# Where’s the emergency?

When you get pulled over by the police for speeding, they often ask: “Where’s the fire?”

And, when anyone tells me that they have 3 to 12 months living expenses sitting in a CD, I have to ask: “where’s the emergency?”

The assumption is that you will have unexpected expenses at some time in your financial life, and you will have to come up with a way to fund them without having to sell the kids or the dog … but, definitely not your boat!

So, the questions are: Do you need an emergency fund? If so, how much should it hold?

Today Forward presents an interesting way to look at how much to hold in your Emergency Fund:

According to the author:

If you have a full year’s worth of expenses set aside, only once every 33 years would an emergency come up that would wipe out these reserves.

Basically, you look at the chart to see how often you would tap out the fund according to how large the fund is (i.e. how many months of expenses do you have set aside as an ’emergency fund’?):

• 0 months = 100%, guaranteed to have problems
• 1 month = 70% chance (or every 17 months)
• 2 months = 49% chance (or every 2 years)
• 3 months = 31% chance (or every 3 years)
• 6 months = 10% chance (or every 10 years)
• 1 year = 3% chance (or every 33 years)

But, these are hypothetical numbers; what is the real-world chance of an emergency cropping up?

Well, the Pew Research Center set out to find out the answer to that exact question …

… and, it was 34%

Only one in three of the 2,000 families surveyed had a ‘financial emergency’ in the past year.

Combining that with the graph above, and it would seem that you would need about 3 months living expenses set aside.

However, I think it’s also important to answer one more question: how much will the average ’emergency’ cost?

Well, the Consumer Federation of America found the figure to be surprisingly low:

Households … typically report unexpected expenditures annually of only \$2,000.

What are these unexpected (or ’emergency’) expenditures?

The Pew Research study found they typically fell into the following major categories (which add up to more than 34% because many families reported more than one category as having occurred in the same year):

Given that the chance of an ’emergency’ is so low (34% in any one year), and the reality is that most are affordable (~\$2,000 in any one year), why carry an emergency fund at all?

Let’s take a closer look …

Let’s say that you earn \$50,000 and pay 25% tax. Since you keep an emergency fund, let’s also assume that you save 20% of your take-home. That means that a 3 months living expenses ’emergency fund’ for you is around \$7,500.

Since you’re going to need to keep it in a CD (earning just 1%) instead of investing it (8%+), you are giving up at least 7% interest (or, \$525 in Year 1) compounded.

On the other hand, you have a 34% chance of having an ’emergency’, which will then cost you \$2,000. Where will that money come from? Well your break-even point on that expense, if you had to borrow it, would be 26%.

So, borrow it on your credit card for all I care!

[AJC: Actually, I do care … the key is to have a plan to pay it off within 12 months; if you do, then a 0% card set aside for exactly that purpose would be ideal. Borrowing against your home via a HELOC would be OK, too, as would borrowing against your 401k. Sure you wouldn’t like to do any of these things, but you are dealing with the unexpected so a little short-term discomfort is probably OK]

Now, the reality is that if you were merely going to stick the \$7,500 in an index fund, and earn an extra \$500 or so, then I would say just go for the emergency fund … for your peace of mind.

But, why have it lying around earning next to nothing, when it could be the seed capital for your new business or the deposit on your first piece of investment real-estate?

Oh, and if you’re worried about the possibility of losing your job, well, don’t (unless you have GOOD reason to) …

… I’m not sure how different these numbers are in the USA, but if you live in the UK (according to MetLife) you have only a 6% chance of losing your job in any one year. And, when you do, you have a 30% chance of getting a job within the next 3 months, or close to 100% chance in the next 9 months.

Rather than putting your retirement at risk by setting aside too much money for an event that has only a small chance of occurring, realize that:

1. Your money is always better off working for you, and

2. While you are able to work, you can always borrow (and pay back) enough to recover from any financial catastrophe that the typical emergency fund is large enough to cover.

That’s why, at least in my mind, the best defense is always a good offense 🙂

# How to dig yourself out of a financial hole …

If you’d like to catch my nationally syndicated radio interview on Financial Safari With Coach Pete, click this link:

_______________

I really feel for the author when I receive an e-mail like this one from Rick:

My wife is leaving her job in December, I’m a paramedic here in Chicago and we’re both college graduates.  Our house is upside down, we don’t have much in the way of savings for retirement or otherwise and we’re trying everything to stay afloat financially.  Any help would be appreciated.

[AJC: I changed Rick’s job and location to protect his anonymity]

The worst part is that I can’t really help Rick, for a couple of reasons:

1. I’m not a qualified financial adviser;

2. I don’t know anything about Rick, other than what he has told me in (exactly) 50 words.

But, I can give Rick one piece of specific advice: see a qualified financial professional to help you decide how to deal with your ‘upside down’ house, and work out why you aren’t saving enough, and what to do about it.

I can also give a fairly general piece of advice that Rick can choose to follow or not; and, it’s the same advice that I would give just about anybody who is in a similar situation (under-employed; under-saved; and under-water on their house):

The best way to dig yourself out of a financial hole is to …

… find a way to increase your income!

Cutting costs, while admirable – necessary even – is simply too limited to produce the sort of financial turnaround that Rick and others like him need.

Maybe, Rick can turn his wife’s loss of income into a blessing by refocussing her on starting a business, even it it’s while she actively looks for new employment … a business that can be run part-time (at first) when she does manage to find a new job.

I would give similar advice to Philip, who is desperate for the opportunity to shake off the shackles of being imprisoned in a job:

In 5 years I’d like to not have an office job anymore, working for myself/having my own business. I’m stuck in a job, so I keep it to pay my bills. Designers don’t earn much, so I can’t exactly bankroll my parents’ retirement. I’ve been too afraid to go out on my own.

The best way for you (and, Philip) to overcome your fear of becoming your own boss is to actually start …

… but, start part-time.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, and can quickly lead to more/better opportunities in ways that you could not have predicted in advance: for example, and in Philip’s case, designers can freelance, work (cheaply) on crowd-sourcing sites such as Freelancer.com, 99designs, fiverr.com, and so on.

Even better, Philip could use his own design skills to help create his own web-site or product, and run that part-time to earn some extra \$\$\$ and learn how to run a business – building up his confidence in the process, even if the business never truly takes off.

On the other hand, the business may suddenly find its own life and give Philip the confidence to quit his job and start working on it full-time.

Now, unlike Philip, you may not be a designer … I assume that Rick’s wife isn’t either … but, there are plenty of businesses that you can start part-time that require very little money.

Here are some thought starters (if a teenager can do ’em, surely you can?!): What are some potential low-cost businesses that can be started and operated by a teenager?

But, you’ll never know if you don’t start …

.

# Personal Finance = Emotive Finance

How many of you can honestly … and, I mean honestly … say that you are totally rational about money, and your personal relationship with it?

If that’s you, think again …

All financial decisions are made emotionally, then justified rationally later.

Of course, there will be a very few, clinical souls out there who are able to be totally rational about their personal finances: they read all the (good) books and blogs; they follow the experts; they max their 401k’s (at least to take full advantage of the company match); they examine investment classes and returns; and, they (generally) make sound investments.

But, they will never be rich.

Here’s why: in order to become rich, you need to drive your required annual compound growth rate sky high.

That takes passion … the kind of passion that drives massive action … and, it’s the massive action that will eventually lead to outstanding results.

But, passion is fueled by base emotion.

And, the two most powerful emotions – when it comes to money – are:

Fear and Greed.

I think, by far, the most useful of these two emotions is Fear.

You see, Greed will drive you to take speculative risks that may (highly unlikely) make you rich, or may (likely) send you broke. Even if you fail, Greed will make you try and try again, until you become rich …

or, you keep on failing until we simply never hear from you again.

But, Fear is the slow burn.

It drives some of us to:

– Create emergency funds: because we fear that we’ll run out of money

– Diversify: because we fear the market will tank

– Pay Off Debt: because … well … just because!

– Max our 401k’s: because we’re scared of retirement

– Live Frugally: because we’re simply too scared to spend money

Unfortunately, these tactics simply pander to your fear …

The irony is that these are the exact same financial mistakes that will – for most of us – bring about the outcome that we most fear: lack of financial security.

But, Fear also drives a fortunate few  of us to succeed, because we fear:

– That we won’t be financially secure

– That we will have to work for the next 40 years in a job that we will grow to hate

– That we will be overtaken by others

– and, so on …

So, we use that powerful emotion to push us well and truly out of our ‘comfort zone’ and help drive us to the only rational solution available: making the short term sacrifices, and taking the short-term (but, calculated) risks, that will ensure that we never have to worry about money again.

Still, if you discuss your wealth – or, desire for wealth – with most people, they will assume it’s Greed that drives you; typical is Kevin’s (@ Ask For Benefits) response:

Even 7 million is not enough if you allow your net worth and lifestyle to become your idol. At 7 million you begin to think, “if only I had 8, then I would be happy”.

True, for the person driven by money and Greed, \$7 million won’t be enough … and, neither will \$8 million. They’ll keep going and going until something stops them.

But, for the person driven by Fear – like me – we stop exactly when we have what we set out to get. And, that amount has been carefully calculated in advance to match exactly what we need for a financially safe, and fulfilling life.

No more, no less will do …

# How do I multiply my money?

This is quite typical of the questions that I am asked:

How do I turn \$20k, to \$50k, to \$100k, to \$300k, to \$1m etc. through the process of investment in different markets and/or general investing whether it be in an idea, or business.

Who could argue with a nice, smooth progression like this? 😉

However, our reader is missing two things in her question: 1. time frame and 2. an objective.

With the “etc.” on the end and the jumps of 2x to 3x between the values in this series, I am assuming that her plan is to keep going past \$1 million to \$3 million and then to \$10 million (or more).

Also, I will assume that she plans to take 2 years for each ‘jump’ i.e. from \$20k to \$50k, \$50k to \$100k, \$100k to \$300k, and \$300k to \$1million … an 8 year period in total.

A few minutes with an online compound growth rate calculator (http://www.investopedia.com/calc… ) will show her that she needs a 63% annual return from her ‘investments’.

Shooting for \$10 million in 12 years increases the required return to 68% and stretching her time frame to 3 years between ‘jumps’ reduces her required return to a ‘more manageable’ 40% annual return.

Now, what to invest in for that kind of return?

The reason for the higher returns as you work your way down the table is: higher risk + more hands on + leverage of time (using Other People’s Time) + leverage of money (using Other People’s Money).

No ‘passive’ investments allowed …

Who ever said it was going to be easy?!

# Avoid dead money …

Welcome PT Money and Dinks Finance readers!

Here is my guest post at Dinks Finance: http://www.dinksfinance.com/2012/11/why-1-million-will-never-be-enough/ and PT Money: http://ptmoney.com/not-all-debt-is-bad/

Now, back to today’s post, which is about Emergency Funds (and, why you should NOT have one) …

_________________

To me emergency funds are dead money …

This is a controversial idea, so I get a lot of flack every time that I share my thoughts on this … but, I also get some agreement from readers like Milton:

A number of responses to your guest post seemed to misunderstand what you were saying about emergency funds. Your standard PF emergency fund is cash that is sitting in a bank account and earning a microscopic return that is being outpaced by inflation.

Some people … are sinking in debt, paying 18-25% on debt while their emergency fund earns less than 1%. It’s as if they don’t understand that those high-interest debts ARE THE EMERGENCY.

It seems idiotic, as Milton points out, to pay 18% on a \$2,000 (say) credit card balance when you may have \$10k cash ’emergency fund’ sitting in a CD (earning just 1.05%).

And, if you agree with that …

… then, why is it such a leap to realize that instead of even trying to build up an emergency fund of \$10k (so that you can earn 1%) you should be trying to build up an investment fund (so that you can earn 8%+)?

But, that’s not the only ‘dead money’ that you need to mop up:

[/BEGIN SEGWAY]

If you agree that earning 8% is better than earning 1%, why would you try and pay off your 1% student loan instead of investing that money at 8%?

Hmmm …

Now, that suddenly opens up a whole new way of thinking about debt, doesn’t it?

# How to become financially secure …

When I moved to the USA, I was surprised to see so many old people (old, in the sense that they seemed well over ‘retirement age’) working the checkouts at supermarkets.

I was told that it’s because they need the employer health benefits.

But, soon (if not already) it will simply be because they need the money.

Right now, according to Wells Fargo, 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 25 and 75 believe that they will be working until they are 80 years old. Not because they want to, but because they believe they will need to.

And, they are correct.

Unless you can live on just 50% of your current paycheck, so that you can save at least 50% of your income for the next 17 years (or, save at least 25% of your income, if you’re happy relying on Social Security for the rest of your life), you will simply not be able to afford to retire.

And, there’s yet another problem with these ‘save your way to wealth’ strategies: they all assume that you’re actually happy living on your current after-savings income. Well, are you?

I didn’t think so 😉

That’s why I decided to fly in the face of commonly-accepted personal finance ‘wisdom’ and start blogging here …

I think that true personal financial planning starts with just two questions that you need to answer very, very honestly and carefully because they will set your whole Financial – indeed Life – Strategy from this point on:

1. How much income do you want when you begin life after work?

2. When do you want to begin life after work?

Together, these two answers will then direct you to everything else that you need to know:

How much do you need before you can retire?

This is called your Number, and is very easy to work out in two simple steps:

STEP 1 – Double your answer to the first question for every 20 years in your answer to the second question.

Let’s say that you decided that you want \$25,000 a year income (in today’s dollars) in 30 years time. You would double that to account for the first 20 years (\$50,000), and add another 50% for the next 10 years (\$75,000).

This is simply to help you account for inflation …

If inflation averages just 4% for the next 30 years, you will need to earn \$75,000 a year in retirement just to maintain the same spending power as \$25,000 today!

[AJC: because everything will cost 3 times as much by 2032. Imagine: gas at \$10.50 a gallon; \$7.50 for a loaf of bread; etc.].

STEP 2 – Multiply by 20. Multiply your Step 1 answer by 20.

For example, if your inflated income goal was \$75,000 p.a. in 30 years time, then your Number would be \$1,500,000.

This is how much you would need to have saved up over 30 years, so that – in theory – you can retire on your own resources (for example, you would not need to rely on Social Security).

But, I’m guessing that even if you are earning \$25,000 p.a. today, that this is not the amount you chose for Question 1.

I’m guessing that how much you really want to earn (i.e. the minimum amount that you feel would make you happy, healthy, and financially secure) is more … probably a lot more … than you are earning today.

Worse, you probably won’t want to wait 30 years to get there. I’m guessing that you want to stop needing to work (as opposed to having the financial flexibility to choose if/when you decide to work) sooner … probably a lot sooner.

[AJC: this is not true for everybody; there are plenty of people who enjoy what they’re doing so much that they cannot imagine doing anything else. This was me … until I did reach my Number and found out how much happier I could be choosing what I do – and don’t – want to work on each day.]

Plug your numbers into the above two steps and let me know (via the comments) what you come up with?

How will you get your Number?

To give you an example, I decided that my Number was \$5 million and my Date (i.e. when I wanted to get there) was 5 years.

This was fairly simple to calculate: I decided that I needed \$250,000 p.a. passive income (i.e. without needing to work). Since it was in just 5 years time, I didn’t bother adjusting for inflation (I could have added ~25%). Instead, I just multiplied by 20 … \$5 million.

It’s pretty clear that I couldn’t save \$5 million in just 5 years (after all, at that time I was still \$30,000 in debt). And, it’s likely that you won’t be able to either.

[Hint: You would need to be able to save the entire amount of your desired income (Question 1.) each year for 17 years, earning at least 8% (after tax), in order to replace it in retirement.]

So, if you can’t save your way to wealth, what can you do?

It’s simple: you do two things:

1. Increase your income

There are lots of ways to do this: get a promotion; send your spouse back to work; get a second job; and so on. Necessity is the mother of invention … if you are really motivated, you will find a way.

However, my current favorite method is to start a part-time business. Why?

Well, it can grow in an unlimited fashion; it could even replace your primary income; it can create strong cashflow; if you pick the right kind of business, it can be started on your kitchen table.

My current favorite kind of part-time business is one that you can start online. Why?

Well, you don’t need much money and you probably don’t need any staff (at least, to begin). And, an online business can be so cheap to start that if you fail (and, let’s face it, you probably will) you can quickly and easily start another, and another, and …

2. Invest it all

It’s all well and good to increase your income and save as much of it (and, your current income) as possible. But, if inflation is running at just 2% (the last time I checked, it was 1.99%), and all you can get on your CD’s is 1% (Bankrate points to rates around 1.05%), then you’ve lost the ‘inflation race’ even before you’ve started.

It should be clear that it’s not enough to earn more, and save more …

… you also need to earn more on the money you save.

How much more?

Well, that’s when you need to plug some numbers into an online ‘savings goal’ calculator:

Here’s how to make it work; plug in:

(i) How much money are you starting with?

Do you have any money in your current savings that you can tap into: CD’s; index funds; 401k; emergency fund; etc.)? In my example, even though I started \$30,000 in debt, I plugged in \$1,000 as the calculator doesn’t work very well with negative numbers. I could just as easily have plugged in \$0, but I chose \$1,000.

(ii) How much can you put aside to invest each month?

This is your current rate of savings outside of your 401k + the entire income from your side business.

This is difficult, because the amount that you might generate in monthly income will probably change over time. There’s not much you can do about this (without finding a much more sophisticated calculator or spreadsheet), so I just chose an average of \$10,000 a month (or \$120,000 a year) as a nice, round-figure estimate of my expected savings (driven largely by the expected profits of my part-time business).

(iii) What is your Date?

This is how long you have until you need to begin tapping into your money. I chose 5 years.

(iv) What is your Number?

This is how large your investment account needs to grow. So, I plugged in my Number of  \$5,000,000 and my Date of 5 years (as my end date).

Then, here’s where it gets fun: I started playing with Interest Rates to find the rough point where the calculator said that I could reach my goal (i.e. 70%). If I plugged in any figure less than 70% the calculator showed a message that said: “Oops. Your savings plan goes into the red.” … so, this was just trial and error to find the lowest number that didn’t produce this message. For me (in 5% increments) the answer came to an annual ‘interest rate’ of 70% .

That’s it!

How do I know that this works? Well, I have the benefit of hindsight 😉

But, that’s not the point: the point is to show you:

a) Not only do you need to save (a lot) more than you ever thought reasonable, but

b) You also may need to earn (a lot) more on your investments than is possible with CD’s (<1% annual return, after tax) or index funds (<8% annual return, after tax).

So, this leads us to the last piece of the puzzle:

What should you invest in?

Most people invest in whatever gives them the greatest possible return (they are the risk-takers), whatever their family/friends/advisers recommend (they are the followers), or whatever they understand (they are people of habit).

Instead, I want you to consider a totally new way to choose your investments: invest in whatever investment produces the lowest rate of return that you require with the minimum risk.

This usually means comparing the ‘interest rate’ that you came up with when using the online calculator against this table:

`[Source: 7 Years To 7 Figures by Michael Masterson]`

So, at a 70% required interest rate, I had no choice but to start my own business (just as well, because I was already in one); but, I supplemented by heavily investing in real-estate and some stocks.

On the other hand, you may be lucky enough (because your Number is small enough; your date long enough; and/or the amount you can save monthly is large enough) to require a much lower interest rate …

… if that’s the case, you may be able to stick with your CD or Index Fund investing strategy. But, the chances are that you will need to push the envelope … a lot.

I promised in my last post that I would close this three-part series with my “strategies for real financial security”.

In this post, I showed you that the Number that means financial security is different for everybody, but I also showed you a very quick way to find yours.

That’s the starting point.

Then I showed you what kind of investment strategies you would need to follow, if you want to have any real chance of reaching your Number.

Now, it’s up to you to begin putting in place your plans to get there, starting with learning how to invest in stocks, real-estate, and/or small business.

For my part, I decided to start writing this blog (and, now my book) to help those whose required growth rate / interest rate is at the higher end of the spectrum, simply because most other blogs focus on those at the lower end.

If your required growth rate is high, as I suspect it may be, you have a huge job ahead of you

… but, if you don’t make the effort now, go back and read these three posts and you’ll quickly realize that you’ll have an even bigger problem later.

So, keep reading, keep commenting, and keep e-mailing me with questions [ajc AT 7million7years DOT com],  and I’ll do my very best to help!

# There is no middle ground …

To me, making \$7 million in 7 years (or some other Large Number / Soon Date) is not the goal … at least, it was never the goal for me.

My goal was always to become financially free and have the ability to live my Life’s Purpose.

It just so happened that, when I crunched the numbers, I found out that I needed to make \$5 million in 5 years.

[AJC: now, thanks to my book, this process has been highly simplified, if you want to do the same]

I failed on the time frame, but ended up with \$7 million in 7 years and promptly retired, at the ripe old age of 49. Now, I blog here (amongst other enjoyable ‘give back’ things that I do).

Fortunately, the goal for some is a lot lower.

For example, in my last post I showed that – if you are happy living on just 50% of your current income for the rest of your life (after adjusting for inflation) – you just need to save 50% of your paycheck every week for the next 17 years.

If this is you, then you need to be reading blogs other than this; you need to save/save/save, max your 401k, pay off all of your debt, and stay very frugal. After all, living on half a paycheck is not easy 🙁

But, what about the rest of us?

Well, I asked you to spend some time with an online retirement calculator; if you took my advice, you probably found something like this:

This means that a couple earning a combined \$50k a year today (with 20 years left until retirement), saving a full 10% of their income, has only a 50% chance of their money lasting as long as they do … even if they receive full Social Security benefits for the next 40+ years!

Without Social Security, this couple has virtually no chance at all (1%) of their money lasting as long as they do even if they save 15% of their paycheck for the next 20 years. If they manage to save 25% of their combined pay for 20 years, their chances of financial survival are still less than 25%.

How does creating an emergency fund, paying off all debt, and paying yourself first actually help these people financially survive after half a lifetime of work?

In the above context, I don’t think it helps much, at all.

Really, most traditional personal finance boils down to: saving 50% of your pay packet for the next 17 years, or taking your chances on Uncle Sam looking after you for the rest of your non-working life. The rest is fluff.

If that doesn’t appeal, stick around for the final part of this three part series, where I’ll share my strategies for real financial security.