The Secret to Early Retirement: Taking Back Your Financial Independence
Fish for a man and he'll eat for a day. Teach that same man to fish and he'll eat for life.
— Lao Tzu
There's something incredibly dangerous happening in the market right now — and perhaps the entire world at large.
I'm not talking about Brexit, federal interest rates, or anything geopolitical of that nature. I'm actually referring to something far more menacing than any of those things today, and that's complacency.
As a member of the millennial generation, I'm practically a born expert on the subject of complacency. The world I fell into turned out even safer than the womb I fell out of. Barney the Dinosaur loved me. Mr. Rogers told me I was special. Everyone got a golden star just for showing up...
By the time I grew older, things really hadn't changed much for my generation at all. The government threw money at us to attend sleepaway camp for young adults. We faced no life-altering draft like the generations before us. We put off building families to get drunk every weekend with our friends instead.
Today, my generational peers and I work behind multiple computer monitors in temperature-controlled spaces. Our break rooms have ping-pong tables and sometimes even napping pods. We work from home at least once a week or, at the very worst, are forced to order an Uber to escape the daunting morning and evening commutes.
As much as some millennials out there love to kick and scream, the truth is, you'd have to be a spoiled brat to be part of my generation and not recognize just how much we've had it made. This isn't to knock anyone's individual hardships out there, but the fact is, as a whole, we are the most fortunate generation to have ever existed... and that's by a long shot.
In this fortune, though, has come a kind of hidden misfortune... an unhealthy aura of security and the precarious imprint of reliance. Millennials, it seems, just don't know how to do many things for themselves these days. We've come to learn that renting is easier than buying, having Chipotle delivered to our doorstep is simpler than cooking, and assembling Ikea furniture requires the skill of a child armed with a Lego set...
In this all-too-common reliance on things that are easy, we have become relatively subdued as a productive force. It's not that we're not pulling our share, it's just that the tools we've been blessed with have made us predispositioned to giving up personal control. We are what you might call the Automation Generation.
To a millennial's defense, many of the luxuries we are afforded by progress simply have to be embraced. Sure, back in grandpa's day, he had to walk miles in the snow just to get to class, but you'd be a fool to shun modern transport just because of the way it used to be.
With other luxuries, though, this logic just doesn't hold true. Dating apps like Tinder, for one, might make meeting a new mate quick and easy, but the relationships you develop will be superficial. OrderUp might be a convenient way to get some grub late at night, but if you're 25 and still can't make a home-cooked meal, something has to change.
At some point, you need to learn how to function as a socially and financially mature human being. At some point, you need to draw a line in the sand and make your own decisions rather than letting a computer, or the system, do it for you...
Financial Independence: The ONLY Way to Take Back Your Retirement
As a financial pundit, one thing that especially irks me about my generation is our general complacency with money management. Complacency with money management, of course, isn't purely a millennial issue, but it's certainly something that has come to rise with our generation...
In particular, there's been a growing trend towards ETF-based investments and "robo-advisors." Millennials, by and large (and many other Americans), simply aren't buying individual stocks anymore; they're sticking to an all-too-simple “set it and forget it” method — seemingly without a clue as to the havoc it's wreaking on their retirement.
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Depending on the service, fees on automated robo-advisors such as Wealthfront and ETF funds can typically range up to 0.75%. At face value, these numbers seem miniscule, but over time they compound in such a way that no one in their right mind would be choosing these avenues for retirement.
Assuming you were to begin planning for retirement in your mid-20s, by age 45, your account value will have decreased as much as 14.2% due to fees. This includes both your compounding losses and opportunity costs.
By retirement age (65), your losses due to fees jump to 26%, meaning the money managers you trust with your financial livelihood so dearly are actually siphoning off as much as a quarter of the average American's retirement fund.
Who would have thought these people were out for a profit? Who would have thought they had their own best interests in mind and not yours?
Of course they do.
The scary part is these numbers are only up until the average retirement age of 65. If you plan to live another 25 years, these people will have, in effect, cheated you out of well over a third of your retirement savings.
If that's not akin to theft, I don't know what is. If that's not enough to wake you up and spark a change, I'm not quite sure what will...
It doesn't matter if you're a millennial just starting to plan for retirement or 65 years young and just starting yours. The fact remains that Americans are getting royally screwed by money managers bit by bit.
Like a frog in a pot of boiling water, you would jump out if tossed in right away, but with ETFs and advisors slowly pilfering away your savings over time, most people don't notice the heat of the pot until it's too late.
The truth is there will always be a dichotomy between convenience and capability, but the question you ultimately have to ask yourself is what do you lose by choosing the former over the latter?
Most people can be comfortable these days not knowing how to farm because you can always buy fresh food when you need it. No one, though, should feel comfortable letting others manage their money because you're not going to find a third of your retirement waiting for you at the local grocery mart.
Perhaps the craziest part about all this is that years of data have shown that ETFs rarely beat market benchmarks. Most of these money managers aren't worth their weight in salt, and there is absolutely zero evidence to support the performance of robo-advisors, either.
The truth is that you, as an individual, can do better. Investing in stocks is not rocket science — they just want you to think it is. Even better, as a smaller and more nimble investor, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the most profitable areas of the stock market: companies that are simply too small for most money managers to touch.
The decision to take control — to take action — is ultimately up to you. You can either be complacent or you can be capable. You can either sit back while they steal your retirement, or finally stand up and steal yours.
Until next time,
Jason Stutman is Wealth Daily's senior technology analyst and editor of investment advisory newsletters Technology and Opportunity and Topline Trader. His strategy for building winning portfolios is simple: Buy the disruptor, sell the disrupted.
Covering the broad sector of technology and occasionally dabbling in the political sphere, Jason has written hundreds of articles spanning topics from consumer electronics and development stage biotechnology to political forecasting and social commentary.
Outside the office Jason is a lover of science fiction and the outdoors. He writes through the lens of a futurist, free market advocate, and fiscal conservative. Jason currently hails from Baltimore, Maryland, with roots in the great state of New York.
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