Financial Freedom Sloth

achieving financial freedom one lazy step at a time

Category: essential truths (page 1 of 3)

The search for a side gig

The last year I have been thinking about and searching for a side gig. I have two main reason for this: my savings rate and life post retirement.

Savings rate

I now have pratically three full years of a more or less detailed overview of my income, expenes ad savings rate. I will dig more into that with my full year recap but with regards to the savings rate the picture is pretty clear:

In 2017 the savings rate was 32,87%

In 2018 it was 27,80%

And in 2019 it will be somewhere between 28% and 30%

So my savings rate hovers between 28% and 32%. Comparing this to the average Belgian this puts me in the top 20% of savers (the articles do not mention a savings rate but do mention saving amounts and I am consistenly over 500 eur per month). But in FIRE circles this is a pretty low rate.

As Mr Money Mustache demonstrates in his shockingly simple math behind early retirement post: with a savings rate of around 30% it takes 28 years to achieve financial independence.

No my aim is an average expense per month of 1 500 euro. But over the last 3 years I was closer to 1 700 euro. Achieving my goal here would bring me closer to a 40% savings rate. But I have been trying to lower my expenses for three years and not getting very far. Perhaps I am more set in my ways then I thought. It might be time to start looking at the income side of the equation.

Life post retirment

As I explained in this post way back my life post retirement working a little bit each year was always my plan. In my exit strategy post I already mentionned a side gig might be the best way to earn the 7500 euro tax free money each year.

My conclusion from that post still stands. If you want a somewhat interesting side gig you will need to work at it regulary so during the year it needs to be something location independent and also somewhat time flexible.

The search so far

One path for a side gig we are exploring is the possibiliy for the girlfriend to make some extra money as a DJ. The gift I got here back in July was not just a gift but also – in part – an investment in a possible side gig for her. The main reason for this is that she is music crazy and at the very least she will have a hobby she likes. With some luck this hobby will get her some paying gigs. Since flexi jobs have been created mainly for pubs and events we are hoping she could get paid as a flexi job which would permit her to earn an additional tax free amount of 6,000 euro per year. If not, there is always the self-employered as secondary activity route. From friends we know it still is a sector with a lot of payments under the table so the effective tax rate for this route should remain pretty close to zero. It is a somewhat location independent side gig since techno has now become a global phenomenon (a former co-worker of me is now earning his living as a DJ in Thailand) and it has some time flexibility because your gig times might be fixed, but you have some flexibilty when you do the preparation of your crates, cues, loops and samples (yes, I am picking up the lingo as well). Well, flexibility as long as your preparations are done before the gig off course. We’ll see how it goes.

During the last year I also tried my hand at what I would call ticket arbitrage.

A lot of venues now sell their tickets in waves, ranging from 5 to 25 euro. I saw an arbitrage possibility. Where this used to be an activity limit to somebody living in a big city and with local connections, internet has changed the game completely. You can now buy tickets online and thanks to the ticketswap site you now have a safe and secure way of selling them online as well. I had a bit of a learning curve and did it more out of curiosity as doing this in a structured way in Belgium is illegal (legal in Netherland apparently). But my little experiment did show that yes, you could make some money from it.

My profit was 107 euro on an invested capital of 559 euro or a 19% return in six months! And invested capital was actually lower as I reinvested previously earned profits again. One of my high earners (high earner is relative, we are talking 50 euro profit here) was a Laurent Garnier gig where I almost double my money in less than one month. Selecting events that will completely sell out is key.

It was also a learning stage where I mainly only paid attention to the line up of 1 club. One hour of searching resulted in 6 more clubs who offered tickets in waves (and that was me only looking at the Netherlands and the UK). Ticketswap operates in 29 countries. The United States being among those countries! Of course the more countries you start working on and the more clubs/events you add the more work this becomes. Scale this up and you will need to have soms sort of administrative tool to keep track of everything (although google agenda and google sheets will get you pretty far). It will be ‘work’ to earn a decent amount with this. But with this kind of return a capital of 25,000 euro could get you a 5,000 euro return every 6 months!

It is a location independent gig and somewhat time flexible. Buying the tickets is the only fixed time you have and is something that can be done from your mobile as well. Actually, all of it could be done from your mobile. I kind of liked it but as said, unfortunately illegal in Belgium to do and the present job doesn’t leave me with enough free mental energy to make a serious go at it. I might snipe a few events right and left to make a quick buck in the future and the girlfriend will use it to lower her cost of going out herself (buy 6 tickets, sell 5 at a profit and go for free yourself!). But I continue looking for something that scales easier and takes less effort (I am a sloth after all).

The cost of owning a car

I promise this is the last post about cars for many, many years to come I hope. But I did find the post of JL collins about the cost of a car really interesting. JL Collins is much better at keeping track of his expenses than I am (I am lazy after all). And he has been doing it for a lot longer than most of us have.

I already knew cars are expensive. There is a reason I didn’t own one till I was 35 and a big part of me being able to build up a stash can be attributed to me not owning a car. But I still found it quite a shock to see his number at 5,000+ USD per year. Gulp!

I then ran my own number for the last 2 years we had our old car and I arrive at an annual cost of around 3,000 euro. And these are the numbers for a second hand car bought for 8,000 euro when it was 4 years old. JL Collins numbers also show the last years are the cheapest and I also know I had a big maintenance bill before I started tracking our numbers. So realisticaly speaking we should be more around 3,500 euro to 4,000 euro cost per year with the 1,000 euro difference with JL Collins being explained by our lower amortizing costs because our car was cheaper than his.

Damn, cars are expensive!

For me and my girlfriend this is almost one full month each year we need to work just to pay for the car we mainly use to get to work! I know it’s crazy but we all do it!

I am curious if other people have other numbers? If so, please post them!

Now, taxes do play a big part in these expenses: 20 biljoen euro of our money flows to the government via our cars each and every year. But even taking those into account we do pay a lot of money for being comfortable while moving.

A small reminder of a simple fact

Mr Money mustache already knew it back in 2011: you can get rich by using your bike more often.

But sometimes we need to remind ourself of these simple facts. The rise in electric bicycles means that you now can cover greater distances faster. And car sharing services are popping up in more places, even our countryside!

Or perhaps we should all just switch to a velomobile?

Financing the new car

In a previous post I explained why we decided to buy a new car which is usually a big No No in FIRe circles. But not only did we buy a new car, we actually wanted it financed! Something that is an ever bigger NO NO in FIRe circles.

The reason for wanting to finance the new car was pretty simple: 0% interest rates! Yes, thanks to our current low intrest environment you can actually borrow at 0% to buy a car!

You see, I have also always been of the opinion one should only borrow for the purchase of a house (and even then keep your borrowing amount low). But the low intrest environment we are in has definitely changed that. If possible I would be financing everything I buy at 0%!

Buy now, pay later! Much later preferably!

Unfortunately you can not finance everything at 0%. But a new car, that was definitely possible!

As a side note, am I the only one that finds it very strange that 0% car loans exist but that mortgages are still between 1% and 2%? Surely a car loan must be more riskier than a mortgage. Houses, for one thing are rarely involved in total loss accidents.

Loan declined

Unfortunately borrowing for the car was not possible.

We have no idea why not. You see Renault does not actually provide the loan. They use Alphacredit. Which are, and I am choosing my words carefully here, a bunch of assholes. They are assholes because they refuse a credit and then do not tell you why. Apparently, by law, they only need to give you the sources they checked and that is it. In our case that was the National bank of Belgium which keeps a tab on all open loans a person has. You can check this database yourself and as expected we only have our mortgage there. Which is logical since we have never borrowed for anything else than that. We also pay that mortgage on time. I have spend a lot of very annoying phone calls to Alphacredit and got exactely nowhere. The customer support you get is very well trained in not giving you any more information than, ‘here is the list we checked and used to come to our decision about your loan’.

Even now, 8 months later, I still have no idea why the loan was refused. My net worth is around 350,000 euro, I am on track to save 10,000 euro this year (and that is just me, the loan would have been both on my name and the girlfirend) but apparently I am no good to loan 7,000 euro at a 0% rate …

via GIPHY

The only thing we can think of is that somwhere somehow there was a mix up with somebody else because when registering our information the garage owner said we appeared to have a file at the internal bank of Renault itself. Which isn’t logical as neither of us have ever bought a car from Renault. Or had any other dealings with Renault.

I have to admit I took this pretty personal. I mean finance is kinda ‘my thing’ and then being refused for a petty loan really, really annoyed the hell out of me. But after banging my head against that wall for a few weeks I decided it wasn’t worth the time and frustration so we just paid the car in cash. The whole ordeal did change my mind about the size of our emergency fund, it’s back to 10,000 euro now!

Still bummed I didn’t get the 0% loan though!

One thing I did notice that the sales person at the garage got really worried when she had to tell us the loan was refused. I got the impression that this wasn’t because the bad news she had to tell but more being worried that she would lose the sale … is a 11.000 euro purchase reall that big a problem for a lot of people? I mean, I would have preferred to spread it out over 3 years at that sweet, sweet 0% intrest rate but after my double bonus and holiday money (and not going on a holiday) my part of this purchase isn’t more than a one time blip in my excel overview. Are we FIRe people really that far from the norm?

Monthly expense report: November

Income:  2 167 euro

Expenses:  1 583,50 euro

Savings:  583,50 euro

November was a pretty standard month form an income and expense point of view.

Income was only the job income. November 15 I was one year at the current company so an update is needed on that front but work has been so insanely busy the last weeks that I really didn’t feel like starting up the old desktop at home. It also explains the lack of posts over the last month. This sloth is tired in the evening.

Expenses

Didn’t buy a new laser, still want to! I did buy some new graphic novels so the itch to buy something ‘fun’ is satisfied for the time being. The graphic novels came to 88 euro.

We also visited a friend in Brussels, The friend is a big Asia nut so we visited a -cheap- Japanese restaurant. I went to talk about an online side gig idea I have tumbling around in my head for some time now. Turns out the friend is even more skilled than I thought! I tried to nudge him into starting his own thing as he could do all the work himself and he does like to travel Asia for months on end. I wasn’t really successful as he has witnessed in his immediately family the high price that comes with building out a business empire. He is part too smart and part too lazy (there is a reason I get along with him!) to go down that rabbit hole …I would still over to convince him that there is a middle ground. Anyway, the visit did cost me 43 euro but was money well spend.

On a more practical front I also spend 72 for some new underwear and 21 euro on new swimshorts. Both things desperately needed. Well, desperately needed according to the misses, a sloth knows no shame …

On the’ bad’front: also spend some money on sandwiches at work. The diet is still not going that good. I actually even started skipping some of my swimming!! It merits its own post. But I am a stress eater and did I mention that work has been insanely busy? I am recognizing the signs from my time at the back office for the trading floor of the big bank. Luckily management is aware that there is a ‘support-situation’ at the moment. Management also knows that I have been putting the pedal to the metal for the last couple of months. So I have told them that this will only last until after new year. And to not take my current productivity as something to count on long term. I’ll see how it goes.

I do not envy them as some tough decisions will need to be made. I also need to bite the bullet and not only keep up the insane work volume at work but in my free time actually start working on one of those ‘fun-to me’ work projects that needs to be done but nobody at work has the time to do. For once in my life I want to be strategic about it and leverage my current strong position into something that has long term benefits for me. Fortune favors the well prepared…

On a totally unrelated note. Cheesy finance and geldnerd have a very different definition of a backyard. To parafrase an old australian saying: that’s not a backyard, this is a backyard …

Our backyard, and yes that is a pig on the right …

Pension and FIRE

This pension shuffle post over at Cheesy finance reminded me I also need to do a post about pensions.

The Belgian pension has three different components.

The first component is the official government component. As an employee there is not a great deal that can be done about this. It will be what it will be. It is also a very complex subject. Personally I would love to be able to speak to somebody who is an expert to see what the impact of FIRE on the official pension will be. What I do know is that with the guaranteed minimum pension and the ceiling the government implements my approach of working a bit after FIRE might not only be more tax efficient but also more pension efficient.

It boils down to this: above a certain amount earned you are still paying pension contributions but those do not result in a higher pension since you have already reached the ceiling for that. There is a guaranteed minimum pension if you reach the 30 years threshold of employment (or time that is equivalent to working like unemployment and pregnancy leave and such).

So pulling the plug earlier and limping your way across those thirty years with a combination of some work and unemployment should result in a better pension than working full throttle for say 25 years and then completely stop with working. Should. Like I said, I would really love to have an expert in this run a few simulations. If somebody knows of somebody please send him my way! It could be an interesting topic to delve into deeper at a FIRE meet-up.

The second component is the additional pension you can get from your employer (this comes in the form of a group insurance thing.

This is the part where a pension shuffle as described in the guest post at Cheesy finance can come in handy. So when you have changed employer and you are dragging an old pension scheme of the previous employer with you it can be interesting to check out if it is not better to fold it into the the one offered by your new employer.

I am in this boat. But the one of my previous employer is actually pretty good (return and cost wise) so I have decided to keep it there. I have to add that it is great to ‘earn’ an additional 1.500 euro (it went from 15 640 euro to 17 014 euro last year) at an employer you have left 3 years ago. So I am just going to leave it there for the moment.

On the other hand, there is no way to get an early payment of this. I just just view it as an extra when I reach 65 years (or perhaps 67?) but do not take it into account for my FIRE plans.

The third component is the individual savings account every adult Belgian can do.

Whendoyouretire put up some calculations on the money mustache forum here. I did ask him to turn it into a post on his blog but these youngsters today with all their drugs and partying … 😉

When striving for FIRE, I am of the conviction not to bother with it because:

  • The amount you can put in, is low (less than 1.000 euro a year)
  • The return, even with the tax refund, isn’t that good (see the calculations of whendoyouretire)
  • Costs are usually high
  • You only have access to the money when 65 (or perhaps in the future 67)
  • Do your really trust the government not to change the conditions of this in their favor in the next 20 – 30 years? There is a lot of money on that pot and it can’t go nowhere. In government language that means ‘easy pray’ …

So to sum it up:

For the official Belgian government pension I (or we as the Belgian FIRE community) should really speak to an expert about the impact of our FIRE plans on this.

For your employer pension plan, check if you have one from a former employer laying around and see if it is interesting to fold it into your current one.

For the personal pension savings plan: don’t bother.

Our house (not following the FIRE rules)

Everybody seems to be writing about their housing past and present and it is something I had planned to write about as well. Mainly because our situation is 180 degrees opposed to what most people aiming for early retirement would do. Where most talk about future downsizing and living small we went big! Really big!

But first a little bit of history.

Up until we bought this house (now 8 years ago) I have always rented. The girlfriend however bought a small house in Ghent about twenty years ago. Total purchasing price after renovating the roof: 57.000 euro. That gave a mortgage of a grand total of 350 euro a month. So when we got together I moved in with here. I started paying rent with a little twist. We agreed on a rent of 200 euro a month (far cheaper than my previous place!) but since her house still needed some renovations I paid it in lump sums. One year of rent gave her 2.400 euro which she then used to make some improvements to the place (often executed by me and my dad). Up until this point we were following the FIRE rules: living small and cheap.

After a few years we wanted to move, the neighborhood we lived in was not improving (actually getting worse, a clear sign being when our Turkish neighbors starting moving out due to the rising number of East-European Roma moving in). The girlfriend had always wanted a big garden with room for animals. So we started looking. I had one iron rule: I would not sell any of my investments to fund the purchase or the renovations. in practice this meant our budget was limited to what we could borrow from the bank and even there we were conservative: we wanted to be sure we could pay our mortgage even if one of us lost his job. This limited our purchase price even more. So we had a self imposed limited budget but wanted lots of land. To reconcile these two facts we had to resort to geographic arbitrage.

Moving to the countryside

We first looked around Ghent but property price had really skyrocketed. We then looked closer to my parents but there too it was more land = more money. We finally ended near Tienen (it has the same time commuting to Brussels than Ghent) where land is/was still affordable. We landed on an old farm sitting on 2 800 m² of land. In all honesty, we bought it for the garden because even back then we knew the house was too big for just the two of us.

How big? Around 350 m² for the house alone. Not counting a 25 m² utility room (still needs to be renovated) and not counting the numerous outbuildings we have no idea what to do with (the cat does seem to like them, so there is that). We have the barn (there are parts of the barn attic the girlfriend has not been, ever), the stable, the garage, the work shed and then, because we ran out of names, something we call the green gate because the door is green and ‘the shed next to the work shed’ is just too damn long. Hell, ‘the shed with the green gate’ was too long so it just became ‘the green gate’. It is not uncommon for us to have the following conversation:

Do you know where item X is, I cannot find it in the utility room?

I probably put it in the barn with the garden equipment or the work shed.

*going outside, checking it, coming back inside*

Nope, I probably put it in the green gate.

*takes the key, goes back outside*

5 minutes later: damn it is not there either, where the hell is it?

No idea, it will turn up eventually

2 months later: hey I found item X!!

You did! Where was it?

In the green house!

The green house when it was nice and tidy

We have 4 bedrooms for just the two of us. And that is not counting the 100 m² attic (still needs to be renovated) which I will probably convert into a home fitness/cinema room eventually because well, more bedrooms would be futile and what else should we do with it?

We might, might, try Airbnb in the future but at the moment neither us is big on having strangers in the house (we have done workaway in the past).

So while it certainly did add some years to our early retirement date (had we stayed in Ghent i would probably be done about now) we were pretty smart how we went about it.

Being stupid, the smart way

Even though buying a way too big house that needed extensive renovation derailled our retirement date with several years we did do it a pretty smart way.

First off: we sticked to our budget. Purchasing prize was 185.000 euro. Or as one bank office manager said: you got the garden for free (we saw it the other way around: we paid for the garden and got the house for free).

We borrowed at a low rate: 3,6% and then refinanced it down to 2,6%. And I am currently looking to go even lower than that.

The girlfriend made a very, very nice profit on the sale of her house in Ghent. About half of that was invested (GBL for those curious), jump starting her stash. The other half was used for renovating the house.

We renovated while already living in the house (the three months our kitchen and bathroom got renovated were no fun). Hell we are still renovating! We have got about 5 years and another 50.000 euro to go.

pretty happy with our living room since it looked like this at a certain stage

We will probably end up putting 350.000 euro into the house (purchasing price + all renovations). A sum we did not want to borrow. By spreading the renovations over 10+ years we limited our borrowing costs. And can actually afford the house!

We both like watching house shows and honestly, I have seen a lot of properties being sold for 350.000 or more where the house is so, so uninspiring average. And I don’t do average very well. This house is many things but average it is not.

For our quality of living it has been a big change. Even with all the renovations being done.

We are both people who need space to be alone. We got that in spades.

It is also a lot nicer where we live now. One year we drove to Croatia to go on holiday. Two weeks later we drove back home. The holiday feeling persisted right up to the moment we drove into our neighborhood. This drop in holiday joy, just by driving into our street really reaffirmed we needed to move.

Our current place is the complete opposite: this summer I went to our local bakery to get some bread. The sun was shining, I was driving my Vespa down some nice country road and I actually felt like I was on holiday! In Ghent we were probably the richest people in the street. Now I doubt we make it into the top half. And it may not be politically correct in these times to say but wealthier neighborhoods in general means nicer neighborhoods.

It all comes down to happiness. Although Ghent is a great town we were not happy living where we lived then and we are pretty happy living where we live now. Yes, this means working some extra years but in this case it is a sacrifice we are both more than willing to make.

My thoughts on an emergency fund

Everybody will agree that you having an emergency funds is something you definitely need to have. But how much you should put into it is a lot trickier.

The reason to have one is simple: having readily available cash can solve a lot of problems. Life in general is bumpy and even if you live a pretty frugal life you will, from time to time, be confronted by unexpected costs. It is never fun to have to shell out a couple of thousand euro’s to replace something that was working fine JUST 5 MINUTES AGO!! But even less fun is having something break down and not having the money to fix it. And some things need fixing immediately. Having only cold water to shower with is an ‘adventure’ when you are a 20 year old student (you are young, tough and do not mind having an excuse to go take a shower at that attractive friend of a friends place, since she happens to be staying in Ghent during the Christmas holidays as well …). But as a 43 year old I prefer to have enough funds to have this fixed immediately.

The size of your emergency fund, that is an entirely other matter. There are so many variables that determine the best size of an emergency fund that a one size fit all approach does not work.

Some reasons are very tangible: if you own a house you will need a lager emergency fund than when you rent because you have a bigger change of being confronted with unexpected costs. Some are psychological: you may find it a very reassuring thought to have a bucket full of cash at the ready.

So I will not be telling you how much money you should put into your emergency fund. I will tell you my thoughts and how they evolved.

You see, I was one of those people who liked a decent emergency fund mainly because of psychological reasons. I liked having buffers. Buffer one was my checking account. I liked to keep that at 2.000 euro. And that Is at the end of the month, NOT the beginning. So yes, it frequently shot up to 4.000 euro at the beginning of a month.

Buffer two consisted of my savings account where I liked to have 10.000 euro in it (this was as somebody who rented and did not have car).

And then there were my investments.

This three layered approach meant I was a financial rock! Life would have to be pretty creative to get me into financial trouble!

Looking back at it I blame my mother. Yes, I know, therapists always blame the mother but in this case he/she would be spot on! It’s my mother who manages the finances at my parents and she is a big believer of healthy cash buffers. Well, it’s more unhealthy cash buffers in her case as they frequently end up with 6.000 euro on the checking account! And the cash in their saving accounts … As an active investor making pretty decent returns for the last 17 years, it can be maddening thinking about their missed returns …

But in all honesty, I can’t really blame my mother. First off, she probably picked this behavior up from her mother and secondly, saving and putting money on the side is a good start!

But what is missing is a clear vision, goal on what to do with the excess cash. This is something most people do not have. How else do you explain that we Belgians have 365 billion (BILLION!!) euro on savings accounts (and with interest at 0,11% and inflation close to 2%, actually losing purchasing power each and every year!). With 8,6 million adults not living in poverty in Belgium this would mean an average cash amount of 42.000 euro per person. A bit much for it to be an emergency fund and some savings. Clearly, we Belgians keep to much cash. The newspaper De Tijd currently even has a special segment for it: van spaarder tot belegger.

Hell I myself only started investing because I like numbers and looking at companies. I had no clear plan! Sure, when the stash grew bigger you start thinking that maybe, someday you perhaps could live off dividends. But this was a vague idea. Not a concrete goal that seemed achievable.

It was the FIRE community that brought me that clarity and thus also had an impact on how I look at the emergency fund.

Now my emergency fund is truly an emergency fund, only to help with unexpected costs and not to provide some psychological safety feeling. I have to admit I am not yet fully cured as I still prefer to have 2.000 euro in my checking account (damit Mom!). But in general I want my money to work as hard as possible for me, not sit idly in a savings account losing purchasing power.

Because I keep a budget now I also have a better view on my expenses. Being frugal means that most of my stuff costs less, hence takes less money to replace (a washing machine is 200 euro used, not 600 euro new, a car max 8.000 euro, and so on …). Since I also save a nice portion of my income each month I also need less funds to cover a period of reduced income as there is a nice savings buffer that will take the first hit.

I also believe that the bigger your stash is, the smaller your emergency fund can be. Perhaps it is because I am an active investor but I know I will always be able to have my stash produce some cash flow. The bigger the stash is the easier this becomes. Sure, this will take a bit of time (perhaps even a week or two) but it also means your stash does not need to cover six months of living expenses. If you have regular option premium income or dividend income you definitely can reduce the size of your emergency fund.

All the above has helped me a lot in determining the right size of my own emergency fund. It used to be 10.000 euro even if I was renting and had no car. But even with a house, a car (and a Vespa) now I have put the size of my emergency fund to 6.000 euro.

The same amount for my girlfriend means we have 12.000 euro which would be more than enough to replace a broken car AND something in the house at the same time. Or cover a nice period of reduced income (the Belgian social security system does also help in case of unemployment or sickness).

As I said in the beginning. The size of your emergency fund is something personal and there are a lot of variables at work. But I have come to the realization that for us FIRE people conventional wisdom does not apply. Then again, isn’t conventional wisdom wrong for a lot of things?

The ethical side of FIRE

Apparently some people wonder if this financial freedom/early retirement stuff is morally right or wrong.  Cheesy finance posted the question here and I was only going to type a short comment. And then I started typing and the short comment turned into a long one, which turned into this post …

The tax side

The ethical debate seems to be revolving around the question if we are committing a mortal sin because we will pay less taxes. Personally I have zero issues with it. I find our government incredible wasteful with the money people had to work so hard for. Frugality isn’t a trait often found in government bureaucracy. If they are just going to waste it, I do not feel very inclined to keep on providing my money to them. I also would like a much smaller government as in my mind they are now active in area’s better left to the private sector. Cutting the government budget in half would be a good start. And then cut it in half again …. This because I firmly believe a smaller and more efficient government would benefit our society a lot more than the over bloated wasteful one we have now.

So for me the tax side of FIRE is not a problem, on the contrary 😉 I sometimes refer to my frugal living as financial guerrilla warfare against the ever hungry government caterpillar.

The bigger picture

What I do wonder is if by checking out early from the workforce if we are slowing down the progress of society in general. With progress being defined as a better standard of living for the most people possible. Sure, most of us have jobs that do not really contribute to this and the job itself will be done by somebody else, so no actual loss there. But I have found I get more stuff done when I am working. I get pretty lazy without external pressure. That might just be me off course. And a whole lot of people who have reached FIRE seem to keep pretty busy or devote more time to self-development. But since, once FIRE reached we do not pay a lot off taxes, are we contributing in another, perhaps a more meaningful, way to society?

I have been wondering, where are the FIRE people who did truly exceptional stuff in their retirement? Stuff they would have never done if they still needed to work and is not only personal development but does benefit society as a whole? An innovation, a charity accomplishment, or even making big amazing structures for burning man …

Perhaps I look at it the wrong way. Perhaps the impact of the FIRE community will not be a few big exceptional accomplishments (because realizing the big exceptional accomplishment would probably turn into work at a certain point). Perhaps the impact will be more in a sort of grass root movement. Lots of people whom make small improvements in their own personal life and community because they have the time to do it. Buying less useless crap and focusing on meaningful experiences and relations with other people cannot be bad for our society.

Perhaps it will only be when a certain threshold of FIRE people in the society is reached that network effects and scalable stuff will start to happen and the impact on the whole society become visible….

Using options when you are a dividend growth investor

It’s my not so humble opinion that options are perfect for those whom pursue a dividend growth strategy. You see, as a dividend grower who likes to buy and keep stock for a long period you get something for free with options.

The price of an option is determined by the current stock price, the intrinsic value, time to expiration or the time value, volatility, interest rates and cash dividends paid.

It’s the volatility part that is interesting part. You see, as a trader who goes in and out potions a lot volatility is indeed a risk factor for which you want to be rewarded. But as a dividend growth investor you don’t really need to care about volatility at all. All that matters is your purchasing price as that determines your dividend yield.

Volatility is the movement of the stock price: stock A which goes from 100 euro to 94 euro, then to 107 euro and then back down to 105 euro has a higher volatility than stock B that goes from a 100 euro to 102 euro and then settles on the 105 euro. For a trader the more volatility is indeed a risk as he might get forced out of a position. Both stock may start and end at the same price but the higher volatility of stock A makes it more riskier for our professional trader than stock B. As a dividend grower who is going to keep the stock for the long run, not so much. You want your dividend yield (the same for both stocks) and some long term capital appreciation (also the same for both stocks). But if you use options to buy stock A, thanks to the higher volatility, you can actually buy stock A at a cheaper price than stock B because the option premium you collect will be higher!

Buying a stock with a put

And that is not the only advantage options can give you. Playing with the strike price can lower your purchase price and playing with the expiry time can let you travel in time a bit.

A few practical examples of the fun (and bigger yield) you can have with options.

AB Inbev’s current price is 105,4 euro. Let’s say you like AB Inbev but prefer to buy it at 100 euro.
You could enter a limit order and wait, and wait, and wait. Me, I prefer to be paid to wait. So you could sell a put at strike 100. The December series still pays around 1 euro which means that until the third friday of September you have the obligation to buy AB Inbev at 100 euro a share. Deduct your premium from this and you will actually only pay 99 euro out of your own pocket. If the option is not exercised you just made a 1% return on your money just for waiting. It probably will not be exercised because as long as AB Inbev has a higher price than 100 euro in the market nobody is going to exercise this option as they can get more money for their shares by selling to somebody else at market price. Also, 1% in less than two months isn’t bad. I really have no idea why us Belgians have so much money on savings accounts bringing in next to nothing while such attractive yields still exist in the market. the only possible downside is you have to buy AB Inbev at 100 euro which will then get you a dividend yield of above 2% net (which still is a lot higher than your savings account).

But what if you want to be sure you get the shares AND pay less than 100 euro a share? That is easy, play with the strike price and expiry time. Going down the ladder here you will find the September 2018 puts. The 110 euro strike price gives you a current bid of 12,6 euro premium which means you actually buy at 97,4 euro and the 120 euro gives you a bid of 20 euro premium which means you buy at 100 euro exactly. Personally I would go for the 110 strike price.

If it gets exercised you bought at a price lower than today. If it doesn’t get exercised you just made 12,9% in less than a year (you only need to set aside 97,4 euro of your own money as the rest you get from the option premium). Actually, you do not even need all that money now! If you have a broker like Lynx which lets you use your other stocks at collateral you can even do it with money you still need to save. You need to have the money by expiry date which means you still have 9 months to save up the 9 740 euro you will need to buy the 100 AB Inbev shares. If you are able to save 900 euro a month you could already sell that put and pocket the option premium with 0 euro in the account to actually buy the shares. (American style options can actually be exercised any time before the expiry date but that does not happen a lot. And even if it would happen my broker is more than happy enough to lend me the money at a 3% interest rate. Selling the put either gets me 6% reduction on the current stock price or a 12.9% return if not exercised. I’ll risk the small chance of needing to borrow the money at 3%). You are in fact making money on money you not yet have. Perfect for a person who saves a lot of his wage and wants to invest it to achieve early retirement (hmm, I wonder where I could find somebody like that …)

So selling a put is used to lower your purchase price or play a bit with time and get you a stock in the future even if you do not yet have the money.

Selling a stock via calls

Once you own a stock it is time to take a look at calls. Selling calls is what you will do when you want to get rid of a stock because the dividend yield is too low. Or to create an additional cash flow from a stock.

Personally I would only buy dividend stocks if the dividend yield after taxes is above 2.5%. If it dropped below 1.6% I would want to sell the stock and then go on the hunt for a new one paying above 2.5%

Let’s say you already own AB Inbev. And you are not too happy with them not raising their interim dividend. But at the present 105 euro price you do not wish to sell. But 120 euro, that is a different matter. 120 euro, that might tempt you. Well, the September 2018 calls at strike 120 euro will pay you 2.2 euro. If you do not need to sell you just made an extra yield of 1.8% on your AB Inbev (and option premiums are tax free in Belgium folks!) If you do need to sell, well you got the price you wanted and now have the cash to write a put on a stock with a better dividend yield … I had a friend who usually doubled his dividend yield by writing some well chosen calls.

The fun part is you get your call premium now, when you sell the option, for a future obligation. But the premium money is yours to keep (with puts you need to leave the money in cash as it might be needed to buy the shares if the put is exercised). Since you already have the shares which you may or may not need to sell you the premium income of a call can be put to work immediately! You could perhaps use it to sell a put to buy some other shares …

A little word to the wise. While selling a put when you do not have all the money necessary to pay for the underlying stock is ok (as long as you know you can save that money by the time the expiry date comes around) do not ever do it with calls! Only sell calls on stock you own as your potential loss is unlimited.

Personally I would make an excel sheet for all my positions that calculates at which stock price my dividend yield drops below 1.6% and then go look if I can sell calls at that strike price and book some extra, tax free returns on those positions.

Why do it?

By buying dividend stock via puts and selling via calls I think you could add at least 1% to your return. That might not seem a lot for the effort you need to put in. But 100.000 euro which returns 7% during 10 years (and the return each year reinvested at the same 7%) gives you 196 715 euro.

Push your return rate to 8% and it is 215 892 euro. That is a 20.000 euro difference in 10 years. And who doesn’t like a big return?

It is also the reason why I would limit my number of stocks I buy to only 5 or 6 well chosen stocks. It is less work, and I am lazy. But putting more money in fewer stocks lets you use options. An option contract always work with multiple of 100 underlying shares so selling 1 put option on AB Inbev at strike 100 means you will need 10.000 euro to buy the shares. Having a lot of money in a few positions also means your option premiums start to become significant which means you can invest the money a lot faster where otherwise you would need to wait longer and sell additional options to get enough money to play with.

And your turn over rate does matter! The faster you can get money re-invested the higher your return will be. It is another advantage of a broker like Lynx. When an option is close to expiration and will definitely not be exercised you can always leave the position expiry but already sell a new option having your money or the underlying stock pull double duty for a week or two and save a bit on trading fees (every little thing helps).

I am not a dividend investor because of the high tax the Belgian government has on dividends (30%, auch) but if I was one I would have a highly concentrated portfolio with only 4 or 5 stocks (you can always choose a holding like GBL if you really want diversification). I would only buy new stock via puts and sell stock via calls. An excel sheet would track the dividend yield and determine at which strike price I would want to sell those calls. With only a handful of stocks the work would be minimal and your return should be 1 or 2% above those not using options …

Even if you want to skip buying the shares and you chose your strike price so that your options are not exercised (in essence being a premium hunter, which is something I do at times. Tax free money bitches!) I recommend to do it with stable dividend paying stocks. The reason being that once in a while you will get assigned and might even have to wait a few years before you can start selling calls on the stock at a profitable level. The dividend will make those years a lot more comfortable, especially if you are FIRE …

Adventures in day trading

I already talked about how I ended up at Lynx here. Lynx offered a multitude of new possibilities for me and in my first post about how I was going to use these I also mentioned day trading.

I had this to say about it:

With the SAB MILLER position active and me not needing to work at the time I grew bored. So I tried my hand at day trading. Technically it was day trading because I was buying and selling on the same day. But actually I had identified some stock that was cheap and I wanted to buy some. I just didn’t feel too comfortable with already having a 200.000 GBP leveraged position so as soon as I made some profit I closed the position (and thus the extra leverage). I practiced a bit with Berkshire Hathaway and Coca cola. And then when Google went down to 730 USD I really had some fun with it. Real day trading is off course have dozens or even hundreds of trades and playing both an uptrend and downtrend in stock price. I just bought stock I thought was cheap and then sold with a small profit. Sometimes I only did 1 or 2 of these trades, and some days 6 or 8. I found it to be way to much work and also too much stress but I did make around 2.500 USD in profits from it (another 1% added to the stash). But it would have been much more profitable to just buy Google at 730 USD, keep it for a few months and then sell it around 780 USD. I just wasn’t very comfortable with that amount of leverage at that time.

I stopped day trading when I started working again but then my temporary contract ended at the end of January. Since I once again had a leveraged construction at 2x leverage in my portfolio I decided to start day trading again.

Let’s do it again

My approach remained the same. So I chose google again to trade in.

The reasons for this is that I believe in the long term prospects of google (by which I mean the stock price should go up over time) and it usually has enough volatility during the day to make a small profit of at least a 100 USD of it with a trade.

I usually buy 100 CfD’s on Google. This costs me 5 USD in fees as that is the minimum fee Lynx charges. Selling will cost me another 5 USD so Google needs to go up 0,10 USD for me to break even. I usually try to make 100 USD on a trade. So google needs to move 1,10 USD for this to happen. This is about 0.0011%. So changes of this happening are pretty good.

Pretty good doesn’t mean guaranteed. Last Thursday would have been a bad day to try to day trade in google.

One of my own rules is that really bad days I stay away. Yes, even Thursday there would have been 2 or three points (red arrows) where a quick in and out hopping could have made some money but chances of picking the exact right time are too low to risk it.

I also do not trade when the stock is at an all-time high price (though I broke that rule to buy just below 1000 USD and then sell just above 1000 USD just so I could say I traded Google went it went over the 1000 USD share price. I now, stupid. Especially because nobody but me cares about something like that…). I also do not trade when the stock is at a high for that day.

What do I trade? Little drops in the stock.

15 August would have been a good day to trade.

There are 4 moments where I might have traded. We had a friend over so I didn’t go and sit behind the PC but I did want to show off a little bit so late in the afternoon I did log in. I was just in time for the last moment and opened a position. The upward movement wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be (should have sold at the first black arrow) so I left some money on the table but in the end was able to close the position with a net profit of 50 USD (sold somewhere around the second black arrow).

The trick is off course to identify that the dip is in fact a dip and not the beginning of a big downward movement. Either I have been lucky so far or I kinda have a ‘feel’ for it. But I have also closed positions at no profit or only 5 or 8 USD profit because the upward movement I thought would happen just didn’t materialize. I have had Google do nothing but go down after I open a position. Lucky for me this happened at prize points where I didn’t mind holding Google. So my day trade position then became a multi-day or in two occasions even multi-week position until Google rebound so I could exit the position at a profit. It is why I do not day trade when Google is at (or near) an all-time high (with the one exception, I knew it would cross the 1000 USD mark). Let’s just say I am pretty happy with the last drop in Google price. It is now at a level I feel comfortable trading it again.

As you just read there is nothing sophisticated or glamorous about it. But it is some extra money on a regular basis. Last year I made around 2.500 USD (in a couple of months) and this year I am around 3.250 USD (the price of the Vespa!). It is a little bit extra I now do in an effort to get the home renovations done quicker. My estimate is that the remaining home renovation will take around 50.000 euro. The girlfriend and me can save around 10.000 euro a year so these should take 5 years to  complete. If I make an additional 10.000 euro by day trading in the next 4 years well that is one year quicker that our house is finished. Since I do not want to retire before the renovations are done this could shave off a full year of me working!

I can feel my mind slipping

Before I started day trading I had read it is mostly a mental game and I can confirm it is.

First and all, you need to be able to stare at the price of a stock for hours. It literally is looking at a screen. So you have to be able to do that (luckily I have had lots of training at my previous jobs for this). And then you have to fight the urge to open a position. Believe me, this is hard! That is why you are sitting there after all! And the longer you sit there, the more you want to enter a trade.

Then when you do enter a trade there are nerves. Because your timing is never perfect. Meaning you buy in a dip, but the dip continues … And every 0.1 USD drop is costing you 10 USD. You are sitting there thinking: I should have waited a bit longer! I am leaving money on the table!!

Then the stock goes up. Oef, yes, it was a dip, yes I am going to make money here!

Then it goes down a bit again. We are talking cents here, cents on a 925 USD stock. So off course it is moving up and down. I always does that but what you need to determine here is: is the dip over and will it go higher or is the dip not over yet? Is this a little upward bounce before going down a lot more? How strong is the upward movement?

In all honesty, sometimes I exit the trade just in time before it drops another dollar. In those cases I feel pretty smart. But sometimes I get out with 5 or 10 USD profit thinking the stock will go down again but then it starts a strong upward movement, going up 2 or 3 dollar. Which means I just missed 300 USD profits. I feel pretty stupid then.

You need to leave your emotions at home. But you also need to be able to not give a fuck about the fact you missed profit. That is hard, because you are there, sitting behind the computer to make a 100 or 200 USD. You are thinking 10 cents movement = 10 USD. And since your timing is never going to be perfect you will always miss profits. So even if you know you missed some profit. Even if some part of your brain is screaming: nice going dimwit, you just missed 80 USD another part of your brain must scream back and say fuck it, I made some profit and I will continu to make profits, shut up other part of the brain! And that second part of your brain needs to win the shouting match! So you can continue trading and open a new position. And then the entire circus starts again. As you can read, it goes from utterly boring to utterly nerve wrecking.

Why do I do it then?

well, I seem to be decent at it. Within the rules I made for myself I am capable of making a little bit of profit. I don’t find it a pleasant activity to do but the 3.250 USD of profit so far equals 1,5 months of working in Brussels. Honestly, I prefer the day trading over the going to work. It takes less effort, and I don’t need to go to Brussels for it.

It also helps that it is a little extra on the side. I do not do it a lot. As a day job  I think it would be very exhausting. A little bit left and right is very doable. Sometimes I plan on doing some trading one evening and then when the time comes I don’t feel like it, so I don’t. Or the stock doesn’t move right so I stop after an hour. When I was unemployed I put in longer sessions. But even then, sometimes I made a nice profit in the first two hours so I just stopped for the rest of the day (or even week) and was off to do something a lot more fun than staring at a screen for hours.

So for the time being I am going to continue doing it. Hopefully get another 10.000 USD in profits from it over time so I can finish renovating the house one year earlier …

 

 

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