Most people have “a-ha” moments; somehow I just seem to have “oh for fuck’s sake, seriously!?” moments. One of those occurred about a year ago and resulted in me wising up to the fact that earning good money and blowing it all on holidays, sports gear and gadgets was not making me either rich or happy. Just like Xanax doesn’t really make you relaxed. The realisation was rather sobering. The corrective action was decidedly unpleasant.
So these days I don’t haemorrhage money like a drunken sailor. I have spreadsheets. They track my net worth.
They say what gets measured gets done, and if you’re traveling somewhere it’s good to know where you are and how far you still have left to go. For those of us working towards financial independence keeping an eye on progress might help in that sense. I also like spreadsheets, so there’s that.
In The Millionaire Next Door Stanley and Danko provide a formula for calculating what your net worth should be given your income and age.
Target net worth = Age x Income / 10
If you’re good with money, your net worth should be twice the above number. Personally I prefer Trent Hamm’s modified The Millionaire Next Door formula. It’s more forgiving to those of us under the age of 40.
Target net worth = (Age – 27) x Annual pre-tax income / 5
But a general question remains of what assets should be counted (home equity?) and what comparative values they should be assigned. Surely a £100 in an ISA is worth more than £100 in a SIPP, because of this thing called tax. How much more, depends on how much you already have where (ISA/ SIPP/ taxable accounts) and on your expense run rate at FI, as these factors will determine your marginal tax rate.
Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, famously declared that “the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.” Governments, bless them, tend to stick to tax policies that mostly work for those who voted them into power. Alas, it appears that the FI community represents a rather small proportion of the electorate.
As I work towards FI I have to put liquid funds in place to finance each chunk of my future FI life. Having all my wealth tied up in my home and pension may be the most tax efficient option*, but it puts a limit on my earliest possible retirement age. If I want to quit being an office drone before I turn 58 (which I very much do) then I’ll have to sacrifice some tax efficiency in exchange for earlier access.
ONS released their Wealth and Assets Survey the other week, which made for an interesting read. I took their numbers for my income decile, adjusted them (albeit crudely) for age, and lo and behold, this is what my household wealth distribution looks like, using the four categories as defined by ONS. The blue graph is the ONS household wealth distribution by asset class and the green graph is me.
The silly property / financial wealth split in the green graph is due to mortgage overpayments; in my circumstances these two are interchangeable as I’ve been overpaying mortgage in lieu of investing in, y’know, investments.
The one thing this really does bring out is that I’m way too light on pension. This will need to be rectified, pronto.
* It is in the UK at least. I know the Yanks get taxed on houses… tough shit, that.