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Guest Post: ERE-Lite or, How I can easily live on £5000 per annum — Part II

with 16 comments

Read ERE-Lite: Living on £5000 per annum — Part I here…

ERE-Lite: Living on £5000 per annum — Part II

Since leaving my job and striking out on my own I have really come to appreciate this hierarchy of capital types. Social at the top, financial at the bottom. Recall above my previous concerns about whether the financial industry would survive 2008, tie this to my idea of real wealth and the imminence (or at least inevitability) of peak oil, and you will see why financial capital is at the bottom of the hierarchy. It is the least stable, least secure of the three, prone to counter-party risk and strongly correlated to the health of Western industrial civilisation. My non-financial capital includes my home, my garden and the tools to work it. My social capital resides with my friends and neighbours, and provides me a network whereby I have gained some of my physical assets, access to paid work, exchanged food and labour, dissipated my excess production and derived a lot of entertainment, education and pleasure. In terms of priorities, I’d rather add first to my social capital, then my non-financial capital, and finally to my financial capital.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the workings of social capital is anecdotally. I could try in the abstract, but it would be less convincing as it would tend to contradict many common worldviews, and encounter resistance (Ed’s Note: Agree on that point with Macs! Just read, How blog comments look in a parallel Universe). Aliases have been used to protect the innocent.

At the beginning of the tale, when I was little more than a cubicle-jockey running on the 9—5 tramlines of conformity, my social capital was low. I had moved home (and country) a few times and shaken off most of my old social connections, but eventually found myself resettled on my native soil as a debt—slave working an uninspiring job mostly to pay off a modest mortgage. This last was not a common experience, and I was truly unhappy to be in such a position. After a hard day’s work I’d often find myself in the local pub (which we’ll call ‘The Rainbow’, for anonymity’s sake) bemoaning the soul-lessness of my existence. Now, the secret to building social capital boils down to two words, really: ‘Be nice’. Make and build friendships, maintain them, be available, be honest, be true to yourself. Be aware that a gift is an investment in social capital — it’s not quantifiable, not tallied in a ledger anywhere, but it strengthens relationships. So when Mr Grey was out of work and down in the dumps, a drink or two were appreciated. After a while he was employed in the kitchens at the pub, and I found I had a source of re-used containers and potato sacks I needed for my garden. In return I supplied some of my surplus potatoes to the kitchen (for a few pints), and some herbs from my garden.

Mr Blue, another keen gardener, brought in excess runner beans — some went to The Rainbow’s kitchen, some came my way. Likewise the pheasants he brought in after a shoot — now, I didn’t know how to prepare a pheasant for eating, so I spent a couple of days in the kitchen myself, helping out and learning the ropes on preparing game birds. A bit of upskilling! All unpaid except in terms of social capital. Another friend — Mr Silver — also likes a bit of game, so I made sure some of the pheasants went his way, and then when he’d made too much marrow chutney for his family, some ended up in my store cupboard. By the time I was ready to give up the day job, and I knew I had more time to spare, I mentioned to Mr Silver that I’d be available if needed — he works as a handyman and gardener, and I knew some jobs would require more than one pair of hands. Sure enough, a few short contracts have come through that way. He’s been able to take on jobs he might have had to refuse, and I have some enjoyable work I’d never have accessed otherwise. In this particular instance that social capital actually yielded cold, hard cash.

Panorama shot of my foraging grounds

Panorama shot of my foraging grounds. 🙂

Besides gardening, I also enjoy a spot of foraging around the woods and hedgerows for wild foods. Often as not I go out on my own for a bit of peace and quiet, and to enjoy the scenery, but on occasion I’ll team up with Mr Grey and/or Mr Silver, sharing my knowledge of what’s out there, what’s good to pick and how to use it. The latest joint venture is a nice big tub of elderberry wine which is bubbling away in Mr Silver’s spare bedroom. That will be a good party when it’s ready, and of course, we’ll have a few spare bottles to distribute, again bolstering our social capital. Foraging has also yielded quite a nice haul of other produce: elderflower cordial earlier in the year, (wild) raspberry jam, bramble jelly, apples, hazelnuts, rosehips, sloes… Some of this produce stocks my own cupboards of course, some is distributed around the network, swapped for meals out with Mrs Scarlet, or eggs from Mr Green. And of course garden produce can also come in excess, so that is also dissipated through the social network, too. Mr Crimson, I have found, is mad for marrows — which my garden has been producing quite prolifically this year (grown from seed swapped with Mr Silver).

Mr Crimson has also been employing both myself and Mr Silver for garden work and a bit of freelance geekery — a damaged ‘phone needing the data extracting, setting up a blog for his business and the like. Some work yielded cash, some beer… He stretched me a bit, too, when he said he needed a new shower enclosure. This was where my professional-style resignation paid off, as I was able to go back to my previous employers as a customer, and enjoy a nice ‘ex-staff’ discount. And amazingly I’d learnt enough at that old job to be able to fit the enclosure, including doing the tiling and some plastering. Never knew I had those skills until I tried it!

Greenhouse with water tanks

Greenhouse with water tanks

Perhaps the best synergy between my social capital and my garden arose when Mr. Grey announced his father needed to dispose of a greenhouse. In return for dismantling the greenhouse I was able to move it to my own garden which has already made a great improvement to its productivity. There were a few broken panes of glass to replace, but Mr Silver had a source of surplus glass, so that was easily solved. To have purchased that style of greenhouse from new would have cost me a good £300-400, so I have had a real bargain, Mr Grey Senior has had a bargain through not needing to dispose of it and clear the site himself or pay for it to be done, and some valuable materials have been reclaimed instead of being dumped. Now I have an extended growing season, and better facilities for propagating plants, some of which are going to be spread around to Mr Crimson, Mr Silver and the garden at The Rainbow. When I needed water storage to capture the rain run-off from the greenhouse, a quick word around at The Rainbow evinced a reply from Mr Red – a local plumber — who had a couple of 50 litre tanks cluttering up his garage. Result! For the price of a few pints.

Some final benefits I’ve derived from my social capital include the contract to trim all the hedges at The Rainbow, and a share in a massive crop of plums which another customer needed to dispose of — more delicious jam for gifting! Mr Crimson’s old shower enclosure was saved from the dump when I looked at it and saw instead of waste, the makings of a couple of 2 metre long cloches for the garden – they’ll be very useful next spring for starting off early seedlings under cover.

Certainly, I could have stayed at work and bought all those things which I have acquired through exchange of social capital — except of course I wouldn’t have. I would have had no time to devote to my garden, to build a greenhouse, to go foraging in the woods. And you might say in terms of value I would ‘earn’ more in a job than say foraging for hazelnuts. In terms of a simple cash yield that would be true, but the yields are multiple. A couple of hours spent collecting a few pounds of hazelnuts might yield maybe £5 worth of nuts. On a one-dimensional cash-mediated account that is worth less than two hours paid work. But it also yields two hours of entertainment, two hours of healthy exercise, two hours immersion in nature (the lack of which is a major source of mental stress and anomie). In the cash-mediated model, two hours of work would not supply £5 of produce and pay for two hours in the gym, another two hours of entertainment and still leave time for a nice walk at a time defined by working hours. ‘Earning’ the cash would entail further costs — a wage is not pure ‘profit’. To go foraging, I just walk out of my back door, at a time of my choosing. To go to work I needed to wake up early, wear more expensive clothing, drive a car for half an hour, suffer the stress of traffic, spend all day indoors sat down and staring at a computer screen, then drive home again. For the eight hours I’d worked, I’d used up ten hours of my life and degraded both my physical and my mental health. In short, I have exchanged ‘standard of living’ for quality of life.
In truth, much of what we classify as ‘standard of living’ is better described as ‘cost of living’. What may not show through much of the above (although an annual budget of £5000 hints at…) is that I have withdrawn almost entirely from consumerism. I don’t define my ‘worth’ by the things I own, or derive any satisfaction from much of what most people consider to be normal culture. For one, I do not watch or even own a television (Ed’s Note: I can’t even explain how liberating it is not to have TV. Although I own a TV (but no cable, Sky, dish, etc.), it is my parents’ old one from 1984, and gets used occasionally for an odd DVD). That plugs one gaping hole through which pours an incessant stream of discontent and envy into the average person’s life. I’m not interested in ‘celebrity’ culture or keeping up with fashion or organised sport or soap operas or manufactured ‘reality’. I hate being advertised at — either overtly or by insidious ‘product placement’. I resent the condescension implicit in advertising, that vapid consumption of inherently unsatisfying gimmicks somehow bestows on us our ‘worth’. I am not what I drive, or the label on my clothing. I do not need to be anaesthetised by second-rate fiction, I do not need my emotions to be manipulated for someone else’s commercial interests. I do not need my worldview to be pre-digested by the narrow focus of corporate ‘news’ and sterile political ‘debate’ that doesn’t even examine the unstated assumptions of our way of life (Ed’s Note: If you want a more detailed exploration of these ideas, read this post and then, this one). In fact, I don’t need much at all, and most of that I already have. Shelter, food and water, health, a place in society, meaningful work, intellectual engagement. Oikos.

'Still life' composition of some of my 'real wealth'

'Still life' composition of some of my 'real wealth' — (Clockwise from right) Marrows, Apples, Potatoes, Hazelnuts, Jams (Gooseberry, Strawberry, Plum), Jellies (Raspberry, Blackberry Apple) and Marrow Chutney. Preserving summer vitamins for winter use.

Not only is our current way of life unsatisfying, it is also crumbling. We are bumping up against ecological and resource limits – infinite growth in a finite system is inherently impossible. We like to tell ourselves the story that economic growth comes from innovation, human ingenuity, this or that political theory when in fact it almost exactly matches energy use (Ed’s Note: A data-centric treatment of that idea behind energy usage can be read from here). We need to change that story as our energy options are becoming constrained, which inevitably entails an economic contraction, yet our economy is a complex adaptive system that can only remain stable within certain bounds. For one, it cannot accommodate contraction, as an ever-expanding pool of debt backed by the assumption of infinite growth is required to maintain the current financial model. I see the present as a transitionary phase, that now-cliched Wile E. Coyote moment where the majority have yet to look down. I believe the near future will not much resemble the recent past (Ed’s Note: I recommend the Crash Course videos for a quick systems level introduction to our civilisational memes and problems. No, I am not a member, nor do I get paid for that link).

The future will be low-energy, low-tech and local. This is why our most valuable assets will be those which are productive of real wealth. Meanwhile, it is necessary to operate with a foot in both worlds — build up those real assets whilst being able to feed the money-demands of the doomed system. Cutting money costs frees up the time to create the alternative support system — gardens and social capital, our individual ‘oikoi‘.

It’s fair to say that when I left my job, it was a bit of a leap of faith. I had no great plan mapped out for the next few months, just a small safety net — a bit of cash, a garden needing work, a small income from Amazon and other sources. I had no way to know beforehand what my social capital would yield, yet it has made a great contribution towards my needs. To set out on a journey, it is not necessary to know every footstep it will entail. If I’d waited until the future looked secure, then I’d be waiting still.



Ed’s Note: Macs has made it a self-contained post, and I have supplemented suggested readings to whatever topic needed more explanation. However, Macs would be happy to field questions ranging from something as pointed as “‘How can you possibly live on less than £5000 a year?” all the way to very strategic questions one might have about his approach. Fee(l) free to ask. ;-). If the answers have to be long and involved, Macs might even tease out a few more detailed posts. So, put your thinking caps on, and throw those questions (but not the kitchen sink!) at him. 8)

Ed’s Note (2): From Barry Ritholtz‘s Blog: Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.
In other words, we have a very liberal approach towards dissenting opinion, but we will choose to block downright inflammatory remarks aimed at the author or his lifestyle. Thank you.

Guest Post: ERE-Lite or, How I can easily live on £5000 per annum — Part I

with 5 comments

About the Author:
I encountered Macs first in Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) way back in 2008. He would leave an occasional comment, the keyword being “occasional”! 😉 His comments(*) were quite thoughtful, intriguing and added a complementary angle to Jacob’s post, so I filed him away in my memory as an intelligent and an interesting person. I really started having interactions with him over at Simple Living in Suffolk (SLS), where we found more opportunities for shared discussions. Macs’ ideas generally represent a non-mainstream approach to irritating real life issues, which is his unique selling proposition (USP). 
(*) And if I might add, like the majority of comments at ERE

About the Post:
The old Chinese curse about living in interesting times has come true, or so it seems. Whichever direction you turn, there’s talk of austerity and unemployment, volatility and inflation, companies reporting profits and layoffs(!), and of course the no-longer-ignorable-and-widespread protests, etc. All talk for the common man is centered about the difficulty in making a living in these tough times. Over a few interspersed discussions at SLS, Macs outlined some of his own approaches towards shoring up his “quality of life” to be as free as possible from all these extraneous factors. So much so that: By Toutatis, the only thing he worries about was, if the sky would fall over his head! 😉
I asked him if he could consolidate all his ideas into a single post to provide strategies and validation to others that might be looking for inspiration. Macs kindly consented, and he sent me a classic one.
At times, the unfamiliar words that were leaping from the page kept reminding me of a Nero Wolfe mystery novel (Part I), whereas all the people names and the description of fun activities were reading like Enid Blyton (Part II)! 😉 I had good fun reading and digesting it. I hope you will too. Thanks Macs!

Serendipitously, the theme of the post is similar to Jacob’s recent “How I live on $7000 per year“.


Early semi-retirement lite — Social capital and the garden economy

They always say you should begin at the beginning, but that presupposses that there is a beginning, that it is singular, and that events follow on in a linear progression thereafter. To meet such requirements, I’d have to start with “FIAT LUX” although – denominational & teleological controversies aside – that would surely be absurd.

Instead I shall begin with what has become my ‘word of the week’, which is oikos (οἶκος) — the Greek root common to both ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’. Oikos denotes a dwelling, a household, and encompasses both one’s place in the world and one’s manner of inhabiting it. One’s environment and one’s self, if you will.

Yin-Yang

Yin-Yang


This is simultaneously a duality and a unity, like the Taijitu (yin-yang symbol), a glyph of enantiodromia, the principle of one condition at its height containing the very seed of its opposite. A tendency of the Universe to abhor extremes and redress balances. These tendencies are evident in both ecology and economy. In ecology there is the ‘logistic equation’ which describes predator-prey population fluctuations based around the over-predation / population collapse / explosive recovery / over-predation cycle. Each species in its extremity is its own downfall – there is no total domination without overshoot. Yet in the longer term the ecosystem — the ‘big picture’ — persists stably, over-arching the cycles. In economics we talk of ‘business cycles’ and ‘supply and demand’ where prices and goods sit on the see-saw.

In the cusp of tension between these warring children of oikos — ecology and economy — we human animals must make our homes and derive our livelihoods. But what has any of this to do with early (semi-) retirement, you may well ask? In my case it all speaks to the ideas of home and how to inhabit it.

An alternative start point could have been the day I handed my boss a little envelope which contained my letter of resignation. Or the day I first read Jacob’s ERE blog. Or the day I first took peak oil seriously. Or … you get the point — beginnings never are, are they? There’s always something earlier. Consider a river – say the Amazon. Where is the source of the Amazon? I know some intrepid explorers have risked life and limb in tracking it down along many tributaries, yet the very concept is a fallacy. The source of the Amazon is its entire watershed, nothing less than maybe a third of the continent of South America. Likewise, my journey towards semi-retirement draws its sources from many and varied roots.

Needless to say, I wasn’t enjoying my previous job managing online sales for a small bathroom supply company. All I could say in its favour was that it paid the mortgage and the bills, and that it kept me connected to the internet all day, and like all cubicle-jockeys I found there many things more interesting that my allotted tasks! It reminded me of peak oil (an issue I’d buried from my consciousness a few years earlier), and that as things stood I would be very vulnerable to the changes I expected over the next few years. For a start, my job was vulnerable, and it was also soaking up so much of my time and effort that I had none left over to prepare my home life. Then I discovered ERE and a few other ‘working a job sucks’—themed sites, and an escape plan started to form.

From LATOC, I took on board ideas about ‘prepping’ for an imminent collapse of Western industrial civilisation (which I now regard as slightly less imminent, but no less inevitable (Ed’s note: See this article by Jacob for a detailed, yet similar prognosis), but it was mostly short-term ‘lifeboat’ style preparation — stock up on basic foodstuffs, save rather than squander spare cash, and of course, buy a bit of gold… So I got to the point where — if the lights went out tomorrow — I wouldn’t starve for six months or so, and I had something of value I could slip in a pocket and run away with should the Four Horsemen come knocking. But I was still tied to my job and Jacob’s ideas about financial independence really started to kick in. I’d got the quick panic out of the way, but of course that always leads to ‘what next?’ (Ed’s Note: See ERE’s 21-day makeover)

What I liked about Jacob’s ERE was that it wasn’t just another ‘get-rich-quick’ site, or dependent on earning a wage three times what I was earning, but rather a series of alternative viewpoints, different ways of looking at finances, and ultimately the power of reducing needs — or more specifically of reducing the need for cash to fulfill them.

I was in a bind. What I really needed was TIME. Doing a full-time job denied me time, and it ate into my psychological well-being too — stress, exhaustion, existential angst, you name it. I had one ace in the hole — a life assurance policy due to mature at the end of 2010. Back in 2007/8 I was really having doubts about whether the finance industry was going to survive long enough for me to cash out. It was too soon to count that particular chicken, so I carried on working, reducing my living costs and buying more gold with what I saved. By early 2010 further misuse of my employer’s bandwidth had brought me into contact with Monevator and Ermine’s ‘Simple Living in Suffolk‘ and a few others, and this had convinced me that extra income streams, even small ones, were worth cultivating, so I started diversifying. I bought a bulk load of remaindered books and set up an Amazon account; I started doing paid online surveys; I started a high-yield stock portfolio in an ISA. The Amazon business and the surveys meant I was obliged to register as self-employed, which was a great step to take as it freed up my horizons for later.

By the time 2010 ended the finance industry and myself were both still alive, and a nice cheque arrived in the post. The next day the mortgage was paid off, and I still had about 1 year’s worth of my reduced living costs. This is where the envelope for my boss made its appearance, and I left to
‘spend more time with my own business’. That shocked him even more than the fact I was resigning!

On the 1st January 2011 my new life started. I’m now solely self-employed, with a growing portfolio of small income streams, and a much-reduced need for cash. In round figures I can easily live on £5000 per annum, which is actually below the personal income tax allowance. It would be a lot less if I gave up alcohol and tobacco, but that’s a fight for another day (Ed’s Note: Reminded me of a thread on the ERE Forums).

About 20% of that is covered by surveys, dividends and interest payments (bank accounts and peer-to-peer lending) (Ed’s Note: I participate in P2P lending myself, and if done correctly with the right people, is a good income source), on which I probably spend 2 or 3 hours a week. The Amazon returns are trickier to calculate due to the amount of stock I have to shift, but that makes another useful contribution. Being self-employed means I can take up casual jobs here and there, and so I’ve been doing quite a lot of gardening work, with about 10-15 hours a week at minimum wage being enough to fill the gap between needs and other income.

I’m now time-rich and cash-poor (Ed’s Note: Kiyosaki readers will understand what that means, but for the rest, this article by Jacob gives a more detailed explanation and provide a context for the explanations that follows below), which gives me the opportunity and impetus to realign my ideas of what really constitutes ‘wealth’ and ‘capital’, and brings us to the nominal theme of the piece, which is ‘Social Capital and the Garden Economy’ and how I have transformed how I inhabit my ‘oikos’.

What are ‘wealth’ and ‘capital’?

Our immersion in the money economy blinds us to the true nature of wealth and capital. The instant response for most people is to equate both with money itself, and the reasons this is not so are many and well-rehearsed. My viewpoint is that wealth is the means to satisfy human needs, it is rooted in the real economy of goods and services. When you buy a loaf of bread, the wealth is the bread, not the coins exchanged to obtain it (it is also the labour expended to earn the coins you spent). If there were no bread, the coins offer no nourishment. I’m not going off on a ‘we don’t need money’ tangent, I just want to emphasise that the money is a medium of exchange, a marker of wealth. But true wealth resides in the actual goods and services required to meet human needs.

Capital is slightly trickier, for reasons I’ll touch on later, but a working definition would include both an accumulation of wealth, and a resource with a capacity to generate wealth. In money terms it is simple to connect these two ideas as though there were no difference — pile up your money where it earns interest and more money will appear. This obviously doesn’t work with bread — pile up your bread and leave it for a year, and you will have a big stinking pile of mould, not more bread. The wealth represented by bread is derived from it meeting human needs, ie being eaten. If more bread exists than people can eat it ceases to be wealth, but becomes a health-hazard — a cost. What then happens when we have more money than required to buy all the goods and services available in the real economy? When there is more than enough money to meet all valid human needs? Are all human needs then met? I think a quick look around the world will answer that one…

So, I like to distinguish three broad classes of capital. Obviously there is financial, or monetary, capital. This is an accumulated excess of exchange tokens. Then there is non-financial capital — which you may regard as roughly being ‘physical’ capital. It is the means to generate real wealth, be it a pear-tree, or a widget-making machine. It might be a raw resource or something built from previous investment of other wealth. Finally, there is social capital which is non-material and non-quantifiable. It resides in relationships between people and grows with co-operation rather than competition, when it is distributed rather than accumulated. It tends to be local and resilient, and the best currency for building it is simple gifting. It builds and holds together communities.

Ed’s Note: Macs’ application of these ideas will be continued: in Part II


Ed’s Note: Macs has made it a self-contained post, and I have supplemented suggested readings to whatever topic needed more explanation. However, Macs would be happy to field questions ranging from something as pointed as “‘How can you possibly live on less than £5000 a year?” all the way to very strategic questions one might have about his approach. Fee(l) free to ask. ;-). If the answers have to be long and involved, Macs might even tease out a few more detailed posts. So, put your thinking caps on, and throw those questions (but not the kitchen sink!) at him. 8)

Ed’s Note (2): From Barry Ritholtz‘s Blog: Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.
In other words, we have a very liberal approach towards dissenting opinion, but we will choose to block downright inflammatory remarks aimed at the author or his lifestyle. Thank you.

Retirement planning for “free”: A case study of a case study involving 1.2 crores

with 28 comments

Hello everyone! I am back! Inspired by Maus’ “internet fast”, I had undertaken a somewhat similar one myself. I would heartily recommend it to anyone. Regular transmission is back… until the next fast that is! 😛

Every week, The Hindu BusinessLine newspaper carries readers’ stories along with their financial data, their concerns and their enquiries regarding financial planning steps and their dreams about early retirement. Readers might recall that I had carried a one such story on the blog from the same newspaper on an earlier occasion.

Of some interest to me was today’s reader case study. Although not exactly about early retirement, the discussion that I had with DW on the case study as well as the points the study did not cover, opened more interesting questions and what-ifs, that we decided to share it with a wider audience. Here’s a brief breakup of the data of interest to us.

  • 32 yo, son aged 2, take-home salary is Rs 55,000 a month (SISK – Single Income Single Kid). Salary expected to grow at 10% pa
  • Home Loan monthly repayment is Rs 22,700 (loan amount: Rs 25,00,000 (25 lakhs), loan tenure 25 years)
  • monthly household expense is ~Rs 18,100 (15000+3083 insurance premium) leaving a surplus of ~Rs. 14,000 for his investments

Objectives for this person:

  1. to pre-pay the principal portion of the home loan and to close the loan in 10 years
  2. to save for my child’s higher education, I may require Rs 40 lakhs
  3. for my retirement at 58 years (26 years hence) with a corpus of Rs 1.2 crore.
  4. planning to take a foreign tour in the next four years for which I need to save Rs 10 lakh

BusinessLine, please advise?

(Un)Known-(Un)Knowns: Choose your title 😉

  • The man’s wife must be reeallly good at managing expenses. If I could contact them, I would definitely be asking them questions on how they manage with Rs. 15,000/month in Mumbai 😎
  • Household expenses will shoot up for certain once his son starts (pre-)school. See here and here
  • for a representative sample. In fact, I get such appalling numbers and stories about extortion development fund and daylight robberies fees these days, I am looking at homeschooling as a very serious option. With our own IIT/IISc National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), MIT OpenCourseWare and Khan academy it has become more and more possible and easier than most people think! And yes, it’s legal in India too!

  • “Higher education” from an Indian context starts by college (UK: after A-levels), i.e., only by the time boy turns 16 years of age. The 40 lakhs isn’t needed until that point.

Foreign trip

I am going to tackle objective no. 4, chiefly because it is something I personally do not empathise with. My own sentiments on international travel concides with Jacob Fisker’s experiences, but compounded by my AVML/JVML requirements. So, if the man needs to have 10 lakhs for a foreign tour four years hence, he needs to invest all of that Rs. 14,000 surplus in equities, earning 12% pa (as per the journo), starting this month. This investment will return roughly Rs. 11.5 lakhs by the end of five years. I have deliberately omitted in this calculation, the additional contributions per month of approximately Rs. 1300, Rs. 2000 and Rs. 3200 that will be added to the surplus amount by years 2, 3, and 4 respectively due to the increase in pay. If those are factored the trip is a reality by the fourth year (It would seem the man isn’t stupid, for he seems to have worked these things out already and had a year in mind in his query).

What the journo doesn’t discuss in the paper is the “true cost” of the trip from a retirement/FI perspective, which is not Rs. 10,00,000, but Rs. 33,333,333 (that’s 3.3 !crores!). But true cost aside, this actually leads us to the classic discussion of “opportunity cost”, i.e., take the trip and you’ve totally foregone both your retirement corpus *and* your son’s education corpus for the next five years! Personally, keeping in mind the coming turmoil with onset of peak oil and job stagnation/outsourcing to other parts of the flattened world, I would say “to hell with the trip” and focus on the other priorities.

Retirement/Education Corpus Fund

According to the newspaper, Rs. 8000 invested for 15 years in equities yielding 12% pa would cover the 40 lakh education corpus and ~Rs 5600 invested for 26 years as above would cover the 1.2 crores for his retirement. Two factors not discussed by the paper, are additional insurance that the man needs to take (1.1 crores!) and how Rs. 8000 of the son’s corpus would give the retirement corpus a bigger boost from the 16th year onwards.

Pre-closing the home loan

The newspaper has treaded the hackneyed line (CYA?) in this regard.

“As long as the current tax benefits are extended for home loan interest repayment, it is better to avoid pre-payment of the loan”.

Personal Context: Yours truly is one of the many that was conned advised along the same lines and in a misguided moment of sheer adrenaline induced frustration madness, signed on the dotted line only to repent it in leisure since. After a long hard look at the facts and figures of this big concocted lie called “home ownership”, I have taken a somewhat contrarian position towards homeownership. I am not alone in this and here’s a few Indian articles questioning the rationale, empirically and with numbers.

So, back to the story, the fact that the man is being asked to base a long term, financially draining commitment on the whims of “tax-savings” and not based on numbers is a poor piece of advice, IMO. One main gripe I have with such advice is the outright refusal to consider increasing one’s monthly payments towards the loan to one’s advantage.
For the loan amount of Rs. 25 lakhs, based on his EMI amount, he is being charged 10% pa interest. So, by the end of 25 years he would have paid out Rs. 68,15,043 (68 lakhs) to the bank of which the interest is Rs. 43,15,043 (43 lakhs)!

Annually, the man pays out Rs. 2,72,400 towards his home loan (10% interest rate, revised every 3 months — only going to go up under current inflation trends!). Of this, he claims 1.5 lakhs as tax exemption under the tax code. Based on this, he would save Rs. 30,000 – Rs. 40,000 in taxes paid annually. By contrast, he pays out Rs. 1,22,400 in excess to the bank towards the mortgage which is his own money that can be neither reclaimed nor saved/invested.

Back to the big picture: He intended to pay back the loan by 10 years. So, let’s look at his loan outstandings and tax savings side by side for the entire loan period with his liabilities at 10 years from now.

Amount paid out towards interest Amount saved in tax during that period
10 years

23,40,136 40,000 x 10 = 4,00, 000
15 years 19,74,907 40,000 x 15 = 6,00, 000
Total interest 4315043 (43 lakhs) 10,00,000 (10 lakhs)

There is no contest between the two. When compared to how much he is making the bank rich and what a paltry “tax savings” he is making, the man needs to pay off his home loan pronto and make better judicious use of his own money the way he feels fit.

To do this, he ought to increase his EMI payments by Rs. 12,000. By this he will close his home loan by 10 years(*). Classic opportunity cost scenario, for now he’s not able to save for his son’s education corpus fund! If on the other hand he sticks with the Rs. 8000 investment per month in equities towards son’s education corpus and moves Rs. 5000 into the EMI re-payments, the repayment window extends to 14½ years instead. He kills two birds in one stone. Son’s education as well as home loan: SORTED!

(*) Only if he had started paying 12,000 right at the beginning of the loan term. If he’s already into the loan by a few years, then it won’t be 10 years but somewhat different. I don’t know how far into the loan term he’s into now.

Going further

  • If he keeps up a 12,000 payment for his housing loan as discussed earlier, the loan amount might be closed by 10 years. That leaves Rs. 2000 per monthtowards his son’s fund
  • A 10% increase in salary every year is too optimistic IMO and his household expenses will be increasing as the members start ageing. So, I factored a 5% increase in salary and a 5% increase in expenses and re-worked the numbers.
  • From the increase in salary, the man can increase his monthly contribution to his son’s fund by 2000, 4000, 6000, 8000 and 9000 by years 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively, and hold it steady from then on.
  • He would have approximately, Rs. 2000, 4000, 7000, 10000, 13000 to invest into his pension from years 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 respectively. If he holds this payment steadily into equities, he will actually be able to reach his target of ~1.1 crores at the end of 58 years of age.

Conclusion

Since he has pre-paid the housing loan, from the 11th year onwards, he will have an additional surplus of nearly Rs. 50,000 per month (which excludes the payments mentioned above!). Even if his salary stagnates (a very likely possibility) and even if returns from the market is not exactly 12%, he will still be able to meet his financial commitments along with son’s education and retirement corpus. If he wishes to still undertake that ‘foreign trip’ of his, he could look at investing this Rs. 50,000 in equities for a period of 3 years at 12% pa, earning himself 20 lakhs and then take that trip. His son might also better remember the trip at this age.

Aesop’s fable revisited

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Don’t know about you, but it can be tiresome being constantly egged on to do this or that “because you’re worth it” (TM), no? If not that phrase because you don’t have TV/cable (like me ;-)) then maybe you’re hearing another refrain… that You’re not “living up to your potential” (Dark side of ER) or “so many generations before you sacrificed so much, for you to live a life like this”. OK, before you close this page in disgust, I’ll stop ;-). But you get the idea.

How did we get to this? It was a slow road, going back two generations at least. Here’s my simple take on it:

The Town mouse visits his country cousin

I hope you’ll remember Aesop’s fable of the “Town mouse and Country mouse”?:

A town mouse visits his cousin living in the country. The country mouse offers his cousin from the town, a meal of simple country foods, at which the visitor scoffs and invites the country mouse back to the city for a taste of the “fine life”. But their rich city meal is interrupted, first by a cook, then by a cat, then by dogs, followed by the Master of the house himself, which force the mice to abandon their feast every time and scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring security to plenty.

The moral interpretations this story offers is just profound! I like the different phrasings used by many philosophers in retelling the story:

  1. “Good-bye,” said he,
    “I’m off. ”
    “You live in the lap of luxury, I can see,”
    “but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home
    “I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace.”

  2. “I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear”.

In fact, If Jacob wants to make an elevator pitch to a honcho about featuring his book (Flipkart link), that’s the story idea he needs to use, ending with: “My book talks to people like that parable about choosing ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of aprovechar‘” 😉

Brief Digression

Now, if you weren’t actually someone like Aesop (a slave) it could be said that your life was pretty peaceful in that era. In fact books like The Richest man in Babylon hark back to this sense of nostalgia in us by drawing on a life that’s gone by. But irritatingly, the book does so by juxtaposing our modern consumerist mindset and lifestyle memes into that timeframe, and offering solutions to break free.

But back to our main story:
Now did you know that Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame retold Aesop’s mice fable in the year 1918, mainly because of a need to keep up a story deadline to her publisher. Now how did her rendering go?

Timmy willie, a country mouse is accidentally carried to the city. and finds himself in a large house. He slips through a hole in the skirting board and lands in the midst of a mouse dinner party hosted by Johnny Town-mouse. Timmy is made welcome — and tries his best to fit in, but finds the noises made by the house cat and the maid frightening and the rich food difficult to digest. He returns to his country home after extending an invitation to Johnny Town-mouse. who then pays Timmy Willie a visit. He complains of the dampness and finds such things as cows and lawnmowers frightening. He returns to the city after telling Timmy country life is too quiet.

I know, you can see the roots of post-modernism in the story: I quote Jacob who defined it quite hilariously in another post:

I realize that what I am about to say could cause some misunderstandings, particularly in a would ravaged by postmodernism. A world where even facts have been reduced to opinions and all opinions are considered equally valid as long as the opinion holder — yeah, these days it’s less about what you say and more about who you are — does not show any signs of hypocrisy. To go off on a tangent, in a world with no objective values, the only way to be bad is to be internally inconsistent, that is, to be a hypocrite.

Coming from a stoic school of thought myself, an eager yound mind needs to be made to understand that

The essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition(*), the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.

—— Mastery by Leonard

and not this wishy-washy “You can do whatever that rocks your boat, and it is equally valid because in the end, it made *you* happy”. It really gets my goat! Really! And Beatrix did a magnificient PR trick in the end of the story by stating her own preference for country living! Gaaaahhh!

(*)Note: If you think I am promoting by-rote learning, you need to hang your head in shame! I use “mindful repetition” which is galaxies ahead of “mindless repetition” (rote learning)


As to the story itself, what was the critics’ opinion? Something to the effect of: “Another volume for the Peter Rabbit bookshelf. Oh, such charming pictures and exciting letter press”…. More Gaahh!

So, Please repeat after me: NOMO POMO (Check the comments for discussion on NOMO POMO). And if you want “true” happiness, here’s an ERE credo to mindfully repeat until you finally “get it”! It’s my “gift” to you. Enjoy!


“Good-bye,” said he,
“I’m off. ”
“You live in the lap of luxury, I can see,”
“but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home
“I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace.”


Be safe and Keep well.

Written by Surio

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New Year Resolutions: Why most fail?

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We’re into the fourth week of  January (just) and  already Yahoo! India is carrying articles titled “Is your gym membership a waste of money?“. Where Yahoo! goes, can MSN or others be far behind? But the premise of the article provides a lot of food for thought!

The start of the new year sees spikes in gym memberships because many people are quick to start implementing their resolution to get fit. However, by the middle of January, that initial momentum has gone and many of us often revert to our old ways and the frequency of our gym visits drop. So, in this context its worth asking if a gym membership is worth it or not.

Most of you may have heard the even more scary expression: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” :-|! Indeed! In our case, the lapse usually results in

  • Waste of money (memberships certainly don’t come cheap).
  • Carrying guilt due to the failed commitment. 
  • An insecure self-image due to the triple whammy of
    • not honouring the commitment to the act of “keeping fit”
    • not honouring one’s promise to oneself, and, 
    • Wasting the money by failing in the above

Road to hell, indeed, don’t you all think? But the 1 lakh rupee question is, why does this happen so often (Don’t worry. I’ve been there myself too)? The answer is very simple. Simple enough that people dismiss it as “too simplistic” even. People fail to “set goals”. To me, there’s a lot of difference between a resolution (usually synonymous with a “(usually good) intention”) and the setting of a goal (writing it down). This is not new at all. Stephen Covey has emphasised on it, so has David Bach and so many other self-help and PF gurus of the day. By now, many might be going, “yet another new fad of the day”… Stop! Here’s a whammy: Those of you that enjoy the “Dilbert” strips will be pleased to know that its creator Scott Adams is also a big endorser of Goals and Affirmations(*)! So, before you dismiss it, I want to remind you that this concept is as old as the hills. In fact I too was pleasantly surprised to make that discovery  very recently.

(*) Scott’s a vegetarian too, but that’s not relevant to THIS discussion 😛

Ryan Martin, fellow blogger over at lifestyleshock.com recently blogged about S.W.Y.G.D.S. (Start Writing Your Goals Down Stupid). The idea was nicely expressed by Ryan himself. I quote:

I “retired” from the rat race at 32. I attained this by setting goals: aggressive saving goals, real estate goals, investing goals, knowledge goals (from books). I wrote down my goals almost daily, most of the time as a number e.g. “Save $30,000 this year.” or “Save $300 this coming payday.” I didn’t know how I’d achieve the goal, BUT I’d set the goal (this was key). I wrote it down. I planted the seed of thought… the seed of an idea. Typically, taking action followed my goals.

I can’t beat that one even if I tried :-)! More power to you, Ryan! And that shows the power of a “written, enumerable, personal goal(*)”!

(*) The fact that modern corporates have obliterated it to suit their own “shifting goalposts” is probably best left for discussion for another day 😦

 The real kicker for me in that post was “Earl Nightingale” also known as “Dean of Personal Development“! Quite a mouthful, Eh? I would say he qualifies as the grand-daddy of the goal setting movement. Just listen to his wonderful talk on “The strangest Secret”. I simply love his voice. Quite a baritone!


I am going to sign off with Ryan’s note, as he does a wonderful timeless and brotherly appeal to all!

If you find yourself floating through life and not designing it, again, I implore you to listen to The Strangest Secret, it may save your life. Next, take that extra step and download a copy, and listen to it daily!

I would be hard pressed to beat that one; and to be honest, I don’t wish to. And on behalf of everyone who stands to benefit from that gem —

A BIG Thank you, Ryan!

Written by Surio

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