About emergency funds

This post is probably 12 months late. As we are in the middle of a global pandemic, people are losing jobs, lives. But even more are coming to realize that they miss something truly important: An emergency fund.

I got to admit, I am also not a great role-model here. Over the last 5 years, every penny I got was being invested right away. Therefore I have not built up a proper emergency fund. This is changing now.

How much is enough?

I read several surveys from Germany and the US last year. While I don’t remember exactly the numbers, they were overall pretty similar in their final assessment. A majority of citizens (of each of the countries) are not prepared to handle even smaller unexpected (emergency) expenses out of the pocket. How small? We are talking about 300 Euros or 350 USD.

I was honestly shocked by reading about it, because 300 Euros is very little, especially when we are talking about the US or Germany. For most people, it wouldn’t be enough to cover monthly rent, groceries, let alone a potential hospital bill or car repairs.

So obviously 300 Euros is not enough and wouldn’t qualify as an emergency fund. An emergency fund is meant to offer us protection in times of real need. When something happens that threatens our 3 basic needs (shelter, food, health), possibly over a prolonged period of time.

It needs to be therefore large enough to cover our regular monthly expenses for a specific timeframe. Most financial advisors recommend 3 to 6 months.

Therefore, to determine the size of your emergency fund all you need to know is about your monthly expenses and multiply this amount with a minimum of 3 months. If you are a cautious type or consider yourself for whatever reason to be more at risk, you might want to multiply it with 6 or even 12 months.

How to get there

Of course, you are not supposed to put this money aside right away. If your monthly expenses are around 1.500 Euros, it would mean that your emergency fund should be at a minimum of 4.500 Euros to cover expenses for 3 months. If people can’t get 300 Euros out of the pocket, how can they save up 4.500 Euros?

The solution to this is of course time, consistency, cautious choices, and the occasional sacrifice.

If you are saving monthly for a certain financial goal, a part of that monthly savings needs to be redirected towards your emergency fund. When you get a salary raise or a bonus payment, you might want to skip the celebrations and put the money into your emergency fund. If you are a coffee addict, how about skipping two cups of those soft lattes each week and putting 10 dollars each week in your emergency fund instead.

This step by step approach might take time, but unless you have an emergency every few months, you should be able to get to your goal within a reasonable timeframe.

The last option is to take on a side-gig. Sacrificing a little more time for a few months or a year might prove the right choice down the road. Having an emergency fund in place will protect you not only by covering any expenses that might unexpectedly pop-up. It will also protect your investments and other financial assets. Because you won’t get under pressure to sell them when money becomes an issue.

Keeping it liquid

An emergency fund needs to be liquid, which means that it must be easily accessible and not tied up to anything. Usually, you will, therefore, keep it in cash, on a simple savings account, or as a fixed deposit which can be easily withdrawn.

I have decided to split it. I keep one month of expenses in cash, and over the next 6 months I will set up a fixed deposit account with enough money in it to cover another 3 months of expenses.

No matter which way you chose, but having some money on the side for the next pandemic, the next wave of cost cuts in your industry (meaning when you get furloughed), or the next car accident, is surely worth the effort.

Planning the next year

Today is the last day of the first week of December and it’s about time to get serious about the plan for 2020. I have spent some sleepless nights on reviewing my personal budget for the next year, adjusting savings targets, expenses and thinking about upcoming opportunities.

Health

For 2020, I target a savings rate of “only” around 30% of my regular work income. This doesn’t include my other income sources from investments and dividends. The target is set lower than in previous years because I want to allocate some resources in the next year into another important asset which doesn’t generate income per se: Health.

Full body check-ups for the whole family, dental treatments, scans and whatever should come up that is better fixed earlier than later. Human bodies are not meant to last. We require maintenance like every other machine out there and every once in awhile a check-up and some preventive maintenance are required.

Passive Income

I will spend the next few evenings to make the first projection for my dividend income for the next year. I think it should reach a growth rate of 30-40% and thus reach about a third of my final target which would make me fully financially independent. Not rich, but independent.

It’s amazing to observe how the speed of growth is accelerating now just after 4 years of consistent savings and investments. The first two years were pretty slow, but in 2020 I will have a 3-digit passive income every single month of the year, and given the speed of growth, in 2-3 years it should get to 4 digits.

Travel

But all this would be pointless without some fun along the way. Therefore, while I was never able to afford it when I was younger, I am now planning a trip with my family to Disneyland Tokyo sometime in March. I promised my wife a trip to Japan almost 6 years ago and I just can’t delay it any longer. The vacation has been already approved by my employer and I am going to purchase the tickets today or tomorrow. We will plan 4-5 days for Tokio, 4 days for Kyoto and 4-5 days for the area around Fukuoka/Kyushu.

A little later on in June we will visit Europe. I didn’t start planning for that trip yet, because while this will be vacations, I have to discuss with my wife about the destinations in detail. We are seriously considering moving to Europe in 2021 or 2022 and plan to visit countries that may offer the best opportunities for us to do so. My wife worries about food and schools, I worry about taxes. So obviously we are not perfectly aligned yet.

Hard to believe that only 24 days from now it will be the year 2020…

A journey of a thousand miles…

…begins with a single step. There might be twists and turns, ups and downs, but once we start walking and frequently check our compass, step by step we get closer to the finishing line.

Reaching the goal of financial independence requires a substantial amount of money in savings and investments. Getting there is not easy and requires time, perseverance and patience. But no matter how hard it may seem, it’s not impossible.

Many of us are top-line millionaires

If you are blessed living in a thriving economy, you are most probably a millionaire – stretched over your lifetime. The math? It’s not too complicated. Let’s say you earn 2.000 Euros a month which is really not a high salary.

Not accounting for any bonus or extra payments, this comes up to 24.000 Euros a year. Put this into a context of 40 years of work and you have 960.000 Euros right there. Almost a million. No salary increases, no bonuses, nothing added to that.

Of course, there are taxes to be paid, living expenses, medical bills. Whatever. Your total income over those 40 years in this scenario is almost a Million Euros. In business, we call this the “Top Line”.

The deciding question is how we approach this top-line and what we do with it. All the expenses that we have along the way will reduce our top-line. The money that is left over is called “the bottom line” and this is basically the amount that we have to save and to invest.

It’s not about how much we earn

Having a high salary can help us to reach financial independence more quickly. And yet, during my short career in a bank, I observed that most people with high salaries were seldom the ones with the highest numbers on their bank accounts.

It was usually the quiet, medium-salary people who had the best credit scores and whose accounts would show the occasional million Euros. And I always wondered how that could be. How could someone with a very regular income of only 2.000 or 3.000 Euros a month amass a Million in their late 40s or early 50s?

The answer: They controlled their spendings, they invested regularly in the stock market or real estate, and they kept a comfortable but modest living standard.

  • When they got their first salaries and started to develop their careers, they would immediately start saving and investing.
  • When they got salary increases, they would increase their savings and investments first, before thinking of buying non-assets.
  • They wouldn’t succumb to peer pressure and buying shiny things or branded clothes just to show everyone that they can afford it. They would rather buy just another asset to watch their portfolio grow.
  • They would seldom use credit cards or take loans for anything.

Some might live very frugally, trying to find hacks and get creative about how and where money could be saved or re-gained. Some might push for a stellar career and higher salaries. And there is nothing wrong with any of that. They might reach their goals earlier on.

But the point is that even with modest salaries, it is possible to save, to invest and to take our future in our own hands. The first step to get there is to learn to control our spendings.

Missing Targets – 2019 Full-Year Forecast

2019 has only a few more weeks to go and unfortunately, my budget is telling me that I am going to miss some of my personal financial goals and targets this year.

Since I had a one month gap in between jobs (which was a goal for 2019 to have) and missed one salary payment, my total annual income will, unfortunately, go do down slightly from last year, despite having negotiated a roughly 10% salary increase in my new job. I would have hit the target if my negotiation skills would have been better, but that’s how it turned out.

This also affected the savings rate which comes down compared from last year by almost 10%. This one was however more due to some personal expenses: More travel, and as my daughter is growing older I have now a few additional expenses on that front.

Still, I am on track to have saved/invested roughly 32% of my total annual income. That’s not bad, but below my 40+ target. However, on a good side, my dividend income will turn out to increase more than 30% compared to last year. Some of this is due to dividend increases. Some are due to additional stock purchases. But the overall result is satisfactory.

My goal to improve my time management and the new job made one sacrifice necessary: I had to time-out on my side-hustle. As some of my readers know, I am opening a new hotel in Thailand and while the job itself is already very time consuming, the only way to maintain a somehow healthy work-private-life relation was to stop.

I also didn’t really prepare for a market crash by saving cash in an equivalent amount of 50% of my depot volume. I invested every single penny this year. However, a large portion of that money didn’t go into the stock market. Instead, I have started a project with my dad to build a small guesthouse in Poland. We are modernizing one building on our land and will prepare 4-5 rooms for rent. This is mostly to the benefit of my parents, as their social security pension will turn out way too low to support them after retirement next year. In the long-run, however, this should also be of benefit to my brother, sister and myself. If not by running the business on our own later on, then at least through value appreciation for this beautiful piece of land.

Last but not least, my exercise routine has improved further as the place where I live right now has an amazing gym. My daughter is joining me occasionally, but her attention span is still too low to focus on one thing for longer than 20 seconds… I am ok with that.

With less than 10 weeks to go, the result is becoming already obvious and predictable. Having a personal budget in place makes it easy to see where my strengths and weakness this year are or have been, and what I will need to work on along the finishing line.

To sum it up, I will win some, I will lose some. But 2019 will not end as a bad year at all.

You should have a personal budget, right?

One of the most common recommendations for solid financial planning is to have a personal budget in place. It can help you immensely to allocate your resources where they are needed the most, to analyze your expenses and to stay on top of your finances at all times. So it’s not surprising to hear this advice frequently. Personally, I also follow a very strict personal budget which looks almost like my companies P&L statement.

However, just because something helps one person, doesn’t mean that it’s good for everyone. Some people might not have the time to work on a personal budget plan. Some might hate Excel (or Numbers for Mac users), and others might just feel annoyed about micro-managing their financial lives. If you are one of those people, don’t despair. A budget is helpful, but I wouldn’t say that you need it to succeed financially.

Hitting your savings/investment target

What you actually really (and only) need is not necessarily a budget, but simply to hit your savings and investment targets.

Following a budget is a great exercise to learn how to control your income and expenses, but you could also go for a simpler and less micro-managed way. You could simply fix a target of how much you want to see yourself having saved up or invested in a specific timeframe.

Let’s say you want to see yourself having 100.000 Euros invested over a course of 10 years. This means that you need to save and invest 10.000 Euros a year on average – no matter how.

This is where you can stop, or expand a little further, it’s up to you. As long as you can hit this self-imposed target and it helps you to get closer to your end-target, you will be doing just fine.

I like to break ambitious targets into smaller, more reachable goals. 10.000 Euros sounds like a lot, but divide it by 12 to set a monthly goal and you will be down to a little over 800 Euros. Break it even further down by days and you will come down to just a little more than 27 Euros a day.

Now HOW you get those 27 Euros a day is completely up to you. Whether you save it on groceries or hot coffees, take it from your salary or take up a side-gig to increase your cash flow and to send the money into your investment account. It’s your choice. If you have some other passive income in place, like an annual bonus payment from your company, incoming dividends or interest from existing investments, or whatever will reduce your need for commitment, it counts.

This is another way to manage your money and it has some allure because it’s simple, less time consuming and it might not give you the feeling of restricting yourself too much and to still enjoy life (almost) to it’s fullest.

It’s all about your commitment

Working on our finances is similar to working out in a gym. You have to find the right way that works for you. You need to feel comfortable with the method you chose to ensure that your commitment to your goal never fades. As long as you got this in place, there is nothing to worry about and a budget might be not necessary.

Having said that and to stick with the gym analogy, if you got ambitious targets then you got to put a lot of effort into it to make it happen. A budget is just a tool that can help you to understand how the game works, but even a budget will not replace your commitment and efforts.

2019 – Drop the resolutions!

Yes, you read right. The new year started but we don’t do the resolution stuff. We start the year with serious targets.

Today is the 6th of January, so the 1st week is almost gone. This means that we have roughly another 51 weeks to meet our own, ambitious but still realistic expectations on 2019. What can be done in 51 weeks? Here are my targets:

  1. Improve on time management. As you all know, and as the sub-headline of this blog indicates it: It’s all not about money, it’s about time. Time is our most precious resource and it needs to be managed well. A day has 24 hours. After deducting those 6-7 hours that are necessary to re-charge our batteries, plenty of things can be achieved each and every single day, if we allocate the remaining time efficiently. I would rate myself rather poor on this skill so far, as I still spend way too much time with my phone, while I could allocate more time to this blog, to my side hustle, to stock analysis, and to my workout routine. I will start slowly by:
    • trying to leave work on time,
    • delete useless apps from my phone and
    • to schedule my workout routine a little earlier throughout the day (so far I was always exercising after 10 pm)
  2. Increase side hustle earning by 50%. Right now I am writing about 1 article a week on average. I will try to increase this to 6 articles a month to curb my side-hustle income and to have more cash available for investments.
  3. Increase my dividend income by at least 10%. That’s right. While this should be not a problem, I put it on my target list. Most of my stocks will increase the dividend throughout this year anywhere between 2% up to 25%. However, I can also increase my dividend output by buying more stocks of companies which I already owe and which had been dragged down throughout 2018. This will cost-average down the stock-price in my portfolio and thus increase my average yield on cost per stock.
  4. Prepare for a larger market crash by saving up enough cash to be equivalent of 50% of my current stock portfolio volume. That’s the biggest and most difficult one, because this would require me to really try to achieve my savings target of 40% of my total annual income. Not impossible, but a tough one.
  5. Find a new job and re-negotiate my base salary by at least +20%. As mentioned in the last post, it should be possible due to my current situation, but I will aim even significantly higher. With perks and benefits, the total value increase should be at around 35%.
  6. Take a break for 1 month in between jobs. Yes, I put this in my target list also. I need time to recover and re-charge after my current assignment. I have now worked almost 2 years with a 6-day workweek, spending on average roughly 65 hours a week in my hotel. This does not include my side-hustle activities, my family time and my exercise routines (which takes 1,5 hours per day). So yes, to ensure I get no heart-attack before time, taking a break for a month will be commendable.
  7. Visit Japan and/or Korea this year. Indeed, it is about time. I haven’t gone to Korea and Japan since 2012 which is a real shame. I know my parents want to see my daughter and want us to go to Europe, but Japan and Korea is the reason why I moved to Asia in the first place and I seriously need to visit this beautiful places once again. On top, I have promised my wife this trip for a very long time.
  8. Exercise routine annual target:
    • 36,500 push-ups (100 per day),
    • 18,250 burpees (50 per day or 150 every 3 days),
    • 18,250 squats (50 per day or 150 every 3 days),
    • 3,650 pull-ups (10 per day),
    • Fresh-up of all my martial arts / kata routines
  9. Actively teaching German and English to my 3 year old daughter for 30 min a day
  10. Actively involve my daughter in my exercise routine to practice with me. She already started to sit on my head when I do squats or push-ups and loves to hang on to me when I try to do pull-ups, but this can be fostered more

So yeah, many things to do and 51 weeks is actually a short time. The older we get, the more we realise how precious time is. Let’s make the most of it.

And no, you really don’t need 8 hours sleep. The day is just too short to spend 1/3 of it with doing nothing.

This year, I also intend to write more about individual stocks and my investments. So just to give a brief heads-up, here a list of stocks which will be discussed and possibly purchased sometime in 2019:

Monthly dividend paying stocks:

  • Gladstone Investment
  • Main Street Capital
  • Realty Income
  • Apple Hospitality

Regular Stocks:

  • Ares Capital
  • Cisco Systems
  • Starbucks
  • Microsoft
  • McDonalds
  • Coca Cola
  • Merck
  • Pfizer
  • Iron Mountain
  • Tesla
  • Bayer
  • BASF
  • Aumann
  • DÜRR
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Royal Dutch Shell (B)
  • Baozun
  • Alibaba
  • QQQ

ETF:

  • iShares MDAX UCITS ETF

Disclosure: Some of those stocks I already owe, some I had in my portfolio in the past but sold them with a profit and plan to buy again when prices drop.

So get ready for a furious, active and hopefully rewarding 2019!

Investing Time

Time is your single, most important asset. It’s probably the only, completely undisputable truth that anyone can find and verify for himself in this world. Time is limited, and every minute, every second that is passed, won’t return.

It didn’t take me long to recognize this, subconsciously, but it took me a while to truly understand the meaning behind it. But more on this a little later on. To finalize my short series about the 3 most important topics for successful investors, I will write today about the importance of investing time to make informed decisions when it comes to investments. For those who would like to take a look at the previous articles, here the short-links:

The first two topics have something in common and this last topic is not different: It requires studies, practice, and experience to master all of them. Time plays, therefore, a crucial role here. Let me explain.

The difference between spending and investing time

You might think that when it comes to time, spending it is all we can do. You also might guess it already: You might be wrong on this one.

Coming to work on Monday, your co-worker or your boss might ask you, how you spent your weekend. What he or she is really asking you is actually this: What did you do with the time you had available, out of your regular work?

Now to be perfectly frank, most people don’t really care about the answer. For one, because, well, most people don’t really care much about others. But secondly, even more importantly, most people do nothing productive on weekends. Watching a movie in the cinema or visiting the new, fancy restaurant in town, going with your kids to a theme park, or just sleeping through and going for a lazy-in-bed-Sunday… it’s all good stuff, and time (probably) well spent.

But if you want to get out of the rat race, you need to re-think the idea of what you do with your time out of regular work, which includes after hours and weekends, holidays and basically every hour you can spare on doing something productive.

Talking about investing time is a different issue, and you may not like it at first. Coming back to the previous question about how you spent your weekend, a more accurate version of this question from someone who might be actually really interested would have to go along something like this: How did this weekend help you to reach your goals in life?

Now that’s a deep question, but in my opinion, a pretty good one. Not only because I wrote it, but because this question shows a genuine interest in enquiring about your actions, that you were able to do while having some time on hand, to work on your life goals.

Investing time includes spending it. But while the time we spent is usually just time that passed, investing time means, that we perform actions that we expect to have a beneficiary middle- to long-term effect on the goals we set in our lives.

Investing time for FIRE aspirationals

If you are reading this blog, you know that it’s all about FIRE – Financial Independence & Retiring Early. Investing time can have a different meaning for every single individual, depending on the goals we have, but for me and for every other FIRE follower, here is a list what you should be doing whenever you have some time on hand:

  • Reading. Expanding your knowledge is a crucial element when it comes to making investment decisions, and the single most important point in this blog post. Understanding how our economy works, how things relate to each other and being able to grab hints and read between the lines when markets change directions or new products are being introduced, can have a significant impact on your success.
  • Side hustling. Even the smartest investor won’t benefit from his knowledge if he/she has no cash on hand to actually start investing. I was recently reading an article, that saving only 5 EUR a day for 30 years might be already enough to become a millionaire. The math behind it, with an average 7% return on investment year on year, is, of course, depending on market conditions. But it has a clear point: Even small investments in combination with a dedicated follow-through will lead to success. If your current job doesn’t offer you enough support to hit your goal OR if you want to hit your target as early as possible, then it means that you got to invest time to make it happen. Luckily, it’s 2018 and there is an almost unlimited amount of jobs at our fingertips. I will write more on this next week.
  • Budgeting. I spend about an hour every weekend, to go through my month-to-date expenses and to adjust my annual forecast, which is closely and accurately calculated and aligned to my goal of retiring early. You don’t need to do it in such a super detail as I (or many other FIRE followers) do, but it is truly helpful to reflect after a week on your spendings and savings and to understand what happens with your money. The more you learn about the process, the easier it will be for you to control your money.

Now, this may sound like a lot. But it’s actually not. Start slowly and dedicate 2 hours each weekend. 1 hour should be for reading and the other hour for whichever one of the other tasks you feel up to.

I can’t emphasize enough how important reading is. One part should focus on economic and political news. When you got through it, I recommend reading news about specific companies that you are interested in, to follow a blog or a specific investment website or to subscribe to an online course that might cover some basic financial topics. Reading about industries that you would consider to invest your hard-earned cash and about the people behind the companies. It’s a huge puzzle and tons of information to cover, but thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to find all these information.

For beginners, I recommend following The Motley Fool. As some of my readers may know, I am frequently writing for the German subsidiary, The Motley Fool GmbH, which is my side-hustle. This online magazine greatly helps to provide information on the daily things that happen on and around the stock market, in a simple and non-fuss manner. It’s easy to read and a perfect weekend lecture for those, who don’t have too much time on hand.

I don’t promise anything, but you might rather quickly recognize, that investing time will make a huge difference in reaching your goal of escaping the rat race. It’s Sunday. Why not start today?

Guilty pleasures

We all have some guilty pleasures. The movie, that everyone hates, but that you secretly enjoy watching over and over. The song, that you would never admit to your friends to have it on your playlist, but that you just have to listen to every now and then. The fast-food burger, that everyone know is not only bad for your health but also bad for your waist, but that you crave for after every work-out.

For someone who wants to retire early, guilty pleasures are even more of a concern. Because they include any not necessary spendings. Drinks or food on the go, online-shopping, giving into promotions and special offers, simple home improvements or even just that monthly Netflix charge, can quickly start feeling like a guilty pleasure. Because you know, that every Euro spent, is a Euro which does not make it into your savings or investment account, and thus will ultimately delay your dream of early retirement from becoming true.

But here is the thing. Being overly strict with yourself, can prove to be a counter-productive strategy.

The strategy to early retirement is actually simple: Spend less than you earn, save and invest what is left at the end of the month, and repeat the process until you hit your target. When it comes to determine how much one should save every month, the easiest answer is therefore of course: As much as possible. The more and the faster you safe and invest, the earlier you can retire.

Some financial planners or advisers might tell you to start by setting up smaller targets, like 10% of your monthly income. You might have already guessed it: This won’t work for an early retirement plan. Saving 10% a month might work well for a social security top-up-plan. But for early retirement and to escape the rat race, you need to get really aggressive and put as much as you can, as soon as you can to work. The power of compound interest, dividend and stock-price growth can only truly unfold it’s beautiful wings when it has enough time to do so, thus every delay, every wasted Euro and every wasted day does count and can have a significant impact, no matter how small.

You might hear or read stories about people who go as far as to save up 50% of their monthly income. While it may sound crazy, it’s definitely not impossible. The only real question is, how much you truly want it.

The yo-yo effect

However, no matter how determined you are, you are also a human. Humans have a soul, feelings and needs, that often go beyond rationale. Not surprisingly, while it can happen that following a super-strict regiment will get you to a saving percentage that will make your jaw drop, there is a high chance that you get either tired, annoyed or over-confident and without even noticing, snap back to your previous spending habits. Very similar to the famous yo-yo effect, as we know it from people who are trying to lose weight.

It’s not just about saving more – it’s a fundamental lifestyle change

I would say that reaching this goal of a 50% savings rate is definitely achievable, and it is actually something to really strive for. But you don’t need it from day one.

Your financial planner might be not wrong after all, and starting with 10% while learning about investments, understanding your spending habits and learning how to budget, track and adjust your money matters is actually probably a very good idea. This way you may lay the track for a step by step approach to adjust yourself and to slowly start shifting into sustainable changes to your lifestyle.

I have detailed budgets since 2014, and my savings rates looked like this:

  • 2014: 37,32%
  • 2015: 36,06%
  • 2016: 18,10%
  • 2017: 31,16%
  • 2018: 35,56% (expected)

My daughter was born by the end of 2015, so the majority of the initial baby-costs and family related matters kicked in a little later on in 2016. And of course I also needed to bring her and my wife to Europe so my parents will see their first granddaughter, so this was another factor and a few thousand Euros spent. But other than that, I got pretty hooked up between 31-38% year on year. While these numbers are not bad, they are for me a little bit frustrating to look at, especially since my salary has also grown during that time – significantly.  In 2018, I am earning almost 3 times what I was earning in 2014. This means, that I should be able to actually save significantly more.

Well, that’s not how life works and different circumstances required adjustments. Getting married, having a daughter and starting a family life definitely had a large impact on my overall lifestyle and spending habits. Also, it took me quite a while to bring my wife back from the dark side (of spending habits) and to get her aligned with me on our financial targets as individuals and as a family. This should start bearing fruits by 2019 and I think I am going to break through the 40% barrier by that time.

No regrets

But having said all that, you should not think that I would regret any of the Euros that didn’t make it into my investment account yet. Having a wonderful, understanding and supportive wife and a beautiful little daughter makes my days on earth truly worthwhile and I wouldn’t want to exchange any moment we had together for any of those “lost” amounts. It was actually absolutely not a loss of whatsoever, but probably one of the best investments I have actually done.

So my point in all of this is: Don’t hang up yourself if you don’t hit your magical savings and investment numbers immediately. Keep it up as your target and try your best to work towards it, but don’t forget that you still got a life to live. Living frugally is only enjoyable when you set your priorities right and allow yourself to enjoy the moments that truly matter. Even if they do cost some money sometimes.

What to do today?

The world is full of great, smart and amazing people, who have or had the gift to understand and connect some of the dots that happened in their lives, and to turn them into truly powerful statements. Some of these statements turned out to be true not only for them but also for others. Thus, when people read or heard those statements, they connected them to their lives and if helpful, spread them further in the hope and with the purpose to give guidance to others. This is my definition of how quotes become popular.

I like reading quotes and have my own collection of some which I consider more useful than others. Most recently, I stumbled upon this one:

“What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows.” – by Ralph Marston

Such a short sentence, and yet, such a powerful message.

Having an idea or dream is usually the first step for all of us to find a purpose. And yet, while one would imagine that all of us require a purpose and would, therefore, do their best to follow up on their dreams and wishes, the truth is that most people do not find the strength, courage or conviction to be actually able to do what they like.

Too often we find constraints and barriers that seem too hard to overcome and sometimes, things require sacrifices that we are not willing to make. But no matter what your personal reasons may be, without even taking the first step in the right direction, you will certainly never see your dreams become true.

Everything starts with a plan

The first step to reach any goal is to have a plan. Putting some structure into your idea, formulating what you want and how it should look like will give you the guidance you need to establish long- and short-term goals that may lead to your success.

While this blog is all about finance, this applies to any target one would want to set up for oneself. As another accurate quote says:

“Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.” – Larry Winget.

In financial matters, this plan is called a budget.

Knowing and understanding how much money comes into your account and how much is gone by the end of every week, month and year are crucial to help you to regain control over your financial situation.

Don’t wait for this. Sit down, take a paper and a pencil and start writing. Be honest with yourself. If you can’t, ask someone to assist you. And after you have done that, start thinking which areas require changes to help you to have a better tomorrow and to reach financial independence.

Conscious Spending Habits

It can’t probably be repeated often enough so let me say it just once more: Being in control of your income and expenses is a crucial discipline that needs to be mastered in order to reach financial independence. Today, I would like to give some advice on the expenses side.

Let me start by saying that personally, I truly hate shopping. I like small grocery shops, fresh markets. I hate shopping malls. Not for their value and convenience of having everything you might need in life in one, central location. Yes, I admit I also spend time in shopping malls occasionally. What I hate is the fact that the constant competition that drives markets is intentionally pushing us into very unhealthy spending habits and encourages us to be constantly spending money.

I am amazed and terrified every single time when I enter a shopping mall, to see how many hundreds, thousands of people daily stroll from shop to shop and swipe one credit card after another to carry home as many bags as possible with them. The consequence of this is an empty account at best and credit card debt at worst.

Sales bargains and saving money

There is really only one definition of saving money: Not spending it. The one most intentionally false statement that you can see everywhere is the sales pitch of “saving on sales”. Buy 1 get 2, save 30%, and all other kinds of promotions have nothing to do with saving money. It is such a tricky way of manipulating our brains that I am really appalled by it. It addresses our desire to spend not more than necessary by stimulating one of the humans most primal and dominant instincts: Greed.

If you see a 2 for 1 promotion on toothpaste, chances are high that you will jump on it. The promoted retail price seems to indicate of really doing nothing wrong on this bargain and we immediately recognize that for paying what we normally pay for 1 pack, we receive the double value. Sounds great, right? Well, not in my opinion.

Toothpaste is a product that we use every single day and a pack might be finished within a month or 2, depending on size and frequency of use. Buying the promotion will reduce the time required to repeat the purchase within the regular usage-timeframe and also half the cost of it. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, for a super-frugal living, it might be even recommended. However, it might quickly lead you to copy this into all other products purchases which may result in an overall negative effect on your spending and consumer habits. You see, when we have more of something, we also tend to use more of it simply because we lose the feeling for the value of the product.

For the case of the toothpaste, I remember as a student there was a time when I was really short of cash and needed to save on every single penny. When my toothpaste was about to run out, I would squeeze the tube until getting the last drop of it and even when I could not squeeze out anything anymore, I would cut it open and scratch out the last tiny rests to ensure I fully utilized the product. Chances are high that I wouldn’t do it if there was a second pack of toothpaste in my bathroom. I would most probably not go through the effort and just open the new pack.

Quality over quantity

In my opinion, simple living means to buy things that we need and to enjoy and fully utilize the things that we have. We don’t need to compromise on quality and purpose, but we should be conscious about why we buy something and for what reason as well as how we use what we have once we have it.

If you need a shirt, buy a shirt. You don’t need two of them. You don’t need to spend hours looking for the best promotion in the entire shopping mall. Just establish a budget and buy the shirt within this frame, that you like and that gives you the feeling of having bought what you wanted and what you came to the shop for. Buy it, wear it, keep it in good condition and enjoy it for as long as possible.

The more expensive the product or purchase, the tighter should be your criteria and the less should be your willingness to compromise on quality. Value is obviously always a factor, but the value is a tricky metric because especially for expensive products like laptops or cars it stretches over a long period of use. It may involve some points which you are not aware off, which may turn out after months or years and therefore you could or would not consider at the time of purchase.

To give an example: You might get a great deal on a diesel car right now, but a hybrid or an electric car might turn out to be the better deal, even at 50% higher cost, considering how technology and markets might develop within the next 5-10 years.

For a laptop, you might wonder why anyone would spend the double price on a MacBook compared to regular Laptops or Tablets, but you might change your opinion once you require a laptop for work and consider your requirements on a robust and reliable supportive equipment for your profession.

Have a budget in place

What I would like to make clear is that the combination of a minimalistic living approach with consciousness on quality and purpose can give us not only great satisfaction, but it will have a positive effect on our spending habits. You will quickly realize that the idea is not about reducing all your spendings but that it’s more important to enjoy and appreciate every single purchase that you do.

One important step that I did not write about yet is to have a plan in place. A budget. I will follow up on this with more detail soon but in the meantime, this is too important not to emphasize it: No matter how good the bargain is, if you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.

I want to be perfectly clear on this. If your account balance does not allow a purchase of a product, then you should not buy it. There may be certain very specific situations in which you may have an advantage by buying something through borrowing money or utilizing your credit card, but this should be a seriously special occasion and request a very realistic evaluation whether there is no other way around it or whether it can be postponed. Borrowing money, credit card debts, these are serious matters that push you in the wrong direction. No matter how good a deal may sound, if you can’t afford it, then don’t buy it.

Shopping is a formula to keep your account empty

At the end of the day, what is important is that you keep your main target on the horizon. To reach financial independence we need to focus on purchasing products that keep generating additional value. As explained in my previous article, The Investor Mindset, most of our daily purchases lose value the moment we take them in our hands.

Therefore, normal regular shopping should not be a daily activity and not a habit. It’s a sure formula to keep your account empty.