9 Personal Finance Lessons from 2018

My notes to self from 2018 with a focus on everything that happens after the paycheck comes in –

Overall

1. Make sure your expense growth is much slower than your income growth. I shared my expense tracking sheet earlier this year. A new addition to that sheet was a sheet with “yearly math.” This sheet splits income into expenses, taxes, and savings. It is a really simple view and it helps keep focus on an important high level relationship -> grow your income faster – ideally much faster – than your expenses.

Expenses

2. Keep your expenses low by consciously tracking them. This isn’t a new lesson as much as it is an ongoing commitment. I’ve come across many tools that aim to simplify expense tracking but I’ve stuck to my simple google spreadsheet for 8 years now and it has worked great. The act of adding one expense at a time has inspired a level of consciousness that I’d otherwise have missed out on.

3. Spending on experiences has very high RoI. Again, an ongoing commitment.

Savings

4. A high yield savings account is a no brainer. A high yield savings account can yield up to 2% at the moment – far better than the 0% on normal savings accounts even after you factor in taxes. The “downside” in these accounts is the absence of physical banking facilities – so, no downside if you’re comfortable with dealing with your money digitally. :)

Investments

5. Individual stock picking is really hard – if you do it, do it with less than 5% of your net worth. I tried experimenting with it this year – and mostly failed. The second half of the year has been rough on stocks. In many ways, I’m glad for the lessons I learnt this year as I will, hopefully, exhibit better judgment in future years.

One accompanying learning here is to use “limit orders” if you still decide to indulge. If you decide to buy, use target prices to capture the upside/limit your downside. I wish I’d learnt this lesson earlier!

6. Tax loss harvesting. If your picks went sideways, tax loss harvesting might help. :)

7. Manage vests/employee stock purchase plans like cash. There are stories of the employee who held Coca Cola stock/GE stock/Johnson & Johnson stock for decades and watched it multiply 100 fold. For every such story, there are cautionary tales that we don’t hear about where large portions of paychecks disappeared due to market movements. Andy Rachleff has a great post on the Wealthfront blog on the case for treating any equity pay as cash. Like a good poker move, it doesn’t always look right in the short term but it is the right move for the longer term.

8. It can all go to zero. If you put any money into crypto this year, you know what I’m talking about. See above note on tax loss harvesting.

9. Anchor around principles. I’ve come to believe that all investment advice boils down to 3 principles – diversify, be consistent and disciplined, and do your research and pick a strategy that works for you. The Ivy Portfolio and Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth were two interesting adds to my personal finance book reading list this year.