Retirement planning – dynamics of time and activities

Of late, I have been doing a lot of reading on the topic of retirement planning. I must say that, while there has been a certain level of interest about retirement issues in India now, much of the good inputs come from the US, where this has been a topic of great interest over several decades. One of the areas most of the financial community there agree on is the need to structure your decades of retirement by activity levels. In this post I will try to suggest a framework, we can adopt to our context in India.

One of the important differences between US and India that we need to keep in mind is the age of retirement and life expectancy. Many people in the US work till the age of 65 and consider they will live till 90. In the Indian context, it will make sense to look at these figures at 55 and 85 respectively. Yes, I know many people retire at 60, but with the focus on shorter career spans along with many wanting to look at doing other things, 55 will be a good age to aim for. Moreover, with the passage of time, more people are going to have non-traditional careers where the working in regular jobs will have shorter life span. The other aspect is life expectancy – I feel with the current state of medical advances, it will be logical to take 85 as the figure. Again, it is possible to live beyond that and you must factor that into your plan. In the end however, a 30 year retirement period which you need to plan for and fund will probably do the trick.

Ok having established the above, let us now turn to a framework of the 3 decades. I will follow the terminology from an US blogger. He calls the first decade to be the Go-Go decade, where you are going to be quite active. This is the time to catch up on all the family visits, travel the world, organise your monetary and other affairs, spend time with your adult children and to indulge in the hobbies and interests for which you may not have had much time during your working life. The second decade is termed as the Slow-Go decade, where you still do much of the earlier stuff, health permitting, but there is a palpable slowing down in both the numbers and frequency of activities. The final decade is termed as the No-Go decade where you will mostly be indoors with limited activities.

If we adopt this framework to the Indian context, how will things look? I can think of the following for the first decade, in terms of the situation and the activities:-

  • You will still be actively engaged in some professional activities but not a regular job any more.
  • Your income will mainly come from passive category with some active income.
  • It is likely that your children are into their careers now or at least finishing up their post graduate education. 
  • They will also possibly get married in this decade of your life.
  • With time and hopefully money in your hands, you can look at travelling much more than you have done earlier.
  • You may want to replace some assets such as cars or white goods.
  • You can also indulge in your hobbies and interests in a more significant manner. If these are outdoor in nature, this is obviously the best decade to do so.
  • You will settle down in your home town or your place of retirement during this decade. Catching up with friends and family there will be a good part of leisure.

In the second decade, the professional activities will probably cease. Your outdoor aspects such as travel or any active sports will also taper off gradually. While you will still be healthy ( hopefully ), you will not be too inclined to venture out of home. This will probably be a time to view movies in home theatre as opposed to the cinemas and to order food in as opposed to driving out to a restaurant.

In the third decade when you are 75 plus, it is very unlikely that you will engage in a lot of activities that require a lot of physical exertion. Yes, it will still be important to do regular exercises, but your travels and other outings reduce drastically. Visits to the doctor are, unfortunately, going to increase in frequency. We can look at this decade as the winding down phase, where you should take care of your affairs, rest as much as you need to and hope that the passing away, when it happens, is a relatively smooth affair.

What happens if you live longer than you have estimated? We need to understand that this is possible, given that many people are living well into their 90’s nowadays. While you will either be almost inactive, if not in some long term care facility, there is clearly a need to plan for this financially. The last thing you need at this stage of life is to worry about money or being dependent on your children when you are at your most vulnerable. Any financial plan should include a final 5 years for you and your spouse.

Once you have chalked up your road map, we can start to put a financial dimension to it. This should be done in a bottom up manner, by understanding your lifestyle and then working out the relevant cash flows needed in the 3 decades. This is conceptually a little difficult and I will explain with a personal example in the next post.

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Revisiting my life plan

The end of the year is normally a good time to assess how your life is going on and how is it likely to look in the future. In the last few days, I have given some thought to it and have decided that there may be a few changes to what I had considered 3 years back, when I had started in my Financially independent ( FI ) state. Let me share it in this post.

As you would have read in several posts, I am in an FI state, thereby not really needing any active income to take care of my expenditure. However, I have a Management Consultancy practice and earn active income out of it. Much of it currently goes into investments. While I can continue with my consultancy practice for the next few years, I am thinking of a few other areas where I can spend my time professionally. The first of these is a business venture, which I have thought of seriously over the last year. It is a fairly interesting concept and does not need too much funding. However, it needs a group of founding investors as anchor and I am thinking of some active work in this area from now on. It will probably take another 1-2 years to take off but the effort of getting the team together and kicking it off has to start. The second area is to invest actively in the stock market in a serious manner. Now, while my stock and MF portfolio is of fair value, I do not actively buy and sell in the market. With more time in my hands this is something I plan to look at. The third area will be to monetise the blog or write on topics which are of interest to me.

Depending on how the above things go, I am probably looking at being actively involved  in work, as we know it, for the next 5-7 years or so. Beyond that, my own estimate is that I will live for another 25 years, where I do not have any vocation, only my hobbies and interests to keep me busy. Not that I have ignored my hobbies or interests otherwise, in fact I have generally been happy about the work life balance I have been able to achieve.

One important factor to consider is where will we be living. As of now, we are in Hyderabad and there are really two options that I am considering. The first, is to continue being here for the next 2-3 years. The other option is to look at a shift to Kolkata in the next calendar year. The flip side to that may be the opportunities available for my consultancy, should I decide to continue it. Long term plan will be to shift to Kolkata anyway. Even though we have an apartment in Chennai, we do not plan to go there as the climate does not really suit us. Of course, another consideration in Kolkata will be whether we should own a place or rent it. More of this in another post, but if long term rent options are available, I will prefer it to buying a place.

All Indian families have their children as a key consideration and we are no different in this regard. Fortunately for us, both our children are well on their way to getting settled in life. My daughter Rinki is an Engineer from BITS Hyderabad and is presently pursuing her MBA from XLRI. She will complete her course in March 2018 and is likely to get a job of her liking in some company. My son Ronju is doing a dual degree course in Msc Maths and BE Computer Science from BITS Goa. He will complete his course work in May 2018, though there will be mandatory internships of 1 year. Of course, he may decide to do a PG course later on but that is a future issue. In the meantime, it is unlikely that our children will stay in the same city as us. As far as their marriages go, we will live it to them for deciding the time and partner. We will fund the wedding expenses and I am keeping a separate track of it.

What will be the key activities that we will engage in? Well, travel within and outside India is a passion that both Lipi and I share and in the next 10 years we will do that a lot. Our other interests in movies, cultural events, dining, sports etc are also likely to keep us busy in the first decade. Over the next decade, it is very likely that our going out will reduce considerably and we will have more indoor activities such as reading, tv and hopefully some family time with our children. Health is something we are reasonably all right with so far and hopefully we will not have any major mishaps along the way.

So far so good – what will be the cash inflows required to get these funded? Do I have the requisite financial assets to take care of this life plan? I will attempt to answer these questions in the next post.

 

The Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid saga – the beginnings of politics

The order by the Faizabad district court, permitting worship of the idols was seen by the Hindus as a vindication of their stand and by the Muslims as yet another betrayal of their cause in practising their religious freedom. Even before the locks to the structure could be opened as per court protocol, they were broken and people started to flock in. The resultant tension and bitterness between the communities manifested itself in severe rioting and violence throughout north India. Muslims observed 14th February as a Black day, stating that not only the government but even the judiciary had failed them.

However, in order to understand the issue completely we will need to get back to the politics of it. Over the years, Jan Sangh had tried to mobilise the Hindu populace to get some political dividends but they had only limited success at an electoral level. Though RSS had impressive membership and reach as a social and cultural organisation, Jan Sangh were unable to reap the direct benefits of it. They also did not want political alignments with other parties like the left or Janta dal variants. The Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi changed all of that and kind of forced the opposition parties to get together. Jan sangh went with the Janta Party, who won the elections in a handsome manner and had their first taste of being part of government. They were also one of the reasons for the unravelling of the Janta party, courtesy the dual membership issue with the RSS. After uncertainty of about a year when the elections were held in 1980, Indira Gandhi stormed back to power.

Jan Sangh had been rendered defunct in 1977 and the leaders found it senseless to be part of Janata party any more. This led to the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party. The philosophy it adopted as a theme was Gandhian socialism and the core Jan Sangh issues of Ram mandir, cow slaughter, article 370 and Uniform civil code were very much part of it’s agenda. It was still just finding it’s feet when the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 October, saw elections being called for January 1985. In the wake of a massive sympathy vote, Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress swept the elections nationally. The BJP did abysmally and was written off by most political pundits. They got only 2 seats and even their talisman Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a parliamentarian since 1957 could not get elected.

The BJP floundered for the next few years as the politics in the country went through a turmoil. Rajiv Gandhi had a great start to his prime minister’s innings but soon Bofors, Sri lankan misadventure and other issues started to undermine his popularity and authority. VP Singh was the major challenger and to counter him, Rajiv Gandhi agreed to the persistent VHP demands of Shilanyas of the Ram temple. Little was he to know that he was literally releasing a genie from the bottle, which could never again be put back.

Rajiv Gandhi did not benefit from the Hindu votes in the 1989 elections and was forced to concede power to the Janata Dal government led by VP Singh. BJP raised their tally to 85 seats, mostly from North India, and supported the government from outside. Indian politics would change forever, in the next few years and Ram mandir and Ayodhya were very much the centre point of it.

The Ram Janambhoomi , Babri Masjid saga – the genesis

Few controversies have whipped up as much as passion and frenzy as the Ram Janamboomi / Babri Masjid issue. Everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on it and there has been nothing else that can probably be claimed to be so divisive. The politics of the country, certainly the post 1986 period, has been very strongly influenced by it – so much so that the ascent of the BJP as a political force has been widely attributed to this issue. However, even with all of these, it is really surprising that very few people happen to know the facts accurately. This post is an attempt to correct that by documenting a timeline of this fascinating saga.

Well, where does one begin? If you are one of the so called liberals, singing praises of Islam and Christianity, while taking special pleasure in denigrating Hinduism then you obviously think Lord Ram was a myth. However, to millions of people, not only in this country but worldwide, Ram did exist and was born in the city of modern day Ayodhya. There was definitely a temple existing in Ayodhya, built in the place Ram was born. If your idea is to say that he was not a recorded historical figure then that is true for all founders of religion. More importantly, the sheer amount of literature, music and temples associated with Ram bears testimony to the fact that he was living at some point in time. The crux of the issue though is the temple – people who say today that there is no proof that a temple existed at the site are either ignorant or liars. The Allahabad high court had commissioned the Archaeological Survey of India ( ASI ) to find out if the temple did exist prior to the masjid being put up. Within a few months ASI submitted their report with incontrovertible proof that there was a grand temple, which was razed to the ground before the Babri Masjid came up.

With that basic premise in place, let us get back to the story. The structure called the Babri Masjid was ordered to be built by Babar and his trusted lieutenant, Mir Banki, constructed it in 1528. As this was done by razing an existing Ram temple to the ground, there was a lot of consternation among the population in Ayodhya, who were mostly Hindu by religion. However, during the centuries of Mughal rule, there was an uneasy calm though there was always simmering tension threatening to erupt. This emotive issue found strong voices and traction once the Mughals lost out to the British. Nirmohi Akhada which was a wresting club of sorts but had strong religious and spiritual overtones was at the thick of such efforts. There was an armed attempt by them to attack the Masjid, which was thwarted before much damage could be done.

This alarmed the British and they wanted to play the divide and rule strategy that they were famous for. Their administrative solution was to divide the area into two and allow the Hindus to put their idols and conduct worship in one part. This did not satisfy the Ram devotees as their contention was that the birthplace of Ram was on the spot where the Babri Masjid stood and the sanctum sanctorum of their temple should be that place. Over the years there were attempts to construct a temple in the area designated for the Hindus but the Muslims opposed it vehemently. The most strident confrontation took place in 1883 and it was somehow managed by the British and some sane voices.

Between 1883 and 1934 there was sporadic violence related to the site and the bad blood caused by this was one of the factors why the two communities substituted amity for hatred and mutual suspicion. Matters came to a head in 1934 when there was widespread violence in Ayodhya and adjoining areas of UP. The British administration tried to contain it as best they could but by then they had their hands full with the ongoing freedom struggle. The positions of the two communities got entrenched in the period 1934 till independence in 1947. The formation of Pakistan had diametrically opposite effects on the two communities. While the Hindus felt betrayed by partition and the associated violence and thought that they should now have the temple in a country where they were the majority community, Muslims wanted to feel secure in the fact that their religious rights would be protected as a minority in India.

What happened next is fairly dramatic and can be interpreted with different angles, based on which side of the divide you put yourself. On 22nd December 1949, a group of hardcore Hindu fanatics entered the Masjid and put the idols inside. From the next day there was a huge uproar in the country from both communities who indulged in blame games. Hindus saw this as a miracle and a sign that the Ram temple must be built. The Muslims played the victim card and cited how they were betrayed by the majority community and wanted status quo to be restored. The central government headed by Nehru acted swiftly in the matter by locking up the place. This was good for the Muslims – though they publicly stated that the Masjid should be open for prayers etc, the reality was that prayers were never held there for long. The Muslim game plan was not to allow the Hindus to get the satisfaction of a grand Ram temple there.

The Hindus were livid with Nehru’s decision and saw it as an example of them being second class citizen’s in their own country. The rise of Hindu nationalist parties of all kinds and the growth of cultural organisation’s like the RSS, owed in no small part to this treatment. Over the years, Jan Sangh grew in popularity, albeit not having  critical mass to win many Lok Sabha seats. Though the issue always figured in the public discourse, the communities moved on with other aspects of life and a developing nation had a lot to look forward to.

This however, did not mean that the Ram temple was forgotten. There were legal and political efforts ongoing to make the Hindus worship their idols, which were now under lock and key. Out of all these efforts, some legal success came in the year 1986. On February 1st the Faizabad district court ordered the locks to be opened and gave right of worship to the Hindus. At long last, they seemed to be getting somewhere with their aspirations of building a grand temple at the birthplace of Lord Ram.

However, this started the next part of the saga which I will write about in the next post.

Retirement corpus needed is a function of real returns

In an earlier post, I had written about how our lifestyle choices in retirement will influence the amount of retirement corpus we need to start our retired life with. I also wanted to write a post with my personal example but, with some other engagements, I have not been able to get down to it. I hope to do it this weekend.

The retirement corpus is also a function of the real rate of return you are able to get. For those who are unaware of the term, the real rate of return is the difference between your return on investments and inflation. So if your portfolio is giving an overall return of 9 % and the inflation in the economy is 7 %, then your real rate of return is 2 %. In one of my earlier posts, I had shown a simple way to calculate a retirement corpus by assuming the real rate of return as zero. Interested people can read the post here.

So in order to recap that post, if you are retiring at any age and have X years to live with an annual expense of Y, then your retirement corpus needed will be XY. For example, I think I will live for 30 years max and my annual expenses may be in the range of 12 lacs per year. According to the formula XY, I will therefore need 3.6 crores. Note that this assumes two things – firstly, my money will only grow at the rate of inflation and, secondly, I will not have any corpus left when I finish the 30 years.

Now, I may not be lucky to have this amount. In this case, I can simply keep trying to earn some active income, hope to get a lottery or depend on my children to tide by my later years. As I do not fancy any of these strategies another option can be to reduce my spending. For example, if I can somehow do with an annual expenditure of 8 lacs then the corpus needed is only 2.4 crores. However, this will now compromise with the lifestyle I want to have, especially in the area of travel. Fortunately, there is a way out of this and I will show you how to do it.

The trick is in organising your money in such a manner that you have some real rate of return. Let us say, I use debt MF and hybrid funds to increase my returns to 8 % and inflation rate for me is 6 %. With this real return of 2 %, it will be quite possible to have a significantly lower corpus retirement. There are calculators available in the public domain which you can use so I am not getting into that. However, here are the outcomes.

Assuming 30 years to live and 12 lacs per year as the annual expense:-

  • With a real return of 0 %, corpus needed is 3.6 crores.
  • With a real return of 1 %, corpus needed is 3.28 crores.
  • With a real return of 2 %, corpus needed is 2.83 crores.
  • With a real return of 3 %, corpus needed is 2.46 crores.

I can go on but you get the point. The idea therefore will be to organise my money to generate a decent level of RRR so that even with a lower corpus there is a chance I get to lead the lifestyle in retirement that I am desirous of. The flip side is this – to generate high RRR, I will need to take more risks in my money and definitely put some of it in equity. This is fine with me as my basic 3 portfolios of Debt, MF and Stocks are something I am quite comfortable with. If you are not fine with the risks you can only deal with RRR of 1 % or so. In that case you will need a higher corpus, a lower annual expenditure or hopefully a pension from the company where you work now.

I will write some more posts on retirement, follow the blog to get those.

A real life financial planning case study

It always surprises me a little to see the reactions of people in Facebook groups when a group member asks a simple query. Some members assume that the questioner needs to get knowledge by reading blog posts of some other members first, others advise him to go to a fee only financial planner and even give him a list, yet others tell him that one should just keep working and not think of retiring.

To come back to the recent query, here are the salient facts shared by the person who wanted advice on whether he will be able to gain Financial independence in 6 years:-

  • He has 1.2 crores in FD and another 30 lacs in equity etc
  • Can invest 20000 per month for next 6 years
  • Has a child in class 7, who should be going to college in 6 years
  • Has his own house and loans will be paid for by the time he is 50.
  • Current costs are 1 lac per month, 15000 for child and includes loan repayments.

Let me come to the question as to whether he will be able to be financially independent by the time he is 50. For this we will calculate his Financial Independence Number (FIN) in the following manner.

  • His base cost at 50 will be lower than 1 lac as child cost will be gone and so will the loan repayment. However, let us take it at 1 lac to take care of inflation etc.
  • For retirement of 30 years his cost will be 3.6 crores at zero real rate of return
  • For child higher education we can take 20 lacs
  • For asset replacement etc we can take 20 lacs
  • Total FIN therefore comes to 4 crores.

Fortunately, in real life we do not need to go with financial planner and/or calculators blindly and can use some experience and common sense. It is difficult to tell others what to do as they will have their own goals and ways. However, if I were in his place, I would be doing the following:-

  • As his child’s college education is 6 years away, I will put 10 lacs in an Aggressive Balanced fund like HDFC Prudence. This amount will take care of the 20 lacs that will be required for the child’s graduation.
  • I will redeploy the 1.1 crore left in FD to different types of Debt funds. Assuming a CAGR of 8 % this will grow to an amount of 1.75 crores.
  • His current equity investment will grow to 60 lacs if we take 12 % CAGR over 6 years.
  • 20000 SIP @ 12 % returns will grow to about 21 lacs in 6 years.
  • So at 50 years he will have 1.75 crores in Debt and 81 lacs in equity

Let us now look at deployment of corpus. In the first 10 years of retirement, his strategy can be the following:-

  • Interest from Debt portion will be to the tune of 14 lacs @ 8 % returns. This is definitely possible if he is into good quality Debt instruments.
  • As his child is in college and he is still relatively young, I will not reinvest this 2 lacs but spend it in discretionary expenditure such as travel or asset replacement.
  • At the end of 10 years, he will be 60 so the activities will reduce and on the balance his medical expenses may grow. I think an annual expense of 18 lacs will be enough. There is no need to calculate this by inflation formula – makes no sense at all to do so.
  • Assuming a 12 % return on equity his equity corpus will be 2.51 crores.

In the next decade his deployment can be as follows:-

  • Keep using the interest from Debt instruments and take out the remaining required amount from redeeming the principal.
  • Even after you finish the decade you will have some amount left in Debt instruments. I suggest you donate it to a charity of your choice.
  • Your equity investments would have grown to more than 7 crores by now and will be more than enough to last your life as well as live a legacy.

So to come back to the basic query – will you have enough to retire at 50? You bet you will. Now just shut out all the negative people with negative comments from your mind and go ahead with the plan. Honestly, if you are able to get the selection of instruments done on your own, you do not even need a Financial planner.

Will be happy to receive comments, feedback and criticism on the post.

Close ended Equity NFO – should you invest in HDFC Housing fund?

Over the last few years and especially in 2017 many of the Fund houses have come up with a slew of close ended NFO’s. These come with a variety of themes and associated terminology. For example ICICI calls them Value Fund series, Sundaram calls them Micro cap series and Axis calls them Equity advantage series. In this post let us look at why these are in vogue now, what are the pros and cons and finally whether it is a good idea to invest in them.

The first issue is relatively simple to answer : new products get developed based on the likelihood of their success. With a lot of retail and institutional buyers pumping in money, there is always a demand for newer types of funds to invest in. For fund houses, it is an opportunity to have a specific charter which may not be possible to fulfil through their regular funds. For example, one of the ICICI value series funds only wanted to invest in Pharma and IT sectors as these were beaten down significantly over the last six months or so. Now this could be done in one of their existing funds too but for a fund manager to churn the portfolio by selling stocks that are doing well is not always an easy decision to take. Using fresh money in taking such calls is relatively simple. The trend started by end 2014 or so with ICICI and has now percolated to several others.

What are the pros and cons of such funds? Well, for one the mandates here have a lot more clarity compared to a vanilla large cap or mid cap fund. The fact that it is close ended, normally for 3 years, means that the fund manager has time at his disposal to take the calls he wants to take. On the flip side you will not have access to your money for 3 years and this is a problem unless you can definitely do without it for this time. A greater problem may be your inability to shift in case you are not happy with the performance. From my viewpoint, I do not see both these issues as a serious one. Firstly, you should be investing in equity for a much longer term than 3 years. Secondly, the Fund manager is way more qualified to deal with short term performance issues.

Let me now give some details of an investment that I made in one such fund. While the experience may not be repeated for all funds, it does offer certain insights:-

  • I purchased ICICI Prudential Value Fund series 2 on 6/12/2013. Invested amount was 2 lacs in the Dividend option.
  • The idea was to get some regular income as I planned to go for my consultancy practice sometime in 2014.
  • Though it was a 3 year fund, it has now been rolled over and will mature on 31/12/2018.
  • So far total dividends have amounted to 1.6 lacs
  • Current value of the fund is nearly 2.5 lacs

I think it can be said quite safely that this worked out quite well. In fact, I have invested in several follow up NFO from ICICI. Apart from ICICI I have also tried out Axis, Birla Sunlife, Sundaram and UTI for close ended funds. From a personal perspective it works well for me as I get tax free income and also growth from it.

You should be investing in these funds under the following situations:-

  • You have some income requirement every year. Instead of doing FD you can go for close ended funds with dividend option. Note that the dividend is not guaranteed.
  • You have a goal after 3-4 years. This is ideal for such situations. However, in such a case choose the Growth option.
  • You have come into some money and do not want to decide on allocation for 2-3 years as you may need the money then. Go for the growth option here too.
  • Make sure you understand the mandate and therefore the associated risk profile. A micro cap series from Sundaram will obviously be more risky as compared to the Value fund series of ICICI. However, the rewards will vary in a similar trend too.

If you are interested in these funds after reading this post, do consider the HDFC Housing fund which closes for subscription today. It is in an area where there will be definite growth and the industries they are investing in will be likely to do well for the next 10-15 years and maybe even longer. The 3 year close ended NFO may just be the right vehicle for any medium term goal you have. For example, I feel of you want 5 lacs after 3 years, you can just invest 3 lacs in this and wait for 3 years. It is very likely that you will be able to realise an amount close to your goals.

People having surplus money and waiting to invest in some suitable avenue should take hold of this opportunity.