When we ponder our wealth, most of us immediately jump to the capital value of our assets. We believe that if we own things that are worth more than what our neighbour owns, we are wealthier. But are we?
Firstly, most of us believe our house is our greatest asset, therefore representing the bulk of our asset base. There is a stark distinction between a financial asset and a personal or lifestyle asset. Centrelink does not assess the homes we live in as financial assets because by definition, our house is a lifestyle asset. This is mainly due to the simple fact that our house costs us money rather than making it for us. Yes, if you use your equity wisely, you can purchase a financial asset, but more on that another day.
I want to focus on comparing capital and income.
Australian’s believe simply owning as many financial assets as possible is the key to wealth creation. The more they’re worth, the wealthier they are. I challenge this theory. Imagine I owned a financial asset base in retirement worth $1million, and this generated around $25,000 of income a year. You own a financial asset base in retirement worth $800,000,¹ which produces income of around $35,000 a year. I am $200,000 wealthier than you in capital perspective, however you’re $10,000 worth of annual income wealthier than me. Who is the wealthier person?
Let’s say our ideal retirement income is $35,000pa. I would need around another $400,000² worth of the financial assets I own, just to generate that much income. You only need $800,000. My balance sheet might have a higher bottom line, however, your income statement is stronger again. Which is more valuable? An asset base that you would need to slowly drawdown on to reach your ideal income level? Or an asset base which produces your ideal income level without needing to sell any of it? And, you did not need to save as hard for it.
If you need to sell portions of your capital base in retirement just to breakeven, you bring in avoidable and unnecessary risk you just do not need. You might hypothetically own a parcel of shares, that historically have failed to pay regular dividends, and thus, to make your $35,000 you need to sell some. What if this happens on the same day President Trump puts out a ridiculous Tweet, and in a knee-jerk reaction from the public, the market drops? (In reality I would tell you to buy more shares, because in this situation I like to say that they’re on special so stock up, similar to bananas at Coles) What if this also happens on the same day the RBA raise the cash rate by 50 basis points so the offer to buy your investment property gets revoked? You cannot chip off a couple of bricks or sell the spare room to pay for your annual flights to Bali. Not to mention that whenever you sell shares or a property, you have to fork out relatively high transactional costs and in the case of property, wait around 90 days to see the cash in your account. And once you do sell your shares or property, you do not want to leave too much of the net sale proceeds in the bank, because 2% interest rates are not helping your income situation too much.
Income is spending power and spending power enables us to do the things we want to do. We do not want to see the retirement finish line on the horizon, to suddenly realize we are riding a truck full of assets, but are income poor. At income solutions, our definition of wealth is an absence of financial worry, an income stream you cannot outlive, and a meaningful legacy for those whom you love. This definition is deliberately ambiguous enough for anyone to apply his or her own situation to it.
I now ask you if the financial asset base you are slowly building meets this definition?
If you would like to organize an informal discussion about you and your financial situation, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or alternatively at 03 5229 0577.