My Personal Finance Journey

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The $1M Goal Revisited: Should I Take Risk?

Contributed by mm | January 2, 2009 3:13 PM PST

One of the few things that are long-lived at PFBlog is the $1M goal stated in the tag line.

When I started PFBlog in 2003, my intention is to use the blog to track my progress to become a millionaire by the age of 40. It doesn't take long for me to realize that we can claim a seven-figure asset much earlier with diligent savings and financial planning. Therefore, in 2005, I changed the goal to break the million-dollar mark by 36.

Now you may say one million dollars is no longer enough to support a comfortable retirement, but it is still an attractive milestone, isn't it?

So after a long hiatus in my blogging activity, a quick snapshot assessment of where we are:

To start off, we still ended the year with just over $800,000 in assets. In a few months, I'll turn 33, so we still have about three years to add the final 200 grand to our coffer.

In these uncertain times, we will still count on the one time-tested rule of getting financial prosperity: savings. Assuming my job is still safe -- a good call considering that companies will always need capable (although high-paying) controllers to cut cost in this environment -- that's an almost guaranteed $100+k annual savings after paying all bills and taxes.

So if we play it safe by converting all our portfolio to cash, we will almost certainly top $1M in two years. In fact, if we try this plain-vanilla way at the end of 2007 (when we had close to $900k in assets), we would be a millionaire by now.

No cries over spilled milk, but the question of the day: should I play it safe or should I take risks?

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This Post Has Received 11 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.

Meg Commented on January 2, 2009

It seems like you are sacrificing what would be the best plan for you and your family over the long haul in favor of reaching this arbitrary goal. Converting to all cash now is not a good idea right now by almost any means. You're 33, you have no trouble saving and aren't relying on investments for current income. You presumably don't need your savings for a very long time. If you were 63, 73, or 83 then ok, MAYBE I could understand and support your temptation. But you will in all likelihood miss out on the almost inevitable stock market rally if you convert to cash - only to reach this arbitrary goal in an arbitrary amount of time.

Monevator Commented on January 3, 2009

Welcome back MM, you blog is an inspiration. I have to say I've never understood why you aim for net wealth though as a target. It's too arbitrary and down to fluctuating markets. True financial freedom comes from secure inflation-proofed income, not a particular capital figure.

Jonathan Davis Commented on January 5, 2009

I feel now is the best time to invest as the market is so low. You'll only make money over the next three to four years as the market recovers, so why put it into cash? You're weighing risk, which is a good thing, just don't let the risk scare you.

Jonathan Davis Commented on January 5, 2009

I feel now is the best time to invest as the market is so low. You'll only make money over the next three to four years as the market recovers, so why put it into cash? You're weighing risk, which is a good thing, just don't let the risk scare you.

Gavin Commented on January 5, 2009

“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

Jason K Commented on January 5, 2009

Now is a great time to invest, but the key is to maintain a veriety of investments. I recently came across tax liens and put some money towards them. I have gotten about 2% per month while I have owned them. Won't put to much in them because of their liquidity but it is nice to have when the market drops like a rock.

Eric H Commented on January 6, 2009

I disagree with most of the posters here. If his goal is 1 million by 36, the best and most risk free way of reaching that goal is by being defense and being underweight stocks. Can anyone here with 100% certainty that the market bottom is in and it's smooth sailing from here on out?

Cameron F Commented on January 7, 2009

In response to Eric H's comment:

Yes, if the goal is $1 million by 36 and that's the only goal and will continue to be the only goal, then yes, play it safe and convert to cash.

If, on the other hand, there's an underlying goal that's bigger. If for example you plan to continue to save even after you reach $1 million. If $1 million really is a "milestone" as you describe it, instead of the end of the road, then it really doesn't make sense to abandon stocks altogether.

We've had a tough year in the market, so it's tempting right now to abandon the idea of it. But in the long run, for a 32-year-old, it's nuts to abandon the market.

Maybe utilizing some risk will mean you come in under your goal at 36, and maybe it'll mean you come in over it. Odds are very high that if you participate in the market, by 56, you'll be way ahead of had you not.

Bernz Commented on January 15, 2009

I believe you should do both....have some cash for emergency and if you have the money that you would not need in the next 3-5 years I would buy some undervalued good stocks. Make sure you do your due diligence in picking them.

Adam Commented on January 27, 2009

Converting to all cash is so extreme.
Why don't you buy a (depreciated and/or foreclosed) house and rent it.
It's like a stock that pays dividends. Pay someone 5% to manage it since you are a busy professional.

medz Commented on February 23, 2009

Good Job!!! It's very inspiring to know that you are almost there in hitting your goal. Well, if I were in that situation, I would invest my money by putting up my own business related to real property, food or health. I guess coverting all your portfolio into cash is not yet the time to do it.

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