How many of us have thought to ourselves, “if I only had a $1 million dollar windfall all of my financial problems would go away”?
I know I have.
A million dollars is a tricky amount of money to think about. While it can be life changing money, it’s probably not life changing enough to live off the rest of our lives without some work. The reality is that if most people received $1 million dollars, half of the money would be gone to taxes, a few hundred thousand dollars to pay off debt, and the rest spent on expensive cars, vacations, etc.
When I was five years old $5 seemed like a million dollars. As little as $1,000 seemed like a million dollars when I was a teenager. Now that I’m older, a million dollars doesn’t quite seem like a million dollars (if that makes sense).
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to assume this $1 million dollar windfall is tax-free. Now the question. What would I do with the money? The easy and boring answer is put the money in a brokerage account, invest it in something safe, and apply the four percent rule. The four percent rule is a rule of thumb used to determine the amount of funds to withdraw from a retirement account each year, while limiting the chances of running out of money (thanks, investopedia). This would provide you with $40,000 of income per year without lifting a finger.
For the purpose of this article, let’s think through the options a little more. Instead of dropping the money in a low risk index fund, let’s invest in something more interesting such as buy and hold real estate.
Our $1 Million Dollar Windfall
First, ten percent of the windfall would go to charitable causes, so there goes $100,000 right off the top. It’s easy to give away six figures of virtual money, and I hope we’d have the discipline to do the same if it were real. The majority of this money would go to causes and organizations where we already contribute. However, we’d use a good chunk of it to give freely when the occasion calls for it. We could pay for the meal of the table next to us at dinner, buy groceries for mother in front of us at the store, or make a donation to the gofundme page of someone who is dying of cancer. I personally get a lot of satisfaction from helping others and we would have fun with giving away this money.
Next, $200,000 would go into trust accounts my now three year old and new baby on the way. Giving each of them $100,000 will be good starter money to buy a home, start a business, or pay for college. However, not so much money that it will make them feel entitled or lazy.
I would give my parents $100,000 to use on whatever they want. My parents are pretty awesome people, though not the best with money. They started investing in retirement later in life. They are in better shape than most approaching retirement age through a combination of retirement funds and money left by my grandparents. An extra $100,000 would help them pay off some remaining debt, add money to their retirement portfolio, and maybe go on a nice vacation.
An additional $100,000 would go into emergency savings. Since we are planning to be debt free soon in real life (woohoo!) we won’t have to pay down any significant debts. Having an emergency cushion of $100,000 would cover two-to-three years of living expenses in a worst case scenario situation.
Okay, so here is the fun part. We’ll take the remaining $500,000 to start a buy and hold real estate business.
We will set aside $100,000 to pay for initial set up of the business and emergency reserves. That will leave $400,000 to purchase buy and hold rental property.
For simplicity, we’ll be purchasing these properties all cash in my home city of St. Louis, MO. After extensive research, networking, and negotiating we were able to obtain the following properties:
- A 4-plex with a purchase price of $120,000 in South St. Louis City (C+ class neighborhood). The property costs an additional $40,000 to upgrade and get rent ready. Gross rents for the 4-plex (all one bedroom) are $500 per door, or $2,000 total.
- A turn-key duplex with a purchase price of $140,000 in an up-and-coming neighborhood in South St. Louis County (B class neighborhood). The property is rent ready upon purchase and each side (two bedrooms) rents for $750 per door, or $1,500 total.
- A single family three bedroom property in North St. Louis County (C- class neighborhood) for $55,000. The property costs an additional $15,000 to upgrade and get rent ready. Gross rent for the single family property is $850 per month.
In total we have spent $370,000 of our $400,000. We’ll put the rest back into our emergency fund which can be used for a future purchase.
Our gross rent for all properties will be an estimated $4,350 per month. We will assume that 50 percent of the gross rent will be put aside for expenses such as maintenance, vacancies, capital expenditures, property taxes, and property management. This will leave us with $2,175 in cash flow per month to start out.
Like most investments, real estate is playing the slow game. The first few properties may not lead to substantial cash flow. Though over time there will be compounded gains by putting the cash flow back into the business to invest in more properties. Leveraging rental properties by taking out a mortgage can further accelerate these gains in you are comfortable with the additional risk involved.
Real Estate Investment Analysis
Let’s take a quick look at a breakdown of the 4-plex. For the sake of simplicity let’s assume that expenses, income, and property values increase around three percent, which is close to the rate of inflation. Using the BiggerPockets Rental Property Calculator we can see the estimated increases in property value and cash flow during several periods within the next 30 years.
Figure 1: Analysis of 4-plex Rental Property over 30 Years
This one property alone has the potential to profit nearly one million dollars over 30 years. The purchasing power of one million dollars will be far less in 30 years than it is today. However, this is just one property. Imagine if the cash flow from our three properties purchased with our imaginary $1 million dollar windfall was used to purchase additional properties every year? It may take two or three years to save up enough money to purchase property number 4. Though by year 10 we may have enough cash flow to purchase three properties a year or more. Imagine the cash flow and equity that would develop over time!
Many of you may have heard of the debt snowball (credit: Dave Ramsey). Well, the snowball approach works for investments as well. Starting small with a few rental properties can lead to big gains down the road.
Closing Thoughts: $1 Million Dollar Windfall
Spending pretend money is easy. We just purchased three pretend cash flowing real estate properties in this blog post without doing any work. We also gave away a few hundred thousand dollars to my parents, children, and causes greater than us. The reality is these things are hard work. It’s hard to find great or even good real estate deals in a hot market. It can be challenging to give money away when the temptation of buying a bigger house or Tesla is present. If I ever were fortunate enough to come across a $1 million dollar windfall, I hope to have the discipline to follow through with this approach. After all, personal financial is mostly about discipline anyway.
To summarize, about half of the windfall would go to giving and saving. The other half to investing in buy-and-hold cash flow producing real estate. The investing will hopefully produce many more millions of dollars over and over again. That in turn will allow us to give even more to my parents, children, and causes greater than us.
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