Panic has never been a good adviser

The coronavirus is now officially a pandemic. A serious threat not only to human lives but also to the world economy, to our health system, and yes, even to our financial system.

As the virus spreads further, entire countries are closing borders, schools are closing doors, events get canceled, elections move online. People get scared to go for a beer to their local pub. Even the premiere of the new James Bond movie has been postponed!

So the ultimate outcome, and changes to our lives, possibly to the world, it’s all very uncertain. And nowhere is this uncertainty better reflected than in the stock market. Having crashed almost on a scale comparable to the financial crisis of 2008, we can see the negative sentiment of investors on full display.

Where do we go from here?

After three weeks of markets being basically in free-fall, the last Friday showed something of a possible turn around. After the US-President decided to declare a national emergency and at least showed something more of seriousness about the situation, confidence seemed to return to the markets and stocks recovered some of their losses.

But is this enough to start a full-scale recovery? In my humble opinion, it’s still way too early to even think about it. Not only does the response from the White House lack enough credibility to be trusted and to trigger a sustainable recovery. Even more importantly we will need to see some real numbers before the full impact of the crisis can be assessed. What numbers am I talking about?

  • Lost revenues
  • Lost jobs
  • Recovery costs
  • Updated annual forecasts (for everything)
  • Dividend payouts and dividend cuts
  • Repercussions on globalization as a system
  • Political repercussions

That’s a lot of data to digest and I don’t dare to predict how long the evaluation of it may take. And I am not alone there. Markets tend to react quickly to possible opportunities because there are plenty of speculative traders who are willing to take a risk to bet on the direction which they consider more plausible. But more than often these emotional and non-data driven speculations go wrong. It’s a 50:50 bet.

Don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some additional bad weeks ahead of us. The short spike-up which we observed on Friday could turn out to have been only a short-sighted flare of hope from some speculative investors betting on a turnaround, ahead of having done the required due-diligence and analyzing some real numbers.

For us private investors it’s a challenging time. First of all, we got to keep a cool head. Panic doesn’t help. As my personal portfolio has lost over 30% in value, I haven’t lost any sleep about it.

First of all, the loss is not real until I actually sell the shares. Until then, it’s only a loss on paper. And do I have any reason to sell my shares? I don’t think so. All the stocks in my portfolio have been bought for a reason. While the dividend payments might get cut or even fully canceled for a year, as long as the business itself doesn’t face an existential threat, I don’t worry.

Secondly, markets go up and down. That’s what they do. We had an 11-year run-up and it might be time for a turn-around. Will this turn-around last forever? Very unlikely. Bull-markets are followed by bear-markets and vice-versa. Do I, or my generation (I am from Gen X), need to worry? Very unlikely. I have still plenty of time ahead of me and will almost certainly see more recessions – and more recoveries.

Lastly, I am an optimist, and what I see is a great opportunity to continue building up my retirement portfolio. Even if we should have now entered a bear market and a possible recession. All I see is companies and businesses, learning to adapt, getting more efficient, improving their resilience and tweaking their operational proficiency, to come out even stronger once this bear market will be over.

So don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

What to do with your Christmas bonus?

I am sitting at Starbucks (SBUX) and listening to some old Christmas jingles. Yes, even the Starbucks in Thailand is playing American jingles as Christmas is drawing near.

For many hard-working employees out there, this time of the year is not only an opportunity to spend some days with friends, family and to eat more than we usually do. It’s also the time when many employers pay a Christmas bonus. And the big questions is: What to do with it?

I know Apple (AAPL) got the new iPhone out and the Camera is really great. Plenty of people seem to think so because it’s constantly sold out in all the shops around here. I pre-ordered my iPhone 11Pro and just got it a week ago. It is awesome. It is also very expensive. So the question is, should you really spend so much money, or is there a better way?

Buying without spending

Me buying the iPhone was not a spontaneous decision. I was using my iPhone 6s for almost 5 years now and it was simply time. However, I also didn’t pay for it in a lump sum.

I got it with a 1-year contract which reduced my purchasing price by around 6.000 THB, almost 180 Euros. Then I put it on my credit card to collect cash-back-points and turned the total amount into an installment plan for 6 months. It will now cost me roughly 150 Euros a month, 6 months long, at a 0,79% interest rate – and it will be covered entirely by the dividends from my investments which I receive monthly.

So in the end, I didn’t even touch any of my cash to get it, and I will enjoy the benefits of the phone hopefully for another 5 years.

As for the Christmas money, well, I don’t get any. There is no such thing in Thailand. However, IF I would work in a place where a Christmas bonus is a thing, I would have done exactly the same. And the Christmas money would go straight in my investment account.

Conscious spending

There are many ways how we can get great things without actually spending money on them. A little preparation, creativity, and thinking. That’s all it takes.

And if you don’t receive monthly dividends just yet, then, even more, you should start investing now. The sooner you can start receiving and/or increase your passive income, the more money you will have left to keep increasing your assets and preparing for a worry-free future.

Disclosure: I have shares of Apple.

3 Things you should know about FIRE

The dream of financial independence and early retirement has gained a lot of steam in recent months. But despite the popularity of the movement, there are some important points that need to be understood and which I would like to point out.

It’s easy – and it’s not

Frugal living, saving as much as possible, investing. The concept is simple and easy to understand, easy to copy. In theory. Putting in practice, there is a lot of sacrifice along the way and even after all the hard work, chances are that you won’t be living like a king, but will need to maintain a frugal mindset for the rest of your life.

Here is some overview on how to get started: Let’s say you purchase stocks or ETFs that will generate a yield of 5% annually after tax. You might do better. You might do worse. But from my investing experience so far it’s a pretty realistic expectation to have.

Let’s do the math then, which means that for every 1000 Euro invested, a 5% annual return will generate 50 Euros each year. Let’s put that in lines:

  • 1.000 Euros invested = 50 Euros / year
  • 10.000 Euros invested = 500 Euros / year
  • 100.000 Euros invested = 5.000 Euros / year
  • 200.000 Euros invested = 10.000 Euros / year
  • 500.000 Euros invested = 25.000 Euros / year
  • 1.000.000 Euros invested = 50.000 Euros / year

You can play around with the numbers, the %, and your saving targets, but I think this pretty much explains the whole challenge: You need to save and invest a lot to get to a point that you could seriously relax. And even if you get to the point that you have a Million Euros on your account, a return of 50.000 per year is hardly an amount to live on to consider oneself rich. Comfortable? Yes. Rich? No.

If your target is really to completely retire early, not only would you need to save up a lot, but you would also need to maintain a frugal and simple lifestyle to make sure your income and your wealth don’t get drained too early on. The last thing you would want is to turn 70 and see how others retire on their hard-earned social security while you start to worry about your funds and income. Because if you retire at 35 or 40 and didn’t pay much into the system, then it would be blatantly wrong to expect the system to cover for you later on.

Most who achieve FIRE keep working

Given the staggering amount of money required to really and fully retire early, most people don’t go all the way. Because it’s too hard and it takes a too long time. BUT what many do is to turn to their passions and their actual idea of looking for a purpose once they reach a point of feeling secure enough to do so without going broke.

Say you have saved and invested 200.000 Euros and receive a 5% annual return after tax, 10.000 Euros a year. That’s not enough to retire. But living in the right place, it may be enough to pay your rent. Having “shelter” secured, you might not feel the pressure anymore to chase for a high paying job that would be required to protect you and your family. You could choose another profession or challenge that may suit your personal goals much better, and even if you would bring only another 25.000 Euros a year back home, that could be already enough for a decent living with the good feeling of doing something that you actually really appreciate.

I am also not sure if the actual goal of a “real” retirement would fit with the character of any FIRE aspirant. Because to get to the point that you could actually retire on your savings and investments is really hard work. It requires dedication, patience, and real commitment. Something that you see mostly in career and goal-oriented personalities. Now they might not be always the corporate types, but considering how much work and effort they put into reaching their goal, it’s hard to imagine that they would be able to stay idle right after hitting their target. There are simply too many exciting and interesting things to do in the world to waste time on doing nothing.

It’s really about time and independence

In reality, investing and generating passive income, escaping the rat race… it’s a mind game. Because with every step along the way, with every additional income you create for yourself and with every day you get closer to become financially independent, you are reducing the burden on your shoulders. The burden and the responsibility to yourself, to your loved ones, to society.

Financial independence empowers you to make conscious and responsible decisions, without the seductive element of money attached to it. When you live frugally and have a minimalistic mindset, when you know that you have “enough” and don’t need to compromise your values, your convictions and your personal goals for profits and gains, then you can act true to yourself at all times.

You can also take the time to think things through. To consult with people who matter and you will have more opportunities to do “the right thing”, which more than often goes not well along with the profit and benefit-oriented thinking of many corporations and individuals out there.

I am not sure how many other people out there see it this way. For me, this should be the ultimate outcome. I intend to keep working until I die, but not in the traditional sense and not on other people’s terms. I don’t want to deal with CRAP any longer than necessary and this is why I follow the FIRE movement.

Having said all that one thing should also be very clear: Without those companies which are striving for profits, without all those people who prefer to have a regular working life and who actually appreciate going to an office every single day, FIRE wouldn’t be a thing at all. Otherwise, how would we expect a 5% annual return after tax on our investments?

Why investing in Pharma makes sense

Today, let me dive a little into the topic of income-investment and why I believe that every income-focused investor should have some pharma stocks in his or her portfolio.

As my readers know, my goal is to escape the rat race with the help of investments in the stock market. With my eyes targeting financial independence, having a passive stream of income is crucial. One way to get it is to invest in dividend-paying companies. The strategy is called income-investing and it is a reliable strategy of building up passive income, large enough to be able paying bills (and more) once the decision to retire has been made.

When it comes to income-investing ideas, how to pick a stock, and what one needs to be aware of, the pharma industry emerges quickly as a good direction to look at.

Profits for years to come

My personal portfolio contains shares of two pharmaceutical companies: AbbVie (ABBV) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). They are not THE biggest in the industry, but large enough to reward their shareholders with frequent dividends for many years now. And chances are good that this won’t change anytime soon.

Big Pharma is a term that is being used in a mostly negative manner. Overcharging customers, abusing their power, and either way, health should be free for all, shouldn’t it? Maybe. Maybe not. But what is pretty certain is that this industry has a tremendous cash-flow that is only increasing with a growing and ageing population.

People get sick. It’s how humans work. We get sick, we get better. For most of the time anyway. But the part of getting better for most of the time involves medications, treatments, surgeries, vaccines, anti-biotics, hospital stays. It’s a never-ending battle that will always require someone to develop, produce and distribute all those essential products that help us to have a long and healthy life.

They can do what no one else can

Some people may think that supporting Big Pharma can’t be the only way to get things done. Some smaller companies should be able to pull it off as well, right? Research, development, production, distribution. Well, the bad news is, that smaller companies simply can’t do all this. And even if they try to share the work process with other companies, chances are that they either fail or can’t make enough profit for a sustainable contribution.

There was a recent story about a company called Achaogen that comes to my mind. The company was working on a new type of antibiotics. The scientists and researchers were looking for a way to develop a new type of antibiotics, as the currently widely available versions are becoming increasingly less effective. They were largely successful in the beginning but failed after a very short time in operation. The business was just not profitable enough to sustain.

This case highlights the need for some for really large economies of scale, cross-incentives among products, and distribution scale that a small company simply can’t sustain. And we are talking only about antibiotics. How about those much larger and even more cost-intensive projects. Cancer, HIV, dementia. There are so many challenges in front of us. They require the right people, with the right education and research experience, the right equipment, sufficient funding, the right connections for distribution and the stamina to dive through ups and downs of the world without going bankrupt.

Bill Gates, for example, is working closely with many companies including GlaxoSmithKline through his Gates Foundation. When asked about the reason for this collaboration instead of just using his immense wealth to simply find solutions on his own, he said it very simply: These companies can do things that no one else can do.

This is a powerful statement for any investor out there. It says that, to a large part, there are not many alternatives. That’s a big moat to cross and perfect protection for any long-term investor.

The risks are limited

Unsurprisingly, AbbVie and GlaxoSmithKline are both considered to be rewarding long-term investments for income investors not only by me but by pretty much every analyst out there. The combination of the long-term focus, available resources, knowledge and power of distribution, together with a reliable and stable cash-flow give pharma companies excellent risk/reward ratios.

Some analysts point out that the big cash-cows might at some point disappear, especially when cheaper alternatives come to market. When patents run out. When the competition catches up. These concerns are legit. It will happen. But unlike some electronic toys or tools, health is a different story with plenty of areas that are still under development and which are almost impossible to copy in a simple and cost-efficient process. The electronic cycle for product improvement is only roughly 1 year and has very limited regulations in place. Health related products take 10-15 years to develop and are subjected to heavy approval processes and regulations. This will always keep the competition at pace, even if some profit margins might occasionally suffer or take a blow.

Disclosure: I own all stocks mentioned in this article.

4 Reasons not to invest – Being afraid of losing everything

A majority of people out there thinks that investing is not for everyone. A recent survey by Blackrock revealed some critical reasons across generations, and as for why people would postpone or even not consider to invest at all. In my last two posts, I have covered the top 3 reasons from that list. Time to get to the last one:

  1. Access to and understanding of information about investing
  2. Having not enough money to start investing
  3. Being too worried about one’s current financial situation (and thus being too busy to worry about the future)
  4. Being afraid of losing everything

Worrying about losing it all is a very common concern that is being repeatedly mentioned among those who don’t consider investing at all. So let’s take a closer look at this valid concern.

Can you lose your investment?

The short answer is simple: Yes. Of course. It could happen.

You could also lose money if you forgot your wallet on the bus or train. Or you could waste money on a product that you actually don’t need. Or a product of inferior quality that will break once unpacked and force you to have to buy something else. You could lose money when you “borrow” it to someone. There are countless options.

But these would be all examples of let’s call them unvoluntary choices. Let’s look at other ideas that are supposed to make you money, but could end up losing it. Let’s see.

Putting money in a savings account is a viable option. Or so it was. But these days, negative interest rates and inflation do just that, make you lose money. Thinking about putting it all in a safe? There is no way how money can grow there, and again, inflation will take its toll. Want to max out your provident fund payments or social security? Sure, but it’s not that these are without risks either. In Germany, the pension payouts are now so low that many retirees need to apply for additional supplement money just to get by. Playing with the idea of getting some government bonds? Well, just look at Greece, Cyprus or Italy. Countries do get in financial trouble as well.

What I want to say and show is that there is no option without any risk out there. Risk is part of the deal. Of any deal.

What does it mean to buy and to own company shares?

When you invest in the stock market and buy shares of a company, you are basically becoming a partial owner of the business that you put your money in. One of many. It means that the business is already established and grew large. Large and confident enough, to be backed up by millions of other fellow investors. Millions of other people who rely on it for this business to generate wealth for them.

And those investors are never idle. They observe and evaluate the company and express their opinion about the value of the shares and thus ultimately of the company, by influencing the share price. Every single day.

Every time when somebody puts up a buy order to purchase some shares, someone else sees the order and examines whether he/she is willing to accept this offer. So there are always two parties involved. One, that wants to sell. One, that wants to buy. And everyone has his/her reason to do so.

Opinions matter

This already clearly indicates that where you might see an opportunity for a great future, someone else sees it the other way round. This also means that where you think that you can make some money, someone else thinks that this ship has already sailed. Or that the value is already fair and has no more upward potential. Or that someone is already happy with the development and needs the funds to invest in something else. Or that someone just needs the money.

You will never know the full and real reason why someone else wants to sell a stock, but you should be aware of this system. Because it also implies that there is a risk. BUT, as Warren Buffett likes to say: Risk comes from not knowing you are doing. The more you know about the company you plan to invest in, the more you can leverage your risk. Or, if you don’t have the time and patience to dive into it, you can just leave it to others.

Reducing risk through diversification and a passive investment

Warren Buffett recommends potential investors a very specific type of investment: Low-cost passive index funds. Also known as ETFs. What makes ETFs a great investment? They reduce the risk by splitting your invested money across all companies in the index that the ETF is being applied to. So if you put 100 Euros in an ETF that is following the German DAX index (which includes the 30 largest companies in Germany), it means that each of these 30 companies listed in that index will become partially yours. In tiny amounts, but yours.

Diversification through ETFs makes sense for small investors because it is hard to achieve if you invest only small amounts of money. For example, one share of the German sports giant “Adidas” costs as of today 259,65 Euro. Just one share. So if you have only 100 Euros a month to start investing, how could you buy even only this one share? There is not much of a chance to start diversifying either.

ETFs work here the same as other funds, by collecting the money from other fellow investors and putting it to work in a nice bundled package. This way they can buy all the shares that are part of the index, and let you participate in it on a partial basis. This is just one of many ways, techniques, and strategies to manage your risk.

The financial system is built for this

As an investor, you put your money to work in a business. Our world is built on that. Our countries depend on that. Our jobs depend on that. Our financial system couldn’t function without this. So unless the whole financial world collapses, there will always be some business opportunities to invest in. As a passive investor, all you do is to put your faith into the system of how the business world works.

And yes, it might collapse someday. But guess what? If our system would collapse, then it wouldn’t even matter where you put your money in. It would be gone anyway. So you have a choice here: Trust in the system and get the chance to participate in all the opportunities that it has to offer, or don’t and forfeit all your chances right from the start. If you see it this way, the decision of whether or not to invest should be a no-brainer.

If you still have some restrictions, it might be not a bad idea to get someone to help you. The internet is very resourceful, but a financial advisor could also make sense. If you are reading this blog, it means that you have already made some steps in the right direction: to educate yourself. Don’t stop there. Keep reading. Keep learning. And start investing.

4 Reasons not to invest – Having no money

A majority of people out there thinks that investing is not for everyone. A recent survey by Blackrock revealed some critical reasons across generations, and as for why people would postpone or even not consider to invest at all. My previous post was about the no. 1 topic from that list, the access to and understanding of financial information:

  1. Access to and understanding of information about investing
  2. Having not enough money to start investing
  3. Being too worried about one’s current financial situation (and thus being too busy to worry about the future)
  4. Being afraid of losing everything

When you look at the second and third point, they do appear to be connected with each other. And surely they are. So today we take a look at the point no. 2 & 3.

It takes money to make money

A popular phrase, but is it really true? As always, it depends. If you talk to entrepreneurs, they will most certainly say “no” to it. For entrepreneurs, all you need is a great idea, dedication and hard work to make money.

But this doesn’t sound like the right approach to me. The goal for me is to stop trading time for money. Hard work and dedication always require to do exactly just the opposite.

So when you talk to investors, it’s a different story. For investors, it’s all about having money and making it work for you. As Warren Buffett likes to say: “If you can’t figure out how to make money while you sleep, you will have to work until you die.”

In other words, you have to figure out a way how to make money without having to trade time for it. The professional term for this is “passive income”.

Investing is the king of passive income 

If you just type in Google the term “passive income”, the result might produce various topics for further research. The website “Good Financial Cents” has this list in petto:

  • Savings Account
  • High Dividend Stocks
  • Passive Real Estate
  • Betterment
  • CDs
  • Index Funds
  • Corporate Bonds
  • Lending Club
  • Rent Your Space
  • Start a Blog
  • Buy a Blog
  • Affiliatize a Blog
  • Online Course or Guide
  • Online Tasks
  • Online Rebates
  • Cashback Credit Cards
  • Sleep Studies
  • Advertise with Your Car
  • Rent Your Car
  • Rideshare Driving
  • Silent Partner
  • Buy a Business
  • Outsource Your Business

Feel free to visit the website for more details on each and every single point.

From all these opportunities, investing in dividend stocks is probably the most efficient one. This is for several reasons, the most important one being that it’s completely scalable without any extra effort. Of course you need money to get started, but that is it. The only thing you need to get and/or to increase your passive income is additional money. With every additional Penny invested in a dividend-paying company, you increase your annual income.

Now you might argue that you need to trade time for money to have those funds necessary for investment in the first place. And it is true. But from some point onwards, those dividends that come up every month, quarter or year, they can and will grow your account without you having to lift a finger. Dividends grow, get re-invested and compound. In the long-run, it’s the single least-effort-strategy to go with.

How much do you need?

The belief that you need a lot of money to get started is not wrong, but it is flawed. You can start with as little as 25 Euros a month. That’s less than 1 Euro a day. But of course, with such a small investment it would take a very long time to let it grow large enough to be able to retire on it. It’s not impossible, but it’s not something to rely on.

The more you invest, the more return your investment can create. So it is advisable to invest larger amounts and to keep that investment growing until you reach a critical mass that becomes basically self-sufficient. My target: Getting to 100.000 Euros.

100.000 Euros invested in high-yield dividend stocks, REITs and BDCs or even CEFs can create stable returns of 6% or higher – after-tax. That is equal to 6.000 Euros a year. 500 Euros a month. Once you get there, your stock-investment becomes basically entirely self-sufficient. Whether you put in an automated savings-plan or add/buy more stocks each month on your own. The money just keeps coming.

With the above mentioned yield on your investment, every 1000 Euros that you re-invest will add to your annual income another 60 Euros. Times 6, that’s additional 360 Euros a year or 30 Euros a month. So just after 1 year, your monthly return will already increase to 530 Euros on average. And it will keep growing at a higher pace after that, year on year, following dividend increases and the compounding effect.

And the best part is, that you won’t need to do anything for this to happen.

Not having money and being worried about the present

So back to the original point for people not investing because of not having enough money, or to be too worried about the present. I am certain that this is for many the case. But you have to overcome it and find ways to get started. Even if it starts with only 25 Euros a month.

I like to compare this kind of situation with education or training. For example: If you can’t read and write, and your family has no money, you might be forced to engage in low-skilled-labor jobs that will ensure your families survival. But, if you keep doing it without looking for ways to improve yourself, you will never get out of this circle.

If you, however, put in the effort to study and to learn new skills, even if it’s in the late hours after work every day, on weekends, public holidays, whenever you can squeeze out that extra hour, you will set yourself up to be able to take advantage of opportunities that may pop up in the future.

So yes, not having money and being worried is absolutely a valid reason. But success won’t come to those who don’t set themselves up to be ready for it. As Warren Buffett likes to say: “The harder I worked, the luckier I got.” Look where that got him.

If you had your own business…

…how would you run it?

Many people dream of being their own boss. Making their own decisions. Dedicating their available time solely to their purpose, their passion and to their own, full benefit. But is this indeed the reality for an entrepreneur?

Well, as it is with everything, it depends. It depends on the type of business you want to run, on the size, reach, and scale, on your product or service, on your dependency of suppliers or contracted partners, on your team (or the lack of it), and on a thousand other points that may play a role once you decide to do your own thing. Most and of all, it will depend on your perspective and your definition of freedom.

Rule of a thumb is that the more people get involved, the more things get complicated. Whether it’s business partners, suppliers, contractors, your own team or your customers. With every person, every character who comes into play, you are losing some part of your independence.

Running a successful business means to serve others

I think it was Tim Cook who said it last year in a speech or an interview. “A truly successful product or service can only be realized by serving others.” However, serving others means, to a certain extent, to put yourself in the backseat, to figure out what those other people need and want, and to try to deliver it to them.

The thing is though that once you have a business, everyone becomes your customer.  The people who work for you. The people who work with you. And the people who buy from you. Those who work for and with you are called “internal” customers. Those who purchase your product and/or service are “external” customers. And your job as an entrepreneur is to serve them all.

Does this sound like freedom? It certainly is a step forward. By freeing yourself from a boss or a corporate structure, you will have definitely more freedom to make decisions. But at the same time, you will probably discover, that it is not what you might have originally imagined as freedom.

You will have more power when it comes to your decisions and it might feel like freedom in the beginning, when your company is small and easy to overview. But as your business grows and expands, your responsibilities grow with it. And with every percentage of growth, the percentage of your freedom starts to diminish.

The best of both worlds

Reaching financial independence means to me to stop trading time for money. Of course, I still need to have income, but I just don’t want to have to work for it. Not because I am lazy. I am a workaholic. But, as a great quote from Warren Buffett says: “If you don’t learn how to earn money while you sleep, you will have to work until you die.” And I definitely don’t want to end up that way.

There are several ways how this quote can be interpreted, but a realistic perspective is probably to assume that over your lifetime, your focus should shift from working yourself, to let others work for you. When you purchase stocks of companies and become therefore to a tiny part an owner of the respective company, you are doing just that.

As an investor and company owner, you start earning money by reaping the rewards of having other people working for you. And while you have to share these earnings with all the other shareholders, you are free from almost any responsibility towards both, internal and external customers. It is a pretty smooth way of becoming your own boss.

There are risks – but regular jobs bear risks as well

This is not to say that you wouldn’t have any risk. As a company owner, even to a small part, you carry the risk of realizing a loss if the company fails. Also, since your shares represent most probably only a tiny part of the company, you have hardly any vote in steering the companies politics or to contribute in any other way to its success – or failure.

But the degree of your freedom gets truly maximized. And the more different companies you invest in, the more your freedom is being manifested. As you diversify your portfolio, you automatically increase your risk protection and risk tolerance. Even if one company fails, if you have 20 others to support you, then your worries will be still limited.

This will become even more obvious if you draw a direct comparison with having a full-time job. When you invest, you can spread your investments over several companies and thus create multiple sources of income. If you have one full-time job, you are completely dependent on this single source of income. What happens if you lose it?

Food for thought

This is some serious food for thought. People who don’t invest will find a thousand reasons to tell you why investing is not something that regular people do. And they are right about that last part of that sentence. Especially in Europe, the amount of investors is surprisingly little compared to common folks who rely on their day-to-day jobs.

But those are the folks who get sleepless nights whenever companies start to talk about efficiencies, streamlining of processes, outsourcing, and globalization. Technological disruptions don’t excite them, because every disruption may put their livelihood in jeopardy. These are the people who constantly worry, and even more so as they get older.

And you can’t blame them, because these are the people who can’t come up with 500 Euros in cash even if any serious emergency appears in their life. I am not saying this to look down on anyone. I am saying this because people who never learned about how to handle money tend to end up in serious hardships. Despite having worked for 30 or 40 years, many fear that their retirement money won’t be enough to cover their rent and fill their fridge once they (have to) retire. We are not talking small numbers here. Surveys in Europe and the US show that the majority of our populations fall into this category.

This is in stark contrast to those who learned and understood that either having your own company or being a shareholder of another company, can significantly increase your chances for a worry-free retirement. There are no guarantees, but your chances are simply higher.

When it comes to human lives, things can easily and quickly get emotional. Investors, however, take the emotion out of the equation and simply calculate chances. Winning the lottery is not a valid form of retirement planning. Investing is. so when you get your next paycheck, put some part of it aside and start investing. Every single investment that you will do will put you a step closer to be a worry-free individual in the future.

When is the best time to retire?

If you are just about to enter (or new to) the workforce, thinking about retirement seems very far off. Not that it’s not somewhere in your head, it just seems very, very far away. But even if you already worked for a few years, you might still not be spending much time thinking about your future as a retiree.

When we are young, in school or university, nobody is really teaching us about retirement, about financial security. About the limited time that we have to prepare. And for sure, while your HR department might tell you about your options for provident fund support, they for sure won’t teach you how to prepare yourself financially in the best possible manner. It is even more sure that they won’t plant any ideas of early retirement in your head.

There are many reasons why this is a huge, missed opportunity. I would even argue that this hinders humanity on moving a giant step forward. It is a waste of resources, creativity and human potential on a scale that is impossible to estimate. Let me explain.

Asking the right question

So to start off, thinking about retirement, in general, is something that everyone should do. However, I would argue that instead of asking yourself the question about when and how to retire, it makes a lot of more sense to be asking another question: “When do you want to be financially independent?”

The idea of retirement is a very frustrating, de-motivational and overall just a negative thought structure, which clearly explains why we just don’t want to think about it unless we are forced to. Retirement is by most being perceived as one of the last check-points in your life. When, after working for 30 or 40 years, you reach that point in your life when either your body, your mind, or your countries legal structure forces you out of the workforce. Some, who thrived in their profession, might consider it a point when they draw a line to say “we had a good run, but it’s enough”. Some want to retire. Some don’t. But no matter where and in what state of mind you will find yourself, the core of every retirement is financial independence.

So if it all comes down to being financially independent, wouldn’t it make sense to reach this goal as soon as possible?

The benefits of aiming for financial independence instead of retirement

Thinking about financial independence instead of retirement changes the whole perspective, and takes out the negativity out of the equation.

For one, it doesn’t mark any specific point in your life in terms of not referring to you as being old, sick, or in any way considered to be useless by society. Because let’s face it, that is what happens at a certain age. Taking out all these negative thoughts that creep into our heads as soon as we think about the “golden age”, is turning the whole thought process around.

Secondly, financial independence can be a very motivating and encouraging tool that helps us not only to think about the last stage of our life, but that can greatly support us from a much earlier point on.

This is due to the fact that for many of us, challenges in relation to age start to show their ugly face very early on. Ask anyone who got laid off or who would like to pursue a career change and happens to be 45-50 years old. Finding a new job, a new venture at this age can be a very frustrating experience. You might suddenly realize that there are millions of younger, faster and smarter people out there who compete for the same positions. And like it or not, while you might have vast experience, your age will more than often be considered a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Being financially independent as early as possible will give you peace of mind. Knowing that you don’t need to worry about shelter, about food for you and your family and about medical support if needed, will give you the security and the opportunity to navigate through any hardship.

It will also give you opportunities to persevere in your quest for changes in your life. And, it will give you the self-confidence and advantage that you will need to outplay your younger competition.

Doing something else entirely

I hope to reach financial independence in a few years. In fact, I hope my current job to be my last, full-time-corporate assignment. I am 39 years old, the target is to be fully independent by 45, although I might stop working full-time earlier, let’s say at 42 or 43. The financial independence that I can reach by then will enable me to turn to some completely new ventures – and adventures.

I would like to pursue some opportunities that seem hard to reach for the moment. Like working for an NGO or a foundation and help to solve some problems in an area or field that require attention.

I would love to do some voluntary work in Africa or South America. I would definitely be interested in developing some startup companies that can help to shift some peoples lives in a better direction. I would also love to add a few more skills to my repertoire. A better understanding of electricity and potential products or solutions in that field. I want to learn more about renewable technologies, acquire basic coding skills and use that knowledge to find some new ideas and goals to strive for. I also like to learn to play the guitar and piano.

And I know that I am not the only one who would like to do something more with his life than just working for some company, following assignments that I might or might not agree with. Following orders just to meet the expectations of someone with an entirely different agenda… it just doesn’t feel fulfilling to me.

Just imagine, what humanity could reach if a majority of people could at some point in their life use their experience and knowledge, not for the good of some corporation, but to work on projects and ideas that are meant to solve problems and help others.

Our lives are so short and there are so many things to do, to learn and to experience. Staying all our lives in one job and waiting for that magic golden years to start just feels like a lot of missed opportunities. And I think, deep down, that is how most people feel. It may be one of the many reasons for us being reluctant on spending time to think about retirement.

Therefore, I would urge anyone to forget the idea of retirement and to replace that void with financial independence. Retirement is something to wait for, financial independence is something to strive for. After reading this article, which one would you consider making more sense?

The fastest way to get your first million

I like to keep my blog neat and simple. I like to write articles with text only, I seldom use pictures or videos. But every now and then I might encounter an interesting infographic that is worth sharing.

When it comes to the topic of money, the best place to find interesting graphics is in my humble opinion a website called Visual Capitalist. This is also the place where I encountered the following graphic:

infographic-time-to-first-million-dollarsNow the data for this graphic comes from a website that compares casinos. To be clear: I don’t endorse, recommend or promote anything that might be concerned with gambling in any way.

Having clarified that part, the data in this graphic is highly interesting. And kind of amazing. The vast majority of people who made it to the financial top gained their very first million in less than a decade from the moment of (really) trying. How did they do that? Mostly by setting up a business.

Having your own business

So evidently, the most effective way to gain financial independence is not real estate, stocks or gambling – but your own business.

This is actually not surprising. As we know, it takes money to make more money. When you start from zero, the fastest and only way to get some cash-flow started is to work for it. You might start with a regular job, but we all know that when you work for a company, even though you might get good benefits and salaries, the majority of the profits that result from your and from your teams’ actual work goes to your employer. Obviously, this is not the case when you got your own business. As you take on all related business responsibilities, you also reap the full benefits and cash-in the entire generated profits from your operation.

Shouldn’t we all strive for our own business then?

IF having your own business is granting the fastest way to riches, then this would be the right question to ask. And for many having their own business, being their own boss, it is something worth striving for.

Not to me. I invest in stocks for a simple reason. I don’t want to have to work at all. I want to reach FIRE. For me, escaping the rat race is all about reducing the amount of responsibility on my shoulders and to free up my time. When you have a business, you always take on additional responsibility and you always have to keep exchanging your time for money. I want to have the freedom to decide whether I work or not. As a business owner, you don’t really have that choice without accepting sacrifices on your income.

Furthermore, having your own business may be the fastest way to riches, but it’s probably also the hardest one. Of course, there are different types of business and you need to consider whether you just want to earn enough to get through the day, or whether you want to build wealth. Your workload might be mild if you have a small, self-sufficient thing going on. But if you strive for that million on your account, then you will have to work really, and I mean really hard, on a scale that will surpass the amount of stress and responsibility of most regular employees out there.

So it comes down to what you really want. There are many ways and opportunities to escape the rat race. But there are only a few ways that will truly align with your own expectations. For most people who become successful with their own business, the target is not FIRE. They want to work, just on their own terms. If that is your target, great. If not, then you got to find another way.

DRIP it another way – DIY

Like in every profession, the world of investments is filled with abbreviations. One of the most popular, and dare I say most important ones, is called “DRIP”.

DRIP is an abbreviation for a Dividend Re-Investment Program which banks may offer their customers when they purchase certain stocks. The idea behind is very simple: When a company pays a dividend, the received cash is being immediately re-invested in more shares of the same company. This way one can automatically increase the amount of owned shares every time a dividend payment is due, without the need for any active involvement from the investor’s side.

It is a very effective and common system in the US. Unfortunately not so in Europe.

Europeans tend to be much more risk-averse and invest on average far less in stocks when compared with Americans. Over my investment lifetime, I had 6 different trading accounts with 6 different banks in Germany and none of them was offering DRIP.

DIY – Do it yourself

Well, if you have a problem and nobody is offering a solution, you got to take things in your own hands.

Every time when dividends are being paid out into my account, I am accumulating them until I reach an amount of approximately 1.000 Euros. Then I re-invest this 1.000 Euros. The 1.000 Euros is my guideline due to the rather high transaction costs charged by my bank. But, as long as I am working and my salary is sufficient to cover my on-going expenses, I am not withdrawing even one cent from my stock account. Ever.

Furthermore, I usually don’t re-invest this money into the same company. Instead, I will be on the lookout for another dividend paying company out there and purchase some shares of a new company.

My idea behind this is to diversify my investments to reduce the risk of any potential downturns in the market. For my FIRE account, I don’t buy companies that don’t pay dividends. So, my annual dividend income keeps increasing with every new investment I make. At the same time, as I spread out my investment over a vast range of different companies, my risk is being deleveraged.

That’s not the way of Mr. Buffett

Investment legend Warren Buffett is not a fan of this approach. He prefers a highly focused and compact portfolio. If I remember correctly, his investments as of today are in less than 20 companies. I have currently 16 different positions in my portfolio and expect to move up to 20 by the end of this year. Next year I hope to add another 10. And the year after another 10. My target is to have some 50 companies in my portfolio with ever-growing dividends.

I would love to have Mr. Buffett’s knowledge and experience, and to be able to make such successful investments as he did in the past. But let’s be realistic. I go to do this my way. I have far less money, experience, time and insights then him. For this reason, diversification is crucial for me.

DRIP or not – you got to keep re-investing

So whether your bank is offering a DRIP option or not. The lesson here is to keep re-investing your income from investments as long as you possibly can. Only this way you will be able to activate the power of compounding and see your dividends and investments grow.

Also, don’t get discouraged in the beginning. Dividend growth and re-investments are like a snowball that is slowly rolling down a mountain. It might take a while to get its momentum and it might even get stuck sometime. But at some point, it becomes a truly unstoppable avalanche.

The current market downturn will offer plenty of great investment opportunities. Watch out for solid, dividend-growing and dividend-paying companies and take advantage of the fear out there to grab them at a discount. Chances are that it will turn out to be a smart move in the long-run.