How Much Passive Income Do You Need?

Most people I speak to, when they want to measure someone’s wealth, measure wealth by referring to how many houses they have. For example, “John owns 14 houses. He is rich.” However, someone may own 14 houses, but each house may only be worth $200k, which gives total assets of $2.8 million. However, what if he also had $2.7 million worth of debt? His net worth would be $100k whereas someone who owns one house worth $1 million that is fully paid off would be 10 times wealthier even though he owns 14 times fewer houses. This example clearly demonstrates how misleading a count of houses is. A more sensible approach is to calculate net worth.

However, net worth can be misleading as well. For example, suppose you inherited a house from your parents that was worth $500k and you live in this house. Suppose suddenly this house went up in value to $1 million. Are you better off? Your net worth has increased by $500k, but because the extra wealth is within the house, you cannot unlock it unless you sell the house. If you sell the house, you’d still need a place to live, so you’d buy another place. The problem is that if you buy another place, that home will have risen in value as well, so the net effect is that you have paid taxes, real estate agent fees, conveyancing fees, etc but there is no difference in your living standards. You are worse off. If you downsize and buy a cheaper place, you’d be able to unlock your extra wealth, but then your living standards drop (e.g. extra commute time).

This point highlights that net worth, although better than a count of houses, has its flaws. An alternative metric, in my opinion, is passive income. Passive income (e.g. from dividend income but also from rent, interest, etc) is income you receive by not working. Passive income should subtract any debt as debt is negative passive income. Debt is the opposite of passive income because you must work to pay off debt. This applies if you hold debt as a liability. If you hold debt as an asset (e.g. you own bonds) then this is passive income. The bonds generate interest for you that you can live off without any work.

Passive income is more useful because it directly measures your standard of living. If your net worth goes up by $500k, that may have zero impact on your standard of living. However, if your passive income goes up by e.g. $1000 per month, that is actual cash in your hands. It directly impacts how much you spend and directly impacts your standard of living.

So how much passive income is enough? It all depends on the person. Everyone is different. It also depends on the city you live in. Some cities are expensive while others are cheap.

However, using Melbourne, Australia for this example, in my opinion, to cover the basic necessities of life, passive income of about A$2000 per month (US$1500 per month) at a minimum is needed, in my opinion.

Currently I work, and I do like my job at the moment, but loving my job is a recent experience. For a long time I have hated my job mainly because I have had bad managers. Something I have learned is that things change all the time at work, so you need to have an exit plan at all times. Too many people get a job, expect they will always love the job and always make good money, so they go into debt to get a mortage, have children, inflate their lifestyle, etc and then suddenly they find they hate their job, but by then they are trapped. I made this realization early on in my career because, when I started working, I went through a restructure in the organisation. I learned quickly how risky it was to have debt and obligations, and I realised the value of structuring your life so that you have the ability to walk away from anything, not just your job but from any person or any organisation. There is great power in being able to disappear at the drop of a hat, and this is achieved with passive income coupled with minimum or no obligation (including financial obligation i.e. debt).

Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

~ Neil McCauley

Even if there were a restructure at work or a tyrannical manager took over and started legally abusing staff, with passive income of $2000 per month, it is easy to stop work and live an urban hermit lifestyle e.g. renting a one-bedroom unit on the outskirts of the city (e.g. this place in Frankston), living off Aussielent, and surfing the internet all day. The only costs are rent ($1000 per month), Aussielent ($320 per month), wifi ($50 per month), electricity ($100 per month), and water ($100 per month), which comes to a total of $1570 per month. I round that up to $2k per month just to give a little buffer. Nevertheless, this is quite a spartan minimalist lifestyle. Doubling it makes $4k per month passive income, which I feel is enough to really enjoy a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle e.g. travelling, living in the city, eating out, etc. Nevertheless, $2000 to $4000 per month in passive income is a good range to aim for.

Advice to Millennials: Don’t Buy a House

Where I live in Australia, most people are obsessive about property investment. There is an assumption that you must buy a house otherwise you will fail financially. As a millennial who doesn’t own a home, people always ask me when I will plan to buy a house or whether I have made any progress in saving up for a deposit on a house. People are either pressuring me to buy a house or to get married.

My response is that I will never ever buy a house. There is simply no need to buy a house when there are investments available that are far better. For example, BetaShares (a brilliant organization, in my opinion) has recently issued the BetaShares Global Banks ETF. This ETF tracks an index that invests in big multinational too-big-to-fail banks. The top 10 holdings are disclosed on the BetaShares website and is reproduced below:

top 10 holdings of BNKS as at 29 July 2016

Investing money in large too-big-to-fail banks, in my opinion, is a wise strategy. For years now, Australians have only had access to Australian banks on the ASX via ETFs such as QFN and MVB. Banks are an excellent investment because typically they pay very high dividends.

The more dividend income you have, the more freedom you have in your life. Dividend income is true passive income because you don’t have to do anything to earn it. Even if you own property and rent it out, you must still find tenants, fix broken showers, and unless you own the property outright you have to slave away at work in order to meet monthly mortgage repayments. Then you pay outrageous taxes such as stamp duty, and every year you must pay bills and council rates, as well as land tax. If you own the BetaShares global bank ETF, you pay virtually nothing other than a minuscule 0.47% management fee. You can literally sit back, relax, do nothing, and watch the dividends enter your bank account.

When you own property, you typically need to borrow money from a bank. If you’re borrowing money from a bank, you’re not generating dividends. Rather, you’re paying for someone else’s dividend income. If you borrow money from a bank, you make the bank rich, which effectively means you’re making bank shareholders rich.

What happens if there is a GFC 2 and bank shares collapse?

This is a fair argument. One could make a strong argument that the financial system is more precarious now than ever. However, even if we are nearing a massive recession (which I suspect we are), I don’t think that is a reason to not invest in bank stocks (or stocks in general) because we don’t know when the bubble will pop, and bubbles can perpetuate for decades or centuries.

When I see a bubble forming, I rush in to buy, adding fuel to the fire. That is not irrational.

~George Soros

Furthermore, if you own a property and the global economy collapses, how will owning a house help you? Property prices can go down just like stock prices can go down.

One of the benefits of owning bank stocks is that, even if these banks fail, many of them are too big to fail. They are so integrated into the economy that in the event of an economic crisis they can hold society as hostage and demand ransom (or bailout money) from the government. The government will typically give money to these banks, either from existing funds or from simply by printing new money to hand to the banks. Once banks receive bailout money, they can use it to repair their balance sheet, and stock prices should go back up again.

Below is a passage from the Financial Systems Inquiry report in Australia:

Global history records governments of all political persuasions using taxpayer funds to support distressed institutions. As undesirable as it may be to put taxpayer funds at risk to support financial institutions, in the midst of a crisis it is often the fastest and most certain option to stabilise the system and avoid widespread economic damage.

Investors can rationally surmise that the government is likely to rescue systemically important institutions if no other options exist, as their collapse would cause the most damage to the financial system and broader economy. This leads to a belief that some institutions are too-big-to-fail — that they receive an implicit government guarantee.

http://fsi.gov.au/publications/interim-report/05-stability/too-big-to-fail/

In a world characterized by wage slavery, big banks are basically the apparatuses of wage slavery. Whips and chains have been replaced with mortgages and credit cards, and banks are the institutions responsible for distributing these instruments of oppression to the masses in order to enslave them.

If the big banks are in trouble, the entire system of wage slavery is under threat, and for this reason I don’t think the government will allow the banks to collapse. They might make one bank fail just to make an example of them (e.g. Bear Stearns) but if you buy a broad-based index fund, you’ll be investing in the entire banking sector, so it’s not a problem.

How can you live without a house?

Of course you need to live somewhere. Shelter is a necessity. However, shelter is not expensive. I currently live with my parents and pay some of their bills. Other people can easily lower costs by sharing a house with others. They can rent (or even buy) a place and then rent out spare rooms. I recommend buying or renting a place far away from the city in order to get the cheapest price or rent possible and then simply use public transport to travel into the city if you need to work.

Living with others can be problematic because it can be difficult to get along with other people, but there are easy ways to fix this problem. Try to find people who are kind and who will not cause drama. Also try not to interact with people you live with too much. Personally I am always out of the house, either at work or at the local library. If I am at home I usually stay in my room. I have food cooked for me, but even if there is no food, I have a large supply of Australian Soylent (Aussielent Body) that I can drink should I need to eat. This ensures I never have to bother with cooking or cleaning, and arguments over who should clean the dishes are common when people share accommodation.

Personally, with food technology so advanced nowadays, cooking and cleaning are quaint, archaic and useless activities that must be eliminated from your life. People are always trying to tempt me into a life of slavery by telling me that I must get married because I need a woman to cook for me, but Soylent has now made the housewife’s cooking skills completely redundant.

Conclusion

You don’t have to buy a house. Live with your parents or find good housemates, and then keep interactions with them minimal to prevent drama.

Drug dealers have a saying: “Don’t get high off your own supply.” In other words, drugs dealers make money off their customers’ drug addiction, but if a drug dealer were to consume his own product, it will be to his detriment because the strength of his business depends on the weakness of his customers. The same applies to banking. Everyone in society is addicted to debt. The “drug dealers” who supply this debt to the masses are banks, and anyone smart enough can become a drug dealer by buying bank stocks or bank ETFs, but as a drug dealer you should not “get high off your own supply,” that is, you should be very cautious about going into debt.

The goal of my life is to produce passive income mainly from dividends. This ensures I can obtain income without working, which gives me freedom. I am not dependent on anyone. Even though I live with my mother, I rarely speak to her as I’m out of the house all the time, and even if she wants me out of the house, I can easily rent a small one-bedroom apartment paid for with dividend income. Most people move out of their parents’ home, buy a house, and drown in mortgage debt, which makes them slaves to their managers. Because I live off dividends, I am not dependent on my work. I don’t need a job. If I get fired or even if I dislike my work, I can simply find a different job that I enjoy or I may even fly off to Chiang Mai where US$1000 per month ensures you live like a king, and in Chiang Mai I can spend all my time in coworking spaces where I can work on whatever I want that I am passionate about regardless of whether it makes money or not since I don’t need income to live since I live off dividends. None of this would be possible if I had a massive mortgage over my head that forced me every month to pay a large chunk of my income to the bank so that other people can collect their dividend payments. I’d rather be on the receiving end of a dividend payment.

Typically when someone has a large mortgage over their head, they have more than a mortgage. A house has associated costs such as electricity and gas bills as well as taxes, and people who are desperate to buy a house in order to keep up with the Joneses are usually trying to show off in other ways as well, so they will likely have expensive furniture, massive kitchens, refrigerators, huge couches, and expensive TVs. People always put me down for being a minimalist. Some do it with more subtlety than others, but people always try to put me down for not owning a house or having expensive furniture or having a trophy wife or multiple children in elite private schools. I am usually very honest nowadays. I tell them I am trying to have more freedom in my life so I can do what I want, and I tell them I am trying to build up dividend income. This usually comes as a complete surprise to most people because most people have been conditioned by society to buy things and to go into debt. All the money they earn is eaten up either by debt or by lifestyle expenses whereas all the salary income I earn is invested. My savings rate is 100 percent, and I subsist off dividends of approx $30k per year. I do not live a hand-to-mouth existence. I am not fed with money obtained from my own labor. I am fed with money obtained by other people’s labor. My hands don’t feed me. Other people’s hands feed me.

Living off dividends and escaping slavery is not about showing off, in my opinion. I have no need to show off to people because I am quite detached from people. As such, other people’s opinions don’t matter because I am not close to them. Most people must care about what others think because they’re forced to be around them due to circumstances, and if they’re stuck with these people, they need to get along with them, which means these other people must have a good opinion of you.

But I don’t need to be around anyone. I am not dependent on anyone for anything. I am completely independent. I am not afraid of bullies. Bullies can bully me, but because I live off dividends, I can use dividend income to block them from my life. I don’t need to suck up to anyone because, unlike salary income, dividend income doesn’t impose upon you an obligation to keep someone happy. I am no one’s slave.

But from my position of freedom, I am a witness to all the manipulation, deceit, propaganda, slavery, and oppression in this world, and I personally cannot be willfully ignorant of it. I cannot close my eyes and pretend that atrocity does not exist in this world.

Doing something about it is the difference I can make. I can spread the word and help vulnerable beings escape from oppression. That is my purpose in life: to be free myself and to help others be free as well.

Can we change the world? No, but hell, we can all try.

~Rupert Murdoch

There is nothing in life more important than freedom. Even if you don’t want freedom, being free will give you the freedom to not be free. Better to be free and have the choice of being a slave or not rather than be a slave and have no freedom to be free.