I have been quiet for the past few weeks, its for the lack of ideas and lack of structure in my life which kept me away. I went back to evaluate where my life was and where I need to be. This led me to write this post on the only money principles you need to follow. As things proceed in life, I will update this again. A lot of this is obvious, but foundational!
Principle #1 : Spend less than you make
Yes, this is obvious but it is the very first step. If you are not able to consistently spend less than what you make, you are sooner or later preparing yourself for a bad situation. The key word here is consistency and not I save when I can.
Principle #2: Plan your big expenses in advance
I am not a big believer in budgets, some people are and its great for them. Instead, I like to plan for my big purchases, this means holiday trips, gifts and other things which can easily derail my monthly savings (and cause frustration). I was able to even plan ahead for the first 6 months of our baby and save accordingly.
Some might tell you to use the envelope method, and that is great too. The point is, discipline and adherence to savings happens when you already structure your spending. The technique of getting there is upto you.
Principle #3: Pay yourself first / Save before you spend
Your first spending with the exception of life essentials like rent, electricity and commute, should be for your savings. Whatever is left after that is what you need to make do with that month.
Principle #4: Understand finance basics
It is quite surprising to know when people do not understand concepts like depreciation, compounding, inflation and opportunity cost. If you do not know them well enough, educate yourself.
Principle #5: Be intentional in your life
This is my biggest money life advice, you do not need to be a hermit to be financially free, but you do need intention in every significant action of your life. Need a car? Great, plan for it, find the best car which fits your needs (and not your ability to pay). Need a house? Sure, why not, but refrain from buying a house which chains you for next 3 decades.
Do not rationalize bad money decisions
Start understanding the difference between your needs and wants, and make every action you take on what value it shall bring to your life.
Principle #6: Pick a steady portfolio, automate your investments.
I know many people who are into trading stocks, they want to invest into big potential stocks and sell them at a profit with a short term goal. This is beyond my skill level. I do hold a few select stocks like AAPL, MSFT, BRK or AMZN but all these with a long term hold perspective of atleast a few years.
Unless you have deep knowledge and ability to stomach the risk, you should simply invest into Index Funds / ETFs as a start. I recommend picking ETFs which have low maintenance fees and coverage of an overall market. You might also want to put 10-20% of your savings into bond index funds. My preferred ETF today is A1JX52, you can research more on JustETF.com. The point is, for most of us amateurs, a select portfolio is good enough. If you do this for enough years and without cheating, you may end up being very safe.
Automate everything! If you have a select portfolio, just go to your depot account and setup a sparplan to invest on a fixed date each month into your handpicked choices.. Today all my ETF purchases and even some of my long term stock purchases happen via sparplan.
Principle #7: Stabilize your expenses and find your safety number
If you have made to Principle #7, well done! Once other things are happening as a well oiled machine, its time to think about the future.
Wouldn’t it be great if a risk to your job would not stress you out? What is that number which makes you not worry of sudden life events?
To do this, find your monthly expenses minus any big splurges and multiple it with the number of comfort months you need.
So, if you need 2000 EUR x 12 months = 24,000 EUR is your safety number to survive for an year without a worry in the world.
Principle #8: Do not obsess over money everyday, let this not consume your life!
Money is a means to an end, an essential one at that. Yet, money does not need to be the only thought in your mind unless you are struggling. Find your own meaning, spread love to your family and friends, do your own thing. There there are many life pursuits which are priceless (I sound like a Mastercard commercial!), find that passion!
This also means, do not peek into the bank account or depot account status everyday, specially when your goals are long term!
So those are my 8 money principles, if you think there is something which is worthwhile and missing, give me a shout out in the comments section!
I am kicking off a new series on financial topics used in Germany. The first financial product that I would like to talk about is Rürup or Basis Rente (Rente in German means pension). We also explore common terms and their meaning to build up the concept of Rürup.
Concept #1: What is altersvorsorge and Gesetzliche rentenversicherung?
Altervorsorge (old age provision) is a general term used to describe various products and options which are available to support you for your old age. These are usually described into three pillars (or categories):
Basisvorsorge (basic provision) : This includes statutory pension insurance (also called gesetzliche rentenversicherung) scheme from the German state, and other products like Rürup . The products are usually tax efficient and are design to work as a pension should.
Privat vorsorge (private provision) : This is a private measure, people can use products in this category to top-up their Basic provision. This will include products like Employer pension, Reisterrente or Directfonds. There is usually some subsidy available.
Ungeförderte Private Vorsorge (unsubsidized prevention) : This is also a private measure usually focused on Lebensversicherung (Life insurance) products. It can also include products which offer pension with a life insurance.
Now, this post only focuses on Rürup , and I reserve some of the other topics for more posts in this series.
The question of Rürup Rente. Where does it fit in retirement planning
Rürup is a self invested pension scheme, this is well positioned for freelancers who may not be invested in the statutory pension program. At the same time it is also a choice for those who have statutory pension but want to top that with additional pension.
Rürup pension is named after Bert Rürup who is an economist and a politician. His focus was on pension reform and this pension scheme was launched in 2005 named after him. It is also often referred as Basis Rente
Why is this relevant as a top-up? The simple answer is that statutory pension payouts may not be sufficient to help you survive in old age. It is predicted that only around 48% of your last paid income will be your statutory pension (*the actual calculation is more complex). So Rürup is a way to supplement your pension and avoid
Key features of a Rürup pension program
Behaves like a pension, you cannot withdraw this in advance and it is only paid as a pension after retirement. You cannot exit a Rürup but stop paying into it.
There is no minimum contribution limit. Contributions can be stopped, this is helpful for freelancers.
As it is a pure pension plan, it also gives you tax benefits. Upto 24,900 EUR investment are tax free.
It cannot be transferred to another person, loaned against or inherited. It can be setup to get paid to your immediate dependent (spouse) or children if <25 years upon death.
It is designed to save taxes if you have a lot of tax liability, upto 100% tax rebate during accumulation from 2025
Pension will be taxable as per prevailing rules in future.
It is possible usually to change providers, but there can be fees.
Two versions usually exist: Fixed classic pension and Unit linked Pension
Fixed Classic pension has returns around 1.25%, while Unit Linked is linked to market performance.
Expense costs are high, between 3-6% annually.
Should I take a Rürup / Basis Rente?
This is a very debatable topic. Lets make it clear, if you are an immigrant and may move out of Germany, you will still get paid out but will need forwarding address. It might just add more hassle.
Having said that, many complain (and rightfully so), that Rürup has very small returns and when costs are considered the value of tax benefits is only realized when you are 70+ or something.
At the same time, you can think of Rürup as a bond investment, which is about capital preservation and not exactly about big returns. This is at the cost of losing access to capital, low returns and potentially high maintenance expenses.
Will Mr A invest in this?
No, I think I can potentially get better returns with index funds/ETFs and lower costs. I might think of it during the consolidation phase of retirement planning when capital protection is a goal.
The Corona crisis has upended our lives, suddenly a trip to the grocery store is the biggest outing of my week. Everyone’s facebook and instagram timelines are more like #latergram and no projections of great lives. Instead its all about survival, and waiting it out. The crisis has also led us to evaluating our money habits and look at what really matters.
If you have not looked into your money habits, and have some time at hand, it is a good time to try it. I will suggest a few things at the end of this post, jump through if you are in a rush.
Now, lets look at our money habits:
Lesson #1 : We ate out more than we realized, and it was affecting my health.
We used to believe that we only ate out 3-4 times each month, when we go out as a family to a restaurant. Its our escape and sometimes it was also a way to close a busy exhausting day. Now, even when we are often working late in the evening and struggle with childcare during the day, we make it a point to cook. The only luxury has been frozen pizza.
We had simply failed to count the coffees, croissants, ready to eat salads and on the fly noodle trips which are all less than 30 metres from our apartment. None of these are very expensive luxuries but they added up both to the bills (>150 Euros a month) and to my waistline. I lost a couple of pounds in the first weeks of the isolation.
Will we never eat out? Of course we will, its still our escape, but this financial habit needs more careful consideration.
Lesson #2 : Many Most of our purchases are non essential and not critical
Last weekend we watched The Minimalists documentary, while the lifestyle is too extreme but it has a lot of value. Our realization was that we are not as frugal as we thought ourselves to be, we have accumulated hundereds of tiny objects instead and struggle with clutter.
The result has been a clean up exercise, I have reduced my wardrobe by 30% of all clothes, and reduced the books I owned. While this new excitement is great, I am not sure if I can sustain this.
Lesson #3 : Great experiences have little to do with the price
We like to travel, 2-3 trips an year has been a normal for us, and a few day trips during summers is refreshing. We have always been careful in budgeting and booking except a few times like last year. With no option to travel on Easter, cancellation of our parents trip to Germany and no bookings in place for summers, we are home and trying to make the best of it.
A walk to the river on a sunny weekend and the ability to experience spring without the noise of cars swooshing by has been refreshing. We didn’t need to spend any money for that. I have also learnt to make peace with no trips, and we are doing fine (for now). Of course, I fully realize a walk down the riverside cannot replace a holiday, but the ability to adapt is the biggest strength of being human.
Lesson #4 : Happiness exists in tiny things each day and not in big goals.
We knew that consumption is not sustainable, but the real realization only came in during this isolation.
I realize that blowing bubbles in my little balcony with my toddler is a source of happiness, or 20 Euros worth of sand is enough to give him a feel of a playground right in that balcony.
I also learnt that things which I used to think what a family man should provide like cars or house with a garden do not matter to my family. In the long run, those things might be useful, may even be a measure of success to some, but are NOT a measure of happiness. This money habit of comparing myself with others, has to stop.
Lesson #5 : Fear is a great motivator to save and invest in your future
As Coronavirus has hit industries, some of my customers are struggling too. At the moment, my job seems safe, but it can all change. The result of this is two specific things I am now actively focusing on:
Investing in myself: I am actively learning new skills, so make myself available for more projects and also secure myself for a a shaky future. I would like to prepare for what is to come after coronavirus.
Counting our blessings and tightening our belts: Over the years, many people in our life questioned about why we moved to Germany. The answer rings true today, if things go awry, the German social system and the health care will be around for a while to allow us to recover. To top this, we are holding more cash than before, because these are uncertain times.
How can you evaluate your own money habits?
I have a simple list of questions you can ask yourself. I must say, your answers or goals can be very different from mine and that is fine. If money inspires you and a Tesla is your dream, so be it.
What are the top 3 life goals for you? (hint: Money, Relationships, Career or Health).
Has the isolation changed for you in terms of spending? How?
What is the one thing financially, which you are not able to do, and it still feels fine?
What is the one thing in terms of spending, which you are not able to do but would like to continue?
How prepared are you if there is a loss of hours or job loss suddenly?
It is all very convenient to write as a blogger to invest the dips, and I did this too last week! Lets get real, we are facing a very high chance of recession and job loss soon. Thus surviving job loss is a very real theme for so many of us.
Why talking about surviving job loss and income loss is important, now?
As Germany crossed 10,000 Coronavirus cases this morning, we are heading for a complete shut down.
The fact is that retail shops, travel agents, salespersons, cooks, restaurants, waiters, their suppliers, airports, airlines, ground staff, freelancers, event management companies, movie theaters, arts and many more are at severe risk of losing their jobs. Globally the picture is no different and its already starting to get ugly for some.
We are going to face millions of job losses, crushed busines demand, and misery.
Even if this virus goes away as trillion dollars pump into the market, funding for dying companies, it will take years to recover. The Dow Jones has plumetted 2000 points today(had to change this while writing!) 33% less than all time high a month ago! A MONTH AGO!
All this, within 20 working days!
Surviving job loss: Emergency fund.
Every FI blogger has talked about it. For some of us, this is already too late. If you have already lost your job, income and do not have enough to cover then you must reach out for benefits.
If you are still in your job, fear the reduction of pay or job loss, this is the time to tighten your belt. However, If you are confident to ride through, go read another post.
Save everything you can, be super frugal, avoid any unnecessary purchases.
If you can save 6 months of expenses, try 8 months, if you can do 8 months, try 10 months.
Were you planning a apartment purchase? Delay it.
If you were planning to get a car, even an old one, delay that!
Do not invest in the market, stay away and hold cash
Surviving job loss: Arbeitslosgeld
There is no shame in this, you have been paying into the social security for times like these. As things escalate, more people will seek this and there will be delays in handling all the capacity.
Please visit the Arbeitsagentur website (in English too). You must immediately inform them of a job loss as soon as you know have a confirmation from your employer. You can also call at +49 (0)800 4 5555 00
Please make copies of your payslips, bank statement, resume and existing job contract ready. You will need those.
Surviving job loss: Fix your living situation
The next advice is not for all, neither is something I prefer. If push comes to a shove, find a room-mate to share rent, or move in with your family.
There is a moratorium on evacuation in various states, read this!
Surviving job loss: German Governments loan scheme
Over 2.3 million people work as self employed, they are at significant risk. There is a high chance there will be a scheme to help them through a 0% loan or more.
If you are a small business or freelancer, you can get a credit loan from the German Government, you can also get tax breaks and subsidies for loss of business. Please click here to read the official guidelines.
Couple of days ago I talked about Surviving Stock Market crash of 2020, the market, oil and bitcoin all are going down south. My portfolio is at -7%, 2.5 years of regular investing has vanished. It could simply go down further but it will not crush my Financial independence dreams.
How can I stay clam when the Stock Market crash has destroyed my savings?
I do not know the answer to this.
It is not easy to see our savings burn up in so quickly. It takes me several months to save up money and its not easy to see it simply burn away.
Prioritize your family’s safety first!
The Stock Market Crash was triggered by the coronavirus, this is a real health threat and we all are at risk.
Safety of your family comes first! If you are in an at-risk industry like travel, music, airports, restaurants or similar, you must first make sure that you have sufficient cash in case of a job loss or sudden medical expense is needed. This could be anywhere between 3-6 months of expenses. A Stock Market Crash often result in companies going down under, and an added threat of coronavirus will only make this harder to recover
Invest, only if you can stomach it and can stay put for a few years!
My favorite Financial independence author JH Collins wrote on his blog about the 1987 market crash and how he reacted to it. It seems to be a great idea to invest all surplus cash into the market, either through stocks or simply buying cheaper index funds.
At the same time, be aware of:
We don’t know what is the bottom (and when), so the stocks can continue to fall for next months (average bear markets last 4 to 11 months).
Companies will fail and die, so your bets might fall flat!
If you think recovery is quick, you might be surprised.
So, one of the ways to safeguard against the wobbly race to the bottom of the stock market crash is to invest in intervals. In case you have 2000$ to invest, instead of going all in a single day, average this out to say 100 $ per week for 20 weeks instead. This is DCA in a nutshell.
Don’t invest if…
You want the money back in 12-18 months
Your job can be at risk, be very aware
You are not comfortable, just don’t listen to an unknown guy’s blog post to do it if you do not believe in it.
Finally, keep calm and carry on. Sell if you feel you cannot recover at all, but before this please read this thread from 2008’s crisis! We aren’t the first ones facing this, and it isn’t the last Stock Market crash we’d see!
Today after three weeks of volatility, the markets, oil and bitcoin are all in a free fall. An year ago I had talked about the impending recession and the market was going all up! This morning we have the first red signs of the 2020 Stock market crash, some already call today as the Black Monday. Within last 2 weeks, my gains from 33% have come down to 6% this morning, and can go lower.
In 2008/09 I was still studying and was not an investor. If you are like me, then this is the first time for you to go through this. I am penning down three potential approaches which make up this survival guide to the 2020 Stock Market crash.
Tip #1: Book profits now, enter the stock market at lows
This is brilliant advice, follows on the famous Buffet quote,’Buy when market is in fear and sell when its greedy.’ The only challenge is, when to exit and when to enter?
If you think you can do it, then sell and book profits, use stop/loss specially for stocks and wait on. However, nobody knows when you hit the bottom of the 2020 stock market crash.
Tip #2: Stay Put, Time in the Market is more important than Timing the Market!
Solid advice again, most FI bloggers will keep repeating it ad infinitum. There is value in it, there is a great reddit thread which I can suggest you to read.
The underlying belief is that if you continue buying at fixed intervals you will still benefit from the low prices of stocks (averaged out or DCA). Of course, the argument to that is that when stocks are cheap, why not buy more? Afterall, a stock market crash is an opportunity!
And then, there have been so many articles which always talk of a person investing in Market crash of 2008 and then becoming rich, that sounds like timing the market and not staying put.
Tip #3: Stay put, and yet try timing the Stock Market!
This is going to be my approach, and I do not have a lot of spare money just 4-5k EUR which I can time with! It won’t make me a millionaire.
I will continue staying put i.e. the long term index funds will continue to be invested automatically, as always planned inspite of the 2020 Market crash.
I will spend my spare cash into buying some handpicked stocks which I felt were overpriced, these are mostly large caps and also long term plays. My target price usually is that if my preferred stock is 30-40% cheaper than ATH, it can be a buy.
I will not attempt to make short term gains, and that is beyond my risk taking capacity.
I recognize the risk that companies I invest in, might go under or not recover for a long term.
Caution: We tend to look at history of stock markets and its rebound to look for recovery. Markets like Japan’s Nikkei was at 27000 in 1991, and after recessions/stagflation, even in 2020 it could only reach a high of 24000. So, beware of confirmation bias.
Update: Its June 2020 now, the market recovered 40% in-spite of record job losses, and announcement of biggest recessions in decades. I am waiting for the music to stop, reality will hit home.
What is your approach for the impending sell off? Join me on twitter if you want to hear more from me : GetFI Twitter
When there are dozens of books and hundreds of blogs offering great advice, why do it still feel that investing is complicated?
I hold a business degree, and have studied a little bit of accounting, cost accounting, financial management and economics. I have also been interested in economics for a while, and yet I felt investing is complicated. The result was a slow start and missed opportunities.
I opened my Depot account (investment account) with Comdirect in 2015, and was in my baby steps. By 2017 I had really gotten on-board with the whole FI theme and investments as the essential thing to do for the long term financial independence.
If you look at the chart, the timeline doesn’t match the dates I just mentioned! I was investing no more than 28 EURs a month in 2015, and could grow it to 400 per month in 2017, later dipped to 330 per month in 2018. Why did I need 24 months to grow from 28 to 330 EUR of investments per month? I had all the cash lying around anyhow!
Investing is complicated because doing something is different from knowing it.
Last year I was listening to this podcast, where they discussed why home improvement or DIY Youtube videos are so addictive and yet they do not result in us picking any new hobbies. This is after watching all those videos which teach us how to do the stuff! The same principle applies to investing as well, just knowing it often doesn’t translate into doing it.
The barriers which affect your ability to invest are Time, Fear and Uncertainty of outcomes.
Time: I felt that I need to spend a few hours each month to manage my savings, and its time away from other things in life. Solution: Automate your investments every month, you can even buy stocks in part each month.
Fear: I am putting money into a fund or stock, its like putting into someone else’s pocket not knowing if it returns? Solution: Understand your relationship with money and why do you think so. Understand that this is not a lottery but you are buying a piece of different functioning businesses.
Uncertainty: There is no guarantee that my investments will give me decent returns, its all far to risky and unsafe. Solution: True, there is uncertainty, but if you aim for the average returns in the long term, the chance of failing is quite low.
I had the very same fears, and thus I started super slow. We do not get physical certificates for stocks to serve as a proof, neither are there any guarantees. Yet, the day I looked at the stocks which simply had grown 50% in 2 years while I had purchased too few of them, I realized that I had made a mistake of not doing it earlier when they were cheaper. No volume of reading blogs could get me there.
Investing is complicated because there are so many complex concepts to understand
Not really, if you focus on a set of handpicked index funds(or ETFs), all you need to worry is about their expense ratio (money you need to pay them each year to maintain the fund) and brokerage/commission charges from your investment account. Everything else is noise pushed by the finance press.
Sure there is more to talk of when you think of taxes, but that is not a topic to worry even before you start off!
This is the reason its hard for us to imagine how life will be when we are say 60 years old and not working, specially when we are earning today.
This is also one of the reasons why we say, will take care of it later
Also the reason behind lack of discipline, and not able to retain weight loss over longer periods.
So, is there a solution to this?
There is no silver bullet here, apart from making yourself aware of the two problems you can fall into:
Unable to start investing: This is by far the serious one, not starting means you have simply paralyzed yourself. The loss is all the compounding. So get shit done! There is no other way.
Investing too little: Well done on starting, but are you at the optimal level? You should understand the costs of not doing so, use a compounding calculator and find out how much you’d lose for every $$ not invested. Once at optimal level, simply Automate and do not bother looking into it each month.
Did you ever feel that investing is complicated? Please share your experiences with us.
This post is a little different theme from the usual ones, more focused on Indians who moved to Germany and need to figure out property/real estate matters in India. This is because I see these questions being asked in various forums about property in India as an NRI from Germany.
….am I an NRI?
NRI or Non Resident Indian, from a tax perspective, has
Stayed in Indian for the current tax year for 182 or more days, or
In the last 4 years has stayed in India for 365 days or more, of which at-least 60 days in current year.
As a Non Resident Indian, can I buy property in India while living in Germany?
Yes, you need not visit India to buy a property. As an NRI you can only buy residential or commercial property in India. The mechanism to do this is buy giving a special power of attorney to someone in India.
Any payments should be made from your NRO account only.
Can I sell Property in India as an NRI from Germany, without visiting India?
The Power of Attorney(POA) is again the instrument to help you here. However, few very important things to understand. By Law, Power of Attorney does not allow the power holder to sell a property, the transaction is only valid when a clear sale deed is executed. So, the person holding this POA has to enact the sale deed which might need your document signatures and so on.
How to get a Power of Attorney in Germany?
The Embassy of India does this for you, you should reach out to CGI Frankfurt or Berlin. The steps are:
Get a power of attorney(called Vollmacht) made by local Notary in the local Landgericht (Court).
Take the original and a copy to Embassy, sign this document in the presence of Consular Officer
The Embassy then attests your signature.
Of course this is just the first step, in India you will need No Objection Certificate, Occupation Certification, Sanction Certificate and maybe more to finally get it done.
What about taxation after selling property as an NRI from Germany?
After you make the sale of Property in India as an NRI from Germany, the next step usually is to send this money from India to Germany. The below might changed based on tax laws for the year.
If the property is sold <2 years of ownership, then 30% capital gains tax will be applied in India
If the sale is after >2 years of ownership the tax claim is 20%
You might get exemptions under Section 54, if you are reinvesting the proceeds in other property (within a prescribed time limit).
The money should be deposited to your NRO account if you want to remit it to Germany. For sums <US$ 1 million you only need a certificate from a CA proving the source, this is also referred as Form 15CA
I have a confession to make in this post. In the months of November and December, I failed to reach savings goals. I saved nothing in November and saved half of what I wanted to in December. Es ist mein schuld! It is my fault (schuld is also used as the German word for debt!) and am now trying to cope with lack of discipline while chasing Financial Independence.
Did Black Friday made me fail to reach savings goals?
The truth here is a combination of gift giving and planning for future travel. In the past 30 days I spent money on gifts for our anniversary, my wife’s birthday, a dinner on that birthday and gifts for a friend who just got married. You see a pattern here?
How did I get there?
My failing to save in November was quite disappointing, and I had resolved to make amends in December.
Come December, I fell off the wagon, I avoided reading any FI content to hide behind my shame. Today, I finally felt brave enough to look myself in the mirror and forgave myself.
I have little regret for spending money on people I cared about, and was conscious to not go overboard. What I did fail at was not being able to plan these expenses.
and survival checklist?
Ah yes, the Dave Ramsey approach is to eat rice and beans! My checklist to survive when you fail to reach saving goals:
Is this a symptom of a bigger issue? Am I not able to control myself here? No
Is this temporary or a permanent expenses which I cannot handle? No
Were my savings goals too big that they simply put me off and I felt I won’t get there anyway? Maybe
So, I aimed to save more than 1k EUR per month, and the goal was far too high to achieve. Like my dieting attempts, the high goal simply made progress impossible. In the tight months I could have lowered the targets and survived the frustration.
My survival tip to manage goals is to attempt Incremental changes, small steps lead to big results, else your old habits are hard to break. In fact in a way I just ignored my own advice.
I also suggest this beautiful Everyday App, which makes it super easy to track changes.