Latte Investing (Becoming an Everyday Investor)

The term “Latte Factor” was popularized by David Bach in his best-selling book, The Automatic Millionaire. The concept highlights how small purchases everyday add up to big money over time – in this case exemplified by a daily $5 latte. It’s a specific example of how opportunity costs work. When you use your resources for one thing you are giving up alternative uses for that money. Per Webster Merriam the formal definition follows.


Opportunity Cost

the added cost of using resources (as for production or speculative investment) that is the difference between the actual value resulting from such use and that of an alternative (such as another use of the same resources or an investment of equal risk but greater return)

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/opportunity%20cost

Bach’s book popularized the art of slamming Starbucks purchases as extravagances for spendthrift millennials that have no long-term financial sense. It’s a good concept, and the math works. If you take the $5 a day and instead put it into low-cost index funds or other investments the accumulation over time is enormous.

Here’s a July 2018 example post, using the $5 latte example, from US News. Over 50 years, $5 a day invested across the stock market would yield you an $800,000 portfolio balance. It’s a great, powerful example of how returns compounded over years can add up to big money. The big missing piece of getting these returns, however, rests upon actually investing the $5 a day. Opportunity costs only really matter if the alternative uses are uses that one will actually take. You may not like Starbucks at all so you never spend $5 a day on coffee, or you may have incredible willpower and forego your treasured cup of mocha java daily for years on end. Unless you take those individual $5 savings and everyday invest them you will not see the $800k pot of gold at the end of the 50-year rainbow. If the money sits in your checking account and is then used for a trip to Disneyland, or a shopping trip, or the monthly dozen streaming service bills it has not been saved, nor invested. It’s been spent on a different consumption use. Unless one is very diligent or budget-focused it is hard to monitor each dollar and actively redirect from spending to investing.

I had the Latte Factor in mind when I was considering how to be a better, more consistent investor about a year ago. It was shortly after the New Year and resolutions were on my mind. I decided to use the idea of the Latte Factor in reverse – by starting with investing and making a daily investment the priority. My thinking was that if I made the $5 investment a priority each day, and automated it I would be embracing the investing side of the Latte Factor which is the most important part. Getting your money to work for you is the goal, not self denial at the coffee counter. They are both part of the equation, flip sides of the coin, since we all deal with finite time and money. Although they are related, I view the investment side of the coin as more important than the saving side. And knowing myself, giving up my daily coffee just isn’t in the cards.

I used my existing Vanguard account to create a recurring weekly investment for each day of the week. (Since you can’t create an automatic investment on a weekend day I doubled up on a couple of week days to have 7 total investments a week.) Here’s my current latte investing setup – there’s an additional 8th weekly transfer to a money market fund as an emergency savings additional goal.

I’ve blanked out the amounts above as I don’t think it’s relevant and will depend on each person. For you, the $5 a day may be a great start. Perhaps you earn a lot more money than I and $500 a day would be a better fit. The important bit is to start, and automate, your investing so that you remove the need for active attention and willpower to ensure it happens. This is likely already the case if you have a 401k or other employer investment plan – you set it up once and rarely think about it again. Adding an investment plan for yourself individually can be a great complement and remind you that your financial future is ultimately in your hands, and needs to be on your mind.

In addition to the power of compounding, I’ve enjoyed the psychological element of having a daily investment habit. When I’m winding down at the end of the day I can tally a small win, every day, that even if I did go out for coffee, or dinner, or booked an expensive trip I was also investing for the long-term. That little bit of positive reinforcement and encouragement has been meaningful to me. My wife and I both set up our own daily investments in this vein. It’d be a bit cleaner and simpler to just lump the investment dollars together and do it once a day instead of twice. However, just as you can’t have another person eat well for you, or do your daily exercise routine I find it important for us each to be invested in the process and have a daily win.

Our first year of latte investing went well, and with the calendar turning over we took a few minutes to discuss and update our daily investments. Things have been going pretty well, so we were able to increase our daily amounts a bit. Maybe in the future we’ll need to decrease the amounts. Either way, I plan on continuing this daily habit to have our small daily money wins and to remind ourselves that everyday we are going to be investors. Hopefully, as the years go by, the returns will grow and our balances will accumulate.

Bean counter by trade, bean lover by nature, bean stacker by choice

I hope sharing this daily habit is helpful to you, and if you have ideas to share about building wealth for the long-term I’d love to hear them. Cheers.

Short-Term Rental Properties – A Few Useful Tools

So you want to operate a short-term rental for your vacation home, in-law flat, previous home, or other property? Sites like Airbnb and VRBO have made the idea of second home or investment property a reality for many. These sites make the marketing and management of a property much easier than in the past. However, there are a number of additional tools and considerations to take into account.

We recently stayed at an Airbnb in South Lake Tahoe. It was great and a day at Angora Lakes was a highlight of our trip. (Photo is of Fallen Leaf Lake.)

Here a few recommendations for getting your short-term rental up and running smoothly.

Open a Checking Account (and potentially Credit Card) – If you are running a rental property, you are operating a business and will need to report the earnings and expenses on your tax return. Open up a checking account at a minimum to make tracking your net income easier. You may also want to open a credit card to earn rewards or cash back, depending on the amount of activity you have.

Check (And Modify As Needed) Your Insurance Policy – You may need to get an additional or different insurance policy for the property. There are a number of insurance providers that offer policies for short-term rentals, I use Foremost. Additionally, you may want to add an umbrella policy or consider setting up an LLC to address liability exposure.

Utilize Additional Tools – I currently use the following add-on tools for my Airbnb listings.

  • BeyondPricing – This tool adjusts the nightly rate to account for prices in the area, occupancy rate, seasonal factors, etc. There are a number of similar tools but I’ve been happy with BeyondPricing. The company charges 1% of gross for the service but I’ve found that just being able to pick up higher rates for large events like Comic-Con or conventions pays for itself.
  • Smartbnb – I really like this tool for managing multiple properties and team members. You can set up automated messages for check-in, check-out, etc. You can also set up text reminders for your housekeeper, manager, or other service providers.

Utilize Service Providers – Depending on your situation and goals, it may be well worth it to hire a property manager for your short-term rental, especially if you don’t live in the area. Guests often need in-person assistance for various needs, repairs, or other reasons. You may also want to consider a housekeeper unless you’re typically in town and have a flexible schedule to clean yourself.

Hosting on Airbnb for over a decade has been a great financial help for my family. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you and if you’re looking for more specific advice please contact me and let me know. Cheers!

A sample of Airbnb listings on the website

Raising An Investor

Raising children entails a lot of trial and error, and hoping that you aren’t screwing things up too much along the way. As our kids have gotten older we are moving into new subject areas, one of which is money. We want to expose our kids to good money habits while also giving them agency and discretion. Investing has been an area that has been going well so far so I wanted to share our experience with others in the same boat.

We set up an investment account at Betterment for each of the kids when they were born and have put in $25 a month since then. Now that the kids are old enough to be involved there is an account history and returns that we can go over together and learn together about expenses, how returns from appreciation and dividends work, and that there is risk involved in investing. Although we primarily use Vanguard for our own investments I like the aesthetics and diversification into multiple index funds / ETFs that Betterment makes more automatic – it seems to connect with the kids better and is more straightforward for them to understand.

Here’s the actual performance of one child portfolio over the past few years. The right graph includes a comparison to the S&P 500. Betterment currently charges a .25% management fee on top of the fees for the funds invested in.

[Note: We have chosen to hold the investment accounts for each of our children in our name so that we have control of the funds until we decide to give over full control. We’ve done this for reasons related to age and maturity, impact on college scholarships, and other considerations.]

Now when the kids receive some money for a birthday or we cash in the coins in their artisanal hand-crafted wooden banks we let them decide what to do with it – spend it, give it away, put in the bank, or invest in their Betterment account. It’s been fun and over the past year they’ve mostly chosen to invest their money, roughly 80% of their “earnings” going into their respective Betterment accounts. We sit with them at the computer but let them use the mouse, type in the contribution and notes, etc.

Here’s the current default allocation within Betterment for one of our child accounts, at a 95% stocks / 5% bonds allocation.

We’ll see how it goes in the future when there are more dollars at stake and more competing options vying for their attention and funds. From the early returns it’s been a simple and effective way to introduce investing for our family.

You can check out Betterment at: https://www.betterment.com/

Calculating compound growth rates like a boss (baby)

Traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA – It Doesn’t Matter (Tax Rates Do)

Employees often have the ability to contribute to an employer sponsored retirement plan (typically a 401(k) plan) – also known as a Traditional IRA.  To contribute to this plan, the employee selects a percentage of income to contribute each pay period and this amount is taken out of their paycheck and sent directly to the plan administrator to be deposited in the individual’s IRA account.  When contributing to a Traditional IRA no taxes are due at contribution.  When the funds are distributed in the future, typically during retirement, income taxes will be due on the full amount distributed – both the earnings growth and the initial contributions.

Separately from a Traditional IRA, workers can on their own open and contribute to a Roth IRA (subject to income limitations).  In 2019 an individual earning less than $122,000 can contribute up to $6,000 to a Roth IRA.  With a Roth the individual pays taxes up front, when the money is earned, and then contributes the money after taxes have been paid.  When funds are distributed in the future, typically during retirement, there are no taxes on the distributions.

Deciding between contributing to a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, or the relative amounts to each, is a frequent topic on personal finance blogs and talk shows.  An important bit that doesn’t get enough coverage is this:

** Income Tax Rate Changes Are What Really Matters **

The are other factors to consider between these types of IRAs outside of tax treatment.  A couple of factors, among others, include:

  • Employer contributions – Traditional IRAs often include employer-matching of employee contributions.
  • Liquidity – Ability to access contributions differ, with Roth contributions being accessible without penalty in some situations.

However, the biggest impact is made by the change in income tax rates between contribution and distribution.  If tax rates are higher in the future at distribution, a Roth IRA is better – you paid at a lower rate when contributing and get to withdraw and avoid taxes at a higher rate.  The converse is also true – lower rates at distribution favor a Traditional IRA.  You avoid higher taxes at contribution and then they are applied at lower rates at distribution. Let’s repeat and then look at a few simple example calculations.

  • Higher income tax rates in future = Roth IRA better
  • Lower income tax rates in future = Traditional IRA better

If there are no changes in income tax rates, there’s no difference between the two types of IRA.  Here’s a calculation example showing the net total distribution is the same if there are no changes in tax rates.

If tax rates are lower in the future than now (lower at distribution) then the Traditional IRA is better and yields a higher total distribution. Here’s the same example, with only the future tax rates decreasing.

If tax rates are higher in the future than now (higher at distribution) then the Roth IRA is better and yields a higher total distribution.  Here’s the same scenario again, but with higher future tax rates.

There are two primary reasons for a change in income tax rates, both of which are difficult to predict over a long-term period.

  1. Changes in Tax Law – changes to the rates and brackets in the IRS Code enacted by Congress
  2. Changes in Income – changes in individual earnings resulting in a change in the applicable tax bracket (whether or not the tax brackets are changed by law)

Planning for the long-term is difficult but remember the impact that tax rate changes can have should be a prominent consideration.


Note: The content of this post is for informational and discussion purposes and is not financial or tax advice. Consult with an advisor before relying on this or any information.

Want To Be An Airbnb Host in San Diego? Good Luck – You’re On Your Own

The City of San Diego continues to discuss options for regulations and rules around short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb.  Short-term rentals are rentals for less than a full calendar month and have been the topic of discussion at a number of City Council and committee hearings over the last few years.

I recently received an inquiry from a San Diego resident that would like to rent out one or two bedrooms in the home they live in – sharing a room or home with guests is often referred to as “home-sharing”.  Home-sharing is frequently brought up in the short-term rental debate with both sides typically saying there is no issue with this type of activity.  (However, home-sharing is the only type of short-term rental I’m aware of that the City of San Diego took to court, and ultimately the judge decided that this type of activity is not allowed under current rules and issued a fine to that host.)

The prospective host in this case was looking to do the right thing and get clarity from the City before hosting on Airbnb.  They contacted several City departments regarding how to fill out the right information for the Transient Occupancy Registration Certificate( “TORC”), if a Business Tax Certificate is required, what taxes they need to pay, and if there are other regulations they need to follow for lawfully renting out rooms via platforms such as Airbnb. 

 

On the response to the prospective host, the city was clear and straight-forward in providing the process to register for the TORC, what kind of taxes the host would need to pay, etc.  The Transient Occupancy Tax (i.e. hotel tax) is not part of the debate and proposed short-term rental rules – it is already in place and collected (and in the case of Airbnb remitted for all hosts on the platform each month by the platform itself).

However, in regard to other requirements for operating an Airbnb, the prospective host was directed to consult the Development Services Department (in charge of Land Use and Development). Surprisingly, when the host reached out to Development Services they were told  that since there are no official regulations or rules around short-term rentals, this kind of activity is currently not allowed in San Diego.  That’s when the host reached out to me, as part of my efforts with the Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) – seeking clarity the city couldn’t provide and how they should proceed.

The contradiction between the responses from different City departments is confusing but accurate.  Yes – you can register and pay the taxes for this sort of activity.  No – you can not engage in this type of activity in the first place.  This is the current status of short-term rentals in San Diego, at least for home-sharing situations.  It still seems that whole-home short-term rentals may be on firmer ground, although the current City Attorney has declared all short-term rentals illegal. [Note: the previous two City Attorneys held a different position, that short-term rentals were not illegal.]

This sort of lack of clarity is harmful to potential hosts like the one highlighted in this post – a San Diego resident seeking to improve their economic position and do so in a straight-forward and compliant manner in the type of short-term rental that is roundly approved of and supported.  We need clarity to support residents like this and should encourage this type of widespread entrepreneurial opportunity to give citizens more options and ability to chart their own desired course.  Hopefully in the months ahead we will see clarity that gives certainty to current and potential hosts and guests and that supports the opportunity that platforms like Airbnb and others gives to many thousands of San Diegans.

A screen shot of some home-sharing options currently available on Airbnb (taken 4-19-2018)

Creating a Passive Income Symbiote

dollar bills

One of my favorite websites is the fantastic Mr. Money Moustache (MMM).  This website and the book Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) by Jacob Lund Fisker caught my attention a few years ago and the concept of financial independence has been stuck in my head ever since.  There are a number of great podcasts, books, and articles, on the topic and the “FIRE” movement (financial independence / early retirement) has grown into a semi-mainstream concept.

The biggest lesson I took from MMM and ERE is the impact that a person’s savings rate has on the ability to grow wealth.  The flip side to the savings rate is the consumption rate – together they equal 100% of earnings.  The money you earn is either spent and disbursed to another party via consumption – the pizza place, daycare, car payments, etc. – or it is kept and accrued in your accounts – savings, investment account, real estate, etc.

The impact of the consumption / savings rate is laid out most excellently in this post from MMM:

The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement

I decided to take a stab at making a simple calculation along the same lines – using a few basic inputs to see the time required to create a “Passive Income Symbiote”.  The goal is to create a passive stream of income equivalent to gross earnings – to entirely replace wage earnings with passive income.  If you can live on what you currently earn then it’s easy to imagine living on that same amount, but with all of your time free to use as desired.  I chose the word symbiote with the idea that the goal is to have the Passive Income Symbiote be the “host” and the person becomes the “parasite”, living on the efforts of the host.

The basic elements for the calculation (spreadsheet attached, feel free to use and share if you like) are:

  • Income / earnings – how much you make
  • Consumption rate – how much of your earnings you spend
  • Return on investments – what you earn on your savings
  • Earnings increase – if you expect an annual raise, how much it is
  • Earnings increase spent – how much of any earnings increase you spend (also known as lifestyle inflation)

Many of these factors are hard to change or controlled by outside forces – bosses, annual evaluations, how the stock market performs – the spending / saving ratio is the factor easiest to quickly adjust.  It’s also the factor that has the most impact on the time required to fully fund a PI Symbiote.  I’ve included some suggested ranges for items like return on investments and annual earnings increase.  There’s a relative limit on some items and I’ve tried to based the suggested ranges on my perception of those general limits. (You might get a 100% raise at your job but it’s more likely to be a moderate increase of 3-5%, for example.)

Good luck on your journey and creating your own pet Symbiote. Cheers!

Screenshot of sample Symbiote calculation

a journey of a thousand miles starts with a shaky bridge

Download Excel Below: