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Financial Planning Progress Report

Investing is complicated. Read this if you agree.

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.

Mr A’s investment growth over the years. Very slow to start.

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!

Investing is complicated because we are human

Evolution, we as humans are simply not programmed to plan and act for the long term. We are good at short term stimuli.

  • 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.

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Financial Planning Real Estate

Buying/Selling Property in India as an NRI from Germany

Property in India for NRIs

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

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Financial Planning Personal Rant

When you fail to reach savings goals – Survival checklist!

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.

Categories
Financial Planning Personal Post Real Estate

Why we have to delay buying our home

I have not been a keen imitator is template dreams, I still do not own a car, and have argued against buying an apartment at home. However, recent changes in the local European interest rates, changes in life situation and simply higher rents made me start believing that we could own a home. However, recent events have just made us decide that we have to delay buying our home.

For Sale

Why buy when you could have rented Mr A?

True. We tried and are failing.

After becoming a parent, the limitations of the space in our current rented apartment and the struggle of our visiting parents climbing 3 flights of stairs made us search for a bigger rented apartment.

Yet, with the constant struggle of applying and never being called to visit, and the few instances when we did get to visit homes, we are facing an uphill challenge where a bare increase of 10 sq.m area is going to cost us 40% more in rent. Rents have simply skyrocketed in the last 3 years. Additionally, we cannot simply move too far as we are bound by constraints of the daycare (already 7 km away). Thus the brilliant idea of buying an apartment was born, and we started to save for it.

You have to delay buying a home, because you do not have the money, isn’t it?

True again. Isn’t that always the case? I had been keeping an eye on a new development which was in a perfect location, and closer to the day care and yet not so far from the town center. An year of more purposeful saving made us come close to around 12% of the house value we had planned for (based on prices in the same area 18 months ago).

The price list came through on Monday, and it simply crashed through our plan. The prices of the apartments have risen higher than we had estimated, and our down-payment is lower than we wanted. I know I can probably get the apartment at 90% mortgage. I am tempted to try this, the apartment seemed perfect and had parks and no drive zone for children. But paying more than 35% of our monthly income for 30 years and extra maintenance money on top is not a financially wise decision. This is not how we Get FI! I do not want to write this purchase to be the title of my next Money Mistake post!

My wife and I had a long discussion this morning, and she just said,’We cannot take a 30 year mortgage which eats 40% of our income, this is stupid given that our child will be out of his daycare in 2.5 years‘.

She is right.

Delay buying a home. Hurts.

So, we have now reassessed our dreams and take a step back. We will save more next year, and are looking at places within our budget. Hopefully it might work out in 2020. I know I really liked that place, but I also like Maseratis

In the end, our homes are our safe spaces, and it is our loved ones which make them a home else they are just brick and cement.

Categories
Financial Planning

Lessons from actual monthly budgets in Germany

Budgeting!

This November, the Reddit Finanzen group had an explosion of budget threads. Many users shared then own actual monthly budgets in Germany and then there were shitposts… As Budgeting is an important step towards financial independence, it just made sense to write this post.

Even since I moved to Germany from India, I have noticed that Money is not a topic which seems to be actively and openly discussed. This was a great opportunity to see how people spend and save, and learn from them. Of course, survivorship bias exists on these posts, where people struggling with budgets do not share their stories (and I respect that).

I have handpicked three posts with very different life stages and circumstances. There are many more on the sub-reddit.

A 26 year old data scientist in NRW

26 year old Data Scientist, with a saving rate of 14.5%
  • The actual in hand pay for this person is 2400 EUR/month (Abzuege means payments to pension system, taxes etc…)
  • He has a decent saving rate of 14.5% each month, but is not investing at all.
  • Things at odd is that he is paying as much as his rent (550 EUR) on living expenses (including Hello Fresh). He explains this by sharing that he doesn’t like to cook a lot. I guess this is where he could optimize.
  • He is also paying for insurance for his girlfriend, which is a noble thing to do.

A double income, single child family in Bavaria

24.5% savings rate with a house paid off!
  • Love the amount of detail on this chart, but I find it also hard to navigate.
  • So the poster is a 50 year old with a wife and child, and is an engineering manager in Munich.
  • The total household income per month (without kindergeld/child money) is 6058 EURs. This is an amazing monthly income to have, and this includes around 427 EURs of passive income!
  • Their savings rate is 24.5% (1408 EURs). He also invests over 1k EURs in private pension plans and ETF.
  • The child is probably a teenager as there is a car insurance (PKV) for him.(wrong here, PKV is private health insurance)
  • They have a fully paid off apartment, and this is fantastic, because most people in Germany don’t own a home!

Unemployed Scientist and his Medicine student wife in their late 20s

Unemployed and yet saving 26%
  • This is by far my favorite post, this completely breaks the idea that you cannot save when unemployed! Of course, unemployment insurance is helping the Scientist
  • Their monthly income after taxes is 1736 EUR/month and yet they are investing 450 EUR/month (26% savings rate!! towards financial independence).
  • They do not own a car(car sharing) and live like students.

GetFI Takeaways from these monthly budgets in Germany

  • Savings and investing is possible at every income level!*
  • Your house rental or credit is a massive factor in better savings rate. All examples had fairly low rentals or a paid off house. I find it very difficult to find a house at those rents in my town.
  • The lack of credit card debt is obvious and good!
  • The stereotype that Germans are cautious with savings instruments seems to hold, many saved a lot but invest very little.

*I believe this to hold true only when housing costs stay <40% of your take home income.

Categories
Financial Planning Rant Real Estate

The debate around Rent control and Rental yields

Twitter, last week, was filled with a trending topic of #eigentumswohnung. The real culprit behind this massive outrage with an article on Rent control in Berlin, titled Ganz schön unsolidarisch.

The writer has ruffled some feathers, talking about people who bought apartments and with rent control, their yields will collapse. Germany, is a rental country, and very few individuals purchase houses. This opinion peace has received a backlash as rent control will be applied for next 5 years in Berlin. The issue in Berlin is a little serious as rental prices have gone up significantly in the last 5-6 years and risk gentrification. Sadly, all of this sudden hate resulted in the writer quitting twitter!

Now, am no expert on this topic, but a few months ago I did listen to Freakonomics Radio and an excellent discussion happened on this very topic, the website covers the most of it. Housing in Germany is a different animal, house supply is also tightly controlled and coupled with ultra low interest rates the prices are inflated. In fact Munich seems to be have been called out for this.

Suche Wohnung - Searching for an apartment
Suche Wohnung – Searching for an apartment

If you are trying to search for a rental apartment in Germany in a big city, you are probably competing against 60-70 other applicants at any given time!

At the time of this writing my portfolio has a cash component of 53% cash, largely because we are trying to save for a car and an apartment. The biggest challenge I face today is that our speed of saving is slower than the real estate price increase in our city.

For us, buying a home for self use is our primary goal, but we know that this will pin us down to a place. While I do not know what the future holds, but surely capping is not the right solution here. The demand for housing, social housing and approval of such plans has lagged all across Germany in the big cities. The fact is, people are moving to bigger cities, and rental control does not fix the lack of supply.

Sure, the rental yields will be lower, but at the current house prices, they are already insignificant. Getting a rental yield of 4% on an apartment of 400k EUR is just not possible, it may not be a great investment and might just get added to list of money mistakes.

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Financial Planning Index Funds and Stocks Post

What is a Sparplan? What is Mr A really doing with his Sparplan?

Sparplan (I am so tempted to add a meme on this is SPARtaa..) is the way out of automatically managing your investments each month. It is an equivalent of a SIP (Systematic Investment Plan) if you are an Indian investor.

….when I login to my bank account, I notice two options, geldsparplan and wertpapiersparplan. What is the difference?

I use comdirect, and they have these two options, the main difference is:

  • geldsparplan – This savings plan simply takes money from your account and deposits into a Tagesgeld account which earns a whopping 0.01% interest (as of this morning) p.a. In other words, not worth it.
  • wertpapiersparplan – This savings plan is the one we need, we can setup a monthly investment amount and usually declare ETFs or even stocks to invest in each month.

….how much do I invest in a Sparplan? How much does Mr A invest each month?

As of this morning, I am investing 1098 EUR into my sparplan each month. This is mostly focused on diversified ETFs and 1 tiny piece of Amazon stock. I will write more about this in Portfolio page soon.

Let my number not scare you, I started really slow. I was investing less than 300 EUR/month an year ago and less than 200 EUR/month 18 months ago (2018).

As I have mentioned before and might do so again, we have to start with small steps and get comfortable. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea of investing, and I started really slowly. I had never invested in Germany and had been programmed to be more cautious.

Can’t guarantee the numbers, but you catch the drift!

You can start with even 25 EURs/month, then and grow from there.

….what do I invest in? What are the pitfalls?

Picking your investments is a massive undertaking, but has been extensively covered in reddit.com/r/finanzen or on frugalisten.de forums.

The key pitfalls are, all investments carry risk, transaction costs charged by your depot account per transaction and TER (annual expenses) must be considered very carefully.

….but can I not simply buy ETFs each month on the go and not bother with a sparplan?

Yes, of course you can, or you can automate it and forget about it. This is the whole premise of the famous book, The Automatic Millionaire. If you really look at it, it just makes sense, one automated step which simplifies your steps to your Financial Independence.

It makes it easier for me to plan it and worry about one less then thing to do each month.

If you have more questions on sparplan, then write into the comments section.

Categories
Financial Planning Personal Post

Financial Independence is worthwhile for me, you and everybody. Period.

Have you come across internet posts which label the FIRE movement as a cult, or how meaningless life will be if you retire at 40, or how FIRE is all about those people who hate their jobs? My answer to them all is Nein, Nein Nein! Financial Independence (sans retirement) is a worthwhile pursuit meant for all of us.

Job Losses are a reality

Job losses are real, and a reality of business cycles

Bayer to cut 4,500 jobs in Germany

Ford to cut 5,000 jobs in Germany in savings drive

Bank Job Cuts Approach 60,000 as Commerzbank Plans to Swing Ax

Thomas Cook is no more – What happens to its 21000 staff

The above headlines are from 2019, and we are yet to announce a recession. All those big companies are shedding, and I can bet that most of the employees there are really good smart people, and have families to take care of, yet they face a massive challenge in the months to come.

Sure, the German unemployment insurance will cover 60% of their pay for upto 2 years. Will they find good jobs soon, with similar pay and satisfaction? How many will end up being long term unemployed?

Finally, what if you or I were among those people, with obligations to take care of. Wouldn’t having an active effort towards Financial Independence make it easier? You may start with a small rainy day fund, but aim for a long winter, every little step will count.

Let us drop the myth that you are only Financial Independent if you do not need a job anymore, you can be Financially Independent for shorter period of time as well.

..but I do not want to Retire Early…

Exactly, Retiring Early is optional, not even an important factor here. Sadly blogs and popular media obsess over RE more than they talk of FI. All steps taken for goals, investments are really oriented towards being FI.

JL Collins wrote an amazing book called the Simple Path to wealth, he talks about how being Financial prudent allowed him to survive multiple job losses.

..but to be Financially Independent, I need to be frugal, its hard…

Image rights : Pat Bagly

Balance, and disciple is necessary for any worthwhile pursuit in life. You can either do a crash diet to lose weight, fail and gain all of it back again, or make quality food choice which you can continue over long term and reap health benefits.

What I mean is, its still okay to have a coffee from a cafe sometimes or continue your Netflix subscription if that feels essential to you. Guilt tripping oneself for every spend is not the way to do it, but tracking or planning reasonable purchases is. (PS: You define what is reasonable)

However, If your balance is in spending everything, then you need to re-assess your priorities. The decision to pursue Financial Independence is also your own life decision, nobody can force you into this, you are the hero/heroine of your life.

..but Financial Independence is worthwhile for people with above average incomes, and I can barely get by

If you had been lucky to have enough in the past and this is a temporary blimp then attempts at Financial Independence would have helped.

In contrast, if you never got a chance to even start saving and have been struggling for a long while, then you need to seek help, it can be help to find a new job, or upgrade skills or even more. I can only suggest that you need to hang in there tight, and keep going.

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Book Review Financial Planning Post

Book Review: Playing with FIRE

Playing with FIRE, book cover
Playing with FIRE

Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) is a book by Scott Rieckens. I picked this up over the weekend after looking at the trailer of the documentary of the same name. The book (and the documentary) takes us on the 1st year FIRE journey with Scott and Taylor. It covers their journey from living in California with perks like a BMW and a boat club membership to becoming FIRE ninjas.

I would like to say it is a GREAT read. It is recommended for people who are just getting introduced to the concept of FIRE and aren’t really confident on where it might lead.

The transition of how Scott and Taylor go from expensive life choices to making intentional and conscious life decisions is worth in gold. It also easy to connect with their story, given that they are a normal young family like mine. Additionally, I also found frank confession of fear and struggles of Taylor to buy-in to the whole FIRE concept specially relevant. We find hard to convince ourselves with this kind of a lifestyle choice to gain Financial Independence in-lieu of expensive choices.

The book is an easy read and can be finished over a weekend, and I would highly recommend it. My only gripe with the book is that I would have liked Taylor to give more than just snippets here and become a co-author in the next edition (if there is one), her take is as central as Scott’s.

Finally, some readers might complain that it does not offer specific plans or approaches to Financial Independence. My take here is that specific plans are already available via various blogs including this one (and you start can by visiting I will teach you to be a Millionaire).

How it impacted me?

This booked sparked our first proper conversation as a family about Financial Independence. Not only did this make my spouse curious, we ended up watching news snippets on FIRE community and the trailer of the documentary.

My spouse is on-board with this, and her first comment after viewing the trailer was:

This is all so true, and makes so much sense. We could become financially free and then pursue passions which we like’.

This has been a major WIN for both of us and I’ll write about this in my next post. I sure hope they have the Playing with Fire documentary show planned in Germany.

Highs

  • Easy to read language
  • Easy to connect to their situation
  • Good and simple introduction to FIRE concepts
  • Little Math
  • Helped spark a deep conversation on FI with spouse

Lows

  • Lacks enough takes from Taylor’s perspective
  • May not serve as a blueprint for the readers

If you are interested in buying the book, you can use the link on the right (and I’d get a referral).

Categories
Financial Planning Post

Maserati dreams for Financial Independence dreamers?

Fridays are usually more relaxed than most days, and I often take my toddler to his day care (KiTA), we take a public transport street tram to a stop 12 minutes away, and then depending on his mood and weather, its either a stroller or his laufrad (walking bike) for the last 6-8 minutes.

Last Friday was the laufrad day, and he was loving that last stretch on his bike, giggling as we strolled away to his daycare. After dropping him there, I picked his bike and started to walk back to the tram stop. As I left the daycare, a Maserati Levante rolled up in the parking with another dad dropping his kid.

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

It wasn’t the first time I had seen this one, I have also seen people arriving in Porsche’s here to the daycare. Yet, each time I witness these cars, I am also reminded that I am 35 and I am yet to own a car. It also reminds me that these guys may not be much older than I am, and are possibly so far ahead of me that I might never catch up, they are the Top 1% of this country.

If those cars are a sign of their success and hard work, then is my using public transport frequently in comparison is…a sign of not being successful?

Many years ago, when I was 19, I had declared to a friend that I will own a Mercedes by the time I will be 25. At the time Financial Independence meant that I could spend money the way I wanted. Looking back, it was fine to dream big, but stupid to not have any plan, at 25 I had just about enough money to buy a 400 EUR laptop.

So back to the Maserati, it took me a while to recover from comparing myself with the rich dad, and reevaluate that today even if I cannot get a Maserati, I can very easily get a Mercedes on lease, but do I really need one? For anyone aiming for Financial Independence, one has to be stubborn about making intentional choices and decisions towards your ultimate goal.

Have you ever felt comparing yourself with others, based on their possessions? How did you tame your mind and cope with it?