Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reality Finance/Millionaire Challenge and Everything You Need to Know About Finance in a Few Blog Posts, Part 2

Hey everyone.
As promised in my last post, today, we will talk about how specifically the government creates money and how it directly and indirectly controls where that newly created money flows. (This concept is called monetary policy.) But in keeping with my reality finance/millionaire challenge theme, I'd like to let everyone know where I stand financially as of today.

In the past three or four days, I've made $2,000.00. After paying my personal bills, paying my law firm's bills,  and contributing to my retirement and savings accounts, as it stands now, my liquid net worth is $1,986.84. However, only $1,680.84 of that money will not be touched. The remaining $306 will be used for regular living expenses and tiding me over until the next time I will receive money, which will be on this Monday, October 20, 2014.

My credit score just got bumped up to a semi-respectable 645 and my outstanding credit card balance is currently $813. In another post, I'll explain to you why you shouldn't be so concerned with your credit score, as opposed to being concerned with acquiring liquid assets. But I did want to give you all those pieces of information so you can see exactly where I stand with regard to my finances. Now, time for today's finance lesson.

Who controls money and how is it done?

In my last post, I talked about how nowadays, virtually every economy in the world operates on a fiat currency system. Because of this system, and the fact that money is essentially not backed by any physical commodity, an endless amount of money can be created.

Paper money is printed and metal coins are minted by the United States Department of Treasury. The Department of Treasury works hand in hand with the Federal Reserve to make sure that the economy stays healthy, that people are buying enough goods and services, that the amount of goods and services that a person could purchase last year is not too different from what that same person can purchase with the same amount of money this year.

The Federal Reserve (or "Fed" as you might hear it called on t.v.) was created in 1913, and was created in order to among other things, gather information on what is going on in the economy and how to make it stable. The Fed is not apart of any of the three branches of government, but it is subject to oversight by Congress.The Fed has twelve branches around the country - mostly in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston, for instance - and these branches are the foot soldiers of the Fed. The Fed, which is often referred to as the banker's bank, through its twelve branches, lends to private banks. These private banks which receive funds from the Fed are what allow for the United States economy to run smoothly.

The gross domestic product of the United States is $13 trillion. In order to arrive at an economy so large, and because we no longer live in a system whereby money is backed by a physical commodity or service, some merchant had to have someone put trust in her that if the merchant were lent money, value would be created and the money lent out would be paid back with interest. Hence, the saying that our entire economy is one based on credit. And that is certainly true. Most Western governments, unfortunately, are operating largely on credit.

The United States, because it is the most powerful, stable and wealthiest nation in the world, can print money and have everyone around the world believe that that money is worth something. The United States can also ask for a line of credit, by issuing treasuries to people, corporations, or even other countries, and can always get that line of credit because it is so wealthy and stable.

The branch of the of the Fed that is responsible for making sure that the economy is stable, and making adjustments if the economy is not - the Federal Open Market Committee - meets periodically throughout the year. When it meets, it takes a look at whether unemployment is high, whether inflation is high, and then makes a decision as to whether more money should be put into the economy. If the determination by the FOMC is that more money should be put into the economy - i.e. for instance, if private banks are not giving out credit easily, or if corporations are not hiring - the Fed can print more money, or buy Treasury bonds. In fact, this is what has been happening lately.

The Fed currently wants to jump start the economy, but does not want to devalue American currency and create inflation (which would happen if more money were printed). So it has decided to make the interest rate at which it lends to commercial banks low and to buy back a lot of the debt it has issued, making the economy flush with cash. This is known as quantitative easing.

In my next post, I'll talk about interest rates and how exactly this affects your credit card payment, mortgage rate, student loans, and even the bond and stock markets. Stay tuned and until then, I hope you continue to live richly.

Reality Finance/Millionaire Challenge and Everything You Need to Know about Finance in a Few Blog Posts, Part 1

Hey everyone.
Today's post is intended to give you all a bird's eye view and general understanding of how the global economy and financial markets work. But before I get into that, I just wanted to let you know where my finances stand, as part of the "Reality Finance/Millionaire Challenge".

I generally try to save about 10% of everything that I earn, before taxes. However, it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes I save less and sometimes I even save more. My savings rate is also affected by upcoming bills that I know I must pay. For instance, if I know that my rent is paid for the month and all of my automatic debits have come out of my checking account, then I can save more than if I know I have a large student loan payment coming out of my account automatically, or I know that I still have to pay the remaining half of that month's rent.

As a solo practitioner lawyer, my income doesn't always come at the same time each month, but it is fairly consistent. I generally earn anywhere between $4,000 to $5,000 per month and this month, I forecast that I will earn approximately $6,000 given my talks with clients who want to retain me and other attorneys who have expressed to me that they need my assistance in various drafting projects.

Yesterday, I made $275, and being that I didn't have any bills coming due immediately, I was able to transfer $40 of it to my Roth Individual Retirement Account, $35 of it to my regular investment account, and I put $110 of it into my savings account. The stock market kind of got slammed today, and so the two stocks that I currently own - and Lockheed Martin - got hit. Not as badly as the broader stock market though. So in total, I lost $14.84, leaving my Roth IRA balance at $1,296.33, and my regular investment account balance at $206.29, for a total investment account balance of $1,502.62. My savings account balance currently stands at $110.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, it's time to begin to learn everything you need to know about finance. So here we go.

The topics of personal finance and finance generally are all about money. So what exactly is money? 

The Definition of Money

Money is just a medium of exchange. A long time ago, humans used to trade whatever they had in order to get what they needed. For instance, apple farmers used to go to pig farmers to get ham, and the pig farmers would get apples from the apple farmers. This is known as a barter system.

At some point , people decided that always carrying around goods to trade or having to accept illiquid services was inconvenient. So humans came up with the idea that since everyone can agree that gold is pretty, malleable in form, and hard to duplicate, that's what should be used. The gold standard was used for some period of time, but then governments decided to move to a fiat currency system, whereby money is not tied to a physical commodity like gold. A fiat currency system is what every major developed economy uses today. 

What are the benefits of having a currency system that is not tied to a physical commodity? Well, if the amount of money that is in circulation is not connected to a physical commodity, then - you guessed it - money can be created out of thin air. And that's exactly what the government does and is doing as we speak.

In the next blog post, I'll talk about exactly what entity is in charge of monitoring the amount of money in circulation and how it affects you and me on a daily basis. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stacking Chips, Tens and Hundreds of Dollars at a Time

Hey everyone.
So in the past two days, I made $600 from legal work and the way that I allocated that money was as follows: $100 towards my credit card bill (I now have a balance of $961), $100 toward my 2013 tax bill (I now have a balance remaining of $1,100), $110 towards my professional liability insurance bill, $50 towards my Roth IRA, $25 towards my regular investment account, $40 towards tithes, leaving me with $75 in checking until the next time I receive money. Which will be tomorrow.

Currently, I make about $150 a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I aspire to make $300 a day next year, which will put me in the six figure income bracket. $300 a day translates into $109,500 a year. Having more income means that you can save more. I advocate saving anywhere from 7 - 15% of your income, even when you have credit card debt. However this is only provided that your credit card debt is $1,000 or less. When your credit card debt starts to creep above $1,000, that's when credit card interest really starts to burn a hole in your pocket.

I do agree with financial talking heads that one should pay off credit card debt as aggressively as possible. However, I believe that there is a place for saving, no matter how small your income is, if you have credit card debt at $1,000 or below. I believe that if you have credit card debt above $1,000, you should use 90% of your money allocation for savings/investing to pay it down and just save 10% of the amount you would normally have saved. (Example: You have $5,000.00 in credit card debt. You were originally planning to save $250 per month. Instead of saving that entire $250, use $225 of it to pay down your credit card debt and allocate $25 towards your savings.)

The reason that you are not using the entire $250 to pay down your credit card debt is because having some reserve makes it less likely that you will have to rely on your credit card to fund future purchases. And for me, I feel much richer when I can look at my bank statement and see money in my account/see that I'm a member of the investor class, as opposed to calling a loan company representative and hearing how much debt I've paid off.

As I've mentioned in my previous post, my most immediate goal is $10,000 in savings/investments by the end of the year. After getting $1,000 in savings/investments, the next major milestone, in monetary terms is $10,000. The reason for that is primarily psychological for me, but I also feel as if $10,000 allows one the ability to make a significant investment in an individual stock or several stocks. By significant, I mean that the amount of capital you invest in a stock can generate a nice bit of money if the investment doubles. (If you buy 2 shares of a $200 stock, and it doubles, you've made $400. But if you buy 200 shares of a $200 stock, and it doubles, you've made $40,000.)

When making purchases for my own stock portfolio, I usually buy in amounts of $500. That is to say, I usually invest $500 at a time. Although it's not a lot, I believe that waiting until I have $500 to invest forces me to take time to evaluate the merits of each investment I purchase. Speaking of investments, as of today, my investment account stands at $1,341.41, with $1,210.12 of that being in my Roth IRA and the remaining $131.29 in my regular investment account. I made $14.36 today in my 2 shares of  BIDU and $6.15 in my 3 shares of LMT for a total of $20.51. My portfolio is down .3% and I started my portfolio at the beginning of September.

At any rate, I think that's more than enough for a post. I hope to see everyone again soon and thanks for reading.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Opening Up My Financial Life

Hey everyone.
So as I promised in my last post, I'll be disclosing my own personal financial state, in my quest to become a millionaire. But before I do so, I'd like to say that while I don't endorse everything that Suze Orman says on her t.v. show or in her books, she once said that she believes the three impediments to achieving wealth are fear, anger, and  shame. I wholeheartedly agree.

There were times in my life when I was fearful about when I would make money, or whether I would make money, or generally around the topic of money. There have been times when I have been angry at how little money I had, while jealous at the amount other people have had. And I have definitely been embarrassed about my financial state at various times in my life. However, I have managed to resolve my money anxieties and I realize that I am always able to generate income if and when necessary. I have also managed to resolve my anger around not having the same amount of money as some of my peers. And through opening my financial life up to the public, I hope to resolve my issues regarding shame and money.

Money in general, and debt specifically is such a taboo topic. I am a 31 year old male and I have a total of $90,000.00 of federal and private student loans from my undergraduate education at Duke University. I also have another $122,000.00 in federal and private loans from law school. I owe my mom $5,000.00 for a loan she gave me after I passed the bar exam and I have $1,069.00 in credit card debt. The credit card debt has been mostly from paying monthly healthcare premiums and for a $500.00 plane ticket I had to buy unexpectedly for my grandfather's funeral. So my total debt is $218,069.00.

As of today, September 23, 2014, I have a total of $1,253.99 in my investment account, $1,147.70 of which is in my Roth IRA. I currently own 2 shares of (BIDU) and 3 shares of Lockheed Martin (LMT). Although most financial planning experts advise paying off credit card debt - which I am doing aggressively - I feel a certain sense of security and financial well-being when I know that I am making my money generate money for me. My investments have acted as a kind of make shift savings for me also over the past few working years.

The most money I've ever had in my savings/investment account is $15,000.00 and I had that amount right after Duke. I saved and invested while living at home and working while paying no rent. Over the past decade, I have saved and invested several 4 and 5 figure sums. However, life and more specifically paying for education expenses over the past few years, rent and groceries in New York City, along with sporadic employment prior to late 2012, has dwindled my safety net.

Fortunately, I am beginning to rebuild my savings and investment portfolio and I recently moved into a spacious new one bedroom in Manhattan. My rent is currently $1,100 per month; my professional liability insurance is $90.00 per month; my phone and internet service costs $250.00 per month; my office rent is $500.00 per month (but it's sometimes abated); my health insurance is $354.00 per month; my disability insurance is $180.00 per month; my life insurance is $107 per month; and my student loan payments that I am currently making total $1,000.00 per month. I'm on track to make $55,000.00 this year as a solo practitioner lawyer and  on my quest to be a millionaire by December 31, 2016, I am aiming to have $10,000.00 in liquid assets by December 31, 2014. The road to major goals is paved with smaller, more attainable ones to promote perseverance.

Aside from ridding myself of shame surrounding my financial situation, I want to chronicle my journey toward millionaire status and show people that anyone with a sufficient income ($45,000.00 in major cities and $40,000 in smaller towns) can become rich - myself included. As I journal about my own personal journey, I'll be sure to include money/personal finance/investing lessons, as they pertain to my personal situation. Lastly, please send in any questions or comments about any personal finance topic you'd like to see me discuss. Thanks for reading and good night!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reality Finance - The Millionaire Challenge

Hey everyone.
I read an article today that talked about Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and her insight that the poorest of Americans have not benefited from the economic recovery that has taken place over the past five years. I've always believed that anyone can learn to manage their money well and become a millionaire - myself included. But sometimes it's harder for those who 1) aren't earning enough; 2) don't understand what to do with their savings, if they are able to save; or most importantly 3) haven't seen anyone close to them become wealthy independently. I would like to remedy the problems I just mentioned. That's where my Reality Finance - Millionaire Challenge comes in.

You see, I WILL BE A MILLIONAIRE BY DECEMBER 31, 2016.  More specifically, I will have paid off all of my debt and have $1,000,000.00 in cold hard cash in my bank/investment account by December 31, 2016. But in the process of becoming a millionaire, I would like to expose to the world how I do it. That's the "reality" part of Reality Finance. I want to show people that with perseverance and hard work, it is possible to achieve financial independence. I also want to help specifically groups that have been ignored by the financial/wealth management industry such as younger people (ages 6 - 30), women, and people of color. I remember interviewing with a wealth management company some time ago and the interviewer telling me that I couldn't make money working with a person who did not have a lot of money. That concept really rubbed me the wrong way - mainly because it's not true!

At any rate, I've decided to open up my finances for the world to see. I will disclose my debt load, my investment account balance, how much I save and spend on various things throughout the day, how I choose investments, and any other thing readers/viewers would like to know. Tomorrow and in the coming days, I'll be opening up about these pieces of information about myself. I'll be doing this in an effort not only to chronicle my own journey toward  $1,000,000.00, but to show the entire world that anyone with drive and an income can become wealthy, no matter what their financial starting point is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The World's Best Investment Is an Investment in One's Self

For the longest time, I've had an interest in the stock market. The whole concept of making money from just using my brain turned me on. And don't get me wrong - being invested in the stock market over the long term is an excellent idea. A dollar invested in the S&P 500 Index (a group of companies that are generally thought to be a bellwether for the United States economy) in 1970 is now worth $77.79. For a shorter time frame example, imagine buying an index fund in 1994 - twenty years ago. If you invested $10,000 in that index fund, today you would have $106,960.86, for a compounded annual growth rate of 12.98%! 
All of the above goes to show that the stock market can be a fabulous investment. However, I do not believe that the stock market is the best investment.

After learning so much about personal finance and travelling along my own journey to being at peace with money, I've realized that the world's best investment is an investment in one's self. An investment in one's self can be obtaining higher education, getting coaching, getting training, doing something enjoyable that relieves stress, building one's self esteem or one's business.

The primary reason that I believe that an investment in one's self beats investing in the stock market every time is that the returns from the stock market, over the long-term, are capped at around 20% per year. That is an astounding compounded annual growth rate, but it's not one that the majority investors can achieve. In fact, the only investor who has achieved such a feat by investing in companies/stocks over a 40 year period is Warren Buffett. So unfortunately, it's unlikely that we can achieve the same sort of rate of return. When we invest in ourselves though, the potential return is unlimited.

Investing in ourselves allows us to get and maintain a job, which allows us to save money to even put to work in the stock market or other prudent risk taking endeavors. Without employability or marketable skills, there is no ability to build wealth. Also, Warren Buffett is famous for saying that in all risk taking endeavors, one should stay within one's circle of competence. That is to say that if you are most interested in fashion or the culinary arts, then you should devote all of your time and energy to becoming the best couturier or chef/restaurateur, and not to picking stocks. You can have a professional do that for you.

When you invest in yourself, you increase your human capital and financial capital to invest in things outside of yourself!