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.

Categories
Financial Planning Germany financial products 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. I am personally a big fan of Index funds, which are lower in costs and deliver average returns.

….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.

Update: 22 June 2020

How do you open your Sparplan?

Comdirect:

Schritt für Schritt Anleitung für die Einrichtung eines ETF ...
If you have an account, get to the Wertpapiersparplan
  • Find your preferred ETFs on justETF and find its WKIN number.
  • Login to Comdirect> Geldanlage> Wertpapiersparplan
  • Click on Sparplan Einrichten
  • Enter your amount, minimum being 25 EUR. In the next screen you pick the funds.
  • Search for the WKIN which you had picked, add multiple funds if you nede.
  • Note the amount and the provision fees, i.e. 1.5% of the money invested goes into the fees.
  • In the next screen pick the frequency (monthly/once in 2 months/4 times a year), the date to buy and length of the plan.
  • Furnish your confirmation TAN and you are ready.

Quick questions on Tax and Residency

  • What is Capital gains taxes in Germany? The tax rate is 25% plus 5.5% solidarity surcharge, this should be paid at source. Some depots like Degiro do not offer this at source, and you need to take care of it in your returns.
  • Any tax exemptions on Capital gains? Capital gains of upto 801EUR are tax free, so for a family, this can be 1602 EUR.
  • Any special exemptions on Long term capital gains? Sadly, none.
  • Can I open a Depot account as a Work permit holder or PR holder? Yes, this is absolutely fine as you are tax resident of Germany.

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.

Categories
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?

Categories
Financial Planning Post

You can be a Millionaire if you Save, invest and repeat!

how to be a millionaire

Over the last few months I have actively enjoyed reading various blogs, websites, listening to podcasts and participating in forums on the topic of FIRE. Nobody can really teach you to be a millionaire, without really knowing your personal situation and struggle. However, you can still take first steps towards it by Save, Invest and Repeat.

Reading other popular FIRE blogs and hearing podcasts is also scary. There are so many active participants who are younger than I, and are miles ahead. Many earn way more than I do, and seem to have figured it all out.

At this stage, it feels like a lost opportunity, but that does not mean we cannot start now. Being late to the party does not mean we won’t enjoy it. Maybe Save, Invest and Repeat (or SIR as I would like to call it) later than others will not make you a millionaire, but it will still get results.

So, the first step is setting your goals, the s is in bold, because there are no singular goals in life. Instead of just looking at a goal of say 1 million Euros at 50, lets break them down to chunks which will allow us to focus on shorter time periods.

How do I set my goals when I do not know how much I will need after retirement! True, but you can come close in estimating it, some mention that 70% of your average expenses are a good indicator. However, the problem with this approach its more accurate as you age and less accurate if you are relatively younger(because inflation and life events will change this). The other way of doing it is tracking your monthly expenses for upto 2 years, remove those expenses which you believe will exist at the time of retirement and then estimate your monthly expenses. The big ticket fixed numbers will not vary so much.

Minimum expected expenses =  (Average Monthly Expenses Now - Expenses Not expected to happen at retirement ) 

Finally,

Real Retirement Needs = Minimum expected expenses + Unknown + Old Age Tax
Here, 
Unknown = This is a number which we cannot plan for now, so assume a percentage (say 2%)
Old Age Tax = For lack of a better phrase, it is the costs of care and services needed at the sunset. It may be circumvented via care insurance.

So, now may I ask you to first come up with your magic number?

Next step, setting up a plan with byte sized goals.

Categories
Financial Planning Index Funds and Stocks

Will the next recession be the end of Financial Independence movement?

I had reserved my second blog post for sharing more about me and where am I starting from in my Financial Independence journey. However, an event much more important has occurred which may impact almost everyone planning for their FI.

Last week on Friday, the long term interest rates on US Bonds fell lower than the short term interest rates. This event, has been a precurser, to every recession in US in the last 60 years. Naturally, this has triggered a recession risk with analysts guessing that a recession is imminent in the next 6-24 months (thats a very wide range of time!!).

As the warning has been triggered, there is already a slight panic and selloff has intensified, across the globe. At the same time some academics and analysts are trying to cull the panic to say that this has not happened consistently for a longer period of time and may not mean a recession is near.

In any case, lets assume that the predictor will hold and we are heading towards the cliff. This means that the market should head for a correction of 20-40% at its worst. This will dip the stocks or index funds invested by this community of Financial Independence aspirants.

Lets look at the illustration below, the VTI was trading at its highest in 2007 (just before the last recession at 74.5 US$ and it fell down to 46.11 US$ on 17 October 2008, and then further to 34.06 US$ on 6 March, 2009. It then needed almost 5 years to reach its old heights in 2013.

The question now is, is it a good time to sell and make profits OR it is just wise to stay on track and not blink as we hit the iceberg?

Its impossible to predict when will the recession risk will or how deep will it be. In the end one needs to think on our feet and act accordingly.

Cheers!