The paragraphs below are excerpts from the book, Wealth Conundrum written by Spectrum’s CEO and Head Portfolio Manager Ralph Doudera. In Chapter 10 of his book, Ralph offers his opinion and suggestions for leading a life of financial freedom. If you would like a free copy of the complete book, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and mailing information.
Chapter 10: A Life of Financial Freedom
Anyone can achieve a life of financial freedom if they understand how to play the game.
Over the years I have learned not to make it my sole object in life to accumulate great wealth. However, I have achieved some success in discovering wealth-building rules that work even for those not yet ready to begin a lifestyle of giving. I wish someone had told me about them when I started out.
Financial freedom is a common desire of everyone, but like everything else there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. How you take the journey determines the quality of life you experience once you get there.
Principle 1: Dedicate Your Possessions
Dr. E. Stanley Jones used to say, “A road that perhaps more than any other leads to self-atrophy is undedicated money.”
Principle 2: Start Early
It cannot be emphasized enough the impact that time has on compound interest. Get started early. Don’t wait. If you’re going to need lumber when you are 65, you don’t want to plant acorns when you are 50.
Principle 3: Set Personal Financial Goals
Each person needs to set personal financial goals, and then establish a plan to achieve them. Determine what you want to do with your wealth, how much you will need, and when you will need it. Then begin planning carefully what income streams you will use to produce that wealth.
Principle 4: Pay Yourself Before Spending
The next principle is to “pay yourself” by setting aside some of your income in a separate account before that money becomes accessible for expenses. This could be a retirement or investment account that is not easily accessible, so it does not turn into a “deferred spending” account. I recommend setting aside a minimum of 10 to 20 percent of income for personal investment. Then go ahead and enjoy spending and giving away the rest! This percentage will vary depending on age and family situation, but 10 to 20 percent of income should be a benchmark.
Principle 5: Build Wealth Slowly, And Be Patient
The basic concept of wealth building is to build it slowly. Avoid get-rich-quick schemes. The faster you try to get rich, the quicker you lose money on risky ventures. Each of my newsletters includes a Proverb by one of the wealthiest men who ever lived, Solomon: “Steady plodding brings prosperity, hasty speculation brings poverty.” Proverbs 21: 5
Time is a necessary ingredient for investments to work in your favor. Your investment may start out as small as an acorn, but it increases by a certain percentage each year, and eventually through exponential growth it’s a mighty oak tree. If you stand watching a teakettle, it takes forever to boil, but if you walk away and do something else, before you know it, it whistles!
Every person alive can be financially independent if they take the right actions, and take responsibility for their own destiny.
Investments work the same way. When your money is invested, stop watching it and enjoy life instead of worrying about it every day. Before you know it, the funds will double, and then double again.
Principle 6: Lotteries are For Losers
Lotteries are one of the largest revenue generators for state governments, and participants, in their ignorance, don’t seem to mind contributing. The lottery contributes to the inherited cure of entitlement programs. It plays on the mindset of getting something for nothing. Whenever I see someone buying a lottery ticket, I feel badly for them and wish I could help them understand this principle: Regular saving will make everyone wealth, given enough time, but lotteries are for losers.
Principle 7: Spend Less Than You Earn
This stewardship concept seems simple in theory but plays havoc with our lives when we have a “natural” mindset. Normally, if we have the money and want something, we buy it. We have to help ourselves save by putting some money out of reach.
No millionaire on this planet got that way by spending 100% of the money he or she made.
Principle 8: Record Your Expenses
A key to accountability is keeping track of where you spend your money. When I got my first job, my wife and I kept a logbook where we kept track of every dollar that we spent. I mean literally every dollar. If you don’t know where your money is going, you can’t figure out how to spend less, how to budget, and how to save.
Principle 9: Compound Interest
The two words: COMPOUND INTEREST should be capitalized whenever used together. Compound interest is a secret of wealth that very few people understand. Principal (money), time, and rate of
growth come together in such a dynamic force that if one could live long enough, and maintain a steady growth rate, he would end up with all the money in the world. Did you ever wonder why all the rich people are old?! It’s compound interest!
Albert Einstein said compound interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time, not E=mc².
Principle 10: Use IRA and Other Tax-Deferred Investments
A tax deferred investment account is a powerful concept over time. An IRA or company retirement plan is a good idea because earnings on the investment are not subject to taxes as the money grows. (The contributions may also be deductible against current income.) For example, $10,000 placed into an IRA earning 10% interest will be worth $174,000 in 30 years if the earnings are not subject to annual income taxes, but worth only $76,000 if in a taxable account subject to taxation in a 30% tax bracket.
If a college graduate invested in an IRA all the money he or she would otherwise have spent on their first new car, when they turned age 65 they would be a millionaire, even after adjusting for inflation.
Maximize your contributions to any qualified retirement program such as a 401(k), particularly if there is an employee matching contribution. Annuities (both fixed and variable) are a good tax-deferred investment idea. Unlike a qualified retirement IRA, which has contribution limits, there are no limits on how much can be invested in an investment annuity. A Roth IRA also fits in this tax-free category, where funds are not deductible when invested, but grow tax-free, and are also tax-free when paid out. This should be one of the first investments most young people should consider.
Principle 11: Never Borrow To Buy A Depreciating Asset
People who use credit cards to purchase things and pay 12 to 20 percent interest rates will forever live in poverty. My longstanding rule of financial prosperity has always been “never borrow money to purchase anything that does not increase in value.” If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. Use credit cards only for convenience and pay them off in full each month.
Principle 12: Don’t Buy A Car Until You First Save The Money
One time I was searching the classifieds for a used car and saw an ad looking for someone to take over car payments. When I called and asked how much cash he wanted for the car, he said he didn’t know. He only knew what the payments were, and he probably owed more than the value of the car. Don’t buy a car until you have saved enough money to pay for it. An exception for this may be if the car is used for business to generate income or if needed to get to work, but newer used cars can be cost-effective.
Principle 13: Borrow Money Only For Investments or Home Mortgages
Borrowing funds to purchase higher yielding assets may make sense if you are able to evaluate the risks involved. One example would be purchasing a piece of income-producing property where the income exceeds the debt service. This concept can create wealth if the property appreciates over time.
However, if your tenant moves out, you must assume the risk of making the payments on the loan, as well as potentially watching the property drop in value.
Home mortgage debt may be the one exception that I would suggest to people who are disciplined and able to invest wisely. By taking out a long-term, low-interest, tax-deductible mortgage and by creating a separate side investment fund instead of paying off the mortgage early, you can eventually be in a position to pay off the debt if you choose. Meanwhile, you will be earning income by investing separately with your other funds. Of course, this will only work if you don’t spend the funds and if you earn a higher return on your investments than the interest you are paying for your mortgage.
I recognize that many people may be more comfortable having no debt, as it certainly does give a more secure feeling to have no mortgage payments. But if you have the option of paying off the mortgage at any time, you are not putting yourself into a position of having to make payments from wages. Each person’s financial freedom number is reached when passive income is equal to expenses.
Principle 14: Stay Out Of Debt
Other than exceptions like the investment use of debt noted above, stay out of debt. If you stay out of debt, you will never become enslaved to lenders. There is a Proverb that states, “The borrower is servant to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7. If you are already in debt, you need to work out a plan to get out as soon as possible. Howard Dayton’s book Your Money Counts gives practical methods to do just that. It is a classic guide to earning, spending, saving, budgeting, investing, and giving. I highly recommend it. It also covers important issues such as training your children in these four areas: routine responsibilities, exposure to work, earning extra money at home, and working for others. A small group study is also available with this book in most metropolitan areas in the U.S. through Crown Ministries. Another resource is Financial Peace taught by Dave Ramsey.
Principle 15: Minimize Risk By Diversification
By diversification—using several different investment strategies simultaneously—risk can be significantly reduced. Don’t put all of your investment eggs in one basket. Build a portfolio of diverse investments like stocks, bonds, real estate and possibly other investment vehicles. If you ran a business and made only one product, you would be very vulnerable to market swings. Everything would have to go perfectly. It never does. If you have real estate, diversify geographically. If you live in a town with one factory or the community is heavily depending on one industry or government influence, there may be more risk involved than meets the eye.
Diversify stocks and bonds by various trading strategies. Personally, I have found that “buy and hold” investing subjects me to more risk than I am willing to take, so I have implemented various trading strategies that reduce risk. By doing this I have personally escaped the Bear markets of 1987, 1990, 2002, and 2008 with minimal losses, keeping most of the gains of the prior Bull markets. If you want to send supplies down a fast running river, you can put it all on one big raft, or send it down on five smaller ones. If you lose one, you have four left.
Principle 16: Minimize Losses, Maximize Gains
Don’t be afraid to take small losses. In fact, in my investment business I take many more losses than gains because I keep them small and let the profits run. If you sell your winners too quickly and your losers too slowly, you will eventually end up holding all losers. Remember, if you lose 50% of your money in a bad investment, you need to get a 100% return just to get back to even, so minimizing losses is one of the first principles of wealth building. A 75% loss requires a 300% gain to return to the original investment.
A drawdown is an investment term for temporarily losing money. Everyone has drawdowns, whether they are aware of them or not. Some people think that if they buy a stock that goes down in price that they do not have a loss until they sell it. They are wrong. Markets adjust constantly, and losses are one of the guaranteed aspects of investing.
The key to success is to minimize losses and maximize gains. You will take losses, but keep losses small and gains large is the key to success. Sometimes it is a challenge to find an advisor who can do that for you. Everyone talks about the stock they bought at 5 and sold at 100, but I would guess that this person’s serious money portfolio did not do very well.
I am often asked questions like this: “I lost 25% of my money in a mutual fund retirement account. How do I recover from that loss?” I would answer with this question: “If you bought a house today as an investment that you knew you weren’t going to sell until retirement age, and the appraisal dropped 25% from where you bought it, what would you do?” You would probably buy more, but use a different realtor for advice. I formed Spectrum Financial for the express purpose of investing the money of family, friends and clients the way I would invest my own. I would encourage anyone who may need investment help to refer to the resource section in the back of the book. You can also call our office at 757-463-7600 or visit our website at investspectrum.com
Principle 17: Protect Your Wealth With Insurance
Insurance is an important protection against unexpected financial loss. My basic philosophy on insurance is not to insure the small things that you can financially replace, but insure the things that are too big to replace. For example, use larger deductibles and self-insure whatever you can. Insure for a high amount with a larger deductible liability policy.
* Disability Insurance
Is the most important insurance for a wage earner who has not had time to accumulate assets. Many people would never think of not insuring their house or car, but if you lost your house or car, you could replace them if you still had an income. Income replacement due to loss of health is not possible to replace. If you had a goose that laid golden eggs, would you insure the eggs or the goose?
* Life Insurance
Life insurance is needed for families to insure adequate family income through the critical years of education, or maybe to pay estate taxes or other liabilities at death. The debate for term versus permanent insurance will go on forever, but my suggestion is to calculate how much you need, then figure out how much of the need is temporary (term) and how much is permanent (whole life) and get some of both.
* Universal Variable Life Insurance
This is a product that allows you to mix term insurance and whole life investment in one policy. Any extra funds that are paid into the policy in excess of the term cost will go directly to the investment account, which can be directed into an interest-bearing or stock or bond market investment account that will grow on a tax-favored basis.
Actually, life insurance is an efficient tool for passing wealth on from generation to generation. If properly arranged, it can be set up to avoid any estate taxes, and then “reforest” their estate with family-owned life insurance that may be passed tax-free to heirs at death. A qualified financial planner can assist you, particularly one who specializes in charitable estate planning. Anyone who may be subject to estate taxes should carefully consider this very creative area of planning. Estate taxes are not mandatory for a family with creative philanthropic planning techniques.
Principle 18: Consider A Charitable Trust
On my recommendation, my dad has set up a trust that benefits charity and pays income for ten years to his grandchildren during the time they will likely need funds most, during their early marriage years. He is making a gift of appreciated real estate to a charitable remainder trust that can sell it without paying any capital gains tax and invest the proceeds in income-producing stocks and bonds. His grandchildren receive income from the trust for 10 years. After 10 years, his favorite charity receives the balance in the trust. Each year, he gets an opportunity to talk to each of the grandchildren and advise them on how to invest the trust income they are receiving. Meanwhile, he receives an income tax deduction for the present calculated value of the charitable gift. He also removes the asset from being subject to estate taxes at his death. If he dies prior to the ten years, the trust continues to pay income to the grandchildren for the remainder of the ten-year period, and then the charity receives the remainder of the gift.
My dad gives while he is alive so he is able to see what happens with his gift, and he also has the opportunity to interact with his grandchildren every year. He gets both tax benefits and eternal benefits. On hearing about the plan, one granddaughter indicated her desire to take her entire first year payment and put it toward building a church in a Third World country. I jokingly told my dad that I want him to have a big mansion in Heaven because I will be coming to visit with all my kids. There is an upper limit on what an individual can use in a lifetime. Decide how much is enough, then give the rest. Everyone with wealth will eventually make a charitable gift to someone- when they die. Be proactive. Give now.
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Financial freedom is something that requires thoughtfulness, discipline, planning and time. These are a few suggestions to achieve financial freedom, and not an extensive list. As an investment firm Spectrum Financial is able to come along side our clients to assist in the management of their wealth- whatever the size. Our job is to minimize losses and maximize gains as best we can so that our clients can pursue their own ideas of what financial freedom means. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call our office so that we can guide you on your financial journey.