Tin Stacker or Kite Flyer? Which one are you?

money kiteI fly kites and I stack tins. But, I mainly fly kites. And, it’s all because I understand the true value of money.

Do you? Let’s find out …

The money that you save has a value today and a value in the future.

Aside from money that you save as a short-term buffer against emergencies, or to pay for a trip or other expense coming up soon, the real value of money that you save today is the value that it can provide tomorrow.

But, the ‘tomorrow’ that I am talking about is the one that comes on the day that you decide to begin Life After Work. Some call this retirement; others call it semi-retirement; I call it early retirement … but, that’s really up to you.

So, a dollar today is exactly that: One Today Dollar.

But, in the future, two things happen to that dollar:

1. Inflation erodes it – robbing it of roughly half its value every 20 years, and

2. Investment returns grows it – increasing it according to the annual compound growth rate of that asset class.

With inflation pulling one way (down), you need to find an investment that moves the value of your savings the other way (up); how fast you need to move depends on (a) how much money you need (your Number) and (b) when you need it (your Date).

So, how fast do different types of investments grow?

Well, according to Michael Masterson in his book Seven Years To Seven Figures:

Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 6.48.05 PM

[AJC: The greater the returns – that is, the lower down the table – the more ‘actively’ this table assumes you will manage the asset e.g. you may only be able to achieve 15% returns on stocks if you follow a system such as Rule #1 Investing. And, without active management – e.g. rehab’ing, flipping; leveraging; etc. – real-estate may only keep pace with inflation]

That’s why the Future Value of $1 could be $100, in just 10 years, if you invest it in a business.

But, that same $1 could be worth only $1.45 in 10 years, if left in CD’s. Now, that’s before inflation …

If inflation runs at its historical average of 4% $1 is only worth $1 in 10 years, 20 years, or 40 years!

So, when Brooke says:

create the proper mindset. then its time to move on to more advanced lessons.

I whole-heartedly agree.

EXCEPT that the “proper mindset” that she – and most others – talk about is saving, paying off debt, saving, living frugally, and … saving.

Which is great, if you value every Today Dollar exactly the same as a Future Dollar.

But, I don’t.

And, neither should you … and, here’s why:

The very first thing that you should do when you are thinking about saving is think about:

How many Future Dollars do you need, when you stop work / retire?

I’m guessing that Number’s at least 20 to 40 times your current expenses, doubled for every 20 years that you are prepared to wait.

[AJC: Ironically, the less you are willing to risk to grow each Future Dollar now, the higher the multiple that you will need e.g. if you are content to keep your savings in mutual funds, then you will need closer to 40 times your current expenses, doubled for every 20 years that you are prepared to wait. If you are prepared to actively invest in some mixture of stocks, real-estate, and/or businesses, then you may only need 20 times]

How much is that for you?

I’m guessing it’s much more that you previously thought.

Now, what has any of this got to do with either flying kites or stacking tins?!

700-00074906Well, when you save, is it going to be so that you can line each Today Dollar that you collect by saving into a nice Today Dollar Tin with all of the others that you get, until you have enough to oil, salt and close … putting it away, with all the other tins that you collect in your working life until – in 20 or 40 years time – you pull all of those tins out of the Tin Storage Bank, dust them off, and find …

… exactly as many Future Dollars as you had Today Dollars, no more no less, and not enough?

Or, will you take each Today Dollar, and when you have enough, make a Future Dollar Kite (it can be a Business Kite, Real-Estate Kite, or possibly a Stock Kite) and let it soar?

And, if it crashes – when it crashes, because of storms and, well, kite-flying whilst you are learning is risky – will you then take a few more of your Today Dollars and make another, and another …

… until one flies, with each Today Dollar used in making it becoming 100 Future Dollars?

[AJC: Most likely, you will also be putting aside a few Today Dollar Tins of your own, for a rainy day – since it need not take many to make a few Kites, and you may as well save something whilst you are at it]

Tin Stacker or Kite Flyer? Which one you choose is up to you …

But, I must warn you – even though most of you are tin-stackers by nature, therefore, should not be surprised when your Future Dollar stock is well short of what I would consider a ‘nice retirement’ – I write solely for the kite-flyers out there!


Which would make you feel richer?

Last week I asked my readers what would make them feel richer: more income? Or, more net worth?

This was prompted by a Twitter Trail (my term for a thread on Twitter) that started with this:

@NoDebtPlan articulates the classic fallacy: income makes you feel richer because it can be turned into net worth.

But, that is illusory: if your net worth is invested wisely, it’s pretty hard to lose all of it.

On the other hand, ask the millions of people who are ‘down-sized’, get injured, relocated, become under-skilled, out-voted and so on just how easy it is to lose your entire income … and, as soon as your income stops, you begin to feel very poor indeed 🙁

Of course, what’s the use of net worth if not to create income?

So, while it is certainly true that income can create net worth … that’s the beginning of the chain, not the end.

The whole point of net worth is to (a) live in / drive in / enjoy and (b) to create an alternate (passive) source of income so that you can eventually stop work, should you so choose (or be forced into).

Now I’m not talking from some book that I read: I created my $7 million in 7 years simply by exchanging income (from my business) into assets (income-producing real-estate and stocks) … and, you should do the same:

Remember that Rule of 75% … without it you, too, will always be a slave to earning an income 😉

Applying the Formula for Wealth – Part II

The first part of the $7million7year Formula For Wealth is pretty simple, therefore so is its application:

Where (W)ealth is a function of (C)apital and (T)ime

It’s pretty useful for teaching your children to save part of their allowance; other than that, you need more help than I can give you if you still don’t know that you should be investing at least some of your money (i.e. capital) 😉

But, what about a more difficult questions? Like deciding whether or not you should pay off your mortgage early?

Dave Ramsey would suggest that you pay off your mortgage NOW and INVEST (presumably, once those funds are no longer required in order to pay off your mortgage) LATER.

According to the base formula, you are still putting your money into an asset (hence, creating Capital), and allowing that to sit for a long time, which has to be a good thing, right?

Of course it’s better than spending the money – perhaps literally eating your capital (fine dining, anyone?) …

… but, is it optimal from a wealth-building perspective? For that, you need to turn to the third part of the formula – the X-Factor:

The two sub-sections of this part of the equation simply suggest that (Re)ward is offset by (Ri)sk; you have to rely on other studies (or common sense) to realize that Risk and Reward are related: as you increase Reward, so – to a greater/lesser degree, depending where you are on the Risk/Reward curve – so do you increase Risk.

In other words, Risk is a dampener for Reward – otherwise, we’d be traveling to work by jumping out of planes and playing the options market, as a matter of course!

But, the same cannot be said for (L)everage and (D)rag …

Leverage is the ‘big secret’ of building wealth: increase leverage and you MULTIPLY your wealth.

Using other people’s money is one way to increase leverage … but, by paying off your home mortgage, you are DECREASING leverage!

According to the formula, that’s bad 😉

Interestingly, Peer to Peer lending also fails the leverage test.

You see, peer to peer lending, mortgage ‘wraps’, and other products where you are financing other people, reduces your Capital and increases their Leverage … the polar opposite of what you should be doing!

So, why do banks lend money, potentially reducing their leverage?


They’re not lending their money; they are borrowing money as well. They are leveraged to the full extent allowed by their law and their board of directors.

Which brings us back to risk:

As the banks proved before the financial crisis, applying too much leverage can be bad for your financial health.

What about risk and your home mortgage?

The argument often cited for paying down your home mortgage is one of decreasing risk. Yet, if you intend to live in the house for some extended period of time how is your risk increased / decreased by paying down debt?

How have you applied leverage to improve your wealth?


Applying the Formula for Wealth – Part I

There’s no point in having a formula – no matter how simple it may seem – if you don’t know how to APPLY it.

So it is with the $7million7year Formula For Wealth:

The beautiful thing about a formula like this – and, why I am so excited every time I get to share it with you – is that you don’t need to know anything about personal finance in order to answer the typical personal finance questions that arise … the formula makes the answers obvious.

Let’s take a really simple example, you earn money … so, you’re entitled to spend it right?

Well, what you do with your money is your own concern. But, if part of your plans include building wealth, what should you do?

Maslow’s Hierarchy puts physiological needs (food, water, warmth, etc.) right at the bottom, so you had better take care of all of the basic household expenses first. Then comes safety and security so you also had better take care of those brakes!

But, then come the ‘soft’ areas that cover the gamut of love and self-esteem, all the way to self-actualization and self-sufficiency. Which means that you have to take care of your future physiological needs etc. – but, that probably accounts for your basic spending and your 401k contributions.

Then you have to decide the tough issues: do you have more fun now (spend more now) or hold some back – better yet, invest – so that you can also have some fun later?

That’s a personal choice, but one that finding your Life’s Purpose will make much easier.

Which brings us back to the point where you’ve made the decision to build some wealth (e.g. your Number). And, that’s were the Formula For Wealth comes in really handy:

The formula for wealth merely says that (W)ealth is a function of (C)apital and (T)ime.

So, you need to start building capital – the earlier the better to also increase time – which means you shouldn’t spend that excess cash on going out and having (too much) fun, nor should you buy depreciating assets such as cars, furniture, and accessories (other than to satisfy the Maslow-needs for basic transport, protection and comfort).

And, the formula makes it pretty clear that the more your capital increases over time, the better. So, simply sticking your cash under the mattress probably won’t cut the mustard … you’ll need to start thinking about investments that grow your capital over (sufficient) time e.g. CD’s, bonds, stocks, or real-estate.

Nothing earth-shattering, so far. So, next time, let’s use the second part of the formula to answer one of the most commonly-debated questions in personal finance: should you pay off the mortgage on your home loan early, or just let it ride?

Suffer any bad beats lately?

I have to admit that it’s very exciting seeing my two real-estate development projects coming to fruition [AJC: this is the architect’s rendition of just one of my two condo projects … click on the image to enlarge it … go ahead … do it … I’ll love you for it].

I’ll get back to that in a sec’ …

… first, let me tell you about a conversation that I just had with a friend, while we were playing poker today:

FRIEND: Do you find any parallels between business and poker?

AJC: It’s uncanny, but yes I do … and, it’s caused me to totally rethink the way that I think about money

Well, not so much ‘totally rethink’ as remind me about some important Making Money 301 lessons that I seem to have forgotten …

…. but, I keep getting side-tracked; back to the poker:

Case in point: I had quickly tripled my starting stack in a cash game but, just as quickly lost it on a series of bad beats; bad calls (by them, not me); and bad luck.

When you’re running hot, you feel invincible.

When you’re running cold, nothing that you do turns out right.

… and, your poker bankroll quickly slips away.

Well, it’s pretty much the same thing in business and personal finance:

Your investments and/or businesses are ‘on fire’ … the market’s running hot, and – if you’re smart – you cash out at the peak, building up quite a bankroll.

Maybe you even reach your Number.

What should you do then? STOP and smell the roses!

But, the trouble is, greed and the adrenalin kicks in … you believe that you’ve got the Midas Touch. And, you push for the next project.

… and, that’s the one that gets you.

You know, market downturn, bad luck, bad advisers, etc., etc. sob, sob, sob.

Which is, perhaps, why Ill Liquidity asked me:

I don’t get it. You make a tidy sum and retire from the rat race, paying yourself a salary… why go forth and try new money making ventures?

Given my own ‘stop and smell the roses’ advice in that regard, I agree, it’s hard to understand. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to understand 😉

So, let me take a stab at explaining it; the story so far:

I made my $7 million in 7 years (mainly through reinvesting the profits of my businesses into buy/hold real-estate), and then made a heap more (by selling those businesses just before the 2008 crash), but ….

… then the crash hit, and here’s where my money went:

1. $1.5 million cash into my house in the US (you know I can’t sell that, right?)

2. $5 million cash into my house in Australia

3. 25% of what I sold the businesses for in taxes [AJC: sheesh!]

4. Lost 100% of my $3 million bonus on company stock price crash + taxes paid on the full $3 million [AJC: double sheesh! … but, it’s nice to know that I have a heap of capital gains tax credits to use for the rest of my life]

5. Gave my accountant $1 million to invest in the Aussie stock market for me … he promptly lost 75% in about 6 weeks. My fault for trying to time the market, not his 🙁

Don’t feel too sorry for me: when others try to get to sleep by counting sheep, I count millions!

My problem is this:

All of this bad luck and bad management has left me with assets – not including my $5 million primary residence – that I consider just enough to live my Life’s Purpose.

But, I am an über-pessimist and I really want a large margin for error.

Now, in my rational moments, I realize that my house provides me that i.e. as soon as the kids move out, in approx. 10 to 15 years, we will sell down into a, say, $2 million apartment, which would free up another $3 million (all in today’s dollars, but the price differential should still hold true).

But, even that’s not good enough for me.

So the question that I am wresting with – and, have decided to put off answering until I have building permits for both projects in my hands:

Will I take my own advice and sell both development sites (with permits) for a tidy profit (if all goes well), or will I pull the trigger and dump most of my net worth into these developments to get the Really Big Bucks?

Only time will tell … but, you will be amongst the first to know 🙂

In the meantime, have you suffered any ‘bad beats’ lately?

How much home should I buy?

A reader who works with RE, Whittier Homes, says:

I’m in the camp that you don’t leave too much equity tied up in the walls of a house. That being said there is a risk factor or a comfort zone that every investor has to know. The bottom line is you don’t want to get over leverage and get caught on the short end of a declining market.

Home equity is simply what your home is valued at (today) less what you still owe on it (today).

This leads me to think that I’ve never said … and, nobody’s ever asked: How much equity should I have in my own home?

Well, there’s a reason:

I have NOTHING to say about how much equity – as a % of your house value – and, EVERYTHING to say about how much equity – as a % of your Net Worth – you should have tied up in your own home.

In other words, your equity is a function of:

– How much your house costs to buy

– How much it increases in value over time

– How much deposit you have available now

– How much you choose to put in / take out of the value of your house over time

I have no advice as to how much you should spend on your house in the first place, that’s your business not mine 🙂

But, I do have some guidelines that pretty much help to answer the “how much home should I buy?” question (other than for your first home), albeit obliquely:

1. The 20% Rule ensures that you are always investing at least 75% of your entire Net Worth (after allowing for another 5% to be spent on ‘stuff’),

2. The 25% Income Rule ensures that if you do decide to borrow money to buy a home, that you do not overcommit your cashflow,

3. The Cash Cascade makes sure that if you do have a mortgage, that you don’t pay it off too quickly if better investing opportunities abound.

Put these ‘rules’ into practice and you won’t go too far wrong, when it comes to your own home …

The Formula For Wealth!

Oops, I made a couple of mistakes, and one of the millionaire ‘success factors’ that I believe in is to admit your mistakes, make restitution as best you can, and then move on.

My first mistake was taking a hot chilli from one of the tradesmen working on my house; I told him it was fine, but a minute or so later (when I was already in my car on the way home) it really hit and I was suffering for another 10 or 20 minutes. I decided that appropriate Restitution for this one was simply the embarrasment of ‘coming clean’, so I had to go back and tell him I’m not a real man, after all 😉

My second mistake was making a promise to the 7million7years who applied (and, were accepted) for my new 70 Millionaires … In Training! program that resulted in me (a) reducing the number of Foundation Members to 40 (was meant to be all 70) and (b) charging them $1 a year (it was meant to be totally free for life). We agreed that appropriate restitution was to donate $5 to a worthy charity for each Foundation Member ($5 x $40); I decided to do it for all 70 charter members (Foundation Members, plus full paying Premium Members) hence the receipt, above.

You gotta admit your mistakes and keep your promises …


The 7million7year approach is not to measure wealth by the amount of money that we have, or some arbitrary sum that we might wish to have, or even some really complicated ‘secret formula’, but to measure wealth by this simple formula:

Where RequiredAnnualIncome = f { LifePurpose }

[AJC: which simply means that your Required Annual Income is some Function of Your Life’s Purpose i.e. they are -or, at least, should be – totally related!]

You are wealthy, in 7million7year terms, when:

“Wealth Factor” Wealth < 1

Or, you can just go by Ill Liquidity’s formula:

Let E be earn and S be spending. If E E QED. The latter part of the statement is redundant. What about “if you can finance it you can own it?”

I finance therefore I can? 😛

The Golden Faucet

Ordinary folk don’t plan their finances during their working life, so what chance do they have in retirement?


But, that doesn’t apply to us smart folk who read personal finance blogs …

… WE plan our retirement according to either Poor Man methods, or Rich Man methods known only to a few i.e. The Rich!

By the end of this post, you will know the difference; whether you choose to believe me and what you choose to do with this information is entirely up to you 😉

So, here goes:

Conventional Personal Finance wisdom – clearly ascribed to by the majority of my readers – says that you pick a so-called ‘Safe Withdrawal Rate’ …

…. that is, the percentage of your retirement Nest Egg that you can withdraw to live off each year that you feel will be small enough that your money will last as long as you do.

A sensible objective, wouldn’t you think?

You can pick any % between 2% and 7% (even up to 10%, if you believe all of those Get Rich Quick books) and find some expert or study that supports your choice.

You then have a choice to

a) make that % a fixed amount of your initial retirement portfolio (e.g. let’s say that you retire with $1,000,000 and choose 4%, giving you an initial retirement salary of $40k p.a.), then increase that salary by c.p.i each year regardless of how your portfolio rises or falls [AJC: it’s called the “close your eyes and hang on tight” approach to retirement living], or

b) choose your preferred ‘safe’ withdrawal % and let that rise and fall according to the rise and fall of your your portfolio’s value … so, if you happen to retire a year before the next stock market crash, you could be withdrawing 4% of $1 mill. in one year, then 4% of $500k the next year [AJC: no problem, as long as you can stifle the urge to jump off a ledge when your income halves, as well]

Optimists will choose a withdrawal rate in the 5% to 7% range and pessimists will choose a withdrawal rate in the 3% to 5% range …

… Rich people will do neither!


Well, before you retire (i.e. now, while you are still working) you could draw a curve of your likely salary moves between now and retirement and you could pick a living standard that corresponds to that curve, using actuarial tables to basically create an inflation indexed annuity for yourself throughout your working life.

But you don’t.

Instead, you live according to your means – and, adjust as necessary – and, build up various safety nets (via cash reserves and insurances) as you deem prudent and necessary.

Why would you do any different after you retire?

Poor people who retire put their money in a bucket and a little trickles in (interest, dividends, capital appreciation) and a lot gushes out (inflation, taxes, expenses, disasters).

You have a bad year or three, overspend a little, a couple of health issues, and you’re screwed [AJC: it even happens to retired sports stars, movie stars, and musicians. Ever heard of MC Hammer?].

But it doesn’t happen to smart Rich people, because they don’t drink from a bucket … they drink from a golden faucet:

They create – then live from – an income, both before retirement and after!

Think about our energy crisis past, present and future … all resolvable (we hope!) by switching to an abundant source of clean, green, renewable energy.

Now, think about all of your spending crisis past, present and future … all resolvable (you hope!) by living within your means a.k.a. creating an abundant source of renewable income!

That income can come from a family business that you retire from but retain “passive” part-ownership of; from venture capital activities; from real-estate investments; and, so on … in fact, from any investment that produces a reliable income stream that tends to grow at least in line with inflation.

Here is how I planned it:

1. I used the Rule of 20 strictly for planning purposes [AJC: this sounds like a 5% withdrawal rate, but who said that I’m actually going to withdraw the 5% each year?!]

2. I started creating a Perpetual Money Machine: something that will produce income that I can live off; in my case, it was RE bought with (or, for which I already have built up) plenty of equity or cash to ensure a healthy positive cash flow.

3. To cover ‘bad years’ and other contingencies, I retain at least 25% of the income stream until I have built up enough for TWO YEARS of living expenses and then I reinvest whatever is left over (i.e. buy another property every few years).

So, what if something goes wrong as it did for me when the GFC hit leaving me with too much house, another house I can’t get rid of, and $2.5 million of unavoidable stock losses [AJC: part payment for my business came in UK stock … yuk!], resulting in not enough income?

You go back to MM201 and start again (hence, my commercial property development activities) …

… after all, history has shown that your first fortune is by far the hardest 🙂

I’m diversified …

Applications for the new $7 Million 7 Year Wealth System Guided Learning Experience are now closed. Thanks to all of those who applied … and, congratulations to those 30 who made it!

I’m not going to encourage my other readers to join, as I can’t see the point of paying $97/year for something that you could have got for free (well, for $1 a year). Anyhow, no advertising allowed on this blog … and, that even applies to me!

Instead, I hope that you will keep reading this blog, and that it will inspire and help you to make millions the good, ol’ fashioned way 🙂


Yes, I am well and truly diversified …

… and, it sucks!

Here are my current holdings, roughly:

$5.0 million – House in Australia

$1.5 million – House in USA (soon to be a rental)

$2.5 million – Cash in Bank/s

$1.0 Stock in UK (actually, 70% has just been converted to cash)

$1.0 million – Equity in 5 condos

$1.0 million – Equity in two development sites (could be up to $3 million – $6 million once permits are issued)

$1.0 million – Value of business (I still have a finance company running on ‘auto-pilot’)

… aside from the fact that I’ve over-invested in my Aussie house [AJC: see this post for the problem and how I intend to fix it], you can see why I am not happy:

– Too much in cash,

– Too much overseas, in chunks too small to be meaningful

– Too many ‘small’ chunks of $1 million

Ideally, I would like to bring some of those small chunks together, merge them with my cash (like so many drops of mercury) and do something useful with them …

…. by ‘useful’, I mean plonk as much as the bank requires into my two development projects, then use the proceeds to buy as many investment properties in the $1 million to $3 million price range that I can find, as long as the net result is free cashflow of $500k+ p.a.

Nowhere here do you see me saying:

– 30% in cash,

– 30% in real-estate,

– 30% in stocks

– 10% in venture capital

Mine will look more like:

– 80% – 90% real-estate (albeit, over a number of properties, rather than just one big’un),

– 5% – 10% cash for contingencies (up to approx. 2 year’s living expenses or $500k to $1 million, whichever is the lesser)

– 5% – 10% for ‘fun projects’ (e.g. venture capital investments).

Why so much in RE?

[AJC: It doesn’t have to be RE; how I invest my money is not how you should invest yours … but, the principle of NON-diversification is what’s important, here. And, I should clarify that, too: for you, non-diversification could be 95% in TIPS; 80% in AN index fund; 90% in just 4 or 5 stocks … in other words: it means, avoiding spreading across asset classes]

I can’t find the online reference, but Warren Buffett was asked at the 2008 Berkshire Hathaway AGM (which I attended, so I am paraphrasing exactly what I heard, here) how much of his net worth he would place into one position (Berkshire Hathaway doesn’t count, because it’s really a conglomerate).

Warren said that his biggest problem right now is that his investment war chest is so large that he is forced to buy many investments, however, he did point out that he was very happy in days long gone, when his investment in AMEX comprised nearly 60% of his net worth.

Charlie Munger (Warren’s long-time business partner) said that he would be equally happy to have close to 100% of his net worth in just one outstanding investment.

BTW: Charlie is a real ‘character’; short on words … long on wisdom!

Having sat on both sides, I can tell you that – right now – I am NOT happy being so ‘diversified’ … it annoys me, and I feel hamstrung in that I can’t bring my full financial weight to bear on any project.

But, each to their own … it’s just that certain rich peoples’ “own” = non-diversification 🙂


Adrian J Cartwood is on FaceBook … come and be friends!