereas in Scenario B that income would be largely offset by interest owed to the bank.

The question is, is that differential in income ‘worth’ $100k over 10 years?

Let’s assume that we can get a 5% return from our Scenario A property (after costs), giving us $5k a year initially (when the property is worth $100k), increasing over time to $10k a year (when the property increases to $200k in value). It doesn’t take a genius to figure that this comes to less than the extra $100k that Scenario B gives us (if you assume an average $7,500 per year rent for the 10 years, we are comparing $75k in rent for Scenario A to $100k in additional capital gain for Scenario B).

Now, add the benefits of:

– 80% gearing (i.e. only making a $20k down payment in our example), which should buy you 5 properties instead of Scenario B’s 2 properties (cost = $500k; worth in 10 years $1 mill., less $80k loan on each = $600k v $300k for Scenario B and $200k for Scenario A. Get it?),

– Increasing rents offsetting fixed interest rates (possibly producing some positive cashflow from each of our 5 properties as time passes),

– Tax deductibility of any excess of interest over income in the early years (a.k.a. negative gearing),

– And, any additional tax and depreciation benefits of 5 properties v only 2

… and, it’s just possibly a ‘no brainer’, even if that does make some of those scummy spruikers right 😉

But, how does Bill pay his bills?

Well, that depends on how much excess of income the properties produce by the time Bill is ready (or has) to retire …

… if  insufficient to pay Bill’s bills, he can sell enough properties to pay off the bulk (or all) of the bank loans, thus forcing a positive cashflow situation (assuming the properties aren’t total dogs, which is highly unlikely in this well sought after tourist area, which boasts near 100% year-round occupancy) and that (after a reserve to cover costs of vacancy, property management, and repairs and maintenance) is his infltation-protected income for the rest of his life.

Then Bill can spend the rest of his days lazing on the beach … buying shaved ice from the next shmuck who chucked in his chance at earning a college degree for the life of a beach bum 🙂

Make the move ….

house on moundGuys, as the economy improves (if it improves) interest rates will surely rise, as they already are in other countries.

If you haven’t already done so, seriously think about buying some fire-sale real-estate and locking in the the interest rate for 30 years; one strategy – especially if the banks won’t let you take out a 30 year fixed rate mortgage on an investment – is to buy your NEXT home now (it need not be any bigger/better than your current), taking the 30 year fixed on that one, and keeping your current as a rental.

I’m not sure if that’s exactly what Lee was thinking when he asked:

Although the market in our area has held up fairly well through this housing crisis, it’s definitely a buyers market.  I don’t think I’d get top value for my home.  So, I’ve seriously been considering renting it out after we move.  If I did rent it, then I could go a couple different routes:

1. Refinance current home to 30 year (to help cash flow) and take enough cash out to put 20% down on our new home.

2. Refinance current home to a 30 year but take no cash out to get the payment down to a very low amount to have a very good positive cash flow.  Then put 20% down out of pocket on the new home.

3. Take out a home equity loan on the current home just to cover the 20% down payment on the new home loan (30 year).

4. Just go ahead and sell our current home so I can take advantage of the tax free capital gains … I could then use part of it to put 20% down on our next home … and use the remaining as a down payment on one or two rental properties.

5. I have to throw in one scenario just because of that little guy I call Mr. Conservative that sits on one of my shoulders, lol!  I could just pay my current home off within the next 2 years or so, then rent it out with a large cash flow, and use that cash flow to pay the mortgage of the new home we buy.

6. Maybe something I’m not even thinking of?

I think I see a case of paralysis by analysis coming on, so we had better head this off at the pass …

… while I can’t give direct personal advice (as I told Lee), I can point out that in cases like this it’s always good to ask yourself a couple of key questions before Mr. Conservative starts to get very vocal (in your subconscious) and you end up taking no action at all, so I suggested that Lee run some numbers:

a) What would be the situation on your current home, if you just took out a new (or refi) FIXED rate 30 yr mortgage, and put tenants in … what would be your new monthly mortgage payment and what monthly rent could you conservatively [it’s good to have Mr Conservative on your shoulders] expect?

b) After pocketing the excess of 75% of rents over mortgage from a) above – or, making up the deficit on the excess of mortgage over 75% of the rent – how much per month do you think you could save from your other sources of income assuming for the moment that you have FREE accommodation for yourself somewhere?

[AJC: the 75% of rents is to allow a buffer for vacancies and other costs of renting … just a very rough approx. for now]

Once you answer these two questions, my feeling is that the best scenario for you will become obvious … I hope 🙂

In Lee’s case, here are his current numbers:

3 bed / 2 bath 1450 sq ft. home in a great location.
Cost Basis: $158,000
Current value: $210,000
$96,000 (9 years 6 months) remaining on a 15 yr mortgage @ 4.625%
Current P&I repayment: $1,042 per month

And, if he refinanced the $96k remaining balance his bank has given him two options for a 30-year fixed loan:

$508/month @ 4.875% Closing costs: $2,000
$493/month @ 4.625% Closing costs: $2,700

For rent, Lee thinks “being ultra conservative” $900/month to $1100/month, which means:

Using 75% of excess over mortgage ($300) and assume living in FREE accommodations, I could easily save $3,000/month because that’s what I save currently even with my $1042 mortgage.  Throw in not paying our current mortgage and having $300 in additional cash flow and $4,000+/month would not be unreasonable.

For now those are the numbers, although I have to say the 75% of excess over mortgage number is probably high considering taxes and insurance on this place are about $200/month.  But as you said, these are rough numbers for now.

So, Lee is getting closer to being able to make a meaningful decision; here are the steps that I suggested:

STEP 1: OK, it seems to me that if you decided to keep your current home as a rental, you would lose money if you stuck to your your current $1k pm mortgage, and produce a positive cashflow of $100 to $200 p.m. if you refinanced.

STEP 2: It seems to me that your $3k pm savings rate will be enough to cover the expected $200k mortgage on your new home. Right? BTW: You WILL fix for 30 years, too (because this will become an ideal 2nd rental, eventually)?

STEP 3: Next, all you need to think about is how to raise the deposit; well, if you don’t have it now, go back to Step 1 and revisit these numbers, assuming that you refi, say, $150k instead of $96k. I’m guessing that you’ll be close to B/E – or, a slight monthly loss – on the rental?

STEP 4: You keep 25% of the rent (plus another $200, say) to cover taxes, ins, and contingencies PLUS you have plenty of excess monthly savings to cover you, until this ‘provisioning fund’ builds up.

Now, what do YOU think Lee should do?! Here’s what he thinks:

I think the smartest thing would be to refi without taking any equity out so that I have a nice cushion of cash flow.  I would then need to come out of pocket with the down payment for the new home which I should be able to do, and even if I need a little help, I could always get a small home equity loan on the rental temporarily.  But I feel pretty confident I could raise enough cash to cover the down payment without having to do that.

My next step…develop my plan of action.

Take Lee’s advice: model these questions to develop a plan of action that works for you … and, take it! 🙂

Rent or buy? Rent to buy!

StopPress1Please take a moment to answer this poll [AJC: which is in response to my No Ads On This Site Policy] by clicking on this link:

It’s just one, short question; thanks!!

…. now, back to today’s post:

Jim wants to know if he can turn his current rental into a Rent To Buy:

I have moved from a (rented) flat costing me ~33% of my (net) monthly income to a small house costing 25% (net). (Of course, being a First Time Buyer, I’ll be breaking the 20% net worth rule to put down a deposit, especially given the level of deposit required to get a decent rate here in the UK).

The current owner seems enthusiastic about the option of selling it to me at some point, but I’d like to ask advice on what sort of ‘offer’ to make. i.e. what sort of contributions my rent payments would be / discount off the market value.

I’m thinking if we both have a valuation done, I offer 15% off the average of the two?

I’m not sure that the Rent-2-Buy works in Jim’s case, because he’s already in the house and paying the rent!

But, let’s assume that Jim is willing to sign a longer lease, it will then depend upon whether he is able to bypass the agent or not.

You see, for a rent-to-buy to work, basically you are trying to say to the owner:

Rent to me for longer, then I will:

1. Save you the agent’s fees and commissions, because I will be staying in the house and will keep it as my own (“so, you don’t need an agent to manage me”)

2. Save the 2 to 4 week’s typical vacancy each year as the typical shorter-term tenants move on (you will need to find out what’s common in your area AND what the owner’s experience has been).

Then wouldn’t it be reasonable to split those ‘savings’ with the current owner (by way of a ‘credit’ towards a future purchase of the house)?

BTW: Jim, it’s OK to break the 20% equity rule on your first home, because it helps to get you into a house:


Safe as houses?

Picture 2Well, I did ask for it, and the first cab off the rank for the ‘diss Adrian party’ is Dan who thinks that one of my favorite posts – Contrary to Popular Opinion, Paying Off Your Mortgage Is The Dumbest Move You Can Make – is ‘ridiculous’. Seriously, thanks for opening up an important new discussion with this comment, Dan:

This is ridiculous. The author apparently believes he is untouchable and will never lose his job, get sick, or die.

You can do all the complex math you want, but the simple fact of the matter is that Risk is the biggest variable, and I don’t see it show up in your equation once.

Don’t be stupid America, and dont prescribe to a system that encourages you to continue owing people money long after you need to.

Pay off your house, free up some income, then pay off your credit cards, pay off your car, and be a happier, less stressed individual.

Hmmm …. paying off your mortgage as a ‘risk management tool’?

Before we even consider why anybody in their right mind would pay off a (say) 8% mortgage before paying off a (say) 19% credit card or car loan, let’s review the substance of my “don’t pay down your mortgage early” argument:

Look at everything that you own as a business: if it’s your own home, separate the ownership of the property in your mind from it’s use …

… for example, even if it’s your own home, treat yourself as your own tenant and figure the rent that you would otherwise had to pay when doing the sums.

Then evaluate the investment against any other investment or ‘business’ …

… but, if you’re still trying to get rich(er) quick(er)?

If you own a home, don’t pay it off … use the upside to help you buy more and more of these wonderful, one-of-a-kind, almost-too-good-to-be-true ’businesses’ …

If you have other sources of income (businesses, investments) don’t spend it or reinvest all of it … use some of the spare cash to help you buy more and more of these wonderful, one-of-a-kind, almost-too-good-to-be-true ’businesses’ …

That’s my advice to you, but only take it if you want to be rich!

But, Dan says that the ‘math’ matters not, you should consider what happens if you “lose [your] job, get sick, or die”. Well, what happens?

If you have paid out your mortgage, your money is locked in the safest bank vault imaginable … all you have to do it sell the home to access the cash. Just pray that the market is an up market and not a down market, when these events outside of your control force you to sell. Or, would YOU prefer to choose the timing? Hmmm …

Of course, you could just borrow some money against the house; but then, aren’t you now putting yourself in EXACTLY the financial situation that Dan wants you to avoid: i.e. “owing people money long after you need to”?

And, even if you still do want to use your Zero Mortgage Bank, what are the chances of the bank actually lending you (or your survivors) any money when you are jobless, sick, or dead?

Oh, and let’s say that you do happen to be unfortunate enough to “lose [your] job, get sick, or die” while you are still in the 10-15 year period when you are well ahead of the 30-year payment curve, but haven’t paid off the mortgage in full, yet? How easy will it be to refinance, or even convince your bank to hold payments for you? Even if you THINK they will, you had better be certain 😉

What do you reckon? Dan’s on the right track? C’mon, be honest … would you feel safer paying off your mortgage early, or letting it ride?

I think we’re screwed …

housing_crashIf you needed any evidence that the ‘global financial crisis’ – on a global macro level – and problems with the US real-estate market – on a global micro level – are still affecting people in the their day to day lives, you need read no further than Rischa in Seattle’s comment [AJC: I’ve added punctuation for your reading pleasure]:

From what I’ve read I think we’re screwed, but I’m not even sure what we can do. Here is the scenario: my husband and I bought this house about 10 years ago in the boom here; with both of us working we could afford the mortgage and our lifestyle easily. I’ve [since] been laid off and we’ve been living on my savings, which is now gone and I’m on unemployment, which is fast running out.

We’re about $100K upside down, we got a trad. loan 30 yr fixed, but without 2 incomes we’re sinking fast. We don’t necessarily want to stay in this house, in fact we want to move to a part of the country where the cost of living is less.

Any clues? What should we do? How do we get out of this when getting out would cost more than we have, even if we spent our retirement to get out? We would have less than nothing left!

Of course, it’s difficult to give Rischa personal advice – and, I wouldn’t do it – but, I could suggest that she go back to that post and reread the bit where I said:

Ask yourself the following TWO questions:

i) Can I afford the payments? If so,

ii) If I were to invest in a house right now, given my current net worth, is this the house that I would invest in ?

If the answer to both questions is YES, then stay. If the answer to either question is NO, then sell/move … be it into a rental or to purchase another (provided that the changeover costs/hassles are worth it).

In Rischa’s case, the answer to the first question appears to be NO … and, she would prefer to be moving to a cheaper part of the country (and, cheaper house?), anyway …

So, it’s obvious that she can’t afford her existing house, but what would you do? Hang on to a losing proposition? Or, cut your losses?

Ooops! She broke the 25% Rule ….

keeping up with the jonesI wrote a post some time ago about how I broke (nay, smashed!) the 20% Rule (you know, the one that tells you what % of your net worth you should have ‘invested’ – read: tied up – in your own home) when I bought my latest house – considering that we paid $4 mill., are about to renovate for at least $1 mill., and still own another $2 mill. house that we haven’t been able to sell due to the crash, I’d say that we need some major corrective action … which, I outlined in this post.

The next housing problem that I wrote about, doesn’t affect me (as we paid cash for our houses) but, was how to deal with the now-all-too-common situation where you are ‘upside down’ on your mortgage.

Now, thanks to Alexandria who commented on that post with a question, we can now assess the third major housing-related financial problem: what to do when you break the 25% Rule (the one that lets you know how much of your income to spend on rent/mortgage payments)?

Panic is always a good first option …

… before we do that, let’s hear Alexandria’s ‘problem’:

Ok… after reading the above I want some options on my situation. Married, three school aged kids. Currently own a home with a high mortgage that is worth just about $50K more then we owe. Not the home of our dreams. We are not in foreclosure. I am self emplyed and my husband is a Police Officer. We can make our monthly mortgage but it eats up about 60% of our monthly income. We have no savings, a mininal 401 plan, no large other debt. We are both in our mid thrities. We can rent a much nicer home in our area for about $1k less then our mortgage a month. If you were us, would you sell and rent or keep the house?

OK indeed!

My first piece of financial advice would be to dump the copper and marry some rich bloke (I’ve seen your photo) who looks like me … but, marriage proposals aside, I can’t offer you any better advice than that, because I am NOT you …

… that’s why I struggle to answer specific “what would you do if …” questions on this blog, because I rarely have enough information to know how to deal with YOUR Life’s most difficult financial decisions.

BUT, it’s not all doom-and-gloom, because I can use wonderful readers’ questions, such as this one, to inspire some general points: just don’t construe it as direct personal advice, even though I may liberally intersperse “you” and “should” in my posts to make them more readable.

Disclaimer out of the way 🙂

Even though I can’t really give you the answer that you can ‘take to the bank’, I can ask why you would consider keeping a home that you don’t like, when you can sell it and rent a nicer one and save/invest an extra $12k a year?

Better yet, what would it do for you financially (balanced against family ‘needs’ … not keeping up with the Jones’ … hence, the image at the top of this post) if you sold this place and used the freed up equity as a deposit against a smaller/cheaper place that fits closer to the 25% income Rule, and then used the money saved on mortgage payments (100% of it!) to finally start to build your financial future?

Remember, given that this is effectively your first home (i.e. you have not built up any housing equity yet) the answer – for you – maybe somewhere between the two …

Nice house v fewer financial headaches … what a trade-off to have to make 🙂

What to do when you are upside-down on your mortgage …

upside-down-houseRyan – one of our Millionaires … In Training! – is upside down on his mortgage; if you can’t afford the payments (and, I have some guidelines to help you decide when that point has been reached), then I would generally suggest that no matter whether you are right-side up, upside down, or sideways, that you should get out!

But, Ryan is a high-income earner and high-saver already so he has decided to … well … I’ll let him tell you:

If I could wave a magic wand, I would not be upside-down on my mortgage, but that will correct itself over time as we are not planning on moving soon. While we could short sell the house and rent, we will not likely do that. We are emotionally tied to the house and would not, in my opinion have much upside with a rental because we would have to either float the note on our mortgage or pay the taxes on the difference on a short sale, all to pay MAYBE $1000/month less and not have the mortgage interest to write off come april 15th. An appreciation of our home of around 5%/year, starting in 2010, [should help by] bringing us back to an equity position around 2012.

A home performs two functions: housing and investment.

Like most dual-purpose things, owning your own home is probably a poor compromise on both …

… in my experience, you can usually rent a better house than you can afford to buy AND can usually find much better returning investments.

Yet, I recommend that one does own their own home, for a number of reasons:

1. Often it can turn out to be a person’s only investment,

2. It is a ’safety net’ in case all else goes wrong,

3. You have continuity of tenure (the ‘landlord’ won’t kick you out, as long as you keep up with the payments)

4. Over time, you may build up equity that you can ‘release’ to kick-start other investing activities.

For me, it was always 3. (and, the associated ‘emotional attachment’ that comes with calling your house your ‘home’) that held the most sway as I always expected to make my ‘fortune’ elsewhere. And, I have never actually used the equity for investing (except for my brief HELOC-fueled stock speculation experiment of 2007/2008).

So, I would suggest that you ask yourself the following TWO questions:

i) Can afford the payments? If so,

ii) If I were to invest in a house right now, given my current net worth, is this the house that I would invest in ?

If the answer to both questions is YES, then stay. If the answer is NO, then sell/move … be it into a rental or to purchase another (provided that the changeover costs/hassles are worth it).

This is a question that we all need to ask ourselves at least once per year (or, whenever the market and/or our financial position changes), as – in effect – we are ‘buying’ our house every year (by missing the opportunity of selling and putting the money to work elsewhere).

Given the size of our ‘investment’, we should never take the rent/own – buy/sell decision for granted 🙂

Where do all these rules come from?

I’m a maverick, yet I like rules … how do you figure that?

Well, the rules that I like are actually ‘rules of thumb’. You see, when I was $30k in debt, I was in the financial wasteland with no idea how do dig my way out …

… so, I did the only thing that I am really good at: I read books. A lot. All non-fiction. Mostly about how to make money.

I can read a 100-pager non-fiction book in the matter of an hour or so and absorb most of the salient points … I may then go back and work at snails pace through detailed explanations, if necessary.

And, I like to read books for instructions: do this, do that. Which I’m then pretty good at modifying for my own use.

So it was for my financial troubles; I started reading:

First Rich Dad, Poor Dad – the first book (and best, in terms of how it opened my eyes) on personal finance that I ever read.

Then The Richest Man In Babylon – which explained the power of compounding and reinvesting.

Then every other Robert Kiyosaki book that came out over the next four or five years.

And, I attended every financial spruiker seminar that came to town (Robert Kiyosaki, Peter Spann, Brad Sugars, and so on … )

… all the time looking for the ‘rules of the money game’.

What I found was that there was no ‘one size fits all’ set of financial rules that everybody should follow … but, there were various recommendations as to what you should do in this circumstance or that.

Over the years, by trial and error (largely a lot of trial – and tribulation – and plenty of error) I found various ‘rules of thumb’ that seemed to make sense to me, and some that I had been following without even realizing it, just like the rules that Jeff questions:

Where are all these rules coming from? Did I miss a bunch of information in the brochure?

If I understand correctly, we have the 20% rule for home equity vs. net worth, 25% rule for mortgage vs. income, and now the 5% rule for cars.

I had been following these rules, largely by coincidence, for most of my successful working life (i.e. during my 7 year journey), when I chanced upon a book that I had never heard of, written by a guy I had never heard of, who lived in a (now) bushfire ravaged area not far from my home in Melbourne, of all places!

Naturally, I had to read the book …

He worked from the premise – one that I happened to agree with – that at least 75% of your Net Worth should be in investments – OUTSIDE of your home, your car, your possessions, and basically anything else that is unlikely to yield you an income or be readily salable at a profit (where will you live if you sell your house?).

That leaves 25% of your Net Worth to spend on: houses, cars, possessions, as follows:

20% House

2.5% Cars

2.5% Possessions

Simple; except that I’m happy to blur the lines a little between cars and other possessions into one 5% ‘pool’.

Of course, this only helped to understand how much equity to hold in these items, and not how much you should finance on a house (that’s where the 25% Income Rule comes in) and cars/possessions [AJC: Easy … buy used and pay cash!].

I have explained how these rules work in practice in these three posts (please follow any backlinks):

Your House

Your Cars and Other Possessions