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Dealing with the Uncertainties in Financial Independence Pursuit

Few things ran through my head currently but I will keep this post on some of the struggles and what I think about these struggles.

In the short span of three months, I have had friends dealing with grief and great struggles.

B wrote about the sudden turned of events when his dad suddenly came down with ischemic stroke while his dad is overseas. Due to that, he would have to shift his plans for financial independence. You can read about it here and here.

My friend Chris also shared a little more about his dad who has to be in and out of hospital recently. We discussed more about his dad situation, twice. Ironically these discussion was during two different funerals for a friend of ours. He had to organize 2 funerals in a short span of time.

I thank both Chris and B for their sharing and we wish both dad a speedy recovery. Their courageous sharing to me is frank. If you have read about their investing, and life experiences, you would be thinking we all got all these money & life stuff figured out.

These experiences just shows that everyone of us is trying our best to figure out the best path going forward.

In the financial independence community, we face a lot of naysayers. We were told a lot of times we didn’t factor in this, we didn’t factor in that.

In short, we either didn’t considered something that may happen or that we consistently underestimate certain things we already know.

This looks like a victory for them in a way.

I tend to think not. And I can provide some perspectives.

If you choose not to pursue Financial Independence, it does not mean you can handle Sudden Uncertainties better

Firstly, it is not that the pursuit of financial independence, will increase the chances of these events from happening. These events are likely to occur to most of us regardless whether we pursue this odd and niche lifestyle goal.

Someone could be still slogging in the corporate world, have a wife and two kids, with aging parents. While on holiday with the extended family, a similar situation befall them.

Secondly, what gets to critics is that there are so many known unknowns that could occur in you. If you do not plan for it, and you retire fully, then it is not going to work out for you.

It is the fully stopping work, and not earning anything but still got passive income coming in that gets people really riled up. In a way, we are going to live the life they wish they could live. A life that they think, they cannot have.

So the best way to solve this is by throwing known unknowns at us.

Financial Independence is a journey. Here is the typical process:

  1. Try to earn more
  2. Know what makes you happy in life. Spend enough to get you that
  3. For the rest, mercilessly cut down on the expenses that means less to you
  4. With the usually high savings rate, build wealth well with them
  5. Check in once in a while to see if you are there

This looks like a more intentional, escalated and advance version of personal finance.

And I do struggle to say whether it is wrong to pursue this.

What is the alternative?

  1. Try to earn more
  2. Spend on things that make you happy
  3. Spend on things that don’t make you happy
  4. Spend on other people that, deep down inside, is not really close to you
  5. Have a normal savings rate of 10% or less
  6. Don’t build wealth wisely. Don’t know any other alternative method to build wealth. So you put down a down payment on a 99 year old leasehold condo and continue to service the mortgage

A catastrophic situation occurs that would require you to come up with $20,000 to $120,000.

What do you do?

  1. Can you liquidate enough assets to have that amount of money that you need immediately?
  2. Some medical condition requires a recurring monthly treatment cost
  3. Could you be so flexible to shift your expenses to accommodate these recurring treatment costs? Bear in mind that at this point, you are of the frame of mind that all your expenses are necessary

There are certain things about the pursuit of financial independence that gets lost in the noise:

  1. These folks who are on the path tend to be good performers or aspiring to be one. If you want to earn more, you are likely to want to learn from others, try to get better. You tend to be more employable
  2. When you try to get better, you tend to be someone that people like to have around. Your professional network tend to be better as well. If you have started some side businesses, it is seldom likely that you have a good business but a poor network
  3. If you are #1 and #2, there is little chance that at 40-50 years old, you are happy with an existence that you do not work at all. Most likely you will do some kind of work, be it volunteer or not. Often you will earn some form of compensation
  4. Those who pursue, tends to develop competency in various sub life disciplines. Some even developed mastery in some of these sub life disciplines
  5. As they are often trying to find the best framework to do things, trying to balance pros and cons, they also tend to be more open about possibilities
  6. They tend to know the levers that they can pull when it comes to their life. They lived a more nimble life.
  7. Financial Independent does not mean you quit

In a way, those who decide to be on this path, tends to be those who are trying to scale the social ladder.

Whether they managed to reach financial independence, that matters less.

The essential tools to reach financial independence includes a lot of things that would put you in a better position then if you are not on the path.

There are lots to think about…. When it comes to Uncertainties

How do we address these uncertainties that the detractors talked about in financial independence?

In financial planning, this can be solved by baking in more cash flow requirement. On a present value basis, baked in 30-40% more to what you think you need.

This is a rule of thumb.

If not, you can plan for the worse case scenario that needs the most money.

One good example can be when one of the parents got dementia, need to stay in a home. The monthly cost is $4,000 a month. On an annual basis that will be $48,000 a year. Let us estimate that the parent need to be there for 15 years.

On a discount rate/inflation rate of 4%, the present value is $533,682. Realistically, if you can be closer to financial independence 10 years from now, what you need may be, $789,980.

For every uncertainty you can come up with, we can compute a cost for it.

Then you can save towards it, with your standard savings rate.

If you feel your current retirement is hard to save towards, note that you have to factor in these uncertainties as well, so that is either $500,000 to $800,000 on top of your retirement sum.

The naysayer wishes for the perfect plan. In the absence of that, they conclude retirement is impossible.

If you are trap in a well paying job with an overbearing boss, and you have not accumulate enough for retirement or financial independence, should you stay in the job?

The naysayer would stay in the job and be unhappy. The naysayer would probably move to another place. As luck would have it, the naysayer would feel the world is against him or her.

Those who are on this path would:

  1. Re-look the numbers
  2. How realistic is his or her plan to fully be financially independent
  3. If it is not, what are the risks he or she is exposed to, if he or she takes the leap
  4. What are the alternative lifestyle schemes to consider?

B and Chris took the plunge I think, because the job just suck too much out of them.

Too much bullshit. Too much time away from self and the family.

If we want a full proof plan before pulling the plug, then this is what they call FAT FIRE. It means you decide to retire but with a cash flow that can sustain your current lifestyle that is not bare-bones.

FAT FIRE is very comfortable. With a lot of buffers.

You can aim for that. Hope you have a nice salary because most often you would need it.

We should have done better to think about some of these uncertainties.

To make such a niche and incredulous concept looked realistic to the masses, the message must be easier to digest. When the message is more simple, a lot of deeper stuff is not discussed. These became some of the uncertainty.

Whether you can take the plunge or not depends on how risk seeking or risk adverse the person is. To address the anxiety of the risk adverse, we got to discuss this better.

There will always be Chink in One’s Armor

What I do observe is that no one has everything plan out so well.

We have folks we chat with in Telegram chats that seem to have every shit nailed down so well. And then he or she goes on to share some befuddling financial boo boo.

In the span of 3 months we are presented with a few different healthcare situations.

The insurance advisers will be using these case studies to prey on the availability bias and tell you to get this insurance, that insurance.

One common similarity with these 3 of my friends as well as myself is that the chink in the armor is the parents.

In all three cases, you realize, the kids cannot run away from this. This eventually becomes wholly your problem, or partly your problem.

Protecting parents can be hard. For some, they have enough pre-existing conditions that the insurance cost is high, or it renders them not insurable.

The cases I been through with, I have not heard many that gets a big critical illness payout. With a critical illness payout, it goes some way into help alleviate some new cancer treatments.

These new cancer treatments, most often, are not subsidized and are not cheap. To pay a 6 month out of pocket cost might set you back $100,000 to $200,000.

My stance for this has not changed:

  1. Insurance covers those low probability but high cost impact situations. Do your best to get them cover within your own abilities
  2. Keep your insurance cost in control
  3. You do not wish to fall into these medical shit, so a lot of it comes from trying your best to live a life that reduces your changes of getting them. You cannot avoid them but you could try not to escalate it
  4. Keep nimble and flexible. A rich and fixed life would give you a bigger issue when these stuff hits

Chris probably balance things up with his reflection of the medical care his dad is getting.

Conclusion

I guess the overall idea is that, you can failed in your pursuit of financial independence.

However, if you have truly learned enough on this path, it puts you in a better position.

Some of my readers did not reach there. They got some stuff thrown at them along the way. I do find that they are less lost. They would ask questions like they thought about doing this and that. They lean towards a certain path but just wanna hear what I think.

I believe that pursuit have made them fit mentally. They are also nimble because they have paid down, or could pay down their debt. Being unencumbered is a great position to be in.

However, we should absolutely discuss the things that could go wrong and considered them.

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Veronika

Monday 5th of August 2019

Bob, yes. In most East Asian societies, parents expect their kids to give them money. Not only during the parent's retirement but once the kids have stable incomes. In some ways that is why parents steer their kids into professions such as doctors, etc. ( besides satisfying the social status)

"Duty" is best evidenced by monetary contribution rather than moral behaviour.

A recent survey done by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy indicates that a minimum amount is not easy to cough up, unless helped from the Government. https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/gia/article/research-spotlight-series-how-much-does-a-singapore-household-need-for-a-basic-standard-of-living

Createwealth8888

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Sometime wondering why lack of minimalists advocating on medical and healthcare?

When we are critically sick, we need the best?

Sinkie

Sunday 4th of August 2019

I think at the end of the day, it is a personal balance of choice & duty (or hope).

E.g. Would a private hospital in Jarkata be a viable alternative for B's dad? Does the dad have some existing Indonesian hospital insurance that will make better sense for treatment there rather than in S'pore?

And how old is the patient? If I were to kena some serious conditions in my 70s & older, I won't want to spend beyond the standard treatment protocol & pain/palliative mgmt.

That's why the majority of S'porean citizens & PRs don't understand how big a deal it is that basic Medishield Life is made compulsory and extended to coverage of pre-existing and even congenital conditions. This is basically illustrated in Chris dad's case.

Agents & advisors using these cases to push their insurance will be pushing the wrong types of insurance (but high commissions) i.e. wholelife with CI. The coverage per premium dollar is too low due to the expensive premiums (even worse for older parents), plus non-insurability of pre-existing. And the benefit is only a once off payout when in real life you may have to be prepared for multiple hospital admissions & step-down hospital rehab.

Straight talking financial planners & practitioners in the financial industry will tell you that when it comes to personal finance, "investing" actually occupies a very small footprint & focus.

Kyith

Monday 5th of August 2019

and probably the money management is a better insurance than this.

Bob

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Hi,

#2 Know what makes you happy in life. Spend enough to get you that

#2 Spend on things that make you happy

This is a difficult one.....

From my biased and subjective observation, it is not the purchased stuff that give people the surge of happiness, it is, indeed, the act of spending itself. The pleasure from actually owning the stuff dwindles exponentially thereafter.

However, I have an embryonic business proposition.

A lot of the sellers on the online stores such as Lazada will allow you to return the goods for a refund. If 5% was charged for this service, the rampant consumers could spend $1,000 feeling awesome, and then return the lot and it would

1. Only cost $50

2. Not accumulate piles of unused stuff in the home

The shopping addiction would be satisfied at minimal cost.

Or in shopping malls, where it is imperative to be seen with large branded carrier bags. Just set up the Stuff Return Counter on the exits. This would allow shoppers to walk around, trying on clothes (take a few selfies), buying armfulls of stuff and then walk out carrying nothing. And only pay 5% for an afternoon's shopping experience, with no credit card bill rolling in.

This just has to be a winner.

Owlcents

Monday 5th of August 2019

Bob, you make a good point. I have a Friend who does this on Amazon Prime. Buys a whole bunch of stuff and returns all of them for free. She satisfies her craving for new items but yet doesn’t spend a single cent on it (other than amazon prime membership).

Bob

Sunday 4th of August 2019

This does raise an interesting cultural aspect.

Why are parents imposing this on their kids? And is it continuing in today's parents of child producing age?

Cynically speaking, are people, or did people, bring kids into the world with the expectation that they would then be on the line for long term financial support? I know that it is not unusual for children in Singapore to give their parents a monthly allowance.

My personal view is that this is morally reprehensible. No one ever asked to be here, and life is certainly far from easy, but with already a huge future potential liability seems doubly unfair.

To those of you with kids or planning to have kids, are you already considering that they are part of your financial retirement plan?

Kyith

Monday 5th of August 2019

We give money because we want to. Put it in another way. If you do not give, then what do you think they should do?

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