Is $1 Million Still F.U. Money?

Painting: The Tribute Money by Masaccio (1401–1428)

Ask someone how much they’d need to quit their job and follow their dreams. For most people the magic number to walk away from it all is $1 million. That’s their F.U. (f@ck you) money.*

*F.U. money is the money you’d need to have saved to say “F.U.” to your boss and job.

However, people have been quoting that number for many, many years. Realistically – with inflation – $1 millions means less today than years ago. But it’s a nice clean amount so it has retained its status as the magic number.

Is $1 million still a lot of money?

Let’s not pretend to be stupid. A sudden inheritance of $1 million would be life changing for most people. You could take care of a lot of shit with that kind of money. But is it enough to buy a lifetime of freedom?

If you won $1 million, you’d probably first need to pay off your debts and mortgage. If you’re lucky to live in a an area with reasonable house prices you’d probably be left with about $700,000. (If you live in a place like Toronto, New York or Tokyo, consider moving to a city with a lower cost of living.)

If you invest that $700,000 in a balanced portfolio I think it’s fair to say you’d get a conservative return of 4-6%. If you didn’t touch your initial capital, you’d be generating $28-42k annually. This is livable, if you have your primary residence paid off. However, it might be an unreasonable range if it’s only 25% of your current income.

Of course, one must consider taxes in a situation like this. Often, income from investments is taxed more favorably than regular income. So $30k from investments might be worth more after tax than a $30k salary. Meaning, you might require slightly less capital to generate a desired level of after tax income. However, for purposes of simplicity – and because I don’t know who you are and where you live – I will ignore taxes.

A 75% cut in income would most likely require a substantial change in lifestyle. Moreover, the real value of that lower income will be eroded by inflation as time goes on. The longer remaining life you have the worse it’ll get.

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The previous example assumes you don’t touch your initial investment. If you change your strategy by withdrawing initial capital along with your gains you can draw a larger income. The downside is you will eventually run out of money.

For example, if you drew an annual income of $50,000 (assuming 5% rate of return), you would run out of money in 23 years. Increase that income to $60,000 and you’d run out in 17 years.

To achieve a consistent annual $50k income over 40 years you’d need $885k in starting capital (given a 5% return assumption). Again, that $50k is worth less and less as time proceeds, due to inflation.

For some, that amount and timing works perfectly. For others it doesn’t. If you can handle a $50k lifestyle and are well into retirement age, $1 million might be your magic number. However, $1 million no longer appears to be F.U. money for anyone with a considerable time horizon.

Additional sources of retirement income (e.g. government pension) will help, but it won’t amount to much for most people. Many people will require more.

After reading all this, if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “well that’s just f@cking great – I’m going to be a corporate schmuck forever then.” Maybe. Or maybe there are other options.

For starters, you can take out a smaller income and supplement it with part-time work…perhaps a secret passion project. Or you can live like a student on ramen noodles and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Cut and supplement. If you can’t do that, I’m afraid you might need to play the corporate game for longer. Because $1 million is no longer F.U. money.

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