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When most people think about early retirement, they picture themselves flipping off their boss at work, strolling out the door, and retiring to a life of full-time leisure or travel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the narrative that most of the FIRE bloggers (including us) depict.
However, that’s just one flavour of FIRE that may not be for everyone. Over the years, FIRE has grown from a loose collection of bloggers into a global movement, and with it more and more voices have been added to the conversation (which is great), and more and more variants of FIRE have been coined (which is even better).
Today’s reader case asks an intriguing question: What if, instead of driving towards full FIRE and permanent retirement from work, you instead choose to work towards a more limited period of retirement?
Intrigued? Well then, let’s dive in, shall we?
Hi FIRECracker & Wanderer,
Thank you so much for all the resources and knowledge you’ve shared on your website. I feel like I’ve learned a ton about how to manage money in a fairly short period of time thanks to you. The impact that this website is making for people must be tremendous. How is this not taught in school?
Anyways, my wife and I have been very fortunate and now have plans to do a sabbatical with our son for approximately 3-5 years (We’re in our mid 30’s). We’ve already begun reorganizing our lives to make it happen & I’d love to get some input on what we’re thinking to finance the trip.
Here’s a brief outline:
- We sold our business and now have $1,000,000 CAD to invest (Note we are Canadian). All of this is in a HISA for now.
- We already have $500,000 CAD invested with an asset management company. 60/40 stock bond split. Current portfolio yield 3.85%. Management fee 1.5%. These funds are within a holding corp as we transferred this cash out of our business before selling it, so unfortunately there will also be annual accounting and legal fee’s cutting into our return. We could plan to cash this out over time essentially using it as a tax deferral.
- We own a single family home that we plan on renting out while we’re travelling. Mortgage payment $1100 + Insurance $150 + Prop Tax $400 = $1650 to carry. Rental value should be $2750, so there’s $1100/mo cash flow. Let’s remove $400/mo for maintenance (old house), so total est monthly cash flow should be around $700mo or $8400/yr. (I realize there is risk here).
My goal is to maximize cash flow as much as possible so that we don’t dip into our equity while we’re travelling. I’m OK with essentially pausing our financial situation (I sure hope inflation slows down).
So far without the $1,000,000 invested, annual cash flow from holding company + real estate should be approximately $17,000. I’m aiming for between $50-60k CAD annually, however there is some flexibility in our travel plans. So… How do I design an ETF portfolio with the $1,000,000 to meet our needs? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- VBAL Vanguard Balanced ETF Portfolio – 60% Weight , 2.26%Yield
- VDY Vanguard FTSE Canadian High Dividend Yield Index ETF – 20% Weight, 4.15% Yield
- XEI iShares S&P/TSX Composite High Dividend Index ETF – 20% Weight, 4.66% Yield
Here are my thoughts on this: This overall mix would result in being 76% equities, 24% bonds while having a fairy diversified asset mix overall thanks to the all-in-one VBAL ETF. I would also only need to re-balance 3 funds, which is nice. I added the high dividend ETFs since my primary focus for the next 3-5 years will be cash flow from the portfolio. Dividends are much easier to deal with from a tax perspective than capital gains. I chose a mix of VDY and XEI to increase US exposure. Overall est portfolio dividend yield after fees would be 2.91% or approximately $29,060.00 per year.
So this puts our total annual cash flow from dividend yields and rental income at around $46,060. This is slightly short of our target of 50-60k, but would not prevent us from continuing with our travel plans.
Am I on the right track here, or am I missing something? I’d really like to see another 10k/yr in cash flow without drastically increasing risk.
Thanks in advance for your help! I’m super excited to continue learning and look forward to the day I can start giving back to the FIRE community.
Additional notes to meet email guidelines:
- Mortgage has about 190k owing at 2.5%. About 2.5years left on 5 yr fixed term
- One car and one motorcycle worth almost nothing combined lol
- No other debts
- About $120,000k in my company matched RRSP
- About $8500 in our sons RESP, regular contribution to receive government grants
|VBAL||Vanguard Balanced ETF Portfolio (60/40)||60%||2.26%||0.22%||600000||13560||1320||12240|
|VDY||Vanguard FTSE Canadian High Dividend Yield Index ETF||20%||4.15%||0.20%||200000||8300||400||7900|
|XEI||iShares S&P/TSX Composite High Dividend Index ETF||20%||4.66%||0.20%||200000||9320||400||8920|
First of all, I think it’s great that SabbaticalHopeful is taking time now to travel with their family. None of us know how much time we have, and especially time while we’re fit, healthy, and able to travel. So if you have all of those things and the financial ability to take time off work to enjoy life, do it! Spending time enjoying life with your family really is the best thing money can buy.
Unless, of course, you hate your family.
But for the sake of this analysis, let’s assume that our reader gets along with his wife and kids and intends for this trip to be a fun adventure rather than, say, a bizarre form of self-inflicted torture.
Ahem, ANYHOO, on to the meat of SabbaticalHopeful’s question: How do we design a portfolio that can give him the income that he needs to finance this trip without dipping into his assets?
To find out, let’s MATH SHIT UP!
Now, as always, I have to remind everyone that I’m just some guy on the Internet and not a licensed financial advisor. I am not recommending that SabbaticalHopeful (or anyone else reading this) rush out and do this. As always, these are my personal thoughts and opinions, and everyone reading this should do their own research before implementing anything in their portfolios.
So with that out of the way, this is what I would do if I were in their situation.
The problem with designing a portfolio for income is that it’s really easy to get pulled into a bad investment just because it has a high yield. If you were to simply sort every ETF out there and pick the highest yielding one, you’d probably find some over-leveraged actively-managed covered call fund or something that you normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. The challenge is to find the yield without sacrificing the principles of owning high-quality, globally diversified investments.
To that end, the portfolio that SabbaticalHopeful proposes doesn’t really do what he’s intending. VBAL is an all-in-one fund, which as I’ve written before, really isn’t necessary because they can be replicated using a tool like Passiv with 5 minutes of work. And the rationale of owning, in his words, “a mix of VDY and XEI to increase US exposure” doesn’t make sense either since neither VDY nor XEI have any US exposure at all.
So let’s start from first principles and see if we can get the yield to where we need it to be. Here’s our basic Investment Workshop portfolio configured as a 60/40 split.
|Canadian Equity Index||VCN||20.00%||2.84%|
|Emerging Markets Index||XEC||5.00%||2.14%|
Our plain-vanilla indexed portfolio yields 2.53%. If he were to invest his $1,000,000 portfolio this way, it would generate $25,300 in yield. Add that to the $17k he’d get from his holding company and rental, and we get a total income of $42,300. So obviously, we’re short from his $50k-$60k goal.
So where can we find yield in this portfolio?
The fixed income part is the most obvious place to look. Considering that bond yields right now…let’s see…*checks notes*…sucks absolute donkey balls, we can consider swapping this out for something better.
I’ve recently gone through this exercise and concluded that preferred shares are pretty good value right now. At the time of this writing, a floating-rate preferred share index like ZPR is yielding a nice juicy 5.7% yield. What happens if we split our fixed-income portion between bonds and ZPR?
|Canadian Preferred Shares Index||ZPR||20.00%||5.70%|
|Canadian Equity Index||VCN||20.00%||2.84%|
|Emerging Markets Index||XEC||5.00%||2.14%|
The yield now goes up to 3.11%. Not bad, but we can still do better.
Looking at the funds our reader picked out, both VDY and XEI are actually pretty good funds. However, they should be classified as Canadian High-Dividend, not US. Both funds are similar to high-dividend funds we’ve owned in the past, and because they own high-quality financials and utility companies like Royal Bank and Enbridge, they can be used to goose your yield without changing your portfolio’s overall makeup too much when held alongside the regular broad-based index fund.
So let’s see what happens when we split the Canadian equity allocation between VCN and XEI.
|Canadian Preferred Shares Index||ZPR||20.00%||5.70%|
|Canadian Equity Index||VCN||10.00%||2.84%|
|Canadian High-Dividend Index||XEI||10.00%||4.66%|
|Emerging Markets Index||XEC||5.00%||2.14%|
Now our yield has gone up to 3.29% by making some pretty, in my view, innocuous changes. Granted, this seems like a lot more funds than using VBAL, but these are the kinds of fine-tuned tweaking that you can do if you own the asset classes yourself rather than rely on an all-in-one fund where you get simplicity but you give up control.
3.29% on a $1,000,000 portfolio means $32,900. Add that to the $17k from his other holdings, and that means he’s getting $49,900. That’s pretty much at the low end of his $50k target.
At this point, SabbaticalHopeful can then adjust the portfolio weightings to decide where they want to land in their $50k-$60k target. If they were to pivot their fixed income and Canadian equity holdings more towards their higher-income counterparts, their portfolio could look like this.
|Canadian Preferred Shares Index||ZPR||30.00%||5.70%|
|Canadian Equity Index||VCN||5.00%||2.84%|
|Canadian High-Dividend Index||XEI||15.00%||4.66%|
|Emerging Markets Index||XEC||5.00%||2.14%|
A 3.67% yield means income of $36,700. Add in the $17k and we get $53,700.
And if they wanted their yield more towards the higher end of that range, they could abandon bonds and the Canadian index altogether and replace them completely with Preferred shares and the high-dividend index, like so.
|Canadian Preferred Shares Index||ZPR||40.00%||5.70%|
|Canadian Equity Index||VCN||0.00%||2.84%|
|Canadian High-Dividend Index||XEI||20.00%||4.66%|
|Emerging Markets Index||XEC||5.00%||2.14%|
A 4.05% yield means income of $40,500. Add in the $17k and we get $57,500. This portfolio will have a volatility similar to an all-equity allocation, though, since preferred shares are generally more volatile than bonds, but that’s a tradeoff that SabbaticalHopeful will have to decide whether they want to make.
So that’s what I would do if I were in our reader’s shoes. Use the current excellent value that preferred shares are offering as well as a high-dividend equity index to get the yield we need while still maintaining a globally diversified index-based portfolio.
A note to our reader: He’s in the unique position of already having a full-service financial advisor managing the business part of his holdings. So he can just ask his advisor to vet any portfolio changes before he makes them. That way, he’s taking advantage of a licensed financial advisor that he’s already paying for.
What do you think? How would you get our reader the yield they need? Would you do anything differently? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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47 thoughts on “Reader Case: How do I Squeeze More Income From my Portfolio?”
At this point in time, and considering their situation, I would also consider Government of Canada treasury bills.
You can get even better than 4% yield with (almost) zero volatility. See more information here :
For example, with 3 yrs with 50K$ per year, that would imply a capital of 150K$ allocated, or 15% in this case.
Since the current yield is above 4%, there is no lag on the overall cashflow of the portfolio.
However, interest rates in the future will probably go down. But since the rest of the portfolio would benefit from this situation, they would probably still be in a good position no matter what happen with interest rates.
Personally, I did not invest in treasury bills before since interest rates were so low in the last 15 years. But now, they are more attractive than they were in a very long time. So, why not take advantage of this situation ?
In addition, it would add much more stability to their overall portfolio. So they can go and travel without worrying to much about their investments.
If they want to go with an ETF instead of specific treasury bills, they could use the ETF CMR.to (iShares Premium Money Market ETF). It’s easier than buying each securities by themselves.
Anyway, this is my thoughts on their situation. I think the rest of the portfolio (proposed above) is great. Hoping all the best for them !
Why not put everything in CMR.to and get 4.8% risk free, in case 2023 repeats the performance of 2022 in stocks and bonds
You have a good point. But never forget that stocks have an unlimited upside potential. So, I would never get out of stocks completely …
As a retail investor, how do you invest in Government of Canada treasury bills?
They are available at almost every investment broker in Canada, except WealthSimple. You have to make sure your broker gives you access to “bonds” or “fixed income” and treasury bills are a sub-section of that category.
A bit of extra work, but perhaps they could replicate VDY or XEI with individual stocks. That would reduce fees and enable to buy value stocks, and squeeze more dividends.
I happened to be in a similar situation (with a similar portfolio size) last year and that’s what I did. I have a dividend return of around $48k, and the only reason it’s not higher is because I invested some of it in ETFs paying zero dividends/low yield stocks as I am still working. Once I retire, these will be converted into dividend stocks or ETFs.
My overall allocation:
Canadian Dividend Stocks: 50%
US (VUN): 30%
Rest of World (XEF/ZEM – and Horizon equivalents): 15%
There’s another better option you didn’t mention. They could put all their money into interactive brokers and leave it there in cash. That would yield them 3.8% right now on their cash balance. Then sell cash secured puts against the S and P 500 45dte 5-8% OTM and collect the insurance premiums. That would yield a consistent 8-10% return. Much safer then owning equities.
“sell cash secured puts” -How do you eat this?
You buy put options on $SPY, let say 300 contracts (30,000 units) for Dec 2025 @ $370 for $34 each. You receive $1,020,000.
Then the S&P500 crash by another 20%, from $SPY 400 to $SPY 300. Your put options are exerciced at $370. That means you lose $70 per contract, or $2,100,000. Bam ! Your account is wiped out.
You don’t see, Nakamura ? That’s easy … 😉
“You buy put options on $SPY”
Sorry, I meant “You sell put options on $SPY”.. You see, even me, I can get confused over this strategy.. 😐
easy !! What’s a “put” ?
Here : https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/putoption.asp
You can track prices of each options of the $SPY on this page :
(note : calls are at the top; puts are at the bottom; you can choose the desired expiration date at the top of the screen)
I forgot to mention fees and spread in my example. But they are extremely high. That’s why banks and brokerage firms like when their clients use them.
Transaction fees on the transaction above would be $750. So $1,500 if you buy & sell (2 transactions).
Spread is currently $9 per units of $SPY. That would represent a $270,000 loss if you want to buy & sell immediately.
Didn’t I told you … ? Easy cheezy ! 😉
Wow..and people really do/use that? nothing surprises me anymore
Could you explain what you mean by “Then sell cash secured puts against the S and P 500 45dte 5-8% OTM and collect the insurance premiums. That would yield a consistent 8-10% return.”?
Hey Sara send me an email and I’ll explain….firstname.lastname@example.org
If they were to reallocate to the final sample portfolio above (or similar), and then sell significantly out of the money calls on the ETF’s within that portfolio, they could probably easily hit the upper range of their desired income. That’s very low hanging fruit.
Funny that you mention this: “let’s assume that our reader gets along with his wife and kids and intends for this trip to be a fun adventure rather than, say, a bizarre form of self-inflicted torture.”
That’s exactly my case. I find myself already FIRE but working full time, choosing to go to the office when I could work from home full time JUST so I can avoid fighting with my wife all day long. It’s a nightmare. She doesn’t work to take care of the kids and make my life miserable .
Some might say, why don’t you divorce? No, that would really screw my FIRE plan for life, having to split my portfolio in half, and there’s my kids which I love but I can’t tolerate them in a short trip, much less on an extended….sadly that’s my life! Hope they are better than this…cuz in my case, only Zoloft helps
A very interesting video by Ben Felix to add to the discussion.
TL;DW focusing on dividends may not make as much sense as we think.
Yeah, but did you noticed inside his video (at 2:30) that he also says that dividend stocks provide better returns because of other reasons than the dividends ?
So it’s kind of the question of what’s come first between the egg or the chicken.
The dividend may not be important at all in the performance of a company. But if better investments generally have better dividends, should you really take that out of the equation when you are making investment decisions … ?
Something to think about !
So you’re aiming for between $50-60k CAD annually, how much of that will be for taxes? Canada has high income tax? Yes? No?
Boycott twitter? For god sake..another one of those alienated Marxists
gocurrycracker.com would have a fit reading this. He really hates dividends and once said he wish S&P and companies would pay less dividend income. Can you believe this? Maybe he doesn’t have bills or love to sell shares for half of the price
Don’t understand why people are scared of individual stocks but buy high fee etf .
Here’s what’s to do with the $1M to increase yield to 5-7%;
Buy Canadian banks : CM, RY, TF , pipelines: ENB, TC, telecoms : BCE, T oil: SU insurance : SLF, MFC, IFC . Energy : FTS . All yield over 5-6%. Then put rest in brokerage GIC now over 5%
Sounds like you are down on covered call ETFs, which Reddit div investor is all over (esp JEPI but also DIVO) Aside from the fact that they will lag in a recovery, what are your concerns?
I noticed that also…..that being said, I do think that selling calls (also PUTs) is an important strategy for investors to be aware of, even if they have no intention of engaging in the activity. Buying a stock/etf and awaiting dividends and appreciation is sort of like buying a chicken and only using the drumsticks and breast and throwing the rest of it in the trash…there’s still more we can do to squeeze out some $$, and CC’s are a very safe/conservative way to do that.
In Wanderer’s defense, many the the CC ETF’s seem to be cannibalizing themselves with a continuous downward trajectory (e.g. QYLD). JEPI seems a little different, and I’m interested to see how it goes once it has a couple more years history behind it.
I’ll tell you my strategy. Once I reach FIRE and I really need income, I’ll swap half of my VTI for the JEPI ETF with almost 1% per month in Yield and Ride Off Into The Sunset
Doing something similar. Jepi is really great. Where else you can get almost 1% a month in yield and still get some upside on equities? JPMorgan really nailed this one, hope it doesn’t degrade overtime but it doesn’t seem to be doing it so I’m optimistic
If SabbaticalHopeful can knock off the $190K right away (unless there are some tax benefits to keeping it), the monthly rental income will get a boost. The monthly net rental income becomes $1800 (ie $2750-$950). Reducing the investable amount of $1mil by $190K makes it $810K. A 4.05% yield on $810K will bring in a monthly income of $36450. So annual income becomes (1800*12 )+36450 = $58050…(an additional $550 over $57,500). Just another way to accomplish the desired outcome..
There’s a was easier solution/answer that was not discussed in the post.
CCB (Canada Child Benefit)
Not expecting Wanderer to mention it since they don’t have kids but this is your super power during these sabbatical years.
Play around with it “Google Canada CCB Calculator” and input your lowered $46k income (which it likely will be lower for tax purposes as your dividends are likely taxed favourably) and see what your CCB will be. Figure out what your actual AFNI (adjusted family net income) is using TaxTips.ca and you’ll likely see an even higher CCB amount.
You’re welcome 😉
they need 150,000 – 180,000 for the 3-5 years… they have more than 1.5mil to invest… why not just take the 180,000 put it into a nice high yield savings account and move what you need quarterly or yearly into checking account from this to pay bills. You can make it about 200k if you want some cushion or are worried about inflation. On the US side you can get about 3-4% in high yield savings account right now. I’m sure you can find something similar in Canada. Would leave you with about 1.3mil to invest how you want. Would suggest either 80/20. On US side would do VTI or spy and BND or BNDW. This way you have enough for your 3-5 years, the money that you don’t need in the short term is invested, and the expected costs for next 3-5 years are covered. Would recommend moving the 500k with management fees of 1.5% to something else. That seems a bit high to me. Also, I’m assuming you have emergency funds saved too outside of the cash I’m suggesting you put into the high yield savings account. This also doesn’t take into account health insurance.
This way your sabbatical is covered for 5 years, the 1.3 mil hopefully grows when markets correct in 5 years. If you gain 7-8%/year this might be about 2 mil in that time.
Questions for your pondering…
FINANCIAL – have you and your family ever lived with 50K – 60K budgets? Moving to low cost of living country will help, but the differences in cultures will eventually catch up with you. It is a RED flag when rookie international travelers travel for the sake of saving money, and not for accumulating memories or experiencing new cultures.
The active management of your rental may give your family a curve ball, especially, when you are on the other side of the world (assumed you will be traveling to Southeast Asia with that budget).
Considering fire your management company, buy 10 books from Firecracker and Wanderer for giving you the advice on managing your own finance.
RELATIONSHIP – are you and your wife are 100% on this new shiny object? Your kid will be just fine as long as Mom and Dad are happy. Mom and Dad will screw each other happiness when both of you do not have regular jobs and have nothing to focus in the everyday living.
HEALTH – are you both healthy (assumed the kiddo is young and unbreakable)? Traveling oversea will put heavy tolls on your bodies from pollutions, noises and climates differences.
Good luck…you deserve a short break!
I agree. 50K – 60K budget is for a king! I can live abroad for 5K a year, even some parts of Europe.
Relationship would be my only concern. You can travel for a while but then you’ll be fighting with your loved one day in and out. I can attest that since I’ve tried and now I got back to work just because I can’t stay a home anymore all day doing nothing and travelling really sucks nowadays with airports being like the worst place on earth for me to be in.
Live abroad on 5K a year?
Do you have a blogpost where you outline the details of this mild exaggeration? I expect it to include confirmation that you are in no way working earning money or volunteering to receive room and board (that includes housesitting).
I await the details with wild anticipation.
Does anyone know of a comparable US version of Preferred Shares ZPR? Or High Dividend XEI? Thank you.
The reader’s reason of chasing yields instead of following the normal retiree 4% annual withdrawal rule does not make sense. The reader’s statement “dividends are much easier to deal with than capital gains from a tax perspective” is NOT true, since it sounds like these investments are held personally, not in the reader’s corporation. At tax time the broker provides tax slips showing your dividends and capital gains and you put those in your tax return. This is simple tax return preparation.
By choosing a standard equity portfolio, such as a vanguard all in one index, annual 4% withdrawls of the $1 Million capital balance is $40k, plus add on the $17k rental and corporate drawings and you get $57k per year. No reason to mess around with anything fancy.
“We already have $500,000 CAD invested with an asset management company. 60/40 stock bond split. Current portfolio yield 3.85%. Management fee 1.5%.”
… No word on that very high 1.5% management fee ? Holding corps can also invest in low fee ETFs, I believe ? That’s an easy 6500$/year guaranteed income, considering the 1.3% saving in fees. Less the accounting of the corp, of course, but that’s probably part of a bigger picture with tax savings and such.
Instead of ZPR, why not use JEPI?
I need about 26,000 a yr to live.
The average covered call/ ELN type ETF ($JEPI, $JEPQ, $XYLD, etc.) pays 10% ; you would need only a little more than $260,000 invested, assuming no other income to pay tax
“The average covered call/ ELN type ETF ($JEPI, $JEPQ, $XYLD, etc.) pays 10% ”
Their dividend yields aren’t always going to be that high.
For example, XYLD was paying <4% in some years.
No payout in 2018 and 2019 at all !!
What do you do then?
Why do you recommend Sam Dogen’s Financial Samurai blog? He makes retirement seem unobtainable for the average index fund investor and suggests that real estate investment or home ownership is key (rent is a 100% waste of money). His stories also seem like stretched versions of the truth to increase their entertainment factor.
Sam is a “Financial Nerd” and there are values in watching people with real skills. It is natural for him and 99 percents of the online personalities to embellish his/her skills and or lifestyles. As consumers of information in the 21st century, you must read between the lines if you want to have a full life.
His blog attracts the subset of the readers in comparison to this blog (higher net worth)…
1. Ninety five percents of the general population in some way related to these kids way of living and thinking
2. These kids are more open minded tolerated with wider range of comments (trashing readers is bad)
No disrespect to Wanderer but for investments held in a Holding Account/Business the treatment would be very similar to a 100% personal account. That means that it might be in your favour to carry more and not less Canadian content.
Also, if you want to figure out how to get the money out of the company you should check out the Loonie Doctor webpage. There are great calculators there for balancing your Corp via salary or dividend, etc, and for filling your RRSP, TFSA, etc.
And I should have added, your accountant will be pleased with you earning Canadian eligible dividends as well. They can be mixed those with the ineligible ones you will likely be distributing to yourselves.
Sorry, another comment. How old are you? Have you calculated your RRSP, TFSA, CPP and OAS withdrawls into your yearly income. My total portfolio is about the same as yours (but not as much in the corp acct, just about $710 K) and I figure I can quit now at age 48 and draw $81K/year until I am 87 years old, when you consider whats in my RRSP and TFSA (maxed), with about $50K in a personal account. Like the ad says, you are richer than you think.
Hello. I love your blog/book/everything. I was wondering, during the accumulation phase, if would you suggest VAB or ZSB at this time? I tried searching your recent posts with your portfolio but I didn’t find what I was looking for.
Would you be able to clarify? Thank you for your time.