Quickly Work Out How Much You​ (Roughly) Saved

Wealth is not about how much you make, it’s how much you saved.

Most people have a pretty good idea of their income every week/fortnight/month. However, in personal finance, the important number is not the amount you made but how much you managed to save. This figure is calculated by your income minus your expenses. It sounds easy, but you will be surprised as lots of people have no idea what their expenses are. Hence they don’t know how much they saved. They may be doing alright, or they may over spend every month. Without working out those numbers, you simply don’t know.

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No worries, there is a simple way to work it out.

To work out how much you save, you will need to make a profit and loss statement on your finances, just like the financial report for the company. Yes, it may seem time-consuming and lots of hard work, especially for those people who are not good with numbers. So for those lazy Kiwis out there, here is a quick way to roughly work out your saving amount, expense and saving rate in about five minutes.

What Numbers Will You Need?

To do this lazy version of profit and loss statement, you will need three sets of numbers.

Bank Balance this month: Go and gather the balance of ALL bank account, including cheque, saving, serious saver, term deposit and credit card. You can get this number from internet banking or bank statement. For example, today is 28/7, so I need to find out the account balance of 1/7. Make sure you record the credit card balance as negative. Add them all up to get your current cash balance.

Bank Balance 12 months ago: We need another set of account balance (cheque, saving, serious saver, term deposit, and credit card) to compare the numbers. Try to get the balance from 12 months ago, so we cover the income and spending for a full year. You can get that from internet banking (search the balance history) and old bank statement. Add them all up to get your cash balance 12 months ago.

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Check out the example above. In July 2016, we have a $2000 term deposit, and it matured during the year. So in July 2017, the term deposit is $0. On the other hand, we opened up a new serious saver account during the year, so in July 2017 we have a second serious saver account with $2800.

Your income after tax and KiwiSaver: We will need to get the income for your last 12 months.

  • If you are employed, you can get your gross pay on your pay slip.Also, you can log on to MyIR at IRD to check your gross pay.
  • If your income hasn’t changed much during the year, you can use one income to estimate a full year income. You just need to multiply your weekly pay by 52, fortnightly pay by 26 and monthly pay by 12.
  • If you know your annual income before tax, put that number into paye.net.nz, and they will calculate your take home pay.
  • If you have another source of income outside employment, you will need to add those in as well. (Like Investment income, rental property income)
  • If you have uneven income or self-employed, you will need to sit down and review your bank transaction to work out your income.

If you can’t get the bank balance 12 months ago, you will need to adjust your income for the same period. For example, you can only get the balance 6 months ago, then you will need to calculate your income during this 6 months period.

Saving Amount

We can work out your saving amount with those two bank balances. Let’s look at our previous example.

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In July 2016, the total balance was $17,220 and in July 2017 was $20,596. During the year, the balance increased 20596 – 17220 = $3376. So our annual saving amount is $3,376, average is 3376/12 = $281.33/month.

Expenses

To work out the expenses, you will need the annual income amount with those two bank balances. The logic behind the math is very simple. You started with your Bank balance 12 months ago: During that year, you made some money, you spent some money and you ended up with the current bank balance.

To turn that statement into a formula will be :

Bank Balance 12 months ago + Income (after tax) – Expense = Currently Bank Balance

We move around that formula, we will get:

Expenses = Bank Balance 12 months ago + Income – Currently Bank Balance

Using our example with a 55K income ($43,065.5 after tax and KiwiSaver). The expense will be

17200 + 43065.5 – 20596 = $39,669.5/Year, $3,305.79/month

Saving Rate

Saving rate is the percentage of income you managed to save after expenses. The math is:

Saving Amount / Income Amount = Saving Rate

Using our example with a 55K income ($43,065.5 after tax and KiwiSaver). The saving rate will be

$3376 / 43065.5 = 7.84%

Why do it over a 12 months period?

The main reason we try to get the bank balance and income for a 12 months period is that our spendings are uneven through out the year. Most people will spend more toward the end of the year because of Christmas and new year. If you only cover 6 months from March to September, you may under estimate your spending. If you cover November to May, you may over estimate. So it best to cover a full year.

What If you buy or sell something big during the year?

For example, if you purchase a Car during the year for $10,000 and you are not the kind of people buy car every year, you should exclude that in your bank balance.

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On the other hand, If you sold your car for $10,000 during the year and you are not doing that every year, exclude that as well.

Basically, we are trying to work out the saving from your typical day to day income and expenses while ignoring one-time big event.

Should you exclude investment contribution?

Some people may use their savings to do some investing like KiwiSaver contribution, Index fund investing, top-up mortgage payment on rental property or pay extra on your own mortgage. If we calculate the saving with our previous formula, we will treat those transactions as expenses.

Bank Balance 12 months ago + Income (after tax) – Expense – Investment Contribution = Currently Bank Balance,

We turn it around

Expense + Investment Contribution = Bank Balance 12 months ago + Income – Currently Bank Balance

You can see investment contribution inflated the expenses amount. In my opinion, the reason we calculate the saving amount and saving rate is to work out how much money we could invest for our future. Therefore, I will include some investment contribution into all calculation.

I will categorize those investment contributions into two group, Voluntary and Involuntary. Voluntary investment is those you can stop contribution anytime if you choose, like your Superlife/SmartShares contribution, KiwiSaver top-up or you made a lump sum repayment on your home mortgage. Involuntary investment is the one you are obligated to pay, like mortgage top up on your negative cash flow rental property. You have to top up those mortgage payment every month. Otherwise, the mortgage will be in arrears.

Here is an example, during the year, you have the following amount went to investment.

Voluntary:
SmartShares Conrtibution – $1,200
P2P Lending – $500
KiwiSaver Top up – $1,043
Own home mortgage voluntary repayment – $500
Total: $3,234

Involunary:
Rental home mortgage top-up – $3,500

Here is the Saving amount after invesment exclusion on voluntary invesment.

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The adjusted saving amount will be 23839 – 17220 = $6,619/year, $551.58/month

Adjusted Saving rate will be 6619 / 43065.5 = 15.37%

The adjusted expenses will be 17200 + 43065.5 – 20596 – 3243 = $36,426.5/Year, $3,035.54/month

What’s the Limitation with this method

This lazy method will give you a rough idea on much you saved, but it comes with limitation and flaws.

  • Rough figures: The bank balance will be accurate, but your income amount may not be. It depends on how you collect and calculate your income amount. If there is any error in income, the expenses amount will be off.
  • No expenses break down: You will have a rough figure on your expense, but there is no break down on where you spent the money. You simply don’t know where you spent your money without a line by line breakdown.
  • Ignore interest income: This method ignores interest you made on your deposit. If you have $20K in the bank with 2.5% interest, it will generate about $330 after tax interest. It is not that much compared to average income, but if you have $200K in the bank, that will be $3300.
  • Ignore seasonal fluctuation: This method worked out the income and expenses throughout the year and divided by 12 to get the monthly average. However, in reality, our spending fluctuate every month. In winter, we will spend more on power and gas, we shop more during Christmas and new year and, we may travel during the summer. All those factors will affect your month-to-month expenses and saving amount. You may overspend in some months while saving a lot in others.

Without knowing your saving amount is like driving down a country road at night with headlights off, you may be driving into a hole without knowing. Hopes this straightforward and lazy method will provide a rough idea of your saving amount and shed some light on your financial situation.

If you want to get into the details of your finances, you will have to spend time and do a detail report. We will get into that in the future.

Email thesmartandlazy@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @thesmartandlazy if you have any questions.

Top 3 Investment Options in New Zealand

I spent a lot of time on my blog talking about ETF and index fund investing in New Zealand. I believe they are great options and an import investment vehicle to help me achieve financial freedom.

However, there are three investment options are objectively better than ETF and Index fund with low entry requirement, low risk and high (sometimes guarantee) return. They are the low hanging fruit of personal finance that everyone should do it. Those three investments options are pay off consumer debt, join KiwiSaver and reduce the mortgage. I will go through each one of them and talk about they risk and return.

No.1 Pay off Consumer Debt

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You want to kill those consumer bills ASAP!

Credit card debt, car loan, payday loan, personal loan, hire purchase, P2P loan… All of those are consumer debt. Debts that are owed as a result of purchasing goods or services that are consumable and do not appreciate in value. Those debts usually have high-interest rate and exorbitant admin fee. If you are paying interest on depreciating assets, they are dragging back you financially. You won’t go forward if most of your income goes to those stupid bills. You need to get rid of them ASAP!

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Paying off debt is Investing

This concept may not be obvious to everyone but PAYING OFF DEBT IS INVESTING. For me, debt and investing are just two sides of the same coin. One side (investing) is to increase your wealth (with a given level of risk). Like you buy NZ Top 50 ETF from SmartShares, if the share price increase and they pay out a dividend, your wealth increased. On the other hand, the shares price may drop, and your wealth will decrease. So there is a risk of losing money with investing.

The other side of the coin (debt) will reduce your wealth. If you have $1000 credit card debt with 20% interest, your interest expense for the first month will $16.67. So your wealth reduced by -$16.67. Unlike investing, the debt will guarantee to reduce your wealth and drag you back financially. Therefore, reduce your debt will move you forward financially, guaranteed.

Whats the return and risk?

I will use a simplified sample to present the financial effect of paying off debt.

Assume you have $1000 in cash and $1000 credit card debt with 20% interest.  If you keep the $1000 in cash and don’t pay it off credit card debt, in one year, you will be $1000 x (1 + 20%) =  $1200 in debt. Financially you moved backwards by $200.

Now, you invest the $1000 cash in a 12 months term deposit with 3.25%. You still keep your $1000 credit card debt and not paying that off. In one year, your earn $1000 x 3.25% = $32.5 in interest from your term deposit. Take away $9.75 as tax; you will have $1022.75 in cash. On the other hand, your credit card debt still cost you $200 in interest. So financially, you moved backwards by $177.25.

Instead of invest that $1000 into a term deposit, you use that $1000 to pay off your credit card debt. Since the credit card debt is gone, it won’t occur interest. In one year, you will be in the same financial position.

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Look at all three scenarios, pay off credit card debt resulted in the best financial position. As you putting that $1000 cash to pay off your credit card debt, you are in fact getting 20% return on those $1000. Unlike other investment, those returns are Tax-free and guaranteed. If you need to get 20% after-tax return on investment, the pre-tax return will need to be 27.77%. That is an excellent return on investment. I am not saying you can’t get 27.77% return out there, but I am sure there is no investment (except KiwiSaver) can guarantee a 27.77% with no risk.

If we look that those high-interest-rate consumer debts, paying them off will be a great return for your money. Also, paying off consumer debt will reduce your financial risk and stress. You will be in a much better position when you negotiated mortgage term and resulted in better deals. That why paying off consumer debt is one of the top three investment options.

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What about Student Loan?

The student loan in New Zealand is interest-free as long as you are staying in the country. The payment only occurs when you have income. So you should just pay it off as you’ve got income. I would not be paying them off early unless you plan to leave the country for a long time.

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No. 2 – Join KiwiSaver

KiwiSaver is a voluntary, work-based savings initiative to help you with your long-term saving for retirement. It’s designed to be hassle-free, so it’s easy to maintain a regular savings pattern. Once you join KiwiSaver, at least 3% of your income will invest into a KiwiSaver fund. You can only access those fund until you use it to buy your first home or turn 65. What makes KiwiSaver to be a top investment option is because of employer contribution and member tax credit.

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Employer match

If you’re over 18 and is a member of KiwiSaver, when you make your KiwiSaver contribution, your employer also has to put money in. By law, the employer required to contribute at least 3% of your income. The employee can choose to contribute either 3%, 4% or 8% but employer only requires to match at 3%. Some employer may decide to match 4% or 8%.

It may seem you will be making 100% return on investment on your 3% contribution. However, IRD will take out tax from you employer contribution, so the actual return on your contribution is about 67%-89.5%. (You can find out why here)  It’s still an unbeatable risk-free guaranteed return.

Member Tax Credit

KiwiSaver Member Tax Credit is to help you save on your KiwiSaver. The government will make an annual contribution to your KiwiSaver fund (a.k.a Free money). The amount is $0.5 on every dollar up to $521.43. You will have to be 18 or above to receive the tax credit. This is a way of government help you save for your retirement and encourage you to join the plan. It cap at $521.43 so it will benefit for the most full-time employee but not favour mid to high-income earner.

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Return on Employee

If you are over 18, fully employed, annual income at $55,000 before and contribute at 3%. Your minimum return on your contribution will be like this.

Your annual contribution (3%): $1650

Employer contribution after tax: $1361.25

KiwiSaver Member Tax Credit: $521.43

The return on your investment: (1650 + 1361.25 + 521.43 – 1650) / 1650 = 114%

Return on Self-Employed

If you are self-employed, you won’t get the employer match, but you are still entitled to member tax credit as long as you make a minimum manual contribution for $1042.86

Your manual contribution: $1042.86

KiwiSaver Member Tax Credit: $521.43

The return on your investment: (1042.86+ 521.43 – 1042.86)/ 1042.86 = 50%

Those are only your base return; you are likely to make investment return on your KiwiSaver Fund as well.  Here is a couples data on a KiwiSaver fund with different income level. The KiwiSaver fund cost and return data are based on SuperLife 80.

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No. 3 – Reduce your Mortgage

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Mortgage payment can easily be the biggest expenses on most homeowners’ budget. Average first home buyer will spend $1500/month on the mortgage, and it will cost more if you have a mortgage in a major city. Imagine what you can do with that money if you don’t have a mortgage payment.

Return on Reducing Mortgage

Paying off have the same effect on paying off consumer debt. It will give you a tax-free and guaranteed return. The return is not as high as those consumer debts because the interest rate on the mortgage is lower at 4% – 6%. The equivalent pre-tax return is around 8.3%.

Reduce your Mortgage or Invest elsewhere

Some people may think 7-8% is not a very good return, and you can achieve that with other investment options without taking a lot of risks, like the share market. However, I still think paying off the mortgage on your own home is a better option because you are paying off an asset that will provide you with a place to live, offset the cost of renting in the future and the house will increase in value (in the long term for most cases).

If you can’t decide to reduce mortgage or invest elsewhere, ask yourself a simple question: 

If you fully owned your house today, will you borrow $500k on your mortgage-free house to invest in share market? Or you will use your income to invest in the stock market every month?

If you say you won’t borrow on your mortgage-free home (like me), then you should focus on reducing that mortgage now. I basically asked the same questions but put it in a different perspective. If you have the money to reduce the mortgage, but you put it into the share market, you are basically borrowing on your house to share market.

Saving Big on interest expense

Since the mortgage size is usually over $200K (over $500k in Auckland) and the payment terms are 20-30 years. You end up paying A LOT on interest expenses. Check out the chart below.

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For a 30 years term mortgage at 5% interest rate, you will end up paying 93% extra for interest payment. So what will happen if we increase our payment and shorten the mortgage by ten years?

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When we shorten the mortgage term by ten years (-33%), our monthly payment increased by 23%, total interest paid decreased by 37.3%! Only 36.9% of your payment went to interest.

Reducing mortgage may not give you a high percentage return, but due to the size of the mortgage, the saving you are likely to make is in the hundreds of thousands. I will have a series of blog posts in the coming month to show you how to be smart on your mortgage with different setup and tips.

Conclusion

  • The top 3 investment options in New Zealand are paying off consumer debt, join KiwiSaver and reducing your mortgage.
  • Paying off consumer debt is investing. The returns are in the range of 15% – 35%. You will be in a better financial position once you pay off your debt.
  • A KiwiSaver member can enjoy instant return from minimum 50% – 110% due to member tax credit and employer match. However, that money is locked-in until you purchase your first home or turn 65.
  • Paying off return about 7% – 8% on your dollar, not as high compared to other. However, due to the size of the mortgage and interest paid, you are likely to be saving hundreds of thousand of the dollar

Email thesmartandlazy@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @thesmartandlazy if you have any questions.