Do you know your
When investments cover your "needs" — you are free to pursue your "wants."
Discover your Freedom Number™ — the savings required to achieve Financial Freedom.
I Built an Income Ladder™
To Achieve Financial Freedom
I have a unique passion (obsession) for Investing, Personal Finance and optimizing just about everything (I literally can't turn it off).
I have logged thousands of hours refining the "Freedom Math" that my family has implemented to achieve a Free-er Lifestyle.
On my lifelong mission of continually improving the efficiency and stability of my investments, I devised an investment system called an Income Ladder. I designed my Income Ladder to maximize after-tax cash flow without touching the principal or losing ground to inflation.
My hope is that readers leverage my obsession for good (not evil) to inspire and implement improvements that fit their own plan.
The Brutal Truth About
We all want Passive Income (PI).
While their are hundreds of approaches to build Passive cash flow, the most surefire method of generating PI is to simply "purchase" an existing income stream.
Yes, that is typically called "Investing".
Unfortunately, their is almost always a price to be paid for this convenience; namely, the safest investments are typically the most expensive (i.e. low risk = low return).
For many people "the dream" is replacing a full time salary with Passive Investment Income.
A Financial Adviser might use the 4% Rule to calculate the size of the portfolio required to produce that result. This rule (as most use it), states that 4% of the total portfolio value will be withdrawn in the first year followed by small increases for inflation each year.
But, that number required to retire is always depressingly high!
For example, a 100k/yr earner would need to save $2,500,000 or 25x his income to produce that income. You can calculate the impact various withdrawal rates have on the "retirement multiple" using this formula:
Lose-Lose Retirement Planning
Any rule as rigid as this is doomed to fail much of the time since it will require the Investor to frequently dip into their principal (slowly draining his ability to produce income which triggers a negative feedback loop).
This is particularly a problem when choosing to "retire" younger than 70 (let alone under 50).
Plans that require drawing down on the principal play a dangerous game of financial Chicken. I call them Lose-Lose Retirement Plans. You are strapped into a stressful journey bounded by two depressing outcomes: outliving your portfolio in poverty or living on a strict budget only to pass away early with a surplus.
To make matters worse, the safest investments like Government Bonds presently yield under 2% (2019). Investors would be required to take higher levels of risk in an attempt to reach for yields consistently above 4%. Else they will rapidly draw down on their principal with the 4% rule.
The FIRE Movement's Solution
Members of the FIRE crowd (Financial Independence Retire Early) are typically familiar with the shockingly simple math of early retirement.
The traditional FIRE formula is most often...
1) Slash your expenses (frugality)
2) Stack up a GIANT pile of cash
3) Stash that pile in index funds (target average returns)
While this retirement by brute force approach works really well, those that can achieve it in their youth tend to be extremophiles with some combination of extremely strong incomes and/or expenses that are 'tiny home' lean (for the record, I fantasize about the tiny home lifestyle, but that's a family decision and for my wife it's just a bit too extreme).
I hunkered down and committed to being as much of an extremophile as possible while focusing on the limitless optimization opportunities to improve each step (particularly, with my investing background).
Even small improvements to the formula will compound into massively different outcomes over time.
Hey, If i'm going the brute force route, i'm building a war hammer.
The Break-through That
Re-Framed My Thinking
My Ah-ha moment:
I didn't need to replace ALL of my income (yet). Specifically...
I quickly added up all of my necessary living expenses and multiplied by 12.
Next I calculated the amount of cash flow my Income Ladder would safely produce (a topic for another article) and determined the portfolio size I required to cover my "needs" --Forever.
The resulting number was dramatically smaller than my FI number and to my surprise I was almost there.
I called this my Freedom Number.
I would still need another source of income to purchase the "wants" and continue to save if I still wanted to achieve FI at some point.
But, that was fine by me. I had no intentions of "retiring" anyhow. I just wanted to spend my time with family and work that was purposeful and rewarding.
Hitting Our Freedom Number
When my wife and I were very close to achieving our Freedom Number, we both shifted to working part time. This allowed us to spend more time with our newborn son and work on entrepreneurial endeavors and passion projects (like this blog).
A funny thing happened... We started appreciating our jobs again, and we made more money!
By putting myself in new situations as I was growing my business, new opportunities and sources of revenue kept coming my way.
In my opinion, too many FIRE followers overlook readily available options to improve their life. It's not a race to get to FI as fast as possible. Consider the journey too. Why suffer for a long time in a high paying job that you hate, when you can enjoy Financial Freedom years (often decades) sooner and still achieve FI later on.
Running The Equation Backwards
You can run the portfolio math in reverse to see how much of a portfolio-gap your job covers. You will find that even a very small paycheck covers massive shortfalls in savings.
For example, to match a $30,000 salary with "risk free" 10yr Treasuries earning 1.5% would require a $2,000,000 portfolio (not including benefits).
It turns out that even a modest salary is actually pretty valuable when viewed through that lens.
If I didn't have to worry about covering my "needs", I would be free to pursue my "wants".
What Do I Invest In?
It turns out the investment you choose have a large impact on both the size of your freedom number and the sustainability of the income over time.
Their are many factors that can raise or lower your Freedom Number.
Some factors can be minimized like Fees or Taxes.
Other's like Volatility can be managed to increase sustainable withdrawal rates (which dramatically lower your Freedom Number).
Finally, with the proper strategy selection even factors like inflation can be harnessed instead of feared (Inflation Harvesting).
Freedom Math is actually incredibly simple. I am excited to democratize these formulas and explain them in simple ways that we can all understand and identify with in real life.
It all starts with a goal... your Freedom Number.