Financial Freedom: What It Takes?
$5,000 a Month
What Will it Take to Create Such Passive Stream of Income?
So you want to be financially free you say? Ok cool. I want to be an astronaut. There is a gap between what I want and what I have. I am about to make you feel uncomfortable by asking straight questions and telling you the things you don’t want to hear.
To begin with – you are currently not “financially” free. Just because you say you want to be free, I assume that you are currently not.
“No-no. I am free. I just want to have more freedom” – I hear you say.
Alright, let’s define freedom. Merriam-Webster Thesaurus gives two definitions of freedom:
1. The state of being free from the control or power of another
2. The right to act or move freely
According to the first definition, freedom is a state of being. Also, it assumes that there was some sort of power or another person who was trying to control the one. Question: is the controlling force necessary for being or becoming free? If not, then definition should be the following: freedom is a state of being. Much shorter and simpler, isn’t it?
The second definition states that freedom is the right. Alright, what is the “right”? Google defines it as justified, acceptable, true, or correct as a fact.
My next question is: who is the one that justifies and defines what is acceptable, true, and correct? Who has the authority to extend you the right to be free? I personally don’t know anyone authorized to grant the right to be free. However, I know that the judicial system claims to have the right to limit or take away your freedom by putting you in jail or restricting you from doing certain things and being in certain places. So if there is no-one to ask for freedom, do we get it by default, at birth? Or maybe we need to obtain it somehow, somewhere? It’s confusing and neither of two definitions brought clarity into explaining what freedom is. Maybe other sources have better explanations.
Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus says that freedom is the license to do as one wants and defines the following as the synonyms for it:
So freedom is a license. To be free, I need a license. Again, who is authorized to issue the license to be free? Does anyone know what it looks like? What are the requirements for obtaining one? Does it have an expiry day? How much does it cost? Again, the more I ask, the more questions I get? Let’s move on. Maybe if we try from the opposite end of the spectrum, we will be able to get to the truth.
What is the opposite of freedom? Below are the antonyms for freedom, according to Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus:
Dependence and captivity… According to this definition, freedom is some sort of independence from some external force or power. Therefore to be free means to be in a state of independence. Let’s leave it as is and not dig deeper because I feel it’s a rabbit hole that has no end to it. Independence.
Impotence, inability, weakness…? This is ridiculous. Are there better ways to describe the lack of freedom? Let’s ask Google, he knows everything:
Every person has his own magic number that will change everything and unlock the way to a beautiful, stress-free, happy life. Ha-ha… Anyways, let’s say you need about $5,000 /month to live comfortably, cover all your expenses. You strive to create a passive stream of income of $5,000 /month that will require little to no work from you. The money will simply land on your bank account while you lay on a couch and repost on Instagram the quotes about successful success. With this money, you don’t worry about where the next paycheck will come from. You think you outsmarted the entire world around you and the sky is not a limit for you. You figured it all out and now you are able to manage your time only as you decide to. No bosses, nowhere to go, nothing to do, only unless you decide otherwise. That’s cool? Sure it does.
You heard a lot of “success stories” in which people obtained that financial freedom or financial independence I should say, by investing in real estate. People often start their stories remembering the times, when they busted their asses at work, trying to squeeze as much cash as possible from their full-time jobs. Then savvy folks would pour all their savings into the rental properties for the monthly cash flow. By cashflow I mean the income you have left, after the mortgage, taxes, and other operating expenses. You hear a lot of stories like that and it seems that real investment is a way to go. You will need to build a portfolio of rental properties, which generates your passive income. Now you see the path. Pull up the pants, wipe your runny nose, grab the diet Coke – we are going to get FINANCIALLY FREE.
How much time do you think it will take you to set everything up? What did successful stories tell you about the timelines? Let’s see what it takes to build the stream of income that will generate you $5,000 /month.
“People who make $90,000 a year, actually earn more than 87% of the U.S. population.”,(Keshner, Feb 4, 2019)
Let’s say you are an educated, hard-working middle-class citizen, who annually makes approximately $100K. Day in, day out from 8 to 5 you grind your way to success working the full-time job. Your life is simple, you don’t overspend and have pretty good financial behaviors that allow you to set some money aside. You saved quite a bit and you are ready to step on the real estate investing path. You are about to buy your first property and already feel like a complete success. Life is great and easy, you figured things out. Everything goes as planned. Few months of house hunting and you finally bought your dream house. A bit of renovation, marketing and you have the tenants moved in. The house brings you about $500 a month of hustle-free cash flow. You feel on top of the world, you nailed it. Indeed, that’s great cash flow. To become financially free you only have left $4,500 /month. No problems, just repeat what you’ve done 9 more times and you can retire. The only problem is that you are out of cash after your first purchase. It’s hard to buy a property without a downpayment. Let’s do some napkin math to see how much time it will take to buy 9 more houses and get your freedom license.
If you are fortunate to live in Canada, please pay 27% taxes on your annual income. Taxes are a whole nother topic, which deserves separate attention. However, stay on the track, we are not getting into taxes here. Deduct the basic expenses from your annual income. They are different for every person (I don’t include the stacks of toilet paper you purchased during COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s keep it as your little secret). Deducting :
- Food (one person)
- Entertainment (movies, 1-2 nights out, nothing crazy, really conservative)
- Pet (a small dog shares miserable existence next to you)
- Commute ($7-10 /day)
- Car insurance payments
- Rent (So cheap because you try to save money and live in a shithole. It also includes utilities)
- Travel (Once a year you fly out to a warm country. You work hard, you deserve it (sarcasm))
You don’t buy new clothes, toys, electronics, gadgets. A new iPhone is just a dream you can’t afford. No Christmas or birthday presents to yourself. Cancel Netflix and Spotify subscriptions. No kombucha or Starbuck coffees. No cab rides. You don’t pay for that cute chick at the bar, sorry honey. No new books or journal subscriptions. You don’t get sick. No dental treatment, no out of pocket medical expenses. You live a monk’s life, literally. From 8 to 5, day in – day out. You have a goal and you are committed to achieving it no matter what it takes. You’ve decided that you want to be free and this is the way to get that freedom. The napkin math showed you clearly – 10 houses – $5,000 /month.
A year later you saved $40,000. You look a little tired, but that doesn’t matter. Well done boy! Now let’s put this money to work and buy a second house. You’ve found a beautiful property listed for little over $300K and your ass got lit on fire. You expect to add another $500 to your monthly cash flow. $1,000 a month, doing little to nothing. No kidding, sounds great, let’s pull the trigger on it. A typical down payment is 20%, which equals $60,000 on a $300K house. What a bummer, you can’t buy it, because you have only $40K saved. You will need to work another six months to make up the difference. You realize that it takes approximately a year and a half to put aside enough money to buy a $300,000 property. Don’t forget that you will need to live the monk’s life and say no to anything that you can’t eat. How long do you think it will take to save up enough cash for ten of those $300k properties? Do you think you will still want that freedom by the time you reach it? By the way, how long do you expect to occupy this planet? Silence…
Ha-ha! Exactly! Don’t freak out yet… Such variables, like appreciation rate and investment income will make things look slightly better. Let’s add them to the equation.
According to Remax: “Healthy price increases are expected next year, with the RE/MAX 2020 Housing Market Outlook Report estimating a 3.7 per-cent increase in the average residential sale price.” According to the Royal LePage Market Survey Forecast: “The aggregate price of a home in Canada is forecast to rise 3.2 percent year-over-year to $669,800 in 2020”. This is a conservative number and it greatly varies, depending on the area of your purchase. We will use it for our financial projections. The number of 3.7% means that the house you purchased for $300,000, next year should increase in price for about $11,100. Will put appreciation to the side for now and run the numbers only including the rental income.
I assume you are being a good boy and don’t touch the monthly $500 you get from your rental property. You are not selling the house, therefore we don’t account for appreciation and use only the money you saved from the monthly cash flow. Annually the rental generates you $4,380 ($6,000 minus 26.8% tax deductions). This extra cash will save you about 3 months of hard work at your full-time job. You will need to hassle for 16.2 months (70.4 weeks) to save $60,000 of a down payment on your second house. (It’s almost 2 months faster having the cash flow of $500 /month from the first property).
One year and a little over 4 months, since you’ve become the landlord, you pull the trigger on the second property. Now, you are the happy owner of two properties which generate you (hopefully) $730 / month ($1,000 /month minus taxes) on top of your annual savings of $40,000. You continue living on the edge of starvation for another year and six weeks to save enough money to purchase your third house. Same deal, $300,000 purchase price, $60k downpayment. Rental income from the two houses you already own allows you to set aside $60,000 a little bit faster. To be exact, 2.7 months faster since the purchase of your first house. Great job, you’ve got the third house. All three properties bring you $13,140 in cash flow annually which correlates to $1,095 /month. It’s been a while since you stepped on this RE journey. Let’s do a quick check-in. How do you feel living the way you did? Because you were able to save $40k every year, I assume life has been very steady for you. No emergencies, no unexpected expenses. You didn’t get sick, nor met a loved one. No kids were born and your parents stayed healthy and well. All your tenants paid on time. No convictions. The vacancy rate is down to zero. No maintenance expenses, whatsoever. What a stress-free life! By the way, how long did it take you to come to this point, where you build such a passive income stream of “whopping” $1,095 /months?
2nd Home = 16.2 months
3rd Home = 14.8 months
Time Spent = 31 months = 2 years 7 months
For the past 2 years and 7 months, you lived like a monk. Skinny, tired, but determined to make it work. $5k /months is your dream and nothing can stop you. Great! I like the persistence with which you dig yourself into the grave. Now, please sit down for a second and answer the following questions:
- With three behind your belt, how many more houses will it take to get you to your goal?
- How long will it take to obtain those properties if you continue down this path?
Let’s run some numbers:
- It will take 9 houses to generate almost $40,000 /year of income after paying taxes.
- Yellow line all the way down indicates the point at which your rental properties generate you $5,110 a month. This will happen 12 years later when you rent out 14 houses.
Just think about it, it will take you somewhere about 12 years of living like a monk, busting your ass day in – day out at the full-time job to finally get to the point where you can quit. How realistic is it to maintain such a lifestyle? Is it worth it? Are you ready to pursue this for 12 years? What are your thoughts?
Numbers above don’t include a lot of important things, such as:
- Renovation/Maintenance Expenses. Houses break, the roof will leak, AC will break, the basement will get flooded. None of those unexpected experiences were included;
- Evictions. Tenants don’t always pay rent and you will have to deal with courts, late payments, and evictions. Rooms stay unoccupied – rent doesn’t get paid;
- Life Situations. People want new clothes, people want ice cream from time to time. People get married, get sick, and die. People make babies. People divorce. People lose jobs, people find better jobs. None of those were included in calculations. Not a single calculator in the world can predict and account for the life situations that WILL happen to you;
- Property management fees. It will be hard to manage 14 houses without some sort of property management assistance. Especially if you are working at your full-time job. Especially if you want to make this income as passive as possible. As a baseline, expect to pay a typical residential property management firm between 8 – 12% of the monthly rental value of the property, plus expenses. Some companies may charge, say, $100 per month flat rate. 10% on your monthly rental income of $5,110 is $511. That’s an extra house for a second… Now you will need 15properties to keep you afloat;
- House appreciation. Typically, over the years, your house will be worth more than you paid for it. This extra value can be refinanced and put towards the purchase of the next home. It can be a huge help and dramatically speed up the process at which you get to your goal. It is really hard to predict how much the property will cost over time and the further you shoot, the more off you will be;
Over the course of 12 years, you have saved and re-invested $840,000 worth of down payments (14 houses x $60,000) to buy 14 homes. Let’s see how well your investments paid off.
Cap rate is the crucial piece of information that investors use to make their decision. You need to know for two main reasons:
- Analyze the performance, or expected performance, of your rental properties. For example, if there are three houses in your price range for sale, calculating the expected cap rates for all three can help you determine which is the best investment.
- Determine your property’s fair market value (FMV). This is important if you’re selling a property. If you know how your property’s net operating income and the industry average cap rate, you can determine your property’s fair market value. Market value = net operating income / cap rate.
Cap Rate is the ratio of the property’s net income to its purchase price (or current market value). While the purchase price remains the same, the market value of the house raises year over year and gives more accurate calculations. $500 /month of cash flow results in a cap rate of 7.3%. What’s a good cap rate, you might ask? On the right are the averages according to CBRE’s North America cap rate survey for the first half of 2019. 7.3% is a good investment. Also since we included mortgage repayment into these calculations it can be considered a cash-on-cash return. Mortgage repayment is the variable that differentiates the two.
Inflation, The Rule of 72, and Home Appreciation
In light of recent, or I should say current events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic we begin seeing the combination of inflation and low mortgage rates. What does it mean to real estate investors like us? High compounded rates of home appreciation. As a tenant or a typical consumer – you lose, because increasing rates of inflation are not very helpful for your consumer purchasing power of basic goods and services like food, utilities, gas or transportation prices. However, if you own the property, you should smile, because the best traditional hedge against inflation is, was, and probably always will be – the Real Estate. This is true because home values tend to increase at least as much as the reported annual rates of inflation. Let’s play around with numbers and calculate how soon your investments will double in value. We will use The Rule of 72. The use of it is very simple: you divide the number 72 by an estimate of annual appreciation gains. A home that appreciates at 10% per year (72 divided by 10 = 7.2 years) may double in value every 7.2 years. Another home that appreciates 7% each year can double in price every 10.2 years during a relatively strong economic time period. Or, as in our case, home appreciating in value at 3.5% per year is quite likely to double in value every 20.6 years. However the rule of 72 is not 100% precise, it gives a quick glance at the real estate market condition.
As the house owner, you should also be familiar with Compound Interest. It refers to the idea that when you earn interest on an investment, that earned interest is rolled back into the investment and starts to build on itself. Let’s look at an example on the left. We know that the average annual appreciation rate on your house in Ontario, Canada is 3.5%. Therefore we assume that your $300k house appreciates in value by 3.5% at the end of the first year of ownership. You just made $10,500 out of nowhere it’s put into your home’s value. The next year you’re earning 3.5% on the new property value of $310,500. At the end of the following year, you’ll actually earn $10,868, which is $368 more from the previous. Your earning has gone up, even though you haven’t done anything more than just leave the money in place. If you have enough patience and allow the power of compound interest to do its magic, the house you bought for $300k will double in value in about 21 years.
Inflation is the counterforce and works in the opposite direction. You probably remember as a kid, buying a can of Coke for $0.50? The increase in prices over time is inflation, and it basically means that a dollar today simply does not buy as much as it once did. According to Statista.com, in 2018, the average inflation rate in Canada was approximately 2.24 percent. So let’s use that as the example here. Things don’t look so bright anymore. After keeping your property for 25 years, it will increase in price only by $105,165. Inflation just ate $279,834 of your money…
To make things worse I’ll remind you that you haven’t paid your taxes yet. According to the Government of Canada: “When you sell your home, you may realize a capital gain. If the property was solely your principal residence for every year you owned it, you do not have to pay tax on the gain. If at any time during the period you owned the property, it was not your principal residence, or solely your principal residence, you might not be able to benefit from the principal residence exemption on all or part of the capital gain that you have to report.” This means that if you are considering selling your principal residence, you can be reassured that you likely won’t have to pay any tax on your home provided that you meet certain conditions. However, if you are considering selling one of your investment properties, the tax implication can be a bit more complicated. There are two streams of income you would need to pay tax on:
- Capital gain. Say you purchase a property for $300,000, and you sell it for $405,165 in 25 years. Capital gain = $405,165 – $300,000 = $105,165. In Canada, 50% of capital gain is taxable, hence 50% of $100,000 is taxable = $52,582. If you own the property in your own personal name, this $52,582 is added on top of your other income and is subject to the marginal tax rate for the respective tax brackets you are in. For example, let’s use the tax rate we used in previous calculations – 26.8%. Hence tax liability is roughly $52,582 x 26.8% = $14,092
- Recapture. You are allowed to claim the wear and tear on the property to defer your rental income. The wear and tear are called capital cost allowance. Assume that 90% of the value belongs to the building and 10% of the value belongs to the land, the capital cost of the building is therefore 90% x $300,000 = $270,000.
Where am I getting with all this?
It will take time. A loooong time to build the income that will support your lifestyle and allow you to retire. And if you start late enough, you might retire around the retirement age. The example used in this study is just one of the ways things might unfold. It is steady but very freaking slow to build your way out of the 8-5 system. Now I am going to ask you:
- Does it worth spending 12 or even 10 years of your life living only on rice and beans?
- Do you think, 12 years later, when you get that $5,000 check it will all seem worth the time and effort you put in?
- Will you be able to hold on to your full-time job for at least another decade? Or find another boss, who will pay you at least the same salary.
I am pretty sure that those questions got you thinking. Here is a thing, if you want to break free from the hamster’s wheel, you have to get creative! There are ways to speed up your way to the goal of yours. Some, but not all of them are:
- Reinvest Positive Cash Flow;
- Keep the full-time job. If you quit your day job early you will lose your steady and secure income stream and lenders may refuse to lend to you because they believe you cannot support the repayments that the loan requires;
- Tax Advantages of Real Estate Investing. Real estate is one of the most tax-advantaged investments compared to other investments.
- 1031 exchanges
- Tax-free or tax-deferred retirement accounts
- Equity Build-up;
- Team up with others.
Simply saving every dime won’t get you far… Saving is definitely better than spending, however, it will not make you rich. Don’t spend your cash on stupid stuff, but realize that it’s better to make more, rather than save more. Doesn’t matter how savvy you are, you can not save your way to wealth. In 99% of cases, your full-time job’s salary will be enough only to meet your basic needs. See below the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
You will live a pretty comfortable life:
- Always fed, never hungry;
- Live in a comfy warm little cave;
- Healthy, with access to quality medical treatment;
- Happy in your relationships with friends and family…
Indeed, that’s a great life to live. However, there are a lot of people I know who live such lives, but they don’t seem to be very happy. There are people who are different breeds. Those folks stagnate in the certainty and safety that the modern world brings. They strive for a challenge, they are hungry for achievement. Those people strive in crisis and hardships. When it comes to your life – you are the ultimate decision-maker.
You decide, either navigate for miles on woods roads or play it safe take a short trail.
- Keshner, A. (2019, February 4). Most Americans who earn $90,000 a year say they don’t consider themselves rich. Retrieved February 29, 2020, from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-americans-who-earn-90000-a-year-say-they-dont-consider-themselves-rich-2019-01-24
- Canadian real estate market to appreciate 3.2% in 2020 reflecting similar price growth in both condo and detached segments. (2019, December 12). Retrieved April 24, 2020, from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/canadian-real-estate-market-appreciate-110000867.html
- Frankel, M. (2020, April 17). What is a Good Cap Rate for an Investment Property? Retrieved April 24, 2020, from https://www.fool.com/millionacres/real-estate-basics/articles/what-good-cap-rate-investment-property/
- Plecher, H. (2019, October 22). Canada – Inflation rate 1984-2024. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/271247/inflation-rate-in-canada/