The New Retirement

I recently had the chance to chat with Todd Tresidder.  If you don’t know the name, don’t worry.  Up until about a year ago, I didn’t either.  But, the short of it is that the guy is retired.  In fact, he retired much earlier than most will.  At the ripe “old” age of 35, he retired.  Which must mean he’s off golfing around in the Arizona heat, right?  Or down, sipping OJ at some southern Florida retirement village?  Not likely.

Todd is retired in the sense that he doesn’t report to a boss.  He does what he wants, when he wants to.  One of the things that he wants to do is write books that help people like you and I become better financially.  He’s got several that he’s written so far, and I’m sure he’s working on more.  During that first meeting, Todd and I spoke for a while on retirement.  Speaking with another financially minded person, I usually expect to hear people talk about 401(k)s, IRAs, and stock purchasing.  I don’t discount those tools, but I just don’t feel that, like Social Security, you should be depending on them for your whole retirement.  Surprisingly, Todd agrees.  The longer we spoke, the more we found that we agreed on.  At the end of our conversations, Todd offered me a copy of his book on retirement. I accepted.

How Much Money do I need to retireLong story short, I finally read it.  It took me a while, but I’m glad I got around to it.

If there’s anything that stands out about the book, is that Todd knows what he’s talking about.  He’s got the experience behind him to talk about the subject in an informed and educational manner, and technically, probably knows more about some of his subject matter than I ever will.  He spends the first several chapters of the book dispelling a few myths about retirement, and about the way in which most people tend to think about it.  He then takes off on a few chapters of some of the math and logic behind the different ways of calculating your retirement needs, and calculating that mythical “number” that everyone seems to be seeking out that will indicate that they’ve saved all that they need to save for retirement.  Not only does that one perfect number not exist, he argues, but the calculations that we make to arrive at it are completely flawed.

The rest of the book is focused on what I like to call the New Retirement.  He goes into detail on the ways to properly estimate your income needs for the future, and then into ways that he believes (and I agree) that a properly diversified retirement “portfolio” should be structured.  I don’t want to spoil too much of the book so I won’t say much more.  What I will say is that the book isn’t terribly long.  It’s not a deeply structured manual on all the different retirement accounts.  And it’s not terribly expensive.  It’s $4.99 on the Kindle (free for Prime members), and about $10 in paperback.

Pick up a copy of How Much Money do I need to Retire at Amazon.  You can check out Todd’s site as well as the other books he’s written at FinancialMentor.com.

 

Embrace Peer to Peer Lending

Imagine it is Monday morning. You just had a great Sunday with your family, doing chores around the house and watching a movie together. But now you are back in the literal driver’s seat, and on the drive to work your mind begins to wander, cataloging the day’s tasks.

And then the urge hits you, that tempting nagging gently haunting concern about your retirement account. “Has it gone up?,” you think to yourself. “Oh no, maybe it is down.” You know it really makes no difference, but you realize you have not checked the mutual fund you are invested in within the last three days. You know things are probably fine, but you can’t help but wonder. After all, you and your spouse’s well-being for the next forty years is wrapped up in those tiny digits on your browser screen.

You sigh, wishing there were another way to do this whole investment thing.

The Toll of Volatility

The headache in the first section is the price we pay for trusting our future in the US markets. This is because the market contains what investors call volatility; it can dramatically rise and fall within hours or minutes of breaking news. The supposed benefit of this volatility is that, in theory, things eventually become more steady. Millions of people trust these markets to give them an eventual positive return on their investment. “Give the market patience,” common wisdom says. “Trust your hard earned savings 30 years at a time.”

Then you turn on the evening news and watch channels like NBC Nightly News devote weighty portions of their show to how the market is faring. “The DOW rose/fell today by 1.4%…”, a report will start. Why do they talk about it every day if long term returns are all we should focus on? Because of volatility; because they lack trust. The 2007-2008 financial crisis five years ago was the largest since the great depression, even causing something as steady as copper to rise and fall like a ship in a storm.

Copper Price History

[source: Wikimedia Commons]

When looking at the graphic above (the price of Copper over the past 25 years), it is no wonder that people struggle with checking their retirement fund throughout the week!

The Peace of Peer to Peer Lending

There are many non-volatile ways to invest outside the US markets, and peer to peer lending is one of these. Instead of being tied to the global market, rising and falling on a whim, peer to peer lending returns just steadily trickle in throughout the day.

Of course there remain some risks. Some have lost money. But if a lender remains diversified in at least 200 peer to peer loans, there is an extremely low chance they will experience a negative return. In a study I did in February, only four diversified peer to peer lenders out of 3800 have lost money on Prosper.com.

In contrast, you can bump up your returns by using savvy filters on the available loan pool. Examples of good filters to use target borrowers with are:

  • No past bankruptcies
  • 10+ years of credit history
  • 5+ years of consistent employment
  • 10+ total credit lines on their report.

Lenders who compile a diversified peer to peer lending portfolio out of borrowers like these experience much less volatility than investing in the stock market.

My Experience

I used to be like those folks who was tempted to daily check the status of my retirement mutual fund. Articles kept telling me not to, but I could barely help myself. Checking my account was like a financial version of pornography; it was a need that could not be satisfied.

Then I discovered peer to peer lending. Since then, I found the emotional ease I had been looking for. I am diversified in 200+ notes across both Lending Club and Prosper, so I worry little about the state of my accounts. My returns are refreshingly boring in contrast to the US stock market: they neither rise nor fall by the day, staying at a healthy 13% or more every single day of the year.

Yesterday was Monday, and (against my better judgment) I logged into my peer to peer lending accounts to see how things were faring.

Nothing had changed. I closed my browser window and called my Mom.

What is Financial Independence

In my post “Are we Doing Personal Finance Wrong“, I talked a little bit about “Financial Freedom”.  Of all the comments that the post got, that was the one thing that was mentioned most of all.  Which, to me, means it bears some further discussion.

Financial freedom, or financial independence, can be defined a little bit differently depending on the person doing the defining.  Like most personal finance, it’s highly dependent on the values of the person.  What I define financial independence as might be a whole lot different from what you define it as.  I think, no matter who is defining it, the real keystone is the word freedom or independence.  We all want freedom and independence.  Some autonomy from the rat race.  The idea of having the financial ability to declare our independence is alluring.

What is Financial Independence, for me.

Financial IndependenceMy definition of financial independence is likely pretty similar to most.  In it’s most broad sense, I define it as the ability to not be swayed by financial needs.  Breaking it down a bit more, it means not “needing” a job just to make ends meet.  It means not “needing” a job to keep a roof over my head.  It also means having the ability to take advantage of opportunities to improve my situation.  Whether that means having the cash on hand to be able to buy or start a business, buy a rental property, or just take a month off to travel or learn something new isn’t all that relevant.  It’s that I have that ability.

Something that needs to be said here is that at one point, not that very long ago, I thought of it as being synonymous with “independently wealthy”.  Which may or may not be true depending on your definition of independently wealthy.  For sure, I don’t believe that it matches up with the definition I had back then.  Back then, I would have told you that independently wealthy meant retirement and not doing a dang thing.  Sitting on the beach all day, every day, being utterly non-productive.  That definition has changed.  A lot.  Financial independence, if it’s synonymous with independently wealthy, doesn’t mean that you don’t work, but that you have the financial freedom to do the work you want to do.  Because you are free from the “need” part of the financial equation, you have the ability to do the work that you feel called to do without regard for how much it pays, whether it’s part-time or full-time, or whether it’s a short term project or not.

What is Financial Independence, for you.

As I mentioned above, your definition might differ slightly (or a lot) from mine.  Maybe, for you, it really does mean sitting on a beach somewhere, doing nothing.  Maybe it means not having to work and spending all your time volunteering instead.

However our definitions might differ is somewhat irrelevant.  Our personal definitions still mean that it’s something worth pursuing to each of us.  And, if our end-game is to be financially independent, I still don’t think we’re doing personal finance right.  I still don’t think we’re even close.  I think we need to break away from the systems we have, find the ones that work for our personal finances, and then achieve our financial independence.

Achieving your Financial Independence.

Breaking away from the systems we have for personal finance won’t be easy.  Heck, our definition of financial independence will probably change along the way and require a new system again.  But, achieving that financial independence should be our primary goal.  Not retirement.  Not our childrens’ college education.  And certainly not saving up cash to pay for that big SUV.  Our primary goal in our personal finance should be achieving financial independence.  Once we’ve achieved that, retirement, education, and big trucks will come.  And they’ll come without sacrificing anything.

The Path to Financial Independence.

Much like our definitions differ, so too will our path to financial independence differ.  Undeniably, I think that the first landmark on that path has to be the complete and utter destruction of all debt.  Before we worry about anything else, we have to be free of the yoke of debt.  Joan Otto, the community manager at Man Vs. Debt, wrote about this recently specifically referencing retirement accounts.  Take a minute or two and read it.  Then, pay special attention to the comments.  Aside from a few people, almost all of the comments are people who think she’s off her rocker.

Is she off her rocker?  Or is she just developing a new system for her personal finance that leads towards her financial independence?  It takes a certain amount of courage to admit to the thoughts and ideas that she does in that post.  (I should know, see: Why I’m Withdrawing from an IRA)  But, then try and remove what you’ve been taught about retirement and saving from your mind for a minute and re-read section 4 of her post.  She’s not being irrational.  In fact, I’d argue that she’s being overly rational.  I think I’ll have to write more about that in another post, but the Vulcan, logic loving, part of me thinks she is right.

Our paths to financial independence will vary.  Some of those people in the comments of Joan’s article will achieve it using the current system.  Many of them will have started saving early, and found ways to drastically save.  But, will they have the liquidity available to make a move on an opportunity in the 30′s, 40′s, or even 50′s?  Or will it have to wait until they’re past “retirement” age and have penalty free access to their nest eggs?

Find your path.  Start the journey, and achieve your financial independence.

Have you already started on your journey?  Have you found your path?  Have you achieved your financial independence?  There are many of us here, including myself, that are new to the journey or haven’t even begun yet that could benefit greatly from your story.  Will you share it with us?

img background credit:Fireworks at Swindon by Stephen_Gunby, on Flickr