You can be a millionaire in your lifetime …

Australia’s (now the world’s) richest woman is worth $25b or so …

… and, she says that you can be a millionaire:

There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire.

If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself – spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising and more time working. Become one of those people who work hard, invest and build and at the same time create employment and opportunities for others.

Of course, Gina Rinehart inherited one of the world’s biggest iron ore deposits …

… you and I have to find our own lump of wealth 😉

But, I agree with her sentiment: increase your income (“spend … more time working”) and put your money to work for you (“invest and build”).

If you do, getting to a million will be a snap:

If you start off earning $25,000 and work for 40 years (earning around $80k in your last pre-retirement year), and save just 10% of your annual salary (earning 8% on your money), you will have exactly $1,000,000.

Of course, you will be used to living on $72k p.a. ($80k less 10% for savings) by then, and $1m will ‘safely’ give you only half of that to live off … oh, and you can halve that twice again to allow for inflation, so you will really be retiring on the equivalent of $10k a year, today.

But, that’s not the point; the point is that you can be a millionaire in your lifetime …

Of course, getting to $7 million in your lifetime (let alone in 7 years) still won’t be a piece of cake!

But, that’s where this blog comes in 🙂

How to become a wealthy doctor?

We all have this image of doctors. We believe that that they are all-knowing and well … rich.

But, is that really the case? Let’s check out what this young doctor (a new reader), David, has to say:

I am a young physician (early 30s) making approximately 800k per year. After expenses and taxes, I am left with ~300k to save/invest. However, I have been making ~40k for the majority of my working life and am completely overwhelmed as to how to handle this chunk of change (unfortunately I received no financial education in medical school…). Do you have any advice as to how and where I should allocate this money? I am worried about investing too much money in one source and would like to be fairly diversified.

You see, right here is where doctors go wrong!

Firstly, $120k – $250k net spending money p.a. [AJC: my estimate, depending on how the taxes and other expenses work out] is, indeed, quite a large “chunk of change” …

… especially when jumping from $40k starting salary.

So, the first mistake that most people in this situation make is to immediately increase their standard of living. Now, a conservative person won’t increase their living standard to $120k less 10% (because that’s what the books tell you that you should ‘pay yourself first’), but the chances are that they will raise their living standard quite dramatically.

The $40k quickly becomes $60k as they equip themselves with a new car and some extra furniture and a larger TV or two … then $85k as they move into a bigger apartment (with a view) … then $120k as they step into a more committed relationship and buy the house, school the kids, and so on.

In other words, the treadmill has a way of increasing its speed until you forget that you are supposed to be ‘rich’.

You see, David’s sudden increase in income comes under the heading of ‘found money’; I’ll post on it soon …

… actually, read it in reverse order (i.e. read the second article first).
Then, you can tell me what you think David should do?


Installing an ATM in your business …

I met a small business owner a few weeks ago …

He was a smart young guy [AJC: aren’t they all?] who was setting up his own Internet design studio, building Internet-based software projects for other business owners.

His business is essentially a professional service business, and my advice to him was pretty much the same as I give to all professional service business owners (consultants, accountants, attorneys, doctors, etc.):

Except in rare circumstances, you don’t have a business, you have a high-paying job … with perks!

[AJC: the perks are around the tax benefits that attribute to business owners but not to paid employees; ask an accountant for examples.]

Most of these kinds of businesses don’t scale very well i.e. they can’t grow very large; they rely on the owners’ personal exertion (sometimes called ‘partners’); and, either can’t be sold, or can only be sold for small multiples of annual profit or turnover.

In short: you can’t rely on selling these businesses to fund your retirement.

But, what they do generally provide is income …

Because they are professional services, the owners are able to sell their own labor – and, those of their employees – at high multiples, usually generating excellent recurring revenue.

And, because they often take years of hard work and relationship building over many, many clients they can be quite “bullet-proof” (if well managed) in terms of providing that income reliably.

This was certainly the case for the young guy that I met.

Even though his agency was still quite young/small, it was already generating a nice income and showing signs of growing well.

My advice for him was to grow his personal income very slowly (this is advice that I would give to any business owner), and to pull as much money out of the business as possible (this is not advice that I would give to other business owners) …

… my advice was to treat the business as his personal ATM

[AJC: but not to the detriment of the business, or his partners, employees, clients, backers, etc.]

But, my advice was not to spend that ATM-cash on personal lifestyle building (homes, cars, vacations, etc.), but on passive investments.

I recommended that he use that cashflow to fund an aggressive investment portfolio, outside of his business: one that would one day grow to replace his personal income as generated by the business.

When the day comes that his passive income surpasses his personal business income, he becomes free.

What would you advise?

Are wealthy people more unethical?

It’s nice to see science magazines writing about money 🙂

This time , it’s trying to find a link between wealth and (a lack of) ethics.

This is not a new notion, just check out Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and it’s offshoot – and my favorite cartoon character – Scrooge McDuck and you need look no further.

But, I think that these scientists – and authors and cartoonists – miss the point:

You do not have to be unethical to make money …

… and, I think that it actually harms your chances as people often can spot unethical tendencies and will take that (correctly) as a sign that they cannot trust you.

However, if the study is correct, I think one explanation may simply be that wealthy people have been exposed to more opportunities to make the “should I be ethical or unethical in this situation?” decision.

More exposure simply means more unethical behavior evidenced.

For example, working on a production line may not produce wealth …

… but, it also may not produce many opportunities to take unethical action during the 8 hours a day that you are at work.

[AJC: although, you may have plenty of opportunity to indulge in unethical behavior after hours if that is your bent]

However, being in business or running around making real-estate investments may give you plenty of extra opportunities to (a) become wealthy and (b) exhibit unethical behavior both during and after hours, thereby giving you twice the exposure to both potential outcomes.

So, I think it is a case of increased exposure rather than cause and effect …

What do you think? Do you need to be unethical to make money? If so, is that a ‘cost’ you are willing to carry?

Strategy or Tactic?

What’s the difference between a strategy and a tactic?

The obligatory post-padding dictionary definitions here and here 😉

But, let me give you a personal finance example or two to explain why it’s critical that you know the difference!

If you spend some time on google, you will find whole blogs dedicated to “financial strategies” such as:

– managing your credit cards,

– eliminating debt,

– paying yourself first,

– building an emergency fund,

… and, so on.

Each blogger (or author – there’s been whole books written on each subject) will explain how his financial strategy will turn your life around.

But, these are not strategies at all … they are tactics, a means to an unknown end.

I’ll explain why …

For each of these tactics (or any other), I can give you a perfectly valid argument for why you should do the exact opposite of what the author recommends!

Here are couple of examples:

– The False War On Debt:

– The Zero Dollar Emergency Fund:

… and, if you go back through my blog [AJC: an easy way is to just search for the word “myth”] you will find counterpoints to all of these – and other – ‘recommended’ financial tactics.

The reason is that I have a personal financial strategic goal: I knew exactly where I wanted to be ($5 million), when I wanted to get there (5 years) and why.

[AJC: for an audacious goal, you need a very strong ‘why’ to help drive you there … it’s a very tough road, and you’ll need all the emotional ‘boost juice’ that you can get! This is one of my earliest posts; you should read it:].

With such a goal, I needed certain financial strategies to get there [AJC: I actually ended up with $7million in 7 years]; my strategy was:

– Increase my income dramatically (for me that was achieved by quickly growing my business),

– Invest as much of that income as possible in real-estate and stocks (instead of spending my business profits on bigger houses and faster cars).

Therefore, the tactics that I needed included:

– Take on as much debt as possible,

– Buy insurance and have lines of credit available (instead of having cash lying around idle) in case of emergency,

– Paying myself first, second, third and fourth (i.e. saving much more than 10% of my business-generated income),

– Obeying the 20% Rule.

So, next time you are looking for financial advice, take the trouble to understand your strategic goal: how much do you want? when do you want it? and, why?

If your goal is simply to retire with $1 million in 40 years, then go ahead and buy that Kindle and load it up with personal finance best-sellers!

However, if your goal is “large and soon” then you, too, will need to ignore most of the so-called “good financial advice” that is floating around so freely. That’s why I started writing this blog 🙂



Did I fail the Ultimate Money Test?

Financial ‘personality tests’ are fun. I like doing them; you should try this one.

Unfortunately, the results don’t always speak for themselves:

[AJC: the star is my score; very average, as I am in (almost) all things in life. The $7m7y logo to the top-right is how my financial performance probably compares to 99%+ of the population]

Whilst this is a pretty good test – much better than many others that I have seen – it will only identify average performance and sub-/super-performance perhaps to one standard deviation (for those statisticians amongst you) …

… however, these tests can’t identify the factors that produce the outliers i.e. the ones (like me) who can make $7 million in 7 years.

If you want to produce (slightly) better than average financial performance over your lifetime, use this test – and others like it – to identify areas of weakness, typically:

– Not saving enough,

– Overspending,

– Credit Card Debt,

… and so on.

All valid reasons why you may be in financial trouble today, but certainly not highly relevant to your chances of retiring rich and retiring soon.

If you do want extraordinary financial performance, keep reading read this blog 😉

Before you can find the answer …

Yes. Before you can find the right answer, you need to know the right question.

So it is with personal finance: most pf bloggers will answer a whole variety of questions:

– How can I become debt free?

– How can I pay off my credit cards?

– How can I save for retirement?

– How can I be more frugal?

BUT, these are not the questions that you need to be asking … at least, not at first.

No, there are only TWO questions that you need to ask. The first is in two parts, and it simply asks:

a) How much money do I need to support the life that I truly want to live? And, b) when do I want to begin?

I have a hypothesis about the typical answer to these questions, but the truth is that for every human being on this planet there is a different answer:

For some, it may be that they are happy doing what they are doing today, and are happy to keep doing it until they drop. For, them personal finance begins with maintaining their current lifestyle (which probably revolves around maintaining their employment) and staying healthy.

It probably also means learning all the lessons about personal finance that the blogosphere has to share: living below your means, eliminating debt, cutting up your credit cards, paying off your home, setting aside an emergency fund …

My second question – which I’ll come to in a moment – is moot for these lucky, satisfied, job-secure, working-class few.

But, my hypothesis is that most people are not satisfied with their current lifestyle … that you are not satisfied with your current lifestyle … that you:

– Want more time with your family,

– Want to indulge your hobbies and interests,

– Want to travel more,

– Want to be more relaxed and healthier,

… and, the list goes on.

And, I’ll wager that the limiting factor for you, right now, is money.

But, I’ll also bet that with a little thinking, you could come up with a salary that if a rich uncle were to pay it to you, would allow you to stop working full-time (or, altogether) and fund your ideal lifestyle.

I’ll also take a stab that ‘salary’ would bear little resemblance to your current salary.

But, if you can take an educated guess at what that ‘salary’ would need to be, I can tell you what your Number is (the answer to the first half of my first question) simply by telling you to multiply that amount by 20.

Let’s now assume that you have no rich uncle and have to amass this amount yourself …

How long will you give yourself to reach your goal so that you can begin to live the life you really want to live before you are too old to enjoy it?

I gave myself just 5 years to reach my Number of $5 million; in the end, I made $7 million in 7 years, starting $30k in debt.

[AJC: keep in mind that the longer you allow to reach your Number, the larger it will need to be because of the effects of inflation. For example, whatever Number you come up with today, you will need to add 50% if you aim to reach it in 10 years, and you will need to double it if you are prepared to wait 20 years … just to keep up with inflation.]

Which brings us to the second most important question in personal finance:

How am I going to get there?

For example, in order for me to reach a $5 million target in 5 years from a virtual standing start:

– I had to learn how to invest (I had no investments and no idea HOW to invest or WHAT to invest in)

– I had to turn my business around (it was breaking even, at best)

– I (more importantly, my family) had to sacrifice our existing life: we had to move overseas, my wife gave up her career, my children their friends, we all gave up our families for the 5 years we were away from home.

But, we all agreed that it would be worth it, because we had already answered the first question (both parts).

How about you?


Are polar bears left-handed?

polar bear

Here’s some interesting ‘information’ that I picked up:

Apparently, all Polar Bears are left-handed.

Well, it seems that there are two types of people in this world: those who will now run off and propagate this ‘fact’ at trivia and pub nights, and those who will go and check their sources.

I’m in the latter … now, I’m not obsessive about it, so this information ‘seems’ right, but I’ll let a polarbearophile prove me right or wrong with these Polar Bear Myths:

A hunting bear will cover its black nose while lying in wait for a seal.

Canadian biologist Ian Stirling has spent several thousand hours watching polar bears hunt. He has never seen one hide its nose, nor have other scientists.

The great white bears are left-pawed.

Scientists observing the animals haven’t noticed a preference. In fact, polar bears seem to use their right and left paws equally.

Polar bears use tools, including blocks of ice to kill their prey.

Scientist Ian Stirling believes that this assertion can be traced to unsuccessful hunts. After failing to catch a seal, a frustrated and angry polar bear may kick the snow, slap the ground — or hurl chunks of ice.

A polar bear’s hollow hairs conduct ultraviolet light to its black skin, thus capturing energy.

This theory was tested—and disproved—by physicist Daniel Koon.

The polar bear has a symbiotic relationship with the arctic fox, sharing its food in exchange for the fox’s warning system.

Not only is the bear-fox relationship not symbiotic, the little foxes often annoy the bears. An arctic fox will sometimes tease a bear by darting in to nip at its heels and will sometimes try to drive a bear off its prey.

Orca whales prey on polar bears.

This has never been observed.

Polar bears live at both poles.

Polar bears, of course, live only in the circumpolar North. They never encounter penguins, which do not live in the same regions as polar bears.

[AJC: Polar bears = Arctic and Greenland; Penguins = Antarctic, Australia and New Zealand. Get it??!!]



Well, if this is how many myths polar bears can generate, imagine how many there are about our favorite subject: personal finance?!

Here are just some that I have tried to dispel on this site:

The myth that entrepreneurs are driven by greed

The myth that a high income equates to wealth

The myth that diversification is one of the most important personal finance tools around

The myth that retirement planning centers around replacing your income

… and, I have written many, many more (just type the word ‘myth’ into the search box at the top of this page).

What myths (personal finance or otherwise) have you recently had cause to question?


Advice for a new multimillionaire!

I guess I am one of the few personal finance writers qualified to answer this interesting question that came to me the other day:

What advice would you give a new 32 year-old multimillionaire that you wish you had known at that age?

Firstly, don’t overestimate your wealth.

Spectrum (a Chicago-based consultancy that specializes in understanding the High Net Worth individual and family) surveyed a number of people whose net worth was in the $1m, $5mill, and $25m+ ranges about how much money that they would need in order to feel wealthy.

Almost invariably, the answer was: “about double”.

Having lived through the ups and downs of wealth, I think I understand the reason:

Wealthy people spend capital. What they should be spending is income.

That’s another way of saying that it’s very easy to live beyond your means no matter how much money you have.

Here’s how to control your wealth:

1. Take your capital and divide it by 20. That’s roughly how much you have a year to live off (if you’re going to live on bonds and savings, well, divide by 40 instead).

2. Invest 95% of the capital as though it’s the last money that you will ever see (because, it most likely is).

3. Be Rent Wealthy, not Buy Wealthy. Rent Wealthy means that you rent what you need: want to holiday in Aspen? Rent a villa … but do not, under any circumstances, buy one. Want to travel? Go First Class but do no buy the plane!

[Note my rule on personal ‘capital purchases’ (eg houses, cars, boats, etc.): only buy something when it makes absolutely no sense not to]

4. How you invest your money during Life After Work (a.k.a. early retirement) is VERY different to how you might invest your money while you’re still trying to build your fortune:

– Pre-retirement investments include: businesses, francises, property development, share trading, and so on.

– Post-retirement investments include: TIPS (inflation-protected bonds); dividend stocks; 100% owned commercial real-estate, and so on.

The sad reality is that most people who make multimillions that young do it by chance: inheritance, lottery, corporate payout.

Even when they do manage to earn it (as I did), not many people can make the mental switch from high-flying entrepreneur/investor/big-wig to conservative investor … in order to survive post ‘Your Big Windfall Event’ you’re going to have to make the switch.

The New Lexus 401k Hybrid …

This is actually a post about finance, so keep reading, even when it seems to be all about cars!

I have a 2009 BMW M3 Convertible. It chews through a tank of gas at least once a week. At Aus prices of $5.30 a gallon, it’s not cheap.

But, it is a heck of a lot of fun 😉

My wife counterbalances: she owns a 2009 Lexus 400 Hybrid. She grudgingly refills about once per month … sometimes I think that she must push the car up hills just to avoid having to refill early.

But, she also thinks playing Gas Roulette is a heck of a lot of fun.

My first car (actually second) in the US was a Mustang GT convertible. It had a monster V8 engine, sounded great with the roof down. Needed a gas station on every corner. Drove like a tank.

It was also a heck of a lot of fun.

But, it was the dumbest car I ever owned …

There was an air-scoop on the hood of the car. The idea of an air-scoop is to suck in extra air to the carburetors on the car to keep the engine happy.

An air-scoop is supposed to be a performance enhancement …

… except, it sticks up out of the hood, so it destroys some of the air-flow, increasing drag, actually decreasing performance and fuel economy.

But, the engineers are made to make the hard design choices: do the increases in performance (extra efficiencies in the carbies) offset the losses (extra drag)?

Naturally, the engineers are experts at what they do so we can trust them to make the right decision. Right?

Well, I would have thought so … until I bought my Mustang. You see, I’m a layman, but even I can tell that:

1. The Mustang has NO carburetors (neither does any modern car), nor does it have any turbo-chargers or anything else that required the injection of air that a hood air-scoop would provide.

2. Now, here’s the killer (just in case we have any engineers out there to dispute my point 1.): the scoop has no air-holes in it.

That’s right, it’s simply an imitation airscoop. A fashion accessory.

As a marketing device, simply designed to make me buy the car, it worked brilliantly!

In other words, it reduces the performance of the vehicle!

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Mustang performed well, and was fun to drive, but didn’t perform better than ‘advertised’. It’s (partially) a marketing con.

My wife’s hybrid is also (partially) a con.

She paid a lot of money to have a hybrid that clearly does save money. But, just like the Mustang, it is designed to perform less than optimally, I believe just to build a marketing story to help sell the product.

The Lexus Hybrid includes a dynamic dash that shows the power flow between the gas engine, the wheels, and the electric motors.

If you don’t understand how a hybrid works check out this video:

In essence, it’s a closed system that uses electric motors (and batteries) to augment the traditional 6 cylinder gasoline engine:

– The gas motor drives the vehicle at all times except when the car’s at rest

– It saves gas simply by ‘switching off’ the engine whenever the vehicle stops.

– The electric motors then restart the engine as the car begins to move (like ‘jump starting’ a car by pushing it downhill … you can even feel a very slight ‘jump’ as the engine kicks in)

– The gas engine then takes over again when the car is moving at a mile or two an hour

– The electric motor’s batteries never need recharging: they are simply charged by an alternator and whenever the car is coasting or braking (it’s called ‘regenerative braking’)

Now, just like the Mustang’s air-scoop, the problem is in the ‘performance enhancement’ of the recharging system. For example, let’s take a closer look at regenerative braking:

Whenever the car is coasting down a hill, it needs to be able to retain as much momentum as possible to help carry it up the next hill, otherwise you have to hit the gas pedal that tiny bit earlier.

The regenerative braking takes a bit of the car’s energy and turns it into electricity, creating additional friction which slows down the car. So you do have to hit the gas pedal that tinier bit earlier.

If you know your physics, introducing this extra step MUST reduce overall efficiency hence increase gas usage.

So, the hybrid works (because when you have to come to a complete stop, such as at a traffic light then you might as well put some energy into the batteries rather than simply heating up the brake pads), but it would work BETTER by turning OFF its regenerative braking ‘performance feature’ when coasting.

But, then that pretty display (image at top of post) wouldn’t be nearly so pretty 😉

What does this have to do with finance?

Well, your 401k is pretty much like my wife’s hybrid!

Sure, it helps to save money. Sure, it’s employer matched. Sure, it’s tax-protected.

But, it could be a lot BETTER simply by turning OFF some of the ‘performance enhancements’ that they’ve added to make the products SEEM more attractive to both employers and employees e.g.:

1. Choices of funds: it has been shown time and time again that long-term buy/hold investors would be better off either selecting their own stocks (if they have the necessary desire and aptitude) or simply putting their money into an ultra-low-cost Index Fund (e.g. S&P500).

All those other high-fee fund choices perform more poorly over the long run. So, why not eliminate them from the fund choices offered? Simple: marketing!

2. Additional services: Fund managers, and the guys that put together benefits plans for employers, offer all sorts of freebies & incentives to the employer to encourage them to buy THEIR funds and services; the problem is, these help the employer – not you. Worst of all, they cost you money. So, why not eliminate them? Simple: marketing!

So, a 401k performs a lot worse than it should, just so the marketing guys can pitch a better story.

Forget the Lexus Hybrid – and, your 401k – they don’t deliver on their promise.

Instead, hop into a BMW M3 – or, direct stocks, real-estate, or business investments – and, supercharge your life.

Unlike my wife’s Lexus Hybrid, or your 401k, their promise – living a little on the edge, but being thrilled with the results – is delivered in spades!

Marketing and performance, for once, are totally aligned 🙂